FDR, machine guns…and poutine exorcism

By railroad Emmet

It was a dinner. It was an exorcism.
To other people, a dinner or even just a beer at Trackside Restaurant in Rockland is just that. To someone who spent decades covering city council sessions in that same building on Pleasant Street, it is an exorcism.
The building is chock full of history, some good, some bad. It used to be a railroad station until the city government took it over. The police were in one end, the government offices in the other with the council chamber in the middle. I spent half my life there as a NEWS reporter, bored to tears.
You would not believe the coverage those Rockland City Council sessions used to get, in those bad old days. The NEWS, the Press Herald and the Courier Gazette were there, every meeting. Radio station WRKD, too.
The reports would start in the Tuesday morning newspaper and often continue through the whole week. In case Rockland government didn’t get enough coverage, the city manager would hold a Friday morning press conference, with the same cast of characters recording every word. More stories.
We used to fill two pages of the NEWS every single day with local coverage. A majority of that coverage was city government.
I was an out-of-towner and never thought the council was all that important. I can remember staring out the window in the council chamber as the debate on some mundane issue went on and on, wishing I was somewhere else, anywhere else. Former Press Herald reporter David Himmelstein, who ended up writing movies in Hollywood, said during one prolonged session, “If my friends could see me now, I would be so embarrassed.”
My favorite council member was E. Allen Gordon who used to talk both sides of any question then say to the press “You know what I mean.”
Then there was council member Frank Lawrence who once called me a “long-haired liberal creep” on a radio station. It was something about district Court Judge Paul MacDonald, I recall. (I didn’t think my hair was that long.)
But we did have some fun in that building. When our coffee shop pal Richard Warner got elected to the council, Jon Bailey, Larry Ouellette and I attended his premier meeting. We greeted him with the “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” salute from the front row.
He was not amused.
He certainly was not amused when the press corps (and others) hired a belly dancer for Ouellette’s 30th birthday. His birthday fell on the date of a council session. Everyone else cheered and laughed when the dancer whirled into the room with that distinctive belly dancer music. But Warner said the activity “violated the sanctity of the process.” Honest to God. The move had been secretly sanctioned by both the city manager and mayor. Don’t tell anyone. Naturally, I got blamed for it. The Columbia Journalism Reviews gave me a “dart” for a “Lapse of occasional judgment.”
The height of my journalism career.
I believe the most interesting meeting was when a Rockland cop burst in to the adjoining locker room and yelled “Where is the AR-17?”A machine gun. It seems that the R.P.D. was in a standoff with the local motorcycle gang, the NSKK. Nothing came of it and no shots were fired, gratefully.
But mostly it was one boring meeting after the other, exploring the mundane, the insignificant and the city dump. Even when the meeting finally ended at 10 p.m., I had to go create a report that was, somehow, interesting, or at least cogent.
The Trackside building has much more history than that. It used to be the city railroad station. On the wall are historic pictures of FDR visiting the town and the railroad station after a secret conference with Winston Churchill. FDR met with Churchill on Aug. 9, 1941 aboard the USS Augusta in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland to hammer out the Atlantic Charter. FDR returned to Washington via the Rockland railroad station.
In the next few years, a generation went off to war from that station.
There is even some talk about restoring passenger service to the line.
Others will now sit at Trackside and simply enjoy their meals and drinks. I shall savor every bite of my poutine, and feel the decades of enforced boredom leach out of my tired bones.
As esteemed Councilor E. Allen Gordon said, “You know what I mean.”