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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Through the Country

Forgive the lack of recent updates. I made three separate sojourns into the countryside.

Two of them connected me with people whose existence I had almost literally forgotten about. The first drive into the country was to visit my Uncle Mike, cousin Nicole, and nephew Aloysius in Dansville. I was an ankle-biter the last time I saw any of them, and in fact I had never met my nephew at all.

The second drive was to the resort village of Ellicottville. Ellicottville is a fairly urbane little village, and it’s pretty rich for a small town cuddled up in the mountains. It had that hip, brick small store look to it, a bunch of recently-built condos, and one of the prettiest churches outside of the Buffalo area.

The third was out to some random stretch of road. A sentence like that is a way in which many horror movies begin, I know, but this drive was to buy a piece of pottery from a local small farm potter.

Ellicottville was definitely the prettiest of the three, and the most active. There were motorcyclists and bicyclists roving everywhere throughout the main road, and while the architecture was created in an old-fashioned way, it was cleaned up to give it a nice sheen.

I enjoyed going through the hills and looking at the sights and the local wildlife. At one point, we passed a shop that crafted iron sculptures, adding to the local color. The nicest thing about the drive was getting to know the wilderness once again. The mountains in New York seem bigger than I remembered – although I guess five years of seeing flatland made me forget what a mountain can look like. But this is the state I grew up in, and the state I knew as a kid. Not Manhattan or Brooklyn with the huge steel and glass pillars as far as the eye can see and the urban noise and clutter, but the peaceful, quiet wilderness and greenland.

I didn’t get to see much of the country in Illinois. What I saw was mainly on trips through Ohio and Michigan.

Hanging With Meatheads

I spent last Saturday hanging out at The Hop Inn in South Buffalo with Rob, Val, and the Meatheads. The team was throwing a fundraiser to earn its competition fees, and so I had to go and show my support while eating their offerings. It was a good Saturday, one of the very few genuinely good days which peeked out during an otherwise rainy April.

Far be it from me to bitch about an offering of free alcohol, but it was quite a shock to see that South Buffalo – roughneck central if there ever was one – seemed to be turning into a light beer neighborhood. The only beer offered at the cookout was Labatt Blue Lite. When I left, the thought of a light beer in South Buffalo was offensive enough to result in a brutal mocking and possibly a beating. But here were the Meatheads serving it as if it were the most casual thing in the world. Not being a fan of light beer, I switch to the boxed red wine after just a few drinks and stuck with it for the rest of the barbeque. But I was sure to ask Rob about this alcoholic neighborhood makeover.

“Is South Buffalo turning into a light beer neighborhood?” I asked incredulously.

“Yeah, it’s been going that way for the last few years,” Rob said. Call it a sign of the times. Years ago, South Buffalo was a holdout where bartenders would never have the gall to offer light beer options.

I tried to get to The Hop Inn early, as is my usual custom, but I didn’t. There’s no such thing as being fashionably early for some reason, and I was raised in such a way that I can’t stand tardiness and am unable to accept it in anyone, no matter how much of a habit it is for someone. But Buffalo travels at a more relaxed pace than most cities. When I got in a (fashionable) half hour late, things had just barely started. I drank a little and spent a bit of time reuniting with some long lost folks from my childhood, most notably Rob’s cousin Sean, whom I had not seen in well over a decade. Even so, Sean and me clearly remembered each other.

Rob explained to me that the meat the Meatheads were cooking for the cookout wasn’t up to their competition quality because in competition, everything had to be done to exacting standards and in a narrower time frame. When I sampled their pulled pork, baked beans, and chicken, I wondered how the hell every barbeque team in the southtowns wasn’t scared to death of these guys. Here they were, freely admitting they weren’t doing their best work, and yet still making some of the most succulent chicken breasts I’ve ever eaten.

I was annoyed at the obvious neglect of Hopkins Street. In Chicago, a famous street among cyclists was Lake Street. It was known primarily as one of the streets to be avoided at absolutely all costs. The traffic wasn’t the instigation for that line of thinking; the potholes were. The traffic was actually very manageable, probably because no one wanted to drive on Lake. Certainly no one wanted to ever bike on Lake; the L ran its Green Line directly overhead while you dodged and weaved around a series of potholes which looked and felt like a field of detonated land mines. Lake could rip the treads off a Sherman.

But that’s the only problem I had with an otherwise perfect day in which I was once again welcomed back to South Buffalo with open arms. Once again, I spent a large chunk of time telling everyone how the economy in Chicago tanked. I expect that will soon become my new catch phrase.