Friday, September 10th, 2010

Greetings from Scenic Somewhere

DOWNTOWNWhat could be better than making it in New York? Try leaving it. We did.

It's no secret: high atop the list of quintessential rites of New Yorkers, natives and newcomers alike, is sewing periodic escape. Country weekends, second-home summers, holiday sublets-people of privilege, you affluentials and your toothsome spawn, I salute you to enjoy your view while it lasts. For my wife and I, your countrytime staycation has become our new year-round rural roost.

Here's how local self-exile works. Three months ago, on a cockeyed dare to ourselves, we picked up sticks in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn and drove 60 miles north to the single stop-light village of Cold Spring in the lower Hudson Valley. Our search was brief, our requirements plain: a fully walkable, commercially low-key community within umbilical cord reach of the city and hailing distance of nature. In short, all the postcard pastoralism a hayseed urbanite can claim. After logging 15 years in New York, and taking full measure of the requisite, generationally-appropriate Brooklyn love affair, a growing hunch had us wondering if it all weren't a bit played out, an overlooked alternative waiting just round the Hudson Line bend. Maybe the escape artists of New York have it exactly backwards?

Awaiting us in Cold Spring was a carriage house rental 40 paces to the Hudson, and another 400 to the rail station. We went from a brownstone block festooned with Guggenheim and MacArthur winners, smart-talking African- and Caribbean-American retirees, giddy sidewalk chats with pre-Pomona Jonathan Lethem and walking distance to ten subway lines and a dozen minutes to Manhattan to a blue-green speck of hamlet in the Hudson Highlands, an hour and change to Midtown and precious little else. Cold Spring claims two thousand residents yet my tally-the same 45 in rotation, in fresh trousers-disagrees. Of course something is lost in this move. Oddly enough, we haven't quite felt it yet.

Let's shortcut the suspense. This Hopper-flecked Winesburg, Ohio scene has hit us full in the heart. You could have guessed that. We're in its honeymoon grip. But no matter what you hear, no: it's no Brooklyn. Which, for us, is entirely the point.

Something in our lives had us primed to come happily unglued in a place like this. Tales of going off the grid are catnip to the info-glutted. Urban escape is, after all, essentially a class fantasy. If we came up short on the north-of-Rhinebeck Shteyngart criterion for a digital cleanse, there are consolations prizes here. Like Internet grocery delivery.

Questions remain. Can we muscle the commute? Will we become self-important arriviste locavores? Local honey-purveying hippies? Creepy childless pariahs? Republicans? (The Ailes and Pataki clans are local gentry.) Our precious city frailties don't stand a chance of lasting the year, which might resonate brightly if I hadn't Netflixed that Wicker Man remake this spring. An early lesson: there are many ways to lose your cool in rural parts, and maybe two to keep it. Option one, you find new feral grooves and adapt with what grace you muster. Option two, beat back the wilderness with your CSA basket, WiFi and New Yorker subscription. As the temperatures drop and tourists scatter, certain comedy awaits. Reared in suburbs, grown adult in cities, we don't know our way around small town manners, its (plentiful!) intrigues or single-pane glass. Banana peels abound.

Can't spot a reclusive hick for miles around? Safe to say, it's probably you.


One hundred days in to our country living gamble, the sights are fine, fresh and undiminished by our 30-something Brooklynite slouch. We're waiting on the city people things that will be first to fall away, even as we name them for the first time. For us, deep in a blue highways Americana nowhere is thrillingly more than somewhere enough.

Jeffrey MacIntyre is a freelance writer and consultant. His writing appears widely.

Cold Spring photo by Jon Dawson from Flickr. Green door photo by Tony the Misfit from Flickr. Hudson photo by Craige Moore from Flickr.

14 Comments / Post A Comment

Thomas Blair (#7,274)

Sounds perfect. We did it 5 years ago, and never looked back.

rook (#4,214)

It's nice to see the Old Home Place on the Awl.

It isn't so much urban escapism, at least it ought not be, so much as it's leaving over-determined NYC. There are other cities. Hudson, NY comes to mind as a neat place to be on the Hudson.

And man, I love that river.

Abe Sauer (#148)

"Of course something is lost in this move." That would be, primarily, non-white people.

deepomega (#1,720)

Of course, that loss is more than made up for by doubling (!) the median family income.

RocketSurgeon (#1,632)

My escape planning has already begun. Glad it's working out for you.

Also, I want to drag a canoe down to the water and paddle all over that lake. Beautiful.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

God, I'm jealous.

flossy (#1,402)

I'm more jealous of this:

"We went from a brownstone block festooned with Guggenheim and MacArthur winners, smart-talking African- and Caribbean-American retirees, giddy sidewalk chats with pre-Pomona Jonathan Lethem and walking distance to ten subway lines and a dozen minutes to Manhattan."

Is that apartment you vacated still available by any chance?

Screen Name (#2,416)

It was my decision to leave New York City. I was tired of the lifestyle and all the pressure, the pace. I wanted a farm. After all, I'd grown up on a farm. And so I felt that going back to the farm would really be a physical and metaphorical return to my roots.

I was on business in Chicago one weekend and saw a place listed in The Farm Gazette. It was cheap. So, I bought it sight unseen. I didn't even ask my wife. I went straight away to the Realtor's office and just bought it. Lisa, of course, hated it. When she saw the farm for the first time, she cried.

The first day was rough. But I'll give Lisa credit; she marched right up to people in town, most of whom had stakes in a betting pool Joe had started to see just how long we'd stay, and introduced herself to everyone. While she was doing this, I was across the street at Sam Drucker's place buying some fertilizer and what not. Mr. Drucker. That guy was a hoot. I ran down the list of stuff I wanted and he said he could sell me everything but the pork fat on account of Arnold Ziffel.
"What do you mean," I asked. "Who's Arnold Ziffel?"
"He'll be in soon enough," Mr. Drucker said. "Just wait."
A moment later the door burst open and a pig walked in.
"There he is now," Mr. Drucker said. "Hello Arnold, say hello to our new neighbor."
Yes, the country life is a strange life.

I grabbed Lisa and we piled all the supplies into the car to head back to the farm house. For the first time Lisa's a bit excited, she's going to be doing some decorating and has all kinds of ideas, things to make the house seem a little more like home… meaning a little more like New York City. We pull up and Lisa runs into the house while I start unloading the supplies from the car. I hear a scream, so I drop everything and race into the house. I figure Lisa's seen a mouse or a critter of some sort. Surprise number two: there is nothing in the house. I mean, nothing. It's been stripped bare. Even the bathtub and kitchen sink are gone. At this point, I'm really starting to rethink this whole country living when I hear an old truck pull up outside.
"Who on Earth is that," Lisa asks.
I tell her to wait inside while I go investigate.

A rather portly fellow wearing a straw bowler and red polka dot tie hops out of the truck and introduces himself.
"Mr. Douglass, my name is Eustace Haney," he says in an odd voice, almost a yodel.
Aha! So this is the guy that cheated me. I lay into the guy, really giving him the what-for, but he just doesn't seem to get it. The more I yell, the more he smiles. The more I promise legal action, the more he promises to offer me a "fair price" on all the items I felt I already owned. In the end, it was easier to just buy my own property back from him than engage in these weird circular conversations.

My frustration was palpable by the time that doofus Eb Dawson showed up. Mr. Haney had barely motored down the road when Eb, a local yokel nitwit wearing a bright red wool packer coat and promising to help restore the electricity, demanded a job from me on the farm.
"What farm?" I yelled. "Right now all we have is a ramshackle barn on a worthless piece of land! We don't even have any farm implements!"

Ah, Lisa. Whenever my frustration boiled over she was always there to settle things down. Needless to say, she and Eb hit it off. Next thing I knew Eb was asking me about vacation time. Yes, the country life is a strange life, but it's the life for me. Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

scroll_lock (#4,122)


deepomega (#1,720)

Farrrrrrrrrrrrrm livin' is the life for me.

I watched the shit out of this show on Nick at Night growing up. Does that mean something?

Bryan Keller (#3,804)

I will keep Manhattan. Thanks!

I don't know, calling Cold Springs "blue-highway America" is sort of like calling the Hamptons "blue-highway America." Literally true, the map says. But…

ntvtxn (#7,380)

cold spring is the brooklyn of the hudson valley. you didn't go very far, in the end.

NinetyNine (#98)

This is one of the more impressively subtle parodies I've read of the Times I've read recently.

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