Atop the Finger Lakes

In the last post, I stated without reservation that Skaneateles, New York, for my money, is the best small town in the United States, and even taunted Lititz, Pennsylvania in the process. In fact, I even had to tone down my taunting in the final draft of that post. As for the positive aspects of Skaneateles, one that cannot be ignored is its proximity to the other Finger Lakes. This trip is worth the price of admission by itself. U.S. 20 is the main thoroughfare here, and it was the main artery through the central part of New York prior to the New York Thruway, so there are many relics to be found along it.

Just five miles down the road is the city of Auburn. Like most places in upstate New York, it has undergone its share of hardships and loss of industry, but it does have my favorite overall sign-spotting location, the Hunter Dinerant, which has a ghost sign behind it and the Genesee Beer sign in the close distance. This is my shot from last October:

Genesee-Fays-Hunter

During this shoot, which coincided with an engagement photo shoot I had with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law-to-be, we spotted a sign on the way out of town that I had not seen in any of my research, right on the corner of US 20. Curley’s Pizzeria has been on the corner of State Street and NY5/US20 since 1933 (as the painting on the brick side proudly states. We had planned to go to Seneca Lake to get some more pictures of the happy couple, so I took a few distant shots with my phone that were too blown out to post to Instagram, but good enough to be a mental note. I would return.

And so, in April, I did. And got these:

curleys-wide curleys

A good start to the day, but hardly the last roadside attraction along US 20. The sections between the lakes are decidedly rural, with extremely gentle hills and farmland, but past Auburn is one my favorite sights along any road: a drive-in movie theater. New York has very few left, but the Fingerlakes Drive-In still stands. It was still closed for the season in April, but they left us something behind to remind us of summer and a bygone era:

 fingerlakes-dodge

We seem to have good luck finding old Dodges. See my diner page for a good one outside the Red Robin in Johnson City.

fingerlakes

It had been a hard winter…

We kept along US 20, past Seneca Falls and on our way to Geneva, where we’d eventually make the turn down to Penn Yan and Keuka Lake. “There’s something else here,” I said.

“What is?” Laura asked.

“Don’t remember,” I replied. “Something we passed in October.” I had made a mental note but I had forgotten to pass it to myself after gym class. But I knew there was…something.

And then, there it was. In fact, it was two things. I pulled off the road to the right to make life simpler for the crowd of cars behind me and got out. An old motel, and an old motel sign, barely readable from the wear, ugly/beautiful:

cape-cod

But this wasn’t what I had spotted. Across the road was a Drive-In restaurant, with a long, tall sign that I think I had put aside because I knew its dimensions would be difficult to capture:

macs-sign

But the prize was the building itself, a living testament to good times before or after a trip to the lake. This is what summer is all about:

macs-building

I don’t know about you, but I just look at these places and whatever cares and worries I may be pulling along behind me just drop off, and I feel like a kid again.

There was more to come this day: some of the greatest combinations of good and bad I’ve ever seen. More in the next post!

New York State of Mind

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.

Anyway.

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.

skaneateles

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.

skyliner motel-cortland

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:

melodyland

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:

northend-wide

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.

north-end-color

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…