Mixed Blessings

Our trip through the north end of the Finger Lakes had been glorious, as it almost always is. The lakes themselves are, of course, spectacular, but even the spaces in between are bucolic, full of meadows and farms and wide-open spaces. The normal routine for us has been to go to Geneva and cut south along NY 14 and skirt along Seneca to Watkins Glen. But we took a detour this time.

While we were driving, it occurred to me: Penn Yan, which was only a few miles away, sits atop Keuka Lake, which we had never visited. Well, why not? I thought.

And off to Penn Yan we went. And midway through town, I spot a sign. Not the best, mind you, but decently old. More importantly, it was connected to a diner, and the diner was simply amazing. Practically imbedded in the Earth, the Penn Yan Diner is a tremendous time capsule, small enough that you couldn’t fit 10 people in it without someone calling the fire brigade:


Keuka itself is a little different. It is Y-shaped, although it is commonly referred to as “The Crooked Lake”. We traveled along the east side of the lake to Hammondsport, a town which looked like a good candidate for sign-spotting. Alas, as lovely as Hammondsport is (see below), I didn’t find much of anything in the way of signs. Oh, well.


It’s always a good day when a classic Ford crosses your path…hammondsport

Keuka Lake at Hammpondsport


And then came the mixed blessings.

The next town along NY 54 is Bath, which I had passed through a few times on NY 17, but had never really visited. We drove through the center of town, which was rather dusty and nigh unto abandoned. Economics of the last twenty-five years have hit these kinds of large town/small city places especially hard; you recognize what it was, but only with a little imagination, because what it is is decay. No worries on my part; usually the best signs are in the rusty, dusty parts of towns just like this.

The decay of Bath was seen very clearly in the Steuben Bowl, which I found down one of the main streets:


I spun back through an alley, and saw a bearded man stumbling through a nearby parking lot. There were several parking lots back behind the main buildings, but all were empty, giving the impression that the town may have been abandoned, or at least, that they people were still here, but didn’t dare to go out.


The Betty Kay Bake Shop, Bath, NY

When we had passed through the main street I had seen something down an alley, and when we came back out again, I could see what it was: a Wrigley’s Doublemint ghost sign. I had never seen one, and this one looked in good shape. There was also a bakery, the Betty Kay Bake Shop, that had some interesting type sitting atop its overhang. I parked in front of it, got one shot, and had ever intention of getting another, when two guys strolled along beside me. They were scruffy and had paper bags that could only contain one thing.

“Take a picture of me and Donny,” said one of them.

I laughed. Usual reaction I get when I’m holding a camera. People don’t usually mean it, they’re just being funny, or trying to be.

“No, take a picture of me and Donny,” he says, more definitively this time.

“Uh, OK,” I say.

I point the K-5 in their direction and fire off the shutter. I had the camera in manual mode, so it was at the same setting I had it in when I got the Bakery sign. The shot was just a silhouette. They didn’t ask to see it. They moved on. I went to take another shot of the Betty Kay, when I spot the two of them out of the corner of my eye, standing in the lot of an old gas station, about twenty feet away, staring, talking to each other.

Behind me, Laura opens the passenger’s side door. She’s seen them, too, and she’s getting the same uneasy feeling that I’m getting. “Get in,” she says.

Yes, I do believe I will, I thought. The Wrigley’s Spearmint can perhaps wait.

Perhaps I’m giving Bath, NY a bad rep. But I’ve taken shots in some bad neighborhoods in Easton and Allentown, in Harrisburg, in Baltimore, and in the heart of Shamokin, PA (those of you who have visited that fascinating coal town probably just shuddered a little at the thought), and this is the creepiest feeling I’ve ever gotten while shooting. We got out of the Bath, post-haste.

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