Open borders

It goes without debate that the leading employers in Ulster County, in no particular order, are health care (including nursing homes), government, non-profits, education, retail and tourism. With the possible exception of government, all figure to undergo significant change in the rapidly approaching post-pandemic era.

Take tourism. Or, as some county legislators are now suggesting, maybe leave it.

The first indication that there was some kind of isolationist movement afoot was earlier last month when a committee of county legislators, meeting in abstentia, raised concerns about the county’s continuing funding of its widely circulated annual visitor’s guide. Considered the bible by the tourism industry, the visitor’s guide contains detailed contact information on just about every tourism attraction in Ulster, from mom and pop bungalows to mighty Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, a world-class destination.

The question raised in committee was, essentially, do we really want all those strangers crossing our borders and staying for a spell?  Only a few months ago the resounding answer would have been DAMNED RIGHT! But now?

Now visitors, if not neighbors, are eyed with concern, if not suspicion. Could they be carrying…?  OMG!

Fortunately, all wisdom does not reside in the Ulster County legislature. County executive Pat Ryan, for one, is welcoming visitors from the city with open arms. Or at least he was a month ago.

Tourism has been bread and butter, bed and breakfast too, in these parts for more than a century. According to the state, tourism was pre-pandemic a half-billion-dollar industry in Ulster County, attracting tens of thousands of visitors every year. Tourists spent freely and made almost no demands on public services.

Legislators need to tread carefully before manning the parapets. The pandemic will pass. Knee-jerk decisions could be with us much longer.

Shirkers unmasked – I was standing in line at the checkout counter at Home Depot last weekend when a woman in front of me pointed at her nose tucked under her mask, then mine, drooping on my upper lip, and gave me a firm “move it up!” order. Thoroughly cowed in copping a sniff, I quickly complied.

Not so the woman behind me. Busted in similar fashion for appearing half-masked, she lashed out at her accuser. “You mind your own business,” she said. “I can take care of myself.”

Woman No. 1 was having none of that. “It’s people like you that put us all in danger!” she said, turning to pay her bill.

Fearing a physical confrontation between the irate customers, I hid behind a pile of mulch.

I was left with this thought: On one hand, I admired the second woman’s gumption; nobody likes strangers barking orders at them. On the other, it was a message well-meant.

Don’t get no respect – Don’t get around much anymore, but I did run into town of Ulster supervisor Jim Quigley in Herzog’s a few days after the Freeman published a photo of Pat Ryan’s official opening of the new volunteer firefighter training center off Rt. 32 in the town. Quigley, who in truth gets his photo in the paper more than any other town supervisor, was conspicuously absent from this one.

So, I thought I’d light him up a little. “Didn’t anybody call you for that picture?” I asked, all innocent-like.

They don’t call this guy mini-fuse for nothing.

“You’re damned right nobody called (from the executive’s office,” he sputtered behind his mask, “but I called them, reminded them of the years-long effort it took by volunteer firemen and what our town fire fighters gave up. They claimed they didn’t know.”  That got Quigley even madder.

In fact, Ryan, who arrived in office only about a year ago, had almost nothing to do with the fire training session, contributing only his signature to enabling legislation to start building the facility last summer.

Of course, they had to issue the self-congratulatory statement of the project coming in “on time” and under budget. Doesn’t all government work?

As for Quigley, he might take less umbrage at missed photo-ops and more genuine pride in steering a vital project, one delayed for generations, to successful conclusion.  We’re all the safer for it.

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