pleasure of dining on the Hudson reconnects a writer with
I had my way, I wouldnít be cooped up in the office trying
to keep cool, sipping on a melting iced coffee with the
mountain of sugar swimming at the bottom clogging up my
straw (because the clerk couldnít be bothered to shake it).
I wouldnít be waiting for the impending sugar/caffeine crash
before I have to run and recharge my batteries. I wouldnít
be here listening to a guy tell me, ďIf you guys think itís
hot in here, try working in the attic.Ē No, Iíd be down
by the Hudson River, maybe somewhere in Greene or Columbia
County, not terribly concerned about how alert I was. Iíd
have a cheap bottle of Shiraz, and a tuna steak accompanied
by some crisp asparagus with a hint of lemon. I might even
dangle my feet in the water.
As appealing as that sounds, there was a time when the last
place I would want to be was down by the river. But finding
the right spot to relax along its banks, with the right
food and wine, has recently helped me rediscover the legendary
Hudson, a waterway I once was simply revolted by. Itís not
that I didnít enjoy the beach. I mean, I would spend time
scratching the alphabet in the sand, running my hands over
boulders covered with the indentations of ancient fossils,
and waving to the conductors of passing Amtrak trains.
But then, you see. . . . I also had hang-ups about
the dirty river, that dead-fish smell, the fear of running
into the rotting corpses of scaly, whiskered, stinking catfish
tangled up with discarded plastic and beer cans. It might
have been all that talk of PCBs, or it could have started
with the fishing trips Iíd take as a kid with my friend
and her dad, Wayne.
Wayne was a large, angry fellow who liked to bash things.
He was particularly fond of bashing unlucky eels that happened
to nibble the worm on his rusty fishing pole. I wasnít terribly
happy with the bashing, the way he would strand the struggling
eels on the dock, the squiggly red guts spilling all over
the wood with the drop of a rock or a hammer Wayne had conveniently
remembered to pack, along with his ugly synthetic bait and
his carefully harvested coffee can full of night crawlers.
I didnít really like it, but it was better than having those
creepy crawlies dangling about, wriggling toward my uncovered
legs, bringing their stinky river smell with them, thrashing
their evil snake-out-of-water thrash, knowing they were
out of luck and looking to take a little boy with them.
Looking back now, I realize the problem was not all that
dramaticóthere simply was not good food and drink to distract
me. Cups of Juicy Juice and those oversized bags of dirty,
fuzzy, orange cheese-curls just didnít cut it.
What does ďcut itĒ are fresh loaves of rosemary bread, glasses
of deep red wine, florescent-colored cocktails filled with
ice and citrus fruit and garnished not by an umbrellaóthatís
too tropical for the Hudsonóbut perhaps a plastic sword
skewering a cherry and an orange.
I havenít actually had the time to fully indulge in my Hudson
River fantasy. I should have made time, used the ďItís for
researchĒ excuse, but Iíve had the chance to eat down by
the river once or twice this year and I havenít forgotten
those experiences. And when I get the chance to fully extract
myself from the keyboard, I know where I am going to go.
Iíve had my eye on it for a while.
The Stewart House Restaurant in Athens, N.Y., stands tall
at the bottom of the townís sloping valley. Its interior
is something out of a film noir or some sort of European
writerís cafť. Of course, Hollywood has already taken notice,
as scenes from the Jack Nicholson film Ironweed were
filmed there (as well as across the river), and it was the
hangout for Tom Cruise and the crew of War of the Worlds
during that more recent Athens filming. But celebrity isnít
what drew me to the place. It was this boxy thing they have
sitting across the road from the inn, right next to the
river. They tell me itís an outdoor bar.
So as soon as I get a day Iíll be down by that bar making
friends with my river again, scratching letters in the sand,
playing with rocks and waving to conductors. But this time
Iím going to have a good excuse, ícause Iím going to be
just a little bit tipsy.
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