Early November. Sun just going down. “Unseasonably warm,” they say. I’m heading home from the car dealership. New snow tires. But right now I’m stuck in Albany traffic, a standstill on I-787. Road construction. It’ll be a while. On the radio some disagreeable voices are arguing over the color of coffee cups. I turn them off and take in my surroundings.
Out the driver’s side window I see empty oncoming lanes bordered by bare trees. Somewhere beyond all that is the Hudson River, but I can’t see it. On the passenger side, there’s a retail outlet called Huck Finn’s Warehouse. They specialize “in any and everything for the home.” I just want to get home. Tucked in between this place and other warehouses along Erie Blvd. is a kiddie amusement park. It’s shuttered for the winter. The silhouette of the quiescent Ferris wheel against the darkening sky is unaccountably discouraging. Directly ahead of me in this traffic jam is a large white delivery truck. It looks brand new. The back is emblazoned with a corporate logo. I’ve never heard of the company. Below the logo are the words: “Casket Division.” On a distant hill sits the New York State Capitol. Whatever view there might be of that landmark is cut off by the delivery truck.
On the passenger seat beside me rests a copy of Edmund Wilson’s last book, a memoir titled Upstate: Records and Recollections of Northern New York. It was published in 1971. I brought it with me to have something to read while they put on the snow tires. I finished the book while I was waiting. Here’s how it ends: “That the old life is passing away, that all around me are anarchy and what seems to me stupidity, does not move me much anymore. I have learned to read the papers calmly and not to hate the fools I read about. As long as my health holds out, I shall have to go on living, and I am glad to have had some share in some of the better aspects of the life of this planet and of northern New York.” Not long after the book came out, Wilson died. He was seventy-seven.
Those words put me in a mood to make a side trip on the way home. I drove through the Albany Rural Cemetery. Herman Melville’s family is buried in there. Somebody was walking a dog among the tombstones. No birds sang. It was everything I expected. On the other side of the cemetery were sprawling redbrick factory ruins now being reclaimed by forest. The roads I followed seemed unmaintained and led to places no one wants to go to anymore. Eventually I found my way to the Interstate and drove south. That’s how I arrived at this standstill. I’ll be here till the end.
This is it.