Monday, January 31, 2022

Don’t Touch The Buttons

winter carnival buttons

Author’s Note: It’s almost that time! Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival approaches (Feb 4th-13th). One of the highlights of winter.  Their 2022 theme is “Totally ‘80’s”. Ice Palace Construction is underway. Winter Carnival Parade plans are being made. Carnival King & Queen & the carnival court will soon be announced. This year’s Winter Carnival buttons are for sale.

A few years back, as we quite often do, my wife Robin and I took a weekend day trip from our Watertown home up to Saranac Lake.  We planned to see the Winter Carnival Ice Palace, then meet our son RJ and his then girlfriend Carrie for lunch. RJ was in his senior year at Paul Smith’s College.  Carrie was a Junior. They are now both graduated and engaged to be married. Quite the Paul Smith’s alumni pair.

We visit Saranac Lake frequently. It’s where my father lies buried. It’s where I grew up. I still refer to our weekend excursions to Saranac Lake as trips “home.”

I graduated from Saranac Lake High School in 1981. Senior Class President.  I’m not quite sure how that happened. Blame my best friend, Chris.  He was my campaign manager. His mom was my English teacher; twice. She actually liked me for some reason. Her classes were what I depended on to balance out my otherwise mediocre grades.

We’d moved to town in 1973.  My parents finally purchased a house.  The summer before my 5th grade year. I was 9.  My first permanent home.

Before that we lived on both ends of the Northville Placid Trail. I attended 4th grade in Lake Placid, briefly inhabited the Northville end twice.

My Dad was a career DEC man. Surveyor, Forest Ranger, District Ranger…on up the ladder, our family followed the course of Dad’s career.  By the time my parents finally bought our house on the corner of Stevenson Lane in Saranac Lake, he was Regional Director.  He was offered residency at the main house at Camp Colby.  Dad declined.  He did not wish to dislodge the family that already lived there.

carnival memories

Saranac Lake was a great place to grow up.  Our pillared Italian stonemason built house by the Pine Street bridge on the river made growing up there even better.  The Saranac River bordered our back yard. Moody Pond and Mount Baker rested just beyond Carpenter’s Hill. We built our own toboggan runs there.  In the summer the railroad tracks were our private hiking trail. Once the snow flew, my friends and I hunted snow shoe rabbits and “partridge” along them as soon as we were old enough. (Okay, well, maybe at least as soon as ONE of us was old enough.)

Stevenson Lane ended in a dead end at a cul-de-sac game farm run by Old Man Quisnell.  Robert Louis Stevenson once lived in a cottage near the hill’s crest, where he composed essays in the late 1800’s. Kids on bikes roamed streets freely. No one locked doors.  We knew all our neighbors.  Mealtime guests were quite frequent.

Mom was a part time Librarian at Saranac Lake Free Library.  I worked there too- cleaning inside after hours, shoveling snow from the walks before school in the winter.

I had a paper route, delivering Adirondack Daily Enterprises. My route went out along Old Lake Colby and Trudeau Roads. The Trudeau family were actually one of my paper route customers. I don’t think Gary Trudeau, the famous Saranac Lake Winter Carnival pin designer of “Doonesbury” fame lived there. At least I never met him. I do remember reading “Doonesbury” comic strips every day in the paper. They were way too political for a young teenage kid back then though. I never really understood them.

I cleaned the Adirondack Daily Enterprise offices too, twice a week, after my newspapers were delivered.

Mr. Doolittle owned The Enterprise then.  He personally wrote my cleaning job paycheck each week.  I always felt intimidated when I walked into his office.  I’m not certain why.  I was about fourteen at the time.  He was never anything but polite.

Dad bowled in a men’s league at Saranac Lake Lanes. I kept score by hand, for tips, back before automatic scorekeepers were installed there.  Men drank beer and bowled. Almost all of them smoked cigarettes. I met a side of my father that I never saw elsewhere and learned a whole new vocabulary in that bowling alley.

I bowled there too, in a Junior League.  Later on, I bowled with Steve (yes, Enterprising Lad Steve), on Saranac Lake’s High School bowling team, until we all got kicked off the team one year for drinking vodka laced Kool-Aid on the bus. I didn’t bring it. I just might have drank some.

Mom and I won a trophy one year in the Christmas “Candy Cane” tournament.  1975 – 2nd Place.  I still have that trophy adorning my trophy shelf.

My class held Junior Prom at The Hotel Saranac.  When Paul Smith’s College still ran it. “Stairway to Heaven” was our prom theme, probably not all that “Decidedly Different” from everyone else.

I played Redskins football, beat marching band drums in every downtown parade.  In the spring, I ran the mile and the 800 relay in SLHS track.

I secretly loathed marching band.  Especially when I had to play bass drum. The wool uniforms were itchy. Plus, they smelled Really bad. It was always either sweltering hot when we marched through town in Memorial Day parades, or blistering cold when we marched for Winter Carnival.  I did not mind running track though; the uniforms were much skimpier and girls wore them too.

ice palace

Construction underway on the 2022 ice palace. Jackie Ely photo

When I was sixteen, I got a job at Dagwood’s serving pizzas and subs to downtown patrons.  At first Dagwood’s was where The Back Door Bar was located later. I’m not sure what’s there now. Dagwood’s later moved across the street, by the bowling alley.  Last time I looked, there’s still a Chinese restaurant there now.

Downtown bars stayed open late.  We worked until 3:30am on weekends, jukebox blaring out tunes. Tunes were four for a quarter. A cheese pizza pie slice was a dollar. Cold subs cost three bucks. There was always a 3am “last call” rush. Most of our patrons at that hour were a bit wobbly. Some took a nap in their food while we cleaned around them. I frequently did not get home until well after sunrise.

We were allowed to take any unsold pizza slices home after work. I somehow always managed to have a whole slice pie leftover. (I’m not sure how THAT happened.)  I loved them for 5am weekend breakfast with a glass of cold milk.

I worked at Dagwood’s all the way through college.  Dagwood’s owners never saw fit to give me a raise. They said I ate more than I was worth. That was quite possibly an accurate assessment on their part. I decided early on that it was likely in my best interest not to push that issue much.

That is but a snapshot of the memories that flash through my mind each time Robin and I make the Winter Carnival trip “home”.  We always drive past my old Stevenson Lane house.  The two big blue spruce trees that were out front are long gone.  It’s an accounting firm now. I wonder if neighborhood kids still play street hockey in the road.

At any rate, on this particular trip, Robin and I cruised into Saranac Lake just before 1pm, when we were unexpectedly met by a road block, complete with State Trooper cars, way up past the High School.  I tried to detour around it.  Another barrier.  I tried again, and again, no such luck. An Adirondack Outlaw’s worst nightmare! Saranac Lake was, for some unknown reason, COMPLETELY blockaded by cops!

Then it struck me – “Of Course!”  We had arrived just in time for the Winter Carnival parade! I hadn’t thought about that ahead of time. We re-calibrated. Robin and I parked our car on a side street at the top of the hill, walked down into town, stood together and watched.

There were marching bands playing, clowns throwing candy, a civil war formation firing musket volleys! (Where else but on a cold winter’s day in Saranac Lake can you find uniformed soldiers in formation firing off downtown musket volleys!) There were lots of colorful floats, even a crazy drum playing pirate.  It was awesome!

As the parade began winding down, Robin and I climbed back up the hill.  Barriers finally came down.  We met RJ & Carrie out at my brother Ray’s house, just off the Old Trudeau Road, where my boyhood paper route used to run.

ice palace

RJ Monroe and his girlfriend (now fiancé) Carrie at the 2020 ice palace.

Ray wasn’t home.  He was busy doing brother Ray stuff.  So, with RJ & Carrie following, I skirted out around the back side of town and came back in through Ray Brook, beyond all the hubbub.   We ate lunch at The Blue Line Brewery.  RJ likes their chicken wings. Everyone likes their beer.

After lunch and some hugs, RJ and Carrie returned to Paul Smith’s for some afternoon studying.  Robin and I had our own agenda.  We headed towards the Ice Palace.

It was cold, but not frigid, by Saranac Lake standards.  We parked at St. Bernard’s and walked towards Lake Flower.

There was a bustling crowd on the street, vendors outside the ice palace in tents, couples snapping photos, volunteers directing traffic.

The Ice Palace was well done, as always.  The theme that year was: “Myths and Legends”.  There were several ice sculptures of legendary mythical beings.

A “Prehistoric Park”, an extra-terrestrial space ship, a unicorn. I had Robin take my picture kneeling beside what I think was a “Big Foot” sitting on a throne, but, then again, it could have been “Thor”. I really wasn’t quite sure.

2020 ice palace

Robin and I had someone take our picture together in the tourist photo booth kiosk using Robin’s phone.  Once we were done walking through the ice palace snapping pictures, we walked down the street towards the Chamber of Commerce Winter Carnival Store.

I had made a solo road trip home to see the Ice Palace the weekend before.  I often make solo trips home on the spur of the moment.

In the summer I may scoot up to South Creek and put in for some quiet time on the lake.  I may stop by my dad’s grave, meet RJ & Carrie for lunch, go “bottle diving”, or just stop by to say “Hi” to my brother.

During my previous week’s visit, I had done some shopping in the Winter Carnival store.  I bought a forest green fleece logo vest, a “Hunter’s Plaid” logo hat too.  Two wooden “Winter Carnival” coasters, a poster, a nicely done photo album. I quickly spent nearly $100! The clerk at that time, a nice woman, remarked; “We love customers like you! Please come back again soon!”

While I was there, I spotted a box full of old Winter Carnival pins from past years. browsed through it- bought two, that current year: 2020, and 1981, my senior year at Saranac Lake High School. So, on this second trip I was eager to once again browse through that box of old Winter Carnival pins, and buy several more.

Robin and I entered the Winter Carnival Store.  Besides the two store clerks, we were the only ones there.  I spotted the cardboard box full of pins in zip-lock baggies, sitting there on the floor.  Above it was a handwritten list of years, and a sign:

“Old Winter Carnival Pins- $5 Each”

I immediately knelt down and began rummaging through the different pins in the box. Suddenly, the male store clerk approached me.  I had several pins in my hand that I was planning to buy.  Without warning, the man reached out grabbed the box full of pins from me, and placed it emphatically behind the counter, out of reach.

He looked down his nose at me and snorted:

“If you wish to purchase a pin, the DISPLAY is over THERE.” He then pointed.

“You may point to the one you want in the display on the wall.  I will then tell you if it remains available for purchase.”

I arose from my crouch.  The clerk stood before me- Columbia Fleece, collar up, designer blue jeans, leather boots that had clearly never set foot on a trail in their life. I detected the unmistakable scent of cologne – “Arrogance”, by Pierre Cardin. We all know that stench.

I stared at him momentarily, caught off guard, speechless.  I felt my blood boil.  Robin and I were still the sole patrons in the shop.  I could have gone to prison for what was going through my Adirondack Outlaw’s mind in that moment.

Instead, I exhaled and tossed my handful of old pins on the counter.

“I don’t like you. You are rude!”  I remarked sharply. Robin and I then exited the shop.

We walked back past the Ice Palace while I tried to cool down.  We made our way back to our car, and drove into town.

2022 ice palace construction

Construction on the 2022 Saranac Lake Ice Palace. Photo by Jackie Ely

We made several other purchases without incident in several downtown shops.  One shop I especially like, and visit every chance I get, is The Adirondack Loon Center’s gift shop. I browsed, handled and bought several small items there. The store clerk was quite friendly. She never grabbed any of them from me. Not even their buttons.

That Winter Carnival Store encounter has stuck with me.  The message was quite clear:

“You may visit Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival any time you wish.  You may share lunch with your son, pay respects to your father, admire our Ice Palace.  We even invite you to watch crazy drum beating pirates and musket firing formations in our downtown parade.

However, if you attend Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival there is one simple rule you must always remember”:


If You Visit Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival Store,

You May Look All You Want

“Just Don’t Touch The Buttons!”


Author’s Endnote: Last year’s Saranac Lake Winter Carnival took place in the midst of the worst days of COVID & the Pandemic. My wife and I did not attend. We plan to go again this year though. I very much look forward to returning to The Winter Carnival Shop to buy this year’s edition of the carnival button. And maybe rummaging though a few boxes of old ones.


* All Ice Palace “In-Progress” Construction Photograph Courtesy of Jackie Ely*


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A veteran north country writer & story teller raised in Saranac Lake, Dick enjoys “Living in the Day I Am In”, and then writing about it. A severely speech impaired 3x cancer survivor, his pen is his voice. He shares many of his Adirondack Outlaw adventures & tales here. Read the rest on his blog @

22 Responses

  1. Jackie Ely says:

    Great story…Congratulations…
    Thank you for using a couple of my photos!!! 🙂 greatly appreciated..
    You are such a talented writer!!!

  2. Steve says:

    We were there in ‘20 during the week but no rude flatlander in the gift shop!

    We’ll be there Friday,Saturday, and Sunday. Give us a shout if you want some back-up at the gift hop.

    Hello from Northville

  3. JB says:

    Richard, wow! I think this was the best piece of “Adirondackana” that I have ever read! Your Adirondack Outlaw stream-of-conscious has perflectly distilled fifty years of community and family life into a deftly crafted five minute essay. …As to the moral of the story–as with cartoons, carnival pins, and figures carved into walls of ice: We can admire, but can we ever really be sure what it all means in the end?

    • Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you, JB! Hmmm…maybe I learned something from all those Adirondack Outlaw teen years spent puzzling over those Doonesbury comic strips after all!

  4. Kate says:

    I think the store clerk you mentioned is starting a functioning QUARRY, with all it’s noise, dust, explosions, environmental damage, 200 yards from my back door on spring fed White Lake. Rude.

  5. Richard Monroe says:

    I’m very sorry to hear that, Kate! Maybe it’s time folks printed up a passel of WANTED posters, rustled up a good old-fashioned Adirondack “Anti-Rudeness” posse & started serving some “Be Polite, Considerate, Thoughtful & Kind” warrants.

  6. Alan Fisher says:

    I enjoy Richards posts. I can relate to younger days. The scolding’s too.

  7. Bob Meyer says:

    As always it is a pleasure to read your reminiscence of Saranac Lake, the Stevenson Lane house (remembering our
    shared experience of living there-though mine was of much shorter duration) etc.
    Your writing is a treasure. THANK YOU!
    FYI: this Friday, February 4 at 7 PM, my quartet, The New Adirondack Jazz Quartet,
    Will be performing at the VIC I Paul Smiths.
    Followed by the next day at the Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay and Sunday and North Creek at the Tannery Pond Center.
    It would be a pleasure and privilege to meet you.

    • Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you, Bob! I’m adding your concert to my crowded (NOT!!!) social calendar. Always love a good concert, a PSC VIC visit, & an excuse for a road trip. No promises though, they’re predicting quite a storm here Wed night thru Friday. If not this weekend, we’ll certainly have to get together at some point for a “1 Stevenson Lane Club” SL reunion.

  8. Steve Sehnert says:


    Great story as usual. Always look forward to them.

    For a while I have wanted to tell you this what I thought was a funny story about your dad. Tom and I were classmates at the Ranger School some long ago years. Tom was a good student but how I don’t know. Never saw him study thou. But I am sure he did.

    Anyways, each summer starting on the first Friday of August the Ranger School Alumni Association holds its annual reunion over several days at the school. Two great days filled width typical reunion functions and get togethers. Well, several years back they starting having a best ball golf tournament at the Star Lake course. Tom and I and two other guys where on the same team and when it became our turn to tee off, Tom, got up and teed up his ball and after a couple of practice swings approached the ball and took his swing only to have after he hit the ball the head of his club came off and went flying, don’t remember but maybe it went further than the ball. Not sure of his reaction but it sure was funny to the rest of us. You know your dad so I let you imagine that.

    • Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you, Steve, for sharing that story. Sounds just like my dad. Golfing with him was always an adventure. Come to think of it, so was pretty much everything else.

  9. Saranac Laker says:

    Hey there, Richard! Saranac Lake changed its mascot a looong time ago because the old one was an offensive slur. We don’t use that word anymore.

    Looking at your archives, it seems like you stretch to use it as much as possible, but I’d really appreciate it if you avoided using it in the future.

    Thanks! Happy Carnival!

    • CJ says:

      Right on. It’s disappointing that a media outlet that is sharing stories of Indigenous peoples in the Adirondacks is also allowing the use of a word that most of us now recognize as a slur against those very same people.

    • Ray Monroe says:

      Hey there Saranac Laker! Saranac Lake change its nickname after 50 years in 2001 to the Red Storm. Like many communities, the Saranac Lake community struggled with the issue for many years. Just today, the Washington Football Team announced their new name the Washington Commanders after struggling with the same issue.

      I don’t see how anyone reading my brother’s archives can say that he stretches to use the old nickname name as much as possible. In this story, it is a passing reference to his memories of his time in high school. Most of his stories don’t reference it at all. His Blown Up and Stuffed story is full of it – because it is a story about playing football under Coach Raymond, and its hard to tell a story about playing football for a team without saying its name.

      The Enterprise did a story on this reasonably recently on July 20, 2019 (google saranac lake redskins become red storm if you cannot follow this link),new%20nickname%2C%20the%20Red%20Storm.

      Being sensitive to these issues is a worthwhile endeavor. Making people aware of the issue and being thoughtful about it is fine. Trying to cancel someone who is writing accurately about history, their history, seems a little over the top.

      Now let’s all go enjoy the 1980’s in this year’s Winter Carnival!

  10. David Keefe says:

    WHAT AN AMAZING STORY. sorry for shouting, but I am in North Carolina.
    I attended PSC in 83, and worked in Lake Placid for the Olympic Center in the food service. Every time I go North, I try to make my way through, Saranac Lake, PCS (dorm 9&10) and tour the village.. your story touched my heart, we did the same with our daughters many years ago during the Groovy 60’s winter carnival.. Soo Cold, didnt care, they huddled up with 60 plus people you didnt know, across from Journey End… great memories… wonderful story thank you

    • Richard Monroe says:

      THANK YOU, David! NC is a great state. Had some great adventures there. Did my ROTC training, went to ABN school, & participated in some XVIII Airborne Corps training missions there at Fort Bragg. If I had followed through with my original plans, we would have been PSC classmates!

  11. Fritz J. Henze says:


    You took me back down the wonderful memory lane, when the Henze family took the road north to the Monroe family and a wonderful Ice Palace weekend. We reminisce about this many times in this family.

    Thank you for the memories and we love the Adirondack Outlaw.

    • Richard Monroe says:

      A message from Fritz Henze, my favorite Northville family father! What a wonderful surprise. Our families sure did have a lot of great adventures together. Some of my most cherished memories. I hope we find time to get together again soon. In the meantime, all our love & best wishes to you, Sandy & the boys.

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