Return to Ilion – a day in the mountains and a band concert

It’s odd how ingrained one’s eating habits can be. I still can’t face the idea of beef or cheese early in the morning, so we walked past a number of different outlets in the Food Hall of Grand Union Station, Washington DC, looking for somewhere to have breakfast before we caught our train to New York, and then on to Ilion. Chipotle, Subway and Burger King had no chance. We did see a creperie, but that seemed a bit fancy and  by this time I had decided I wanted some bacon with my pancake.

We’d walked the entire length of the Food Hall when we came upon Johnny Rockets. It did do burgers, but their presence wasn’t too obvious, and more importantly, for $4.99, you could have two pancakes, butter, maple syrup, and three slices of bacon. The journey back to the boat had started well.

Johnny Rockets was styled like a 50’s diner, and there was even a little juke box on our table. Ian put 5 cents in, and selected Under the Boardwalk. The song resonates more now than it did in the sixties, now that we know what a boardwalk actually is, and have even walked on one. Back then, a boardwalk was part of Americana, like summer camps, cheerleaders, bayous and frosting on cakes, that as a Brit you had heard or read about, but not directly experienced.

But other customers had got there first, as the waiter had explained they might. We sat through Hound Dog, The Hop, La Bamba, Sixteen Candles, and the Locomotion, had our refills of coffee and it was time to find our train. We left the other customers to enjoy the Drifters.

In Johnny Rockets, Grand Union Station, DC

In Johnny Rockets, Grand Union Station, DC

In America, the process of getting on the train is quite regimented. You can’t, as at most stations in England, simply amble along to the appropriate platform and wait for your train to appear. You have to wait in the main hallway, along with everyone else who is waiting for every other train, until a disembodied voice announces the gate for your train. This usually happens ten minutes, or less, before your train is supposed to depart.

If you’re British and unfamiliar with the system, and have  no idea which gate your train is likely to depart from, you find yourself at the end of what seems like a half-mile line to get your ticket checked before you can go down the escalator to the platform and get to the train. The process is further complicated in that while you may have a ‘reservation’, you do not have a particular seat reserved. You only have a reserved seat somewhere on that train.

When this happens, as it did on Penn Station, New York, where we had to change trains for Utica(destination: Niagara Falls), it produces a flurry of despondency in the Captain.

‘We’ll miss the train.’ ‘We won’t get a seat.’ ‘There won’t be any room for our bags.’

The lines may seem long, but the trains themselves are longer still, and there are helpful staff to guide you to where seats are available in the spacious, air-conditioned coaches.

The journey north-west through the lovely Hudson Valley and  the Mohawk Valley mirrored the journey we had done in Carina, and we enjoyed spotting now-familiar landmarks.

Don and his wife Betty from Ilion Marina very kindly met us from the train and drove us back to Ilion from Utica.

We’d intended to leave the following morning and continue up the Erie Canal, but Carina needed to have a new bilge pump fitted, and we’d heard that there was a free open air concert that evening by the Ilion Civic Band, so we decided to stay two more nights and spend a day exploring the Adirondack Mountains by car.

The concert was in Central Plaza, half a mile away from the marina. Don had advised us to take our folding chairs with us, and we popped a couple of cans of Sam Adams Summer Ale in the bag too. We arrived about ten minutes before the concert was due to start, to find the band already tuning up in the bandstand, and quite a large audience already seated in semi-circular rows facing it. We felt slightly conspicuous looking around for somewhere to sit where we would get a good view, but not wanting to obstruct anyone else’s either.  Eventually a woman told us to sit in front of her – her son was playing trumpet, and she had already been to all the previous five concerts in the series.

She also advised us not to have very high expectations, but there’s nothing like live music played outdoors on a warm summer evening, and the concert was very enjoyable.The programme varied from Scheherazade to an Andrew Lloyd Webber medley, but perhaps the most successful pieces were the Big Four March (circus music, by Coral King),  and a Swing Medley of Benny Goodman’s music.

The compere was in his late sixties, and clearly a man of some standing in the community. He introduced each piece with a lengthy preamble about the composer, setting it in its historical context. Oddly it seemed, the first piece was William Walton’s  Crown Imperial March, written in 1937, we were told, at the time when the world was emerging from the Great Depression, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were fighting a proxy war in Spain, and King Edward of England (sic) had abdicated the throne to marry “the woman he loved”, and his brother King George of England had reluctantly ascended the throne instead.

Each introduction included an enthusiastic plug for the forthcoming events in Ilion, too numerous to mention here, and a heartfelt endorsement of the sponsors of the concert – the award-winning Medicine Shoppe, and their synchronisation programme ‘where their focus is on you, the customer’, CITGO the local gas station, and a company specialising in building foundations.

Introducing ‘Summer of 69’ , a medley of music played at Woodstock and arranged by Ted Ricketts, he reminded younger members of the audience that ‘some of us remember the Summer of Love, and it’s no business of yours what we were doing.’

The final piece needed no introduction. We all stood in respectful silence as the band played the American National Anthem.

We didn’t get to drink our cans of Sam Adams, either. There was Gatorade, ice-cream and water on sale, mainly it seemed for the consumption of the under-twelves. Somehow, drinking beer seemed inappropriate and possibly even illegal. So we took them back to the boat to drink and reflected on the great community spirit to be found in small-town America.

The next day we hired a car and drove north from Ilion into the Adirondacks, the tree-covered mountains that occupy the northern part of New York State, between the Erie Canal and the St Lawrence River.

We stopped for coffee at the Oxbow Lake Inn.

Coffee at the Oxbow Lake Inn

Coffee at the Oxbow Lake Inn

Although it was only 11.15, the Captain was already having thoughts of lunch, so that when the waitress arrived with our coffees, and asked if she could get us anything else, whilst simultaneously waving menus at us, he thought a pizza might be quite tempting.

The lady who made the pizzas had not arrived yet, but the waitress assured us she would only be about 10 minutes. The idea that the pizza might actually be made on the premises, by a real person, rather than defrosted from the freezer, increased my interest, and I wasn’t disappointed when the perfectly done pizza, complete with individual basil leaves, was set before us.

View from the Oxbow Lake Inn

View from the Oxbow Lake Inn

On the advice of the waitress, we acquired a leaflet on local walking trails from the Chamber of Commerce in Speculator, a few miles up the road, and walked two miles to the top of Pinnacle Watch Hill, first through shady woodland and then out onto a rocky outcrop with stunning views of Snowy Mountain and Indian Lake.

Start of the trail

Start of the trail

View from Pinnacle Watch Hill

View from Pinnacle Watch Hill

Looking towards Snowy Mountain from Pinnacle Watch Hill

Looking towards Snowy Mountain from Pinnacle Watch Hill

We took a circular route back to Ilion.

Seventh Lake

Seventh Lake


In the evening, it had just gone dark when there was a loud bang somewhere near the boat. We looked out  and from the deck had an excellent view of Ilion’s Summer Spectacular – a magnificent 30-minute firework display.


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