The other night, I was discussing Albany’s status as a bizzy-buzzy up-and-coming tech hub with someone who lives very far away.
It’s funny, I said. There’s a lot going on around here. But most people don’t think of Albany that way.
“Amy,” he replied, “I hate to break it to you, but most people don’t think of Albany at all.”
I laughed. I had to laugh. Those of us who live here are ALWAYS laughing, because there’s nothing else to do, really. Most people don’t think of Albany at all — unless you reside in tobacco-spitting distance somewhere to the south, in which case you make THE worst possible assumptions about the place (It’s boring! It’s backward! It’s corrupt! It’s an armpit with a charter! People wear clogs!). Otherwise, chances are you’re not lying awake at night sighing, Ahh, fair Albany! I long for thee! It’s just not part of your normal fantasy life. This city is so far under the radar, it’s scraping its butt on the sidewalk — and such a nice butt, too. Historic and Dutch!
But you know what? I’m okay with that. I’m okay with the butt-scraping. I like being ignored. True, an eensy part of me perks up at the thought of Albany being tapped as the Next Brooklyn, at least after Troy gets finished with it, or maybe even the Next Austin Not In Texas. Another possibility is becoming the Next Hudson, which was itself ignored by the cognoscenti until all of sudden everyone downstate collectively went: There’s a post-industrial burgh north of Manhattan with cheap real estate and flea markets? Let’s go! Back in the early 1980s, Hudson was SO thoroughly ignored that a train passing through it almost failed to stop long enough to spit me out — because, as the conductor explained, leaning out the door toward my worried mother on the platform, “No one gets off in Hudson.”
I’ll admit I kind of miss those days. The last time I rode through, the station was so clogged with people getting off and on that it held up the train by a good ten minutes. Hudson’s been discovered! Help, somebody! Help! Help!
I’m not sure I want that for Albany. One of the personality quirks I simultaneously love and hate about the region is its inferiority complex, which reflexively pooh-poohs anything fascinating or singular or old or funky that makes it stand out among similarly sized municipalities. I wish there were more pride of place the way there is, say, in New England, where you can’t set foot without instantly absorbing all of its quaintness as though you’ve been shot up with maple syrup by a white clapboard steeple. New Englanders are mighty proud of their New Englishness, and I can say that because I grew up there. But Albanians? Either we don’t know what we have (that charter, for instance, makes it the oldest armpit in the country) or it doesn’t occur to us to brag about it. And if we bragged more, we could be the Next Berkshires, people!
But maybe what I value most in Albany is exactly that non-braggy quality, the taciturn character and lack of pretension that make living here so easy. All the cool goings-on, all the tech stuff and the arts, all the history and the walkability and mountains that ring us with nature, are that much more enjoyable for being low-stress and accessible. For not being discovered or declared hip by outsiders. For not being the Next Brooklyn. I’d love to see the city and the region keep right on evolving, becoming even techier and artsier and prouder of its history, but may it never lose its unassuming, unhurried, utterly un-hip decency. Being the Next Albany is fine enough.