When Bright Hill Press invited me to read in Treadwell, NY, the invitation sent me reeling to days of slippery uphill walks to class, fuzzy wool socks, wearing coats upon coats, frozen snot (it’s a real thing), and gray skies for days. SUNY Oneonta, fifteen minutes from Treadwell, was my home for a few years during my undergrad days. I knew the drive there would come as second nature, as much as second nature could be for a gal who gets lost in parking lots. Not even a slight hesitation. I said yes yes yes, packed up some books and some outfits, and off I went towards the mountains of upstate New York.
Upstate New Yorkers, would probably frown upon my description of the Oswego area as upstate. For me, a life-long Long Islander, anything above the Bronx is upstate. However, those on the Canadian-US border are kind of more upstate than where I was headed. I was really going to Central New York. Unless this territory-debate has changed over the years. You can see it’s kind of ingrained in me.
Anyway, at three and a half to four hours depending on traffic, I set out for a day or two of hilly mountain driving. I stopped in Sloatsberg for a quick bite. I stopped in Roscoe because you have to stop in Roscoe. The Roscoe Diner is there. It’s like a law or something. I didn’t eat at the diner. I visited the parking lot and moved on.
Then came the part of the trip where I veered away from the Oneonta route and headed to Treadwell instead. There were huge trucks that sometimes drove behind me on one-lane roads. My car was doing really well on the vertical roads, but I still panicked every time one appeared because I didn’t want them to think I was going too slow. I didn’t feel like I was going slow until cars passed me. I kept telling myself that slow and steady wins the race. Then I would counter my own self with we’re not in a race.
Then I passed a milkery and knew that I was very much in the country. What’s a milkery? It’s a very large factory where milk is made that appears out of nowhere on the side of a mountain. Many of the large trucks were coming and going from here. I figured this is where a lot of the cows I saw were sending their milk. That’s how it works, right? Right.
Rounding a bend after hours of clutching the wheel, I came upon a sign at the end of a major road that had four arrows at the top. This was not a street sign. Instead, the arrows indicated: Franklin, Oneonta, Delhi, and Walton (I think these were the four). Ahh, I was in the area. Then I followed my GPS turn by turn and then the last turn came and I missed it.
No big deal. This is the reason I have a GPS. It’s not so much for directions to get to places. It’s for directions for when I screw up. So I waited for the recalculation, and it didn’t come. I took a quick glance. There was a wide blank space on the map and a blue dot hovering in the center. I’d lost GPS. I’d lost all phone signal. There would be no phone calls. There would be no artificial intelligence. There would be only me and my brains.
No big deal. I’d pull over and turn around. Ummmm, nope. When you’re on a mountain, there’s nowhere to do that. If you miss a turn and have no GPS, you really have no idea how long you have to keep driving until you can turn around. It could be a few minutes. It could be an hour.
And that’s when I did what any self-respecting adult would do. I started drive-crying. Crying at the GPS. Crying that I was lost. Crying that I just wanted to get out of the friggin car. This is me and my brains working it out.
I found a road, finally, and turned around. I found the turn on the way back. Then I found that I was too early. What’s a gal to do? No cell service to call or message. No nothing. No one around. No place to ask anyone in person. So I headed back over to that four-arrow sign and decided to drive in the direction of Oneonta.
The road. To Oneonta. Was closed. I shit you not.
So I did some more drive-crying, only this time, it was more of sit-in-the-motionless-car-crying. Then I chose the next best arrow. Delhi. I had no idea how long it would take me to get there. I just drove and drove, passing cows, passing farms. Drove and drove until I heard a bunch of dinging, which mean I had emails arriving, which meant my service was back on. I kept driving until I saw the sign for Delhi and then cried because I’d found Delhi. I parked on the main street in Delhi and walked around a bit. Then I saw the time and decided I needed to eat and change and get ready for my reading. From Delhi, the road to Oneonta was open, so I headed towards the Southside Mall.
Up and down and twisting around, the GPS stayed on the whole way. I rounded a mountain bend and saw a sign and started drive-crying again, this time because I was all nostalgic because this was the turn to Oneonta. Oneonta has a Panera. Oneonta has wi-fi. Oneonta is technologically advanced, at least more than Treadwell.
I ate. I changed. I messaged. I called. I charted out my way back. I realized that the way back from Oneonta was the street where I’d turned around when I missed my turn, which means that only one road to Oneonta was closed.
The reading was fabulous. I read with Tom Clausen, a poet who writes what he calls “little poems.” They are haiku and haiku-adjacent. The poems are very lovely; a lot of them read like tiny meditations. I read about space and sci-fi and vacations. I gave away astronaut ice cream and stickers because that’s my schtick. I crashed at Bright Hill because they have a room for crashing. Tom drove back home which would take about an hour, which is not long when you live up there. I perused their library. I wrote and read. I hooked up to their wi-fi. Life was good.
For breakfast, they left for me a bagel and a banana and some other breakfasty stuff, which was such a nice gesture. I wasn’t a bagel snob. I ate the bagel, and it was good. I headed out shortly after breakfast. The morning was sunny but chilly–probably not chilly for up there but it was for me.
I. Did not. Get lost. In the mountains!
Instead, I got lost in the Bronx.
But then I found my way home. Which is always my favorite part of traveling.