Lakeside vacation with a mystery twist

  • Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The wharf at Watkins Glen is on Lake Seneca in Geneva, N.Y.. PHOTOS PROVIDED BY JUDY FARLEY


Like so many of our fellow Lowcountry denizens, Judy and I try to escape the August heat and humidity east of the Cooper by venturing to a more temperate clime for a few weeks.

This summer we made our third visit to a locale that surely fits that bill, scenic, lakeside Geneva, where the summer temperatures hit only the mid-70s by day, dipping into the high 50s by night and where there’s almost no humidity. This year, we were even able to take along our canine-in-residence, Pal, a 4-year-old dachshund/Jack Russell SPCA rescue dog who dearly loves traveling. Best of all, we did it all without having to master German or French.

That’s because we headed northward not to Switzerland, but to the Finger Lakes region of New York State and the cool, comfortable and welcoming city of Geneva, situated at the northern tip of Lake Seneca.

Some say that the New York municipality was named for the considerably older city located where the Rhone River exits Lake Geneva. Another more cynical school of thought contends that the city’s founding fathers decided to call their home Seneca, after the lake, but the charter drafter’s handwriting was so illegible that it came out as “Geneva.”

Whatever the true explanation, New York State’s Geneva is much like its Swiss counterpart, albeit roughly one tenth its size. For, example, both lie on the shores of a large, beautiful lake. Of course, Geneva, Switzerland is a dynamic financial hub and a worldwide center for diplomacy, while Geneva, New York is a very nice place to visit.

We took two days to make the roughly 1,000 mile drive from Mount Pleasant to Geneva, passing through Williamsport, Penn., en route, where the Little League World Series was underway.

We arrived without incident at our destination although both Judy and I had the distinct feeling that someone was following us. Who and why remained a mystery.

Surely it couldn’t have been Kyle Busch, who was busy holding off Brad Keselowski to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup series race at Watkins Glen, 35 miles south at the opposite tip of Lake Seneca, the day after we arrived.

Nor was it likely to have been Jason Dufner, who edged Jim Furyk for the 2013 PGA golf championship on the same day in nearby Pittsford.

It couldn’t have been New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. He was busy touring the region promoting his state’s widely-acclaimed wine industry and awarding the Governor’s Cup to the 2013 winner. That had to be a decision that took up all of his time, as there are more than 100 excellent wineries – most offering tours and tastings to the public – throughout the Finger Lakes.

We conferred with our hosts, my longtime friend and college fraternity brother, the gregarious Jim, and his amiable and long-suffering wife, Carole. They concluded that we were simply imagining that someone was following us and suggested we just chill and accept that effects of what locals call “lake pressure,” which results in an overwhelming desire to assume a horizontal position and do nothing but relax.

We tried our best, but there were some many events going on and so many attractions beckoning us within short drives from our peaceful Geneva base that we couldn’t sit still.

One side trip was to the Finger Lakes Casino & Race Track, just up the road in Farmington. It’s a mini Las Vegas and Hollywood Park in the corn and soy bean fields and a great place to play the games of chance and also grab some clean, fresh air watching the thoroughbreds and getting some hand exercise tearing up losing tickets.

For a more tranquil day, we took a cruise from Watkins Glen up the lake aboard the Seneca Legacy while enjoying a sumptuous and delicious Sunday brunch.

Still, we found ourselves looking over our shoulders, wondering who or what was following us. We thought it might have been the spirit of the famed feminist Susan B. Anthony. After all, just a town or so away lies Seneca Falls where the ground-breaking Women’s Rights Convention took place in 1848. And, the Susan B. Anthony Festival was underway in the city of Rochester, a mere 45 minutes distant. Then, we learned that despite her later prominence, Ms. Anthony hadn’t even been on hand when the early suffragettes made their stand back in the 19th century.

Nonetheless, to escape the possibility of any “haunts,” we set our sights on a behind the scenes look at one of America’s most popular and really, literally, down to earth sports, NFL football.

The AFC Buffalo Bills were virtually in our back yard, holding their last pre-season practices at St. John Fisher College just outside Rochester. And, their sessions were open to the public.

Even though the Bills’ 2012 record was 6-10, the grounds and grandstands were packed with loyal fans, an assemblage that included neither me (Giants) or Judy (Bears). Despite our lack of fealty to the Buffalo team, we enjoyed standing on the sidelines and drinking in all the action.

One of the highlights of the day for us was seeing former Clemson player C.J. Spiller make a spectacular catch of a long pass. At least, we think it was C.J. Spiller. At practice sessions there are no announcers and players often don’t pay much attention to the numbers on their jerseys when suiting up. In any event, Number 28, whoever he was, looked really good.

Another highlight was meeting Hall of Fame Bills’ announcer Van Miller, who retired after 37 years, making him the longest tenured announcer with a single team in NFL history. Now more gravelly voiced at age 87 but no less witty and charming, Miller told us he’s so old that before he got into pro football, “I was the busboy at the Last Supper.”

We closed our gridiron day off with a delicious late lunch at an attractive bistro along Rochester’s trendy Park Avenue, still with the feeling that someone was following us.

Our Finger Lakes vacation was drawing to a close, and as we opened the newspaper less than 48 hours later on our next to last day in Geneva, we finally got our answer.

There on the front page, under a banner headline, was a photo of the man who had been following us, even having lunch only one day later right where we had dined under the shade trees of old Park Avenue.

Entertaining a table full of young people and both surprising and pleasing a restaurant filled with unsuspecting patrons was a familiar face. That of none other than the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Bill Farley moved to the Charleston, South Carolina, area from Los Angeles after retiring from his position as vice president of Marketing for Playboy Enterprises, Inc. He is a freelance writer living in Mount Pleasant.

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