Note: This piece was written in 2014, the first time I ever visited Hudson. I now live adjacent to the city and am intimately aware of it’s ins and outs. Take this article as the initial impressions of a curious visitor, a view of Hudson from the outside in.
I spent a day last week ambling around the City of Hudson. I didn’t find a single long story in the municipality, but instead numerous short ones.
I also found that Hudson was split into three distinct areas—geographically, architecturally, demographically—and that this seemed like the best way to order my impressions. Therefore, the stories are not ordered chronologically, but instead are sectioned into the following three groups: 1-The Lower Third, Down By the River; 2-Warren Street; 3-The Abandoned Sections…
I passed an elementary school on my right as I rambled down State Street towards the River. The architecture was very modern for Hudson, and its yard was devoid of trash and students for the summer. A white, glassed-in sign with movable black letters announced the return of the Summer Food Service Program—
“SFSP…Children up to 18…free lunch”
Many of the buildings along State Street were deserted. They squatted between inhabited structures like gangrenous limbs that refused to fall off and now threatened their neighbors with rot. An old homeless man meandered past me on a bike, the giant black bag bungeed behind his seat rising a couple feet above his head.
There were little dots of people up and down the street—a group of black 20-somethings made plans while exiting a bodega, a chess game was going on down the way—but there were actually more people hanging out than there were functioning buildings to hang out in front of, and so the group of 20-somethings sipped bottled drinks in front of a shuttered storefront, and the chess game was being played in front of an abandoned industrial building.
There were innumerable admonitory signs from the City of Hudson posted up and down the street:
“NO LOITERING—POLICE TAKE NOTICE”
“IT IS ILLEGAL TO OBSTRUCT ANY PUBLIC SIDEWALKS IN THE CITY OF HUDSON”
“DRUG USE IN THIS AREA IS IMMEDIATELY REPORTED TO POLICE”
Warren Street, the central, commercially-successful part of Hudson, seems to consist of only four types of businesses—cafes, bar/cafes, thrift stores and art galleries. There are, in fact, 30 different galleries in the City of Hudson, or a gallery for every 223 people, which is like Brooklyn’s Williamsburg having more than 3,800, which I assume it does not.
But there was more art than functioning galleries to house it in, so it erupted onto the sidewalks and into unrelated stores. An old black man, probably a local, had set his works up in front of a thrift shop, and shuffled back and forth in front of them, adjusting his display and glancing back to the sidewalk for potential customers. The paintings were all of dogs; they were not good.
Nolita’s, a large, free-standing café, carried a sign announcing that it both displayed and sold artwork, not just coffee and bagels. Farther up Warren, I passed a kid with wispy, eyebrow-length bangs who was showcasing his artisan leatherworkings on a café table. A woman in her late 60s with a technicolored three-quarters sleeve was saying something to an old hippie guy with a few white braids hanging from under his Aussie cap.
“You must be some kind of Artist,” he flirted.
A black limo with black windows checked out the scene as it cruised by. It passed the City of Hudson Police Department, which consisted of a one-floor storefront with a broad display window displaying only a blank hallway pocketed with a single metal door. It was one of the few municipal facilities I saw in the town other than the City of Hudson Court. The court was also located in the storefront.
Two black women in their 40s stepped out as I passed. They were discussing what had happened in the building, waving around some sort of official papers to accentuate their points. Two cops were standing in the display window near the metal door, chuckling at some sort of cop-joke.
Hudson’s crime rate is worse than most Hudson River municipalities, about twice a dangerous as Catskill, located a few miles South on the river’s opposite bank. That being said, Hudson is nearly twice as safe as the notorious Newburgh.
I continued down State Street towards the River, the vacants quickly fading into inhabited structures as I passed into the lower third of Hudson. A brick rectangle of a building to the right looked like projects, but I saw a rental sign posted on the surrounding wall.
A mixed-race group lounged about a line of benches in front of another apartment building, those that didn’t get a seat standing alongside those that did. A white short-bus chugged up to their side of the street, and they started down the shallow incline of the wide stairs at a pace that suggested the bus driver was amenable.
Down from the shattered brick of a collapsing factory, a dirt road stretched up from its terminus against the train tracks. A line of shacks leaned along the road, addresses sloppily tagged on their sides in big, white numerals. There wasn’t room between the houses for driveways, so the inhabitants’ cars were all parked up parallel to the tracks.
I cut down to the little road to get to the tracks. A woman in her 30s with bleached-blonde hair and an orange tan emerged from between two of the shacks and crossed towards me.
She looked up from her footing as we approached each other.
“Hi,” she hailed without a hint of suspicion.
I greeted her back with a smile, which she returned before turning to her car, a large, dark SUV. She popped the trunk to access the car’s rear, which seemed to serve as an auxiliary closet and was packed so tight with household items the contents kept the exact mold of the door after it opened.
R&B blared down the street with low-tone friendliness. It took a couple blocks of walking to find the music’s source at the communal space in-between rows of grey condominiums in a development. In the center of the communal space was a basketball court, with the rest of the area planted with well-kept grass. A giant bouncy slide had been inflated on the edge of the court’s pavement, and black grade-schoolers jumped as high as they could off its top so they could jounce down the rest of the slide’s length.
A large white woman had her wide back turned to me as she hunched on picnic table bench, eating something. A double-wide charcoal grill and a smoker were billowing plumes of umami¬-scent across the green as two black men in their 40s tended to the meats.
The 510 Warren Street Gallery was devoid of people except those over 75; it was like the Rapture happened and God had a thing against geriatrics.
The first arts I investigated were a set of photographs of Paris. I especially liked a piece featuring a distant jet slicing a diagonal across the pure azure sky, a wall of gargoyles staring past it in the foreground. The jet left a trail of white as solid as a crayon—the mark of modernity—and it approached the gargoyle’s grey heads as though it was going to burrow through them.
I must’ve been squinting at the photograph to an inquisitive degree, because a woman’s head craned into my line of sight from the side and said-
“The Artist is here, if you have any questions for him.”
She scurried towards a man at the snack table before I could tell her whether I had a question for the Artist or not. I did not. The Artist was conversing was a couple other folks, but finally got tugged over by the woman.
He had taken the photographs a few months ago while poking around the storied city, and they had certainly turned out better than the dog paintings in front of the thrift shop. Another of the Artist’s paintings featured a few Parisians hanging out at the side of the Seine as a bridge veered over the river an angle. To the side of the scene, a lanky boy with freckles glanced sharply at something out of the frame, his line of sight following the line of the bridge. I mentioned how I liked the parallel lines canting off into the unseen.
“I wonder what he was looking at?” I pondered.
“Probably looking for his mom,” the Artist, whose actual name was John Lipkowitz, laughed.
His look was too intense for that. It was like he saw something that startled him, but then he realized what he was looking at and his surprise melted into something less reflexive, but just as jarring.
The Artist had to see off a small man with intense wrinkles and a walker. The man was being stabilized by his wife in his journey to the door, and he brayed a non-semantic goodbye to the Artist as the two passed at the speed of a ferry leaving a dock.
A couple of the other series on display were boring. I found the set painted by Doris Simon enthralling: rich, abstract blooms of color across deep-hued, magma backgrounds. The blooms in one painting exploded in an arrangement so abstract you couldn’t figure the pattern, yet the pattern was so perfect it gave the painting a serene balance—Mondrian mathematics had laid the invisible lines.
I stared at a painting on the far wall that fell somewhere between the Mondrian-esque piece and the boring ones. A card proclaimed the Artist’s name. I had enjoyed talking art with the photographer, so I piped out a “huh” in the manner one does when they want someone to ask them what they’re huh-ing about. A different woman’s head craned into my line of sight as she shuffled towards me to ask me exactly that.
“I like this one…” I mouthed dreamily. “The outer lines are organic, but there’s sharp lines in the middle, like it was made half-machine, half-human.”
“Well, it was ALL made by a human,” the woman retorted.
“Well, it’s a mix,” I overruled while still staring at the painting.
“Are you an Artist?” the woman passive-aggressively challenged.
“No…well, I’m a writer, but not a visual artist, no.”
She seemed disagreeable, so I slowly crab-walked to the next display.
It turned out the group was so demographically homogenous because everyone in the gallery except me was either an Artist or a friend of an Artist; I guess all the Artists were friends too.
The snack table had crackers, grapes, a few mid-priced cheeses, a couple bottles of wine and a plastic jug of Welch’s White Grape Juice. I went for the grape juice.
I sipped it while gazing around and trying to figure out if any of the pieces deserved a second look. I walked back over to the Mondrian-esque piece.
“Llana? Oh Llana?” The disagreeable woman glanced up at the caller from her conversation. The name sounded familiar. I cocked my head, then turned and strode back to the piece Llana and I had disagreed about.
“Llana Heisley,” the card below it read.
Columbia Street, though located only a few hundred feet from the bustle of Warren, was mostly abandoned, more abandoned than State, which was actually closer to Warren. The sidewalk panels were split and bent into little peaks and gulches as though an earthquake had recently hit. Nature was taking over. Ivy stretched up brick storefronts, bushes obscured the front of pre-civil war vacants and long grass ate into sidewalks and shot out its fissures. There were zero people visible up and down the sidewalk, zero cars on the street.
Patches of signs were plastered to the solid wall of brick structures running along the sidewalk, announcing stores and events in other parts of the city.
Visual art wasn’t the only aesthetic that overflowed into Hudson’s streets. I stopped at three tables laid with original editions of classic sci-fi books. The man peddling these tomes of nerd-dom was boxed in on three sides by the display, a brick wall completing his enclosure.
The books were encased in plastic envelopes like rare comics, so I only used the tips of my fingers when picking up a first edition of Fahrenheit 451.
“Original Edition—Not a Re-Print,” the back of the book said.
“Yes, but how did they KNOW there WOULD be a re-print?” I wondered.
The peddler, a white guy in his 40s, approached me in a manner suggesting he was not the type of person who was used to, or enjoyed, approaching people. He had a taut look on his face, and his arm was stuck out in front of him as though he was offering an oblation to a deity he didn’t morally approve of. He said something, but his lips were too pursed for it to properly come out.
“WHAT!?” I responded
“15 dollars off…if you buy more than 25 dollars.”
The coupons were only being offered that weekend, I eventually got out of him. His sidewalk set-up was a promotional satellite for the actual vintage bookstore, which was located on the second story of a Warren Street building and didn’t get a lot of foot-traffic.
The store had “opened last year,” the peddler tensely mumbled to another passerby as I daintily fingered an original Arthur Clark. They had “been closed most of last month, because of the bad weather.” I wasn’t aware the Hudson Valley HAD bad weather during the summer, but it certainly hadn’t made its way down to my base in Ulster County.
The peddler pushed himself from customer to potential customer, thrusting out coupons, trying to take advantage of the holiday.
I could still hear the blare of R&B a block down from the condominiums. A black guy in a wifebeater was walking about 30 feet in front of me towards another guy standing fixed on the sidewalk and faced in the other direction. As Wifebeater approached, the stationary guy turned his head slightly, just enough so he could see him in the edge of his peripherals. Wifebeater slowed slightly and glared, his arms tense.
Suddenly, two little girls skipped down to the sidewalk from an adjacent yard.
“Heeey Guys!” Wifebeater crouched down a little to be at their level, his stoic affect shattering with a wide grin.
“Hi Taqwan!” the girls yelped back.
“What you doin today? Stayin outta trouble?”
“Yeeeeaaah,” the older girl responded with the verbal equivalent of a facetious eye-roll. “We’re goin down to the Barbecue.”
“I was just down there…lotta people there.”
“Yeah. You girls have fun.”
The guy who had been stationary had become unstationary during the conversation, and had sauntered up to the three. The two girls skipped up the sidewalk past me. I had still been walking during all of this, so when the two guys started sauntering, I was only a couple awkward feet behind them. They also walked very slowly.
I stopped and took out my Droid as an excuse to stop walking and give them some space. When I looked up, they were crossing to the opposite sidewalk single-file, Wifebeater leading the way. They continued parallel to me, the unstationary guy still trailing Wifebeater by several paces. They walked like this for several minutes, each not speaking or looking at the other until they slowly peeled off from the sidewalk and angled across a condominium’s parking lot.
I had heard of The Spotted Dog prior to visiting Hudson, and I’d specifically saved the address of the combination bar/bookstore in my GPS. This didn’t stop me from passing the place three times before seeing it—I was expecting something larger for a joint with so many Google results.
It was more of a bookstore with a bar than a bookstore/bar, and the majority of the literature seemed to be children’s books. I theorized the business model behind this was that people needed to get drunk, kids or no kids, and their children needed something to do in the meantime besides watching their role models slowly fall off barstools.
There were two servers behind the bar. One of them, a blonde 20-something with a cute grin, asked me what I would like. The beer options were handwritten on a board to the left of the bar, microbrews for four dollars a pint.
I ordered a Saison Farmhouse ale, one of my favorites. There was something familiar about the bartender’s voice. She touted a Transatlantic Accent, the faux¬-British elocution used by Hollywood actors in the 40s-50s and intellectuals through the 60s.
I asked her if she was from around these parts.
“I’m from West Hurley, if you know where that is.”
“Yeah…I’m from New Paltz.” West Hurley was near Woodstock, a little more than a half hour from my base of operations. The two areas had a lot of cultural cross-traffic.
“Hey: random question,” I preambled as she was doing something under the counter. “Do you happen to know a girl named Melissa Kaiser?”
“Yeah…yeah, I know Melissa.”
“I know you. You’re……………Emily!”
“I thought you looked familiar.” She responded. “What’s…”
“I thought you looked familiar too.” Well, I thought that now. “I just asked if you knew Melissa to avoid creepily asking if your name was Emily.”
“What’s your name again?”
I had been neighbors with a couple Woodstockians at an old house of mine in New Paltz. Emily hung out there often, and came over when the party soaked into our house. I hadn’t seen her in five years at this point.
The guy perched next to me preferred light beers.
“In the summer, when it’s hot, I just want something to quench my thirst. Even Budweiser.”
“Kinda…kinda cyclical,” I responded. “‘Man, I drank this beer and I’m still thirsty. Giiiiiiimme another,’” I joked.
He asked me where I was from. I told him, then returned the question.
“Bout an hour and 45 minutes South,” he said vaguely.
“Nyack….looks like you’re doin what I’m doin. I just came up for the day to walk around. Haven’t been here in 15 years.”
“Is it different now?”
I relished the beer slowly; I had to drive soon.
“So, what made you decide to move to Hudson?” I queried Emily.
“I had just been in West Hurley/Woodstock for so long…I just got sick of…you know how chic it is there. I like Hudson, it’s a good mix.”
“Wasn’t Woodstock once a good mix? Isn’t Hudson gonna be like it one day?”
Emily smiled ironically.
“I think that day is happening.”
The bridge was made of heavy, rusted iron. It was once a pedestrian overpass with two iron sets of stairs ascending to the mesa of the walkway, but the pedestrians had gone, and so one of the staircases had been made inaccessible with a ring of barbed-wire fence, and the other had somehow been completely rent off, the spiny stubs of thick metal twisting into the air where it used to meet the bridge—that earthquake again.
The bridge’s rock abutments were decorated with graffiti, something surprisingly rare in Hudson, considering all the canvasses. The abutment to the right was tagged with an intricate bat-creature, and the one on the left featured a faded, block-letter stencil: Abolish Poverty, it pontificated. A newer, larger tag crouched around it, two words framing it above and below: Wolf Gang, it brayed.
While photographing the bridge, I spotted an animal slinking across the tracks about 75 feet in front of me. I squinted. The creature had the legs of a large fox, but the svelte body of a weasel and a thin tail. I couldn’t figure out what it was, even what faunal category to place it in.
“HEY!” I yelled. “WHAT ARE YOU?”
The animal didn’t answer me, didn’t react at all, just stopped to examine something between the tracks with its nose. I pulled my camera to my face and zoomed in on the critter to try to identify it, but it was already trotting off into the brush by the side of the tracks, leaving me doubting my sanity.
Hudson doesn’t sprawl; it has edges, and civilization dropped off a cliff past the bridge. Beyond stretched broad fields that disappeared into the base of malachite hills topped with high-tension wires.