Archive for August, 2010

Norwich Football Preview introduction

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010
Patrick Newell

Note: The following is a small excerpt of the Norwich football preview that will appear in our fall sports supplement on Thursday.

NORWICH – John Martinson did not have the start to his varsity coaching career that he expected. He coached over two decades for the Tornado as an assistant coach, and in his first three games as the head coach, his team did not play poorly, yet lost all three.
Opening division play against Windsor in the fourth contest could have extended the losing woes. If not for clutch defensive play late in the game by Casey Edwards and Kegan Levesque, the Tornado may have fell to 0-4, and the ensuing contests – all wins – may not have mattered.
“Last year was a rough start,” Martinson said. “A lot of guys playing under me were learning as I was learning. We turned it over in the first game, we had opportunities to put the ball in the endzone and close the deal in the second game, and in the third game against Johnson City…that team was the class of the section. I think the players back this year learned a lesson last year that every game is important, but each game is also a growing process.”
The momentum from that Windsor victory carried over to an unbeaten record in division play and a five-game winning streak in qualifying for the Section IV, Class B playoffs. Martinson would be more than happy if that scenario played out again.
“If you told me I would go 4-0 in the division this year, I’d be a happy coach,” the NHS coach said. “No doubt, winning the division is our first goal, then the section, and ultimately states. These guys have set those goals, and in order to to that, we have to play talented teams.”

Tales from the Connecticut Wine Trail

Thursday, August 26th, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

Sometimes you just need a few days to get away and clear your head. You know, to sort through the vagaries of life in general and get things back in perspective.

It was that need to refresh and regroup which prompted me to head to Connecticut on Sunday. Because I figured spending a couple of days in the company of one of my dearest friends – my old college roomie Liz – was just what the doctor ordered.

For three blissful days, I hung out with Lizzie, her truly amazing husband Kent and their equally amazing dog, Texas.

Liz, ever the meeting and event planner, had the whole trip planned out practically before I hit send on the email, in which I invited myself to her house.

First on our agenda was hitting a few vineyards on the Connecticut Wine Trail. Which I definitely deemed worthy of getting up ridiculously early on a Sunday so I could be on the road by 6:30 a.m. The weather wasn’t exactly what I’d call ideal for a long drive, but I still managed to make decent time.

By the time I arrived on their doorstep, shortly before 11, visions of wine tastings were dancing in my head. And after the lovely Elisabeth whipped me up some scrambled eggs with tomatoes fresh from their incredibly bountiful postage-stamp sized garden, we were on our way to hit the Trail.

It was perhaps a 40 minute drive from the Shipman’s house in Milford, to the first winery on our list: DiGrazia Vineyards in Brookfield, CT. It was a scenic trip, through a series of stereotypically quaint New England towns. We made good use of the time, chatting and singing along to the radio. Kent was good enough not to roll his eyes too many times.

Gypsy, Liz and Kent’s somewhat-outdated GPS, was calling the shots. Which was probably why we ended up taking an even more scenic route once we got closer to our destination. We missed a few turns, too, but that just gave us a chance to explore more of the tiny winding lanes around the vineyard. I loved it.

The skies opened up on us as we made our way up DiGrazia’s long drive. While the rain effectively nixed our plan to have a picnic of sorts under their tree covered arbor, it did nothing to detract us from the task at hand. Which was, of course, to sample the establishment’s extensive list of wines.

If you’ve done a wine tasting before, whether it’s in the Finger Lakes region or elsewhere, you know it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. And on occasion, it can be downright ugly. Having never before had the opportunity to sample any Connecticut wine’s before, I had tempered my expectations. As it turned out, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wine we tasted – at DiGrazia and the other wineries we visited.

At DiGrazia, I found I preferred their whites and blush style wines. Although my absolute favorite was the Blacksmith Port, particularly after I heard the story about the old Italian blacksmith in whose honor the sweet, barrel-aged port was named and whose spirit is believed to linger at the vineyard.

It was Dr. DiGrazia himself who told us the tale of the man, as he took us on a brief tour of the facility. It was a treat to hear the story of the winery from the person who started it all. Especially since he peppered our little walk-through with mythical trolls and memories of his medical training in Switzerland. Now, well into his 70’s, he still practices medicine and oversees the vineyard’s winemaking operation, he told us. Adding that the key to longevity was to do what you love.

Which didn’t give me pause, until I learned his specialty was gynecology.

We’ll just say that made for an interesting discussion as we returned to the car, our arms laden with purchases.

We gnoshed on our picnic lunch en route to the second winery on our list: McLaughlin Vineyards in Sandy Hook, CT. After a couple of more missed turns, and a jaunt down what could only be described as a cart path, we came upon the rustic 160 acre property. Marked, not by a CT Wine Trail sign as we had expected, but rather one for fresh eggs. Who would have thought.

We were looking forward to the live music the vineyard hosts each Sunday – which was supposed to be raggae that particular day – but unfortunately it had been canceled as a result of the weather. We didn’t let it dampen our spirits, though, and got right down to tasting the 6 wines on offer. This time, my favorite was the Vista Reposa, a peppery red, of which I, regrettably, only purchased one bottle.

We chose not to linger, despite the idyllic surroundings. But I did manage to snap a few pictures of the vineyard on our way out. It really was a gorgeous setting. And for once, my paltry photographic skills actually did them justice.

From Sandy Hook, we headed to Shelton and Jones Family Farms. It’s a favored destination for Liz and Kent, for berry picking and cutting down their Christmas tree. They hadn’t yet sampled any of their wines, however, and our goal was to rectify that. And I can assure you that, now that we have, we’ll make it a point to go back. Because, quite frankly, we loved everything that we tasted there – the whites, the rose, the reds and even their dessert wines – which come in raspberry and black current.

My favorite, though, was without a doubt the Strawberry Serenade – a sparkling blend of chenin blanc grapes and fresh strawberries which was nothing short of inspired. It was pure poetry in a glass. Honestly, I would be quite happy never to let another liquid pass my lips.

While we sipped, and heaped lavish amounts of praise on everything we tasted, the skies opened up once more. As a result, we were forced *ahem* to linger over an extra glass of wine. I, of course, selected the Strawberry Serenade.

By the time we returned to Milford, we were worn out and – at least in my case – a little bit tipsy. We spent the rest of the day lounging in front of the television, watching the food network, sipping some of that wine we bought and playing Scrabble. Yep, absolute bliss.

There was less wine on Monday, but it was no less enjoyable. Liz, Tex and I spent the day hiking at a lake in nearby Fairfield, then watched The Blind Side (which I highly recommend) while we waited for Kent to come home from work. Then we took walk around the neighborhood with my new best friend Tex, imbibed a little more of that wine, whipped up some homemade pizza with more of their backyard-grown bounty and played even more Scrabble. It was a good day. Followed by another one with more good food, dog walking and lots of quality time with Lizzie. Who tells me she now prefers to be called “Elisabeth.” As if.

I dragged out my visit until Tuesday afternoon. But by then I had to face facts – it was time for me to go home. My heart was heavy as I packed my car and said my good-byes.

As I settled into my 4-hour drive, I couldn’t help but marvel at the clarity just those couple of days away had given me.

Not to mention all those bottles of wine, tucked away safe and sound in my trunk.

Yep, I think a return trip to Connecticut, and a few more stops along that wine trail are definitely in my future.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.

Football Season

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010
Brian Golden

Well it’s almost time for football and I for one can’t wait for the regular season to begin, although I could do without the cold weather which accompanies it every year. Ever since I can remember – literally – I have watched the New York “Football” Giants, either with my mother and stepfather, friends, or most times, with my father (I spent weekends with dad on Pratt Road growing up). I clearly remember the two of us, in addition to my step-brother and many times our good friend J.B., cheering (some might say screaming) our Giants on, climbing the ladder on the front porch to adjust the antenna and enjoying my step-mother’s made-from-scratch spaghetti.

As the years went by our crew diminished to just myself, dad and J.B., who we invited to the house on a weekly basis. This is the crew that sticks out most in my mind when I sit down these days to watch my beloved Giants. Unfortunately, I’m the only one left nowadays. Dad passed away in January of 2008 and J.B. just a few months ago. If I remember correctly, the last game we all watched together was over a decade ago now, when the Giants thoroughly stomped the Minnesota Vikings in the 2000 N.F.C. Championship Game, forty-one to zip.

Yet my most vivid memory of the New York Giants took place in 2008, the year my father died.

When the season kicked off that year dad was already beginning to fall ill, and it was a struggle for him to truly enjoy the games early that fall due to this. He did his best though, and through the months of September and October we watched as our Giants started slow and, finally, began to build up some steam. By November dad’s condition was deteriorating and it seemed the games weren’t what they used to be. Still, the Giants continued on their unlikely run to Super Bowl XLII.

Dad’s last game at home pitted the then-undefeated Patriots versus the Giants in the final regular season game, a match-up which in many ways meant nothing to either team, and everything. The Patriots were playing for a perfect 16-0 record for the regular season, the Giants for some respect. Both were already in the playoffs yet the atmosphere was electric. Unfortunately for me I had a gig in downtown Binghamton and I missed the game, one of the best-ever according to some Giants fans, including my dad. Friends who watched the game with him said they hadn’t seen him so animated in weeks, although it took a toll on him. Three days later he was in the hospital, never to return home.

Even though he was bedridden from January 1 on, he did his best to watch our team through the first two playoff games, versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and our most hated rivals the Dallas Cowboys. I’ll never forget the close call we had on my birthday, January 12, which dad apologized for saying, “I can’t believe I almost died on my son’s birthday.”

He made it one more week.

Dad died on January 19, one day prior to the Giants’ match-up with the Green Bay Packers in the N.F.C. Championship game, one I will always remember. In a game which came down to overtime, a Bert Favre interception and an extremely difficult game-winning field goal, all I could think of was my father and how he would’ve loved to have seen it. Two weeks later, at the conclusion of Super Bowl XLII, I realized he had.

Down by four points with under three minutes to go, Eli Manning and the Giants confidently drove down the field, a drive which included what has now become known as “The Helmet Catch.” David Tyree, Manning’s target on that unbelievable play (Eli somehow avoided a sack, scrambled and set the ball sailing to a heavily-covered Tyree who somehow pinned the ball to his helmet while going to the ground) later said he felt like he had an angel on his shoulder. I guess dad wanted to make sure we won that game. Several plays later my father’s favorite player on the team, Plaxico Burress, caught the game-winning touchdown.

I still watch the Giants every week when football season rolls around, although I’m fairly certain it will never seem the same. Yet sometimes I wonder to myself, how did it feel for dad to watch all those games, through all the years, with me, his son? Does he still look down and cheer on our team while I’m sitting there missing him? And I wonder if my son, if I’m blessed enough to have one someday, will feel the way I did when I spent all those Sunday afternoons with dad.

It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

Blues Fest!

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
Brian Golden

The 18th Annual Chenango Blues Fest is coming to town this weekend and I couldn’t be more excited. In the past 18 years I’ve attended every single festival but one (I was living in Vermont at the time and have regretted it ever since – Luther Allison performed that year shortly before he passed away) and I have to say the Chenango Blues Association, its Board of Directors, and the countless volunteers who assist them have always put on a great show. This hard-working crew has, year after year, provided local residents with the opportunity to witness some of the greatest blues artists of our time, a true testament to their dedication to both the community and the genre itself.

My love for this event is really not that surprising as I first picked up the guitar the summer prior to the very first Blues Fest. I was 15 years old at the time and a lot has changed since then, yet some things never have. Good friends, plus great music, equals a good time. I can remember being extremely excited, and humbled, when blues harmonica legend Sam Meyers kindly asked me for permission to use my 70’s Fender Twin Reverb for his performance, and though he ultimately decided on another, similar model, my amp at least got to share the stage with Mr. Meyers and the great Anson Funderburgh (who I snagged some nifty blues licks from that day). What can I say, every Blues Fest performer I’ve experienced in the last 18 years has had some kind of effect on my guitar playing and I wouldn’t be half the player I am without them.

A great example of this – guitarist Kenny Neal, one of the few repeat performers at the Chenango Blues Fest and a musician I continue to idolize to this very day (thanks for letting me sit in with the band Kenny). Mr. Neal is a consummate performer and I still have in my possession his broken E string from the 2nd Annual Blues Fest (I keep it in the program from that year, signed by the members of Kenny’s band). I remember how it rained that year, forcing the band to perform in the Exhibition Hall, and if I had to guess I’d say there were approximately 500 to 600 people in attendance. That’s a far cry from today’s festival, which tends to draw around 3,000 people every year. Talk about progress.

For years I myself dreamed of performing on the main stage at Blues Fest, a dream which was realized at the 13th annual festival. I was, at the time, playing guitar for the Badweather Blues Band and I’ll never forget how it felt to stand up there, quite nervous, and perform a set of our strongest tunes, many of which I had recently written for our debut CD. It really was the perfect day to me and remains my favorite performance ever. I look back and realize just how lucky I was at that time in my life and it’s inspiring to think that, one day, I will perform on that stage again.

So if you’ve never had the opportunity to get down to the Chenango County Fairgrounds for Blues Fest, I strongly recommend you do so. Even if you’re not a big fan of the blues there’s a little something for everyone, and it’s a great chance to meet up with old friends and make some new ones. The music is always top notch, thanks to the Blues Association’s Board of Directors, and it truly is a powerful experience. Contrary to popular belief, blues music is not depressing, in fact it’s the exact opposite. It can be uplifting, humorous, inspiring and fun. It’s one of America’s true art forms. The genre itself, and the numerous artists which have performed it over the decades, are an inspiration to me. As B.B. King would say, “every day, every day I have the blues.”

“The blues tells a story. Every line of the blues has a meaning.” John Lee Hooker

“The blues are the true facts of life expressed in word and song, inspiration, feeling, and understanding.” Willie Dixon

“I think the blues will always be around. People need it.” Johnny Winter

Devil’s Kitchen

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

Days like today – with the sky a clear blue and the kind of heat that sinks lazily into your skin – remind me of Colorado’s Western Slope, where the Rockies meet the High Plains Desert.

I made my home there, in Grand Junction, for several years returning to New York. And on mornings like these, my thoughts always seem to drift back to the time-worn vistas which mark the region.

The landscape in that part of the country is the antithesis of the rolling hills and lush greenery of Central New York, and at first I struggled to find its beauty. Eventually, I discovered it – and something akin to inner peace – while hiking among the stone monoliths and box canyons of the Colorado National Monument.

I spent many an hour, and covered an untold number of miles, trekking in and around the park. In fact, I traveled my favorite backcountry trails – Liberty Cap, Monument Canyon, Old Gordon, Black Ridge and Devil’s Kitchen – so often that I can still see those vistas when I close my eyes.

I retreat to those memories at times, when I long for solitude and serenity. Because I’ve found there is still comfort in the remembered feel of sliprock beneath my trusty hiking shoes, the echo of the pinyon jay’s piercing call and the joy of exploring a landscape of ancient rock, shaped by the forces of nature and the elements.

There is an old Native American legend, or so I’m told, which says visitors to Grand Junction are destined to return, unless they take the time to gather soil from the formations which mark three points of the compass around it: The Bookcliffs to the North, so named because of their resemblance to so many tomes on a shelf; the Grand Mesa to the Southeast; and the Monument.

It is something I failed to do when I returned home to New York, 2 1/2 years ago.

On days like these, when I feel the pull of the sun and the sky, I can’t help but wonder if it is in answer to the call of those ancients spirits, trying to lure me back.

In homage to those spirits, I offer this, a poem I wrote about one of those favorite trails:

Devil’s Kitchen (2007)

Battered sneakers covered
in red dust carry me
down into the valley.

Scrubby juniper mix
with spiky Mormon tea,
desert sage, pale Indian

rice grass and a few
scattered prickly pear,
magenta fruit hosting

globules of marshmallow fluff
waiting to turn scarlet
between my finger tips.

Rich soil rises like cities
in miniature, plump and black
from the recent rain.

I breathe deeply and savor
the sweet crispness
of the Spring air.

The trail forks before me,
but I worry not which way to choose.

I will lose my self in the clear
blue of the sky.

And find my self in this sacred, sacred place.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.

Day 1 at the Chenango County Fair

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

I made my way to the fairgrounds on foot this morning, making my final mental preparations for the cotton candy and funnel cake-fueled chaos which always accompanies the arrival of the Chenango County Fair.

While most of the Evening Sun’s reporting staff spends a lot of time at the fair, each of us is assigned a particular day at the fair – meaning that it’s our day to suss out a feature-worthy story among all of the day’s happenings. Today – opening day of the 163rd installment of our county’s longest running event – was “my” day.

I was tossing a few ideas around in my head as I trekked down East Main Street, but as the main gate approached, I decided not to force it. Instead, I thought, I’d let the sights, sounds and smells of the fair lead me to a story.

At 11 a.m., vendors and exhibitors were still scrambling to set up and the Ferris wheel and other rides were making their rounds empty of fairgoers, as the last inspections were made. A few harness racers had taken to the track for what I assumed were practice rounds. The mingled scents of sausage and peppers, funnel cake and other fair food was already heavy in the air. Giant Percheron horses were stomping in their temporary stalls adjacent to the 4-H poultry tent, the occupants of which were also making their presence known.

As I listened to the ruckus, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were registering their displeasure at the proximity of the Two By Two Zoo across the way. In particular, the black leopard pacing back and forth in it’s cage. And the albeit lethargic alligators lounging by their little kitty pool.

Next door, the large pen of ready-to-pet goats looked a little nervous, too. And I didn’t blame them.

I turned back before the 4-H show ring, deciding to leave the rest of the animals for another day. Instead I grabbed lunch with my friend Julie. (Sausage and peppers, of course).

After we discarded the detritus of our hastily consumed meal (ugh, the heartburn!), we headed to the Exhibition and Floral halls. Which is where I found my story. (Don’t worry. You’ll get to read it tomorrow.)

I headed back to the office around 3, thoroughly drained by the one-two punch of heat and humidity. I relaxed in the air conditioning and gave Jeff a thorough debriefing of Day 1. After my recap, I’ll admit I was dreading the thought of having to return tonight.

But then I thought of the parade. The pastel pink and blue chickens I’d seen in the poultry tent. All the Evening Sun temporary tattoos burning a hole in my pocket. The promise of a zipper ride with my Relay partner-in-crime, the amazing Chris Greeley. And, most importantly, the funnel cake. All that cinnamon and sugar coated, artery-clogging, deep-fried goodness calling my name.

And realized I couldn’t wait to get back to the Chenango County Fair.

See you at the fair!

Follow me on Twitter …@evesunmelissa.

The sports events that tickle my fancy

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010
Patrick Newell

here are particular sports events during the year that pique my anticipation more than others. In the fall, the crisp, clear air of early September in upstate New York combined with the Friday night lights creates an electrified feeling through my veins. It’s a level of ambiance unlike any other. Every team has a clean slate, coaches are full of hope, and no one really knows what will happen. For three weeks of practice, players have beat up on their teammates – save a controlled scrimmage the weekend before the season starts. Coaches, players, and fans may have a sense of how good their respective team may be, but again, no one can predict a team’s fortunes.
Additionally, while other sports may have played before the first football game, the fall sports season has not truly arrived until the opening kickoff football season.
I look forward to basketball season in the winter, particularly the Tom Schwan Tournament, named in memory of the late Evening Sun sportswriter. The winter sports season is the longest of my seasonal campaigns, and after plowing through a long season, the postseason arrives in time to fire up this writer’s fingers. Coupled with that is the excitement of the sectional and state wrestling tournaments. A “can’t-miss” to me is the Section IV wrestling tournament, and eventually, the state wrestling tournament.
Typically, I have anywhere from a week to three weeks of relative inactivity from the end of the winter season and the start of spring sports. Much like professional baseball, the important spring games occur in the postseason, and we have had no shortage of quality postseason games.
Still, my biggest thrill in the spring is covering the tremendous track and field athletes our local area produces year after year. I admire the speed, the power, and the grace of the sprinters, distance runners, and jumpers. To achieve success at the highest levels of the state is a testament to one’s individual athletic excellence and personal dedication.
Around this time, my high school sports season comes to a close. For the next few weeks, the sports pages include sports events that one cannot plan for or expect. For instance, just this week, a local golfer fired the lowest nine-hole round ever recorded in Norwich. Last week, a Norwich team won a baseball championship, and before that several area athletes competed with much success at the Empire State Games. A year ago, we featured former area athletes who have umpired the New York Yankees’ Old Timer’s Game for several years. All impromptu events that I thoroughly enjoyed writing about.
Those unplanned events aside, one event in the summer occurs the same week every year in August, and it’s personal value and overall enjoyment ranks side by side – to me – with the opening day of football season. Tomorrow, Canasawacta Country Club hosts its 52nd Annual Men’s Member-Guest Golf Tournament. Unless you’re a golfer, you will probably skip right over my previews, articles, photos, and scoring summaries that will dot the sports pages for three days each summer.
I won’t apologize for this statement: I love this golf tournament and the atmosphere that it creates. It’s about friends and family coming together in a competitive golfing environment on a familiar course with a long history. Those who grew up playing on the course hold the tournament in high esteem. Almost every young Norwich player dreams of one day winning the member-guest. I know I had that thought.
This golf tournament just about completes my year-long cycle of sports coverage, and in a few weeks, I’ll have the opportunity to revel in the excitement of another opening day of football.

The Clarendon Grill

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

On Monday I learned my favorite Arlington establishment, the Clarendon Grill, had closed its doors. Temporarily, so its owners claim. But whatever renovations they have in store will wipe the slate clean on a place where my fondest memories of living in Northern Virginia were created.

I don’t remember the first time I walked through the CGrill’s glass front door. But I can guarantee, if it was a weekend, I’d been queued up around the block for no inconsiderable amount of time. Because when I moved to Arlington in the late 90’s, the Clarendon – or CGrill as we called it – was the place to be and be seen on any given Friday or Saturday night. The line would stretch around the block, and once you made it inside, you still had to fight your way to the bar. The dance floor was sure to be packed, as well, hen on to the dance floor. If you were lucky, the Greek goddess of the hostess stand, Nicki, would grant you a table. As long as you were willing to wait for that, too.

The CGrill’s décor was not what you’d expect from such a nightspot. The theme was construction, a salute to the engineering past of the owner Pete Pflug’s family, if I remember correctly. But it worked.

The custom table tops displayed a mix of blueprints, paint chips, saw blades and other hardware store finds. The bar itself was a series of dioramas, featuring Tonka trucks pushing gravel and the like. Five-gallon buckets served as lighting fixtures. The brightly-painted ends of 2x4s contrasted against the remaining primer-painted walls, hung with the colorful work of local artists. The menus were done as architectural drawings.

Contrasting with the rough-hewn look of the place was the menu, created by Kevin Weeks, the chef Pete hired away from the Red Sage, one of DC’s premier restaurants. Sure, there was the requisite burger – the Jackhammer, or the Jack*@# as Kevin called it – but even it was topped with red pepper aioli, caramelized onions, apple-wood smoked bacon and the like. The salads were of the nicoise variety, topped with seared Ahi tuna. A jicama slaw was one of the offered sides. The trout was served, intact, shall we say. The lamb shanks were braised; the pork chops, seared. Brunch was a personal favorite of mine, with eggs forestiere and huevos ranchero being my top choices.

In those days – over a decade ago, now – I was applying my economics degree to somewhat good use working in market research for one trade association or another. I waited tables on the side, both for extra money and the social life. Quite frankly, my 20-something self considered it a blast.

This was a few years before developers moved in and turned Clarendon into a high-rent district. Before Mister Days even opened up across North Highland Street. Before the Clarendon Ballroom. Before Barnes & Noble and all the other big box retailers had moved in.

I worked first at Whitey’s, an Arlington institution known for its “broasted” chicken and half price burger night. Okay, it was a dive bar. But I made great tips.

It didn’t take long for me to tire of the place, though. And after a few I decided to hang up my apron there and look elsewhere.

Where I looked, was the Clarendon Grill.

My interview took place in a booth a few steps from the previously mentioned dance floor, where just that weekend I myself had spent some quality time listening to Gonzo’s Nose.

My interviewer was Nick Freshman, CGrill’s most junior manager at the time, who had only recently been elevated from server status himself. Tall and lanky, with an easy grin and thick golden blonde hair, he made all the ladies swoon.

Which probably accounted for the nervousness I felt as I slid into the sea-green banquette, trying hard not to get tangled in the ridiculously long legs already clogging the space.

Gradually, I started to open up as Nick peppered me with questions about my experience, and then about myself. We’d fallen into an easy camaraderie, chatting about our lives, when he finally broke it to me that there wasn’t a position open.

I thought he was just letting me down easy, so I was rather surprised when a couple of weeks later he called to offer me a job.

I had the somewhat dubious honor of being the first CGrill employee to be put to the test in the establishment’s new training program. It involved 5 shifts, 3 of which were on the floor, 1 in the kitchen and the last as a food runner on a busy Saturday night.

Being as I was accustomed to juggling 10 tables during Whitey’s famed Burger Night, when burger-hungry patrons flocked from far of wide to enjoy their specialty at half price, my first three shifts at CGrill were a breeze.

The fourth, however, nearly did me in.

I turned up as instructed on a Saturday to help prep for the evening’s dinner service. With my first assigned task – to clean a boatload (okay, exaggeration) of calamari – I knew the name of the game was going to be “how can we gross the new girl out.”

Much to their chagrin, I passed that first test with flying colors. (I did, after all, gut my first deer when I was 13. Give me some credit.) They’d thrown their worst at me already, and with each additional task – marinating chicken, cracking umpteen dozen eggs, cleaning crab meat – I could see their disappointment mounting. No fun would be had at this girl’s expense, I thought, as I chuckled to myself.

But alas, my celebrations proved premature. With their final challenge, they stumbled upon my greatest culinary Achilles heel: Olives.

Yeck. Just the briny smell of the things is enough to make me want to retch. And these people wanted me to pit them! Oh, the agony.

The all-male kitchen crew, most of whom hailed from Mexico or Central America, found this hysterical. Especially given my imperviousness to their previous efforts to gross me out.

I did get through it, of course. And managed to earn the respect of the kitchen staff in the process. Or at least I think it was respect. Because I never did learn how to speak Spanish.

From then on out, Clarendon Grill became my second home, and my co-workers my other family. Jeanette, Nick, the other Nick, Erin, Heather, Danny, Dave, Justin, Chuck, Jeff, Kevin, Penny, Jen, Thomas – and a dozen or so others whose faces are vivid in my memory, even if their names are not – all the rest played prominent roles in the next couple of years in my life.

I’ve lost touch with most if not all of them now, but I still trot out memories of those “good old days” on occasion. (Much to the chagrin of my current crop of friends, I might add. Poor darlings, they never had the pleasure of knowing Clarendon in its hey day.)

In a moment of nostalgia, I did a few Google searches a couple of years ago, to see what happened to some of my old Arlingtonian crew. My heart broke when I learned Kevin had been killed in a tragic car accident. The others I found, however, seem to be doing well. Pete has increased the size of his Clarendon restaurant empire, with the help of another former CGrill veteran, Dave Pressley. Nick Freshman, too, has his own place, called Spider Kelly’s.

And, until this week, Clarendon Grill has continued to occupy the same location at 1101 N. Highland Street. It really is an end of an era for me.

Farewell, CGrill. Thanks for the memories.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.

Norwich Athletics Hall of Fame a reality

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010
Patrick Newell

I heard talk of a Norwich Athletics Hall of Fame a few years ago. Those talks were more like whispers traveling the rumor mill rather than anything substantive. Yesterday, after meeting with longtime NHS sports supporters, Pete Smith and Jim Dunne, I can confidently announce that Norwich High School will have a sports Hall of Fame.
Dunne and Smith – Norwich graduates in ‘55 and ‘63 respectively – will assume responsibility of gathering information for all pre-1970 athletes. From 1970 and forward, Mark Abbott will shoulder the main responsibility, along with a committee, of compiling appropriate Hall of Fame nominees.
Tentatively, the first Hall of Fame class is slated for induction in the spring of 2011, although nothing is finalized at this time. Dunne is in the midst of ongoing exhaustive research on Norwich athletics, and he has contacted a number of men for input on potential nominees. Dunne said he has put together a rather large list of athletes; however, all of the nominees must be properly researched for future discussion on their HOF merits.
A suggestion Dunne and Smith will present when the HOF committee meets is to induct entire teams based on outstanding seasons. For instance, the unbeaten, unscored on 1937 football squad has few equals on the NHS sports landscape. Individually, many of the star athletes on that team will eventually be inducted into the Hall as well.
Smith and Dunne were quick to point out the contributions of Abbott, who, for a quarter century, has maintained in-depth and comprehensive statistics of his basketball teams. Abbott’s brings that same attention to detail to his committee, and that should ensure that the most worthy Hall of Fame athletes are recognized.
In my meeting with Dunne and Smith, all of us bandied about some HOF criteria. Will nominated athletes be voted on? How many will be inducted each year? Who will present the selections? How many years will a nominee remain on the ballot? Will there be separate Hall categories such as athletes, coaches, and contributors? Will the emphasis be on an athlete’s accomplishments in high school, or will accomplishments outside of high school carry significant weight? For more recent graduates, when does an athlete become eligible for induction?
Other area schools have had their own high school Hall of Fames for years, and I am excited Norwich High School will now honor its outstanding athletes of the past.

Plate tectonics

Monday, August 2nd, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

Anyone who went through high school earth science has at least a passing knowledge of plate tectonics, the scientific theory concerned with the movement of the Earth’s crust which both causes whole continents to shift and triggers all those frightful earthquakes along the faults.

This blog, however, has nothing to do with that. My concern is with the shift of another type of plates entirely. License plates, actually. And those issued by the State of New York in particular.

When New York first made the switch to the new, obnoxiously gold tags a few months ago, I was as horrified as every other resident of this great state. It wasn’t so much the fee increase, that I could stomach. It was the aesthetics, or more precisely, the lack there of, which I found most unsettling.

I was fully prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, I really was. I tried to write off my consternation about this new, unpalatable color combination as just an aversion to change. It’ll grow on you, I tried to tell myself.

But I was wrong. I’m every bit as repulsed by New York’s new license plates today as I was when they were unveiled. More so, really, since I’m now forced to view them with greater regularity.

Who chose this particularly garish shade of gold, and then paired it with midnight blue? That’s what I really want to know. Who made this decision, and for the love of all things holy, why?

I want to know if this was a cost saving measure. I mean, were there vats of that school bus-esque color left over from the mid-80’s? If memory serves, that’s when New York made the switch from the old yellow and blue plates to Lady Liberty. (Which I loved, by the way.)

It’s even crossed my mind that perhaps color-blindness was a factor in the decision making process. Because I just can’t fathom why our state would choose a color combo sure to clash with just about every vehicle color on the market. I fully anticipate the number of white cars sold to double in the next year, as it is the only color which doesn’t look appalling with the new plates.

It’s all just rampant speculation at this point. All I know is that, in this instance, going “retro” with the colors was ill-advised.

Just think of the implications: Permanent retinal damage, the long-term effect on the children of our state (all those parental lessons on matching colors wasted!), and it could actually cause the Empire State to lose businesses.

As if the high taxes, energy costs and over-regulation weren’t enough, here we are scaring people away with these obnoxious things. Whole industries, especially those fashion or art related, could be at risk.

And what about tourism? How can that not suffer, given the fact that our scenic highways just got decidedly less attractive. All eyes will be on those hideous plates, rather than the passing landscape.

And forget about attracting new residents to New York. Sure, the design of a state’s license plate wouldn’t be a major factor in such a decision, but it could very well be a deciding one. All things being equal, if it came right down to it, would you chose a state represented by a scenic mountain landscape , or gold and blue monstrosity?

If you said gold and blue, I know you’re lying.

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