Friday, July 27, 2007

Dealing with it

Unless you’ve been sleeping in a box car this past week, you’ve probably noticed track season is here. Broadway becomes the city’s largest parking lot, Caroline Street becomes the region’s largest beer garden and the per capita asshole quotient generally triples. Liquored fiends swarm around any eating establishment within the city proper, ravenously consuming anything or anyone that happens in their path. For the denizens of track season, the modus operandi is quite simple: get hammered, find horses and throw money at them; repeat for six weeks.

Apart from this bacchanalian sloth, a flood of refugees pours from the city proper in search for any corner left untainted by the relentless hordes. Indeed, this is no short order. And once a slice of salvation is found, it doesn’t take long for the masses to catch on.

So here’s a bit of advice to cope with the long days and longer nights of track season. First of all, keep your liver limber. As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Or in this case, as the barbarians are sacking Rome, do as the barbarians do. And these troglodytes do enjoy their liquor. Suggested drink: gin and tonic; when else can you get drunk and prevent malaria at the same time?

Next, find a watering hole and a good barkeep. Contrary to what "la tourista" might think, the best bar is the one with no one in it. You’re generally not going to find one of these on the main strip or any of the arterioles. Odd as it sounds, the best hidden secret is the Alley Bar. This is a filthy little grotto tucked behind Broadway, where if you’re sporting a full smile or sober demeanor, you’re bound to turn some heads.

For the more upscale drinkers, there’s the back patio at the Adelphi, which is obscure enough that it’s generally not crowded at night. You’ll pay out the ass for the class, but it is one of the nicer spots to get watered during the season. Just bring an umbrella. There’s always a chance Bruce Levinsky’s building next door will start raining bricks.

But dealing with the masses isn’t all about getting crocked. It’s also about avoiding the masses altogether. In other words, avoid Broadway at all costs. And while you’re at it, don’t bother with Lake Avenue, Phila, Caroline, or Putnam streets either. The city is webbed with small back alleys, which are much easier and quicker to traverse than the main strip. Who knows, you might find a new part of the city to dwell.

While you’re avoiding Broadway, do yourself a favor and avoid eating out, period. Fire up the grill and bust out that recipe book Aunt Gerty gave you before college. Even the most neophyte epicureans will cook up better grub than what’s being shoveled downtown.

At the top end of track season, you may find a few deals here and there. But as the mayhem progresses, the food quality regresses. Keep in mind, most restaurant workers party harder than the tourists themselves and often later –just peak in Clancy’s tavern around daybreak for proof of this. Usually this means what is being served isn’t as high on the priority list as simply getting it the hell out to the customer.

If you do happen into one of the many Broadway establishments, make sure you secure a patio spot. This is another cathartic activity for frustrated locals. Find a seat on Broadway and gawk at tourists. Especially the freak yuppie wearing a pink shirt with the collar turned up. These people leave an open invitation for you to chortle your aggravation away.

Leaving is also a recommended activity during track season. Many the downstaters view Saratoga Springs as a sort of refuge from an area that would otherwise be a scene from the movie Deliverance. But in truth, there are plenty of day refuges that are much better than contending with a group of jerk-offs waving pink sheets. Just a half-hour away is the Great Sacandaga Lake, which has largely avoided the development that has befallen Lake George. Every inch of the lake shore is owned by the state and rented to the surrounding landowners. In a few spots near the towns of Day and Edinburg, there are turnoffs where lake access is free and generally unpopulated, aside from a scattering of rednecks.

Hadley is also a pleasant treasure away from the throngs of tourons. There are rafting companies in the town that will haul you up to the Stewart’s Pond dam to float down the Sacandaga River. Couple this with a few friends and a few beers and you’ve got a relaxing time to wash away the angst of tourist season.

Yes, it’s a difficult time when the ponies come to town. The black flies are almost as relentless as the compulsive gamblers. But with a nice buzz and few cronies, it’s pretty easy to temporarily melt them into obscurity.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ominous harbinger

Massoud pulled through the pack of galloping thoroughbreds into the top of the stretch. The 7-year-old gelding was almost assured victory when he stumbled before the crowd gathered Wednesday at the Saratoga Racecourse. He crashed through the rail, shattering his right front leg and pitching well-known jockey John Velazquez before tumbling a stead named Lieutenant Danz. Moments later, the beaten favorite was unceremoniously euthanized in a horse trailer away from prying eyes.

The grizzly spectacle left more than 30,000 people aghast in the grandstand, but doubtfully prompted anything more among the throngs of tourists than a fleeting afterthought over a few overpriced martinis downtown. But it’s possible to view Massoud’s demise as a harbinger of rough times ahead for New York’s shrine to the sport of kings.

The name itself is even a bit ominous. Though a somewhat common throughout the countries of the Middle East, the name often harkens to Ahmad Shah Massoud, a revolutionary hero in the war-torn annals of Afghanistan. The engineering student turned military leader fought tirelessly against the occupying Soviets during the 1980s, then battled the ruling Taliban as a member of the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan during the 1990s. He was killed by a pair of suicide bombers posing as journalists. His death was swept out of the news two days later by several thousand other deaths on Sept. 11, 2001; ominous indeed.

Surely Wednesday’s equine tumble in Saratoga isn’t as foreboding. However, there are a significant number of storm clouds beginning to accumulate over the Spa City. Naturally, the most looming event in the near future is Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s decision over who will operate the state’s racing franchise. The day after the last race is ran Saratoga, he’ll choose between return the bid to the embattled New York Racing Association or choose among three suitor groups that seem content to play musical chairs every other week with their principle members.

The governor has also toyed with the idea of splitting ownership of New York’s tracks among a pair of entities, leaving one to control Saratoga Race Course and the other to run an incomprehensibly valuable video lottery terminal contract downstate. The prospect of this later concept has drawn rebuke from many of racing’s diehards and one of the city’s more prominent racing newbies.

Amid the wrangling and rankling of this struggle in Albany, Spitzer and Hollywood Joe Bruno decided to bring their political sparring to the racecourse for opening day. Never in recent history was there an opening day as surrounded by politics as the 139th running. Spitzer lobbed the first grenade into the clubhouse, when he teamed with the equally antagonistic Shelly Silver to swear off their box seats at the track.

Both officials said they wanted to allay any sense of impropriety in the franchise decision that might be prompted by using any of the track’s 361 high-demand boxes. Bruno bristled at the idea of giving up his pair of seats. He fired back by pointing out his payment for the preferential seats.

Then before the first race could get underway, Hollywood herded the media in front of the racecourse and fired a shot across Spitzer’s bow. Blustering with the intensity of a category 3 hurricane, Bruno called for a state investigation into the furtive investigation by the governor’s office into alleged improprieties by the senate Republican fixture’s using state aircraft during his campaigning in New York City.

Indeed, this is state government at its finest. Democrat bites Republican, Republican cries foul, and then bites Democrat while his back is turned. Both begin pissing on one another and the Legislature deadlocks. Now we’re talking politics, New York-style. And to think, the pundits predicted a sweeping change just seven months ago in front of the state capitol.

Of course, the graying skies of politics aren’t just hovering over the race course. They’re looking especially black over City Hall these days. Still more than a month away from the primaries, the Keehn versus Boyd ticket is getting more off track by the day. After Boyd’s somewhat embarrassing self-endorsement earlier this month, Keehn decided she wouldn’t be outdone in the meddling politics arena.

First, there was the placing of Keehn re-election signs outside government-subsidized housing on Jefferson Terrace by its building super. Boyd saw his opportunity for a rabbit punch and cried foul. The federal government frowned at the whole incident, but told the Saratogian Wednesday the signs could legitimately be placed there.

What is more depressing, however, is the fact that these signs in a low-income housing area give the misguided impression that Keehn supports the working class and vice versa. Since taking office on this very platform, she’s done little if anything to aid the plight of these people, aside from raiding the Saratoga Workforce Housing Trust Fund to add a two-family apartment complex to the roles of “affordable housing.”

The trust fund that was initially intended to be a self-sustaining venture is now on the brink of insolvency, as one blogger reported last month. The net result? A whopping eight “workers” will be able to rent an apartment in the city for under $500 a month. Meanwhile, the only hope for inexpensive property within the city lies somewhere out in Geyser Crest, and that’s only if you’re one of the few people that considers $175,000 affordable. Most people making under $40,000 a year –the majority of Saratoga’s working class –would not consider this affordable.

Keehn also decided to again employ esteemed videographer Roger Wyatt to create what can only be termed as a train wreck of a campaign piece touting the mayor’s “green” initiatives. Aside from painting an unflattering but accurate view of the mayor as an uninspiring and somewhat monotone politico, Wyatt also manages to misspell the acronym for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in the video, instead calling the organization “NYCERTA.”

The video is now making rounds on Rumor on the street is the Academy Awards officials are tuning into this 7-minute masterpiece.

And then there’s milquetoast Republican candidate Scott Johnson, who has largely sat on the sidelines as Keehn and Boyd shred each other like Michael Vick’s pit bulls. All in all, there will be a new city council seated in January and one that will again be face with developing consensus to get things done in the city.

Meanwhile, the year-round residents of Saratoga Springs have run for the hills, as the never-ending deluge of tourists inundate every nook and cranny of the city. The streets are clogged, the restaurants are filled and the mayhem of racing season has begun. Buckle down, readers; it could be a rough ride through September.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fair and balanced

There was a time when the only people looking to fleece your money at the Saratoga County Fair were the side-stepping carnies skulking around by the games of chance. As long as you steered clear of those folks, an evening could run as cheap as $20 for a gut full of fair chum and a few spins on the Gravitron. Oh, how the times have changed.

These days, just walking into the fair will run you a ten-spot. Jumping on any of the stock amusement park rides costs four bucks a shot, while just about any item of food will run about six. All in all, it takes a mighty deep pocket to roll through the fair for any length of time. And if you’re unlucky enough to have a Dodge caravan full of rugrats, you’ll probably have to place a second mortgage on the house before heading over to the fairgrounds.

Yes, the times have changed and life is always getting more expensive. Ask any business owners and they’ll give you some rigmarole about increasing fuel costs and the booming housing market. Slather all this with a healthy topping of inflation and you have why a family outing at the fair costs about as much as a plane ticket to Vegas, where there are just as many people eager to dip into your pocket.

Of course there’s a much more cost-effective way to cash in on the fun: simply go on the last day. Despite boasting a morning-to-midnight hours of operation on all their advertising literature, fair officials signaled to pack it all up three hours early on a beautiful Sunday evening and with a robust crowd still milling about. All the ticket booths were closed and haggard fair workers were simply letting people jump on the rides free of cost as they started the breakdown process. Score one for the fiscally strapped.

It’s perfectly understandable why they would start cleaning up early on the last day, given the overall demeanor of the fair folk. Most of them seemed about as interested in keeping the place open as the standard citizen in reading volumes of tax code. Also, closing the beer garden early probably cut the fair’s aggregate blood alcohol content by several hundredths of a percentage point.

Director Dick Rowland probably crunched some numbers during the evening demolition derby and saw he was in the black after two busy days on the weekend, thus justifying an early departure on the last night. After all, what kind of a freak goes to a goddamn fair just a couple hours before midnight on a Sunday. Still, if the fair closes early on the last day, do these freaks a favor and explain this in advance; they might want to take chunderous spin on the Gravitron before the carnies leave town.

On an unrelated side note, the Gravitron was one of the rides unavailable to latecomers. As a genius carnie explained in a succinct cardboard note pasted on the front of the machine, “Gravitron is broke down.” Classic carny.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Let sleeping swine lie

For nearly eight years, it was quite fashionable in the media to find a hurtling bus and throw Congressman Kickass beneath it. As his years in office soared by, it seemed like the triple-chinned John Sweeney seemed to get fatter by the day off the neocon gravy train as it blazed a trail of ruin through the post-9-11 countryside.

He was the quintessential filthy politician, with a hand in every cookie jar his fat little digits could fit through. And being a member of the ruling class, he had a carte blanche to do just about anything he felt like doing, whether it was driving drunk or supporting third-world slave labor or rubbing elbows with convicted felon Jack Abramoff. Yes, there were some good times and good stories had at the expense of Sweeney.

That all ended on Nov. 7, 2006, when voters handed Sweeney his walking papers. True, you don’t erase two terms of sleaze out of the press –or the blogs in this case –overnight. The beseated congressman still had a few knocks left in him after the election, primarily because his campaign fell nearly a quarter-million dollars in debt.

Then last week, Sweeney’s name again surfaced in the Times Union, the very paper he accused of running a smear campaign against him just days before a contentious election. Quizzically citing a story in the Saratogian –a paper that unabashedly promoted Sweeney for the duration of his time in office –the TU published a story about the former congressman being estranged from his wife, Gaia, the very woman they accused him of beating during a 2005 incident.

The story was certainly newsworthy, in the sense that it finally sent the embattled lawyer off to political retirement. It also added justification for the paper’s reporting of Sweeney’s uncharged domestic violence case. But then today, the TU ran a second article about an order of protection Sweeney recently was granted against his soon-to-be divorced wife. The article seems a bit over the top and even invasive into the life of a private citizen, albeit one of a particularly oily ilk.

Journalism gurus will offer this rule of thumb for determining the newsworthiness of a story: does it impact the public or is it of keen public interest. On the first of these premises, this report fails. And on the second, it’s debatable. Some would argue that the 20th district now has a perfectly suitable representative and that Sweeney’s name should be returned to anonymity until he does something over the top, as many predict he eventually will.

There does come a time when the congressman turned punching bag should again be able enjoy the civilian life and all the just prudence the media affords to commoners. In Sweeney’s case, perhaps this time hasn’t come. But it seems the TU is a bit overly vindictive toward Sweeney, considering the ruin his career has become.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Leaps of faith

Sometimes in the go-go world of television journalism, there’s no time for cogent thought before leaping toward a sweeping assumption. When tragedy strikes, it’s best to take these blind leaps before the competition does during the evening news, as the thinking goes in the broadcast world. And there’s no news organization that is better at taking these lunges than the 24-hour-a-day gurus at Capital New 9.

Such was the case Monday, when the “your-news-now” team leaped into action on a story about car safety devices on the market. Just two days earlier, an accident claimed the life of a 17-month-old infant in the city of Amsterdam. The infant was strapped in a car seat sitting in a driveway when a woman, not seeing the youth, ran over him with her car. Though tragic, city police ruled the incident accidental, as the driver couldn’t see the infant from the driver’s seat.

While the other news agencies were penning and filming the grief, an enterprising Mohawk Valley reporter from News 9 decided to confront the accident story at a car dealership. Wheeling down to the local Nissan dealer, he found all kinds of safety features designed to prevent such tragic accidents. Far fangled devices like rear view cameras where the driver can view what's behind him on a dashboard monitor. Or a sonar system that alerts the motorist when something is obstructing the rear.

Yes, these aftermarket items could save hundreds; even thousands of lives. Maybe even the maimed 17-month-old child in Amsterdam right?

Wrongo, junior. Amsterdam Police determined the child was struck while seated in front of the vehicle and not in the rear, as the News 9 reporter assumed. Essentially, this makes his story a glorified advertorial for the dealership, which should be sporting enough to buy the chap a beer or three for the free publicity. Even sadder is the fact his own news station initially reported this fact when the story broke Saturday.

The truth is accidents happen even with technology; sometimes they’re unavoidable. Just because someone with a bit too much money buys a system designed for a nuclear submarine doesn’t me that person will get a free ticket to elude fate.

However, taking blind leaps of faith into a news story is avoidable. In this case, the reporter from News 9 could have saved a bit of face had he taken a moment to get the facts straight before basing the premise of his story on an assumption.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Losing proposition

For those among the Saratoga Springs populous not thoroughly disenchanted with city politics, there’s Decision 2007 to push you over the edge. With the mayoral candidates not even set in their racing lanes, the two democratic candidates have been relentlessly pummeling one another with the starting blocks. While someone is bound to emerge victorious from this childish pugilism, the energy and public face wasted during this sparring makes the whole thing rather superfluous.

First, challenger Gordon Boyd announced his candidacy in eight days after the New Year and a solid 11 months before the election. Supporters of incumbent Valerie Keehn responded three months later by launching a full-out frontal assault on Public Works fixture Tom McTygue, claiming him as the puppeteer pulling Boyd’s strings; Keehn herself needled the commissioner by launching her re-election campaign the same day state Environmental Conservation investigators chose to rifle through his department files.

In response to this very public infighting, the Democratic Party punished Keehn by handing their endorsement to Boyd. The Keehniacs, a minority in the party, countered this move by childishly protesting the meeting. Keehn herself appeared to be taking the high road when she asked the party to not make any decision, even though this was a thinly veiled ploy chucked out to the press as damage control after she realized she didn’t have enough supporters in the party.

And then the endorsements began.

Boyd snapped up the Independence Party nod to secure a spot on the ballot. Then he went on to peculiarly grab the Conservative Party endorsement, a move that left several left-leaning Dems wondering why a progressive candidate would seek support from a group many liberals view as regressive. But even this could be explained simply by the candidate, who has professed from the get-go he can "work across party lines.”

Now here’s the confusing part. Boyd received the endorsement of SUCCES, a grass-roots anti-charter reform group he established. In other words, he’s endorsing himself.

With the city Dems on board, Boyd really didn’t need any endorsement before the September primary. Registered Dems are very frustrated with Keehn’s buggering and seemed ready to give him the go-ahead. With this latest gag, however, Boyd has opened himself up for a well-deserved rabbit-punch from the city Republicans, who have remained quiet up until now.

“I see no reason for this group to continue to exist, let alone endorse candidates in the November elections,” Republican chairman John Herrick told the Times Union this week, while offering his candidate, Scott Johnson, as the knight in shining armor.

Then there’s Keehn’s sole endorsement. After wisely deciding not to get into the fray, the Working Families Party did an about-face and chose the incumbent as their choice. This officially makes the Democratic primary meaningless, as both Keehn and Boyd will be on the ballot anyway. More distressing is that Tom Comanzo, co-chair of the party, made the decision because decided of Keehn’s “strong support for the WFP's issue agenda.”

This agenda must involve back-biting, creating a fetid atmosphere in City Hall and accomplishing absolutely nothing while in office. In fact, if there was one group that has perpetually lost under Keehn, it would be working families, as few there are sparsely few members of the proletariat can afford to live in Saratoga anymore and certainly not in the city proper.

Contrary to the incessant cyber-trash Keehn’s dwindling supporters pollute over the Internet, there is no clear winner in this race. In contrast, there are bound to be some losers. When the ballots are counted in November, there will be roughly 32,000 losers, namely the people who get nothing but a headache from the bickering and dickering between these plutocrats.

Friday, July 13, 2007

i’m (not) lovin’ it

Nestled between the stately Adirondack Trust building by state park to the south and Congress Park to the north, there is a commercial strip that can’t seem to follow the beautification trends that are omnipresent in other areas of the city.

While developers have made quite a herculean effort to redevelop and renovate every corner of the west side and the various capillary streets running off the main strip, South Broadway has remained the bastard child of Saratoga Springs’ commercial zones.

True, there are some properties that have cleaned up, such as Chiantis, the Long John Silver’s-turned-upscale bistro, and Haweli, a long-barren Kentucky Fried Chicken-turned-chic Indian restaurant. And on a whole, many of the businesses try to at least keep their landscaping well-manicured, allowing even the cheap 70s-era architecture style to somewhat blend with the area.

Still, there are several properties that seem to perpetually fall through the cracks in this area. Perhaps the most notable eyesore along the southern corridor is the former Getty station owned by Crown Oil. For more than a decade, town officials have wrangled with the owners in an attempt to wrest it from their clutches for intersection improvements. In the end, the city simply seized the land they needed, but in the process left a sour relationship with the owner, who seems perfectly contented to allow the half-million-dollar property rot into the ground.

Not too far away from this blight is an equally meddlesome spot on the Canfield Street intersection. Hotelier Michael Hoffman once planned to replace a dilapidated garage with a hotel and spa of sorts, but ultimately abandoned the plans with occupancy rates dropped in the city. Today, a sign remains on the site offering to rent space in a new professional building; the estimated time of completion is 2006.

But in both of these cases, the properties in question are vacant and not generating revenue for their respective owners, save for the actual valuing of the parcel. Perhaps the most egregious of all the properties along this stretch is the South Broadway McDonalds. One would be pressed to find a working business along this stretch that is even remotely as unsightly. Even Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s chain doppelganger down the street, managed to put a penny or three into their store to make it a bit more pleasing to the eye.

Not McDonald’s. Despite making what is surely a multi-million dollars’ worth of annual sales, the owners of this chain can’t even be bothered with improving their hideous landscaping, which dwarfs even that of the service stations and car dealerships down the street. Dead or dying evergreen shrubs give the store a ragged, ghetto look; the store’s badly faded colors suggest that there’s been no effort whatsoever to take care of the business.

And why bother changing? There’s a constant procession of fast-food eaters that funnel through Micky D’s at almost every waking hour of the day. They don’t seem to care that the front of the building looks more akin to the abandon building on the stretch than it does a functioning business.Even the McDonald’s at highway rest stops trump this urban blight, which stands testament to the unabated development the city subjected itself to during its darker years.

True, city officials aren’t likely to have much recourse against McDonald’s, as they do just enough grooming to get by without a citation from the code enforcer. However, it couldn’t hurt to send a correspondence urging the owner to get onboard with the efforts to make South Broadway a bit nicer.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Thank you, Captain Obvious

When it comes to deciding the future of New York’s racing franchise, Mayor Valerie Keehn is putting her foot down. In a ground breaking, earth shaking letter to Governor Eliot Spitzer, Keehn asked –rather demanded –that a decision be made no later than New Year’s Day in 2008.

“Our Saratoga Springs community is developing a sense of anxiety about the lack of a clear plan for 2008 and beyond, especially since thoroughbred racing plays such a central role in our local economy and culture,” Keehn prattled on in one of her trademark wordy letters.

In other news, Keehn is expected to call on the state to continue thoroughbred racing in Saratoga Springs, keep the Northway open up to Exit 15 and to continue with a calendar year that includes 12 months. She is also asking the governor to continue allowing unabated photosynthesis within the confines of the state park.

When it comes to influence in the governor’s office, the Spa City’s mayor in just a step above the janitor that sweeps up around the Capitol and just a step below Spitzer’s dog James. True, she is a Democrat who has ties to both the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Attorney General’s Office, the governor’s old stomping ground. But with Spitzer himself, she might as well be a gnat whistling Dixie.

Of course Spitzer is going to make a decision before next year. He doesn’t really have a choice in the matter other than to dissolve racing altogether. After all, the franchise expires on the last day of December and there’s no real contingency plan in place if a choice is not made before then,

Spitzer has made it quite clear that he’s going to take his time choosing the next franchisee, and rightly so. Like many of the public authorities operating under the Pataki Administration, the New York Racing Association was a model of inefficiency spurred by cronyism and corruption. This culminated with Pataki’s own last-ditch effort to privatize New York’s tracks by literally choking NYRA out of existence.

Had Spitzer made a knee-jerk decision and endorsed the November recommendation of the ad hoc committee on the future of racing –of which Keehn was a member –the city would now be contending with a 2007 track season run by a group that has encountered a great deal of tumult as of late. The one-time front runner is now a long shot in the bid for the franchise, after the Steinbrenner family severed ties with the group; Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn then replaced Steve Swindal, the now estranged heir-to-be of the New York Yankee franchise, and thus changed the dynamic of Excelsior’s bid altogether.

Instead, the govenor rightly decided to let the dust settle before making any decision. It’s expected that he’ll continue to hold on a decision until after Labor Day, which also happens to be the last day the racecourse is open this season. This is wise for two reasons. First, because it gives NYRA a chance to show it can pull itself up by the bootstraps and run a successful franchise. And two, because it gives continuity during the season in Saratoga, allowing whatever incarnation awarded the bid to plan for a solid year before taking over the crown jewel of the state’s tracks.

With her choice dashed in this race and facing a tough battled for re-election, Keehn is scrambling to garner an ounce of political mileage from this whole pissing match. By sending this milquetoast letter to the governor, Keehn will keep her fingers crossed that he’ll make a decision before September’s Democratic primary. That way, she’ll be able to list it among her list of accomplishments. So far, these accomplishments include restoring the Saratoga’s VLT revenue –an achievement that had Hollywood Joe Bruno’s name all over it –and establishing a CDTA bus route through the city that no one rides.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


For most self-professed “townies,” it’s a rite of passage. Invite some poor unsuspecting sap up for an evening of Spa City revelry, imbibe in a few too many cocktails then, after waking up the next morning, make a run for some of the “healing” mineral waters in Congress Park. Then watch with glee as the aforementioned sap, his or her mouth parched from the previous night’s debauchery, takes a big mouthful of Saratoga’s finest aqua.

Simply put, the reaction is priceless. There’s nothing worse than thinking in your head that you’re about to suck down the coolest, most refreshing spring water you’ve ever drank, only to find your mouth full of a liquid that tastes much the way a landfill smells.

It’s not to say the springs around the city are bad. In fact, many of the hardcore rabble-rousers from back in the day used to drink the water by the gallon. Nevertheless, the springs are an “acquired” taste, so to speak, and one that’s not acquired without years of being subjected to the gut-wrenching taste of water that is supersaturated with about every mineral in the book, including bicarbonate, chlorine, sodium, calcium and magnesium to name a few. The result is a potent potable that is bound to cure what ails you, but isn’t likely something that will quench your thirst.

That didn’t stop Public Works fixture Tom McTygue from bringing a pair of out-of-town rubes down to the Congress Spring Tuesday. The rubes, a pair of judges from the national “America in Bloom” contest, readily sucked down some of the water on what was perhaps the hottest day of the summer thus far in the city.

Amazingly, Judge Melanie Riggs seems to think high of the mineral waters. The New Rochelle native took a mouthful and then made a startling proclamation to The Daily Gazette reporter.

“What a great feeling to walk through the city and have that open water,” she said after sampling the springs.

Yes Ms. Riggs, it is a great feeling, especially when you see a sweating tourist fresh from the track saddle up next to the springs for what he or she thinks will be the end-all of all spring water gulps. Or better yet, when a bicycler fills up their water bottle with the liquid and then furiously peddles off thinking they’ve acquired enough water to quench their thirst for another 10 miles.

Then again, if McTygue was looking to win over Riggs and her fellow judge from Chi-Town, pushing them in front of the mineral springs fountain was probably not the wisest of moves. That is, unless he took them to a 4 a.m. session of binge drinking at Clancy's Tavern the morning before.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Click-click boom

It’s never reassuring when Transportation Security Administration workers are more concerned with passengers bringing bottled water aboard a plane than they are the tools to make a bomb. Such was the case last week at Albany International Airport, where mock passengers were able to smuggle fake bomb parts past the security checkpoint, but got pinched for the water. Oddly enough, the bomb parts were in the same bag as the water, the Times Union reported Wednesday.

Now, the knee-jerk reaction is to scold the government agency for its oversight and to crack down on passengers with added vigilance at Albany. Make passengers empty their bags fully before sending them through the scanner. Frisk them and maybe even include a full-body cavity search before they get on planes; who knows what kind of explosives the terrorists could be stowing internally. After all, there’s nothing too invasive to ensure security, right?

Well actually, wrong. Very wrong. The TSA is so determined to find minutia that they often forget the more glaring items passengers may be bringing on board. Simply put, the flight restrictions have gotten too restrictive. They’re now functioning to make the security checkpoints less effective.

Some might counter this postulation by arguing there’s no way to get too restrictive when hurling several hundred people more than a mile high in what amounts to a pressurized tin can. But when it comes down to a choice of screening a bottle of Avion or a ticking bomb, this argument doesn’t hold much water.

The bottom line is that flying is a dangerous endeavor, much like the many unnatural things folks do on a regular basis that weren’t necessarily written into Mother Nature’s guide book for human beings. When someone boards a plane, they do take risks, such as the damn thing might blow up for whatever reason, be it some self-destructive freak with plastique tarred to his shoe or a malfunction somewhere in a tank containing several hundred gallons of jet fuel; accidents happen.

And to think that the hyper-imaginative heavy-handed TSA and its regulations will add even an ounce of safety aboard a flight is about as short sighted as it gets. The only screen the TSA's ramped up 2006 regulations have provided is a gigantic smoke screen; a false sense of security to justify what can only be considered invasive searches of an already timid-to-fly public.

What these regulations do achieve is millions of dollars worth of spending on everything from high-paid security consultants and studies to training programs and manuals. Hell, even the airport consignment shops are cashing in on the gig, seeing as though passengers must otherwise fly parched or without the comfort of basic items they stow on their person for travel. These regulations have little to do with safety and more to do with the bottom line: fleecing the public of its money, freedom and dignity.

Frankly, security checks such as the one conducted in Albany and another in Newark, N.J., show the ineptitude of this fledgling governmental organization. Like many of the knee-jerk governmental agencies established since 9-11, the TSA has done little, if anything, to justify its own existence. Since its creation in November 2001, the TSA hasn’t documented a single case where their security check points thwarted a plot to take down a domestic or international flight. Not a single one.

The TSA has shown its ability to intimidate passengers or steal their personal belongings. The TSA has shown its wasteful spending practices and overall ineptitude. The TSA hasn't shown its ability to make the skies safer.

Still, the flying sheep contine to board planes without make a bleat; they continue to sacrifice their liberties for a forged sense of safety the TSA and the government can never provide. Hopefully, there will one day be a ground swell of frequent fliers that protests to these Stalinesque security checks and urges the government to focus on what really matters: getting passengers safely from one place to the next.

So here’s iSaratoga’s charge to you, the authoritative reader. Do tell your most ludicrous outing with this generally useless governmental entity. Or conversely, how the TSA has somehow made you feel safer flying.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Here’s some advice to those experiencing a problem with migratory birds –such as Canadian Geese –leaving logs on their lawn: buy a dog.

True, the dog is also likely to leave a deuce or three behind in its wake, but there’s a good chance it will take care of your bird problem. Not a dog lover? Allergic to pet fur on your plush carpet? Well here’s another bit of advice: don’t live by the goddamn Kayaderosseras Creek or any other rural waterway where birds congregate.

All this commonsense just seem to elude the Reids of Milton, who recently approached the Town Board for help to alleviate their problem with goose dung in their backyard off Route 29. The board wasn’t the first place they visited either, as someone apparently advised them to grab a rifle and buy a $100 hunting permit to simply fill the meddlesome waterfowl with lead two at a time.

Yep. Kill one and leave the carcass behind with a note written in blood. They’ll learn. Oh, they’ll learn alright. And if they don’t learn, buy a grenade. Yeah, a grenade. Touch off one of those bad boys and those web-footed footed fecal machines will figure it out pretty darn quickly.

Then an ounce of commonsense percolated into the mix. The Reids decided it would probably be a bad idea to discharge a firearm several dozen times within close proximity to their neighbor’s house; something about safety regulations. Disregard the fact that the state Department of Environmental Conservation generally prohibits the act of killing migratory birds and that the geese could simply be frightened off by an overzealous Labrador, or maybe a hyperactive crackhead with a satchel full of firecrackers.

Even more ludicrous is that both the Saratogian and the Daily Gazette ran articles about this family’s ire. The Gazette even posted the story on the front of the local section, promenently featured with art and a head shot. But after the Collins Park crisis in Scotia, Canadian geese have somehow become a hot-button issue for the media. Enter the age where anything geese becomes an issue anywhere in the region, simply because they raised such a stink –pun intended –in one village's public park.

In this case, there’s really no sense in this story for several reasons. First, it’s not a problem for anyone other than the Reids and perhaps their neighbors. Second, there’s nothing the local government can do on private property that wouldn’t violate several dozen state Comptroller’s laws.

And lastly, goose shit happens; especially along the waterways of Saratoga County. They eat, they fly, they shit, so deal with it or move away from the water. Don't expect fellow taxpayers to fund a solution to a problem you could easily solve yourself.

Monday, July 02, 2007


If anyone had any doubts that United States has become the new incarnation of Rome set ablaze, just pick up a copy of Saturday’s Times Union; you’ll see more than a hunderd reasons why indeed the end of days may very well be upon us. As droves of tech junkies crowded malls across the nation to catch a piece of Apple's latest extraneous micro-device, reporters from the TU and just about every paper in the country was there to write the story.

Yes, the fledgling iPhone, Corporate America latest tool to guile the ever-complacent consumer deeper into mind-numbing complicity, hit the market at Crossgates Mall Friday with the same hype it did elsewhere in shopping plazas around the country. People lost sleep. People left work. People waited on lines for more than two days just to get a small electronic device that will allow them to tune out a bit further from reality.

Or is that closer to reality; reality T.V. that is. With the new iPhone, Internet addicts will be only a few finger-motions away from the Web, where they can download the latest pod cast of Big Brother, or perhaps browse the chat bases for the straight dope on American Idol.

Now they can listen to soundtracks for the aforementioned programs they purchase from iTunes, and then text-message their opinions to fellow viewers in the broken English that has come to symbolize the information superhighway. And while they’re doing all this, the media can write about it; long 20-inch articles about the fervor surrounding the latest consumer craze to touch down since the latest incarnation of Play Station hit the market seven months ago.

In the news business of bygone years, they used to call these manifestations in print by their real nomenclature: free advertisements. In fact, 20 inches of newsprint –equivalent to roughly a half-page ad –once cost a pretty penny. Not to mention, they typically didn’t end up on the front page or heading local section with full-color photos.

The TU wasn’t alone in covering the iCraze this week. Across New York, there were no less than 300 articles written about or making direct reference to the iPhone since January, many of them taking shape over the last week. During the first day shopping bonanza, the TU’s coverage was joined by many of the Empire State’s heavy hitters; the Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, and the New York Times all cashed in on “iDay” last week.

Naturally, all the Capital Region papers followed suit and penned wordy articles chronicling the hysteria –or is it dementia –surrounding what essentially boils down to a toy for adults. So it’s hard to aim too much vitriol at the TU or any of the other papers for simply following the fickle herd of media. But it would have been nice for an editorial board somewhere to speak out about the madness –in the media at least.

Reading all the iTripe would have been easier had such articles been tempered with an acerbic rant about how Apple doesn’t even need to advertise their latest overpriced device; the complacent media does it for them. Even better would have been a lack of such an article followed by an editorial explaining why: there are no free rides in this world, not even for you, Steve Jobs. Yet the lily-livered gutless pukes that run these publications didn’t have the fortitude to make such a stand against abject consumerism.

Meanwhile, real news is happening somewhere out there somewhere below this crust of advertorials; news involving decisions that will affect the common persons’ life much more than a line of fools waiting for an overpriced mini-laptop that doubles as a phone and will break within a year. Perhaps the real news is that citizens –and more importantly editors –are becoming so disconnected from their surroundings that ordinary news really makes no difference to them. But at least they’ll always have their iPhone to check the latest update in media about what mind-numbing technology craze is hitting the local shopping mall.

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