What I did this summer: One highlight came just a few weeks ago when I attended a Saturday afternoon birthday party for a member of the family living in Endwell, NY. It was a nice party but a sizable part of the crowd ended up in the basement recreation room, in front of the requisite very large screen television set, watching a — really? — Little League baseball game.
Yes, Little League, and soon enough I was part of the crowd. It was the semi-finals of the Little League World Series and Maine-Endwell (the team based on the consolidated school district of Endwell and its next door neighbor, Maine) was playing for the U.S. championship. M-E won and the next day took on South Korea for the world title. M-E won again, 2-1, its 24th consecutive victory.
People in Endwell, needless to say, were excited. Nick Wilson, who grew up down the road in Binghamton, NY, and is now living in Princeton, sent me an E-mail letting me know that he too was in the area that weekend and sensed the excitement:
“The BIG news in the Valley is the Maine Endwell Little League triumph in the Little League World Series,” he reported. “The nursing homes in Endwell were emptied and golfing on the well known Endwell area links suspended for the celebration — I understand people even came from Binghamton!”
Wilson was being a little facetious, needless to say, but the bus returning with the team from Williamsport did follow a route that turned into a parade, and the team was honored a few days later at the New York State Fair. Wow! It was a good piece of news for everyone who appreciates the underdog: Maine and Endwell have a combined population of 65,000. The entire school district has fewer than 2,500 students. The Little League team had only 11 players — most everyone had to be ready to play more than one position.
In addition, it was a piece of good news for a community that doesn’t always get good news. The “valley” that Wilson referred to in his E-mail is the valley of the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers that run along the Triple Cities of Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott, with Endwell an unincorporated village in the Town of Union between Endicott and Johnson City.
At one time it was known as the “Valley of Opportunity” and it more than lived up to that chamber of commerce moniker. Endicott and Johnson City were both named for the founders of the Endicott Johnson Shoe Company, and its factories dotted the landscape. EJ recruited immigrants to work for it in the early 20th century, and lured them from Ellis Island to upstate New York with promises of virtually free houses that would go with the job. The company installed carousels at a dozen parks in the Triple Cities (still known as the carousel capital of the country), established a hospital in Endicott, recreation facilities, and even an 18-hole golf course on a flat piece of land so that the workers — who toiled hard in the factories — wouldn’t have to lug themselves and their clubs uphill to enjoy a game of golf.
Meanwhile the company that was the predecessor of IBM started making time clocks in Binghamton in the late 19th century. Early in the 20th century that company morphed into International Business Machines and established a strong research, development, and manufacturing presence in Endicott and later Owego, a few miles further down the Susquehanna River.
Other little companies became big companies. A guy named Dick Stack, a high school classmate of Nick Wilson in Binghamton, started a bait and tackle shop when he was just 18 years old. It became the nationally known Dick’s Sporting Goods.
A 1943 Binghamton Central High School graduate with a flair for the dramatic eked out a living as a freelance radio and television. Eventually Rod Serling created a script for a sci-fi oriented television drama, “The Twilight Zone,” that made him famous.
An obscure cartoonist from Endicott who worked for a while as a sign painter imagined a set of characters from the stone age. That was Johnny Hart and he called the strip “B.C.,” which were also the initials for Broome County. Hart allowed his images to be used for all sorts of community promotions.
The tiny liberal arts school known as Harpur College was transformed into the giant State University at Binghamton.
All went swimmingly for decades. But then Endicott Johnson failed. IBM relocated operations to the south, and eventually quit the computer manufacturing business all together, leaving acres of parking lots and deserted buildings in downtown Endicott. GE closed up its facility in Westover, next door to Endwell. Lockheed Martin, which had been making presidential helicopters, flew the coop. Other, smaller companies followed suit. Only “SUNY Bing,” as the residents call it, remained in place.
I drive up to visit friends and family in the Triple Cities and always wonder: How the hell do these people continue to survive?
Even the Susquehanna River stopped being a friend to the Triple Cities. The river has flooded numerous times, but rarely as badly as it did in after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. Among the least of the problems was that the beginning of the high school football season was disrupted. The kids on the Maine-Endwell High School team spent several days helping flood victims in the community. Some people think that experience may have helped the team develop some special chemistry. For whatever reason, M-E was undefeated that year. As it was in 2012, and 2013, and 2014, and in 2015 up to the state quarter-finals, when the team finally lost after a state record 62 consecutive wins.
The community licked its wounds over the winter, and the boys of summer took over, with Maine-Endwell becoming the first U.S. team to win the Little League World Series since 2011. How the hell does this community continue to survive? Maybe it’s because nobody told the kids that they wouldn’t.
But enough of me and my hometown. The rest of my summer — the part I spend in Princeton, at least — was pretty much spent hanging out at every bar in town.
Of course, as most of you know, I’m not much of a drinker: a coupla two three beers here or there. But I did step out a bit to create an informal guide to bars in Princeton — all 15 of them — for our sister publication, the monthly Princeton Echo.
The Echo has been a big part of my summer. It’s a monthly publication that is trying to fill a new niche in the crowded Princeton media market. Think of it: It’s a town of fewer than 30,000 residents, with three weekly community papers — the Princeton Packet, Town Topics, and Princeton Sun — along with the monthly Princeton Magazine and the monthly Princeton Echo. We’re trying to reshape the Echo as a city paper, a publication that focuses on the people and issues not normally covered by the traditional community papers.
For example, in our current issue, instead of just reporting on the town council’s vote to designate the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood — the birthplace and childhood home of Paul Robeson — as a historic neighborhood, the Echo dispatched reporter Vincent Xu to meet with longtime residents in their homes, talk to people who have sold their homes and seen them torn down, and generally report from the street rather than town hall.
Plenty of papers, including U.S. 1, provide listings of art that can be found at galleries all over town. The September issue of the Echo tells the back story of the sculptor who carries one of his monumental pieces around in the back of his pickup truck — a gallery on wheels.
You can find the current issue of the Echo in any of several news boxes on Nassau Street. You can look up back stories on the website, www.mercerspace.com. And you can find me, well, at any of those bars I wrote about in the August issue. But not for long: Summer is almost over.