Saturday, May 14, 2016

Amazing Grace

I step into the Amazing Grace African Market where Uche(oo-chey) is bagging up plantains, four for $2. Uche is about my height, 5’ 9”, with a welcoming face and a round belly. He laughs easily and is quick to greet me. I tell Uche what I’m doing with my blog, that I want to get to get to know the people and places of Poughkeepsie and put the whole thing down on paper and share it with people. He smiles and says “one second”. Then he starts speaking in a language I’ve never heard before with a few English phrases like “talk to you later” mixed in. He reaches over and hangs up the cell-phone that I hadn’t noticed.
“I’m sorry man, I didn’t realize you were on a call.”

“No problem. I call him back. So what would you like to know?”

“Let’s start with what’s on the shelves,” I say. “Can you show me around?” It’s a small corner store, but there’s a lot to see.

“Sure, come on.” Uche starts with the palm cream “to make cream soup” he says, then the cassava leaf (which is something like spinach). Then there’s the palm oil for frying, powdered coco yam, powdered green plantain, cassava flour, and countless other ingredients I’ve never seen. In the freezer are whole red snapper and a big box unambiguously labeled “Cow Foot!”

There are imported African beauty products and Nigerian movies as well. He gives me a DVD labelled “Kidnap”, an action drama based on a true story. Uche tells me that new movies come out almost every week.

I’ve never seen another store like this and here it is in my own town on the corner of Clinton and Main. “People come from all over,” Uche tells me. “ I have people come from Newburgh, Middletown, Westchester county, Danbury, everywhere. I have people come from Canada. This is the BEST place.”

“You don’t have any problems here? No crime?”

“Well…” he says looking across the street, “They sell beer and loose cigarettes over there. People stand out there all day. It invites bad things.” I look up and notice the big screen TV hung above the plantains. It’s showing live video streams from all over the inside and outside of the store. “But those guys don’t bother me here. I don’t sell nothing they want. No beer, no liquor, no cigarette and I don’t let people stand around outside. But these people standing across the street, they need something to do. They let them out of prison and don’t give them no plan. Nothing to do, so they stand around outside the stores and they invite trouble in. They should give these people a broom. Tell them, this spot from Clinton to Cherry, that is your area. You keep it clean. No garbage. No spot of litter.”

Uche and I talk like this for almost an hour about everything from welfare to immigration to the best way to prepare fufu. He is proud of his place in the community, but nothing has come easy. Beneath that easy going smile there is a struggle; the fight to get to America, the hard nights driving taxis in NYC until he had enough to open his own store, the constant battle to keep it going, the crime he suspects just across the street, this strange country, his long road to citizenship and his struggle to have his mother join him here. And despite all this he tells me that America is great. “This is the BEST place,” he tells me.

He knows full well that there is crime, but that doesn’t distract him from a more important fact, “this is the HEART of Poughkeepsie” he tells me. His store used to be down near the corner of Main and Hamilton, but the rent was too high and he wasn’t finding the customers that wanted his products. “Location, location, location” he says, “There is a bus-stop one block up and all the people live here.”

Whatever problems there might be in his new neighborhood there are a lot of good people living there, people who enjoy a good meal and want the taste of home. Some fufu and snapper maybe, maybe some chicken peanut stew.

As we talk an older Jamaican woman comes in. She picks through the plantains for the best ones and she and Uche banter about how she should take one of the bags he already made up like everyone else. She keeps picking through the box. I can tell by the way Uche grins that this isn’t the first time he’s had this talk with her. Tonight, she tells us, will be her first night working after almost two years of job searching. Luckily her landlord’s been kind and let her stay even when she couldn’t pay. I wonder if Uche might have given her those plantains for free when she was out of work. It takes people helping each other sometimes just to get by. But she doesn’t expect charity. She wants to pay her landlord every cent that she owes and she’s happy for the work. At the end of five minutes I know more about this woman’s life than some friends I’ve had for years. Uche rings her out and goes back to bagging the plantains.

Poughkeepsie is a strange town. It’s a tough town. But it’s also a town where people are leaning on one another every day. Sometimes that means letting someone stay even when they can’t pay the rent. Sometimes that means believing in a place and its people despite the evidence and sometimes it means knowing the heart of a place when you see it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Eye Witness

I’ve got off work this week, so I decide I should take the ol’ doggie on an extended walk. We trot down from Innis all the way to Market and grab a coffee and corn muffin at Alex’s restaurant. It’s a little brisk out but not uncomfortable. I take a bite of my muffin and stick the rest in my pocket and get the leash and coffee situated before we carry on walking.

We take Main St. back. I see a few people hanging out in front of that new deli next to the Heritage Center. Then I hear the yelling. My eyes dart to the left to see a man and a woman across the street. The sight stops me in my tracks. He’s pointing his finger, six feet of rage towering over this five foot woman wrapped in a puff coat. She’s crying, “Get away from me” “Nah, you don’t pull that shit bitch!” I can’t make out much, but it’s something about owing money. “Please, someone get him AWAY from me!” She yells. The men outside the deli aren’t more than ten feet away, but they don’t move. I can hardly blame them. I haven’t moved either. My mind is racing. “You wanna call the cops bitch” he yells, “go ahead and fuckin’ call ‘em!”

Yea, call the cops, I’ve got my hand on my cell phone but what are they gonna do? He hasn’t laid a finger on her yet and who knows what she owes him money for. Would she be in just as much trouble as him? Is that why he knows she won’t call? Is he pimping her out? Jesus Christ, it’s not even 9am, what the hell is going on? Besides, who knows how long it’s going to take for them to get here. I should probably do something. But the dog, what if this asshole starts kicking my dog. Then I’d have to kill him and that wouldn’t be good for anyone. Who are you kidding Dan? He’d kick your ass. I bet this hot coffee would look good splashed across his face. Yea that’s great. Then he can beat the shit out of me and just get to her later. Why am I still standing here? Just a be a witness Dan, that’s something. Stop being a voyeur. Move on. Just..

And as my mind ineffectually races, a thin man in a hoodie, not much taller than the woman, starts crossing the street toward them, not running, but with purpose. He gets between them, even puts his hand on the tall man’s arm. I don’t know what he’s saying, but he’s got the man’s attention. But the woman doesn’t run. She doesn’t even move away. Maybe she expects this skinny stranger in a hoodie to fight for her? Maybe she thinks it’s hopeless? Maybe she’s frozen with a million thoughts just like me.

Then the tall man and the short woman walk away side by side. Not twenty feet down the road the tall man is screaming in this woman's face again. The skinny man is left standing there alone. He throws up his arms, defeated. He puts on his headphones and crosses back to my side of the street. I try to tell him that he’s a good man for at least trying to do something, but he doesn’t hear me over his music or he doesn’t acknowledge me anyway. He walks on. Head down. Disgusted with the real Poughkeepsie.

Leave a comment below. What should I have done? What could be done? Sad as it is, I doubt this is the last time I’ll witness something like this. It isn’t the first. And every time I’m left wondering if I could have or should have done something or anything at all. Have you been witness to this kind of madness? What did you do? Did it help?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Poughkeepsie... Let's Dance!

And we start with a rock-step, step, step and rock-step. Got it? Good. Remember your frame. And rock-step. That's it. Now you're getting it. And rock-step.

I haven’t been doing this long, but my partner’s brand-new so I repeat what I’ve heard in my lessons. And rock step. She’s a bit shorter than me, but comes up to my height in her heels. She’s wearing a black dress and has black hair to match. I send her out and she follows like she’s been doing this for years. I keep it simple though, nothing like the couples around us bopping to the music, spinning, dipping, doing things I’ve never seen before while the live band is roaring. As we spin I catch a glimpse of my wife, Rosie, sitting in the blue plastic chairs smiling. She's got the next dance for sure.

The next one is slower and I pull Rosie in close. This one calls for a triple step and we move through the steps slow and smooth as syrup. Without the frenetic pace, I have a chance to take in the room here at the Poughkeepsie Tennis Club. The wide wood floors, the elegant stairs leading up to the lobby, the high ceilings, the beautiful chandeliers. It transports you to another era, a time even before the swing age of the twenties, thirties and forties, all the way to the late 19th century when this place was built. A time before cell-phones, TV, movies, or even radio. A time when community dances would have been one of the main entertainments to be had. A time when live music was the only music.

The music kicks me back to the present as the next number revs it up into high gear. By the end of the song we’re both ready to take a break and grab some water. I see a lot of other people have the same idea and I figure it’s probably a good time to interview a few people for the blog.

My one and only rule for my interviews is that the person I’m interviewing has to live in the city of Poughkeepsie. So I turn around and ask the person nearest to me “excuse me, do you live in Poughkeesie” “oh no, I’m here from Brooklyn actually.” She tells me that she’s here visiting her daughter and they came out together to the dance. Her daughter’s not from Poughkeepsie either. Neither is the next person I talk to or the one after that. I figure it’s a fluke, so I keep asking. But everyone I talk to is from somewhere else. And if you remember, this is a crowded dance. I start to suspect that Rosie and I might be the only ones at this dance that live in Poughkeepsie, but I’m determined. I go around systematically asking everyone who’s sitting out the dance. I ask over two dozen people. Aside from Brooklyn we’ve got New Paltz, Highland, Hyde Park, Pawling, Patterson, Fishkill, and just about everywhere else in a three county range except for Poughkeepsie.

You could be forgiven for thinking that in the modern age there were no community dances at all, that this event I’m describing is some kind of a one off fluke. Maybe that’s why people are coming from all over for this once in a lifetime event. Maybe you're afraid, dear citizens of Poughkeepsie, that you missed your one chance to swing dance. But you’d be wrong. If you live in Poughkeepsie you could go to a swing-dance at least once if not twice a week and never leave your hometown. 

There’s Po-Town Swing every Wednesday at Vassar College in Ely Hall and it’s not just for the students. People from 18 to 80 and everywhere in between come out for the lesson from 7:30 to 8:00 and the dance from 8:00 to 10:00. It’s another beautiful space and completely free to the public. Then there’s the fourth Friday dance at the Poughkeepsie Tennis Club which I describe above and another excellent dance on the third Sunday at the Arlington Reformed Church. There’s one tonight in fact, so if you’re feeling adventurous, polish those dancing shoes and get down there.

So I’m asking you Poughkeepsie, I’ve got my hand out with a smile on my face. I’m pretty new to this myself, but... would you like to dance?

Check out for a calendar of all upcoming events. If you want some lessons before you take the plunge Chester and Linda from Got2Lindy are great.

Leave a comment if you've danced in Poughkeepsie. Where do you or did you go? What did you think of it?

Monday, January 4, 2016


A dead pig hangs in a Poughkeepsie storefront. Inside, a young woman by the name of Carlotta whistles as she takes apart a hind quarter, preparing various cuts for the customers. Sawdust covers the floor to catch the blood. Out front stands William Henry Davies, a recent Welch immigrant and owner of this shop. That’s his daughter cutting the meat inside. He watches as the sheep arrive after their march up Main St. from the train. They’re headed for the slaughter house around back which Davies also owns. He’s also got a livery stable back there and a general store not far off. If there’s something that people need, Davies will sell it, and that’s why business is good. The year is 1888 and Davies is living the American dream. It will be almost a hundred years before his great grandson, Matthew Davies, will take over in the late 1970’s and by then the store will have changed completely.

Could William possibly imagine how his store would change? Could he possibly guess or even hope that it would still be in his family in the year 2016? Can you, my reader, guess whether it will still be there in the year 2144? That’s the same amount of time in the future as the founding of the store is in the past. Both seem impossibly far away. I wouldn’t hazzard to guess anything about the year 2144 and 1888 seems equally a world apart. Yet the Davies family offers a line of continuity between that Poughkeepsie of the distant past and our present day and their story may offer an insight into how their store and Poughkeepsie generally can imagine its future.

What was passed on in the Davies family was not so much a particular business, but a parcel of land and a spirit of entrepreneurship. That spirit has guided the business to change with changing times. First it was a butcher shop, general store and livery stables, then the butcher shop and stables were replaced with a business distributing feed to livestock at local farms and finally it became the hardware store we know today with the surrounding property rented out. In each case the changes were a response to a changing Poughkeepsie.

When I go in to Davies Hardware for the first time I know none of its history. To me, it’s just the local hardware store and I need some sandpaper for my new electric sander. It’s really nice that I can walk there from my house and even nicer that they let me bring the dog inside. That means I can combine chores. The place is jam packed with everything you could need around the house from paint to brackets and screws and a million other things all in a space of one aisle of Home Depot. Despite being packed, everything is neat and organized.

Matt is the cashier at the checkout. He’s a tall man with short blond hair and a blue sweatshirt. He’s got a gentle smile and easy way about him. He offers a biscuit for my dog Chico. “Thanks,” I say, “I really like this place. Have you worked here long?” “About 40 years” he says. “That’s a long time. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” I explain to him about the blog and how I’m trying to learn more about Poughkeepsie and tell its story. He agrees and as we get talking I realize that he’s the owner.

He says “you can see where the old store was if you look at the floor. Over there where there’s wood floors, that’s the original store. The rest of it is additions” He tells me about his great grandfather starting with his butcher shop and how the store has changed.

It’s changed a lot even in his own lifetime. He tells me, “It isn’t always easy running a store. There was competition when Home Depot came in of course, but that wasn’t so bad. We’ve got loyal customers and service that Home Depot can’t touch. The real competition now is the internet. My daughter is helping to make sure people can see us online. She’s doing the Facebook page and is going to start posting on Craigslist.”

“Is she going to take over when you’re ready to retire?”

He holds up two crossed fingers and smiles. “I hope so… if that’s what she wants.”

“And what about you? Was it hard deciding to take over the business instead of doing something else.”

“No, not really. I have two older brothers. They both wanted to do something else, but for me, I always knew that I wanted to do this. I mean, it isn’t easy running a business. Things were really tough for a few years there during the recession. There were times when we were barely holding on” he holds up his fingers like a mountain climber to demonstrate the point, “I thought we might have to close the doors for good, but we made it through.”

“It seems pretty busy now.”

“Yea, well things are getting better. People are building again and doing repairs to their homes, so things are alright. One thing we’re working on now is hiring a bilingual person. It seems like a lot of people born here in the US don’t want the blue collar jobs, so we’ve got a lot of Spanish speaking clients. If we’re gonna help them we need to speak the language. You’ve just gotta keep adapting.”

That’s right, I think, you’ve got to keep adapting. In 1888 Matt’s great grandfather was an immigrant too. He saw a need in Poughkeepsie and he built a business by meeting it. Now a new wave of immigrants is moving in filling a new need. Davies is not sitting around lamenting how times have changed; they’re changing with the times.

The past lives on at Davies Hardware, but not as a museum piece. It is living because it’s changing. The old wood floor is surrounded by the cement additions. The brick and mortar is supported with social media. Even the language of business is adapting. The only way to survive, it seems, is to change.

“Hey listen, it’s been nice talking to you,” he tells me, “but I need to get back to work.” Why don’t you take this article. It’ll give you some more details about the history of the store.” He hands me a Poughkeepsie Journal article from March. I thank him and we say our goodbyes.  

I look around at the city surrounding Davies Hardware. Across the street is a Mexican restaurant and outside a man is talking on his cell phone. Down the road a bit someone is vaping an e-cigarette. Cars zip by in every direction. 128 years ago, when W.H. Davies started his business, this world in front of my eyes would have seemed completely alien. So much has changed. And just as William could not have imagined this city, it is impossible to imagine what the city might be like 128 years in our own future or how alien that world might look to us. What we can do is look around at this amazing present where we find ourselves, at the people and businesses who are making it work. We live in incredible times right here and now. The world is changing more quickly than ever before and that means opportunities are everywhere. If only we can see them. If only we can adapt.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Poughkeepsie Transformed

Friday Dec 4th: The Celebration of Lights

You know, so many people get down on Main St. Poughkeepsie. It’s dirty. It’s dangerous. It’s not for me. Even Rocky (from my first interview), who’s lived here his whole life said there were parts of Main St. he just wouldn’t go down after dark. And I know he has a point. I’m not going to pretend that Poughkeepsie’s perfect or that it doesn’t have it’s dangers, but for one night, at least, at the Celebration of Lights, Main St. Poughkeepsie was transformed.

I parked down past the civic center and walked up Main St. and already I’m happy I came. I’m by myself, but it’s impossible to be alone tonight. There are people everywhere breathing in a cool December night. Poughkeepsie is transformed. There are Christmas wreaths and lights, Alex’s is open six o’ clock at night and big groups are waiting for the crosswalks. I watch a father and his two daughters cross towards my side of the street, all smiles. There are so many families of every description.

I turn around and jump a bit to see a six foot tall walking Dunkin’ Donuts cup holding a tray of what must be his children, mini-cups of coco sold at a dollar a pop.

I walk down the street losing myself in the sights. Vendors wheel around shopping carts loaded with glowing, blinking and bizarre merchandise. Swords, light sabers, cat ears, hats, and shirts. I see one vendor lean in to tell a father, “for you I can do three for $20.” The kids look up at their father with hope. Kids everywhere are glowing like the Vegas strip. One kid swings his sword so hard it flies out of his hand into a path of pedestrians. His eyes are a mile wide. “Mom! Mom!”

I smile and walk on. I see a split in the crowd were Nestor Madalengoitia is taking pictures of people in front of his latest art installation. It's a huge 8’ x 8’ bas-relief bust of the late John Flowers in a Santa hat. “I did it with a chainsaw,” Nestor explains. Then he turns to me. “Hey Dan, come here and I take the picture.” he poses me in front of the bust and lines up the shot.

There are other friends there too. I see Susan and her husband Chris and we chat. I can hear the bands starting in the distance, pipes and drums marching toward us, but I can’t see them yet. I get closer to the street. The giant styrofoam cup is scurrying to make way for the parade. Peeking over the crowd are two puppets at least ten feet tall.

There are pipers led by none other than Old Saint Nick, then a dance troop and beauty queens, people on the floats throw candy to expectant children, then there’s a dance troop booming pop hits out of their amazing sound system, then come the boy-scouts with a band composed entirely of drums and xylophones, their troop leader marching in front, back straight and grinning from ear to ear playing Christmas tunes in perfect time.

Next come a group of bicyclists. “That’s sPOKe” says Susan, “they’re a group that does bicycle tours of Poughkeepsie.” I tell Susan about how I should probably bike to work since I only live a mile away, but I don’t. Maybe I’ll get in touch with sPOKe though. Sounds pretty cool.  

As the last of the parade moves on down Main St. the crowd presses in to see the tree lighting. Our outgoing mayor, John C. Tkazyik, gets up to let us know about all the important people in the crowd, Molinaro and Serino and so on, but I know the important people are standing all around me.

Tkazyik introduces a singer. She encourages the crowd to join her in singing “Oh Holy Night”. I join in and realize, to my surprise, that I’m not alone. People all around me are singing along.

Tkazyik takes the stage again and gets the crowd riled up for a count-down. “Five, four, three, two, ONE!” The tree comes alive with multicolored lights.

Some people stand around and chat, others start toward their cars, but others are going my way, following the parade to its final destination, the next tree lighting in Dongan Place across the street from Caffe Aurora and Noah’s Ark.

The walk down Main is amazing if for no other reason than there being so many people. They’re walking in groups big and small, laughing and talking. I wish Main St. was like this more often.

We pass the parade acts as we walk along. This small brass band I didn’t notice before catches my ear.  They’re playing Christmas carols like everyone else, but they have real soul, swinging the classics on clarinet, tuba, trombone and trumpet. “Hey, does your band have a name?” I ask between songs, “yea, we’re called The Saints of Swing” says the trumpeter. He’s keen to let me know I can look them up online.

As they start up their next song I notice the sPOKe riders are playing along on their bike bells. What a night.

I arrive at Dongan Place and pretty soon the acts I’d seen up on Main St. start making their way down. It’s all the same as on Main St. except this time I really notice the Saints of Swing. It’s funny how some things you don’t see unless you’re looking for them.

With the parade finished I join the crowd gathering around the second and final tree. The woman on stage sings “Silent Night” and I stop taking pictures to listen.

I reflect that it wasn’t a silent night. There were people talking, laughing, live bands and screaming motorcycle engines, there were songs sung and songs played, kids screaming for their lost swords and vendors shouting their wares. It wasn’t silent, but the next line is maybe more accurate, it was a holy night. It felt holy, seeing Poughkeepsie gathered together, silent for the moment, listening to one singer, breathing in the night.

The song ends and the countdown begins. And “THREE. TWO. ONE!” the tree lights up. Everyone cheers and fireworks explode high above the Hudson. The night fills again with conversation and the fireworks continue their dance on the horizon.

I begin my walk back to the car, turning my head from time to time to catch the next firework on the horizon. College kids hang out on a porch watching the show, no worries, just enjoying Poughkeepsie on it’s special night. A cold breeze picks up and I find myself humming a tune “It’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas…”

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Thirty Two Thousand Cities

There was another interview after Ted and Rocky, and I'd like to come back to that, but first I gotta tell you about Willie. I didn't interview him per se, he's someone I met at work. 

So the office manager says someone's here to make an appointment and I come out to the lobby and meet Willie. We're standing next to the newly erected Christmas tree. Willie's wearing a blue baseball cap with yellow lining that reads NYC parks and rec. He looks to be about 60, but the main thing you notice about Willie is how fast he talks.

He says he likes to help people and he knows this Mexican lady who doesn't speak any English but he does so that's why he's here to set up an appointment for her. It's really nice of him to help, I say, but I speak Spanish so she can come in herself. I give him some of our cards so he can share them with any immigrants he might know. He's happy about that, but he's not done talking.

Willie tells me, apropos of nothing, that he was a transit cop for years in NYC working in the Bronx (so that's where that accent's from). He got shot a couple of times and stabbed once on the job. He shows me the scars on his wrist where he was shot and says he got stabbed in the leg. Luckily, he doesn't show me that scar. Now he's retired and he moved up here. He's bored so he volunteers at the Lunch Box (that's the soup kitchen in the Family Partnership on N. Hamilton).

Willie tells me he wants to move back to NYC. Poughkeepsie's boring, he tells me, there's nothing to do in Poughkeepsie. That's not my experience at all so I say, there's plenty to do in Poughkeepsie. Like what? he asks. Depends, I say, I really like outdoor activities so for me I like to take hikes in the wooded trails behind Vassar farm. I was going to mention the Walkway Over the Hudson and the Morse Home too, but he stops me. He doesn't know where Vassar Farm is. Right across the street from Vassar, I tell him. Vassar hospital? No Vassar College. He was not aware of Vassar College's existence, let alone what's across from it.

He says it doesn't matter, Poughkeepsie's still boring. I press the issue. What do you like to do? I ask. He twists up an eyebrow like a question mark. Do you dance? Do you like theater? Good food? What are you into? No, I don't like none of that stuff, he says, you know how people are into bowling or baseball or whatever? All that stuff's stupid.

And that's when it hits me. The issue isn't Poughkeepsie. There are places to go dancing, places to see shows, amazing restaurants, art exhibits, places to go hiking, a music scene, cool bars and who knows what else that I haven't discovered yet. The problem is that even though Willie walks the same streets as me, he doesn't see the same city.

Everybody has a world inside their heads. The same city can be entirely different from each set of eyes. For Willie, Poughkeepsie is boring. For me, I don't have enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do here. But I wonder, how many people are there living their lives in Poughkeepsie, maybe who were born and raised here, who have no idea about the city around them, who don't take advantage of the parks and other public spaces, who don't have enough money to enjoy the restaurant or bars, and who just don't see this place like I do. With each of these interviews I see a different Poughkeepsie, a different city in every head.

I'm happy that Willie's helping people and I hope that one day he will find the city that I live and work in. My Poughkeepsie.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My First Interview

Wednesday, November 24th,
It's the day before Thanksgiving and I'm walking down Main St. Poughkeepsie looking for people to interview. My idea is that I can meet people around Poughkeepsie and they can tell me what the city's like from their perspective. I can write up what I hear about and make a blog.

This is my first time trying to interview random strangers so I really have no idea what I'm doing. It's pretty cold out and people don't seem interested in talking to me. A lot of them are talking on a cell phone or listening to head phones so it's hard to approach them.

I tuck into a locally owned shop on Main St. which shall remain nameless to respect the wishes of its manager. We'll call him Ted. But I don't meet Ted right away. In fact, when I first walk in the store there's no one to be seen. It's dimly lit, with tall ceilings and the floors crammed with as much merchandise as they can fit. I walk to the back of the store and I'm greeted by Rocky whose coming out of what could roughly be called an office. He's a black man with a worn complexion and short gray hair. He's got a smile and a gentle way about him and he's willing to talk to me after I explain what I'm doing, but no recording and it's gotta be quick because he's working. He invites me into the office.

The door and walls of the office are thin. There are various binders everywhere some laid open with pictures of their merchandise, others closed and neatly labeled. “That's Ted on the phone. He used to be my teacher” Rocky says as way of explanation. Ted is telling a customer that somebody screwed up the shipment again and he's very sorry. He double checked and sure enough he put in the right order, but they sent the wrong thing anyway. He could get her money back or try again on the order. He understands either way.

Rocky goes to the workbench to make a repair and I start my questions.

Rocky has lived in or around Poughkeepsie his whole life. That's more than 60 years and sure he's seen a lot of changes. There are the physical changes, like how the the arterial used to be just a regular road before they expanded it, but the people have changed too, he told me.

In the mid-seventies he was dating a white girl and back then people would point at them in stores and make comments. One time they went to lake George together and got turned away from one hotel after another. Now you see a lot of interracial couples in Poughkeepsie and it's just more accepted. He told me, “Poughkeepsie's a lot more integrated now. In the past all the whites lived on the South end and all the blacks lived on the North end, but now there's more of a mix.”

Ted finishes his phone call and turns to me. I can't get a question out because he has some questions of his own. What's my angle? What agency am I working for? Whose project is this? Am I trying to show Poughkeepsie in a positive light or a negative light? I tell him it's just something that I want to do. I want to meet people in Poughkeepsie and get to know the city from their point of view. Ted's point of view is that government interference is the main problem in America. As he starts talking, Rocky finds something to do outside the office.

Ted has a commanding voice. He's a white man, older than Rocky if he was his teacher, but you wouldn't know it by his energy. I would ask him more about himself, but I can't really get a question in edgewise. Ted's not finished interviewing me.

He asks if I'm more socialist or more capitalist. I tell him they both had their strengths, but some socialist programs like Social Security retirement are helpful to a lot of people. To Ted's mind Social Security was a Ponzi scheme, a pool of money that the government feels completely at liberty to steal from whenever they please. Furthermore, people are poor mostly because they're lazy and the government incentivizes that laziness.

Rocky walks in on the middle of Ted's explanations and laughs to himself. He's clearly heard this all before. “Oh, you're having one of those conversations,” he says. He tries to help me steer the conversation back to Poughkeepsie. All Ted has to say on the subject is that it's government is also corrupt. That's why I can't give Ted's real name, or say where he works. There might be retribution. I can see Rocky crack a smile.

I'd been there almost twenty minutes. I don't know if that's what Rocky had in mind when he said “it's gotta be quick,” but I doubt I threw off their schedule that much. In fact, Ted is reluctant to let me go. I'm a nice person, he says, and he has another thing to tell me. I suspect Ted could tell me things for at least another hour, but I've gotta get going. There's so much more of Poughkeepsie to see and so many questions to answer.

Are the North end and the South end as integrated as Rocky said? Why were they divided in the first place? Is the Poughkeepsie government really so corrupt? Do I care?

I don't know, but I'm glad I met Rocky and Ted. They were friendly and invited me into their world and wished me a happy Thanksgiving when I left. I also know that I want to meet more people around Poughkeepsie and find out what makes them tick.