The expression “nothing much ever happens around here” is a bit of a misnomer.
Think about all the things you do any given day. Then multiply it by everybody, adding a few things for some people and subtracting for others.
Then, take that … and multiply it by every day.
Even in a small town like where I grew up, that’s a lot of stuff happening. It’s just that most of it doesn’t get much attention outside the immediate circles of the people involved.
Until it does … until 20 people die in a limousine crash less than 15 minutes from my parents’ house.
(Heck, it even has its own Wikipedia page.)
The Apple Barrel isn’t a place I’ve gone frequently — Suzi and I met my friend Renee there for lunch several years ago, and I’d probably have a couple fingers left over if I tried to count on two hands — but I’ve driven through the area hundreds of times.
That stretch of road is like a gateway. From one direction, it’s the spot where it feels like you’re coming into Schoharie, where I went to high school.
From the other, it’s like the last marker before you head to the adjoining towns or hit I-88 to go toward Oneonta, Binghamton or Cooperstown — which is where the limo was headed, even though it’s probably the worst possible route. Head east, and it takes you toward the New York State Thruway toward Albany and Boston.
But most of the time, I drove past I-88 and kept going, because further along, the Thruway heading west beckoned, which is how I got to college in Utica.
And then there’s the hill. My grandmother lived on the other side of the hill. My best friend Chuck grew up on the other side of the hill, the yard at his parents’ house the home of Wednesday night volleyball games for years. Renee lives on the other side of the hill.
But it was coming back down the hill — a long, steep descent — that was the one your mother warned you about … perhaps figuratively for some, literally for me.
The hill used to end with a 90-degree curve, with trees waiting if you didn’t slow down enough. However, that meant looking back completely over your shoulder if you were going to Schoharie, or my parents’ house.
They eventually redid the road, made it straight, so you could see both ways.
And if the shoddy brakes failed on your shoddily built limo, you drove not into trees, but the Apple Barrel parking lot.
There’s a memorial at the crash site, but I had never seen it.
I always meant to, but I take a different route to and from my parents’ house from where I live in Massachusetts, and I think it was raining the few times I had been out that way.
But I recently went to breakfast in Schoharie with my father, at the little diner where my parents are regulars. He even has standard weekday and Sunday breakfast orders.
Once we were done, my father went home, and I stopped at the Apple Barrel. It was a little before 9 a.m. There were a few cars in the lot, but I didn’t see any people.
I walked around the memorial, looking at the names. I looked up and down the street, at the base of the hill — a place I’ve seen countless times from the inside of a car as I was going through, but hardly ever from the outside.
This is where it happened.
I got back in my car and headed toward I-88. Eventually, I’d pick up the Thruway heading toward Boston.
It was time to go home.