Sunday, August 31, 2008

West Fest

After a long day at West Fest, I walked home through the sleepy west-Binghamton streets and stopped for this shot. This is the gazebo at Recreation Park, sort of magicial at night, don't you think? The park is close by, maybe five blocks from our house, and passing through it always rustles up a lot of nostalgia. I'm not sure why. It's just a big empty plot of land in the middle of the mostly quiet residential West side, with a swimming pool, playground, tennis courts, and lots of gorgeous old oak trees. Sometimes we walk our dog there-- he appreciates the squirrels who are lured by those oaks.

The trees are beautiful. I'll admit it. But my nostalgia has more to it than that. Rec Park brings me a sense of history, the knowledge of what Binghamton was like before most of its companies, and most of its people packed up and left town. For the first half of this century, this whole area was a wildly prosperous place, in no small part because of the Endicott-Johnson shoe company which had its headquarters nearby. It employed thousands of people. It financed homes for its workers, and offered employee health insurance. Throughout the Greater Binghamton area, the company erected libraries, public swimming pools, parks, and carousels. There was a concert hall that had minstrel shows on Sunday evenings, free for workers and their families.

Walking through Rec Park alone, I think about what it would've been like to raise a family here sixty years ago. Minstrel shows. Ice cream cones and carousel rides at Rec Park. Swimming in the giant public pool (shaped like the sole of a boot) that held 2,000 bathers. I guess it's all too easy to romanticize, but to me it seems like EJ represented capitalism at its best, when even the biggest, most prosperous companies were run by people who looked out for their employees, and understood their role in the local economy.

Binghamton now is a testament to what happens when those jobs go overseas. The population has dropped, from 85,000 in the 1950s, to a little under 50,000 today. There's no more minstrel shows or boot-shaped swimming pools. But there's always plenty of room on the carousel.

Here's some pictures from West Fest 2008, hosted by the venerable Cyber Cafe West.

My husband (far left) and his band, The Second Class Citizens.

The owner and his dog, Lila.


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