My Favorite Things
Time is running out on 2011. Sprinting even.
I’ve been reading the lists for best movies, best restaurants, best concerts. For the second year, I’m jumping into the pool. It’s self-indulgent, I know, but I can’t resist. I’m listing the favorite dozen stories I wrote for the old Gazette in the year that will slip away tomorrow night.
I think it’s a legit topic. As a feature and pop culture writer, I get the chance to meet people who do bunches of different things for a living. Once in a while, I even get a road trip.
This year, I met goats, an undertaker, a pancake maker, motorcyclists and veterans. So just humor me — here they are, all of them, in order of personal popularity.
12 — “On the Clock” with Alex Solis, July 30. Jockey Alex Solis was one of our first subjects for this project, which began this past spring. The newspaper — me, actually — follows around someone on the job for one hour. Alex was nice enough to let us hang with him during one of the first days of the Saratoga meet. He was on Alvito in the sixth race, but fortune’s face had fled. Alvito finished last.
11 — “Paddy’s Days and Potatoes,” March 16. This was a semi-inspired idea. As an Irishman, I have a built-in appreciation and affinity for potatoes. We got in touch with some genuine Irish potato experts in the old country, and they gave me all I needed to know about colcannon, Irish potato salad and boxy on the griddle. Most fun I’ve had on an Irish story since I had an Irish breakfast with George Killian Lett — the beer guy — a bunch of years ago.
10 — “Saranac Lake: A Calming Cure,” July 3. We don’t do all that many travel pieces any more. This summer, I drove my old Honda Civic to Saranac Lake to see the sights. Nice lake, nice weather, some nice historical attractions. I wasn’t all that crazy about the community — seemed more mini-metropolitan than mountain majestic to me — but the story was a visual semi-success.
9 — “Americade: Tough Guys?” June 5. Not a big fan of motorcycles or motorcycle clubs. The Hells Angels, Mongols, Bandidos and their brethren are not my people ... although I could have probably found a spot in the Boozefighters in another life. Right before the big Americade motor party in Lake George this June, we did a piece about local motorcycle clubs that are not criminally inclined. The Blue Knights are all police officers, the Irish Riders love the green and the road and the Low Expectations crew are easy-going reg’lar guys and girls. They don’t ride loud bikes and are not obnoxious. Learned something about people this time out.
8 — “Brushes with Danger,” Aug. 18. Damn entertaining exhibit at Union College this past summer. Thirty-seven high-quality paintings from the Robert Lesser Collection of Pulp fiction Art were on the walls at the Mandeville Gallery, all pieces that became covers for pulp magazines during the 1930s and 1940s. These paintings were once considered worthless, but not any more. They are terrifically detailed, imaginative and colorful. It was a visual story, and our page designer Tom McBride got five of the paintings onto our page.
7 — “The Tragic Story of Georgie Melber,” Jan. 1. I used to be the police reporter here at the old Gazette. That was 1981 into 1989. I’ve covered a couple fires in the past bunch of years, but not many law and order stories. The Georgie Melber case — Georgie was a 5-year-old boy murdered by his mother in 1911 — was a full-page story for our history page. We talked to some relatives, and it was a sad — but interesting —read.
6 — “It’s Gonna Be a Superhero Summer,” May 1. I take a fair amount of ribbing from management around here for kind of keeping up with the comic book set. So with four superhero movies opening during the spring and summer months, I thought this was a natural for one of our Sunday “Life & Arts” covers. Readers got to review the histories of “Thor,” “X-Men,” “Green Lantern” and “Captain America,” all backed up by quotes from people who know the field far, far better than I do. Nice piece, although I don’t think management — an avid fan of that silly “Simpsons” cartoon show — was all that crazy about the package.
5 — “Extreme Eating,” June 12. Got the chance to watch “Man vs. Food” this spring. I’m never impressed with reality shows, but I was semi-impressed with Adam Richman’s ability to put away three-pound meat loaves, foot-high hamburgers and pizzas the size of manhole covers. I looked around for some local crazy food stunts, and found the Graveyard Burger at Rotterdam’s Wagon Train BBQ and the Colossal Pancake Challenge at the Ugly Rooster in Mechanicville. I tried to polish off the five-pound pancake, but couldn’t solve the case. I’m looking for a rematch with a three-pound omelette.
4 — “Curds on the Way,” Sept. 7. Washington County is cheese country around here — several farms make gourmet-caliber cheese. I met goats and sheep — the cows were too busy for interviews — during stops in Argyle and Shushan. Never would have thought goats were so friendly and inquisitive; one of them tried to eat my notebook. Nice story about cheese and the people who make the good stuff.
3 — “Travers Day About More Than Horses,” Aug. 28. I’ve been writing the front page Travers Stakes “color” piece for The Gazette since 2000. It’s always fun to talk to people who make a full day of the Travers, beginning picnics at 8 a.m. and staying 10 hours until the big race. This year, with dark rider Hurricane Irene on the way, the crowd was no less boisterous ... but a little more anxious to get the hell home after Stay Thirsty won the race.
2 — “Paul Bearer!” Nov. 13. Had a ball talking to Percy Pringle III, well known to wrestling fans as Paul Bearer, the spooky manager to the even spookier Undertaker. Paul was coming to Amsterdam for an autograph-signing event at the city’s Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. Some wrestling guys might not have wanted to promote the thing, but I had a feeling that brother Bearer would go for it. He’s a good ol’ Southern boy, and talked about his days on the road with the Undertaker and his experiences as a real-life funeral director, and it made a pretty lively “question-and-answer” story.
1 — “For Honor and Service,” Nov. 6. I’ve had my picture in The Gazette a bunch of times. This was the first time for my father, H.J. Wilkin Jr. Dad and I went on an “honor flight” out of Rochester. They’re great ideas, designed to give veterans from World War II the welcomes home they never had. “Honor flights” can never have too much publicity, and I’m glad the Gazette gave me the opportunity and space to talk about Dad’s trip.
Now ... on to 2012!