Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Vampire Man in Upstate New York

OK - this is a snippet from my recent vacation. I can personally attest that every word is true!

My family (DH, DS, and DD) along with my dear Sister's family (her, her DH, and two DDs) went to upstate New York for a fabulous retreat from society a few weeks back. We stayed at a reclaimed farmhouse from the 1800's, which was literally across the street from the Oswegatchie River, in St. Lawrence County. Our little home away from home was situated on 85 acres of beautiful meadow and woods.

One of the first things that struck us as we set out to see what upstate New York had to offer, was that there really wasn't a whole lot to choose from. It turns out that while simply gorgeous, St. Lawrence County, isn't exactly the cultural mecca of New York. With help from my trusty GPS, Emily, I set out trying to add some destination-based fun to our week.

The entire list of available activities for us - beyond the fishing, kayaking, hiking, and boating which we could do from the property itself - is as follows: there was a water park over 2 hours away, a museum in town, bowling, maybe a movie, Natural Bridge Caverns, a huge hedge maze, a privately owned aquarium and of course, in Alexandria Bay, we could visit Boldt Castle.

One morning, we decided to caravan to Natural Bridge Caverns. Both families ventured out together in separate cars. Emily, my trusty and never failing travelling companion immediately got into a rather lengthy argument with map-yielding hubby. It was a stand-off for a few tense moments, but eventually we ran into where Fort Drum blocked the road to all thru-traffic. Defeated, DH threw up his hands as I made the U-turn. This caused car number two to do the same. With a careful sideways glance, I asked DH, "OK, where to now, chief"?

DH: "Do whatever you want to do now. I'm done. I didn't know they were going to block off the road here. This would have been a short-cut too".

Seeing that the mood had been shattered, and the arrival time was now going to be stretched by another 20 minutes, Emily (now smug with satisfaction) instructed me to "Please drive to highlighted route" in her crisp, Australian accent.

We continued in strained silence, each of us afraid to further provoke Emily or DH. Eventually, we began seeing road signs advertising Natural Bridge Caverns. A heartfelt "waaa hooo" went up from the back of the van. Turning down the road that Emily and the signs pointed out, we soon found ourselves in a tiny, rundown town looking like something out of a Stephen King novel. I made nervous small talk indicating as much.

Up ahead, on the right, the signs all pointed. Moving slowly, I eventually came to what appeared to be an old gas station building. But instead of pumps, a parking lot overgrown with weeds was all that there was to welcome us. Both vehicles turned in and slowed to a stop. The shades were all pulled on the little gas station building, and a large faded orange sign hung in the plate glass window. "Closed", it said mockingly.

I couldn't believe my eyes. Surely this was the wrong place! Crestfallen after having driven an hour, I parked the car, and got out to talk with my Sister and her DH. DS took the opportunity to get out of the van and stretch his legs. As I conversed with my sister, a very tall man appeared from behind the building and lumbered slowly towards us. Despite the fact that it was 10am, he was clutching a beercan in one hand and a pack of skoal in the other. His pasty white skin and even his hair and eyebrows, were covered in what I assumed was drywall dust. (A hoax to camouflage his true nature).

Immediately, I recognized him for what he was: Vampire. Moving quickly to collect my son and trying to keep everyone in one place, he approached us and asked us if we were there to see Natural Bridge Caverns. His voice was an odd mixture of Canadian accent and slow Southern Draw. He told us that the owner of the cavern had passed away about 5 years ago (he probably fed on him!, my mind called out), but that he would be happy to show us the entrance and exit of the cave. He noticed my DD at this point telling her aunt that she had to find a bathroom. In his slow Canadian draw, he invited us to follow him to the facilities.

Although every fiber in my body was telling me that maybe we should just go back out on the main road and find a fast food place to go to the bathroom, I silently followed my sister and DD around back to where the "facilities" were supposed to be.

What we found was a house - presumably the vampire's lair. It was completely devoid of furniture, but not of people. A heavily tattooed man was there plastering over drywall, along with a young girl roughly the age of my own DD. She had a wild look in her eyes. It occurred to me that we had driven an hour from the safety of our cabin and were now entering a complete stranger's house to use the bathroom, and no one knew where we were.

(This is wrong - this is wrong - this is wrong, I repeated to myself in my head). While my sister and DD went into the bathroom together, I looked around and tried to calm myself. I reassured myself with the fact that if we didn't come back, our DHs would come looking for us. The young girl seemed especially happy we were there. In just a few seconds, a fast-looking, yellow Mustang skidded to a stop outside the little house, and a hard looking woman got out and entered. Eying me up and down sideways, (surely wondering whether she was going to take our kids or our cars after she killed us), I waved my white paper brochure for Natural Bridge Caverns in an attempt to demonstrate that I'm a tourist and I surrender...I later found out that when it was my turn in the bathroom, the little girl told my sister that, "when I was born, my Momma got schizophrenia and I became a cancer." She now lived with her daddy (presumably Tattoo Man).

I was thankful when we were able to get out of the lair, and headed back to the car. However, Vampire Man had already beat me out there and was talking to our husbands. "Sure", I heard my DH said. "We'd love it if you could show us around." And so it began. Our little group of 8 following our beer-chugging, snuff chewing Vampire tour-guide into the overgrown bushes and shrubbery to the left side of the gas station building.

The journey to the mouth of the cave was uneventful - save for the fact that access to it was down a steep set of overgrown earthen stairs covered with loose gravel and a trip over a wooden foot bridge that was so rickety we were advised to cross it one at a time. By this time, DH was engrossed in his conversation with Vampire Man, and I was unable to get his attention to let him know that we were all going to be killed soon.

Oblivious to my not-so-subtle head and neck jerks in his direction, DH led the way and we eventually made it out of the mouth of the cave and back to the safety of the parking lot. "OK, thanks!" I said in an attempt to dismiss him from his services or distract him from whatever plans he was forming in his head. "We'll be leaving now. Too bad it was closed, but thank you for your time." (There, that ought to do it.)

I was more than half way to the mini-van when I realized that the majority of our little group was once again following Vampire Man....into the woods this time, to look at the exit of the cave. This time the hike was a little further, and I began exchanging nervous looks with my sister. The children, of course, were completely oblivious to how shady this all seemed. It seemed perfectly acceptable, to them, that we would have a private tour guide.

Of course after the 5 minute hike through the woods to see the cave's exit, it was only a short hike to the "blow hole." Surely we'd want to see that too, right? With every passing minute and every step we took, my brain was exploding with all kinds of warnings. This was just about the time when my sister leaned over to me and whispered, "he's taking us so far away so the others can hotwire and move our cars...there'll be no trace left of us."

At the blow hole, Vampire Man tried to get me to go closer to the hole to take "really good photograph" (it was a hole straight to Hell...I know this because DS threw a rock down and it *never* hit bottom). I just said, "ummm ahhh...no thank you." (please don't kill us, please don't kill us).

Urgently thinking that we really should be getting back to the vehicles right about now, I was stunned to see my own DH still at the front of the line engaging Vampire Man in a one-on-one discussion on local geological finds and other caves nearby. Over another old footbridge, that spanned a large gorge with all the lateral slats rotting away ("stay on the verticals, and I guess you'll be fine", our tour-guide shared with a mischievous grin) we trudged forward into the bug infested woods.

It wasn't even 10 minutes later that we came upon, what I like to call, the crime scene. My sister and I - well and truly freaked out now and beginning to speak up from our place at the back of the line - frantically took pictures of the scene in case our cameras ever made it out of these woods. Up against the trunk of a tree with weeds and underbrush growing all around were the remains of a pair of denim pants, a t-shirt, boxers, and a toothbrush (yes, a toothbrush!). But no body. (Oh my God, this is it, we're getting ready to be killed, and DH is up there talking about rocks.)

I lean over to my sister and tell her that if, by chance, we do happen to make it out alive, at least we'll have an *awesome* story to tell. She responds by leaning over to me and telling me that the rest of Vampire Man's posse (Tattoo Man and Mustang Woman) is waiting for us up ahead, and that they'll probably let Cancer Girl feed on us first, since she's just a kid. I gulped nervously and said loud enough for DH to hear, "OhhhKayyyy, we really need to be getting back to the car now....remember, we have those *other* plans for today, too."

A short time later, he simply hiked us back out to the cars. I was happily surprised to see that they had not been moved (not that I could see, anyway). We piled in and quickly drove away; anxious to put as many miles between us and the town of Natural Bridge as possible. But not before asking Vampire Man to be in our family photo. In front of the drawn shades and the Closed sign, Vampire Man held up his beer in a silent toast to us, the ones who were getting away, while surrounded on both sides by my family.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The PG Chronicles: Week # 26

Ground breaking date for pool: Thursday, 4/10/08
Ground breaking date for patio: Thursday, 5/15/08


10/2/08 Thursday - No PG

10/3/08 Friday - No PG - But we did receive a letter from the county stating that our permit was about to expire. And once it did we would face fines of like $300 per day or some other huge amount. Of course we've been calling the PG even more since that.

10/4/08 Saturday - No PG

10/5/08 Sunday - No PG

10/6/08 Monday - PG stopped in briefly and spoke with my DM. He said he would return later in the day to begin working on the fence around the pool, but did not. Typical.

10/7/08 Tuesday - No PG

10/8/08 Wednesday - No PG

Side note: DH and I have called several times per week for the past few weeks. It always goes to voicemail. We both leave detailed messages each time.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The PG Chronicles: Week # 24 & Week # 25

Ground breaking date for pool: Thursday, 4/10/08
Ground breaking date for patio: Thursday, 5/15/08

The PG Chronicles: Week # 24

9/18/08 Thrusday - No PG

9/19/08 Friday - No PG

9/20/08 Saturday - No PG

9/21/08 Sunday - No PG

9/22/08 Monday - No PG

9/23/08 Tuesday - No PG

9/24/08 Wednesday - No PG - I began calling PG today to ask where he has been



The PG Chronicles: Week # 25
9/25/08 Thursday - No PG - DH called him today

9/26/08 Friday - PG stopped by briefly and spoke to my mother. He mentioned to her that we'd been calling, and that he has been waiting for his auger to get fixed so he could help put the fence in. (That, however, has nothing to do with finishing up the patio.)

9/27/08 Saturday - No PG It rained

9/28/08 Sunday - No PG it rained

9/29/08 Monday - No PG Rain - off and on.

9/30/08 Tuesday - No PG

10/1/08 Wednesday - No PG. I called him again today and left a more direct message letting him know we're anxious to finish this up.

* * *

The lack of progress over the past 5+ weeks is really frustrating. I was completely faithful that by October our project would be complete. I am just really anxious for this to be done.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The PG Chronicles: Week # 23

Ground breaking date for pool: Thursday, 4/10/08
Ground breaking date for patio: Thursday, 5/15/08


9/11/08 Thursday - Overcast and cool. PG came briefly in the afternoon accompanied by another man who measured our pool area for the (winter) cover. He said he'd come back later in the afternoon, but he did not.

9/12/08 Friday - Beautiful weather - No PG. The pieces for the split-rail fence that is supposed to be installed around the pool were delivered today.

9/13/08 Saturday - Beautiful weather - No PG

9/14/08 Sunday - Beautiful weather - No PG

9/15/08 Monday - Beautiful weather - No PG

9/16/08 Tuesday - Beautiful weather - No PG

9/17/08 Wednesday - Beautiful weather - No PG

Side note: Here we ago again! It looks like we're entering another phase where PG is too busy with other endeavors to come by. So much progress has been made, and things are really starting to look wonderful, BUT there is still a lot of work to do. At the rate we're going, I think it will be early December before everything is completely finished.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The PG Chronicles: Week # 22

Ground breaking date for pool: Thursday, 4/10/08
Ground breaking date for patio: Thursday, 5/15/08


9/4/08 Thursday - Beautiful day - No PG.

9/5/08 Friday - Getting ready for the remnants of Hurricane Hanna, which is supposed to hit sometime overnight tonight. 2-4" of rain and high winds are expected. PG came and wrapped the top of the columns for the pergola with garbage bags.

9/6/08 Saturday - Rain all day - NO PG.

9/7/08 Sunday - No rain - No PG

9/8/08 Monday - No Rain - No PG

9/9/08 Tuesday - No Rain - No PG

9/10/08 Wednesday - No Rain - No PG

Friday, September 5, 2008

The PG Chronicles: Week # 21

Ground breaking date for pool: Thursday, 4/10/08
Ground breaking date for patio: Thursday, 5/15/08

8/28/08 Thursday - The rest of the concrete was poured

8/29/08 Friday - 10 six foot tall Emerald Green Arborvitaes were planted around the pool - 6 along the back side and 4 along the deep end. We will be planting grass in between each Arborvitae that grown 12-14' tall. Tomorrow we have 6 yards of mulch being delivered, and then I need to arrange the wood for the fence.

8/30/08 Saturday - Beautiful weather...PG installed the DIVING BOARD this morning! The children began swimming at 8am, and although it was a bit chilly they had a blast. He also created all of the towers on either side of the stair openings, and added a flower bed on the garden side.

8/31/08 Sunday - Beautiful weather - NO PG

9/1/08 Monday - Beautiful weather - No PG

9/2/08 Tuesday - Beautiful weather - No PG

9/3/08 Wednesday - Beautiful weather - PG came and added mulch to the flower bed near the driveway (in front of the electrical box) and planted a medium tall grass. It will hide all the electrical stuff when you first enter the back yard.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Freelance Update

If you've been reading, you know that I've been really trying to break into the freelance market - either with writing or photography. I've applied for dozens of positions over the past month or so, and have received a lot of helpful feedback along the way.

A couple of weeks ago, I applied for a position in a local photography studio, and sent a link to my portfolio along with my cover letter. I got a reply very shortly afterwards, and set up an in-person interview for that very evening. I took a disk containing even more photos along.
In short, everything went great...they said my photos were creative and artistic, and that I could benefit from more training, on the technical side. They (the business is owned by a husband/wife team) have "hired" me, and will provide on-going training. While in training, I will be a "second" photographer. The best part is that I still get paid for this. Eventually, I will become "primary" photographer, and the pay is a lot better at that point.

My first training session is 9/5, and my first wedding (where I will be a "second") is 9/6. I am so incredibly excited about this opportunity! One of the most important things is training. Because I am trying to get my personal photography business off the ground, the fact that they will help me learn even more is key. Also, since it takes time to build a customer base, this will keep me busy in the meantime. They will even provide a "company shirt" and personalized business cards.