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Back to Binghamton

Michael Barnes

The most fun during this June break: Sassy Sunday at Tranquil Bistro in Binghamton, NY. Sure, it’s your usual show-tune sing-along, but it happens at a French bistro in a reviving Rust Belt city for hours on a Sunday night. We were joined by expert singers from at least one current local musical, a social media master and an amusing musicologist from the university. A toast to Alex Holton Loughman — Head Sassmaster. I’ve returned to Bingo on the Southern Tier of Upstate New York multiple times because dear friends Sean Massey and Loren Couch — and their son Alfie Massey — live here. They met in Austin almost 30 years ago and we’ve been friends almost from the day I arrived in our town. Coming from almost a week in Cincinnati, Bingo was a change pace. Supporting 50,000 people in a metro area of 200,000, it is nestled in the gorgeous foothills of the Allegheny Mountains alongside the Susquehenna River. That normally pliant waterway has produced two “500-year” floods in the past 10 years. Still, the city and its main neighbors, Endincott and Johnson City, which boomed around the shoe business in the early 20th century, keep coming back. They are blessed by lovely surroundings and a Research 1 university as well as an increasingly lively downtown. Yet morale remains low, partially because the place is so isolated on the Pennsylvania border without a major airport or speedy passenger rail lines. We took full advantage of area restaurants, including: Lost Dog (happy, almost hippie vibe), Remlik’s (dressy, loud), Mama Giuseppa’s (superb red-sauce Italian), Taste of Europe, (excellent, inexpensive Ukrainian) and Hallo Berlin (picture perfect German biergarten out in the countryside). Of course, because Sean and Loren own Tranquil, we returned there regularly for reminders of Austin and Paris. Didn’t do much by way of culture this trip. Tried to explore Eastern European churches, to no avail. (Locked, nobody around.) Made it out to Nathaniel Cole Park where we hiked, swam and sunned. Besides a stack of New Yorkers, I’ve consumed all or much of serveral books, including “The Big Roads” (history of interstates), “Native Son” (brisk, harrowing classic novel on race relations 60 years ago), “Gotham” (history of New York, which I’ve read in pieces), and “Fruit Hunters” (about an obsession with fruit, written in annoying bursts of goggle-eyed lists). Caught up with old buds like Joshua Ludzki (BingSpot) and new friends such as Paul Schleuse (U. Binghamton) who joined voices with two dozen or more show fans for four hours during Sassy Sunday. Funniest moment of the week: A sweet young man, on encountering some local bigotry, says: “I know, I grew up in a small town in the South.” Where, I ask. “Houston.”