Once upon a time there was a newspaper in Albany called the Knickerbocker News, a small, upbeat afternoon daily that competed with the much larger morning Times Union.
In 1966, the Knick’s editorial staff – like that of most places – ranged from a few neophytes like me to a collection of steely veterans furiously beating the daily report and whose force field stretched several feet in every direction. directions. Entry can be perilous.
Some of the older reporters and editors were straight out of the central cast – guys who smoked cigars and wore felt hats; an obituary who started every phone conversation with the bereaved by saying “sorry for your pain”; a crusty city editor who told me never to use the noun “author” as a verb again. The women were few, but I remember an exceptional, passionate and fearless journalist by the name of Lois Lane.
I was a “general assignment” – an insignificant infantryman sent by the city’s desk sergeants to cover house fires, car accidents, zoning board meetings, or anything else that required attention in the endless battle to exalt the truth and preserve democracy – and sometimes I also attacked religion.
In one breakthrough case, I wrote a story about a preacher who grew a 113-pound pumpkin that placed first in a county gardening contest. No Pulitzer was forthcoming.
The company was more apt at the time to hire a variety of itinerant practitioners – wanderers who happily jumped from paper to paper, various free spirits trying out journalism, dour souls pursued by unmentioned demons – and other grateful for regular pay while working on the next great American novel or waiting for an offer from the big time. The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Chicago Tribune — dream, dream, dream.
Covering Albany for the Knick, I grew to love the place – a miniature metropolis alongside the mighty Hudson. There were real neighborhoods — Arbor Hill, South End, Delaware Avenue, Eagle Hill — and real people, mostly working-class people, who spoke unassumingly and sounded strong and settled.
State capital, yes, but despite all the towering government buildings and well-dressed politicians striding in and out of town, Albany remained staunchly down-to-earth, a wealthy and resilient riverside settlement.
With a bit of a wandering mind myself, I left the Knick – long bankrupt, by the way – after about a year and, stopping here and there, finally got to Newsday, too great outfit. S’long Hudson, hello Long Island Sound.
This all comes to mind – if you’re wondering – due to a lucky intervention by Albany on a trip home from upstate Rochester, where my wife and I recently visited some parents.
Coming off Interstate 87 and Route 9W, we lost an alternator belt—exceptionally bad news—on our 2009 Subaru sedan. It was 3 p.m. Sunday. Repair? The same chances as me of making the Mets as an extra.
We called one garage after another. No chance.
A final and hopeless stab and:
“We’ll try to help out,” said Kevin, manager of a still-open—incredible—store on the other side of town.
Just after 5 p.m., AAA dropped off our car at Kevin’s. Closing time was 6 am.
Kevin checked his computer for the part number. He rushed to the shelves and checked the stocks. I watched as he looked through a dozen belts. And then a few others. No.
Rebellious, Kevin opened a crate of newly arrived parts. More belts passed – six, seven, eight. Nine, 10, who knows? Our persistent hero has finally reached elbows in the container and – yowza! – It was there. We hit the jackpot. Made an old Lutheran want to sing “Amazing Grace”.
A mechanic named Dave went to work and before long, bingo, we were ready to roll.
“I don’t like saying no,” Kevin said, refusing a tip when I paid the bill.
It could have happened anywhere, of course – Ronkonkoma, Cleveland, Santa Fe.
But it struck me as pure Albany, the blue-collar town I remember from my rounds at the Knick spanning the tall pumpkins and endless public hearings. It’s a solid place, unpretentious, not to mention, steady and consoling like the Hudson.
Probably we are on Long Island to stay but if there is a move Albany is a contender. A guy could do much worse. And I already know a good garage.