Years ago — I’m guessing mid-2003 — when I was both new to my job and to Massachusetts, the people in another department beckoned me to their area of the office.
Later, I wound up being pretty friendly with most of them, but at the time, I had barely spoken to them and may not even known all of their names. But they had something to tell me that they thought I might like.
Having heard that I was from “upstate New York,” they informed me they were going to have an intern from upstate.
This is a rough approximation of the rest of the conversation:
”Oh yeah, where from?”
”Yeah … I’m from outside Albany. Plattsburgh is the last town before the Canadian border (maybe not exactly true, but close enough). We’re not neighbors.”
As it turns out, I’m not sure I ever did meet an intern from Plattsburgh.
The New York Times decided it was going to devote a portion of its journalistic resources to answering the question “What is ‘upstate’ New York, anyway?”
It doesn’t look like it went so well. If they had asked my hometown — rural, conservative — or lots of other places like it, the answer may not have helped much geographically, but would have been revealing, anyway.
”NOT NEW YORK!”
Me, I love my upstate roots … and think New York is the greatest city in the world.
But with the exception of what I’m sure are sizable pockets of disdain for the Big Apple, an easy thing to forget is that upstate New York is not a monolith.
It’s actually a lot of different places. Granted, they all have a Stewart’s Shop or six, but they’re still different.
It includes Albany, Utica, Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo.
It includes tiny towns that dot the Adirondacks, largely indistinguishable from the others and likely unremarkable to the outside world except for the fact that one of them hosted the Olympics twice.
It includes places of all shapes and sizes in between.
For a kid from a small town, Syracuse University was too big, but Utica was the perfect enviroment for me to go to college — big enough to be different, but no so large to be scary. It was a 90-minute drive.
Both Utica and my hometown are each roughly 90 minutes in different directions from Cooperstown, which is pretty much near … nothing else.
I grew up only slightly closer to Rochester than Boston (about 8 miles), and closer to Boston than Buffalo. And somewhere in that space between Rochester and Buffalo, that carbonated beverage you’re drinking changed from “soda” to “pop.”
My friend Lisa drives through my hometown on the way to hers. I’ve never been to where she grew up. We met in an office in Randolph, Massachusetts, sitting two desks apart.
If you try to find “upstate,” you’ll never actually find it. You’ll just be where you happen to be while you’re looking.