Main Street in Lake Placid in New York


canneryrowThe “Cannery Row Assignment” is a legendary writing exercise in Mr. Reed’s Advanced Composition and World Literature (Senior English) class. Here’s the prompt:

“After a careful examination of the opening pages of Cannery Row, choose a place you know well and describe it using the opening of the novel as a model. You should try for a sentence-by-sentence parallel to Steinbeck’s style. For example, when he writes, “Cannery Row in Monterey in California” you could write “Northwood School in Lake Placid in New York.” The idea is to carefully mimic Steinbeck. Find similar characters in your place to those Steinbeck mentions in Cannery Row.”

Every year he gets some outstanding work. This year, the staff of The Mirror found senior Hannah Kessel’s response, an intimate look at Main Street in Lake Placid.

Main Street in Lake Placid in New York is a ballad, a scream, a bicycle bell, a soft morning light, a splash, a jog, a longing, a dream. Main Street is the collected and discarded, wood and stone and concrete and chipped brick, tossed up cobblestones and seedy spots and China City, little shops of carefully laid brick, concerts, restaurants and bars, a little organic groceries, and schools and Stewart’s. Its inhabitants are, as the townie once said, “hippies, stoners, burnouts, and pretentious assholes,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the townie looked into another shop she might have said, “Jewels and gems and heroes and renegades,” and he would have meant the same thing.

In the morning when the dog sled has set out on the lake, the townspeople lazily pull out of bed, their alarm clocks blaring. The cargo trucks come in behind the scenes before the tourists pour out into the streets. The incognition is advisedly chosen, for if those eyesores rolled down the street in the middle of the day the illusion of the perfect, sleepy mountain town would be shattered and the result would be metaphorically, at least, even more horrifying. Then the alarm clocks are silenced and all over town men and women scramble into their clothes and come running down to the shops to go to work. Then packed cars bring the weekend seekers down: hockey families, ski bums, businessmen who try to disappear into the mountains. Then from the town pour chefs and servants and salespeople, men and women in slacks and flannels and boots from L.L. Bean. They come running to clean and cut and cook and sell what they can. The whole street rumbles and groans and screams and rattles while the fleshy rivers of tourists pour in and out of the cars and the cars pack the streets denser and denser until not one parking spot is empty. The shops bustle and beckon and coax until the last meal is cleaned and cooked and served and then the alarms blare again and the dripping, smelly, tired chefs and servants and salespeople, men and women straggle out and droop their ways up the hill away from the town and Main Street becomes itself again– quiet and magical. Its normal life returns. The potheads who never quite let go of the good old days come out to smoke in the vacant lot. The waitresses emerge for a bit of peace in the icy wasteland, and there is plenty. Maher strolls down from Northwood School and climbs the hill to the Interlaken for two quarts of beer. Kevin, the homeless man noses like a police dog through the junk in the alleys for some part or piece of camping or survival gear that he needs for the nomadic life he’s leading. Then a calm edges in and and the stress falls away and perfectly liberates the street– the ambiance softly dances on the lake and invites all out on Main Street. Callers arrive at Northwood School to see Maher, and he climbs the hill to the Interlaken for five quarts of beer.

How can the ballad and the scream and the bicycle bell– the soft morning light, the splash, the jog, the longing and the dream– be set down alive? When you put on a show for a group of tourists they can’t be made aware that they are being played. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will into the heart of the town and direct them gently toward what you want them to see. And perhaps that might be the way to preserve both the facade and the authenticity– to open the stores and the hearts and to let the people act by themselves.

Written by Hannah Kessel ’18

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