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Remembering Owego 20 (???) Years Later …

Twenty years ago this month, I started my first full-time, post-college, professional newspaper job in Binghamton, NY.

I still remember getting the call with the offer, standing in my parents’ foyer talking on the kitchen phone, which was a dial-up wallphone with an extended cord. I had moved out of my rental house in Syracuse, having completed my classes at the end of December, and stopped in Binghamton on the way down I-81 for the interview. The job was in a bureau about 17 miles West of the paper’s main office, a small town called Owego.

My memories of being there are mixed. The village had yet to enjoy the resurgence that came about 10 years ago when more and more New Yorkers began to flee the city for Upstate, wallets in hand and reinvented lives in mind. Its roads were understandably rough, the weather taking its toll every year. Each year the same routine would unfold – snow and ice in the winter, road repairs in the summer … and somewhere in between budget battles and debates at village meetings.

That said, there was – as I remember it now – a quaintness to it that was beyond endearing. A line of shops, which happened to house the paper’s bureau, backed up to the Susquehanna River. The county’s historical society, located in the village, was a focal point for residents proud of their village and wanting to share it with the outside world. Dedicated groups of volunteers gathered regularly to promote events taking place in the village and begged the paper to cover them.

Even the coldest winter days had a certain warmth to them – a sort of “we’re all in this together” mentality. There were times even then when I wished I had come there later in life (rather than at 21) so I would appreciate it more. My ambition at the time outweighed my interest in such matters, but that’s a story for another day.

Of course, now, the village has “arrived.” Having been named one of America’s Coolest Small Towns in 2009 (http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500174_162-4946306.html) Owego is the destination that so many there wanted it to become. Though the village has suffered mightily in recent years as a result of a flood in Sept. 2011 (http://www.google.com/search?q=owego+flood&hl=en&tbo=u&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=QSYBUdygDInp0gG_9ICICA&ved=0CC0QsAQ&biw=1024&bih=643) it is coming back. Residents are rebuilding and businesses are renovating. The village seems to have survived disaster – not at all surprising to me, an outsider.

Throughout 2013, I’ll be remembering my time in Owego and writing about it here. If you get a chance, look it up in your travels. In the meantime, more to come …

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