Sunday Soapbox

Things wooly and Scottish in Upstate New York

robert burns statue washington park

Robert Burns: statue resident of Washington Park, author of New Year's Eve songs no one understands, Scotsman.

By Duncan Crary

You may have noticed there are quite a few Scottish people in the Helderbergs this weekend. They appear to be drinking heavily and throwing telephone poles around.

There's a lot I could say to shed a little light on these odd activities and all things Scottish and local. In fact, I've asked the publishers of this blog to let me do that. So pour yourself a hot toddy (if it's cold) or just a whiskey if it's not, and let's get to it.

1) Those telephone poles are called "cabers."

2) Scotch is a drink, Scots are a people, and Scottish is an adjective.

3) We're not Irish.

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When the world points toward being fearful, how do you teach your kids to be brave?

standing on diving board

Sometimes it's a matter of knowing when to leap.

By Leah Wolff-Pellingra

So, I'm watching the Olympics with my daughters. And we're talking about how strong the women on the screen are, how brave the 15-year-old girl is as she twists and turns at 35 miles per hour off the high diving platform and into the water.

"Mom, I want to do that. But she should be wearing a life-jacket. How can she swim without a life-jacket?"

"Well, she practiced and practiced. And she learned how to hold air in her lungs and use her hands and feet, just like you do when you're wearing your life-jacket."

"But that's far to jump. She shouldn't go by herself."

I want to throw caution to the wind and tell my 5-year-old little girl that someday she'll be able to go places by herself, too. That she'll be jumping without a life jacket, and that I will hold my breath until she comes back up from under the water. But, truth be told, I am grateful for being the mother of a cautious child some days. Apparently, it's a scary world out there.

There was recently a report of an attempted abduction just across the bridge in Scotia. A 10-year-old girl told her mother and police about an older man in a rusted, light-green, 4-door sedan who had tried to lure her into the car with candy.

But she made it up. The girl later admitted to Scotia police that she wanted to get attention from her parents. There is a new baby at her home.

There was about a week between that first report and the news that it was false. And despite the statistics that very few kids -- only about a hundred, out of tens of thousands of reports -- are taken in this sort of stereotypical situation, I had a day or two when my girls only played in the back yard.

These sorts of stories generate a lot of fear -- they're our worst nightmare. And we'd like to think that the world wasn't always like this, that there were times that qualify as 'back in the day' when things like creeps in light green sedans didn't threaten the way we look at the world. But this just doesn't hold up. There have always been creeps in rusted, light green 4 door sedans.

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Bigger isn't necessarily better

elisabeths small house

Small house. Big dog.

By Elisabeth Draper

In 2008 my husband and I bought our first home: a two-bedroom, one-bath, 1929 Dutch colonial in Albany. In an age of bigger is better, we went the opposite route; our house is a mere 900 square feet.

As first time homeowners we were somewhat intimidated by the responsibility and demands of home ownership, but a small house we could handle. Many of our friends also bought homes around the same time, but those places are considerably larger. Their homes are similar in size to many of the suburban homes highlighted during AOA's Real Estate Week. To us, our friends had found their "forever homes." Most have at least four bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, master suites, two car garages... they're in it for the long haul. When we bought our house we knew it was a starter home.

But now that we've added a 90-pound dog and a new baby to the mix, we've realized something: there are benefits to small house living.

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Talking trash in Albany

albany blue recycling bin

Do we need a little more of push to recycle?

By Elisabeth Draper

soapbox badgeFor the past four years I have watched one family in my neighborhood put out more trash bags in one week than I thought possible. On average, they have at least five bags of trash every week and no recycling bins. Through the clear trash bags I can see metal cans, plastics, and cardboard. This drives me bananas.

Why?

Well, mostly because the city of Albany provides trash pick-up and recycling at no additional cost to homeowners. In the suburbs, most folks pay for trash pick-up, but in Albany, it's free. Well, sort of -- the cost is figured into municipal taxes. In addition to their trash and recycling pick-up, Albanians are provided with recycling bins for paper, cardboard, cans, glass, and plastics -- all plastics (1-7). That's a huge bonus -- not all municipalities recycle all plastics.

Perhaps this is why my neighbor's behavior drives me so batty; all they have to do is separate their recycling. But recycling isn't required in Albany. So, other than your own conscience, there's no incentive.

Just so we're clear, I'm not stalking these folks, but anyone who owns a dog or walks in their neighborhood regularly is likely to observe the goings-on there; and since this has been going on for a while, I think we need to change things up.

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In appreciation of Schenectady

rose garden schenectady

Schenectady Central Park's rose garden: One reason Katherine <3 Schenectady

By Katherine Stephens

soapbox badgeI moved to the Capital District back in August of 2005 from Washington, DC. And I consider it a total upgrade.

Being a transplant gave me a whole different perspective on my adopted home. All the people I met who have lived here their whole lives found Albany boring, Troy dirty, Saratoga expensive, and Schenectady dangerous. I never found those things to be true.

Albany is exciting and fun, Troy is beautiful and revitalized, Saratoga is just a little pricey, and Schenectady is -- well, not dangerous but... what? What is Schenectady really?

I'm not quite sure, yet. I'm having fun finding out.

But what I am sure of is that there's really only one problem with Schenectady and it can be summed up into one word: perception.

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What's missing at the downtown office

Bars on Windows.jpg

Insecure.

By AOA Mary

The important thing is that nobody got hurt.

That's the important thing. Right?

No injuries, no fatalities and nothing was taken that can't be replaced.

Well, almost nothing.

One early morning about a week ago, while I allowed myself an extra hour to sleep off some jet lag, and my husband got ready for work, a neighbor knocked on our door. He'd noticed a teenage girl wearing ripped pants and a backpack slip out of our back alley.

Now there's only one way into the alley, and he didn't see her enter. He asked her some questions but he wasn't comfortable with the answers, so he knocked on a few doors to see if everything was alright.

It wasn't.

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Car sharing in the Capital Region

zipcar portland

Zip Car's car sharing program is popular in other cities around the U.S.

By Lauren Alpert

soapbox badgeI'll admit it -- life in the capital region is a lot easier with a car.

A car makes going on that big shopping trip, going apple picking or going for a hike at Thacher State Park a lot more convenient. While CDTA buses are a good option to get to many destinations, public transit doesn't take you everywhere you need to go, so a car can be a necesssity.

But a car can also be a headache -- and a lot of expense. Think about the amount of time the car you're paying for and insuring sits idle -- just waiting for you to decide to go somewhere.

Bundle your insurance, gas, parking and maintenance costs together into an monthly rate and it can add up pretty quickly. $300 a month? $500?

That's one of the reasons we're working on car sharing in the Capital Region .

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What's growing in Albany's South End

radix center greenhouse

Veggies and plants growing at The Radix Center

By Noah Sheetz

soapbox badgeDrive through the South End and the DelSo neighborhoods and you can't help but notice change. An empty storefront at 540 Delaware is now the home of All Good Bakers. The demolition of a group Morton Avenue row houses has become part of an ongoing urban revitalization project. Pastor Charlie's Victory Church has turned a huge industrial space into a youth center with a youth-run thrift store and a refurbished trolley car emblazoned with the word "enough". Perry Jones, director of the Capital City Rescue Mission, is turning a former shirt factory building at the corner of Trinity Place and Arch Street into beautiful apartments for the needy and those who are recovering from substance abuse and are working to rebuild their lives.

And then there are the many changes that revolve around food, gardens, and local sustainability.

The local interest in, and prevalence of, youth agriculture programs here is fairly progressive -- even when you compare it to New York City. There's a lot going on in here, if you know where to look.

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What to do about the guns

By Kim M.

soapbox badgeMemorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start to summer. It's when many of us first open our pools, go camping, or host a backyard BBQ. But with the warmer weather comes an increase in violence and crime, and many of us are concerned with the number of shootings we have already seen this spring.

This past Tuesday night in Troy a 15-year-old girl was shot in the leg while waiting for a bus. It was 7:40pm. 7:40pm! On River Street!

I am angry.

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Rediscovering a Capital Region childhood

Mason Daley - Soapbox Photo.jpg

One of Albany's newest residents has a lot to look forward to.

soapbox badgeAt 7:57am on Sunday, April 29, 2012, my life changed forever.

My wife, Jennifer, and I welcomed a beautiful 7lb,12oz. baby boy into the world. Mason Royal Daley. Our first child.

Words cannot do true justice to the emotions that poured over me when Mason was born. I felt bliss, fear, admiration, confusion, and excitement all at the same time. I'm coming to understand how much love I have that I didn't know I was capable of. I am so looking forward to being a part of my son's life. I'm excited to share with him all the things that I experienced growing up.

Parenthood, in some ways, is a bit of a second shot at childhood.

Mason's arrival has rejuvenated my desire to go out and explore, discovering and rediscovering wonderful things that are right here in my backyard.

Here's what's at the top of that list:

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Oh, Whole Foods, why Colonie Center?

Thumbnail image for whole foods exterior san diego

A Whole Foods -- good. In Colonie Center -- maybe not so much.

By Christine Hmiel

soapbox badgeI'm happy that Whole Foods is expanding into our area.

I'll lamely admit that the so-called "grocery store wars" are exciting to me. I shop at Honest Weight Food Co-Op, farmers' markets, and belong to both a CSA and a CSB, but like many of you, I still buy a chunk of my weekly groceries from grocery stores. Having more options for buying affordable, healthy foods along with products for specialty and food-allergic diets is good for everyone.

Competition is good. Investment in our region is good.

The Colonie Center location for Whole Foods? Not good.

Not good at all.

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Albany Rural Cemetery, after dark

ARC Martin Daley moon behind cross.jpg

ARC, after dark

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeI have a strong phobia of death.

Like, a wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the night-in-a-cold-sweat kind of fear. The kind of fear I sometimes just need to talk my way through.

I simply can't fathom not existing. It scares the heck out of me.

Why then, you might ask, would someone with this terrible, gripping fear of the great beyond be wandering around Albany Rural Cemetery in the middle of the night?

It was all about the photos.

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Why I live in Smallbany

Most of the spots Leah mentions in her story.

By Leah Wolff-Pellingra

soapbox badgeI never thought I'd stay.

In the Capital District, that is.

My mom's family has lived in Smallbany since 1736. We fought for New York in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Five generations of my family have lived on the same road in West Albany. My great-grandfather built four of the houses for himself and his children. My grandfather was born, went to school K-12, lived, raised a family, and died at home, all in one of those houses. My grandmother's family had long standing Irish roots in South Albany. My grandparents met at a USO dance and had their first date at Ralph's on Central Ave. Their grandchildren spent their childhoods meeting every Sunday for pancakes, then walking down the street for Grandma's pies and Kurver Ice Cream.

For my father's family, Smallbany was a refuge. They arrived in 1948 after fleeing Nazi Germany as Jewish refugees. We are now four generations of family at Congregation Gates of Heaven on Ashmore Ave in Schenectady.

I was raised in Schodack and went to East Greenbush schools, then to UAlbany. I married a boy from 'Toga and we lived in Guilderland. Now we're raising our daughters in Niskyuna.

That's how it happened. That's how I stayed.

But it took a Super Bowl weekend trip to LA to make me realize why it is I'm really here.

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Walking on eggs

egg hunt crime scene

Let the games begin.

By Siobhan Connally

soapbox badgeI should have known by the barrier that this was going to end badly.

The tape keeping the throng of sugar-crazed toddlers at bay read "CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS." Parents all around us were laying out strategies for their kids, so complex I expected at any moment a mom or dad would pull a chalkboard out of a stroller and diagram the game plans with arrows, Xs and Os.

This was an egg hunt of epic proportions, and we were out of our league.

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The view from 33

bank hours

3 pm?!?!?!?

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeI turn 33 on March 30. I'm an old man. An old, cantankerous man. And boy, have I gotten ornery. Things just seem to get to me more than they ever have in the past.

From Pine Hills litterbugs to bankers hours to parking whiners. It all seems to be getting on my nerves more than it used to.


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13th Floor Elevators

No 13th Floor -- Madeo.jpg

Thirteen, please.

By Rob Madeo

soapbox badgeHere's how we have fun in my building: when someone -- particularly someone who looks like a visitor -- offers to press the button for your floor on the elevator, you tell them, "Thirteen." They hunt around the panel until they realize that there is no thirteenth floor and one of two things happens: either you both have a good laugh or they get flustered and glare at you like you're an idiot. So far the results are about 50-50.

Like a lot of 20th century skyscrapers the building where I work, at the corner of State and Pearl, has no thirteenth floor. Well, it does have a thirteenth floor, but it's labeled fourteen. This was the norm at one time and you'd have been hard pressed to find a thirteenth floor anywhere in America. Today it sounds as quaint as throwing a pinch of salt over your shoulder, but when skyscrapers were a new thing we were a more superstitious people. And it wasn't that long ago, really.

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The yin and yang of CDTA

a CDTA bus

Riding the bus: The good, the bad and the human grill of regret.

By Leigh Cummings

Let's face it: unless you live and work in the same building, commuting just about anywhere in the Capital District can be an exercise in cultivating patience. Using public transportation is no exception and, like driving, has its own colorful variety of stresses and pleasures.

I get around almost exclusively by public transportation, which has its own pleasures and challenges: from the people you meet (awesome to...less awesome), near death experiences, simple (and not so simple) kindnesses, and the zen of commuting.

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Lessons from Marcia

By Kim M.

soapbox badgeI love people-watching. Some days it's the only reason this introvert can tolerate being anywhere near other people. Human behavior is an endless source of mystery and entertainment to me, and because we tend to be creatures of habit, complete strangers can feel just as familiar as the places we frequent.

For me, one of those people was Marcia Pascarella.

AOA readers may remember Marcia as the inspiration for my "Stop whining and do something about it" Soapbox last March. Marcia was my favorite person to see approaching the podium at Troy City Council meetings. She never held back, always spoke her mind, and possessed the type of humor and natural comedic timing that usually left you wondering whether or not she actually meant to be funny. I think she did. Marcia was not known for political correctness. Sometimes she even swore at these meetings -- which are currently held IN A CHURCH. Oh, Marcia.

I learned of Marcia's passing from Jim Franco, who wrote that he'd heard that "God had taken His own name in vain" upon Marcia's arrival at the Pearly Gates.

I don't doubt this report one bit; heaven better be everything she expects it to be!

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An urban wish list

787 Corning view

On Martin's urban wish list: tearing down 787.

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeI've written a lot about what I wish for in the Capital Region: A walkway on the Livingston Ave. Bridge (for which I have a petition), chickens, and preservation of our historic/unique architecture.

These are fairly practical ideas. In fact, I think they're no-brainers, which is why I get more than a little irritated when I hear we can't have them or our elected officials brush them off.

But my imagination is filled with an even longer urban wish list filled with things I'd make happen if I had a billion dollars to spend.

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On the Things We Miss (Albany)

Miss Albany Sold Sign Madeo.jpg

The Miss Albany this week

By Rob Madeo

soapbox badgeThe Miss Albany Diner has been closed for more than a week now. Is it too soon to stop mourning? Let's hope not.

Much ink was spilled over shuttering the iconic diner... oh, wait, I'm sorry! It was not merely a diner, it was a treasure. It was a slice of history served up with your slice of pie. A step back in time, for God's sake. You did not go there for breakfast, but to partake in the Feast of the Gods.

Miss Albany was good place. It had decent food. The people who ran it were nice. And apparently it held great sway over writers, because locking its doors unleashed a torrent of words twice as sweet as the MAD Irish Toast but a hundred times harder to digest. Unfortunately, all of them missed the point.

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What I miss about the Capital Region

Larkway judge Jess Pasko.JPG

We miss Jess.

By Jessica Pasko

soapbox badgeIt's been a little over four months since I packed up my belongings and my dog and drove west to California. After finishing graduate school in Chicago and applying for jobs there and all over the East Coast, I got frustrated with the rejections and decided to start applying to random places out west. I ended up landing a gig in a little surfing city that's perhaps best known for being the fictional Santa Carla in that 80s classic The Lost Boys. These days I spend my time marveling over the myriad species of succulents and palm trees that grow around me, listening to the siren song of the sea lions, and chastising myself when 45 degrees in January seems cold to me.

Santa Cruz is a small city, smaller than Albany, about an hour and a half south of San Francisco and at the tail end of the Silicon Valley. I live two blocks from the ocean and there are awesome taquerias a-plenty. Still, lately I've been feeling a little homesick. Sure, that's largely due to missing friends, family and AOA, but there's a lot I miss about living in the Capital Region.

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The quintessential Capital Region food?

Doughboy.jpg

The Esperanto Doughboy is on the list.

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeLet me get this out there right off the bat: I AM NOT A FOODIE. I know about as much about food as most people know about the rules of cricket. Do I like to eat? Yes. But I am not a food expert, nor have I ever claimed to be one. Surely, the following treatise is going to spark a great debate, rage perhaps. But take my list here with a grain of salt. I. Am not. A foodie. I'm just an average dude, looking for some meaning in local food.

Philadelphia has cheese steaks. Boston has baked beans. New York is known for pizza and bagels. Chicago for deep dish pizza. Kansas City has made a name with their BBQ, New Orleans is brimming with jambalaya and Baltimore has blue crabs. Sure, the these cities are major metropolitan areas, but Utica is known for Tomato Pie, Binghamton has Spiedies, and all Western New York towns claim beef on weck as their own. Hey, Buffalo invented wings.

So what have we got? What is Albany's, or rather the Capital Region's, claim to gastronomical fame? I have wondered far too long.

I reached out to a few Capital Region friends and asked them this question: What qualifies as a "quintessential" local food?

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Albany High School: An alum's perspective

Albany High School

By Elisabeth Draper

Some people I've met have found it hard to believe that I'm a graduate of Albany High School.

When I was in high school I worked at a store in Stuyvesant Plaza. An older customer once asked where I went to high school, so I told her. She subsequently went on to tell me how she, too, was an Albany Academy girl and what a fabulous education I must be receiving. I hated to correct her, as she was so happy to reminisce, but I said, "No, no -- I go to Albany High."

Her response? A rather deflated, "Oh."

I attended Albany High from 1995 through 1999 and the perception of the school hasn't changed much in 12 years. And while I can't attest to the student experience today, I've always been appreciative of my time at Albany High and am proud to be a Falcon.

Let me tell you why.

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The winter of our discontent

dragonsnow -Siobhan Connally

Not this winter.

By Siobhan Connally

soapbox badgeWhen snow accompanied Halloween I was ecstatic. Fall masquerading as winter.

Soon it would lower its disguise and candy corn would give way to candy canes. Skiing and sledding and snowmen were sure to follow.

To love winter you must learn to play in it, or so I've been told.

After testing the theory over the past I-don't-know-how-many-winters, I've become a believer.

The problem is always talking yourself into a little faith. Talking yourself into bundling up and leaving the warmth of your house.

Winter is coming. Winter is coming. Winter is ...

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Closing the Black Bridge in Cohoes

By Kim M.

soapbox badgeBy now I'm sure you've heard about the tragic and untimely death of Warren Belcher on the Black Bridge in Cohoes on New Year's Eve.

I did not know Warren, but the TU piece about him really tugged on my heartstrings. If the article's description of this charming guy's relationship with his girlfriend's son didn't choke you up too, you're cold and dead inside. I can't imagine the pain that they, and the rest of his friends and family, feel losing him.

Later I read about the petition to destroy the bridge. That upset me in a very different way.

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New Year's Rulin's

Madeo Soapbox 2012 list.jpg

What's on your list?

By Rob Madeo

soapbox badgeIn 1943, Woody Guthrie sat before the WGY microphones to talk about his autobiography, Bound for Glory. Guthrie was appearing on The Author Meets the Critics, a program that was sort of like NPR before NPR. Interestingly, its producer, Martin Stone, later went on to launch The Howdy Doody Show. So much for the high-brow stuff.

Anyhow, the WGY program was moderated that day by none other than Granville Hicks, well known author and literary critic, director of Yaddo, Grafton resident, and noted socialist. It must have been quite a show -- and I can't help but wonder if tucked inside Guthrie's bag that day in Schenectady, next to a copy of Bound for Glory, was the notebook holding his New Year's Rulin's.

A lot of you may have already read Guthrie's list, which is like 33 points for better living. Written in 1942, they're elegantly simple, and a pretty good example of how you might want to start fresh in the new year.

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Awesome Albany architecture

575 Broadway Albany

One of Martin's favorite Albany buildings .

By Martin Daley

One of the first things you notice about a city is its architecture.

The layout of a place and its buildings are a kind of looking glass in which you can see the values of past generations. Architecture helps give a city its character.

Albany has plenty of architectural character. But being so close to New York, we sometimes suffer from what I call "place esteem" issues.

New York has buildings like the Guggenheim, the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building, the Statue of Liberty, and Grand Central Station (the interior of which which I consider one of the greatest places in the world). Sure, Albany may not match up in terms of scale or recognition -- but we've got some pretty spectacular stuff. Our city hall was designed by world-renowned architect H.H. Richardson. The plans for the University Club were drawn by Albert Fuller. Perhaps our city's most prolific and celebrated architect, Marcus T. Reynolds, designed so many distinctive and recognizable downtown buildings that his pen may have shaped Albany more than any developer until the South Mall was built.

I'm by no means an art historian, or an architecture buff. I can hardly tell the style of a building, but I know what I like. So after the jump, seven reasons why I think Albany can be proud of its architecture. Granted not all of these buildings are architectural wonders, but to me, well, I can't help but swoon over them.

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Jeffrey and Me

Jeffrey's flagpole Rob Madeo.jpg

Jeffrey's flagpole

By Rob Madeo

I first met Jeffrey a while ago.

He stopped me on the street and asked for some money, told me his story, and kept me much longer than I wanted. I know some of you think it's a bad idea to give money to panhandlers. You may be right, but I'm sorry, if somebody asks for a couple of bucks they're going to get it. Maybe that makes me a sucker.

So, the next time we met it was much the same. "How's things Jeffrey," I asked. He was completely blown away that I remembered his name and gave me a hug. I could have done without the hug. After that, I think he was keeping an eye out for me, knowing I was good for a donation. One time I was in a hurry to my car and dodged him.

Then one day, Jeffrey intercepted me outside my building.

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Unoccupied

unOccupied.jpg

To occupy or not to occupy...

By Siobhan Connally

soapbox badgeIn 1992 the pro-choice movement was nearly 20 years into its official existence and I was a year out of college.

I had, of course, formed an opinion: I was young, unmarried and sexually active.

However, I wasn't politically active.

When I attended my first rally in front of the Lark Street Planned Parenthood I was there as an observer. Sure, I was partial, but I was also curious.

Sign carrying young women, like my then self, paced the sidewalk in an orderly oval. Standing well across the street, women and men my current age and older stood stock still with their crucifixes and doll-baby effigies. Some brought their own children, a presence I assumed was a political statement in and of itself.

As I gawked behind my camera's viewfinder, I came to the surprising conclusion that this was no place for me.

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Building community one story at a time

By Tim Dawkins

soapbox badgeI was first introduced to the idea of public storytelling by podcasts like The Moth, Risk, and Story Corps. These compilations of short stories told to typically to live audiences by real people -- just like me, not actors paid to entertain, was something that spoke to me. So when I found out about the Front Parlor storytelling night in Troy I was beyond excited. A regular storytelling night was something that I had been hoping would make its way to the Albany area for some time.

I went to my first one back in August. The immediate feedback from the audience, the validation that your life experiences may be someone else's experiences (or not -- which can make for an even better story), was exactly how I wanted to connect with friends and strangers.

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Why I didn't vote last Tuesday

albany county ballot 2011-11-08

By Jennifer O'Connor

soapbox badgeTuesday was, of course, Election Day -- and for the third time in 12 years, I did not vote.

The first time I didn't vote was 1999. I turned 18 on October 3, was a freshman in college and was overwhelmed and misinformed about where to vote. The second time was in 2003. I had just moved to a new town and registered when changing my drivers license. The registration was never processed.

But this year, my absence from the polls was an active choice.

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A visual ode to autumn

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Autumn in New York is a treat.

By Bennett Campbell

soapbox badgeMaybe it has to do with being born in October, but fall has always been a special season to me. In the span of just a few weeks our environment undergoes profound change, and with it my spirit.

Fall days are inescapably tinged with the expectation of winter. It instills a kind of fear in me, a fear of passing time, urging me to finish the year's forgotten plans. The untaken day trips, the long and intimately boozy nights with friends, the mornings awoken in the wilderness, that last outdoor picnic, the lazy afternoon flânerie.

Yet whether or not I accomplish any of it, year after year I swim happily and languidly through the fall, landing contentedly in winter and ready for the respite that harshest of seasons brings.

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A walkable Livingston Avenue Bridge

livingston ave bridge

A way across the Hudson -- possibly for more than just trains.

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeIt's a frustrating thing to watch bureaucracy get in the way of great vision. It can result in some pretty bad decisions, the kind that make you look back and say "woulda, coulda, shoulda..." when it's too late to make changes. Which is what we may be saying soon about the pedestrian walkway on the Livingston Avenue Bridge.

The bridge has become a very important issue to many cycling advocates and pedestrians. I am one of them. I tell people this is my "chickens issue" -- a project that could significantly transform Albany.

So what's so special about a walkway on a bridge?

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Can you feel the love?

By Kim M.

soapbox badgeLast Thursday, I felt like I had witnessed a hipster uprising in the city of Troy.

Activists mobilized people to turn out and speakagainst the proposed 10-year cable contract with Time Warner. And turn out they did.

Many even went to the trouble of making signs, something you don't really see at a typical Troy City Council meeting.

But here's the thing -- for all the speaking out against that went on -- there was a lot of
love in that room.

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Finding a connection to local farms at the fair

Wash co fair pumpkins

Prize-winning pumpkins from last week's Washington County Fair

By Tim Dawkins

I had plans this week to write about a time honored summer tradition -- the county fair. Then Hurricane Irene decided to set its sights on much of the East Coast. Now, that rivers and creeks have invaded our living spaces, our roadways, and our farmland, the topic becomes so much more poignant.

As we wave goodbye to summer through the haze of what nature's fury leaves behind, I'm thinking a lot about the people who make their living off of the land, and in turn provide so much for us. Their daily lives are a sacrifice, and things just became so much more complicated for them.

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Signs of the times at the Columbia County Fair

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The poultry barn at the Columbia County Fair

By Siobhan Connally

They hop-skipped through the entrance gate and high-tailed it to their favorite place at the fair, the 4-H Cloverbuds barn at the Columbia County Fair, where all life's questions boil down into one chirping, downy-fluff yellow argument:

Which came first the chicken or the egg?

But in place of the newborn chicks we expected to find huddling under heat lamps in the familiar plexiglas pen, there were only two tiny bantams strutting about in the diminutive exhibit space.

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So long, summer

autumn leaves

Coming soon to a lawn near you.

By Martin Daley

Ironically, as I sit down to write about how great this part of the country is for having four seasons, there's a hurricane spinning out there with the Northeast in her cross hairs. C'est la vie.

When the warm weather arrives in Albany it seems like it's taken YEARS to get here, so each year, as summer approaches, I promise to have more BBQs, see more crap films at the drive-in, and make more road trips to the mountains. But it's the end of the summer, and, as is often the case, I'm left with more than a few regrets.

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Kids in public

Angry kid.jpg

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

By Leah the Nosher

I was sitting in the Panera in Latham Farms doing work for class. I sought the air conditioned sanctuary of free WiFi and a predictably decent, cooling yogurt-berry smoothie. I buckled down to the task of wading through academic articles, having deposited children with grandparents and dispatched husband to work.

The three year old bouncing around the room, running up and down the aisles chasing imaginary aliens, was totally killing my buzz.

I took a deep breath. I said nothing. I tried to remember how much I value those two seconds of quiet at a table when my child is jumping up and down on something that is not me. But there was this niggling voice in the back of my head whispering, "I drove across two county lines and a river and cashed in a favor with my parents, so that I could sit here and get work done. Please, please, please, corral your kid."

Where do we draw the line as parents and as members of a greater community? Where is the line between "children should be seen and not heard" and "children should be see and heard with zero restrictions on the glory that is all forms of childhood and parenting?" How do we remember that one person's adorable is another person's obnoxious?

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Something wicket this way comes

But can they take all 10 wickets in an innings?

By Rob Madeo

When I was a boy, we played in the street. Stickball and street hockey, running bases, touch football. Even though there were perfectly good lawns and parks, we just sort of liked the street. Maybe it was the curbs, which were like built-in sidelines. Naturally, you had to look out for the storm sewers that swallowed countless balls, pucks, and Frisbees -- and oh yes, you had to watch for cars -- but the street was our playing field.

I don't see kids playing ball in the street much anymore, even at the dozens of basketball hoops that line our suburban neighborhoods. There are three hoops on my block alone and I've never seen a basketball being shot at any single one of them. They stand like monuments to the idea of sports. Go figure.

But things are different on my street these days. And the kids aren't playing the old reliable
standbys: they're playing cricket.

(there's more)

National Night Out

dunked_2010.jpg

National Night Out in Troy's North Central

By Kim M.

soapbox badgeThis Tuesday is National Night Out. If you're not involved in a community group like I am, NNO is probably not on your radar screen.

So what is National Night Out? It's America's Night Out Against Crime, a drug and crime prevention effort.

Oh, yeah -- and there's outdoor bowling.

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Inside perspective on the Troy Food Co-op's struggle to survive

troy food coop now open sign

"Undoubtedly, board and owners patted themselves on the back for a job well done when we should have scrambled as if the fate of the co-op depended on it."

By Mike Avent

soapbox badgeThis past Sunday on the Soapbox, Leah offered suggestions to the struggling Troy Food Co-op -- and used the market's situation to look at the broader issue of gentrification in Troy. Her post prompted a lot of discussion, some of it pointed. Here's a response from one of the co-op's board members.

My name is Mike, and I have been a board member of the Troy Co-op for about 6 weeks. I write to explain our situation and ask for help. Frankly, we need all the help we can get.

There is a misconception that the co-op has narrowly averted a series of catastrophes since opening, and that the latest email represents another bullet to dodge. The reality is that the co-op has never been on firm footing. In some ways, every day we've been open has been a minor miracle. I believe we opened the co-op with the minimum amount of capital needed to get the doors open. We have been in a slow moving crisis ever since. Undoubtedly, board and owners patted themselves on the back for a job well done when we should have scrambled as if the fate of the co-op depended on it.

We're not out of time yet, but there is no margin for error.

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Pioneer Market and the gentrification of the Collar City

troy food coop composite

A good thing that could be better.

By Leah the Nosher

soapbox badgeThis week, the Capital District community saw yet another email from the board of Troy's Pioneer Food Market.

They simultaneously reached out to and scolded their co-owners, saying, "If you don't spend more money, we won't stay open." They assure their members that they "share their concerns" that the co-op's product mix has shifted away from organic and natural foods, that they have ordered the general manager to shift the products back, while simultaneously "authorized [him] to reduce expenditures." They also share that after being in development since 2007, and after being in operation since October of 2010, the Pioneer Market is just now "applying to become a WIC (women/infants/children) vendor to better serve the Troy community."

What's wrong with this picture?

I wrote about my concerns in a comment here on AOA earlier this week.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a community-based food initiative that improves life in a city that's had more that its share of hard knocks, but this week's announcement from the Pioneer Food Market board brought up some old concerns about the Collar City's attempts at gentrification.

(there's more)

A dog's life in the Capital Region

Martin Daley and Murphy.jpg

Murphy and his person, Daleyplanit

By Martin Daley and Murphy Daley

Greetings, All Over Albany Readers! My name is Murphy. And yes, I'm a dog! My Master, Daleyplanit, sometimes writes for the Sunday Soapbox. This week he wanted to post about the life of a dog in Albany -- a subject I'm pretty familiar with -- so we decided I should step in.

So here's Murphy's dog-eye view of life in Albany.

First, a little about me...

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Growing where the cows come home

Cows_Madeo_Soapbox.jpg

No Jersey plates here

By Rob Madeo

soapbox badgeEvery year, cows suddenly appear in the field down the road. They spend the summer grazing and a few months later they are gone, hopefully off to become milking cows somewhere, rather than the alternative.

The cows are like the summer people who invade places like Columbia County and Lake George. They come and sit in the sun, eat, relax, and enjoy themselves -- but unlike the summer people, they are quiet, have no cell phones, and don't race around in big SUVs with New Jersey plates. And anyway, you would never see a Jersey plate on a Holstein.

But the cows are oblivious to what's going on all around: the farms and fields are shrinking in on them.

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Children at Play

Children Play.jpg

Signs of summer

By Kim M

soapbox badgeChildren make me nervous.

They're small. They're quick. They jump and run around in such a chaotic pattern that they're impossible to predict. Basically, they're almost as terrifying to me as moths and house centipedes.

And now it's summer. The days are long, the nights are warm, and school is wrapping up for the year. They are everywhere. E V E R Y W H E R E, I tell you!

Unfortunately, everywhere includes our city streets. My block was tragically reminded of this on Memorial Day when a 6-year-old boy was struck by a truck driven by a man who only lived a couple of blocks away. It was horrific and heartbreaking.

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The one-car household: a car junkie cuts back

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeI am what you may call a recovering car junkie.

I. Love. Cars.

I've had over 10 of them -- even a couple of classics. And I still pine for the restored 1986 Jeep CJ-7 I once owned.

But a couple of years ago a muffler shop noticed a ton of frame rust on my barely-broken-in Toyota Tacoma and told me about a buyback program created to address the problem. After a month of back and forth, Toyota eventually bought my beloved truck back.

Since then, we've been a single car household.

Here's how it's worked out.

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Pride in Albany

By Leigh Cummings

soapbox badgeIt's that time of year again when Albanians take to the streets to celebrate Capital Pride.

In general, I'm not especially fond of our various fests, when the Lark Street and Washington Park areas are overrun with sometimes disrespectful partiers. They usually leave behind a sad swath of destruction that is at best annoying, and at worst shameful. Many Lark area residents (me included) either retreat to their homes or take the opportunity to spend a weekend out of town. Capital Pride, however, gets me excited. It's flamboyant and friendly, community-oriented and just a little bit risque.

This, friends, is a fest I can get behind.

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On the Waterfront: Troy

Troy's waterfront: imagined

By Kim M.

soapbox badgeTroy's slow renaissance is gaining momentum. It's an exciting thing to watch.

The CityStation project is progressing quickly on Congress Street. But the project that really has me weak in the knees is the redevelopment of the former city hall site by Troy City Center. Have you seen it? It's a real game-changer.

I'm giddy.

(there's more)

The Lark Tavern: where everybody knew your name

lark tavern neon sign

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeI miss the Lark Tavern. I really, really, really miss the Lark Tavern. Funny, I never thought I'd ever get so nostalgic about a bar, but then again, you don't know what you've got until it's gone and the Lark Tavern wasn't just any bar.

(there's more)

Before we get a Wegmans or a Trader Joe's

in-n-out burger fries

A faraway object of Chuck's desire.

By Chuck Miller

soapbox badgeAll you have to do around here is mention the words "Wegman's" or "Trader Joe's" in the Capital District, and people go nuts. They want a Wegmans in this area so badly, you would think Wegmans offered six-packs of divine ambrosia on every aisle. And then they decry the "gentleman's agreement" that either exists or doesn't exist between Wegmans and Price Chopper -- the agreement (or non-agreement) that keeps the grocery store chain out of the Capital District. And of course, after that they want a Trader Joe's in the area.

Oh, why can't we get a Trader Joe's? Whaaa, I want a Trader Joe's! If I don't get a Trader Joe's in the Capital District, I'm going to hold my breath until I turn blue!!

Okay. Everybody sit down.

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Noah's ode to local fast food

local fast food

By Noah Sheetz

soapbox badgeWhen I was a freshman at the University of North Texas, just north of Dallas, I worked at an opinion research call center. It was a job that appealed to college students with limited work experience. We were given free rein to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee by the truckload while we worked. We made random cold calls to people on sample lists all over the country and conducted surveys on anything from camera film to real estate. The survey I most often worked on was for fast food -- McDonald's, actually, but we weren't allowed to "speculate" about the survey client. Usually after 20 or 30 McDonald's related questions however, the survey taker caught on. "Is this survey for McDonald's?" "Well I don't know, we're not allowed to speculate about who the client is...."

Despite being McDonalds-centric, I learned a lot about fast food from the survey which, by the time I'd quit working at the call center, I could recite completely without having to look once at the question prompts on the computer monitor.

There are scores and scores of fast food chains all across the country serving up everything: pizza, hot dogs, Mexican and Italian food, subs, burgers, pretzels, donuts, chicken sandwiches and more. Despite the dizzying array of options, the national and global fast food industry is dominated by only a handful of corporations. The food in every chain is meticulously standardized so that a McDonald's burger or a Chipotle burrito will taste the same in Branson, Missouri or Portland, Oregon. There is little or no regional reflection left in any of the big chain fast food restaurants and there are few, if any, independent operators left.

When I moved to New York in 1999 to go to cooking school I was in awe of how much more slowly the process of fast food chain infiltration seemed to be occurring here.

I was happy to discover a number of local fast food restaurants in the Capital Region, each with its own unique history that continues to serve their own interesting specialties.

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The Albany parking lot district

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E.P. Miller Jewelry store on Division St. in Albany

By Rob Madeo

soapbox badgeI came across a postcard from E.P. Miller Jewelers on Division Street in Albany. In the doorway are three serious looking chaps, one of them, presumably, E.P. himself. They sold watches, clocks, all variety of fine jewelry -- plus you could stop in for a pair of eyeglasses, for Mr. Miller was a licensed optometrist.

E.P. knew that it pays to advertise, and it's easy to find his ads in old copies of the Albany Evening Journal and Altamont Enterprise. Plenty of people used to take the train to work in Albany, so the suburban paper made good sense.

When the card (view larger) was mailed in 1908, Miller's store stood in the heart of what I call Albany's Parking Lot District. This vast, empty landscape of nearly seven acres was once a bustling part of the city.

Now it's a wasteland.

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Of government and chickens

albany common council law committee chickens

The Albany Common Council law committee's meeting on backyard chickens last month.

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeAll my life I've tried to steer as clear as possible from the political arena. But, the older I get, the more I see how government makes a difference in my everyday life. It would seem that politics has found me.

There's an old saying that laws are a lot like sausages -- no one wants to see how they're made. Sadly, I'm finding out just how true that saying is. The more I get involved in local government, the more frustrated I am.

(there's more)

Hoosick Street: Future UFO landing site?

hoosick street mcdonald's rendering

A few of the renderings of the proposed McDonald's. (Here's a larger version with more views.)

By Kim M.

soapbox badgeIf you've been keeping up on news from Troy, you may have heard that a McDonald's has been proposed for the empty lot at the corner of Hoosick and 15th.

And I'm torn.

(there's more)

Confessions of an Albany ex-pat

By Nicole Messier

soapbox badgeAs my plane left San Francisco in 2008, a host of premeditated, depressing songs were set to play on my iPod. One of them was "The City," by Sara Bareilles. The chorus of the song embraced my feelings at the time:

"Here in these deep city lights;
Girl could get lost tonight;
I'm finding every reason to be gone;
Nothing here to hold on to."

Exhausted and burnt-out from Silicon Valley, I had booked a one-way ticket to Albany. The new job I had lined up fell through just months after my arrival. And the adventure that ensued has made me keenly aware of the nuances of "SmAlbany."

The culture shock I experienced after coming back to the Capital Region practically warranted a passport to live here again.

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The Fantasy Lark Street

By Leigh Cummings

soap box badgeIt's a gorgeous, sunny day and you're out for a stroll in your neighborhood. Half-eaten apple in hand, you pop into the post office to mail a letter and then head to the butcher for a pound of sausage and a ball of fresh mozzarella. On your way home, you stop at the food cart to chat with the owner and grab a bag of soft pretzels.

Now imagine all of this happening on Lark Street. Impossible, you say? Maybe today. But how great would that be?

(there's more)

The Mail Chute

Mail Chute.jpg

Slower than pressing send -- but more fun.

By Rob Madeo

When they put up buildings these days, the infrastructure for carrying data is built right in. Today's pipelines are copper wire and fiber optic cable, but in the past, the conduits for moving information were... well, actual conduits.

When 90 State Street was constructed it was equipped with a Cutler Mail Chute system. In 1929, this was the height of modernity. Instead of carrying your mail downstairs, you could just drop it in the slot and it went racing to the first floor.

Imagine the time it saved!

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Loving -- and hating -- the Empire State Plaza

egg corning tower museum from esp

Impressive -- and maddening.

By Martin Daley

soap box badgeLike lots of Albanians, I have a love/hate relationship with the Empire State Plaza.

I've never known Albany without the ESP. It's just always been there for me. I know I'm coming home when I see it on the horizon. It's a symbol of this city, and there's no changing that.

Nelson Rockefeller sure knew how to make his mark.

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Stop whining and do something about it

By Kim M.

soap box badgeWe're pulling out the AOA soap box each Sunday for people to praise, complain, suggest, joke, or make an observation about things they see going on in the Capital Region.

Since January's Troy city council meeting, one speech during the public forum has stayed on my mind.

I knew I was going to be interested in what Marcia Pascarella had to say when she said, "I want to talk about my neighborhood. My drug dealers. My welfare people. My street runners. My stabbers, my shooters. I'm talking within a 3-4 block radius."

Marcia's from North Central, has a long memory, and doesn't pull punches.

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The Earl of Pearl

State and Pearl signs .jpg

It all started at State and Pearl...

By Rob Madeo

We're pulling out the AOA soap box each Sunday for people to praise, complain, suggest, joke, or make an observation about things they see going on in the Capital Region.

soap box badgeIt's been a long, hard winter, but now that spring is getting a grip on the ice and snow, things are finally looking up. Some people are waiting for the crocuses to peep their heads out, others for the red winged blackbirds to hit town.

Me? I'm looking for a squirrel, known downtown as the Earl of Pearl.

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An urban planner grows in Albany

By Martin Daley

soap box badgeWe're pulling out the AOA soap box each Sunday for people to praise, complain, suggest, joke, or make an observation about things they see going on in the Capital Region.

Nostalgia can encourage people to play fast and loose with their memories.

I'm sure I remember my childhood in Albany's Helderberg neighborhood as far more exciting and enjoyable than it really was. I was born in Boston, but I was three when we moved here, and I can say with certainty that I'm Albany-bred, of Albany stock, a true Albanian.

As a kid, your definition of "worst things ever" is pretty undeveloped, so it's certainly likely I wallowed in the misery of dating (lack of), homework, and boredom, but my brain doesn't store much of that stuff. The good memories of childhood (including sunny summer days playing football; late fall nights playing street hockey; making race car tracks in the yard for matchbox cars; riding bikes; and general mischief) are the memories that resonate.

I didn't realize until years later that the layout and landscape of the neighborhood I grew up in played a strong role in shaping my values -- and my career.

I'll admit, there were signs very early on that I might grow up to be an urban planner: I loved Sim City, my favorite book was New Providence, and I had a gigantic Lego city laid out in the basement.

Sometimes, you just don't see the forest through the trees.

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Good neighbors check in to make sure you haven't frozen to death

By Kim M

soap box badgeHere's something new: We're pulling out the AOA soap box each Sunday for people to praise, complain, suggest, joke, or make an observation about things they see going on in the Capital Region.

New Yorkers, and Northeasterners in general, have a reputation for being a comparatively unfriendly sort, leaving some to speculate that our wintery climate is to blame for our frosty personalities.

Personally, I think it's a bunch of hogwash. All of it.

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The Scoop

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Recent Comments

I've found that anecdotes from neighbors, friends, or internet "strangers" can only take you so far. If you haven't already, I strongly recommend you get out there and visit these schools during the school year, during the school day to get a feel for things. In the last few months, my wife and I have made a series of visits to our local elementary, middle + high-school. During those visits, we had the chance to talk to multiple teachers and see the kids "in action". It was very VERY telling in a lot of ways - both good and bad.

Drawing: American Music Festival + Peck's Arcade

...has 84 comments, most recently from Michael H

The plan to connect two major bike paths at the Albany waterfront

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Experiences to share about Albany schools?

...has 36 comments, most recently from GS

The Capital Region is growing very slowly -- which is better than many other parts of the state

...has 5 comments, most recently from Mike

Albany police planning to start using body cameras this summer

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