Plattekill 1 & 2

Plattekill. It sounds plain, or worse. Not much to look at as a word or a place.

But the name on a sign along the New York State Thruway – Plattekill Service Plaza – became a synonym for hope. It said: less than an hour to home. It said “you can do this,” even when I’d been driving for hours.

Plattekill means calm stream in Dutch – I think. An oasis of fried food, hand sanitizer and sugary drinks, or just a bottle of water and enough gasoline to get home. Like a stream branching off the raging river, a flat rock to sit for a minute and shut your eyes. I’m making it sound way more poetic than I should. But I can’t help it. I get sentimental about things.

Ten years ago, I barely knew it existed. The last half decade it’s become practically an outbuilding to our house. You don’t realize how much you rely on things you don’t have much affection for but need. Until they’re taken away.

Yesterday, driving north on the New York State Thruway, I got a terrible shock: the Plattekill Service Plaza is CLOSED. In ways I didn’t expect, this discovery sent me into panic; near meltdown.

Anyone who knows the Thruway knows that the exits come further and further apart as you travel north from New Jersey. Miles apart, twenty, thirty even. That’s why Plattekill became so important in my life. Once you pass Sloatsburg service area – the weird one where you drive in under a parking garage, which sounds like it would be convenient in brutal summer heat or bitter, snowy cold, but actually always feels a bit offputting and grim – you need to plan how you’re going to make it the rest of the way to New Paltz, to Kingston or Woodstock, Saugerties or Catskill. The distances between exits are long enough that if you’ve been driving for awhile, which is kind of a given as the area around Sloatsburg and beyond looks decidedly unpopulated, you go into a fugue state, forgetting where, why or how you got on the road, and whether you’re coming home or heading off on an amazing adventure. All radio signals fade, time ceases to exist-even weather happens in a void as you approach the micro-climate around Newburgh. The Catskill mountains loom, and loom some more. Maybe the world ended when you were crossing the New York state line and word won’t reach you until…well you might never find out.

That’s why Plattekill is so essential. “Let me just make it to Plattekill,” I’ve said dozens of times, returning from a visit to the city or more recently back east from the wilds of Pennsylvania after visiting my dad in Pittsburgh. In Plattekill the world would start to make sense again. Not because the services on offer were anything great. In fact, come to think of it, it was pretty awful: a Dunkin Donuts staffed by the saddest Dunkin employees you’ll ever meet and a Roy Rogers that would never fail to disappoint on the rare occasion I gave myself permission to eat something really unhealthy just to pass the time for the last fifty minutes of my trip home. When I was feeling holy, they had these very good yogurt drinks from local Ronnybrook Farm. Local. Farm. Almost home.

And the people matched the food: a bracing mix of upstate hippies, sporty types temporarily detached from their kayaks and Subarus, sweaty; glassy-eyed city folk escaping their cells.

There is no Plattekill heading southbound.

The restrooms were easy to get to but always had big industrial fans placed strategically around on the floor, blowing warm air in winter and summer. Maybe this place really did need an overhaul. But aside from missing the amenities – a restroom, that last snack – what will I do when I need to pull over somewhere and sleep?

One hot summer night around 1 AM on our way back from playing a gig in NYC, Eric and I saw a ratty old Mercedes sitting cock-eyed in a parking space, all four doors open. An older couple lay back against the driver and passenger seats, eyes shut, mouths gaping, legs and arms flopping out of the front doors. I think they were in their underwear. It felt like we were looking at a Weegee photo of a murder scene, but thankfully your could see the man’s chest rise and fall. You could hear snoring. I worried for them, so vulnerable like that, hot and exhausted driving from God knows where. We’ve been that lady and man (well maybe not the Mercedes, and I hope we were a little better dressed…) I willed a safety/privacy shield around them, in the name of all of us long haul drivers. Sometimes you just need to pull over and sleep for twenty minutes or an hour.

Where will we do that now?

Aside from going down to see my dad who’s in assisted living in Queens now, I don’t have all that many places to go. The drive down and back totals about five hours but depending how the visit goes, can sometimes leave me feeling like I’ve been driving for ten.

Plattekill. Calm stream.

It’ll be at least a year until they unveil the new service plaza. Maybe they’ll even rename it. Until then, I have to come to grips with Sloatsburg, but I won’t like it.

August 2021

I drove past Plattekill Services again the other night. In the dark and the rain, I saw the old rest area building heaped up like the logs of a giant bonfire, the jagged girders and timbers crisscrossed behind a chain link fence.

I’d spent the day watching my father turn from 94 year old dad to an old man who would die – maybe not today which was almost over but someday fairly soon. I’d brought him home from the hospital and he’d held it together to proudly walk through the lobby of his assisted living building, clutching a bag with the afghan blanket his mother had knitted many years ago, a blanket the nurses at NY Presbyterian Queens Hospital had all admired. He’d walked slowly but tall to the elevator, into his apartment where he’d put the contents of his small suitcase carefully away, sat down to eat lunch and then gone completely still, unconscious. I’d slapped his hands, his face, shouting “Dad! Dad!” thinking he looked dead, his color gone, his anxious fighting spirit that had just been right here, in this room, now somewhere else. “Dad!” It took four paramedics to bring him around. They put him on a gurney, wheeled him back onto the elevator, four young men in black velvet yarmulkes. “Is your Dad Jewish?” a caregiver who passed us in the hall asked me. I held that idea in my head for a second. “Irish Catholic,” I said.

Loaded into the ambulance, I sat in front with the driver. We lurched rather than raced through Queens, the traffic a mess, cars barely bothering to get out of our way. “Is it always like this?” I asked the driver, his yarmulke tucked beneath a baseball cap. He sighed. “They barely notice me. I’m an inconvenience.” Behind us, I could hear my dad talking with the young men. I heard him crooning a few notes, high on the oxygen they were giving him. “You have a nice voice,” one of the guys said. I want to remember this scene forever, I thought.

I had to leave him in the emergency room corridor, one bed down from an angry-looking young man with evil tattoos etched into his shaved skull. My dad alone in deepest Queens but what could anybody do to him here that time hadn’t already done? My brother met me and drove me back to my car.

All the way north, away from New York City, I listened to Tom Petty. October means important things to me: the month my daughter was born, the month I lost my mother. But it will also forever feel like Petty month: the month he was born, the month he died. It comforted me, helped me breathe, the random mix, songs I knew, ones I’d never heard before. The guitars, keyboard, drums and Tom were like fresh  air pumping through the car, like the oxygen they’d given my dad. Life was still beautiful and perfect, right down to the moon shining on the dusky remains of Plattekill services. There was no stopping time – only pausing here and there to think: “Let me always remember this.”

October 2021

Broke out the acoustic 12 string for a Tom Petty cover…

25 thoughts on “Plattekill 1 & 2

  1. Karen Hall

    Hi Amy / in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep, I started wondering how you are abs if you’ll do another blog post. Lovely to wake up having finally managed to sleep and find this waiting.

    Absolutely brilliant writing as always Amy. You are so talented. How is your Dad now? I hope he’s settled and doing better. It must be so hard for you. Thank goodness you moved him nearer.

    Any signs of being able to come back to Cromer? We all miss you. I sent Eric some bills the other day. Sorry to have to do that / I know it’s a drag.

    We’re in London for just a night to see Benji before he leaves for Washington DC and then the summer exhibition. I can’t wait to take Daisy there. We thought perhaps we should all apply next year! Have you ever been? If not it definitely needs to be on your list for the future / I think you’d love it. Hundreds of outsider artists amongst hundreds of established artists.

    I’m typing this on my phone with one finger. Lying in the dark trying to be quiet incase I wake Daisy a moment before I need to. Teenagers sleep / who knew?! I don’t think in this can be called typing : it’s more like rapid fire pointing.

    Anyway, we will continue to miss you and send loads of live. I’m here if there’s anything I can do.

    Take care out there on those never ending roads.

    Karen xxxx

    Karen Hall mobile: 07900 784237


    1. amyrigby

      Thanks Karen, my dad is doing better this week. Things have calmed down a bit! Glad I had something to read waiting there for you.

      Where is the outsider art festival? Sounds wonderful! Lots of love to you, Peter and Daisy xx

  2. Andy Boller

    as we age & learn —- the little things of routine that bless us with comfort, a blanket mom knitted, a rest stop on an interstate & music the takes us above the fray … how small yet vital all these blessings are … you express this so well — thank you for sharing


    Tom Petty. I miss knowing that he’s around somewhere, recording something or just living. I hope your da stays well, and when he dies I hope he dies comfortably and well. XX

    1. amyrigby

      I feel the same about TP Mick. Sometimes I see a tour bus and it makes me really sad to think he’s not out there somewhere heading to another gig. Thanks so much. x

  4. Alyson

    Sorry to hear about your dad – It’s tough I know. I was particularly drawn to the line, ‘What could anybody do to him here that time hadn’t already done?’. So true, and sad of course too.

    Hope the new Plattekill is up and running sooner than they say.

    Beautiful song and very apt.

  5. Julie Shevach

    So lovely! Really perfect. Thank you.

    On Mon, Oct 25, 2021 at 7:26 PM Diary Of Amy Rigby wrote:

    > amyrigby posted: ” Plattekill. It sounds plain, or worse. Not much to look > at as a word or a place. But the name on a sign along the New York State > Thruway – Plattekill Service Plaza – became a synonym for hope. It said: > less than an hour to home. It said “you can do th” >

  6. Frost

    There is no way this could be anything other than a hard journey, no matter how many rest stops were ever in between. xx

  7. cellsumfrost

    Let me know if you need a place in NYC to crash. And/or future blog to write about how I forced you into slave labor to clear out my junk (formerly known as son’s) room : ) Seriously, not a prob.

  8. rainperry

    I read somewhere that creativity = making unexpected connections between existing things. This post is a perfect example.



  9. Christopher

    Amy, as always, you create hidden beauty in a sad and familiar family situation. Hugs and good vibes to you, your father, and Eric. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

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