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Waterís Edge

The pleasure of dining on the Hudson reconnects a writer with his river


If 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.

óDavid King

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