Wedding in the woods, don’t forget the parachute

(This article originally appears in the Daily Gazette wedding guide)

August and Amanda Rosa parachuted into their wedding reception — without ever leaving the ground.

That’s because the couple brought along a playground parachute to their ceremony at John Boyd Thacher State Park two summers ago, asking their guests to flap the fabric as they rushed into the center to be surrounded by their family and friends for a special moment caught in a snap.

The daring duo, who share a love for the outdoors and once traveled the country in a van, didn’t shy away from trekking through the woods, even into a waterfall, for a collection of fun photographs to remember their camp-inspired wedding day with. Thacher Park, which spans over 2,000 acres, sits 1,000 feet above their new home in the Albany County hamlet of New Salem. Wanting to keep it close to home and true to their favorite pastimes, the Rosa’s didn’t have to think hard about where to host their wedding.

“It’s our special place,” said the bride.

I photographed the wedding for the pair, who are also two of my close friends. Maybe it was because of our relationship that I didn’t think twice to ask them to hike down to Mine Lot waterfall, a short but steep hike on the Indian Ladder Trail, for some photographs after their vows. A risky proposition, for both the newlyweds and their wedding photographer, before returning to the reception for the rest of the day.

Lucky for us, a recent drought meant the water flow wasn’t too strong, making it more manageable with an umbrella and some good fortune. Our outfits, cameras, and friendship would survive the adventure.

Couples thinking about also taking their photoshoot to the trails should be warned — a narrow metal staircase descends 60 feet down the cliff to a rough and wet terrain. Pack a pair of sneakers, a jacket, and some spare hands to help keep your wedding gown from the dirty elements. The trail is frequented at all times of the year, so also be prepared for some strangers popping up in the background. But for lovers of hiking and camping, the task, even in pristine wedding attire, is worth the risk. Be sure to make it out in one piece — all New York State Parks enforce a carry in, carry out rule.

Not everyone needs to chase waterfalls or dive into parachutes. The ease and accessibility of having a ceremony at such a wide open outdoor public space creates a wealth of opportunities to bring along your favorite props to help capture unique memories.

The Rosas tied the knot at Glen Doone Pavilion, a low-key location (and low-cost rental) that allows guests to be right up against a section of the six mile long limestone cliff edge, offering panoramic views of the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys and the Adirondack and Green Mountains from the Helderberg Escarpment. The vast backdrop for all their ceremony pictures are unlike anything else one could find in the region. The secluded pavilion allowed for some privacy in a public location, and the network of trails, and forest and fauna offered changing scenery for their photographs.

Perhaps the highlight of the day came at the very end, when a late summer sunset covered the wide sky. Since the reservation ended at sunset, one more quick trip into the woods and the couple walked away with more stunning images from their forest utopia wedding.

“For me it captured how we conquered the whole day,” said the groom. “We did a lot of the work ourselves, so it was a relief when the day came to an end and the sun set.”

Memories of Valentine’s aren’t flushed away

(This article originally appeared on

In keeping with the seven stages of grief, most Albany alt-rockers have reached the end — acceptance. Valentine’s Music Hall and Beer Joint as they know it isn’t coming back and they’ve moved on to The Low Beat. The brick building on New Scotland Avenue that once rattled with their favorite shows will come tumbling down. They’ll never stand over the same urinal trough again.

But for some the memories can live on with little pieces of Valentine’s scrounged up before the doors were locked.

“What’s the one super iconic thing that nobody will want?” Chris Jordan recalled asking himself. “I wanted the trough.”

It was no easy task. It took a couple of trips to get the right tools for the job and a few industrial cleanings. “Before I even put my hands on it I bleached the shit out of it.”

One bleaching wouldn’t bring comfort to those experienced with the trough. Once back to his home in Pittstown, it got doused in kerosene before another bleach bath. The process was a delicate balance of sanitation and historical conservation that had the approval of his understanding girlfriend and fellow music-lover Kim Neaton. “I really wanted to preserve the ring of scum,” he explained. The ring is just one of the elements of the trough that could have gone unnoticed in the dark pit of a bathroom. With the help of a few PBR’s one might overlook, and overshoot, the beauty of the trough. It takes some warm country sunlight to fully realize the instrument. The off-color edges. The tattered punk stickers. The subtle black paint trim that dripped from the walls.

Chris remembers playing hardcore shows at Valentine’s since he was a teenager. Now, with his band The Slaughterhouse Chorus, they remember it as an iconic institution where they formed. “For us it was the holy grail.” So when it came time to bring the trough home, he knew it would still support his music. It became a record shelf.

But according to Chris, vinyl records weigh a lot more than pee. It took more work to drill holes in the metal frame and properly mount it on the wall. Seven hours of labor in-all. The final touch of adding the “skanky drip bar,” as he described it, levels out the feng-shui of his new listening station and keeps it up to code. But the upcycled furniture isn’t done yet – he is worried that the exposed wires aren’t “ascetically pleasing” alongside the pisser.

Reactions from friends online have been mixed. “YESSSS. YOUR HOUSE IS NOW A CASTLE” / “I’ve thrown up in that thing. At least twice.” / “If I happen to be drunk near this ‘shelf’ I may pee in it.”

But in the end, the pair has accepted their new living room with open arms.

“We made out like bandits,” boasted Chris, as he picked some Jerry Lee Lewis from his new shelf.

Sometimes a Memory Just Ain’t Enough.

The long arm of a continuous cycle of trauma grips Albany

(This article originally appeared on

A young man pulled his car off Second Avenue onto a corner lined with prayer candles and empty liquor bottles — all-too-familiar markings of a recent tragedy.

This is the location where his friend, 19-year-old Ramone Gonzalez, was gunned down back in August. He was Albany’s 13th homicide of the year. Since then, another victim joined that dreadful count.

14 sidewalk memorials just like this one have popped up across the city this year alone.

Spray-painted messages that cover the pavement and walls make sure everyone knows that this particular corner is Ramone’s.

 “Never alone”, one read.

His friend, who gave only his street name which is being withheld from this article, was there to make sure Ramone was not alone.

The man wasn’t alone either. 

Two men approached seemingly out of nowhere. Dressed in all black and carrying themselves with purpose, only the youthful glare of their eyes peeking above black masks hinted to the fact that these men may only be boys. 

Within seconds the sound of metal clacked, a cocked pistol now visible in one of their hands.

“Give me everything,” one of them said.

In this Albany, in these times, he couldn’t even mourn his friend in peace.


Eight blocks away, Lisa Good and a small team of volunteers were gathering on a different corner of Second Avenue.

Together they are Urban Grief — a local nonprofit organization that responds to the traumatic impact of community violence.

Volunteers with Urban Grief talked about the palpable tension in the neighborhood recently. They described residents that walk briskly to get off the sidewalk and into homes, while others wear their colors and stand idly on corners. 

Despite the possibility of encountering violence, they had a stack of trauma-focused pamphlets and were ready to canvas the streets to distribute them.

Lisa Good is no stranger to trauma — she has been doing foundational community work around the issue for many years.

Good founded Urban Grief in 2001 after discovering a need to normalize trauma and grief response in her community. What started as a solo campaign of knocking on doors has recently grown into a grant-funded staff of four and an affiliation with Trinity Alliance. Back in 2001 much of her work dealt with disproportionate losses from drug abuse and health disparities in her community. In recent years, violence has become a dominating force.

“There was no real recognition or acknowledgement that harm had been caused at multiple levels beyond the person who was killed and beyond the individual family that was impacted,” she said.

Good recalls the murder of an Albany High School student years ago. The school allowed students to attend the funeral — even boarding buses to transport them.

“So here they go to the funeral for their friend that was murdered,” Good said, “and then when the service is over they go back to class?”

This year, trauma from a deadly global pandemic was added to the mix.

“How do you comfort people when you can’t touch them?” Good asked.


Meanwhile, blocks away from the South End, legislators have begun to address the issue of trauma. A recent assembly bill (A10629A) was introduced to seek an advisory council to address frontline worker trauma.

Deborah Faust, Director of Family Engagement & Co-Director of Building Connections at Mental Health Association in New York State, spoke to Capitol Pressroom’s David Lombardo about trauma-informed care for frontline workers.

“Wouldn’t it be strange if we didn’t have a negative reaction to putting our life at risk everyday or witnessing the pain and sorrow of others?” she said.

While frontline workers are experiencing more trauma than ever before due to the coronavirus pandemic, young people in the city have been dealing with it for generations. According to a 2013 study, between 50 and 96% of urban youth have witnessed or experienced some form of violence in their community. While gun violence is the leading cause of death for 15- to 34-year-olds, 70% of injuries involving gun violence are non-fatal. This has left researchers wondering, “what mark, beyond the physical, do bullets leave?”

State Senator Jamaal T. Bailey has introduced a separate bill (S8985) that would require training for teachers and administrators in the area of childhood trauma.

According to the bill — “It has become an increasingly common practice for school officials to use EMS services or even local police when a student engages in what is considered ‘disruptive behavior’.”

By introducing the bill, Bailey hopes to improve deescalation practices when dealing with children who bring mental health and trauma issues to school.

Lisa Good and her team at Urban Grief know all too well the prevalence this has on local children. 

“You can have a person who is fairly young that has experienced multiple losses in their short life with none of that grief ever being attended to,” she explained.

“We are here to say we see, and hear, the pain of our children.”


After a summer of escalating trauma among Albany’s youth, a new school year is posing complications for the counselors that work with them.

Tom Mueller serves as the only social worker for 373 young students at Henry Johnson Charter School in Albany, which is a challenge during normal times.

These are anything but normal times.

He’s now faced with students who are returning from an extended time away from school and a historically violent summer. On top of all that — budgets are stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s going to be extremely challenging,” he said. “There is not enough of me to go around.”

This summer, Mueller took to the streets in an effort to connect to the youth that he normally sees when school is in session. He donned a megaphone at a recent Albany House of Peace ceasefire rally to speak about the grief he sees in his daily work.

“How do you explain to a second grader that she’ll never see her cousin again?,” he asked.

He spoke about his young students being constantly surrounded by trauma and pleaded with the neighborhood to “learn how to pick up a pen instead of a gun.”

“This has to stop,” he warned.


Back at Ramone’s corner, the young man left his car door open as NoCap’s “Ghetto Angels” blared from its speakers. He moved back and forth, mouthing the verses out loud to a hit song about mourning a murdered friend.

“Know it sound strange, but I’ma die for all my dead homies
Nobody really know how he feels
I always thought that you would be here
Why do I always question God, but I never pray?
I think about you, I end up cryin’ on my best days
Tryna convince me to get better, naw, naw, naw, naw
I’d be lyin’ if I didn’t say I really miss my dawgs
It’s so much of pain in us, always feel like I’m givin’ up
It ain’t the same no more, death brought me anger”

He spoke about his friend and the struggle coming to terms with what happened. 

“We been through the struggle together, slept on the same couch together,” he said. “This don’t seem real.”

Ramone was killed within hours and a few blocks of another teenager, who was ambushed while leaving the funeral of yet another teen shooting victim. Two others survived shootings that day, a spree of violence that ricocheted throughout the city and set off emergency meetings of the city’s Common Council.

The young man said he visits Ramone’s corner two times a day, the number of times he would normally see his best friend if he were still alive. He feels Ramone’s presence among the tragic reminders of his death. They vibe together — smoking, drinking, and rapping his favorite songs while he picks up litter and straightens candles.

“Any chance I get even if it’s for two seconds. I stay here for hours sometimes,” he said.

“It’ll never be the same as being with him and hearing that laugh.”