River Dance

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A few years back, I foolishly agreed to take part in a celebrity game show fundraiser. Let me tell you, it’s much harder answering questions in front of a “live” studio audience than it is sitting in pajamas on your couch eating Doritos and watching TV. About halfway through this disaster, I was asked the name of the famous ship that an explorer once took up the Hudson River. As the clock counted down 3, 2, 1, I panicked and blurted out the only name I could think of, “Titanic!!!!” To this day there is at least one person there who, when he sees me, asks if Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet kissed on the top deck before or after they sailed by Rensselaer. Oh, and when you’re done laughing, the correct answer was the “Half Moon.”
I share that silly memory since this month’s issue is dedicated to the role our rivers play in making the Capital Region great. I grew up in South Troy, not a mile from the Hudson River, so those choppy waters have always been a part of my life.
Because of the swift currents, my brothers and I were strictly forbidden from going down to the river to play but we bent the rules when possible. We would sneak down to the canal which fed into the Hudson to fish or make rafts and see how long they held together. Unlike Tom Hanks in “Castaway,” our contraptions usually came apart like a wet baloney sandwich. Luckily, God gave us enough brain cells to know we shouldn’t try sailing the thing onto the river, lest we’d make the six o’clock news.
As I got older, I wanted to be a surfer but was shocked to hear you need an actual ocean to pull that off. At the age of 25, a friend told me he had the next best thing—waterskiing. His uncle had a boat on the Mohawk River, so up we went. I asked the man driving the boat if I should let go of the rope if, by chance, I were to fall. He laughed and said, “First of all, you are going to fall— a lot. Second, oh don’t worry, as the boat drags you like a dead body, you’ll let go all on your own.” He was right, of course. In fact, as you drive up the Northway and cross the Twin Bridges, look to the left and you’ll see a small island in the middle of the Mohawk. That’s the exact spot I swallowed enough water to fill a small swimming pool. It was my first and last time letting anything with a large motor pull me anywhere.
As an adult I am constantly drawn back to the water. Whether it’s the Dutch Apple or one of the other tour boats, I have cruised up and down our shores so many times I know the view by heart.
I also learned the hard way not to get on a boat if you don’t care for your fellow passengers. Once I got talked into a three-hour fundraising  cruise. About a half-hour in, I realized I was trapped and getting the hard sell from the head of the charity. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person calculating how far the shore was should I decide to jump overboard and make a swim for it.
These days I’m content with my kayak and adventures that lead me to more placid waters, namely our local lakes. No chance a ship the size of Texas will whiz by and dump me with its wake.
If I find myself down along the Mohawk or Hudson, it’s either to take a walk or, in the case of Albany, enjoy a concert. I’ve seen lots of great shows in what is now known as “Jennings Landing.”  When Jerry was Mayor and Fox23 was the media sponsor of the weekly concerts, he and I had lots of laughs backstage before the performances. Watching him interact with the crowd, you could tell that his love for the city, his riverfront and especially the people was genuine.
Even though I was up on stage with the entertainers and had the best seat in the house, I was always a bit jealous if I turned around and looked back toward the river. You’d see a dozen or so boats anchored there in the water, with the people on board enjoying a cocktail and swaying to the music as if the waves themselves were part of the show. “What a life,” I’d say to myself, “What a life.”
So as we celebrate summer and find ourselves enjoying the warm sunshine I hope you venture down to one of our beautiful rivers. They are the reason these cities and towns even exist because, before there were airplanes, highways and Uber, there were only ships. And as we all know, once upon a time George Washington sailed the Titanic up the Hudson and placed his dog Nipper high atop a building in Albany.
John Gray is weekly columnist for the Troy Record and the Saratogian newspapers and news anchor at ABC 10 and FOX 23. He can be reached at johngray@fox23news.com.

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