The Road to Silver Bay

Do you remember your favorite summer? I’m talking about back in the days when summer was really summer. Three full months off from school! It was so much different then, before we began full-time careers. Nowadays, we’re lucky if we can arrange one or two weeks of vacation at a time.

My last full summer involved a temporary job, yet it was a glorious, unforgettable season of fun. From early June to mid-August 1979, I worked on the staff of the Silver Bay YMCA conference center on the shore of beautiful Lake George in upstate New York. I was one of about 300 Emps (shorthand for employees), the great majority of whom were college students or recently graduated from high school. As one of three “house boys,” I assisted with housekeeping chores: picking up bundles of dirty linens in the morning, helping the laundry staff as necessary (especially during a big conference), and then distributing clean linens back to the main inn and the outlying residence halls and cabins—some 600 beds in all. My chores were usually done by mid-afternoon, with free time for the rest of the day. The Emps had their own lakeside recreation center: a former steamboat landing with a big dock and a diving board. Whenever we weren’t swimming or lounging at the ERC, several of us were usually waterskiing or “Samurai Tubing” on Lake George.

That's me on the left, 20 years old in the summer of '79, playing a jazz gig on the lawn in front of the Inn

That’s me on the left, 20 years old in the summer of ’79, playing a jazz gig on the lawn in front of the Inn

I hauled my drum kit up to help out with the summer musical (a big production in the gorgeous old auditorium) and played a few gigs whenever the opportunity arose. I really came into my own that season, developing a sense of self-confidence that has never wavered.

I also developed numerous friendships, many of which have lasted all these years. I attended some great reunions for a few years, but alas, I never returned for another summer as an Emp. I finished my academics at Penn State in the summer of 1980, and then went to Aviation Officer Candidate School at Pensacola later that year to begin my naval aviation career.

Fast forward to late 2012. I concluded my Jack Kerouac tribute journey across America in October, a trip so satisfying that I immediately began to plan a similar (but shorter) journey for 2013. That morphed into a visit to New England, with a top priority being a return to Silver Bay. Knowing that guests and conference attendees are afforded a variety of daily activities in the arts and humanities, I contacted the program director to suggest a lecture. Luckily for me, Chip Devenger (who had been on the staff in ’79) approved the idea and provided two days/nights of room & board in the main inn.

Thirty-four years after my wonderful summer at Silver Bay, I made my way back. I first spent a few days with my family in Central Pennsylvania, then started a leisurely two-day drive to Silver Bay on Sunday, August 11. Rather than take a direct route, I headed into western New York to spend a little time in the Finger Lakes region, with a truly enjoyable drive north along Route 14, which parallels the shore of Seneca Lake from Watkins Glen to Geneva. I was surprised by the sheer number or wineries that have sprouted up there in recent years, and stopped for a great lunch at Veraisons, the restaurant at Glenora Wine Cellars. It was well worth the stop, not only for the food but the superb view of the vineyards and lake from the outside veranda. After an overnight stay in Syracuse, I followed two scenic secondary roads—Routes 8 and 28—through the Adirondack Mountains to Lake George. From there, the road along the western shore of the lake was familiar: Route 9N through Bolton Landing, over Tongue Mountain, and north to Silver Bay Road. The weather was perfect for top-down cruising the entire day.

What a great place for lunch--a veranda overlooking the Glenora Wine Cellar vineyards on Seneca Lake in New York

What a great place for lunch–a veranda overlooking the Glenora Wine Cellar vineyards on Seneca Lake in New York

A location that lives up to its name: Lake Pleasant, in the midst of the Adirondack Mountains on Route 8.

A location that lives up to its name: Lake Pleasant, in the midst of the Adirondack Mountains on Route 8.

Although 34 years of my life had flowed by since my last visit, the huge and lovely campus at Silver Bay had hardly changed. And to my great surprise, there were several people still on the staff who had been there in 1979. I no sooner parked my car than I saw Chuck Leonard, an Emp with me in ’79 and now on staff to direct the annual musical. Another familiar face was that of John McPherson, the creator of the popular Close to Home syndicated comic. Although we had not been Emps at the same time, I knew John from former reunions, and we had several friends in common. I spent hours at The Store, a turn-of-the-century ice cream parlor, hanging out with Chuck and John and several new friends.

This is the view from the expansive "rocking chair" porch of the historic Inn.  No wonder folks spend hours here.

This is the view from the expansive “rocking chair” porch of the historic Inn. No wonder folks spend hours here.

With its stone columns and shingle siding, the Auditorium at Silver Bay has hosted lectures, musicals, and variety shows for more than a hundred years.

With its lovely stone columns and shingle siding, the Auditorium at Silver Bay has hosted lectures, musicals, and talent shows for more than a hundred years.

The two-day stay was all too short. I enjoyed presenting “Sweet Chariot: The Worldwide Adventures of a Silver Bay Emp,” which seemed to be well-received. Overall it was such a fine visit, in fact, that I have vowed to make Silver Bay a regular part of my life again. Whether it’s periodic visits or perhaps even a whole summer, I will keep going back. The place has that effect on people, defying the old adage that you can’t turn back time. At Silver Bay, you can—or at least slow it down a little. There are no televisions on campus. Cell phone coverage is spotty. It’s a real throwback to another time, and a refreshing change from the hectic pace of our workaday lives.

Photographer Mark Hudak took this dazzling shot in front of the Inn as I departed Silver Bay. I'll be back!

Photographer Mark Hudak took this dazzling shot in front of the Inn as I departed Silver Bay. I’ll be back!

Silver Bay beckons, and there’s a very good chance that my favorite summer is yet to come.