Well, after 8 long years the time has come for me to not only move out of my apartment – but out of my state (as well as my climate)! There’s just so many reasons I’m packing up and leaving this suck shack for a better life down south. Still, as much as I dislike and, frankly, despise New York State, there are still a few things I’m going to miss down in Florida. I could probably make a list pertinent just to all of Upstate New York and even the Northeastern section of the country, but I’m going to limit this list to things just in my local area. Notice that I said things, and not people. It goes without saying I'm going to miss my family and friends. I mean, I'll still be able to talk to them online or on the phone whenever I want so it's not like they'll be completely inaccessible like the things on this list will be 1300+ miles away in Florida.
#10 My barbershop
As soon as I moved to Albany from Virginia in 2007 one of the first things I tried to find was an inexpensive barber. I was still in the Navy Reserves at the time which meant I had to keep my hair within military regulations at all times which in turn meant I had to get it cut quite often. Down in Virginia I could get a haircut at the Navy Exchange (NEX) for less than $10 (including tip). When I asked my friends up here where they got their hair cut, most said they went to salons or high-end barbers and paid $20 plus tip. That blew my mind at the time and it still baffles me now. For a man, there’s no reason a haircut should ever cost more than $10. Unless you’re some kind of rock star, a haircut should be a strictly utilitarian purpose. Styling your hair is something I’ve always associated with being something women do.
What’s interesting is that even after I got out of the Navy Reserves in 2011 I kept getting my hair cut nearly as often as I had been and still getting the same “high and tight” cut. This is because my hairline is receding and I also have a bald spot in the back. I really can’t let my hair grow out. If I did (and I tried this in the summer of 2011 after I got out of the military), my hair forms this weird reverse mushroom shape where the sides grow longer and faster than the top. Also, trying to pull off long hair with a receding hairline just makes you look like you’re in denial like Michael Bolton.
Hopefully I’ll be able to find a ~$10 barber down in Florida, but who knows how reliable they’ll be. Not that “Super Mario” at Crossgates Mall was always a sure thing, either. Some of the barbers there are kids fresh out of school with no experience. Though there was one lady, I forget her name but I know she’s Korean – who could cut my hair perfectly and FAST (like in 10 minutes or less). I will miss that.
#9 Walmart and Planet Fitness at Crossgates Commons
Yet another petty consumer item on the list, but for good reason. The Walmart store here in Albany – at the Crossgates Commons location on Washington Avenue Extension in particular – is literally the World’s Largest Walmart. It’s two floors: the grocery store on the bottom and the department store on top. Pretty much anything I need to buy I can get there all in one place. And it’s only a few miles from my house, which is also extremely convenient.
Much like the barber shop issue, when I moved to New York from Virginia I knew I’d be losing out on access to the NEX and the Commissary: stores that have very inexpensive stuff and was tax-free as well. Though there technically was a NEX and Commissary in Scotia, that was 20 miles away and I rarely went there. They were also relatively tiny stores compared to the ones in Norfolk. So Walmart was a nice substitute. Sure, I have to pay sales tax there, but the prices are more or less the same (if not lower) than the NEX and Commissary. I’m sure there are Walmarts all over the place in Florida, but who knows if I’ll find one with the selection as good as Albany’s and also as close to me.
As for Planet Fitness, the main reason is convenience. I originally started going to a small, old PF gym in Delmar; but that was closed once the Crossgates Commons gym was opened. Back in 2012, when I was closing in on 220lbs, I went to that PF six times a week and it really helped me drop the weight. Once I got big into running and P90X, I stopped going as often – mostly in the winter and on rainy days. And again, I’m sure there will be a Planet Fitness down in Florida, but will it be as modern and chic as the Albany location? I’ll find out I guess.
#8 Paesan’s Pizza
Everyone has that one local pizzeria they love and for me it’s Paesan’s Pizza, which is actually a chain of many stores around the Capital District. Back in Virginia there was a similar chain called Cal’z, though I suppose there’s pizza chains like this in every general metro area. I’m not saying Paesan’s is the best pizza in the world, but it’s always been great every time I’ve had it. It’s also remarkable affordable with a quick pickup time of 20 minutes. The closest location is only a few miles from my apartment so I always picked it up – never had it delivered except once or twice. Their wings are okay, but I never expect top notch wings from a pizza place. Additionally, that Paesan’s location was practically across the street from my beer store, which made those trips to fetch food and beer both convenient and fun. Speaking of which…
#7 Westmere Beverage
If you know me you know I love beer. Though in order to enjoy beer properly you need a beer store that knows what the hell they’re doing. There are two stores in Albany that bear the name “Brew Crew”; Oliver’s in midtown, and Westmere Beverage way uptown in the Guilderland area. I started frequenting this store sometime in 2008 and found myself stopping in there on a weekly basis most of the time. I befriended a lot of the guys that worked there, even shot a few videos with them, and the manager – Jeremy – started giving me the employee discount (but only when he was jockeying the register).
This store has a great selection and it was (and still is) expanding exponentially. I’ll bet they’ve doubled their inventory in the last 8 years. They installed an awesome growler station and put in a great new walk-in cooler, too. My only complaint was that I would often find stuff out of code on the shelves, but that seems to be typical of most beer stores. Anything that’s not a new arrival tends to sit, so it’s usually best to stick to that section.
Obviously, I’ll missing getting a discount on my beer, but I’m worried that I may not be able to “mix a six” when I get to Florida. That’s the sign of a good beer store: one that lets you buy a single 12oz bottle rather than committing to an entire six-pack. If I can’t find a store that does that in Florida I may have to start buying just a few 22oz bottles once in a while instead of 12oz bottles often.
#6 The fall season
Ask anyone from Upstate New York what their favorite season is and you’ll likely hear fall as the most popular answer. That’s probably because this area is hilly with plenty of deciduous trees (and plenty of evergreen trees, too), so every year from Oktoberfest to Thanksgiving the landscape is potpourri-colored with reds and oranges. Sometimes it’s fun to go for a drive in the Adirondacks just to “leaf peep.”
Fall is also a nostalgic season because it’s associated with school starting, the baseball season ending, and football, basketball and hockey all starting. Plus it’s a nice reprieve from the summer weather. For some reason, the seasons tend to change from summer to fall ON A DIME here. The same can’t be said of Spring to Summer, though.
I’m wondering if 70-degree Januarys will drive me crazy or if I’ll love them because I won’t feel cooped up inside and can for a run every day. Speaking of which…
#5 My running routes
I started taking running seriously in 2012 when I dropped about 40lbs. Since I live in a fairly suburban area, there are plenty of side streets around me that have little to no traffic (and the busy streets have sidewalks, so they’re safe for running). When I first started running I mapped out a route that was nearly 5 miles roundtrip and would always bring me back to my doorstep. Then, earlier this year I “discovered” another route similar to the one I had been taking with a major detour through some posh suburbs. It was almost as long as my original route, but much safer and much, much quieter. It was nice being able to actually hear the music in my earbuds for nearly the entire length of the run (though there is a fairly lengthy leg on Western Avenue that’s pretty noisy because of all the traffic).
I’m wondering what running will be like in Florida. I’m sure it’ll be nice to be able to run outside in December, January and February in t-shirts and shorts, but how bad is it going to be in the summer? I may have to do all my running at 4am before the sun rises and it’s still relatively cool out. We’ll see.
#4 Homebrew club meetings & bottleshares
Though I had been big into beer for a while, I didn’t start homebrewing until late in 2011 and even then it was only extract. In the summer of 2012 someone told me about a new homebrewing club that had just started called “Albany Brew Crafters” and invited me to a meeting. It was great meeting so many other fellow beer enthusiasts and people who knew so much more about brewing that were more than happy to give me advice and help me out. I actually became an officer in the club fairly quickly – a position I retained up until a month ago, actually.
I met many people through ABC and made a few new friends as well. Alex and Marissa, Alex and Piper, Aaron, Don, Ryan, Garret, Scott, Dustin, Eric, Matt etc. Since a homebrew club meeting was essentially just a bottleshare comprised of homebrew, me and some of those people began having bottleshares at our homes – some of which I made vlogs of. I’m sure I’ll meet fellow homebrewers and beer lovers down in Florida, though I wonder how the experiences will compare to those I’ve had up here?
#3 Union College hockey
I’ve always rooted for the underdog, and in the local sports scene there wasn’t any more of a perpetual underdog than the Union College (of Schenectady) hockey team. It’s the school’s only Division I sport (along with the women’s team). They don’t offer scholarships and their tuition is pretty expensive, so it’s pretty difficult for them to recruit when other colleges might offer a full ride with a more prestigious name.
I became a big hockey fan back in the late 90s when I covered the local minor league hockey team – the Albany River Rats (or Albany Devils as they’re called now) and also RPI hockey, too. I’m not sure how or when it happened, but sometime in the early 2000s I decided I was going to become a hardcore Union fan and I did. Whenever I came home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, my dad and I would go to a game. They’re usually lose, but it was still fun. Once I moved back to Albany permanently, my dad and I decided to get season tickets because they were fairly cheap. Maybe I was good luck charm, because as soon as I got those tickets Union became a markedly improved team. They started winning the ECAC regular season title as well as the ECAC championship and even went to their first NCAA tournament. In the 2013-2014 they actually became NATIONAL CHAMPIONS! That was a fantastic experience. Though I kick myself for not having gone see it live in Philadelphia.
I think that championship might be the best it’s going to get for Union, as all their good players immediately went pro afterwards (literally – some were playing in the NHL the next week). I’m sure the coach is going to be lured away to a bigger and richer school and it will be difficult for them to recruit players with a lousy record again.
There isn’t a single college with an NCAA Division I program anywhere in the state of Florida. In fact, the closest team is probably in Alabama or maybe Ohio or Pennsylvania. I can watch Union games online (for a fee), and there are minor league and NHL teams in Florida, but I can’t imagine I’ll be going to them that often.
#2 My Times Union blogs
If you’re reading this you can obviously tell I enjoy writing. I got the opportunity to take that to a more professional level in 2013 when I was asked to become a contributor to the Times Union newspaper’s “Beer Nut” blog. I knew being part of this blog would give me greater exposure and would also inspire me to write more than just beer reviews. In 2 ½ years I churned out dozens of op-eds, reviews, open threads, and plenty of other posts on a variety of beer-related topics. I tried to keep it either local or autobiographical.
In my time as a beer blogger I got to attend to “Beer Bloggers Conference” in Boston in 2013 (which was an absolute blast), as well as many free beer dinners and beer festivals as I was there, technically, as a member of the press. Though I also attended plenty of events I paid for myself and also blogged about.
Not long after I started beer blogging I convinced the Times Union blog editor to let me start doing a comic book blog as well. But since I didn’t read new comics, I knew I’d need fellow contributors to write about the current state of affairs. My friend Chad was brought on board and he began churning out posts like a madman. In fact, he still posts 2-3 blogs every week! I’m glad it has been such a positive experience for him. And while I have more fond memories from the beer blog than the comic book blog, I’ll still miss being a contributor for them equally.
#1 The beer scene
I wasn’t nearly the beer nerd I am now when I was in the Navy and living in Virginia. I really had no frame of reference for how poor of a selection there was as far as a beer scene went. When I moved to Albany and discovered Westmere Beverage (see #7), I knew there was more to beer than just Sam Adams, Magic Hat and Saranac. I eventually discovered Mahar’s Public Bar on Madison Avenue in midtown. That in turn led to a lot of new friendships and experiences. Then came my first TAP NY beer fest in 2009 and my mind was pretty well blown.
It seems like the Capital District became enamored with “craft beer” around the same time I did. Sure, brewpubs like Albany Pump Station and Brown’s Brewing had been around for a while, but they were considered just restaurants that made their own beer. Eventually, more local breweries began popping up, like Mad Jack in Schenectady, Druthers in Saratoga Springs (and later in Albany), Rare Form in Troy, and a plethora of nano “farm breweries” in the rural areas of the Capital Region. Special mention should be made of Shmaltz Brewing Company for finally opening their own facility and making some of the best beer in the area, state and country.
Additionally, high-end bars and restaurants became all the rage. The Bier Abbey opened in downtown Schenectady in 2012, then The Ruck decided to become more than just a college bar as they stopped serving macros on tap and went to an all-craft lineup (they also radically improved their food menu from generic bar food to gourmet bar food). Mahar’s closed, but was replaced by the vastly superior Madison Pour House, which in turn spawned The Beer Belly on New Scotland Avenue. Even a townie bar like the Allen Street Pub started going craft-centric and became the home of Mahar’s beer tour computer.
I see people complaining about the beer scene in this area – from both perspectives. Either the area is saturated with hipster/foodie/boutique beer bars and restaurants, or the ones we have aren’t that good. Both of these complaints are dead wrong. This area is far from saturated and if it were, that’d be a good thing because it would inspire everyone else to step up their beer game. Even places like Applebee’s and TGIFriday’s are now carrying major craft brands. But snobs will be snobs, and even though you can walk into The Ruck, The Bier Abbey, Madison Pour House, The Beer Belly, or Henry Street Pub and get a Hill Farmstead beer pretty much whenever you want, there are still people that complain that this area isn’t that good. I guess their frame of reference is only NYC and San Diego.
From what I’ve been told by friends and acquaintances in Florida, that state has a lot of catching up to do as far as beer selection and even beer laws go. I can’t imagine any place down there, except maybe Miami or Tampa, has a comparable beer scene to Albany and the greater Capital District. For the sake of my sanity, I hope I’m wrong because if I’m moving to a beer desert I’m going to be upset.