When I was 16, I showed up at Bronx House Emanuel Camps in nearby Copake, N.Y. Since I went to Hunter College in the Bronx, I did not have the usual social indoctrination so many kids have when they go away to college, so pretty much every moment of the many summers I spent in Copake is fixed in my mind.

On days off, we would come to Great Barrington. As soon as you passed the border at Catamount, everything changed. The signs changed. The landscape changed. Things just felt different when you crossed over the state line. As the years rolled by, that hasn’t changed.

When we got there, we headed straight to Friendly’s which, as far as we were concerned, was the center of the universe. Back then, Friendly’s was in the middle of town, right next to what is now a gas station at the northern end of Main Street. The Fribble used to be called the “Awful Awful.” When a kid was acting out, my co-counselor Pete Solender used to kindly say to him, “That was awful awful.”

In later years, that site was occupied by a delicatessen and some other efforts until it was torn down. The new Friendly’s was never quite the same. It is a nice place, and the staff is very pleasant, but it doesn’t have that same je ne sais quoi of my memories.

It is with real sadness, therefore, that I read about the troubles Friendly’s is having. It’s been bought and sold a few times, but now some are speculating that it is heading toward bankruptcy and restructuring. Things change. Diets change. Businesses overdevelop. There is always some corporation flush with cash that thinks they can do it better. They put up tons of cash for a business and somehow miss the point of the institution. Usually, since nature really does abhor a vacuum, someone else will come along to eat the big corporation’s lunch. SoCo in Great Barrington is one such place. Now you see all the camp counselors lined up to buy their ice cream there.

On another subject: The WAMC fund drive begins on Monday. It really does come down to this: the people who listen are the only ones who support the station. This is not a major state university (the overwhelming number of NPR-affiliated stations are university related). Those stations have massive bureaucracies behind them, so they really can’t fail. They also could never be as open to controversy and risk-taking as WAMC is because as universities, they get a lot of government money. They do good work, though, and if you listen, you should support them.

At WAMC, we have the freedom to do things no one else can, but there is no safety net. If we were to not make it during a single fund drive, the station would be bankrupt. WAMC has taken extraordinary steps to tighten up and balance our budget. The right-wing zealots get crazy around every fund drive and come out of the woodwork with their predictable drivel. They hate this newspaper, they hate the radio station, they hate Obama, and (I suspect) they hate themselves. But we are a community.

Together we have made WAMC. Together we will keep it or lose it. These are tough times. Some people can’t afford a hundred dollars, but they can squeeze out a five-dollar bill or a dollar. If the tens of thousands of people who listen at all times just put a few dollars toward this, we can’t be stopped. I would hate for this institution to remembered, as so many things are, in the past tense. We’re counting on you.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/8/11

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