Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | March 6, 2010

10 Square Miles Surrounded by My Naive Misconceptions

Prior to moving to Upstate NY in 2000, I always thought of this place as a kind of “promised land.” People from around here thought I was insane. After all, New York now ranks number 1 in per capita taxes and has a horrid unemployment rate, which just gets worse as the Great Recession drags on. My wife and I would come up here on vacation, always in the summer, just passing through on our way to Canada or staying longer in the Adirondacks. New York, at the time, seemed a land unspoiled, with mountains and forests stretching as far as the eye could see, a more enlightened populace, and a history rich in noble characters such as Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and James Howard Kunstler.
As time has gone by, cracks have grown in the façade. For one thing, visiting here only in the summer was a huge mistake. We should have come up in late March, when the entire state is one giant mud bath from the Hudson Valley to Niagara Falls. The taxes are bat shit insane, but I’ve always considered them a kind of “surcharge” that keeps away yuppies, expressways, office parks, and other signs of what the rest of American considers “prosperity.” In fact, I kind of like the rundown, ramshackle small towns here, even if they seem like recreations of a Russell Banks novel.
Over the course of 2009 to the present, however, the cracks are growing wider. The naïve misconceptions I had about Upstate New York are starting to come back to sting me in the ass. Here are some of the major naïve ideas I had about New York as a sheltered Southern boy who grew up in the suburbs of the Capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia:
#1) “I won’t have to hear any more obnoxious accents now that I live in New York.” Wrong! According to a post on city-data  “People in Upstate New York have the Great Lakes/Upper Midwest accent. It’s much less harsh than the New Yawk accent. The most noticable part of the Upstate NY accent is the strong “A” sound. For instance, Rochester, is pronounced by locals like “Raaaaach’ster. And carbonated beverages are not soda, but rather “pop”, which is pronounced “pahp”. It’s a very humble accent and sounds much more “friendly”.

Why is it that vowels become more nasalized as one moves northward? I used to find the Upstate NY accent “friendly” and quaint, but now it annoys the shit out of me. Pronounce the ‘ing” at the end of your verbs, dammit! People who live around Binghamton do have a quite awesome habit of using “wicked” as an adjective, though, which sound so incredibly 80’s to me that I just have to love it. Perhaps the real reason I don’t like the accent is because I’m starting to sound, after almost 10 years, like I’m actually from here. “Can I have some pahp? This is wicked good!” Nowadays, when I venture too far below the Mason Dixon Line, I can’t understand a damn thing anyone says. Nothing like a snotty New Yorker!
#2) “People in Upstate New York don’t listen to country music.” Wrong again! I guess I thought people up here, rednecks included, listened to Ronnie James Dio (he’s from Cortland) or 70’s arena rock, like Foreigner. How sad it was to find out that country music, the bad kind of country music, is a universal lumpenproletariat passion. I still cringe when I remember when I used to ride the bus more often, listening to that stupidass song about the party barge  over and over again. Ugghhh! Haven’t you people ever heard of Merle Haggard?
#3) “I’ll never see another Confederate Flag outside of a history book.” Wrong! (See number 2, above.) One can view the Rebel Flag flapping on the flagpoles in a trailer park, proudly emblazoned on the windows of certain pickup trucks, and hanging in the Clove Valley Rod & Gun Club in LaGrangeville where Dick Cheney likes to go duck hunting.


The Ku Klux Klan was even active around here back in the day. In our local history museum, there is a KKK Robe and hood someone found hidden behind a wall of a house they bought out in Dryden. At least around here, they had to keep that crap stored in a niche behind a wall.
#4) “Our taxes may be high, but we get enough in return to justify them.” This remains partially true. There are thousands of acres of public land up here where one might hunt or wander for days, weeks, or months at a time. Our libraries kick ass! We have a superb system of public universities that ranks very high by all measures.  However, I mentioned those cracks growing in the façade? Lately, it seems like we’re all getting taken for a bunch of suckers. Those thousands, nay millions of acres of public land? Much of it in Central NY could soon be leased out to gas companies for intensive hydrofracking. In fact the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has the oxymoronic purpose of both protecting those lands and exploiting them for their natural resources. Ever since our State Leaders, in their infinite wisdom, decided they should actually do something about the massive budget deficits that stand to crush us, New Yorkers are beginning to feel “blackmailed” through the use of various cynical ploys in to accepting whatever extortionist tax hikes get dreamed up. Locally, this has come by way of the Ithaca City School District whose planned “closure” of a beloved elementary school reeks of cynical manipulation. Fall Creek Elementary is a cute, walkable elementary school located in Ithaca’s premier neighborhood, Fall Creek.  We used to live in Fall Creek, but were rapidly priced out by the yearly tax hikes, rises in assessments, and a “shift” in income after we had a child. That “sour grapes” side of me says “fuck ‘em all!” After all, I hate public education with a passion and often wonder if children might be better off if many were left to their own devices, free to learn on their own. The more sane side, the side that considers taxes a tool for achieving the common good, is sure that someone is getting something out of public education and doesn’t really mind helping paying for it. When the bastard school district does something like this, holds an elementary school hostage, forking over the taxes feels like getting raped and then having to pay for it. “ Thank you, may I have another?” After all, what do homeschoolers get from our school district? Excluded from any participation in extracurricular activities and required to submit paperwork under threat of jail time. And to think, people once fought compulsory education at gunpoint!
#5) And the greatest naïve misconception I had about Upstate New York is: “Our leaders are benign, if not enlightened.” When my wife and I moved to New York, George Pataki was governor. Pataki, a Republican of all things, set a goal to preserve 1 million acres of public land in New York…and he achieved it through conservation easements and outright purchase. Pataki, despite being a Republican, was more like a Virginia Democrat to us. Pataki started turn into a douche towards the end of his term, sidling up to Georgie Bush for brownie points when he thought he might seek the Presidency, but still, I have respect for the man.  1 Million Acres!

Then, in 2006, we elected Eliot Spitzer, a lion of a man, ready to take on Wall Street.  Less than two years later, he was mired in scandal for taking part in a prostitution ring.  Sure, it may have been a honeypot trap, but really, is it that hard to behave impeccably when so much is on the line? Lieutenant Governor David Paterson stepped into the role and I thought this might be a blessing in disguise.  Paterson announced intentions to legalize same sex marriage, spoke some harsh, but necessary truths regarding New York’s dire fiscal straits, and was our first African-American governor to boot.  Now, as his term shrivels down to its ineffectual denouement, Paterson, too, is caught in a scandal.  Paterson is accused of playing a role in trying to quash a domestic-violence case brought by a girlfriend of former aide David Johnson. Paterson has denied wrongdoing.  Apparently, he used the State Police as his personal gendarmerie in this situation.  (The Chief of Police resigned the other day over it.)  What’s really pathetic is that Paterson heralded domestic violence prevention as one of his major issues.  The girlfriend was beaten within an inch of her life. 

New York State Governor LePetomane


With the spotlight of scandal upon him, Paterson, who I now agree resembles Governor LePetomane from Mel Brook’s film Blazing Saddles, has been the subject of ever more allegations, the latest of which involves perjury charges that he testified under oath that he would pay for some free World Series tickets he received last year.  

Thanks a lot Fuckwits!  With friends in government like you, who needs enemies?  Now New York is poised to go the way of Massachussets, set to elect some douchebag whose major qualification for office is that he drives a truck.  At a time when it would have been easy for Democrats in our state government to seize the moral high ground, our leaders opted for roles in a tragicomic opera that doesn’t even have the saving grace of being funny.

So there you have it, my top five naïve misconceptions about my adopted State.  Lessons learned?  Question your thinking when “the grass is always greener” and for Christ’s sake, research what kind of mineral riches lay underneath the place you’re planning to move.  Still, for all its warts, I wouldn’t live anywhere else, except for maybe Canada or Vermont, because everywhere else in North America scares the living shit out of me.



  1. Hooray for Ronnie James Dio!!! Holy Diver Rules!!!!
    On a more serious note, I figure all states are the same with the points you’ve mentioned. You may as well stay where you like the weather:)

  2. Grew up in SE PA (Yuppieville – Chester County, pretty much ruined today), and now reside next door to you – here in Cortland Co. We share a lot of common observations about our adopted State. Somehow reading your post, makes me feel better.

  3. One thing unmentioned in the post is the fact that the people, whether transplants or natives, of this state totally kick ass! I’m glad I could make someone feel better, Rev K. One of my friends said my blog depresses her:)

  4. What’s depressing to me is that the new SUPER-DUPER WALLYMART is now going up here in Cortland.

    There was a brave Resistance, but, in the end, the bulldozers rolled across some beautiful flat valley land, and now we will soon have the opportunity to hollow out/destroy what is left of local retail here.


    (If you get a chance and are wiling to “decloak” for a second, can you shoot me a private email? If not, no problem.)

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