“Is This The Road To The Edward James?”
The Edward James was a fancy restaurant out in the middle of nowhere, famous for its steaks. The building, by all accounts, was an old farmhouse that had been renovated, expanded, and made chichi. This happened after the surrounding fields had been let go. Years passed. Thick forest and everything that goes with it closed in, rendering it a rather obscure location for a fancy restaurant. But that didn’t stop the people in expensive cars from coming.
Frank Sinatra sang there once. He had come for the steak, but the proprietor talked him into performing, right there on the spot. The guests were thrilled. Another time, Patti Page showed up. She didn’t perform, but word has it she enjoyed watching the bears. That was the other thing the Edward James was famous for. It had a refuse heap at the edge of the forest, and the bears would come in from the wild to enjoy it. With a drink in your hand, you could watch them from the porch, frolicking in the trash, and it was well know that if you waved to these bears, they would lift a paw in return salute. There were lots of stories like that about the Edward James.
To get there you had to travel an unpaved road lined on either side with immense wolf maples. It was a desolate route by urban standards, with no streetlights, no other houses, just the Edward James at road’s end. Beyond that, only an inhospitable mountain. People with expensive cars usually avoid roads like this for fear of getting lost or breaking down or worse. You can never be too careful. All roads that lead to the middle of nowhere arrive at the same place, but there’s no telling where one of these lonesome highways might begin. You could be on one right now and not even know it.
The road we lived on must have looked a lot like the one the Edward James was on. In those days, it wasn’t paved and it had a strip of grass running down its middle. Along the way was an abandoned burial ground—you had to know where to look—but mostly the road coursed through lonely and shagged Catskill forest as it headed up Paradise Hill. Since ours was the only house on this road, whenever people were lost—and this happened three or four times a week—they’d turn in our drive and pull up nearly to the door. They never got out of the car to come knock—they’d just sit there, expecting you to come to them. When you did go out to see what they wanted, a car window would roll down and somebody inside would bark: “Is this the road to the Edward James?”
No, you would tell them politely.
“Well, where is it?”
Sorry, you say, but you don’t know.
“Haven’t you heard of the Edward James?”
Yes, you’ve heard of it. You’ve heard quite a bit about it.
“You’ve heard of it but you’ve never been there?”
“So you have no idea where it is?”
It must be around here somewhere, you admit, since so many people come by asking about it. But never having been there yourself, you are loath to speculate. You wouldn’t want to mislead anybody.
“Well, what about this road? Where does it go?”
Dead end, you say.
“So, this isn’t the road to the Edward James?”
No way, you insist, shaking your head.
That usually ended it. The window would roll up, and the expensive car would head off. You could tell those people were really irritated with you for not knowing where the Edward James was, or maybe they were irritated with the Edward James itself for not being easier to find. No telling. But when they got to the end of the drive, the people in the expensive cars always turned the wrong way, up the road toward Paradise Hill, instead of back the way they had come, despite what you told them about the dead end. It’s as if people like this need to see such things for themselves—they never take anybody’s word for it. Ten or fifteen minutes later, usually, you’d see them pass by again, this time maybe on the right track because they never turned in a second time.
At some point the Edward James burned down. For a while, it was big news on the Mountaintop. Even bigger news was the realization that not a single person from around here had ever been to the Edward James. In fact, nobody knew where it was. But the biggest news of all among locals was the realization that, for all these years, the whole Mountaintop had been suffering the same problem: strangers in expensive cars pulling up and demanding directions to the Edward James. Who were those people? And did they ever find what they were looking for?
Well, wherever they came from, word must have traveled slowly, because for years after the Edward James burned down, the people kept coming. At least once a week an expensive car would pull up, its window would roll down, and a stranger inside would bark: “Is this the road to the Edward James?”
Nobody had the courage to say that the Edward James had burned down. Decency requires that even rude strangers be given directions. So we would just tell them: “No, this isn’t it. But the road you want looks a lot like this one. You’re not far away now.”