This past weekend marked the return to college for many of the nation’s young students; their parents helped them pack up their materials and traveled in caravans to bring them back to their dorms for the coming school year. I know this not because I’m currently a student (oh, how long ago that was), or the father of one, or because I teach at an institute of higher learning. No, I know this because I took a rare day trip out of the city on Saturday – to Chester, New York, in nearby Orange County – and what should have been an hour and a half drive took fully double that length of time due to the increased traffic.
My short play The Mascot Always Pings Twice received its world premiere at the Sugar Loaf Arts Center, part of a one act festival featuring pieces dealing with environmental themes. (Which is only a small part of what Mascot is about, but having heard the script aloud in its entirety at last the environmental issues do come to the forefront more than I thought they did, so I guess they made the right choice!) Though I have been writing plays for a good number of years now, I have not yet grown so jaded as to take any production. In fact, most of the productions my plays have received have happened with – and, honestly, because – of my involvement. So if a production of something of mine is happening within a reasonable distance away, I’m going. And an hour and a half drive – even if it winds up being three hours thanks to college weekend traffic – strikes me as reasonable.
So I rented a car for the weekend – which, again, took longer than it’s ever taken me to do, thanks to the weekend’s increased activity – and hit the road. (After swinging by a local Petco and picking up an extra large container of cat litter, taking advantage of having a trunk for the first time in months.) And even surrounded by bumper-to-bumper traffic, I could feel the city streets and suburban sprawl give way to ever greener venues, until at last I was making my way through the gentle hills of the Hudson Highlands where the Catskills and Adirondacks begin. And finally, I was in a sleepy little town, one of the little arts enclaves that dot the upstate, my destination reached at last. I dined down the street, then made my way to the arts center. There was a bucolic pond around the back of the building; I sat for a few hours with a notepad, scribbling. I still have deadlines later this month after all, and felt the need to get some sort of work down. (That I managed to become one of those pretentious artists scratching away while staring dreamily off into the distance was, of course, a bonus.)
Then I went inside to see the plays. The local arts center has two playing spaces, so in order to go see the show I had to make my way through a throng of KISS fans, there to see the local tribute band. (As one does.)
They did a great job with the script; it was gratifying to hear it, and see it up on its feet. And it was nice to have an appreciative crowd. But while that crowd was sizeable (a nice achievement!), the rest of the town was tiny, and quiet, and still – and after several months of hectic activity, and with many more such months to come, that was the best part of this trip. To have a few moments of head-clearing, restorative solitude, in that sparsely populated landscape.
(Apparently it’s not a college town.)