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51 Things You’ll Never Hear a Buffalo Resident Say

51 Things You’ll Never Hear a Buffalo Resident Say

In March of last year, Time Out Chicago published a list of particular sentences and thoughts which people who had lived in Chicago for awhile could use to identify you as not being from Chicago. People loved the damn thing, and I dropped into a few other city blogs to check if other places followed suit. New Orleans did, and Portland tried, although no one ever published a full list for that city. Now, its been about a year and a half since Time Out Chicago published it, and after giving it some thought, I’ve decided its time for a Buffalo booster to punch up a list of 51. True to Buffalo’s form, though, no one here seems to have found out about Time Out Chicago’s idea. Buffalo is, of course, always three decades behind the times and current trends, so although it took me a years and a half to create my own list in response, I’m actually well ahead of the curve in Buffalo time. Note that if you’re stupid enough to say some of these things in public here – like number six – the people in this city are legally obligated to kill you.

1 – “Buffalo wings.”

2 – “Let’s be honest: The Bills never stood a chance against the Giants in that Super Bowl anyway.”

3 – “Main Place Mall is obviously the best hangout spot. There’s always a lot to see there.”

4 – “Don’t worry about having beer if you get snowed in. Tea is a fine substitute.”

5 – “Why go all the way to Mighty Taco? Taco Bell is closer. It’s just as good.”

6 – “I’m glad Buffalo Wild Wings is in the area. They know how it’s done!”

7 – “Why go to Canada to drink underage? You can buy a perfectly good fake ID here.”

8 – “The NFTA is working exactly like it’s supposed to. It’s doing a great job.”

9 – “I got caught in a traffic jam on the skyway during rush hour.”

10 – “Dolphins are mammals, not fish!”

11 – “Buffalo ’66 needs a sequel.”

12 – “Call the ballpark by its proper name: Coca-Cola Field.”

13 – “Nobody gives a crap about Irish lineage!”

14 – “I’m sensing an impending boom in heavy industry.”

15 – “I just don’t understand the logic of carving a chunk of butter into a lamb shape.”

16 – “Look, I don’t know my neighbors, so I don’t see why I should dig them out of five feet of snow just because.”

17 – “The Convention Center really adds to the aesthetic of the city.”

18 – “UB’s North Campus is easy to get to. You just can’t miss it.”

19 – “Tim Horton may be a hockey legend, but his donuts suck.”

20 – “I would prefer the pleasant natural smells of a typical city downtown area to the Cheerio smell infesting our downtown.”

21 – “All those one-way streets make navigation downtown a snap!”

22 – “Albany really sticks its neck out for us. We’re lucky to have them.”

23 – “Why does everyone like Rob Ray so much? He was a thug who never did anything for the community!”

24 – “Not having salt potatoes for the Fourth of July barbeque isn’t the end of the world.”

25 – “Ani DiFranco? That name doesn’t ring any bells.”

26 – “Who could possibly go running in this snow?”

27 – “The people in University Heights are so quiet and well-mannered.”

28 – “Summer here is gross. An average high of 80 degrees? Way too high.”

29 – “The view from the American side is just as good.”

30 – “I wish we had more New York City-style pizza joints. They do the best pizza downstate.”

31 – “The Albright-Knox doesn’t have anything interesting.”

32 – “All those Wrights and Sullivans need to be razed for more modern steel buildings.”

33 – “The Skylon is perfect for a first date.”

34 – “The Taste of Buffalo is just a low-budget version of the Taste of Chicago.”

35 – “Coffee? Starbucks, of course!”

36 – “I’m glad Niagara Falls axed the Festival of Lights.”

37 – “The city’s 4 AM Closing Time is absurd and needs to be cut back a couple of hours.”

38 – “What’s a weck?”

39 – “No, I don’t think my relatives would be interested in seeing The Falls.”

40 – “You know, it wouldn’t kill anyone to hold the annual pond hockey tournament at an indoor rink for once.”

41 – “William McKinley had it coming.”

42 – “$700 for a single-bedroom apartment is a steal. If you get that price, jump on it.”

43 – “Tim Russert and Wolf Blitzer? Overrated. Now The Buffalo News – there’s a shining beacon of great journalism!”

44 – “Three words when it comes to grocery shopping: Anywhere but Wegman’s.”

45 – “I wish Buffalo was more like New York City.”

46 – “The 1999 Stanley Cup Final was a long time ago and Brett Hull scored a good goal. Get over it!”

47 – “Another parking lot downtown would really improve the view.”

48 – “Don’t worry about potholes. They don’t exist here.”

49 – “Why would you move to North Carolina?”

50 – “I don’t see why this city thinks it’s so tough.”

51 – “I’m still waiting for Brian Higgins to run for President.”

The Commercial Death Star; The World’s Most Useless Shopping Mall

The Commercial Death Star; The World’s Most Useless Shopping Mall

Anyone who has ever lived in Buffalo, New York knows the city has a notoriously overzealous preservation committee – they’ll fight tooth and nail to rescue tool sheds that have been converted into crack houses. If you know anything about Main Place Mall, though, that not only may provide an explanation for their behavior, but a damn good explanation.

Main Place Mall is plopped right smack in the middle of downtown Buffalo as part of a complex nicknamed Buffalo Place. It has a covered walkway leading into the next-door Liberty Building, and it takes up most of the block from Church Street to Lafayette Square, sitting conveniently on Main Street’s lightrail line. To understand the preservation committee’s eternal worrywarting, you have to understand what that part of the city contained until Main Place Mall was built in 1969. The Erie County Saving Bank Building was there, a magnificent architectural piece which drew influences of European-style castles. There were several other beautiful buildings sitting on the block too, the traditional architectural styles of which can still be seen on certain blocks of Main Street today.

The history of Buffalo is similar to that of most other Rust Belt cities. The city exploded thanks to its ideal situation right at the tail end of the Erie Canal. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Buffalo was the eighth-largest city in the United States, and one of the richest. The place was an industrial giant with an enormous steel base, and over 70 percent of the grain that got shipped anywhere in the world ended up passing through Buffalo at some point because of Buffalo’s collection of grain elevators – the world’s largest, many of which still exist. Buffalo got hit hard when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened and many of the traders who had to go through the Erie Canal were able to bypass the city completely. There was also the whole suburban White Flight trend that started hitting in the 50’s and 60’s. Everything started deteriorating, and the city officials, in their everlasting brilliance (note: that’s written with the highest possible level of venomous sarcasm), started wiping out everything in their paths in the name of slum clearance and urban renewal. Some of the prettiest buildings in the entire country got the axe, and were replaced by structures which I suppose might have fit some definition of “modern” at the time. The newer buildings on the Buffalo skyline are ass-ugly. Brutalist architecture became a way of life to the 60’s developers, and it’s all punctuated by the 40-floor One HSBC Center, which is the tallest building on the city’s skyline, the most prominent, and the most likely to be mistaken for a giant refrigerator box. It might be the ugliest building on Earth. PS: It’s also largely abandoned these days. Most of the major tenants have run off – including HSBC itself, which occupied 75 percent of the available space in the building. 97 percent of the building will be vacant by the end of this year. There’s a reformation and renewal project in the works for the place which might spring it back to life, but it will unfortunately not involve razing the place, so hopefully the aesthetic remake will at least make it blend better with the rest of the city, or at least not make glancers want to gouge their eyes out.

Main Place Mall was one of those attempts at renewal. It’s a shopping mall which was intended to bring everyone from the suburbs back into the city for their weekend cash-throwing contests. It failed. Man, did it EVER fail.

Main Place Mall looks like the Death Star. I think it’s technically defined as a piece of late-century modernist architecture, but it really doesn’t look like it contains any of the standard giveaways of modernist style. In other words, if you’re looking for something Wright might have designed – Wright being one of the headmasters of architectural modernism as well as a guy who designed a couple of houses in Buffalo – Main Place Mall ain’t the place to start. This place looks much more like a brutalist building made out of metal: It looks heavy and angular, the side beams look like exposed steel beams, and the assembly could easily be mistaken for large slabs. Fitting, because Main Place Mall basically IS a large black slab. Main Place Tower, which is attached to the mall, looks like a giant version of the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

If you’re a first-timer in the Buffalo city limits, Main Place Tower is the only part of the building where the entrances are marked. So it’s the only way you’ll know you’ve found Main Place Mall if you’ve never seen the place before and somehow missed any online descriptions or directions: “If you’re walking along the lightrail line and you reach an ugly black slab, you’ve found it!”

Buffalo Coffee Roastery and Gino and Joe’s pizzeria both have direct entrances from the outside of the mall, which is good, because that means you can visit them both without having to actually set foot in the mall itself. Buffalo Coffee Roastery makes delicious coffee and baked goods. Its main function is just to serve as a coffee joint – instead of a full-time cafe, like a lot of other coffeehouses today – especially if you don’t plan on staying, because the only seats there are along the walls – there are no proper tables. The coffee is quite delicious, though, so it’s very convenient to grab an order as you wait for the lightrail to stop by the Church Street station. Gino and Joe’s is an oddball pizzeria by merit of the fact that it serves New York City-style slices instead of the Buffalo-style which is made by absolutely every other place in the city, save Pizza Hut or Domino’s. It’s damn good pizza, though, and at under $3 per slice, quite reasonably priced.

You now know of the only two places in Main Place Mall worth checking out. There are two floors in Main Place Mall, but no place else worth visiting unless you:

a – Have an unchecked fetish for footwear. I’m not talking about the unique stuff, either; I mean plain, old, average, everyday, ludicrously overpriced footwear. There are a few footwear stores in Main Place Mall, including a Foot Locker and a Payless.

b – Are in dire need of an emergency newsstand or dollar store. There’s one of each.

c – Work downtown and want a conveniently located Key Bank or food court. Let’s face it though, Buffalo is a strict Bank of America city now, despite once being the official capitol of North America for HSBC. And Bank of America is accessible in the next-door Liberty Building.

There are a couple of other stores, but basically there’s nothing in Main Place Mall worth visiting. Now, I know what you’re thinking: It’s a shopping mall, Nicholas! Even if the retailers are bland, it would still be easy to visit the place and grab a new suit shirt should something happen to the one I’m wearing! Just go into the JC Penny’s or Macy’s or…. Hold it. Shut up. Let me stop you right there. I don’t disagree with that sentiment. But when I said there’s nothing in Main Place Mall worth visiting, you were probably thinking the emphasis was on the “worth visiting” part, like a lot of other people would. That’s not the case. My emphasis was actually on the “nothing.” My little bullet listing up there wasn’t an emphasis; it was a summary of stores that are open in the entire place. I think there’s also one clothing store, and I know there’s a place for Buffalo-unique collectibles and T-shirts and a place to buy chocolates. Those are all on the first floor. However, it’s very easy to get to similar places all throughout the city – Buffalo collectibles are easily located on nearby Elmwood Avenue, sweets can be found anywhere within the nearby Elmwood Village and Allentown neighborhoods, and as far as the clothing store goes, even people in the suburbs probably live within easy distance of a strip mall with clothes stores in bunches.

Yes, the majority of the first floor is empty space. There are a large number of closed storefronts, most of which have been that way for a long time. The really depressing part, though, is how much of that space is NOT actual storefront. Anyone who frequents shopping malls is aware of the fact that malls have a habit of placing plain whitewall over spaces that haven’t been rented out to tenants in a long time. A good chunk of the first floor consists of that if it’s not closed storefront.

The second floor, however, is even worse. Outside the food court, there are no stores whatsoever. Just a hulking balcony. In the worse old days, there was a walkway to the building across the lightrail line, but that building has somehow managed to become even more useless than Main Place Mall, and so it’s now completely close – which means the entrance to the walkway is also boarded up. The eastern side of the second floor has closed storefronts. The western side? Entirely whitewall.

The one part of Main Place Mall which would make Main Place Mall worth a visit – besides Buffalo Coffee Roastery and Gino and Joe’s – would be the food court, but only if you happen to work downtown, and even then it’s pretty inessential. About half of the food court is whitewall. One of the food court restaurants is Gino and Joe’s – the very same place on the first floor, serving the very same food at the very same prices. Everything else is there just to satisfy hunger pangs. The food there does the job. It’s not exceptional, but it’s probably the only reason Main Place mall is still open.

Buffalo Coffee Roastery and Gino and Joe’s need to be given their own spots. Once that happens, Main Place Mall needs to be demolished. Aside from those two places, the only halfway decent thing I can say about Main Place Mall is that, with One HSBC Center just a couple of blocks down the street, it doesn’t look quite as ugly as it is. Some Buffalo tourism sites advertise Main Place Mall as one of the city’s premier shopping centers. That’s a bigger lie than any of our local politicians is even capable of telling.

The Need for Bicycle Racks

The Need for Bicycle Racks

It didn’t occur to me very often in the past, but it just occurred to me in one of my last bicycle trips. I’ve made no secret in the past that the suburbs – hell, the greater Buffalo and Erie County area in general – are resoundingly shitty when it comes to bicycle friendliness. The locals outside the cool parts of the city – Chippewa, Allentown, and Elmwood Village – are neanderthals. There’s little sense of curiosity or want of experience expansion in Buffalo, and so adults who ride bicycles are reacted to uniformly with a singular emotion: Scalding hatred. Going out on a bicycle in The City of Good Neighbors is always a risk because no matter what the law says, those who enforce it always side with motorists.

My most recent occurrence happened when I took a nice long ride through some of my usual haunts and noticed something very common to them: With the exception of the library, they ALL lack bicycle racks. There’s no rack at the strip mall, no rack at the real mall, no rack at any of the places I seek a mid-ride snack. At the strip mall, there’s not even a decent place for me to improvise a rack. All the signs are in the parking lot, so I have to throw a tiny wire around a large stone column.

The lack of bicycle racks anywhere is inexcusable. In Buffalo, it proves definitely to outsiders the dangerous aspect of the city’s mindset, which is that Buffalo is obsessed with its past and will never change for the future. Specifically, it’s obsessed with the 50’s All-American vision – the common WASP inhabiting a McHouse and driving a gas guzzler, forgetting – or more likely these days, desperate to ignore – the fact that the world doesn’t revolve around their narrow existence. And that’s what it is, an existence.

There are more bicycles being sold these days than there have in many years. The economy is a wreck, gas prices are sky high, and people are taking a greater interest in their health. What’s the perfect way to get around? Bicycle! So the fact that the area appears to be actively forcing us to drive is another reminder of Buffalo desperately loading up the old time machine and going against its increasingly bicycle-oriented traffic. Not having racks is an implicit form of prejudice against cyclists. Since there are very few other places to attach a bicycle to, what are the cyclists supposed to do?

The Buffalo government, for everything wrong with it, has realized that, and there are city bicycle racks and bicycle paths set up around various points. So the real pain is that it’s not the incompetence of those at City Hall screwing up, for one. It’s the people, on their private business property, who aren’t making the rack investment. For a city which is basically southern and conservative at heart, this doesn’t make any sense. Don’t places lose business without racks because cyclists don’t have anyplace to park? I really get the sense that more bicycle racks would be a win-win situation, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why there are so few of them.

We can do this, Buffalo. For god’s sake, there are places where bicycle rentals are available in the city. It’s pretty bad that we have places to rent bicycles, but nowhere to park them. Buffalo’s terrain also makes it a challenge to ride for veteran cyclists, so by not having very many bicycle racks, we might be missing out on some potential tourists. The war zone known as Detroit is embracing its recenetly-born image as a cyclist paradise because the city is all flatland, which makes it easy to get around by bicycle. San Francisco, Denver, and Portland, Oregon are also known as cyclist havens despite their respective hills, thin air, and rain. Buffalo – with its high concentration of collegiate institutions – should make it a natural place to promote cycling. The city a good place to promote cycling, not discourage it.

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.

Book Borrowing

I’ve come to the theory that you can’t appreciate the quality of a good public library system until you find yourself using a system that’s entirely different. I don’t plan to do a whole lot of complaining about the systems in either Chicago or Buffalo. Both of them are very good at what they do, but it can be quite a shock to see just how the concept of borrowing books can differ from one place to another.

Chicago’s system is more expansive than Buffalo’s. But this, of course, can easily be expected. Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, and Buffalo probably hovers around number 60 or so. So it’s a given that Chicago’s system is going to have more books and more copies of any given book as well. Chicago’s system has a bit more of pretty much everything; the main library branches in downtown Buffalo and the Chicago Loop are respectively two stories and ten stories. The Chicago system has more computers, a media room for kids, and a nice mini-theater where I once lucked out enough to hear author John Updike speak.

The Buffalo system never was good about holding events, but it does contain a nice coffee shop.

Unfortunately, Chicago has so many people that problems have sprung up from the library system not being quite successful enough. Chicago’s main branch has well over 100 computers, all of which will be occupied unless you show up whenever the library opens every day. If you try to get a computer on a Sunday, you may be stuck waiting upwards of two hours on a day when the library is open for only about five hours. Although, with the wide selection of books available, you’ll have plenty to read while waiting for your turn on the computer. If you miss your session, it still counts towards the two hourlong sessions per day the system allows you, and if you don’t accomplish everything you need to in a single session, you’re not going to be allowed any extra time to finish. Even if you got extra time, it wouldn’t matter because there’s still going to be someone waiting in line behind you anyway. The Buffalo system has less than 100 computers, but there is very rarely a crowd beating you down for a turn on the computers either. When your hour is up, it’s easy to go up to the help desk and ask for a few extra minutes.

This contrast manifests itself even further if you try to get onto a waiting list for a reserved book. If a book is popular, you can still get it delivered to the local branch in Buffalo within about two weeks, tops. In Chicago, I don’t think I’ve ever waited less than a month. I order The Beatles’ Revolver album and waited six months. When I received word that I had s reserved item waiting for me, I didn’t actually know what it was, as I had not reserved anything in awhile and forgotten I even ordered Revolver in the first place. I assumed after the first few months that my name was removed from the list for some reason and accepted the fact that I would never see it. But it is quite a testament to how good the Chicago system is that they were so determined to get me that copy of Revolver, even if I forgot about it.

Chicago’s main branch is an impressive brick building with statue owls perched on the roof, while Buffalo’s gets lost in the shuffle of faceless office buildings. But Buffalo’s smaller, localized branches make up for what the downtown branch lacks. Buffalo’s localized branches look like they were all built from the ground up with the sole purpose of holding books in mind. They feature open spaces and walls lined with books, with plenty of room to move around. Chicago’s local branches are crammed with equipment, with the people basically in the way. Some of the local branches in Chicago are little more than storefront businesses which happen to lend books.

The way the systems handle fines is where the Buffalo system really establishes itself as the front runner. The Buffalo system understands poverty and transportation problems and is more than willing to accommodate and forgive. When I first left Buffalo, library patrons were allowed access to their accounts even with fines on their cards, as long as those fines didn’t exceed five dollars. Since leaving, the system has apparently allowed people to incur fines of up to ten dollars. Once the limit is maxed out, your account is suspended, which means you can’t borrow anything; you’re still allowed to use the computers.

Chicago’s system should understand poverty, but it holds a much better grasp of gangster strongarming. You are simply not allowed to be late in returning any of your items. If you are, your account is cancelled until your fines are completely cleared, and in Chicago an account suspension means you can’t use any of the available services, not even the computers.