Just a Thought… Exploring Cooperstown

cooperstownBy Maureen Hart

Those of us who are not skiers, ice fishermen, or hunters sometimes get in a rut about winter. We tend to think it is a season to survive rather than enjoy.

However, winter can be one of the nicest times to visit places which are crowded during the warm months. I was reminded of that recently when we took a trip up to Cooperstown, New York, for a long weekend. Our only agenda was to meet up with another couple to relax at a bed-and-breakfast, have a nice dinner someplace in town, and visit the Hall of Fame.

In truth, that was about the only agenda available, since many of the other attractions in Cooperstown are closed during the winter months.

Not everything adhered to this very simple plan. My husband fell ill and did not join us for supper at Nicoletta’s Café on Main Street. That was unfortunate, because my veal marsala was the best I’ve ever had, and my companions enjoyed two different mixed seafood entrees that looked delicious.

The following morning, I met them again over breakfast in the sunny dining room of our lodgings, the Landmark Inn on Chestnut Street in Cooperstown. While enjoying another delicious meal that included a choice of spinach or sausage and cranberry quiche, an apple cinnamon compote, sliced cucumbers, and blueberry quick bread, I had to break the news that we were not going to stay to visit the Hall of Fame with them.

It was disappointing, especially since I have not been to the museum in two decades, and still treasure the memories I have of my previous visit. I cannot recommend it enough as a wonderful weekend, or even day trip (a little over two hours from Scranton). I was especially entranced by the long history of the game, and artifacts from players who are legend—Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle (and that’s just the Yankees), not to mention Christy Mathewson, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, and so many, many more.

Cooperstown Landmark Inn

The Landmark Inn, a stately mansion built in 1846, provides a cozy retreat to visitors to Cooperstown.

For us, however, this weekend in the quaint, hugely historic village of Cooperstown, centered around the Landmark Inn—and a delightful place it is. We had pulled into the parking lot of this large green building to be greeted cheerily by the chef, Vita, who offered to help us with suitcases and assured us that hot cider and homemade orange shortbread chocolate chip cookies awaited us inside.

Soon, we met Robin Schneider, who along with her husband, Fred, serves as innkeeper. Our room was not ready, so she ushered us to comfy chairs in the lobby in front a lit fireplace, and in addition to the aforementioned treats, she pointed out a cheese tray and wine. The owners also invite you to bring your own beverages(there is no bar), although they have a hot pot of coffee readily available at all times. There is also a chess set featuring pewter baseball players for your enjoyment.

When our room was ready, we were welcomed with a tray containing chocolates and a personalized welcome note on the bed. Our accommodations were “petite” but cozy, with a nice-sized bathroom and a small outdoor deck. We had requested this room on the first floor to accommodate my husband’s Jazzy. Other rooms in the inn are larger  (some are suites) and have names such as Campanella and Casey, as a nod to the town’s baseball connection, as well as Wyeth, Twain, Cooper, and Hemingway.

But rooms and roaring fireplaces are only part of the charm at the Landmark Inn—beginning with Vita’s enthusiastic welcome and increased by everybody’s solicitous attention to my ailing husband—including providing his breakfast in bed. We enjoyed as cozy and relaxing weekend as we could have hoped.

FYI, the inn is nine minutes from Abner Doubleday Field and the Hall of Fame, and was built in 1856 on the largest lot drafted by William Cooper, founder of the town, and father of novelist James Fenimore Cooper. It was called The Maples, and indeed, those stately trees still line the driveway and are now 160 years old.

I highly recommend a visit to Cooperstown in the wintry off-season in order to avoid the swarms of families visiting in the summer. There is no waiting for a dinner table or jostling with other customers in the many little shops. But I also plan a trip back in the spring in order to visit the Farmer’s Museum (a living museum featuring an 18440 farm), Fenimore Art Museum (located on Otsego Lake and featuring American Indian and folk art), and maybe even a performance at Glimmerglass Opera. And, of course, another visit with Robin, Fred, and Vita at the inviting Landmark Inn!

Dunmoreans Take Trip to Cuba

Dunmorean in Cuba

A copy of The Dunmorean made it to Havana, Cuba, courtesy of Bill Ciccotti and Brian McAndrew. They are shown in front a tribute to Che Guevara.

Dunmore natives Brian McAndrew and Bill Ciccotti recently traveled on Norwegian Cruise Lines to Cuba for a book signing tour of local author Bill Ciccotti’s latest tropical action adventure, “Key West Reeling.”

It was their first landing on “Isle Juana,” as Christopher Columbus called it. The author was very excited about the trip, though he insists the cigars, rum and old cars had nothing to do with his enthusiasm.

Bill told us, “This Cuban tour was a tropical riot and I’m sure it will be the inspiration for numerous embellished tales.”

key west

Bill Ciccotti did a book signing for his latest, “Key West Redemption,” while he was in Cuba.

The lifelong friends have done many road trips over the years that have been the basis for several of the Key West Adventure books written by Ciccotti. But this trip needed no colorizing. It was the “Daddy-O” of them all. The book signing at the Hemingway house went off without a hitch.

Bill says, “It was intimate and full of spontaneous laughter, warmth and many grinning faces. I never expected such a welcoming. But we went with the flow, the Cohibas and the rum. You know, you can still get a pretty good cigar down there.”

Brian McAndrew added, “The Cuban people embraced the books and treated both of us great. I was surprised by the openness and friendliness, especially of the rural people. Old men sat playing dominos using pebbles and pop tops as betting chips.”

Pre-60s cars were everywhere, including Cadillac Coupe De Villes, Chevy Blairs, and Lincoln Premiums. Brian and Bill rave about those classic cars, noting, “The cars were pristine muscle. Heavy steel chariots with roaring engines covered in beautiful sparkling color. Mint green, orange, yellow, white and blue mismatched panel sections. We saw

1955 Buick Special Convertibles. Real wire wheels, rebuilt original V8s. Rebuilt automatic transmissions, rebuilt power steering, cloth tops and boots. And lots of chrome. Those cars had the same owner for over 43 years.”

Brian and Bill toured a cigar factory and several cantinas.

Bill talked of the cigar factory first. “You walk through the wide doorway with the tropical heat following you inside onto a cracked marble floor. You keep wondering just how many shoes walked along this weathered path. Then it hits you. The smell of unlit cigar tobacco, earthy and remarkably intoxicating. It pulls you closer to the factory’s heart, a siren song that can’t be ignored. There before you are scores of workers, each making cigars entirely by hand.”


Cubans still roll cigars in the age-old tradition, shared with the American travelers.

Brian told us, “Unrushed, antique and personal hand rolling of those Cuban cigars hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. There’s nothing like the taste of fine hand-rolled tobacco and Havana is the birthplace of premium cigars.

As the hot tropical sun beat down it was finally time for a drive. “Well, our driver Alberto drove, at first.”

Bill said, “We rented classic Detroit muscle from the 1950’s, a glossy red Buick Electra convertible. We cruised past the Cuban baroque style Cathedral de San Cristobal and the bold Castillo de la Real Fuerza, an impressive military fortress. We drove the popular public squares of Plaza Vieja and Plaza de Armas.”

Then, in the rural areas the boys got behind the wheel.

Brian smiled, “That Electra ran and drove like new. I couldn’t believe the joy I got out of driving that classic GM rock solid car. No disappointments there, amigo.”

Bill shrugged, “Ok, we didn’t drive far but we got behind the wheel and it was good.” After regaining the steering wheel, Leo took them to a few spots of interest along the way.

Bill said, “El Floridita, Cuba’s most renowned bar, was one of Hemingway’s favorite places to drink. Photos of him with Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper and Ava Gardner cover the walls.”

Brian told us, “It is said to be the birthplace of the daiquiri and they do make really good ones there.” The boys sat next to a statue of Hemingway and toasted the legendary author. Then they toasted themselves, noting life is good. But only if you live it.

the sweet life

The sweet life as experienced by Bill Ciccotti and Brian McAndrew included Havana Club beer, tropical drinks, and fine Cuban tobacco products.

After the car tour the boys went back to the boat to change for a night on the town. Brian smiles, “Our guide, Leandro Coba liked us so much that later on, at night, he came back out to party with us. He even played in several of the bands we encountered at the cantinas along the evening.”

Brian grinned, “The evening belonged to El Malecon, Havana’s famous seafront boulevard. At sunset, the failing sun rivaled Key West for the beauty of its tropical twilight colors. As the sun neared the trees darkness was falling.”

Bill nodded, “Congo drums beat to the heartbeat of another Cuban night. Soon the fun stuff would start happening. But that’s another book.” The two amigos were out on the town with a local amigo who knew all the hot spots.

Bill says, “We hit Sloppy Joes. Havana’s pre-revolutionary bar.” There are two Sloppy Joes. One of them is in Key West and the other Hemingway hangout is in Cuba. The boys hit them both. They hit and highly recommended, El Dandy, Bill’s favorite Havana nightspot. Bar Dos Hermanos.

Bill said, “We partied late into the night. At two a.m. we were sitting on a second floor veranda watching the plaza and smiling contently. I asked Brian, “Do you speak Spanish?” He smiled back, “Fluently. Dos cervesa pro favor.”

Bill told us, “This was a trip of a lifetime. Exotic, wild and free.” Brian added, “Like us.”

Ciccotti is very excited about the progress that is being made on the Key West Redemption audio book. “Our fantastic narrator expresses the tropical vibe and excitement necessary to portray the quirky characters that explode from this story. Wait till you hear him do Elvis. Hopefully, the finished product will be released to the public in the coming year.”

channeling hemingway

Channeling Ernest Hemingway in one of his favorite spots in Cuba were the local travelers, Brian McAndrew and Bill Ciccotti, shown with some of the locals.

A fifth, sixth and seventh Key West book has been signed up for and the story line for all four has been approved.

Bill told us, “I said the Key West Redemption series was going to be a pentagon but somehow, I still ended up with seven. Maybe I should call it “The Magnificent Seven”. These books were calling out to me.”

“Tropical Hit” has just been released in Kindle and is also available in paperback. Crime stories with a twist of lime, action and tropical sunsets. It is the first book of the “Tropical Hit Trilogy” series and is available on Amazon.

Are all these stories true? Bill laughs, “I’d be lying if I answered that question. But I’ve had a lifetime full of more than a few strange adventures. My books are overflowing with fine memories and true friendships.”

Brian said, “Success is getting what you want. But happiness is wanting what you have.”

Bill’s key to life is, “Remember to laugh all you can. Even if it’s at yourself. Because if you can’t laugh at yourself, somebody else will.”

Bill ended up with, “Life is full of wise decisions. Wise is overrated. Go make some mistakes. Live a little. Now get to hell down here to Key West and maybe we’ll all sneak back into Cuba one more time.”


Governor and PennDot Prepares for Winter Season

511With the winter season approaching, Governor Tom Wolf has announced that a new online tool is available to inform the public of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) operations this winter. He made the announcement in conjunction with a news conference that PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards held today outlining the agency’s plans for winter services, and sharing job opportunities and driver preparation tips.

New this winter, the public can view a color-coded map of when each of the nearly 40,000 miles of state-maintained roadway was last plowed by visiting the www.511PA.com plow trucks section. The information is the latest enhancement made possible by PennDOT’s Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) technology, which uses units in each of the more than 2,200 department-owned and rented plow trucks to send a cellular signal showing truck locations.

The AVL program, started in 2014, is part of Governor Tom Wolf’s GO-TIME initiative that leverages inter-agency coordination and collaboration to maximize efficiency, modernize state government operations, and provide the highest quality services.

During the news conference at the PennDOT maintenance facility in Norristown, Montgomery County, Richards noted that PennDOT is actively seeking approximately 480 temporary equipment operators statewide for the winter season to supplement the department’s full-time staff. Details on minimum requirements, such as possession of a CDL, as well as application information, are available at www.employment.pa.gov. Through the same website, job seekers can apply for seven other types of non-operator, winter positions such as diesel and construction equipment mechanics, welders, clerks and more.

In discussing PennDOT’s readiness for the season ahead, Richards said that the department has compiled its information about winter services and winter-driving resources for motorists at www.penndot.gov/winter. The site also has a complete winter guide with detailed information about winter services in each of PennDOT’s 11 engineering districts.

snowThe 40,000 miles for which PennDOT is responsible translates into 96,000 snow-lane miles — enough miles to circle the globe nearly four times. A snow-lane is calculated as the miles of road multiplied by the number of lanes, which means a one-mile section of four-lane roadway would equal four snow-lane miles.

The department maintains roughly the same number of miles maintained by the state in New York, New Jersey and all of the New England states combined.

 When winter weather hits, PennDOT’s primary focus is on interstates and expressways, and equipment may be redirected to those routes during significant winter events. The more traffic a roadway has, the more attention it will receive from plows, so motorists may find deeper accumulations on less-traveled routes and should adjust their driving for those conditions.

If motorists encounter snow or ice-covered roads, they should slow down, increase their following distance and avoid distractions. Last winter in Pennsylvania, preliminary data shows that there were 252 crashes resulting in 129 injuries on snowy, slushy or ice-covered roadways where aggressive-driving behaviors such as speeding or making careless lane changes were factors.

In addition to planning for traffic impacts, Richards noted that vehicle preparation is critical to safe winter travel. Tires should be checked often for the correct level of air pressure and adequate tire-tread depth to perform on ice and snow. A quick way to check tread depth is to insert a penny in the tread groove with Lincoln’s head upside down. If you can see the entire head, the tires are worn and traction will suffer. 

Once vehicles are travel-ready, drivers should be prepared for winter or vehicle emergencies especially if long-distance travel is planned. PennDOT urges motorists to carry an emergency kit, which should include items such as non-perishable food, water, first-aid supplies, warm clothes, a blanket, cell phone charger and a small snow shovel. 

In addition to viewing plow information, motorists can use www.511PA.com to check conditions on more than 40,000 roadway miles, including color-coded winter conditions on 2,900 miles. 511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information, and access to more than 850 traffic cameras.