Naples is a little town off the beaten track in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. If it were on the beaten track – that is, the track regularly traveled by well-heeled renters and owners of lake-side property – Naples would not be the town it is, and I wouldn’t love it so. But it happens to be located a mile south of Canandaigua Lake, where property values are among the highest in the nation. Not so in Naples. The beaten track, and the wealth that flows along it, runs north. Naples, like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, is “the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve.”
One of the Naples business establishments that has survived the decades is the Middletown Tavern. It’s not actually in the middle of town, more toward the south end of Main Street. Which is convenient for me, residing as I do in the hills closer to that end that the other. It’s the one place in town where you can go for a burger and a beer any day of the week. It’s where the locals go, the bikers, the guys in overalls and John Deere hats. It’s where I’ve started going, because you’ll always feel like a stranger in Naples until you’re on a first name basis with the bartender at the Middletown Tavern.
I struck up a conversation with some guys at the bar last week. Barry is middle-aged, short haired, bespeckled – looking very much like the engineer that he is. I immediately felt a kinship. Not many engineers in Naples, and I figured he had a story. Ken is younger; not a lot to say. More like what I’ve come to expect from the locals who have to deal with the occasional, obnoxious tourist who took a wrong turn on the wine trail and is enthralled with the “small town charm.” Poverty can look like charm to the untrained eye.
You’d think the weather would be a safe subject. You know, with all the rain, the high water, the thriving knotweed (my major contribution), the slow spring. And it was, at first. But then Barry and Ken exchanged glances and Barry said, “You wonder why you never see blue skies anymore?” Chemtrails, he said. Solar geoengineering. Climate control. “It’s all on the internet.” International conspiracies. I questioned his reasoning, his resources. I even asked him about Pizzagate. He demurred.
The conversation fizzled. I realized that I had been romanticizing Naples; imagining that it was still the place I knew in the ’70’s, full of artists and intellectuals and hippie philosophers of all stripes. But the decades have changed it, after all. Now it’s a retreat for retirees and conspiracy believers, a refuge for those with delicate sensibilities or a love for nature, a suffocating backwater for kids longing for a larger life, home to families and farmers and shop owners and musicians and the transgendered. In other words, like most places.
For a day or two, I was disillusioned. Then something clicked. Now I feel more at home there than ever. I’ve been reading up on chemtrails. It’s bullshit, of course, but makes for excellent beer talk.