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This blog is only a small amount of what I choose to write about my personal thoughts and ideas. The real fireworks occur in the more traditional longhand medium, which is a habit I had dabbled with in the past but only really picked up last year after a particularly egregious oversight by people I know. It proved to be a wonderful release until… Well, the reservoir wasn’t even close to dry, but it was starting to crumble under the dead weight of everything: My rapidly fading emotions, my draining will to keep writing, my general loneliness, boredom, and frustrations, and my suicidal contemplation being stronger than ever before. I randomly quit journaling, and when I finally decided to take it up again, it was more with the forced willingness of a blocked creator on a deadline than through any wont on my part. It reflected in my suddenly bare writing style.

It would take a hell of a spark to get me going again. I felt parts of it begin to light up as I visited Friendship Presbyterian Church to see… Well, friends in Chicago during my layover, and that night while watching the entire lunar eclipse from parts of Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. And I felt it as my bus glided through the vast expanse of the Nashville city limits and along the front of the skyline in the early hours of the morning.

Then came my first night in Nashville, with Christi meeting me on the West End after I had spent a fairly invigorating day wandering around the city.

“Did you get to the waterfront?” she asked.

“No, I didn’t make it down that far,” I said.

And so with that, Christi decided she had to show off the waterfront, 10 PM time and the fact that I was still fatigued from three or four different Greyhound rides be damned. Christi told me about the pedestrian walkway that crossed the Cumberland River, but confessed that she didn’t know where it began. We ended up parked a brisk ten-minute walk from it, with Christi saying we would simplify our activities because it was so late: Walk to the bridge, see if we could find the entrance, and return to the car. But it had been a good long time since the last time we had seen each other, and so at the start of our walk, everything that happened over the past years tumbled out. Christi is a spectacular ranter, and before the car was parked, her mouth was flying at such a high level that it was discovered and renamed by the Chinese space program. That got me going, and as we shared our dark thoughts on taboo subjects with each other, our quick 20-minute walk to find the trail to the pedestrian bridge morphed into a 120-minute walk across the bridge and a lap around the football stadium. My feet were throbbing by the time we got back to the car, but that didn’t matter to me.

Something about that moment had lit me right back up. One of the many reasons that Christi and I are friends is because Christi is about the most unshockable person I’ve ever known. She’s willing to take interest in and run with ideas that even the most open-minded people won’t let themselves so much as even think, and that frees me up to speak and act without the burdens of any of those ridiculous masks we force ourselves into when we need to function around even small crowds. The very idea of normality is something which drives us both into convulsions, especially if we’ve had to go past our limits pretending to be that way.

That was just the beginning. One of odd aspects of this mental recharge was that a lot of it also happened while I did the typical Western New York NHL playoffs routine: Outside on the front porch, screen door shut, drinking all the beer within reach while prattling on about the hockey playoff game blaring audibly in the background. Except, this being Tennessee and no one watches hockey in Tennessee, we replaced the hockey game with whatever random offering of music happened to be laying around in the CD case. We picked the music pretty much in round robin fashion, and I didn’t pass up a chance to listen to August and Everything After for the first time since, well, possibly ever.

After a couple of days, I finally felt that familiar urge to write again. When I did, my journal entries looked like they had the creativity and congealed energy and focus of my original journal entries. Words started coming easier, and instead of writing down handfuls of near-non-sentences about the daily sequence, I started writing down the same thoughts and feelings that I believed needed to be dug up by the local archeologist 500 years after I’ve been dead. I’m starting to wonder if I should take the time and effort to try to trick the archeologist who digs me up at that point into thinking I was some sort of cloned dinosaur, or maybe one of the world’s great superdictators.

Of course, the practical downside of everything is that I haven’t been able to just sit down and machine-gun blog entries the way I want to. That’s just the sort of shit that can happen when your computer craps out on you. (And let there be no mistake about it – it’s goddamn junk these days. It’s an iMac, but it’s an iMac from 2008, and an Apple from 2008 is practically ash by this point.) Hell, I wasn’t able to blog at all in Nashville. So now I have to sort through all of my newly-collected memories and decide how to consolidate them, or decide which ones I think are odd enough to jump from my journal page to whatever computer screen I happen to be staring at. No matter what happens, though, one thing about my writing will always be the same: I’m still at my very best whenever I take the Hemingway approach to my work.

The Nashville Sound

The Nashville Sound

Johnny Cash became a superstar in Nashville. He’s technically considered a country singer, which means music aficionados are likely to file him under the “YEE-HAW!!!” compartments of their brains right along with John Wayne’s dead brand of American patriotism and Terry Bradshaw. Cash, though, had a powerful flair for lyrics. He spoke to the darkest corners of the soul; the areas we’re forced to deny the existence of whenever we put on our brave faces because social protocol demands we suck it up and move on. He made a career of expressing in music and lyric form the ways we’ve all felt at our loneliest and most helpless, and in doing so he turned into a transcendent singer whose work was felt by everyone, whether or not they hated country music.

Nashville itself, of course, has a long and storied history in music. Elvis Presley is such a popular figure there that his favorite sandwich can be bought at Johnny Cash’s museum. It’s even nicknamed The Music City! With a nick and a reputation like that, you would expect an explosive variety of music to be available on the local radio stations, with a load of country stations leading the charge. But when I turned on my small shortwave radio in my first morning in Nashville and started channel surfing, it was very surprising and a little disturbing to find station after station of those great dregs of music: Christian music. Constant clicking of that whacked-out, balls-to-the-wall, fire and brimstone variety of preaching. God is good; heaven will be awesome; you’re all going to hell; the end times are here and the atheists are all going to have the planet to themselves after we all get raptured.

No wonder everyone makes fun of country music. There are so many Christian radio stations in Nashville that some bigshot travel writer probably listened to all the Christian stations, mistook the music for country, and launched a satirical stereotype worthy of Mencken or Twain. Staying as a guest in the home of my good friend Christi, the first thing I asked her that morning – besides “How the hell does this coffee machine work?” – was about whether or not there were any radio stations in Nashville that weren’t screaming about the holy light and the greatness of Jay-zuz! in orgasmic overtones. She told me that she noticed that too, and that a lot of those Christian stations were going to either tread on eggshells or scare the fear of the Christian God into you.

Mindboggling is the word for this. To listen to radio in Nashville is to conclude that residents are either all crackers or religious fanatics and that no one in the city could possibly be a fan of jazz, blues, hip hop, or classic rock. The Law of Averages alone means the demographics of Nashville probably include people who like all those things. And don’t misread me here – they’ll definitely include people who love Christian music and country music too, but probably not 12 goddamned stations of it.

It’s weird to think there are 12 different demographics of people who would listen to Christian music at all. We like to toss things into broadly generalized categories and lament about how they’re all the same. This sentiment, however, doesn’t actually hold true. All those similar products are specifically made to appeal to that general audience in a different way. But, little obedient Christian as I once was, I really have never detected a difference in Christian-based mass media. All of the Christian music I’ve heard boils down to the same watered-down message: God loves you so much that he killed his own kid in order to undo a nefarious plan enacted by his arch-foe centuries in the past. They all emphasize the same Bible stories and the fact that this God character loves us and wants us to be happy without the use of beer. It’s a very straightforward message, always told in an equally straightforward manner. So how are 12 Christian music stations able to divvy up a fanbase in a city as large and diverse as Nashville and still be in business? Especially when they have to compete against all the real country music stations?

This is just… Odd. I had heard all the stories about what things were like in the South, along the Bible Belt, of course. Hell, this isn’t even my first time traveling through the South. I had traveled to St. Louis – and I am, in fact, in St. Louis again, writing this post from the Illinois side – and been to the very tip of the South, New Orleans, on the Gulf Coast. But there are people who could build a case against me ever visiting the South at all with a travel itinerary that looks like that – St. Louis is only arguably a Southern city, and New Orleans is an odd little hotbed of hedonism which is also the headquarters of New France and a dominantly Catholic city in Southern Baptist Jesusland. While Nashville fits all possible descriptions of a large city, it also fits all possible descriptions of being a Southern city. Right down to a glorification of Nathan Bedford Forest, the Confederate General who also just happened to be the founder of the Ku Klux Klan once the Civil War was over. And yes, that oh-so-slight little blotch on Forest’s resume is under gloss so thick that it gets buried altogether.

So there I was, having rejected Christianity in nearly as complete a way as can be done, being told by weird voices in my radio that I can go to hell. And there I also was, thinking the same thing about that as I’ve now been thinking for the last ten years. I don’t know whether to laugh at the absurdity of this whole situation or cry about being in it. I don’t know if I should be bemused or disturbed. I can, however, say this: Nashville was otherwise such a fun place to be that it wasn’t able to get into my head.

Cool Things You Didn’t Know About Buffalo

Cool Things You Didn’t Know About Buffalo

A visitor to Buffalo might wonder why people who live here play up our reputation, but while this city managed to turn itself into a punchline about chicken wings, snow, and football over the last several decades, there are a significant number of bragging rights we can lay claim to that hold up against even the biggest cities. If you have any trouble believing that we were once important, take a look at this list of firsts and inventions and people Buffalo produced.

1 – The internal pacemaker was invented here.

2 – Ironically, so was the air conditioner.

3 – And the windshield wiper.

4 – The roll-top desk and grain elevator were invented here too.

5 – The first American jet planes were manufactured in Buffalo in a plant on Main Street.

6 – Buffalo was the first city in the country with street lights.

7 – Presumably street lights powered by alternating current, which was invented by Nikola Tesla, whose lab was in Niagara Falls. Buffalo was also the first city in the world to use an electrified streetcar system.

8 – The first facility in the world dedicated strictly to cancer research opened in Buffalo.

9 – So did the first daycare center anywhere.

10 – At the turn of the 20th Century, 60 millionaires lived in Buffalo, which was more than any other city in the world. They all lived along a stretch of Delaware Avenue which is still called Millionaire’s Row. The houses still exist, but have mostly been outfitted as office spaces now.

11 – Buffalo is one of only three cities outside of Washington, DC to have hosted a presidential inauguration. The other two are New York City and Philadelphia, and they get asterisks on account of Washington having not been built yet.

12 – Eusebio, an honest-to-god, bona fide soccer legend whose name can frequently be heard accompanying Pele and Diego Maradona in the same admiring sigh, played the final few games of his career for the Major Indoor Soccer League’s Buffalo Stallions.

13 – Buffalo was the final stop of the Underground Railroad.

14 – Along those same lines, the first major organization for the equal rights of black people was the Niagara Movement. Their organizational meeting was held in Buffalo, although Fort Erie – right across the Niagara River from Buffalo – hosted the official founding meeting. They disbanded in 1910, but were the inspiration for the NAACP.

15 – We all know a lot of American journalism sucks, but two of the few truly respected journalists in the country, Tim Russert and Wolf Blitzer, are products of the University of Buffalo.

16 – Buffalo has produced more American professional hockey players than any other city in the United States, and the NHL has its widest audience in the city.

17 – Buffalo is the smallest city in the world to have its own subway.

18 – Louise Blanchard Bethune, the first American woman to have worked as a professional architect, lived in Buffalo. The city’s Hotel Lafayette is considered her greatest masterpiece.

19 – The Guaranty Building is the world’s oldest skyscraper.

20 – Prominent writers who have lived in Buffalo include Mark Twain, Matt Taibbi, Joyce Carol Oates, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gregg Easterbrook. The first black novelist in the country, William Wells Brown, also lived here.

21 – Christine Baranski, David Boreanez, Kyle Chandler, William Fichtner, Wendie Malick, Nancy Marchand, Chad Michael Murray, and William Sadler have called Buffalo home at some point.

22 – The first skin graft took place here in 1854.

23 – American Express founder William Fargo was once Buffalo’s Mayor.

24 – Buffalo established the first free school system in New York. (In your face, NYC!)

25 – The first railway suspension bridge in the world opened in 1855. Over Niagara Gorge.

26 – The cargo barge was created here. It turned Tonawanda and North Tonawanda into world-leading lumber ports.

27 – Both the inventor of the electric chair and the first man to be executed in the electric chair were from Buffalo. I’m not saying this to advocate the death penalty – in fact, I’m against it. But this was pretty noteworthy.

28 – The first high-speed railroad operated between New York City and Buffalo.

29 – Dog lovers, your dog licenses were first enacted by a law in Buffalo.

30 – John Nepomucene Neumann, the first canonized Saint from the United States, worked in Tonawanda. Nelson Baker, a Buffalo native, is currently a candidate for Sainthood. He set up homes for infants, unwed mothers, a boys’ orphanage, a boys’ protectory, a nurses’ home, a hospital, a basilica, a grade school, and a high school, doing work mostly in Lackawanna. He is currently designated as Venerable and, last I heard, was in the Beatification process. Our Lady of Victory Basilica is a renowned destination for devoted Catholics.

31 – Nelson Baker also invented direct mail advertising. I’m sure thoughts on this vary.

32 – The first wind tunnel was developed right across the street from Buffalo’s airport.

The Battle of the People: The CTA vs. the NFTA

The Battle of the People: The CTA vs. the NFTA

Well-known fact about myself: I hate driving. I can do it and I’m perfectly willing to do it; it’s just that I prefer to have other people do it for me. Unfortunately, since I’m not a rich person with a personal limousine, I don’t have ready access to anyone with a car who can drive me anywhere whenever I want to be someplace else. That’s where public transportation comes in. There are whole citywide networks of buses and subways which are conveniently there to ferry me from Point A to Point B in the event that a ride isn’t available.

Cities don’t share public transportation systems, though, and that leads to that interesting phenomenon that some cities run better transit systems than others. I’ve resorted to getting around on public transportation in Buffalo and Chicago, so now it’s time to compare these systems to each other to find out which one is better. Chicago has the Chicago Transit Authority – the CTA – a large system of buses that goes with its legendary rail system, the L. No slouch in taking people across town itself, Buffalo responds with another system of busses and a lightrail – the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority, better known as just the NFTA. So let’s do this! The CTA vs. the NFTA. One day, I’ll learn.

Chicago has about 2.7 million people. Buffalo has around 250,000. Logistically, you’re not going to create a public transit system for Buffalo which is the size of the CTA. So I guess the question here is how far someone would have to walk in order to reach the bus or subway stop. If you were walking through Chicago, even in the parts closer to the edge of the city, bus stops never seem that far away. Usually about four blocks is considered a long walk to a bus stop, and the walk to an L station won’t be so bad either. However, there are a lot of bus routes that force you to transfer just miles before the edge of the city. (42 Western, ahem.) These can be a pain because the connector busses to the city limits don’t come around quite as often. In Buffalo, four blocks is usually considered a close walk, unless you’re downtown, where the busses seemingly have stops on every block the closer they get to City Hall, even though they don’t need to be there. Routes in both cities can take upwards of an hour to get where they’re going, but Chicago’s sensical grid layout means it’s easy to figure out what bus goes where. Buffalo’s busses go in squiggly patterns designed to cover the most space they possibly can, and if you end up in a place you don’t know, it can be hell to orient yourself and find out how to get where you need to be. Also, Buffalo’s subway is a single line – a straight shot up Main Street from Harborcenter to UB South, and there was never any courtesy expansion across the Buffalo River so the people in South Buffalo and the First Ward could get on the lightrail every ten minutes.
The CTA. The NFTA is not only smaller and less convenient in terms of relative size, but they’re going to keep making service cutbacks until they don’t exist anymore and South Buffalo secedes from the rest of the city just so it can function. Also, there are a few spots where the CTA is good about taking people into the suburbs: Oak Park, Cicero, Skokie, and Evanston are all touching L lines. Do NOT expect the NFTA to take you very far into the suburbs, especially if you live in the southtowns.

I’ve read numerous long essays by prominent economists, and let me tell you this: If privatization is supposed to drag prices down, the CTA fucking blew it. They blew it big. The only thing the privatization of the CTA resulted in was jacked-up fares and an inconvenient credit system with which turnstiles are known to frequently refuse to let customers through while still draining their accounts. Maybe it would help if the CTA had some real competition, but competition or not, all that extra convenience and efficiency which is supposed to follow privatization didn’t come about, and now Chicago is stuck paying fares which would disgust people in Manhattan. The prices of the unlimited passes in particular have skyrocketed over the last few years: The one-day pass is $10 now, double what it was when I lived there. The two-day pass was cut entirely. The single-fare rides on the bus and L are different, too. One stop on the L? That’ll be $2.25. A stop on the bus is merely two dollars. The NFTA doesn’t have quite such a finicky system; both bus and subway rides are two dollars for one. The NFTA charges half the CTA’s price for a day pass, three-fourths of the CTA’s price for a monthly pass, and anyone under 17 years old can get a pass for the entire summer for $60. The closest price comparison is with the seven-day passes, which run $28 for the CTA and $25 for the NFTA.
Lesser is better. The NFTA wins this round. You can argue that the CTA charges more because Chicago is a bigger city with a bigger transit system, but with economic inequalities in both cities and the liberal ways they both cut routes, people who regularly ride public transit don’t give a flying shit about bang for the buck as long as they can get where they need to go. So all those economic arguments in favor of the CTA are pretty much meaningless when someone has limited funds.

Punctuality and Frequency
Transport is worthless is you can’t get where you’re going on time. Fortunately, the NFTA is pretty good about showing up when it’s supposed to. That’s something even the most adamant CTA booster admits the CTA royally sucks at. The thing about the CTA’s little punctuality problem, though, is that where it flounders in ETA, it more than makes up for in frequency. CTA busses are schedules to run every 10-15 minutes, so if you end up getting to your stop a little late, all that’s required is for you to stand around waiting for the next bus. The L can be a little bit worse, but not by enough to cause concern if you’re not already running late. As for the NFTA, it’s in the habit of forgetting there are people who have places to go. Busses in the most packed areas of the city get sent around twice an hour, and it only goes down from there. If you’re in a suburb with a bus stop, don’t expect to ever see another bus come after mid-afternoon. The subway is great at running on point, but the problem there is that the points have a habit of firing upward if there’s construction and a track gets shut down. If things are running smoothly, trains come by in ten minutes. On one track, that time doubles.
The CTA by 500 miles. The NFTA has it in for the city, especially if you live anywhere south of the Buffalo River. Anyone who’s lived in Buffalo for awhile has either never been to South Buffalo or is well aware of the weird on/off cultural flip that happens when they get there. South Buffalo is wildly different from the rest of the city – it’s sort of a localized version of Texas in that getting there is like landing on a whole different planet where the people have only a general sense of what happens anywhere else in the city, although they claim to be among Buffalo’s most fervent boosters. Furthermore, the NFTA has taken a beating from intellectual types who blame it for being one of the causes of the nasty racial rift that exists in Buffalo. And although the racial divide is starting to disappear (however slowly, but it’s still progress), no one is giving the NFTA any credit for it.

Let’s face it, public transportation can be a hostile environment. Not violent, mind you; just very unpleasant. There can be any manner of unidentifiable liquids and unseemly substances on public transportation, and there are times when it can smell godawful. The CTA claims that it cleans out its busses and train cars twice a month with high-powered chemicals. Of course, given the volume of people who use the CTA on a daily basis, chances are you don’t know the difference by the time you get on the bus or into the L car. The NFTA busses and train cars are infinitely cleaner; you still wouldn’t eat anything off their floors, but you’ll rarely have to hold your nose and endure an offensive odor. Furthermore, the NFTA is a lot nicer to look at, bad color schematics and general designs aside.
The NFTA. I’ll grant that part of the reason why is because the NFTA goes out of its way to keep people from riding its busses or lightrail line, but clean is clean.

Cool Bands Named After
The CTA ended up inspiring the name of a band called Chicago Transit Authority, which shortened its name to Chicago after the real CTA threatened a lawsuit. Describing themselves as a “rock and roll band with horns,” Chicago proceeded to sell over 40 million units in the United States alone. Their infectious mix of rock, jazz, and rhythm and blues music resulted in earworm singles like “Saturday in the Park,” “25 or 6 to 4,” and “I’m a Man.” The NFTA, according to a Google search, doesn’t have any musicians at all named after it. You could maybe attribute Buffalo Springfield to a band named after a city, but that’s pushing it.
The CTA. After all, Chicago took listeners to the park one Saturday. With the NFTA, you’ll never get to the park.

This contest is decided in favor of the CTA, and since I basically knocked this out in a few days on a loose deadline, I should also mention it would have been far more one-sided had I taken my time. While the NFTA certainly has its fans… Aw, hell, I can’t even finish that sentence with a straight face. The NFTA doesn’t have any fans. Even the Buffalo government hates it. And yes, I complained frequently about the CTA; but I never forgot how much worse it could get, either.

City Service Review: Buffalo and Erie County Public Library

City Service Review: Buffalo and Erie County Public Library

It’s a pretty well-known statistic in Buffalo that the city has a high school graduation rate just north of 50 percent, and that this percentage – which only popped up in the last several years – actually marked an improvement over previous decades where the graduation rate notched under the halfway mark. Some one in every three adults in Buffalo can’t read above a third grade level. It’s tough to lay the blame for Buffalo’s literacy rate at the feet of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library system, though. It’s not perfect, not by a long shot, but it does what it can in a place which tries to shut itself in.

The main branch of the system – which is simply referred to as the Central Library – is located in Downtown Buffalo, just a block to the east of the lightrail line at Lafayette Square. You can’t miss the building, although that’s more because of its location than by any architectural merit – the damn place looks like some kind of extra cardboard scenery out of a Star Wars movie. The current building first opened in 1963 as another one of those doomed economic redevelopment and urbanization projects that decimated Downtown Buffalo in ways which would cause wet dreams for Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay. It replaced a building by Cyrus LW Eidlitz from 1887 which fit Buffalo’s old architectural ethos like a glove and came off like a European castle/Greek-style church hybrid. Using only pictures, the old building and the current one look to be around the same size. Of course, the new building, being of that disastrous “modernist” style, floats above Ellicott Street, connecting the front entrance at Lafayette Square with a back end on the Ellicott/Broadway/William intersection. While it spans two blocks, it also covers only two floors – as opposed to three or four in the old building – and that’s only two if you include some new bathrooms and office space on the second floor. I wonder what happened to all the books that used to be up there.

Yeah, there are only books on the first floor. Fables Cafe and the fiction section are in the front half, and the back half has the nonfiction section and media room and computers… Hell, let’s just shorten everything by saying the back has most of what makes the Central Library the CENTRAL LIBRARY. The cafe is a nice little addition, but I’ve never eaten any of the food outside of a couple of snacks and cups of coffee, which were pretty good. Since a lot of people like to read and write at cafes, the library is a perfect atmosphere for one, when I’m finished with my weekly librarying, I prefer to visit Perks Cafe, a local indie joint which is right across the street.

The Central Library has some nice little special sections which make it stand out. One is The Center for Afro-American History and Research, and if you need to do research on African-American history in Buffalo, this is where you want to go to do it. Central Library has managed to beat the institutionalized racism you see everywhere in the city and provides the entire Western New York region with the largest African-American history resource center around. Books, microfilm, and records of prominent organizations – like the Urban League – are in there. Central Library also includes a collection for disabled people – large-print books, audiobooks, radio receivers, and descriptive videos are floating through circulation too. The Grosvenor Room is the home of the local genealogical society as well as a bountiful harvest of stuff regarding local history. And the Mark Twain Room is an exhibition room featuring Twain’s original handwritten manuscript for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If you’re wondering how Buffalo, of all places, managed to get ahold of a literary treasure of that magnitude, then you have to understand that Buffalo was once a far more important city than it is now. Twain was briefly a member of the Young Men’s Association, which was what was around just before the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library was established. Twain personally donated the manuscript himself in 1885, and was a Buffalo resident at one time when he spent a couple years with one of the local newspapers.

If you want to borrow a book, you get three weeks. CD’s and movies are weeklongs. You can order items and make reservations, but the library charges for those services for some reason. Can’t say I know why. This is a habit which only cropped up in the last few years – they used to do it for free. Now it costs a buck per item. The obvious tradeoff here, though, is the fact that there is a copy of pretty much everything you can name floating around through the system somewhere. The library has never failed to deliver something I asked for. Still, the library grants you a charge account of up to $10 before you’re not allowed to do anything anymore, and that’s between fines and requests, and if you make a lot of requests, that $10 compilation is going to arrive quickly. The requests I made were $1 each.

There are a lot of interesting and informative events that happen right in the center of the building, which isn’t some special event room of its own. It’s literally right out in the middle for everything, for all to see, making it convenient for people to just stop off for a few minutes to listen to the lecture or watch the video. A lot of clubs meet there, and there are tax classes and computer classes.

The only problem you’re likely to have with the services is that the system runs entirely on a self-checkout. The librarians will perform renewals and take returns, but they’re not allowed to check your swag out for you. The self-checkouts can be a major pain in the ass, too: You would be amazed how easily the computers make checkout errors. Sure, it’s usually no problem if you’re placing one item on the checkout pad, but any more than that and there’s a 50/50 shot of something not reading right. That means you have to keep on scanning it until it does read the right way. Once you’re trying to check out anything over four or five items, chances of an error shoot up to nearly 100 percent, and you end up having to separate everything anyway. It would be a lot less tedious to just have the librarian get it out of the way quickly.

As far as the Central Library building goes, it’s bright and quiet, but I can’t emphasize this enough: Stay the hell out of the first floor bathrooms. Use the recently-remodeled bathrooms on the second floor. Not only are they bigger and better-working, but in the first floor bathrooms, illicit things tend to happen. If you need the one stall offered, there’s likely to be someone in it shooting heroin or snorting cocaine. Sketchy characters drift in and out, and while they are most likely to leave you alone, it’s really not a scene you would want to be around in case something goes wrong.

The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library seems to have changed quite a bit in my absence – the children’s section is a lot smaller, the movie and music sections were condensed and consolidated, the computer policies changed, and the second floor is basically nonexistent – but it’s still around for people with reading habits. Or the many people who would be best off developing them.

Culture Shock: What My Buffalo-to-Chicago Move was Originally Like

Culture Shock: What My Buffalo-to-Chicago Move was Originally Like

I moved to Chicago years ago, and in many ways it became more a home to me than Buffalo ever was. Now, since I’m attempting another inter-city move in a month, here is a list of things I noticed upon moving from Buffalo to Chicago that I never quite adjusted to:

Pizza and Wings don’t go Together
It’s not fair to expect every city on the planet to weave chicken wings into the culture like Buffalo has, but growing up in Buffalo, it does seem fair to expect wings to be the tasty accompaniment to a handful of particular dishes. Namely, pizza. In Buffalo, it’s ubiquitous to pick up the phone, speed-dial your favorite pizzeria, and say you want a large pepperoni and a double hot wings. They know the request because you’re a regular customer and they’ve heard slight variations on the same order a million times in the past. We take the combination for granted so much that wherever we go, we expect our pizza with a side of wings and let our hosts know what terrible people they are if they forget the wings. When I arrived in Chicago and made friends who ordered pizza, though, it was a short flight to my realization that people there didn’t feel like the extra grease with chicken meat on the side was an essential side dish. Hell, even that’s overstating their importance – Chicagoans went about their pizza business like the pizza/wings combination didn’t exist. Fortunately, Chicago is so good at pizza that you won’t care after the initial shock wears off.

The Street Grid Makes Sense
Buffalo loves to advertise its status as America’s Best-Planned City. No less an authority than Frederick Law Olmsted said Buffalo was the best-planned city in the world, and Buffalo was planned in a radial pattern, which is extremely rare in the United States. I guess it would make sense that Olmsted and other old-school architects would think that, though; they didn’t live long enough to witness abominations like the HSBC Tower, Main Place Mall, the Buffalo Convention Center, and all those other buildings which wipe out the meticulously planned radial design. The Convention Center and Main Place Mall in particular are notorious for choking off parts of downtown which would otherwise be reached very easily from Buffalo City Hall if they weren’t sitting in the way. Compounding the architectural mistakes is a legion of one-way streets going in so many different directions that you would think the city had a deal with an oil company which would cause motorists to keep getting lost and having to buy more gas. Chicago’s layout only seemed confusing at first. Once someone explained the directional and numbering scheme to me, though, I never got truly lost again. Chicago’s blocks are blocks, and its streets mainly stick to one direction. True, some of them – like Clark Street – curve a little after awhile and slant, but generally, even with all the one-way streets – I guess some things are constant between cities – it was refreshingly easy to find my way around.

The directional system is very easy: Madison Street is the official north/south marker, while State Street marks east and west. The corner of Madison and State places you at 0/0 numerically, and numbers increase like normal in every direction. The further away from Madison and State you get, the higher the address number. Even-numbered addresses are on buildings on the north and west sides of their streets; and by a rigorous and time-consuming process of elimination, you’ve maybe concluded that south and east street sides have the odd addresses. One thing I find a little dumbfounding, though, is that State Street is the barrier between east and west. State Street gets cut off around Lincoln Park, and the east side ceases to exist.

The People Think Chicago has the Monopoly on the Word “Pop”
We get it: Using “pop” as our word for soda is a regional thing. We’re told that from birth. Chicago apparently missed the memo. If you’re from out of town, every use of “pop” as a way of referring to soda is accompanied by a wink, a smile, and the occasional elbow nudge as the Chicagoan who just used it explains to his guests that “pop” is the word they use for soda in Chicago. They seem to think they’re letting you in on the secret formula for Coca-Cola when they say it. Well, the thing about “pop” is that the region that uses it as a term for soda is fucking massive. In fact, according to The Huffington Post, a survey anyone can fill out on a site called, and Discover Magazine among many other sources, “pop” is absolutely dominant along the entire northern coastline from the Pacific coast – including Alaska – to western New York, except for a small spot in Wisconsin along the Lake Michigan coast. It changes to “soda” around Rochester, New York. The point where “pop” stops being used going south varies, but it drifts as far down as Oklahoma and changes to “coke” in the deep south. “Soda” actually seems to be the minority word for soda. Back to point, though; there’s no need for Chicagoans to cling to their use of “pop” like it’s some special identifying mark or secret handshake because everybody fucking knows what it is.

Chicago is a Hate Group for Ketchup
When you move to Chicago – or, hell, even if you’re just passing through it – you’ll be forced to try one of those seven-topping hot dogs that are so popular there, possibly at gunpoint. Your first thought upon glancing the Chicago-style hot dog for the first time will probably be along the lines of “how the hell do I eat this thing?” You’re not going to shove the whole thing into your mouth to bite down, since there’s too much between the onions, relish, peppers, pickle, celery salt, mustard, and tomatoes. (And the dog itself is, of course, made of beef; not just beef, but Vienna beef, and placed on a poppy seed bun, because any other beef on any other bun will toss the universe out of whack.) Your second thought may be of ketchup, but Chicagoans will recoil in horror at that thought. Hatred of ketchup is something known to unite Cubs fans and White Sox fans. The city tries to bully people about this; some hot dog places don’t even have ketchup available. Others just have assholes at the service counter who insult you to your face for putting ketchup on hot dogs.

Ketchup is treated much the same way you would treat asbestos. The fact that these people drown their french fries in ketchup instead of eating them with salt and vinegar and that mustard is a legal form of torture never seems to bother them. Meanwhile, Buffalo introduced a type of dog called the Texas Red Hot to the planet. Unlike the dicks who vend in Chicago, no one in Buffalo cares what goes on your Texas Red Hot, and long as you’re getting the dogs themselves at a place that makes them halfway decently. There are many of them; Louie’s has its fans, but Ted’s is the consensus place to find a good hot dog in Buffalo.

The Football Fans are Idiots
You would expect to find a sizable number of mouth-breathers among a fanbase which made Mike Ditka, the NFL’s response to Donald Trump, into their patron saint. That’s a good summary of Bears fans. These are fans who bitch if their team committed to something other than outmoded run-first football and growl a lot about “Bear weather,” a make-believe home field advantage offered by Soldier Field’s location alongside Lake Michigan and the blustery winds swirling in. On one hand, you can’t blame Bears fans for looking at the team’s incredible successes on the ground: An amazing nine titles, including a Super Bowl victory in the 1985 season, and a running back roll call of transcendents like Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange, Gale Sayers, and the immortal Walter Payton as well as locally memorable runners like Neal Anderson, Matt Forte, Beattie Feathers, and Rick Casares. On the other hand, Bears fans all still seem to believe this style amounts to some insurmountable advantage. They’ll talk up Bear weather as if no other team in the NFL plays in the cold. I would remind fans that it gets pretty damn cold in Buffalo too, and Bears fans, bless their tiny dino brains, tried to argue with me about it. They’ll insist you can’t pass in a Chicago winter, even though a certain outdoor team which plays in even worse weather than Chicago has spent the past two decades showing the Bears differently. Yeah, three of those FOUR Super Bowls the Green Bay Packers have reeled in were all led by Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and that fourth title was guided by another quarterback who plays with the kind of form that leads quarterbacks to the Hall.

And about those titles: That one I mentioned from 1985 happens to be the most recent of them, and fans dwell on it like it’s the only thing that matters. Granted, from everything I’ve gathered about that 1985 team, they were quite memorable, but no other fanbase lives in its past like this. Even the Bills fans old enough to still sing shoulda coulda wouldas about those four Super Bowls set the glory years aside once the current season starts. Deadspin’s Why Your Team Sucks football previews listed Chicago’s sports loyalties a few years ago and placed the 1985 Bears over the current Bears. It was accurate.

Summer is the Real Bad Season
To paraphrase Douglas Adams, Chicagoans honk on mightily about the pleasures of summer, but if Chicagoans knew the first thing about summer, they would also be able to think of at least 3268 places to spend it, and that’s just on the same latitude. The thing about living in Buffalo is that we have the lake effect. Lake Erie might bury us on a regular basis, but come the summer, it becomes an air conditioner which prevents the heat and humidity from becoming unbearable and keeping the city relatively dry, but giving us enough rain for all kinds of gardens to sprout. The summer temperature average in Buffalo is in the low 80’s, and we get an average of three days a year where the temperature hits 90. The city just broke a streak of below-90 days in the last month which was two years long. Buffalo has never had a 100 degree day. Although Chicagoans love to play up their city’s winter weather reputation, that won’t intimidate anyone who spent a long time living in another cold weather area. The summers, though, are like saunas. If they didn’t hit the high 90’s often, it certainly felt like they did, and the humidity frequently got so high that the fish in Lake Michigan didn’t have any trouble making breaks from the lake into cleaner waters. A school of fish taking a pleasant Sunday swim along Lake Shore Drive is capable of holding up traffic and endangering bicyclists. Motorists probably don’t want to get the guts of a splattered Great Lakes trout splattered on their windshields, just because fish guts don’t seem like the kind of thing that would come out very easily if you tried to wash them out with windshield wiper fluid.

Chicago’s Toughness is a Charade
If you move from a smaller city to a major 21st-Century megalopolis like Chicago, it’s only natural to feel a little overwhelmed at first, especially if the megalopolis in question has a reputation for drawing and quartering people. After awhile, though, it will become clear that the only reason Chicago has such a hard reputation is because the local media and frat megadouchebros running around on the Near North Side of the city are the ones who are saying it. You know those guys: Every Dylan and Chad in Lincoln Park or Wrigleyville who was raised in Evanston or North Barrington and is working corporate for six figures because of Daddy’s marketing connections believing they’re suddenly hard because they’re loud, keep getting way too drunk at Cubs games, and bought every worthless piece of junk with Al Capone’s face on it.

I had lived in Chicago around a month when I figured out the city had nothing to show me on the toughness front, but one incident that happened after a few years sticks out to me: Combos – yes, the snack – had released a list of the 50 manliest cities in America, and Chicago was number 48. The only reason I know this is because the local media raised an uproar about it. Naturally, it was mentioned every other page in the following day’s Redeye, and I seem to recall something from the Sun-Times as well. I’m not sure which is worse here: The fact that Chicagoans took an innocuous list written as a promotion by a snack food corporation seriously, or that they were actually offended by it. I could only imagine the reaction if someone brought it up in Buffalo: “Hey, did you hear Buffalo was (some number) on the Combos list of manliest cities?” “The Combos what list now?”

As a close cousin, Chicago is also too under-equipped and prissy to pass itself off as a true winter city as well. It’s a city which has, more than once, run out of its snow removal budget. If there’s heavy snowfall, anyone who can’t dig themselves out will starve to death because their neighbors aren’t going to sweep in and take up the duty themselves. The highest snowfall I experienced during my residency in Chicago was around 15 inches, and it was enough to keep people off the streets for days. People barely went outside, and it was incredible to walk around days later and see how many people didn’t even shovel their front stairs.

That Infuriating Inferiority Complex with New York City
If your sole reason for moving to Chicago from anywhere in upstate New York is to escape New York City’s shadow, don’t. Every now and then there’s lip service to Chicago being the better city – which it is, except the people there don’t seem to believe that themselves. Tell a Chicago native you’re from New York City and watch them light up like they’ve noticed you’re Batman. Seeing a city which holds New York City up to the light – especially one like Chicago – is a slap in the face to someone who came from a place which was very clear about an ethos and attitude toward NYC which said “you want to live in NYC so bad, go fucking live there. Or shut the fuck up about it before we run your ass out of town on a rail.” What the inferiority complex tells everyone is that New York City – with its impossible price ranges for everything, its legions of unaccomplished intellectual nitwits who believe they’re entitled to respect only by virtue of living there, and its upper class which takes every opportunity to flaunt its wealth to the lower classes – is something to be aspired to. I have some mixed feelings about my hometown, but I do still have enough pride in it to say: Chicago, you want to live in NYC so bad, go fucking live there.

You’re not a Real Buffalonian Until…

You’re not a Real Buffalonian Until…

1 – You’ve discovered how much more you like the wing joint on your corner than Anchor Bar.

2 – You’ve mispronounced the names of every suburb.

3 – You’ve vowed to never visit a Taco Bell again.

4 – You’ve closed a bar on Chippewa and gotten stuck there because the city’s 4 AM closing time just doesn’t jibe well with the NFTA shutting down at midnight.

5 – You’ve tried beef on weck with the horseradish fixin only to realize you hate horseradish.

6 – You’ve blown up your TV while trying to sit through one of Billy Fuccillo’s ads.

7 – On that note, you’ve learned to sing the entire “we buy silver, we buy gold” ditty but can’t remember what they’re advertising for.

8 – You’ve forgotten one of the Seven Wonders of the World is 45 minutes down the street.

9 – You’ve found yourself dug out of a snow drift, but you don’t know who did it because you were too busy digging someone else out.

10 – You’ve tried taking the Scajaquada to Delaware Park but ran the length of it because you couldn’t decide where to get off.

11 – You’ve thought about moving to North Carolina.

12 – You’ve had a drive to McKinley Mall backed up because there was a Bills game that day.

13 – You complain about the snow but are repulsed by the very thought of a snow-less Christmas or the pond hockey tournament being held indoors.

14 – You regularly shop and take day trips to Toronto but claim to hate it there.

15 – You’ve learned the hard way that TITS doesn’t mean what you think it means.

16 – You’ve been suckered in by Main Place Mall advertising itself as one of the area’s premier shopping destinations.

17 – You’ve become suspicious of anyone who says they’re from New York City.

18 – Someone from South Buffalo has tried to identify you by your parish.

19 – You have trouble remembering all the country’s national anthems but know the entire playlist on 97 Rock by heart.

20 – You tell someone where you went to high school only for them to ask you when it closed.

21 – You’ve received sponge candy as a wedding favor and given out beer instead of wine as a gift.

22 – Speaking of wine, you’ve discovered an appreciation of boxed wine.

23 – You’re open about a preference for Labatt Blue or Molson over Budweiser and Miller even though they’re pretty much the same things.

24 – You forgo the common driveway basketball hoop in favor of a driveway hockey net.


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