Core Values

When you live less than a mile from Indian Ladder Farms, fresh apples are just moments away — but why do that when you can pick them on your front lawn?

We were blessed with a bunch of apple trees at our new house, and recently we’ve made apple cake, apple bars, apple crunch, applesauce — all with fruit from our trees. The apples aren’t beautiful, but we’re using them. Next year? Cider — both sweet and hard.

There is some work to this. The trees need regular pruning, and Cooperative Extension has recommended a care plan that should remedy a bit of a fungus problem. Then there’s taking care of the dropped fruit, which has added up to hundreds and hundreds of pounds of apples.

This doesn’t mean I won’t be to Indian Ladder Farms. Warm donuts and fresh beer are just down the road. Those are things that don’t grow on trees.

Foto Friday

Inverness

Top Dogs

Our dog, Scarlett, has a small repertoire of tricks — certainly enough to impress visitors and to qualify her as the best trained dog in our neighborhood.

But when it comes to training dogs, I’ve never seen anything like what I saw in Scotland.

At a Leault Farm, just off the road between Edinburgh and Inverness, shepherd Neil Ross trots out a gang of border collies who move sheep exactly where he wants them in a vast field. But what makes this truly amazing is that he controls individual dogs on command.

With a combination of words and whistles, one dog will jump up and race hundreds of yards away and loop around the sheep. Then, on command, the dog will drive the sheep where Ross wants them. With more shouts and whistles he’ll send a different dog out on another route — then another and another.

It’s uncanny.

After the herding, you see how sheep are sheared – you can give it a try, if you like. The dogs wander around and socialize with the visitors; they’re calm and friendly – which is unusual for intense working dogs.

Aside from the beat up Range Rover, it could have been a hundred years ago. The lush green fields, the sheep, the dogs. A visit to this farm gives you a peek at a way of life that’s endangered on every side.

Neil Ross was born in the house on the farm, and he told us his kids are taught at home, far from “the nonsense they learn in school about the environment and politics.” That turned a few heads, but I can’t say I blame him.

NOTE: If your interested in rural life in the UK, I recommend A Shepehrd’s Life by James Rebanks. It’s a beautifully written book.

A Wee Story

All around Scotland, ancient people left clues about their existence, but there’s still great mystery surrounding the way they lived — and died.

The Corrimony Cairn is deep in the countryside down a narrow road in the Highlands, and while it may not be as grand as a place like Stonehenge, you feel a strange force viewing this 4,000 year old burial chamber.

Our tour guide pointed to the standing stones that circled the main structure. “Some people believe that if you hug those stones, they bring long life.”

Long life? Ok, why not. It was a wet day, but really: are you going to visit the cairn and not hug a rock?

The next day we were off in another small bus and on our rainy way to the Isle of Skye. We stopped at a lovely spot along the way with a stone bridge over a winding creek. It all stood below a dramatic cluster of mountains, and even on a misty day it was stunning.

Our guide, Chris, pointed down to the river. “It’s said, that if you put your face in the water for six seconds, it will bring you eternal beauty.”

I was the only taker. It was extremely cold water.

Chris teased me a bit along the way about my facial, and how I’d been magically transformed. I remarked that it must be very distracting to see me in the rear view mirror.

It wasn’t until later that I wondered what else these drivers get tourists to do — and how much of it is malarkey. But who am I to complain, now that I am blessed with long life and eternal beauty?

Another Brick in the Paywall

Watch for changes to the Times Union’s digital offerings.

I noticed on my phone and tablet they’ve been fiddling with settings that impose a monthly story limit. By “fiddling,” I mean turning it on and off. Also, the paid content timesunionPLUS story designation has vanished.

It could mean that they’re getting ready to pull the plug on free content — like so many newspapers have done — and that the timesunionPLUS scheme was a bust.

The blogs? Those will probably stay free. Hey, you get what you pay for.

Maybe they’ll take up my idea of offering unlimited access for $.25 per week, which I’d gladly pay for the online edition.

“Rob,” you say, “why should they give away their news content. That makes no sense, these days.”

No, I suppose it doesn’t. And who would do that, anyway? Oh, I don’t know — local TV stations, maybe? They’ve never charged you for news and they still don’t.

Anyhow, wait and see.

The Debate Debate

All politics is local, and local news is always looking for a way to make local races interesting. Sometimes it’s a struggle. In much of the Capital Region, political power is so tilted toward one party that results are a fait accompli — and in many other races, the candidates are often indistinguishable.

That was the case when the Democrat candidates for Albany mayor debated on August 17 — and it was a real snoozefest. The winner of the September primary will be mayor — and you may as well pick the name from a hat, because they’re all the same.

But this isn’t about the debate, it’s about the exessive exposure it got in the media: the amount airtime it got far exceeds the audience.

You could watch the debate live in primetime on WNYT or listen on WAMC, plus there was streaming. WAMC ran the whole thing again the next afternoon.

What’s a small audience?

In 2013, about 12,000 people voted in the Albany mayoral primary. That represents about 1.3% of the people in the market. That adds up to a ton of people who are not involved or interested.

I used to work with a news director who said that people in Pittsfield won’t watch a story about Schenectady. I said that people will always watch a compelling, well-told story — no matter where it occurs.

But a boring story? Kiss them goodbye.

At the Movies

Spectrum TheatreI went to the Spectrum Theatre recently, and it turns out they no longer accept these pre-paid passes.

The theatre changed hands in 2015. The new owners bought the Spectrum’s funky hippy-dippy indie vibe, the art exhibits, the homey slideshow ads, the cake and cookies and popcorn with real butter, but there’s one thing they didn’t buy: a long-term commitment to honor these cards.

At the box office, I explained that it’s not cool to turn down the passes. The box office clerk explained back to me, “I can’t help you. Call customer service if you have a complaint.”

And he handed me this fortune cookie-sized piece of paper.

Landmark Theatres

Landmark wants to hear from you. Or not.

The woman I talked to at Landmark was impatient with my call. I suggested that when they bought the theatre, they also bought the Spectrum’s loyal long-time customers — and their passes. “Too bad,” she said. I was obviously not the first person to bother her on this topic.

No biggy. I can afford to buy movie tickets and I’ll still go to the Spectrum.

But one more thing: the passes you and I bought may not be any good, but it turns out that the former owners — Keith Pickard, Sugi Pickard, Scott Meyer and Annette Nanes — got a nice bonus as part of the purchase deal. Keith Pickard told the Times Union:

“We have passes forever. That was negotiated. That was part of the negotiating deal — that we have movie passes for as long as Landmark is leasing the property. Don’t forget,” he added, “we’re film lovers.”

Well. that’s terrific. Too bad your long-time customers — the film lovers who patronized your business for decades — don’t get to use the passes they purchased “forever”.

Keith Pickard also said:

“We’re very happy to be a part of this, and we think Landmark will serve the community well. … The legacy is very important to all of us, and I can’t stress this enough. We feel we have a good partner for this. It’s stewardship.”

You’ve got your legacy, Mr. Pickard. And your lifetime pass.

Welcome to Albany

I’m not squeamish or fussy, but Albany’s bus station is a complete shitshow. Let me explain.

There’s only one thing worse than that desperate urge to pee; it’s worse
when you’ve felt it all through your drive to work — and now you have
a lonnng walk to the office.

Fortunately, I park right near the bus station in Albany, and I
recently ducked in there to relieve myself.

In the old days, busses were part of my routine, and I’ve done my time in bus stations from Plattsburgh to Long Island. The worst one ever? The Port Authority Bus terminal, which in the early 1980s was in equal parts filthy, colorful and genuinely dangerous.

But let me tell you this: You will seldom see a a place as seedy as Albany’s bus station, and indeed, it’s the worst public space I’ve seen in the entire city.

Whether it’s a “public space” is debatable. The station is owned by Greyhound and run by a private operator — but this is all the more the reason they should be able to run a tight ship, and by that I mean keep out the people who are pissing and shitting on the floors, breaking things and hassling the customers.

It’s quite the first impression. Step off the bus into something that looks like a Bruegel painting and stinks like the sewer. Get out of there quickly, is my advice — and then take in the grand sight of the city’s trash-strewn parking lot district. Welcome to Albany.

Growing Concerns

The guy we hired to do the rototilling came to the back door, sweaty and flustered.

“I can’t take your money for this job.”

What?

“I can’t charge you for this. Your soil is terrible — it’s all clay — and you won’t be able to grow a thing.”

He pushed his rototiller up to the street, but before he was able to drive off, I forced him to take my payment.

“You came all the way out here and did the work, so I have to pay you.”

He reluctantly stuffed my check in his shirt pocket. I wasn’t convinced he’d cash it.

Well, what the hell. The yard’s all ripped up now, so I figured I’d better plant something. The internet said “improve your soil,” so I added two yards of composted manure and covered it with a layer of hay for mulch.

So, I planted.

For a garden where nothing would grow, things are popping up like crazy. The tomato plants are heavy with fruit, the chard looks good and I’m up to my ass in cucumbers. My kale is full of little holes from some mysterious pest, but still edible.

Lots of cukes.

I’ll have the rototiller man back next year, but I’ll be sure to go easy on his prediction that my plot was doomed. No matter what, he did the hard work of getting the garden established, and the rest was beginner’s luck. And watering.