Wednesday, August 06, 2008

In a parking lot, she stopped to help out a stranger in need

A little while earlier and a short distance to the east, a horse named Commentator stood in the winner's circle at the Saratoga Race Course on a day that produced a handle of more than $25 million. A short distance to the west, the curtain was rising at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to reveal a stage filled with dancers.

Missy was finishing her work break when she was approached by a small group of people.

"Two guys and a girl walked up to me and they had another guy with them inside of a shopping cart. One of them said, 'I need for you guys to do me a favor. My friend is dead. Can you call 911?' "

When the emergency call was made, the voice on the other end of the line asked if the man's condition could be verified.

"He had a pulse, but it was very weak, so I started giving him CPR and mouth-to-mouth," said Missy, who ignored the heavy smell of alcohol coming from the man in the cart and began performing life-saving techniques.

It is something she learned as part of a requirement in foster parent training, which is something she aspires to be, she said, "because everybody needs a chance, no matter who they are."

Missy said she recognized some of the faces of those who accompanied the man as the homeless people who live year-round along the vacant stretch of concrete and the adjoining fields of tall weeds nearby. It is an unspectacular landscape, noticeable only by rows of trash receptacles and frayed sheets of plastic atop splintered pallets of wood.

"I knew no one else was going to help him, so I took the initiative," said Missy, who is 26 years old, and estimated the man's age as being somewhere in his 50s or 60s.

Paramedics arrived and transported the man to the hospital. Missy returned to work inside the auto parts store.

Seven years ago, the man spoke to a reporter from this newspaper and confessed that he first began drinking and taking drugs at the age of 13, was first arrested at the age of 16, and had attempted to commit suicide and failed. He was homeless then also, but after turning himself into a local mental health clinic, he was trying to turn his life around.

"Everything is worth living for now," he said at the time.

He hoped to attend a vocational school and to learn a trade, like auto repair, he said.

On Thursday afternoon, Missy was back inside of the auto repair store where she works. An associate told her they thought they had seen the man a few days ago. Missy was relieved that the man whose name she did not know had survived.

Police said the man's father informed them on Saturday night that his son was transported to the hospital and died in the emergency room. He was 49 years old.

When the unfortunate news was relayed to Missy, she paused in silence. She took a deep breath. She expressed her gratitude for the call, then she hung up the phone.

By Saratoga Bureau writer Thomas Dimopoulos
Published in The Post-Star, Friday, August 1, 2008.

Man dressed as penis arrested after interrupting graduation

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The Saratoga Springs High School graduation ceremony was suddenly interrupted Thursday morning when a 19-year-old man dressed as a set of male genitals streaked across the stage of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Shooting canned string at diploma-bearing graduates, the intruder startled the crowd of nearly 5,000 gathered to see students receive their degrees.

After making his appearance among the senior class, the man leapt off the stage and ran toward the exit gates in an attempt to escape security officers, who were in close pursuit.

He appeared to have some difficulty eluding officers, however, due to the cumbersome layers of his costume, which covered him from head to foot.

He was eventually captured inside a service entrance next to The Hall of Springs nearby after he tripped over the lower extremities of the costume, and was promptly arrested by Saratoga Springs Police.

Calvin Morett, of 337 Pyramid Pine Estates, Wilton, was charged with disorderly conduct, a violation.

Morett was released on his own recognizance and is scheduled to return to Saratoga Springs City Court on Tuesday, police said.

He did not get the costume back.

"It has been secured as evidence," said city Police Sgt. Sean Briscoe, who was involved in the foot chase Thursday morning.

Morett was a member of Saratoga Springs High School Class of 2007, and the school yearbook depicts a then-shaggy-haired graduate with the nickname "C-money" as having a fondness for comics, cartoons and the desire to work in the field of art.

As for what he enjoys, the yearbook states: "making people laugh."

Police said the penis outfit was a commercially-purchased inflatable device that came with a battery pack.

When asked if police were looking for accomplices, Briscoe joked, "We believe the gunman acted alone."

At park entrance, all questions answered

Inside of the booth, which stands approximately 15 feet long by 10 feet wide, is a microwave oven, a small refrigerator and more than 100 different brochures, maps and flyers that showcase the region.

It is here, inside the county chamber's visitor information booth, that Marti LaDue has spent the better part of the past 20 summers.

"People want to know what they can do in two hours. I tell them to go for a stroll on Broadway. Tour Congress Park. Ride the trolley," she says, a symphony of bells that ring every hour on the hour emanating from the black mesh tower of the Congress Park Centre across the street. The sound briefly interrupts the endless rattle of machinery that lumbers up and down Broadway.

In the past 20 years, LaDue has watched the landscape of the city change before her eyes. She can remember when the old Grand Union supermarket used to sit across the street.

That was followed by the notorious Sneaky Pete's nightclub, which in turn gave way to the condominiums and high-end retail stores of the block-long Congress Park Centre.

LaDue fields a lot of questions inside of the booth and responds with rapid-fire accuracy.

"This weekend, hopefully, the Peerless Pool will be open," she tells one woman, who stopped at the booth with two children in tow.

"Take two rights and a left. And watch your speed," she tells another woman, who returns to her car that is parked curbside, then shifts into drive and disappears over the horizon.

"People ask all kinds of things. One woman asked me to her watch her baby so she could go relax in the park," she says, incredulously.

"A lot of people ask: 'Where's the nearest bathroom?' Then there was one man from England who wanted to know where the closet was. I wasn't sure what he meant. And I didn't want him to come back here (her booth)," she says, her sunflower-shaped earrings dancing in accompaniment to her laughter.

Personally, she says she enjoys walking through the state park to see the spouting geyser.

A former kindergarten teacher at the school on Division Street, LaDue spends her time outside of the booth traveling across the country and instructing other teachers on the current trends in classroom curriculums.

To keep current, LaDue says she starts her day by reading a number of newspapers and doing a lot of walking around the city and talking to people.

Talking to people inside of the booth has its own special moments, however.

She'll give her directions then watch the person walk away and into the heart of the city.

"I will tell them to turn right. But they go left," she says, shrugging her shoulders.

"Eventually they make their way back and they say, 'Now, where was I supposed to go?' "

By Saratoga Bureau writer Thomas Dimopoulos

Published in The Post-Star, July 11, 2008

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Melting Away

A silver bowl that once caught the cigarettes of all who entered clings to a wall near the entry door as a reminder of the layers of lives that passed through.

Kathy LeRoux was 7 years old when she moved to the city’s West Side, across the street from the building.

It was 1951, and she said she can remember skipping into the place with a dime and strolling out with a chocolate ice cream cone.

She would then find a patch of grass out front, where she would be joined by other children from the community who were doing the same thing.

It was a neighborhood routine that would last until she became an adult and left for secretarial school in Albany.

April 29 would have marked the 75-year anniversary of the day Ralph and Floyd Ellsworth sold their first order of ice cream at the Division Street plant that bears their family’s name.

But last year, the entire operation suddenly closed up one day, and its employees, who had numbered 125 five years earlier, were laid off.

Company CEO and third-generation owner Gerald Ellsworth last spring expressed his hope of re-opening in a matter of weeks, but his hopefulness was soon followed by attorneys talking about possible foreclosure.

Earlier this month, the 68-year-old Ellsworth died at his home.

The Ellsworth Ice Cream Company grew from humble beginnings in 1933 to branding its own ice cream and transporting the flavors on delivery trucks to dozens of grocery stores and pharmacies across the region.

A small retail store was part of the factory. Michael Wilcox worked his way through high school during the early 1960s by muscling scoops of ice cream into cones on the retail end, as well as handling endless molds of frozen pops that would come tumbling down conveyer belts in the factory.

"In the back we had a crew of seven or eight guys, and we could do 16,000 to 18,000 dozen popsicles in an eight-hour shift," said Wilcox, a touch of marvel in his voice.

"The retail part — it was kind of an inconvenient convenience store for the neighborhood. It was good if you wanted eggs, ice cream and milk. If you wanted other items, it was not so good," he laughed.

Wilcox is in his 60s today, and on Thursday afternoon, after disposing of the past, he thought about what the ice cream plant meant to the city in the present.

"You know, they ran that business for a long, long time," he said. "It was very sad when it closed."

By Saratoga Bureau writer Thomas Dimopoulos
Published in The Post-Star, Friday, April 18, 2008