Column: 28 hours, 406 miles in a New York state of mind

  • Teri Conroy photograph

  • Teri Conroy photograph

  • Will Lange. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 6/18/2019 10:20:21 PM

New York Route 149 West ends at a T-shaped intersection with U.S. 9 a little bit south of Lake George and its multiple tourist attractions. I was about a half-mile short of that spot after a pleasant, sun-soaked Saturday morning drive across Vermont, over the Green Mountains west of Killington, and into New York east of Whitehall. Then the car ahead of me suddenly stopped dead. So had the dozens of vehicles ahead of it. An accident, I assumed; the traffic was pretty heavy, but moving at a fast clip.

Every minute or so, the line inched ahead two or three car lengths. After about half an hour, I could see the problem: The vehicles at the head of the line that needed to turn left on the green light were stymied; Route 9 was plugged full, as well.

There was no point in impatience. I played the overture to The Marriage of Figaro a little louder than I might normally, and asked my tiny silver German car not to overheat while we waited. “Helga,” I confided, “I have a feeling we’re not in Vermont anymore.”

Many years ago, during the Second World War, my father’s brother, Alvin, then an Army medic about to leave for Europe, married a lovely second-generation Italian girl, who became my Aunt Therese — according to my wife when once in a bit of pique, “the only human being in your whole damn family.”

The Langes and Urbanos were friendly enough, but inhabited different social worlds, so touched only tangentially from time to time. (I’m admitting here for the first time in my life that as a stripling I had a major crush on an Urbano cousin, Rose Pozzulo.)

Then I read recently on the Facebook page of one of Aunt Therese’s granddaughters that she was planning an interfamily get-together at her llama farm near Albany. All my first cousins would be there. So I invited myself and prayed for clear weather.

After my high-speed, headlong Palm Sunday trip to Gettysburg, I should have been prepared for the shock of leaving the lovely traffic bubble of Vermont. It seemed that half the United States was streaming south at breakneck speed Saturday toward Albany. Meditation and Mozart helped, as did the explicit directions from my cousin Ed. (Say what you want about my family, but we give really good directions.)

About 30 or 40 people. Kids tossing a ball for a bouncy white terrier; llamas and one rescue alpaca staring over a high fence; folks sitting around in collapsible camp chairs and having a general good time.

Aunt Therese had a twin, Guido. His son, Tom, was running the grill, and his wife, Pat, a hugger, gave me one. A little later someone brought a llama up behind my chair, and I got a camelid smooch.

“He won’t spit on me, will he?” I asked. I was assured that he wouldn’t. But if he didn’t like me, he might vomit. Great!

I stayed a couple of hours and headed back north, for a date on Willsboro Point on the west shore of Lake Champlain. About 60 years ago I taught school there and love going back to visit with the few folks left whom I knew then.

It appeared to me that the half of the nation that zoomed south in the morning was now zooming in the opposite direction. But it was Lake George they wanted; and shortly after the last exit for that garden of eden, the traffic thinned down and the Adirondacks began to rise like vast green folds on either side of the highway. Not for nothing was Interstate 87 once named the most scenic new highway in the country.

I passed a small mountain beside the road where the two older kids and I once spent an afternoon — with a “climbing rope” looped around my 4-year-old son’s shoulders ... just in case — and in no time I was rolling down the mountain, past Dead Man’s Curve, to the town where I started teaching ages ago.

We were three old friends — acutely aware that we used to be four — dining at a nearby marina full of happy sailors and bass fishermen. The 300-and-some miles, with my head in the open air, closed my eyes before 10 o’clock. I was barely conscious enough to turn off the Nook before Morpheus carried me off.

Next morning, it was time for the third destination in my 28-hour zoomie. First, a volunteer firefighters’ breakfast at the firehouse (I went to the old firehouse first by mistake; oops!), and then a short run to the little church Mother and I attended for some years in the ’60s. The chip out of one of the decorative filigrees was still missing, and as usual I spent some time (when I should have been focusing) trying to figure out how I’d fix it, if I were asked.

Coffee hour was crowded afterward; there were a lot of summer folks there already. Only two old acquaintances. A lot of people disappear from the scene in five decades. But then, with a meaningful glance at my watch, it was time to catch the next ferry.

“The next time I turn the ignition key,” I told Helga, “we’ll be back in paradise.” And so we were.

I checked the odometer as we pulled into the garage — it’s a genetic disorder I swore I would not inherit from my father — 406 miles. But the most important things happened when we hadn’t been going anywhere.

Willem Lange can be reached at

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