Not the most original title, huh? But this is the song I would play every time I came home from college: I had the exact moment timed on my audio cassette version of Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits so “New York State of Mind” would play as soon as I crossed the border. That kind of stupidity takes dedication.
Although most of what you see on this site takes place in Pennsylvania, the more you read the more you will see that my heart belongs in Upstate New York. Both me and my wife were born there, my parents still live there, and any time we talk about getting away from it all, it always ends up with us going Upstate, whether it be to the Finger Lakes or Cooperstown or the dear old hometown of Binghamton. So I guess it comes as no surprise that we’ve spent our last two anniversaries in Skaneateles, a town which defines idyllic.
Every year, Lititz, PA gets named one of (if not the) coolest small town in America. I’ve been to Lititz. Nah. Give me Skaneateles any old day.
But do you have a lake, Lititz? Thought not.
But I kid the Lititz.
Now you’ll be amazed to know that Skaneateles has precisely zero vintage or neon signs, but despite this tremendous flaw, I would live there happily and perhaps skip for joy on occasions when I thought people weren’t looking. However, there are still good signs about within easy driving distance, including my favorite sign location in the state.
On the way up, we slid through Cortland. Cortland is one of these places that has some great history, as it was home to Smith-Corona and quite a bit of industry, but the last 30 years have been pretty lean. One thing I’ve noticed about the signs in towns like Cortland: either all the old signs come down, or businesses hang on to their signs for dear life. Fortunately, Cortland seems to fall in the latter category.
The Cortland Motel and the Skyliner are off the McGraw exit of I-81. The Skyliner, alas, is no more, but the sign is still up, and points to a vacant lot. The Motel sign was kind of an afterthought. We pulled in and I took a couple of shots from the car, but this turned out to be one of the better finds.
To be quite honest, we were lost. Quite frankly, it’s easy to do in downtown Cortland. They basically toss you on to one way streets until you find yourself in Homer, or Dryden, or Groton. But as I righted the ship and turned back toward the center of town, I found the Melody Land:
This place dates back to before the 40s, is only open Wednesday to Saturday during dinner hours, and is family-owned. According to all accounts, you must get reservations to get in. It was a pity: we got there a good six hours too early…
A few one-way streets later and I was speeding toward Homer (which in this case, was the direction I had hoped) because I remembered a sign along the way that I had missed the previous year. If you take shots of signs as I do, you’ll know this feeling: you spot the sign right at the moment where it would be dangerous to pull over, so you continue on in hopes that you’ll be back again. Even though I had fallen into this trap, I was rewarded:
It was just after noon, and midway through my indulgence the neon of the sign suddenly came alive. I hadn’t gone in and asked. It made me smile.
The fact of the matter was, when I went inside afterward, the woman working there had no idea I was there. Apparently, they have the sign turned on all the time, and she had just forgotten when she had come in. But we had a great talk and gave me the owner’s card. When I got back in the car, I was just so thankful that someone recognized the underlying thing of what I do with these shots: the preservation and appreciation of these great pieces of history.
But not everybody sees it this way. More later…