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Author Archives: Nicholas Croston

The Best of Chicago in Ten Years

The Best of Chicago in Ten Years

Seattle Weekly ran its Best of 2017 issue today. On the introductory page, they ran a piece predicting the future. What would the Best of Seattle be in 2027? I liked that idea and knew I had to rip it off. Here is the Best of Chicago in 2027.

Best News Story

Be honest: When Chicago’s street gangs, underground activist groups, and police colluded in 2024 because they were sick of getting abused by National Guard soldiers here by Donald Trump’s martial law edict, we thought it would be a tenuous alliance at best. They would barely get along, do just enough to fight back, and return to their prescribed places after everything was over, win or lose. But that didn’t happen! Everyone got along swimmingly, and the tide of the war turned as the Red Star Alliance smashed the Guard’s front lines on every street from Madison to 95th. They chased the Guard out for good with a quick and decisive victory against the Bronzeville Bulge, coming within a hair of killing Trump himself when he showed up to lead his henchmen in Bronzeville… And failing only because Trump boarded the first helicopter out when he realized that hey, war is dangerous.

After that, the Alliance stayed together. The violence and murder rate dropped instantly, and notoriously dangerous Chicago was suddenly one of America’s safest cities almost overnight. The Alliance’s quest to rebuild Chicago’s ruined neighborhoods has resulted in an influx of adult education centers, after school programs, and job services for anyone in need. But nothing they’ve done so far is on the level of what they’ve created this last year: A set of independent banks and credit unions which found a way to offer loans out to wannabe homeowners and wannabe business owners without any interest. Between that and the residents of the South Side now getting in touch with their creative dreams, the ruins of the Martial War are sparking back to life faster than anyone could have imagined.

Best Real Estate Story

Willis had to know that its attempt to buy out the name of the Sears Tower wasn’t going to go over very well. But the latest sale of the iconic building has finally placed it in the hands of an owner who has decided to restore the tower’s rightful name. The Sears Tower has finally returned to us, and the city has taken the extra step of declaring the name of the building – not the building itself, but its NAME – a historic landmark so this kind of thing never happens again. The city has also decided to punish Willis by attaching its title to the now-former Trump Tower, a move meant to be just as permanent so Willis has to keep its name on a building of shame.

Best Sports Story

In a year of great sports stories – Jonathan Toews retiring a champion after defeating old linemate Patrick Kane and the defending champion Buffalo Sabres in the Final, the Cubs winning their fourth Fall Classic since 2016 over the Seattle Mariners with a 109-win, all-time squad – the best sports story may be the most unusual sports story. When the Bears announced their move to San Diego two years ago, every NFL pundit imagined Chicago would be up in even more arms than the ones the Martial War was being fought with. But the people hardly raised a peep at all. A year went by with no football, then the McCaskeys announced they would bring Bear football back to Chicago!… Only, in an odd twist, “Bear football” meant an entire team of cardboard cutouts of the 1985 Bears. The cutouts stand out on Soldier Field every Sunday and do nothing. Despite that, though, the McCaskeys have made the Bears a financial success, charging $500 a ticket, and Soldier Field sells out every Sunday as the cutouts do nothing and the scoreboard slowly runs the score up to 46-10 over the course of a few hours.

This is more than a fanbase trying to compensate for a lost team. This is one of the most dedicated fanbases in the world apparently not even realizing the team is gone. The cardboard team is more than enough to placate them. A staffer went to one of these football “games” and tried to interview fans. When they pointed out that the team was literally made of cardboard, fans looked downright confused. When they said these Bears aren’t even playing football, the fans simply said that it was BEAR FOOTBALL, REAL FOOTBALL, not the pansy passing game they play today. It’s almost as if the fans don’t even know what football is.

Best L Line

The Circulator would be awesome if the city managed to get around to actually building it. At least there aren’t any construction delays, so that’s a plus.

Best Political Story

Rahm Emanuel is out of office. But what makes this story unique is that the people of Chicago VOTED him out! No other city has even done corrupt politics the way Chicago has done corrupt politics, and Chicago frequently responds to corrupt politics by opting for the evil they know over the evil they don’t know. Now, just to set the record straight, no one thinks the Buck O’Hare Scandal is why people got fed up with Emanuel. His crime was trying to get away with replacing the sweet relish on a Chicago dog with KETCHUP.

Best Art Exhibit

The Real Capone, which got the city to take a hard look at the reality of one of its mythologized heroes. Chicago sells so many little knickknacks with Capone’s face on it, you would think he was some great champion of the people, but Capone was a nasty character. This art exhibit showed the side of him that all the cheap souvenir shops don’t show you: The victims and their families, all in graphic detail. Several souvenir shops around the city have announced that they will cease selling Capone’s merchandise.

Best Architecture Story

Remember how the Sears Tower lost its title of the tallest building in the United States to Freedom Tower years ago on a silly antennae technicality? Well, as it turns out, Chicago was right to lose its mind over it. Several members of that committee were found to have taken bribes from the New York City Government to vote in Freedom Tower’s direction. The committee ended up being rather blatant about this; when a new bank tower in Tallahassee, Florida, which was clearly shorter than both ended up becoming the tallest building in the United States, we knew something was a little fishy. They all lost their chairs and the rightful place of the Sears Tower was restored.

Best Theater Story

The restoration of Englewood from its wholesale destruction during the Martial War has people across the country wondering if Englewood is going to turn into a new Harlem. The notoriously violent pre-War neighborhood has gotten a makeover and a hell of a reputation to go with it. The Halsted stretch of Englewood has given rise to a series of alternative theaters which run every kind of theater known to man. There’s an emphasis on African-American work, of course, with such iconic plays like A Raisin in the Sun and A Soldier’s Play, theater based on the books of Richard Wright and the life of Malcolm X, and poetry interpretations. Much is the district is painted up and down with colorful murals which would have been illegal before the War. The new Englewood Theater District has attracted so much attention that notable African-American playwrights such as Adrienne Kennedy and Ntozake Shange have recently announced their decisions to debut new, never-before-seen works there.

Best Pizza

Giordano’s. Eight years running.

Best Hot Dogs

Franks ‘N’ Dawgs. Nine years running.

Best Newspaper

The Chicago Tribune. They own this newspaper, after all.

Best Street

Milwaukee Avenue. The Milwaukee Strip between Ashland and California remains the city’s best-kept secret if you’re looking for unique, out-of-the-way swag.

Best Ice Cream

Margie’s. It’s probably just time to retire them from contention by now.

Best Donuts

Glazed and Infused. Not only excellent donuts, but they deserve credit for the low-key role they played in the Martial War. Alliance spies used to drop off phony donut deliveries from Glazed and Infused under the guise of gifts from those supportive of Donald Trump and the martial occupation. Guard troops loved the things so much and ate so many that they ended up slowing down and being easy pickings for the Alliance.

Best Cafe

Ipsento. Not so much for the coffee as for their version of London Fog.

Best Bar

The California Clipper, which also doubles as an excellent and popular music venue.

If There was a Classic TurboGrafx-16 Mini…

If There was a Classic TurboGrafx-16 Mini…

It was a year or two ago that Nintendo introduced a(nother) really cool idea: They released a miniature version of the old classic NES, the console that turned the middling toymaker into a worldwide phenomenon and household name. The game selection was programmed right into the console. You wouldn’t be able to buy new games for it, and the game selection was good, not great, but it was a great idea and fans wanted more. So in September, Nintendo is giving us more! They’re doing the same thing with their shining beacon to video games, the Super NES, and they’re doing it with a far more impressive game selection than the NES had. The NES edition had a strong selection; there were expected titles like Mario and Zelda, Metroid, Kirby’s Adventure, Ninja Gaiden, and Castlevania, and occasional odd choices like StarTropics, but there were a few clunkers as well: Mainly old arcade dime classics like Donkey Kong, Excitebike, and Ice Climber with a few love-or-hate games like Zelda II and Mario II and a couple of things there just to mess with gamers’ heads. The Super NES selection is far stronger. Provided the never-released-in-the-United States Star Fox II is as good as its reputation, the weakest game in the bunch will be Donkey Kong Country. Donkey Kong Country was a solid platformer which is overrated today due to the crime of not really being innovative enough.

This piece isn’t about that, though. My first video game console was NEC’s short-lived entry into the console market, the TurboGrafx-16. I loved the thing, and today it’s a rare console and a sought-after collector’s item. So being a former Turbo owner, I wonder that if NEC were to ever try this, what games should they include on the Turbo? Well, here’s my list of suggestions. I haven’t played all of these games – the Turbo was a difficult console to get games for even when it had something resembling a commercial peak, and today it’s just damn near impossible. But I know my video game history well, and will be making these suggestions based on a combination of personal experience and knowledge earned through my years as a game reviewer.

Bonk’s Adventure

The obvious first pick. Bonk’s Adventure was the game that gave the Turbo a name and face, especially in Japan, where the PC Engine (the Japanese version) outsold the Famicom (the Japanese NES). This is probably the most unheralded platformer ever made. The story of a caveman whose primary weapon is his oversized noggin, Bonk stretched the Turbo to its limits with a variety of ways to literally use Bonk’ head. The deep and diverse array of unique levels: One level takes Bonk through a dinosaur’s GAT track. Another places him in a cave with multiple layers. Others have him riding walking trees across desert quicksand, climbing a really tall tree, bouncing through the clouds, and entering a castle. The grand mother of Bonk’s level design, though, takes you on an incredible near-psychological trip up a waterfall and on a circulatory path where you’re made to watch Bonk’s friends get brainwashed before taking a trip to the moon. The little graphic quirks and touches of humor – a large dinosaur wears a baseball hat, Bonk climbs with his teeth – make this a fun and quite memorable play for those fortunate enough to have played it.

Bonk’s Revenge

The sequel to Bonk’s Adventure is a little disappointing. While Bonk’ Adventure took extra pains to stand out amidst other platformers, Bonk’s Revenge tears down the formula and rebuilds it with something much closer to a Mario game. Revenge more or less leads you down the primrose path, encouraging and rewarding players who stop and smell the roses, in the same fashion we’ve come to expect from any Shigeru Miyamoto game. Even the chikkun army – Bonk’s most prevalent foes from the first game – can be seen lazily lounging around in a lot of different places. So no, Bonk’s Revenge isn’t exactly blowing you through with white-knuckle intensity. What the new approach does, though, is open up each world to new exploration and allow gamers to create their own paths to the finish line. Bonk’s Revenge even introduces that great mechanic of exploratory games, flying, which allows gamers to do that… And it pulls it off. In most games where flying is an option, it’s a novelty which is there strictly to make getting through a level easier. Bonk’s Revenge, however, has the most fully realized usage of flight since Mario, which means there are alternate platforms, paths, and rewards waiting for gamers who take to the skies.

Neutopia

There are two rules of game design engraved in stone with lighting bolts from Mount Olympus:

1 – Never, ever, EVER try to be a blatant ripoff of another game.

2 – If you’re going to ignore rule number one, know what the fuck people loved about the game you’re ripping off.

The way Bonk’s Revenge played made it an affectionate shout-out to the Mario series. Where it was ultimately content to stand with its own persona, though, is where Neutopia goes a lot further with another cherished NES classic: The Legend of Zelda. Neutopia ignores that first rule up there, but it OWNS the second. Neutopia one-ups The Legend of Zelda in one way – it has four ginormous overworlds to explore as opposed to Zelda’s one – and the rest of the gameplay mechanics make it a smoother game overall. Am I saying it’s up to the level set by The Legend of Zelda? No. I’m just saying that its imitators don’t come any more solid than this.

Bloody Wolf

The requisite muscle commandos that had to appear everywhere back in the 1980’s were the stars of this game. Most reviewers seem to like comparing Bloody Wolf to Contra, but the closer comparison is Heavy Barrel. Bloody Wolf manages to do it all one better, though, because it has a little bit of weapon depth and comes with a fully fleshed-out story. There’s even a big unexpected twist right in the middle of the game! This is another game where the levels have more depth than games in similar molds are usually allowed; one level doesn’t end until you rescue all the hostages, another takes you on a wild raft ride,and yet another makes you stage a daring escape from enemy grounds with only a knife. The action is white-knuckle, intense, and never-ending. Rambo would be proud.

Cadash

Maybe you love RPG’s but just don’t have the time to sit down and enjoy a full-time epic adventure? Cadash is the game for you! Just take an ordinary side-scrolling action game and add a few common elements in RPG’s, and you’ll have a full-fledged RPG that can be played in its entirety in under three hours! Yes, there’s a story here, and there’s magic spells and a distinct fantasy world. But the thing is, even with some of the common RPG elements pulled out, you still have a tight and developed story in Cadash. That’s not to say Cadash goes all out with its RPG characterization, though – the combat is straight action and requires reflexes.

Ninja Spirit

Have you ever wondered what you would get if you threw Shinobi or Ninja Gaiden into a blender with a common shooting game? Ninja Spirit feels a lot like the result. Ninja Spirit’s level design isn’t going to challenge your perception of a good video game, but what that lacks, it makes up for in its ability to overwhelm you with bad guys every step. Although Ninja Spirit’s main character, Moonlight (yes, that’s his name), comes equipped with the standard ninja sword, he comes equipped with three other weapons too: The shurikens, plus a powerful and unlimited long range bomb and a sickle and chain. Only the sword there is short range. Plus he can pick up a pair of alter egos which are spirit clones that walk alongside him and can damage enemies just as easily. Fast and intense, Ninja Spirit is a sort of spiritual successor to the old-style arcade games where the object was less to win than to survive. The only difference is that Ninja Spirit has a level structure.

Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III

Yeah, I know: This game is unapologetically cutesy. Parasol Stars looks and plays like a colorful smorgasboard, but it comes off as a wild action/puzzler combination. Although this game is fun enough with a multi-layered combat system, thousands of hidden items to uncover, great bosses, and multitude of challenging levels and strange enemies, it really comes to life in its two-player mode. The second player can add a new element of both offense and danger because the extra help comes in handy, but players can stun one another. Parasol Stars may look like it’s for little kids, but don’t let the cutesiness fool you; it can be chaotic and reckless when you start to really get into it.

Air Zonk

Unfortunately, my Turbo library wasn’t a large one. My exposure to Air Zonk was limited to playing demo booth samples for extended lengths of time, but they did let me get a respectable length into the game. Air Zonk was Bonk reimagined as a futuristic shooter, and it was a great one. It had Bonk’s trademark quirkiness and humor to go with an unpredictable weapons system which included the ability to fly with friends who lanched missiles, and to combine with those friends.

Here are some games I haven’t been able to play, but which are often listed on underrated and underplayed classic game lists:

TV Sports Football

The Turbo wasn’t a good sports console; every sports game released on it lacked a license. This one seems to have been some sort of gaming breakthrough when it came to video game football, though. It featured up to five players and announcers calling every move.

The Legendary Axe Series

The first was the Adventure Game of the Year when it came out. People don’t seem to have taken quite as well to the second, but it has its fans.

The Crush Series

Alien Crush and Devil’s Crush are considered THE two greatest pinball video games ever made.

Military Madness

This was the awesome Advance Wars series before Advance Wars was a thought in its creators’ minds.

Blazing Lazers

Often seen first on lists of the Turbo’s best games, this is reputedly damn near the perfect shooter.

Gate of Thunder

Ditto, but on the TurboGrafx CD.

Splatterhouse

An action game, but it was the earliest forbearer of what is now the popular survival horror genre. Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and the others all owe a debt to the original Splatterhouse. This one received a couple of Genesis sequels before being rebooted decades later on the Playstation 3.

Y’s Book I and II

Another game in the mold of Zelda, but this one includes more traditional RPG elements and abilities, plus the Zelda shout-outs are a lot less obvious.  I HAVE played this, but only the Nintendo DS remake.

 

The Ultimate Buffalo Quiz Answers

The Ultimate Buffalo Quiz Answers

 

1 – How did the roof of the old Peace Bridge Arena collapse?

13 inches of snow fell onto the roof. Come on, you had to realize there wasn’t going to be another real answer to this question.

2 – Which famous building in Buffalo is 97% unoccupied?

Seneca Tower. And seeing as how this almost-40-story monstrosity is Buffalo’s tallest building, don’t you think that it’s MAYBE time to blow this ugly fucker to the ground? Those tenants who aren’t there may be trying to tell us something. Hell, let’s wipe out the Buffalo Convention Center and repurpose the base of Seneca Tower to be a new convention center. It would kill two birds with one stone.

3 – At the turn of the 20th Century, Buffalo was home to more millionaires than any other city in the world. Where did they live?

Delaware Avenue. Millionaire’s Row. Most of the old houses are still up, repurposed as office buildings, but walking along Delaware can give one the feeling of how important and powerful Buffalo once was.

4 – The first chancellor of the University of Buffalo later became President of the United States. He was a Buffalo native. Who was he?

Millard Fillmore. How many things in Buffalo are named after him?  He was a pretty active community guy for most of his life.

5 – Buffalo sports fans all know the Los Angeles Clippers started as the Buffalo Braves, but they’re actually the second NBA team originally founded in Buffalo. What was the first?

The Atlanta Hawks were created in 1945 as the (say it with me!) Buffalo Bisons. Unfortunately, since professional basketball back then was a crazy cousin sport, no one came out for them, and their owner was compelled to pack it in after 13 games. It was three more moves before they came to their permanent home in Atlanta, but it was their home just before Atlanta where they came of age: As the St. Louis Hawks, the team found its identity, became a marquee team, and won its only Championship.

For the record: Upstate New York has a rich and deep history with professional basketball. The oldest team in the league is the Sacramento Kings; they started out as the Seagram’s Factory team, eventually turning pro as the Rochester Royals and winning their only title in 1950. Sadly for them, they moved three times, and still haven’t found any sure footing; any time the NBA throws about ideas for new markets, the Kings are always among the first teams mentioned as a candidate to be moved. And further east, in Central New York, there were the Syracuse Nationals. They moved too, but their saga has a much happier ending than that of Upstate New York’s other teams. They’re the team credited with inventing the shot clock, and they won a title in 1954 before Syracuse was deemed too small to hold a professional team. But they needed just one move to find a permanent home, where they have since forged their identity, won a couple more titles, fielded some of the NBA’s greatest, and ultimately created themselves as a legend. They ply their trade today as the Philadelphia 76ers.

6 – How much snow did the Blizzard of 1977 actually drop?

Believe it or not, the blizzard which is the standard that all other blizzards are judged against dropped only 12 inches of snow. What Buffalo got smacked upside the head with, though, was a brutal windstorm that blew all the snow in from off Lake Erie, so all the snow over the lake landed in Buffalo and built right up, so those 12 inches turned into several feet.

7 – What well-known song by the Goo Goo Dolls (Buffalo natives) is about a street in Buffalo?

“Broadway.” John Rzeznik said so in order to drive confused non-Buffalonians from the idea that “Broadway” was about that famous street in New York City.

8 – Buffalo’s annual National Buffalo Wing Festival was started in 2002. It began because a character made a reference to visiting Buffalo for a fictional chicken wing festival in what 1999 movie?

Osmosis Jones. The second the term floated from Bill Murray’s mouth, everyone in the city knew the National Buffalo Wing Festival was a thing that had to happen. Even the critic who reviewed the movie asked right in his review, why on Earth don’t we have one of those things? Time from Osmosis Jones to inaugural festival was under three years – fast in any political sense, but hitting the hyperdrive by Buffalo standards. That should tell you everything about how strong the people of Buffalo felt about getting this off the ground.

9 – There have been several movies at least partially filmed in Buffalo but not set there. What movie was set there but filmed in the city which is geographically further away from it than any other city in the mainland United States?

Bruce Almighty took place in Buffalo. While some of the overhead and background shots were done in Buffalo to give the movie a more authentic look, all the ground action was shot in San Diego. What really sucks is that Jim Carrey is a well-known champion of Buffalo and a big star with pull. It seems to me that he let this happen.

Buffalo ‘66 is the defining Buffalo movie. It takes place in Buffalo. It was shot in Buffalo, with clear scenes involving both known landmarks and neighborhoods. It’s about an obsessive Bills fan. Hide in Plain Sight starred James Caan, who loved his experience in Buffalo so much that he promised to return for another movie shoot in the future – and kept that promise. Ironweed and Nobody’s Fool had nothing to do with Buffalo, but they took place in Upstate New York.

10 – What Bills quarterback retired and went on to a distinguished political career which eventually resulted in his receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

Jack Kemp served three terms in the House with three different districts in New York. He made a bid at the presidency in 1988 but didn’t get the nomination. Under George HW Bush, he served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and was Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996. Upon his death in 2009, Barack Obama posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Kemp is still the only quarterback to win a championship playing for the Buffalo Bills. He led the team to two AFL titles, in 1964 and 1965.

11 – “Buffalo” wings are so-named, at least nationally, because they were invented in Buffalo. (Though we refer to them as just wings, or chicken wings if we’re being formal.) What restaurant in Buffalo invented them?

Anchor Bar, and this is by far the easiest question I asked on this quiz. If you missed it, you’ll never be a true Buffalonian. And if you have anything to do with Buffalo Wild Wings, the people of Buffalo are legally obligated to kill you. We’re embarrassed and ashamed that there’s a Buffalo Wild Wings anywhere within a 50-mile radius of the city.

12 – What bona fide soccer legend played the final five games of his storied career in Buffalo?

Eusebio played his last five games for the Buffalo Stallions in 1980, scoring his final goal for them. His career saw him score 580 total goals in 575 appearances. He was the keystone of Portuegese club Benfica during most of his career. Benfica won the Premeira Liga 11 times and the 1962 European Cup with him on the roster.

13 – What kind of building structure does Buffalo have more of than any other city in the world?

Grain Elevators. After lots of debate about what the city should do with an enormous grain elevator collection which once fed the entire world, Buffalo has found some unique ways of repurposing them. Some have been turned into a tourist trap on the Buffalo River. Others have been turned into novelty paintings. Maybe there’s hope yet.

14 – Who is Sal?

I’ve got an old mule and her name is Sal                                                                                       15 years on the Erie Canal

There’s a restaurateur named Salvatore in Buffalo who frequently buys out unsold Bills tickets to get around the league’s blackout rules, but he’s Salvatore. The mule is Sal.

15 – What famous architect once referred to Buffalo as “the world’s best-planned city?”

Frederick Olmsted. Olmsted died in 1903, though, so he didn’t live through the abominations that are Main Place Mall and the Buffalo Convention Center, which are not only hideous but choke off traffic downtown.

16 – At the turn of the millennium, what was Buffalo dangerously close to hinging its entire economic development plan on?

A fishing store. Yes, this nearly happened. The Sabres had moved into their new arena and Memorial Auditorium was rotting, so someone asked why they shouldn’t repurpose it as a Bass Pro flagship. Bass Pro liked the idea. The great absurdity of the whole thing was how much emphasis got placed on the fact that a fake waterfall would be in the middle of the place. Because all the tourists who pass through Buffalo on their way to see a waterfall are going to do it in a fishing store, right?

17- What beloved building in Buffalo ended up starting a national trend for its particular kind of facility?

Pilot Field… NorthDunnCoke… Whatever the fucking name splashed on it now is. Everyone in my generation refuses to think of it as anything other than Pilot Field. Whatever the name, though, it impressed a lot of people. When the Baltimore Orioles noticed, they basically pointed at Pilot Field and said, “We want THAT, but bigger!” They even hired the same architecture firm to create it. Camden Yards sprung up, every other team suddenly wanted it, and MLB went retro.

18 – What condiment is extremely popular on Beef on Weck, even though most people hate it?

Horseradish. You can beg me that you love it, but I still won’t believe you.

19 – What sport has never been played professionally at First Niagara Center?

Figure skating, which is kind of funny given Buffalo’s proclivity toward winter. As for the others, let’s go down the list:

Roller hockey: The Buffalo Stampede played for two years… And they were good! They won their league championship in their first year in front of a crowd of 14,000 people! The team folded and relocated a couple of times only to return in 1999 as the Buffalo Wings.

Arena football: The Buffalo Destroyers ran from 1999 to 2003, when they were relocated to Columbus. They did about as good as the current Bills.

Lacrosse: The Buffalo Bandits were created in 1992 and have consistently been one of the most exciting and powerful teams in the National Lacrosse League. They’re currently the longest-running team in the league, and have four titles in nine final appearances to show for it. Lacrosse was seen as a weird sports diversion when the Bandits were formed; now they’re a popular and beloved civic institution Buffalonians can’t imagine the city without.

Indoor soccer: The Buffalo Blizzard played from 1992 to 2001. Although they weren’t great, they were usually respectable. They folded when their league, National Professional Soccer League II, called it quits.

20 – What unique marking helps distinguish the official flag of the City of Buffalo?

Lightning bolts. They come from the early 20th Century, when Buffalo was one of the first cities in the world powered by electricity and became known as the City of Light.

21 – What building did Ani DiFranco purchase and move Righteous Babe Records into to prevent it from being demolished?

Asbury Delaware United Methodist Church. DiFranco herself seems to feel less one way and the other about Buffalo, though. She moved to New Orleans a long time ago.

22 – What makes the NFTA Lightrail unique?

All of the above. The rail was supposed to run to UB North, but it only got to UB South by the time it opened. The city said fuck it and runs it anyway.

The Ultimate Buffalo Quiz

The Ultimate Buffalo Quiz

I recently took an online quiz to test my Buffalo-ness through the local slang language. Of course, I passed, but I also had a major issue with the test: It’s virtually impossible to fail it. Each question had three answers, and two of them would be obvious elimination fodder.

That was a little upsetting. The thing with spending as much time as I have in Buffalo is that you learn that, for better and worse, the city never really leaves you. It was a blow to my pride to end up acing something that could so easily be aced by any onlooker from Seattle who was paying attention. So I came up with a simple solution: It was time to create my own quiz. The Ultimate Buffalo Quiz! Let’s separate the Nickel City urbanites from the pretenders and weed out who the real expats are. And I want to make this sucker as difficult as possible. I’m going to include things that even longtime Buffalo residents probably shouldn’t be expected to know.

1 – How did the roof of the old Peace Bridge Arena collapse?

  1. The whole place got in the way of a speeding tornado.
  2. 13 inches of snow fell onto the roof.
  3. Basic rust in a rainy July after being left unattended for too long.
  4. Poor architecture.

2 – Which famous building in Buffalo is 97% unoccupied?

  1. Seneca Tower
  2. The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library
  3. Gold Dome
  4. Hotel Lafayette
  5. Wilcox Mansion

3 – At the turn of the 20th Century, Buffalo was home to more millionaires than any other city in the world. Where did they live?

  1. North Tonawanda
  2. Old First Ward
  3. Grand Island
  4. Masten Park
  5. Delaware Avenue

4 – The first chancellor of the University of Buffalo later became President of the United States. He was a Buffalo native. Who was he?

  1. Grover Cleveland
  2. Theodore Roosevelt
  3. Millard Fillmore
  4. William McKinley
  5. Thomas Jefferson

5 – Buffalo sports fans all know the Los Angeles Clippers started as the Buffalo Braves, but they’re actually the second NBA team originally founded in Buffalo. What was the first?

  1. Atlanta Hawks
  2. Philadelphia 76ers
  3. Boston Celtics
  4. Sacramento Kings
  5. Portland Trail Blazers

6 – How much snow did the Blizzard of 1977 actually drop?

  1. 30 inches
  2. 42 inches
  3. 93 inches
  4. 12 inches

7 – What well-known song by the Goo Goo Dolls (Buffalo natives) is about a street in Buffalo?

  1. “Slide”
  2. “Fallin’ Down”
  3. “Name”
  4. “Broadway”
  5. “Iris”

8 – Buffalo’s annual National Buffalo Wing Festival was started in 2002. It began because a character made a reference to visiting Buffalo for a fictional chicken wing festival in what 1999 movie?

  1. Galaxy Quest
  2. Fight Club
  3. Osmosis Jones
  4. The Matrix
  5. Varsity Blues

9 – There have been several movies at least partially filmed in Buffalo but not set there. What movie was set there but filmed in the city which is geographically further away from it than any other city in the mainland United States?

  1. Bruce Almighty
  2. Buffalo ‘66
  3. Hide in Plain Sight
  4. Ironweed
  5. Nobody’s Fool

10 – What Bills quarterback retired and went on to a distinguished political career which eventually resulted in his receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

  1. JP Losman
  2. Jack Kemp
  3. Frank Reich
  4. Dennis Shaw
  5. Bruce Mathison

11 – “Buffalo” wings are so-named, at least nationally, because they were invented in Buffalo. (Though we refer to them as just wings, or chicken wings if we’re being formal.) What restaurant in Buffalo invented them?

  1. Buffalo Wild Wings
  2. Duff’s
  3. Anchor Bar
  4. La Nova
  5. Just Pizza

12 – What bona fide soccer legend played the final five games of his storied career in Buffalo?

  1. Diego Maradona
  2. Steven Gerrard
  3. George Best
  4. Garrincha
  5. Eusebio

13 – What kind of building structure does Buffalo have more of than any other city in the world?

  1. Big blue water towers
  2. European-style gothic churches
  3. Grain elevators
  4. Canal locks
  5. Brutalist-style skyscrapers

14 – Who is Sal?

  1. The vicious boss of the old Buffalo Mafia
  2. A mule from an old folk song about the Erie Canal
  3. The enforcer who protected Gilbert Perrault
  4. A high-spirited greeter who was often seen in Main Place Mall
  5. Owner of a high-end restaurant chain

15 – What famous architect once referred to Buffalo as “the world’s best-planned city?”

  1. Frederick Olmsted
  2. Louis Sullivan
  3. Rem Koolhaas
  4. Ieoh Ming Pei
  5. Zaha Hadid

16 – At the turn of the millennium, what was Buffalo dangerously close to hinging its entire economic development plan on?

  1. Catholic tourism
  2. A novelty citywide art endeavor called Herd About Buffalo
  3. A haunted asylum
  4. A fishing store
  5. A museum dedicated to Nikola Tesla

17- What beloved building in Buffalo ended up starting a national trend for its particular kind of facility?

  1. Harborcenter
  2. The Electric Building
  3. Buffalo City Hall
  4. Pilot Field
  5. The Guaranty Building

18 – What condiment is extremely popular on Beef on Weck, even though most people hate it?

  1. Sweet Relish
  2. Horseradish
  3. Soy Sauce
  4. Vinaigrette
  5. French Dressing

19 – What sport has never been played professionally at First Niagara Center?

  1. Roller hockey
  2. Arena football
  3. Lacrosse
  4. Figure skating
  5. Indoor-style soccer

20 – What unique marking helps distinguish the official flag of the City of Buffalo?

  1. A light bulb
  2. A bison
  3. The state motto of New York
  4. Two hands clasped, shaking each other
  5. Lightning bolts

21 – What building did Ani DiFranco purchase and move Righteous Babe Records into to prevent it from being demolished?

  1. Asbury Delaware United Methodist Church
  2. Washington Square
  3. Pearl Street Bar and Grill
  4. The Darwin Martin House

22 – What makes the NFTA Lightrail unique?

  1. It makes Buffalo the smallest city in the world with a subway.
  2. It was never completed.
  3. It uses overhead wires instead of a third rail.
  4. All of the above.

Birth of a Traveler

While I’m wasting the rest of my life in Seattle, I recently decided that it’s time for me to begin truly pursuing one of my lifelong dreams: International travel. And I decided that I’m finally in a good enough position to be able to do it.

The first step to overseas travel, of course, is figuring out just what the hell it is I’m going to be doing. But everyone I ever knew who’s been overseas tells me that’s more of a learn-as-you-do-it experience, so with that now out of the way, it’s now time to begin work on the second step: Paperwork!

Yes, paperwork. One day, a long long time ago, some government officials sat down and asked themselves how they could make money off potential travelers while also discouraging the poorer people who propped them up from leaving their homes for three days. The thing they came up with was to make everyone pay a fee for a piece of paper with your information on it. You know, something that wasn’t your birth certificate, voter registration, tax record, or horse license.

I’ve never applied for a passport before, but I did learn one important thing so far about doing it: There’s no shortcutting a way around it. If you’re an aspiring traveler who frequents travel websites, you’re probably familiar with all the online ads you see about how you can get your passport rushed to you for $100 with a next-day delivery. No fuss, no muss, a deal that looks suspiciously great. I’m a natural skeptic, so this was another point where I again turned to my globetrotting friends. They confirmed my skepticism.

Getting my hands on a proper passport means doing it the hard way. Get the paperwork, get the birth certificate, get the old New York driver’s license, and fill everything out by hand. Pay the damned fee. So here I’m finally off to the post office now to grab the forms and ask every question that I can think of.

I haven’t figured out where I want to go first yet, but it damn well better be worth it.

The Real Ones: An Anthem for Buffalo

The Real Ones: An Anthem for Buffalo

You may have noticed that a lot of cities get contemporary songs written about them. Buffalo, sadly, has been lacking, which is funny for a city which spent the first half of the 20th Century being so prominent. So I decided to write the lyrics for a song about Buffalo’s old guard. This is my first attempt at songwriting ever. Now, I tend to write a lot of dark stuff, and this song is set from the point of view of an older resident of Buffalo who believes that trying to make everything the way it was before the march of progress destroyed the city will restore it to greatness.

No one’s bothered by the cold                                                                                                   We’re a guard that’s fighty and old                                                                                      Shoving heads into frozen white sand                                                                                Though we were once a promised land                                                                                    Kids file out with degrees underarm                                                                                    They’re not as real as us

Everyone is wrong                                                                                                                            We know what we are                                                                                                                We’re the tough ones                                                                                                                       We know our past was right

Corporate steel killed our jobs                                                                                                       Made us into mindless pack mobs                                                                                              Back in the day, everything was right                                                                                            In our past, the city basked in light                                                                                    Progress must be pretty bad because                                                                                   Breaks don’t come for us

We know we’re strong                                                                                                                That’s just how we are                                                                                                                    We’re the hard ones                                                                                                                        The future can’t be bright

Now our home can’t clean its slate                                                                                              Our football team lost four straight                                                                                              Hot bird wings helped bring us fame                                                                                     Other places just think we’re lame

Being tough is all we’ve got                                                                                                         With our once-big city left to rot                                                                                             Being modern won’t cross our mind                                                                                        Being great means we must be blind                                                                                               It’s a price we pay                                                                                                                             For being real

We’re the old guard                                                                                                                         The old ways were best                                                                                                              We’re the real ones                                                                                                                          We don’t care for the rest

Perhaps the Worst Movie: The Room

Perhaps the Worst Movie: The Room

“I do not know just how to write about or describe this thing. I have never in my life seen such a horrific mishmash of elements which are very bad in and of themselves, very badly executed, very badly mixed up with each other, completely out of left field, nonsensical as hell, and ramped up to about 13 on the manic madcap scale to top all the rest of it off.”

I wrote that back in 2011, a couple of years after Netjak’s demise and before my short stint at Filmdumpster; back when I was still a critic who had some sort of clout. It was about Howard the Duck, the famous bomb that signified the start of George Lucas’s downward trajectory. Now, here I am in 2017, trying to finish off a degree and back to square one as a writer, and it once again applies to a movie I just saw: The Room. The Room doesn’t have the balls-to-the-wall mania Howard the Duck did, but Howard the Duck was about a sentient duck from a different dimension, so that’s not a trick you would want to see repeated.

There are movies about which the stories of all the chaos on the set are legendary: Steven Spielberg couldn’t get the robot shark to work for Jaws; George Lucas couldn’t get anything on the set of Star Wars to go right except the score… Those movies overcame the long odds to become beloved eternal classics anyway. Well, The Room didn’t overcome all the long odds. It was looking like a clunker at every stage in the process, and it’s a clunker. It became such a clunker that one of the stars of the movie, Greg Sestero, wrote a book about the making of the movie. (The book, for those wondering, is called The Disaster Artist, and it quickly became my favorite book about the movie industry ever.) Tommy Wiseau, the man who wrote, produced, directed, and starred in The Room, had a private toilet made up for him on the set; two film crews quit on him; Sestero had to serve in a variety of other positions…

The mootness of The Room is something to behold. Wiseau has earned comparisons to Ed Wood, but you get the feeling watching Wood’s movies that he was trying to make a tangible point. There are so many plot points in The Room that are ultimately of so little consequence that you would think Wiseau was a nihilist. The Room comes with a collective total of about 20 minutes of sex scenes in an hour-and-a-half running time. There are also a lot of scenes of the characters throwing around a football, at least three scenes of characters making “cheep” noises at each other after calling each other chicken, and two characters – one named Peter and one unnamed – who seem to pop up out of nowhere. And this is coming from a movie with an excess of unresolved plot threads: One character DEFINITELY (emphasis hers) has breast cancer. Another character owes money to a drug dealer. Two more randomly break into the main character’s apartment for quickies. All three of those threads are precisely one scene long.

In The Disaster Artist, Sestero confessed that at some point, most of the actors just stopped trying. Sestero, who invented a backstory for his character in an attempt to be able to play the random aspects of him, was convinced that The Room would never make it to the theaters. This is reflected in the performances of most of the other actors too, save Carolyn Minnott and Robyn Paris. (Paris plays her role as Michelle in a way that looks like she’s really enjoying herself. According to Sestero, she was possibly the most-liked person on the set.)

The thin strand of plot that exists in The Room revolves around Creep One, Queen of Evil, and Plain-O. Okay, their names are respectively Johnny, Lisa, and Mark. But Johnny has a creepy side, Lisa is evil, and Mark is so plain that the script projects features onto him almost at will. Johnny and Lisa are engaged. Lisa is bored and decides she doesn’t love Johnny anymore. Lisa starts having an affair with Mark. That sums up the movie. Yes, there are a lot of scenes in this movie that try to trick you into thinking it has depth, but since they’re the aforementioned no-go plot threads, you’re not going to buy it. Let’s call them what they are: Padding. The Room is padded because nothing about the main plot makes any sense.

Let’s meet Johnny. Johnny is the main character, and he’s a pretty great guy. We know he’s a great guy because everyone else in the movie is a walking billboard about how great he is. In fairness to everyone, though, they have reason to think he’s great: He treats Lisa like a princess. He has a great job with a future, he supports a sort of adopted little brother by the name of Creep Two (okay, his name is Denny, but holy SHIT is he creepy), bought Lisa a car, and is pretty much a saint. Lisa has decided she’s bored with him, even though she’s known him for five years. But since she has all the emotional maturity of a cheeto, instead of simply speaking up to Johnny, she talks to Mark, who is Johnny’s best friend. Lisa starts seducing Mark on a regular basis, and although Mark is initially reluctant, he decides at one point that he’s suddenly not. The affair gets revealed at a big birthday bash for Tommy, and Tommy, despite everything else that’s been going right with his life, decides that all the walking testaments to his greatness have turned against him. Since his emotional maturity isn’t much better than Lisa’s, he swallows a gun.

There are lies aplenty told by Lisa for… Well, attention, I guess? I don’t even know. I do know that Lisa tells some whoppers, like getting hit by Johnny to being pregnant, and she’s at it through everything. Out of pure boredom, apparently. Like Mark, she seems to be written with convenience to the writer rather than a full character in mind. Unlike Mark, though, she does come with a defining characteristic: She’s the Queen of the Harpies. Her mother, Claudette, also gets a lot of crap for being manipulative, but I didn’t get that out of her; I got that she’s probably the biggest Johnny cheerleader in the movie. She’s the one advising Lisa to stay with him because he’s just such an awesome dude. So here’s what we come down to: One character betrays Johnny, another kinda, sorta, mighta, but it’s difficult to tell whether or not he’s betraying Johnny. When Johnny has the grand “realization” that everyone is against him, really he’s just pissy about getting dumped. Denny still loves him. Claudette still loves him. Peter still loves him. Michelle still loves him. Mark has a last epiphany and decides he still loves him. The weird person who only came into the movie in the last 15 minutes and gave a great lecture on how much Mark and Lisa’s shenanigans would hurt him still loves him. And yes, that’s a thing that happens.

I’m convinced that all the go-nowhere threads were brought into the movie in an attempt to give it more depth, and that the reason they don’t go anywhere is partly because there are way too many of them, and partly because Wiseau didn’t have any idea what he was doing. Sestero wrote in The Disaster Artist about Wiseau’s attraction to Marlon Brando and James Dean, who are the vintage Method actors responsible for changing the way movie acting is done. Sestero believed that Brando and Dean were magnetic figures because they had an instinct for knowing when to go big and when to hold off. Wiseau seems to have missed that aspect of their performances. Sestero’s take is that Wiseau believed the best approach was to go big at every possible moment, and it’s hard to argue. (In Wiseau’s defense, that was the approach that worked for Charlton Heston.) Everything Wiseau does in The Room, he does with maximum intensity and enthusiasm, and this is one case where cooler heads didn’t prevail. So Wiseau created The Room trying to do his personal interpretation of what a movie should do, and not what a movie really does.

That means The Room is something that creates a lot of memorable scenes, even though they fail repeatedly as scenes. There’s a scene where Johnny visits a flower shop. That’s 20 seconds long, but it’s one of the defining scenes of the movie because the script seems to be written backwards. Yes, Denny owes money to a drug dealer named Chris-R, but that never goes anywhere. Yes, Claudette has breast cancer, but that’s hand-waved.

The Room is either awesomely bad or badly awesome. When it became an unexpected classic of midnight cinema, Wiseau got his ultimate wish – to make a classic movie that people would see and love and talk about – in the most perverse way possible. Everyone in this movie has seemingly been able to eke out a living based on it. Wiseau and Sestero have been making the rounds from it forever. Robyn Paris is working on a web mockumentary about what happened to the cast (which I can’t wait to see). People recognize everyone who was in the movie, and they’ve all spent time appearing at fan conventions and film screenings. No, The Room isn’t a work of bad movie genius – you’re thinking of Sharknado. The difference between Sharknado and The Room is that the people making Sharknado KNEW everything about their series was hackey. The Room is a bad movie made as a misguided attempt to be a good movie, and it’s the over-the-top sincerity of it combined with its master and commander’s lack of talent that sends it over the top. If you have any love for bad movies at all, you need to see this thing. It’s required viewing.