Saturday, February 18, 2006

That's Hockey For Ya

It's 4:30 Sunday morning when the alarm clock buzzes with enough arrogance to wake the dead.

It's dark. It's cold. And it's Sunday. The reasons to stay in bed seriously outnumber the motivation to get up. But it's tournament time for Saratoga Youth Hockey Pee Wees, and there's a lot to get done.

Children need to be roused from their sleep, meals need to be prepared and sleepy pre-teen players need to be bundled into button-down shirts and wrap-around ties. Then it's out the door, into the car, negotiating snowy roads along the way. The destination is the ice rink on on Weibel Avenue where, for the better part of the morning, time will be spent on a hard bench in a big metal barn with little or no heat, staring at a sheet of red-and-blue-streaked ice.

''Oh, it's definitely a lifestyle,'' laughs hockey mom Chris Harmon, who has managed to adapt to the routine through the years. And this is the easy part, Harmon informs. ''We're at home this weekend,'' Harmon says of the games that will be played all weekend long at the adjacent Weibel and Vernon rinks. ''Next weekend we go to Burlington, Vt., and later in the month we travel up to Ottawa.''

The routine for hockey moms and dads begins in October with the start of the youth season and continues until the spring.

On this particular weekend, the Pee Wees host an annual tournament against visiting teams from around the Capital and Adirondack regions.
No matter the talent level, the two constants are a love of the game and the commitment of parents and coaches.

Linda Huck has a son and daughter who play hockey.

''I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. We love it,'' Huck says, while decorating the rink with cardboard ''jerseys'' in preparation of the tournament.

By 6 a.m., all the players for the 6:45 game have arrived, dragging their bags overstuffed with gear into the locker room. Inside, more than a dozen 11- and 12-year-olds sit, half-dressed, surrounded by plastic helmets, large leather gloves, garter belts, big pants and enough pads to shield an army. The pre-game chatter has begun, as well.

''Your mama is so old, she was a waitress at the Last Supper,'' one says. ''Oh yeah? Well you're mother is so poor that when I saw her kicking a box down the street and I asked her what she was doing, she said: 'Moving.'''

''Ah ha, ha, good one.''

The room breaks into a collective fit of laughter up until Coach Mark McKenna enters the room and everything suddenly turns somber. While the players are in pre-game discussions, parents mill around outside, waiting for the 6:45 a.m. start.

''It is fun, but it can be stressful as well, nerve wracking at times,'' says Noreen Lyons, rocking a carriage back and forth that cradles 3-month-old Madigan.

Lyons has four children and her eldest, 12-year-old Timmy, is among the Pee Wee squad preparing to hit the ice.

''Timmy started in the hockey program four years ago, and we've gone from the Mites to the Squirts and now to the Pee Wees,'' Lyons, a resident of Wilton, says. Next year, her 2-year-old son Nicholas begins his youth hockey career.

Injuries are always a concern, although Cathy Lavelle, mom of a Bantam-age player, says that while the concern is there, it need not be an overwhelming thought.

''All these years we had only one broken bone. My son broke his arm playing in Rutland the week before Thanksgiving,'' Lavelle says. ''Although he couldn't play the rest of that year, we've only had the one broken bone, so it hasn't been too bad. It's a fun activity, and it takes a lot of dedication. As a mom,'' Lavelle laughs, ''mostly you make sure the equipment is clean and placed somewhere near the hockey bag by the door.''

The involvement of parents in the day-to-day activities is necessary for the team and the league's success, and there are enough jobs to go around.

''I have been a scheduler here for years and years,'' says Lesley Leduc, who by day is public affairs coordinator at Yaddo. Leduc's two teenage boys a have long been involved with the Saratoga Youth Hockey program.

''They started when they were 4- and 6-year-olds,'' she says. ''The 16-year-old is still playing. He is in the Midgets now.''

''Coach Kelly'' Davies is the team manager for the group of Pee Wees preparing to take the ice. Responsibilities include making sure everybody has a copy of the schedule, that all the kids have rides who need them, and conducting those sometimes-harrowing last-minute telephone calls.

''All the functions and the dysfunctions of the hockey association,'' Davies says. ''But I like to network, so it works out well. Plus being new in the area, I get to know the kids, the coaches and the parents.''

Davies' son Jordan has been playing since he was 5 years old. The family moved to the area from Fulton.

Commitment also comes from the coaches. Along with weekend games, there are practices several times during the week, which means that anywhere from four to five days every week are spent at the rink. Coaches coordinate practices, teach skills and are, in every way, role models and teachers for the kids in the program.

At 6:45 a.m., the players are on the ice; the coaches are on the bench; and the referee prepares to drop the puck. The parents, meanwhile, take their designated positions. Some work the busy snack bar, while others tend to the business of the game itself - working the penalty box, the scorekeeper's table and the time clock.

After the puck is dropped, the sound inside the arena is the clack-clack-clack of the puck hitting sticks, the swooshing scrape of skate blades cutting into ice, and the rising crescendo of cheers, groans and shrieks from the grandstand filled with parents, families and friends. A serene gametime surrealism that hangs over the players is interrupted only by the occasional shrill of the referee's whistle.

''Use the boards! Use the boards!'' McKenna bellows across the ice, one foot perched on top of the side boards, the other on the bench. He's looking for the breakout pass, as his team zips up the ice, a storm of white jerseys flying five across in V-formation, intently focused on a black, 3-inch rubber disc sliding across the ice.

What motivational drive inspires these coaches and hockey parents to forge on, week after week?

''Why? Because I love the sport,'' McKenna, the coach, says. ''And because when I was young, somebody took the time to teach the game to me. Now it's my turn to pass that on to these kids.''

Hockey is part of the great human connection. ''That's why we do it,'' assistant coach Jim Guthrie adds. ''It's great that the kids go out and get the chance to play, and it's important for us to correctly teach them the game. For them, for those kids, we're giving it all we've got.''

After the game's final buzzer, the teams line up one behind the other in a pair of lines that stretch the entire surface of the ice.

One by one, as each player passes the other, they share a handshake and extend congratulations on a game well played. Then they skate off to their respective dressing rooms, turning the ice over to other teams, other games.

For these teams, it's 8:30 a.m., and there is ample time to reflect on all they've learned, and an entire day ahead to enjoy.

By Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, 2004

Friday, February 17, 2006

Fight Night

A series of images whiz across the tabletop of the local café, courtesy of Zachary Lynch's portable laptop computer.

Along with the slideshow presentation is a short video of barefoot warriors in training, accompanied by the rhythmic pop-pop-pop of closed-fist hitting open glove. In Lynch's arms are dozens of more colorful images that come tumbling onto the table, depicting the fighters in training, fighters at play, and fighters positioned for battle, squaring off inside a metal cage and seemingly preparing to pound each other into submission.

Get Zachary Lynch talking about watching this 'ultimate fighting' or 'extreme wrestling' experience, and the 30-something photojournalist sounds as excited as a young boy ripping through presents on Christmas morning.

'The sport is about to explode like nothing I've ever seen before,' Lynch says. 'It's quite a phenomenon.' And despite the brutish appearance of a six-foot high chain-link fence that surrounds the game area, the fighters doing battle inside the octagon-shaped ring are among the best conditioned athletes in the world.

The sport incorporates parts of wrestling and boxing, judo and karate, kickboxing and jiu-jitsu.

'It's like kinetic chess,' Lynch says.

They don't even have the hokey-yet-distinctive nick-names of yesteryear either. There is not a 'Hulk' or 'Wild Man' among them. These are guys named Stephan and Nathan and Kenny. They are personal trainers, real estate investors, and graduate students with degrees in everything from sports medicine to communications. A number of them have won Olympic medals.

While Lynch has done some local wrestling of his own, he says, 'I realized I had no business being in there.' His spot these days is 10 feet away from the ring, among thousands of fans, capturing images with his digital camera.

He spent Super Bowl weekend in Las Vegas, shooting the Ultimate Fighting Championships from a ringside seat with Cindy Crawford and rapper Ice T on one side of him, and actor Vin Diesel and pitcher Greg Maddux on the other.

'Full access, 10 feet from the ring,' he says, with a combination of humility and wonder. Afterward, there were locker room interviews and post-fight press conferences, as well as any number of Vegas surprises.

'I bumped into Kid Rock, so I popped off a few shots,' says Lynch, the shots presumably referring to his digital camera - a medium that Lynch enjoys so much he still won't use traditional film.

'I got into photography as a hobby about 10 years ago. I started playing with a small digital camera that held 10 pictures and the quality

was horrible. At first, I didn't think I could do it,' he says. 'Then I got another camera, then another, and another...' He was hooked.

One of his first successful digital shots he says with some pride was Congress Park's Spit and Spat, an image that he captured in 2000.

Some of his more popular local images since have included the city's mineral springs, the big, leafy green lily pads at Yaddo and a recently designed horizontal landscape he calls 'Old Skyline of Saratoga Springs.'

The image was created from multiple photographs that Lynch took from the Saratoga Tavern rooftop in December 2003, during one particularly colorful scarlet and saffron sunset that Lynch simply calls the most memorable dusk he has ever seen.
His hobby has delivered opportunity. He has taught the art of digital photography to more than 300 area adults, and has worked behind the scenes at image-conscious publications GQ and Vanity Fair. He has also committed to his share of comic book illustrations, as well as having his own gallery show.

'It's a hobby I love. It gives me the chance to travel and to meet people, to expand their horizons and to share my experiences,' Lynch says.

Clearly, what provides the happiest experience is the 'respectful competition' of a world that celebrates things like the arm lock, the takedown and the toe hold.

'I get to go into the arena and watch it fill up. I get to talk to people, to sit there for a couple of hours and to take pictures. Meanwhile, the entire time they will be rolling, tumbling, and falling down," he says with an excitable what-in-the-world could be better than this grin.
"And then afterwards, I get to go out with a couple of the fighters and we all talk about it.'"

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, Feb. 18, 2005

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Going the Distance

Their instructions were: Show up 4 o'clock at building 5 and wear black, according to Mike Zimmerman, who was celebrating his nuptials on that day.
'We said 'We're not telling anybody there. We're just going to do it.''

'It's just the most stunning place,' Zimmerman said of the massive building 5 gallery at Mass MoCA, which features an installation created by artist Ann Hamilton.

'The artist made these machines (simulating) the breathing of the human body. There are hundreds of windows covered in silk so the whole room is glowing pink, and with each 'breath' a piece of paper falls out of the ceiling,' Zimmerman said.

'It is an amazing installation,' said Jon Galt, the other half of the newly wedded couple. 'When the justice of the peace asked us where we wanted to get married, we thought, 'This is where we have to do it.' So we paid for our tickets to go in, we paid for the justice of the peace and the other people in the gallery were witness to it. They were all very excited. It was magical.'

Zimmerman is originally from Denver and first met Galt, a Herkimer native, a decade ago while the two were working on a student film at Syracuse University. Settling in the Capital Region, they founded the Empire Film Festival. The have helped showcase independent films around the region for the past nine years. They've also started a health food business. The couple has kept an eye on activities regarding same-sex unions recently.

In 2000, the state of Vermont enacted civil unions, extending state benefits and protections to state residents.

In 2003, a national policy was enacted in Canada, which became the third country to recognize same-sex marriage.

As their relationship headed into its 10th year, Galt and Zimmerman paid particular attention when in May Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to extend full marriage rights to same-sex couples.

'The first day you could get a license was Monday the 17th,' Galt said. 'On Tuesday, we drove to Williamstown (in Massachusetts) and got registered.' On Friday they were ready to go, after a three-day wait for blood tests.

'We wanted to do it right away and get that license,' Galt said. 'The reason was I knew they wouldn't let it go on for too long. Sure enough, the next week they stopped (marrying) out-of-state people.'

Legally married in Massachusetts, the couple from Saratoga Springs have found a complicated and multi-layered process for equal marriage rights as residents of New York state.

'If we lived in Massachusetts, we would have rights statewide, but we have no rights in New York. Even though we are legally married with a marriage certificate, it's not sanctified in this state,' Galt said.

Debates continue at the state, national and international levels regarding the legalities and rights of same-sex married couples.

'It's going to be state-by-state first, and that's why we wanted to get it right. When that court thing goes through, some states will recognize marriages and certain ones won't. Eventually, it's going to have to go to the Supreme Court, and even if there is a constitutional amendment (to ban same-sex marriages) the Supreme Court will knock it down because it's an equal rights issue,' said Galt, who is familiar with the popular tag that same-sex marriage equality has become the new civil rights movement.

'In a way, I feel that it is (the same),' he said, 'because it does create second-class citizens.'

Marriage rights at stake include family health care coverage, survivor benefits through Social Security, sick leave to care for a partner, and Medicare, to name the more obvious of marriage benefits.

'It's confusing to me because it's not like our getting married takes away from the marriage of someone else,' Zimmerman said of the debate against same-sex unions. 'It doesn't de-sanctify someone else's marriage or affect other people's relationship. This is our relationship that we're trying to have acknowledgement for.'

'I think it's the old guard holding on really tightly to something that is soon going to be a moot point,' Galt said. 'They think somehow if you open up the floodgates by allowing same-sex marriage that you're going to get people marrying dogs, siblings and parents, and that marriage as we know it is going to fall apart.'

'We're good people, and we have a good relationship. We own this business, and we own two houses in Saratoga and one in Ballston Spa. We are as normal as you can be,' said Galt.

He relates a story told him by the justice of the peace on his wedding day.

'She told us that the day before, she married two guys that had been together 45 years. It's crazy someone has to wait 45 years so somebody could finally say 'You have a valid relationship.' Meanwhile Britney Spears can go to Las Vegas, marry some guy for 15 minutes and - at that moment - she has all those rights, every single right, you know. And then she gets it annulled. People take marriage so lightly, and they take divorce so lightly and that doesn't happen with couples like Michael and I because it's a right that we haven't had - and still don't really have federally.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, 2004

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Betting on the Bunny

SARATOGA SPRINGS - David Breeze is standing in his bedroom on the top floor of an apartment overlooking Broadway. Posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a young bodybuilder hang one side of the wall. Just below the posters is a corkboard where push pins hold up snapshots of Shania Twain.

Breeze points to the photos of the singer and lets out a sigh.

‘Shania Twain. I’m going to go see her on Saturday. That will be the fifth time,’ the lanky 32-year-old says with an equal mixture of pride and just-can’t-help-it sheepishness.

A long table occupies most of the space on the other side of Breeze’s room. On the table are stacks of neatly piled magazines, each individually encased in protective plastic and carrying the Playboy magazine masthead. They are lined up, 10 rows across, three rows wide and six or seven issues high, each beaming back youthful faces of the famous, the infamous and vaguely memorable or long-forgotten actresses, supermodels and TV stars.

‘I’ve got to get rid of these,’ Breeze says. A gold crucifix dangling from his left earlobe dances as his body shakes in laughter. ‘They’re starting to take over my entire room.’ The Maryland native began collecting memorabilia long before he relocated to the Spa City a year ago.

‘I’ve been a collector my whole life. It’s something that comes from my dad,’ he reckons. ‘They say you inherit certain things from your parents, and my dad’s got more baseball cards than you would believe. My grandfather collected coins, and he had a collection that was just ridiculous,’ Breeze says, shaking his head and recalling the vastness of it.

‘When he died, he left the coin collection to the family and he left me his books, the car that I drive and his magazines. Some of these were his,’ he says, pointing to the table-top display. ‘Between his collection and my collection, there are a lot of issues.’
About how many?
‘There are 268 issues of Playboy from 1981 to 2003. I’ve got nine different Pamela Anderson cover issues, all three Madonnas, Suzanne Somers, Drew Barrymore, you name it,’ he says, picking up a 1985 issue with Goldie Hawn on the cover, and an earlier edition that depicts actress Nastassja Kinski.

‘Look at this,’ he says, moving a ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ James Dean clock out of the way. He opens up a closet area where hundreds more individually plastic-wrapped magazines are stored. There are nearly 200 issues in a Penthouse Magazine collection dating back to the 1970s, and dozens of copies of other similar publications from the ‘70s. One that immediately captures his fancy is a copy of OUI Magazine from 1981 with Demi Moore on the cover.

In all, there are more than 500 individual magazines in Breeze’s collection, the value of which he estimates at about $25,000. They are up for sale at the seemingly bargain price of $500.

Why so cheap? ‘The reason I’m doing all this is for the game,’ Breeze says. He produces a document from the Patent & Trademark Institute of America that lists him under the title of ‘inventor.’ ‘I have been told by people there (at the Patent and Trademark Institute) that I have a real good idea. They seem to think about a year and a half after I get the patent, I’ll be so rich that I can retire,’ he says.

The kicker? Breeze has to come up with $10,000 for the 10-year patent. So far, he is nine months into a temporary one-year patent that cost him $800. Of the 10 grand needed for the full patent, he has already raised about $8,000 and has less than three months to come up with the last two grand.
‘That’s why I am selling all of my stuff,’ he says.

His idea is based on the drinking game ‘A**hole,’ a game played using a deck of cards. For his version, Breeze has created a board game using a new set of rules, player roles and board pieces.

‘I first got the idea when I heard about this guy who got a patent for the wheelbarrow. After that, he was all set for life. You never know what (everyday items are) out there that nobody has taken a patent out on. So I thought, ‘OK, there’s got to be other things out there,’ and I thought of this game. It’s one that I have played from a young age,’ he says.

Breeze is putting together a business plan.
‘This game thing is a really big deal for me. I have been working on getting sponsors to get things ready for production,’ he says.
He hoists a hefty scrapbook-sized case from a shelf that is filled with plastic covers and stuffed with homemade CDs.

Music is his main passion, he says, and his once extensive CD collection dates back to the 10 years he worked as a disc jockey. The CDs in his possession now are hand-marked with an artistic flair, from Aretha Franklin and Rush, to Metallica and Kiss. He once owned more than 4,000 CDs, the best of which he burned onto these discs before selling off the entire collection. Breeze lives in a buy-and-sell world.

‘I sold my comic book collection for $1,000 then used that to start my Web site,’ he says, about his online contest site. ‘I’m looking to sell the magazines, then to sell the Web site,’ he says. ‘I sold my TV, my VCR, my CDs and DVDs. I am basically selling my entire life for this game.’ It doesn’t come without a certain emotional cost, though.
‘You really do get attached to things,’ Breeze says as his cats Taz and Tigger come barreling through the room. ‘It’s hard to let go of these things.’ He still mourns the loss of a collection of Playboy magazine he accumulated in his earlier years.

‘I lost that collection because of my mom. One day, when I came home from school, suddenly they had all disappeared. My mom never said anything about it, but I knew,’ he says.
Assuming all goes as Breeze plans and his game takes off, what’s next? ‘My music,’ he says simply. ‘I want to start my own record label, have a recording studio and record my own music. When I was growing up, all my friends listened to all kinds of music - rap and metal and country and alternative - and going back to the 10 years I spent as a DJ.... I like a lot of different kinds of music, all kinds of music,’ he says.

Breeze says he stops in at Bailey’s Café for open mic night to rap with area musicians.
‘I would like to start my own label and sign other people to my label as well. It’s pretty amazing in Saratoga - the amount of talented people I have met here. So music is my main thing, or one of my main things. The other is finding the girl - that one perfect girl,’ he says, before pausing for thought.

‘The only thing is she would have to put up with my music.’

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, Oct. 10, 2003

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Beat Goes On

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Talk show host and comedienne Rosie O’Donnell calls her the funniest women she’s ever met, and Ray Romano - from “Everyone Loves Raymond” - thinks she's "fantastic."
On thi day, the object of so much affection is seated at a sidewalk café that overlooks Broadway. She sips carbonated water from a tall bottle; its blue glass matches her outfit nicely.
The table where she sits is bathed in a harsh shaft of summer sun, and covering her eyes are a pair of big, diva-like shades.

“I’m not trying to look like a diva or anything,” says Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan, right up front, removing the eyewear.

Yeah rrrright.

“These are prescription shades,” she offers, holding them up as proof. One quick glance through the looking glass reveals the visually enhanced universe of Timpanaro-Hogan’s world.
“There are wigs and costumes and people flying in and out,” she says, steering the conversation away from the glasses and onto her newest show, “The Beat Goes On,” which she describes as a “sketch comedy/variety with great music,” likening it to the classic style of Carol Burnett.

“It’s not cutting edge, but it is cutting up,” she says.

“The Beat Goes On” is rooted in the 1960s “Feelin’ Groovy” era of pop, and covers ground originally trod by the Mama’s & Papas, Burt Bacharach and Bob Dylan, among others.
“We’re spoofing ‘60s people like Cher, and the outfits are of everything from the hippies to glam,” Timpanaro-Hogan says.
“I wanted to do some 1960s stuff, but a lot of the cabaret (you see) is very dramatic and not really suited to pop music. So I brought (director) Martin Goeller in, and with the characterizations and the costumes, it’s more fun. There are some incredibly poignant moments in it as well.”
Goeller relocated to New York from Germany six years ago and has a background in theater, opera and film. Recently, he directed Luciano Pavarotti in a European open-air tour of “Carmina Burana.”
“It was interesting to see how this show (‘The Beat Goes On’) has all fallen together,” Goeller says. “There is a James Bond medley which is just hilarious and a Sinatra Medley that is a real shining moment. In my opinion, it is one of the highlights of the show. It’s so heartfelt and brings everything together beautifully.”
Timpanaro-Hogan grew up in Mechanicville, then relocated to New York City, where she set roots for 25 years. During her time there, the singer/comedienne received numerous cabaret and musical comedy awards. She co-hosted Manhattan Cable TV’s “Cabaret Beat” for three years and her nightclub act received rave reviews from The New York Times, the New York Post and the Daily News.
She also co-wrote and starred in the off-Broadway one-woman show “Adorable Me! The Totie Fields Story.”

“Adorable Me!” is an Off-Broadway, award-winning musical based on the life of Fields, the talented and often outrageous comic who died in 1978.
Timpanaro-Hogan first discovered Fields as a teen-ager.

“I saw her a couple of times when I was a kid growing up,” recalls Timpanaro-Hogan, but it was one particular performance that sticks in her mind.
“When I was 15 years old, I went to see her at the Colonie Coliseum - the former Starlight Theater in Latham - and during the performance I got up to go use the bathroom,” she laughs. “When I got out of my seat, Totie Fields targeted me from the stage. She started busting on me for leaving. You could say that made a lasting impression.”

“A lot of what I did (in “Adorable Me!”), was improvisational, and responding to what the audience was feeling at the time,” she says. “It was fly-by-the-seat of your pants cabaret. This year’s show is more structured. So the spontaneity is within the structure. It’s a big departure from what I was doing before,” she says. “It’s about making a connection with people and about being present. It’s pure fun and participational. And it’s about having a sense of openness.”

It is a lesson learned when as a 9-year-old, she went to see “West Side Story.” It was a moment, she says, that changed her life.
“Cabaret is about people talking to people. A piano. A singer. It’s simple, and I think that’s what people respond to - the simplicity of it all,” she says, pulling back up on her divinely diva-esque dark-colored shades.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian and The Pink Sheet, July 31, 2003.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dasboard Confessional from inside the taxicab

SARATOGA SPRINGS - His days are long. The nights even longer. And this time of year, it can get downright strange.
For the men and women behind the wheel of local taxis, the activity heats up with the weather.

Dale Van Arenem works the day shift during the week and every other Saturday as a cab driver in Saratoga Springs.
“There’s a big difference between the earlier part of the year, and what happens after the track season opens,” Van Arenem said. “A BIG difference.”

Like his fellow drivers, Van Arenem works long hours, knows the ins-and-outs of city streets, and wears many “hats.”
In addition to driving, a successful cabbie also must play the role of regional tour guide, customer service representative and part-time psychologist. All this while moving virtual strangers from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

“You have to be a people person. You’ve got to know what to say, how to say it, and you have to say it at the right time,” said a man named simply "Joe," who has been driving a cab for three months.
The taxi company's office is in a big garage at the end of a long dirt driveway lined with rows of yellow cars. Inside, a soda machine sits in one corner, a purple and white refrigerator in another. A brown ceiling fan turns overhead and the radio plays country music.
Most of the space is filled with mechanical tools of the trade: tires, hubcaps, lug wrenches and a network of pumps, valves, wires and machines that heal vehicles that have been wounded only to send them forth to live another day.

The dispatcher is in charge of coordinating it all. Seated at a small table, he answers the incoming calls and matches them with available drivers. His skill is in managing the timing and planning of setting the vehicles into motion.
The night shift arrives around 5 p.m. Most of the year, and under normal circumstances, everything goes off without a hitch. But during the busy summer months, just about anything can, and usually does, happen.

“June, July and August. Those months are much different than the rest of the year,” said Freddie, who has been driving a cab for about a year. “Some of the funniest things that happen is right after they get in - they start looking for the camera,” he said.

"Freddie" doesn’t have a camera in his cab, hidden or otherwise, but apparently a lot of people riding in taxis are seriously affected by what they see on TV.
“They think they’re on that show,” Freddie continues, “they’ll say ‘I know this will be on (the HBO series) “Taxicab Confessions,” won’t it?’ And even when I tell them it’s not, they don’t believe me. They keep looking around for the camera. That’s when they sit back and start telling you their ‘story,’ - and let me tell you - they tell some of the strangest stories. Real personal stories,” Freddie said.

He talked about a young woman who got in his cab and started pouring out her soul about catching her boyfriend in a tryst with two other women. She poured out the intimate details in a slow, deliberate fashion that began with her observations of the three who “looked like they were having such a good time.”
The drivers said that, for the most part, passengers are polite, well-behaved and generally just people going about their business. It’s just that sometimes, there are those occasions when the mix of a summer party-town reputation, late-night bars, and thousands of incoming visitors “enjoying” their respective vacations, can lead to some unusual behavior. And for one reason or another, some drivers seem to be a magnet for the more eccentric types of behavior.
“K Dog is one of those guys,” Joe said.
K Dog is not nearly as imposing as his handle implies, although perhaps due to his late-night weekend shift, he draws his share of outrageous behavior.
In his travels during eight months of driving, K Dog has encountered explicit liaisons on different occasions with a variety of gender combinations.
There was one ride from Middle Grove to Glens Falls, when he was offered sexual favors from one of the two women he was transporting, in exchange for the balance of the fare.
There are celebrity stories as well.
“I drove the band Emerson Drive from their motel down to Albany,” K Dog said. The country music band was in town performing. “It was funny, I had the country music station on the radio, but they asked me to change it - and put on some rock ‘n’ roll.”

Rebecca Novok found Dave Matthews sitting in the back of her cab a few weeks ago. Matthews was in town for a pair of shows at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
“He was a real nice guy, a regular guy,” said Novok, who drove Matthews to the golf course at Saratoga Spa State Park.

The cabbies also work with the police on occasion, keeping an eye out for trouble.
“The police call on the dispatchers for help,” Joe said, “and we help with things like (reporting) if someone messes with the horses, or trashes the flowerbeds,” although he wishes the police would be a little more patient with drivers waiting curbside for their fares.
“There is a city ordinance that says we are allowed to wait for a fare in front of any business for a few minutes,” he said.
He explains that almost immediately, the driver is urged to move his vehicle, which often results in another cab pulling up behind him and picking up the customer. In the process, the original driver ends up losing the fare.
“I can understand not wanting to tie up a busy place like Caroline Street,” he said, “but at least give us a couple of minutes for the customer to come out the door.”
There are a lot more “flag downs” during the summer months, but for the most part, fares come from the dispatcher for pickups. Still, the drivers never really know what to expect.

“I had two older ladies who looked like sweet little old grandmas when I picked them up,” said a driver named Nazira. “When they got in, they started cursing at each other using such language you really didn’t expect coming from them,” she said.
There are customers who are also surprisingly eccentric. One, from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, was picked up at the Sheraton Hotel.

“He said he wanted to go to a jeweler in Lansingburgh,” Van Arenem said. “It was a $100 call, $50 each way. I said to him, ‘you know we have jewelers right here in town,’ but he said: ‘No, someone recommended this place to me.’ He was going to get his watch repaired.”
Off they went and on the return trip, Van Arenem asked how much it cost to get the watch fixed. “Five dollars,” his passenger said. “Can you imagine?” Van Arenem asks incredulously. “He pays $100 to go to a jeweler for a $5 repair. Plus, he left me a $10 tip.”

Joe has had his own experience with the generosity of customers.
“I picked up two gentlemen at the Rensselaer station for a $56 fare,” he said. “In the end, they paid me $256. That’s a $200 tip.” You certainly meet a lot of characters,” he concluded, “and these are the good stories.”

The good, the bad, the ugly and the strange are all part of it, the drivers say. Still there’s another week or so until things return to “normal” in the Spa City.
In the meantime, those yellow vehicles will be zipping in, out and around town at all hours of the day and night, carrying all kinds of people from one place to another.

“Some nights there’s not much happening,” Freddie said, “but on others - it’s like, drive a cab for one night during July or August, and it’ll be an experience you’ll never forget.”

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, summer 2002

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Trash to Treasure

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Eight steps down the concrete stairwell, Stuart Armstrong stands behind a waist-high glass counter.

Displayed inside the case is an assortment of silver and gold-covered trinkets. A large framed picture depicting an oil-painted Jesus leans crooked against the counter, framed by a large pair of red stenciled placards that warn “Keep OFF The Grass.”
Immediately above, the image of a bear looms on a lapel-sized pin that reads: “I help Smokey fight forest fires.”

“The worse possible thing that something could be is dull - and that I won’t take,” Armstrong says, from behind the counter of his shop at 1 Phila St. in Saratoga Springs.
A visual inspection proves this true. From dozens of funky lamps with gold-leaf, white-beveled and green globe shades to a red rocking horse, a gun-metal gray scooter, and a collection of scarves in every color of the rainbow, Reruns Consignment Shop is anything but dull.

Armstrong started the business more than a decade ago. His merchandise is sold on a consignment basis, meaning the things on display are one-of-a-kind items. When they’re bought, they’re gone for good. It also guarantees a steady and ever-changing stock.

“The sheer variety of the things that come in is amazing,” Armstrong says. “I have a number of steady consignors that come in every week and bring things down. They are well-tuned to what people are looking for.”
Judging by the items on display, people are looking for a lot of different things. There are old 78 rpm records and world-weary trunks with their time-telling stitching of greens, burgundies and grays.
A colorful and youthful Marlene Dietrich stares back from a magazine cover dated 1953. The center of the main room area is designated for tree-carved rockers and chairs, vintage desks and drawer-lined bureaus. The smell of old wood is everywhere.
Just how many antiques Armstrong stocks at any given time is anyone’s guess.
“I don’t even want to think about it,” he says with a chuckle, framing the period from the Victorian era to the 1970s.

“Probably the oldest thing here is this chest from the early 19th century, done in the style of William IV,” Armstrong says. It carries a price tag of $495. “The modern vintage 1960s and ‘70s is very popular right now,” he says, pointing out a six-foot long black cushioned sofa from the era. “The biggest influence is what people see on TV and in the movies - that’s what dictates what people want -- it’s that Austin Powers/James Bond style of things.”
An adjoining side room filled with vintage clothing marks a distant era, from the bygone days of old Saratoga ballrooms to more contemporary everyday wear.

“The Skidmore kids tend to like the clothes from the 1960s and ‘70s - that pop- or mod-style clothing,” Armstrong says. Right on cue, a pair of 20 somethings enter the shop and head directly for the vintage clothes room.
The young man with a lime-green mohawk tries on suit jackets over his “Rancid” band T-shirt. He picks through a hat rack filled with straw hats, fedoras, peach-colored hat boxes, bonnets, flapper-style and gangster-looking headgear.
Behind a pair of Ashleigh Banfield glasses, his Kelly Osbourne look-alike companion eyes a leopard-print belt and moccasin vest. A matching two-piece red leather jacket and pants set, with a Calvin Klein label is a bargain at $75.
Nearby, a free-standing rack is draped with a visually jarring collection of some of the most unusual looking ties ever created.

“You can have all of these different things. To someone, some may look hideous,” Armstrong says, “But beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.”
And many of the items are beautiful, or at the very least, at one time cherished parts, of people’s lives.

There are old elf ornaments that once lit up a child’s Christmas morning, and an assortment of ceramic tchotchkes of every kind: dogs and cats, ponies and teddy bears, and one particularly striking pair of green-faced demonic cherubs that double as salt-and-pepper shakers.
There is regional history to be discovered here, as well. Portraits of faces, families and group gatherings, virtually anonymous in sepia-tone, hand-colorized and vintage black and white poses, sit in a bucket.

Armstrong does have his personal favorites. “I have a very strong pull toward Art Deco styling,” the Spa City native says, standing beneath a trio of wall clocks that each read a different hour. “I also collect things from the Saratoga Lake houses.”
From his perch behind the counter, Armstrong’s view is of a painting of an old blue-dusk Manhattan sunset that runs four-feet across the back wall. With a slight tilt of the head, portraits of rural country roads, barns and lakes come into view.

The longer you spend inside Reruns, the more things seem to magically appear out of nowhere. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something like a vintage bottle of “Matinee Idol Hair Dressing” is spotted. With some tonic still in the bottle, the $14 price tag for matinee idol looks seems like a steal.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian