Friday, June 30, 2006

Holy Flood!

It figures- the biggest thing to happen in Binghamton in decades, and John and I leave on a plane the night before all the activity. After being delayed by weather on Tuesday night, we left Binghamton early Wednesday morning for a scheduled trip home to Los Angeles for 6 days over the long 4th of July weekend. You can imagine my surprise when I woke up Thursday morning in LA, only to hear the local newscaster talking about Binghamton and the "mighty Susquehana River" and showing video footage of one of the local bridges. I could figure out where I'd woken up! Then, to open the L.A. Times and read about my adopted "home" . . . too weird.

Since people are asking, our house (which we rent) is totally fine, but there is serious, serious damage immediately surrounding our house and offices, and for miles around. I found a photo of our favorite diner, Jane's. Just in that one instance, which will certainly be repeated for thousands of other businesses, I think about the nice older Greek couple that owns the busy diner, and all the sweet young Greek girls who work there. Not only is their restauarant ruined, but all those people are out of work for the foreseeable future. And, as much as I want to support them, I have to say that- given the fact that the local sewage treatment plant is in ruins for now- I'm not eating out for awhile.

The hospital that sits 3 blocks from our house was totally evacuated. I'm pretty sure my office (in downtown Binghamton) never opened, since people couldn't get there. I found so many photos online, where I knew exactly the block or the store, I can't begin to post them. Here is a sample- a street sign John passes every day on the way to work.

Downtown Binghamton sits at the confluence of two rivers: the Chenango and the Susquehana. It's not a very fast or exciting river- just sort of flat with not-very-big slopes. There are retaining walls in spots, but apparently they were breached in 4 places in the city (to the benefit of the downstream areas of Pennsylvania).

Well, I'm not really sure what to write here since a) I don't have personal stories to share yet, and b) there's so much to talk about! Here is the link to our local newspaper, which has very good coverage and amazing photos.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Small town parades are HUGE!!

This year is the 200th Anniversary of Broome County, of which Binghamton is the county seat and all around biggest city (it is home to about 45,000 of the county's 200,000 residents). That means that downtown Binghamton played host to the bicentennial parade, and John and I took the time to head down and check it out.

Now, normally, I could not care less about parades. The last 2 I went to really sucked- 1 was in London on St. Patrick's day and 1 was in Downtown Los Angeles, also on St. Patrick's day. They had about as much soul as George W. Bush (although the London one got points for allowing open containers of beer). But this parade was destined to be different- the local paper reported that the parade organizers had to cut off parade entrants because they were at almost 200 and couldn't handle any more. TWO HUNDRED? That's 1 parade entry per 1,000 people in the county. Now I was intrigued.

The parade started at 11:00 am on a Saturday, in the rain. The route was pretty short- probably 1/2 mile through our tiny downtown, but what it lacked in distance it made up for in sheer quantity: despite the rain, 175 entries participated. After about 1 1/2 hours of John and I sitting/squatting in a doorway out of the rain, I said, about every 30 minutes, "That must be about it, right?" and John would pop his head out of our alcove, peer down the street, and say "No, I still see a LOT of fire engines coming down the road." The parade lasted a FULL TWO AND A HALF HOURS.

Don't be too fooled that it might have been cool. It was mostly a parade of municipal cars, firemen, politicians, really really really bad school bands, a couple ethnic organizations, etc. We knew we were seeing a real down-home parade when the local "mammography van" from the health center cruised by, followed by a shuttle bus from an old folks home. The best part was that it was full of REALLY old people inside, trying to wave through the darkened glass windows.

At some point, a guy came by and gave us little plastic American flags, that were prominently printed with "Made in China" on the stick. That's what John's waving in the photos as he drinks his coffee in the rain. As corny as the parade was, it was still a heck of a lot better than the Big City versions. However, I do think that having that many people participating in the parade really cut down on attendance- there were FAR more people IN the parade than watching it!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Fish-outta-water, further outta water!

This weekend, we went to Denver for my cousin Tommy's wedding. This out-of-town experience was pretty much my first since I moved here in February (we went to London in March, but at that point I was still mentally in Los Angeles-mode, so it just felt normal to be in another big city). The first thing I thought when we landed in Denver airport was, "There are so many young people here!" In Binghamton, the city has 1/2 the population that it did at its peak in 1950 (it's now at about 44,000, down from nearly 90,000 50 years ago). That dramatic population change is a result of many recent decades of blow after blow to the local economy. For example, IBM, which began in this area around the turn of the century, had over 20,000 employees in Endicott in 1980. Today, there are only about 2,000 IBMers remaining at the old corporate campus.

Back to the Denver weekend- it was wonderful to see all the family, of course, and funny to share details of my new life here. For example, when I told my Uncle Oliver where I lived, and that the population was about 45,000, he (smartly) asked, "Isn't there a Big City nearby?" to which I had to answer, "We are the Big City!"

Coming home was also funny. As John and I sat in the airport in Detroit, waiting for our connecting flight back to Binghamton's regional airport, John looked around at the people waiting with us and got a funny feeling that we were at the wrong gate. He got up no fewer than two times to check the destination, flight number, etc. Finally he realized, and I agreed, that he thought we must be in the wrong place because he couldn't imagine that the 50-or-so people waiting with us could all possibly be headed to tiny Binghamton. What do they do there? Who are these people? We sometimes feel like we know everyone in town because we constantly run into familiar faces.

Final Ha Ha of the weekend: Everyone is always pronouncing Binghamton wrong. They usually say something like "bing-HAMP-ton" or "BING-ing-ton" when it really is pronounced "BING-hamton." Well, the poor flight attendant on the tiny plane definitely mutilated our destination when she announced it at the beginning of the flight, which is pretty discourteous, and she obviously didn't care. As we were exiting the plane, an elderly man in front of me pulled the flight attendant aside on the jetway and firmly told her, "There's no "h" in Binghamton!" (She must have said "bing-HAM-ton") He was probably from here, and he was clearly tired of people screwing it up.

The reason I thought this was particularly funny was because I had a sassy t-shirt made up for John, as part of our 2-person Binghamton marketing team, which says "Ain't no P in Binghamton!" He wore it out to the monthly artwalk and to some bars afterward and, needless to say, it was a huge hit with the locals, who are tired of constant misspellings on credit card statements, address labels, etc.

More to come on the 2-man marketing effort in later posts.