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Recharged

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.

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.”

Thinking Inside the Box About Wine

Thinking Inside the Box About Wine

I frequently buy whisky in plastic bottles.

It isn’t because I have some kind of preference for plastic bottle whisky. It’s merely an issue of convenience. The few times I go out to buy whisky, I’m riding my bicycle more often than not, which means I’ll have nothing more than a (frequently crowded) backpack to carry it in. The plastic doesn’t cost any more or less than the glass, and it also weighs less and won’t break against whatever reading material I happen to be carrying. And when you get stuck buying whisky on the pedal, the choice is just that obvious.

Unfortunately, hard alcohol has one of those finer thing reputations, and my preference for plastic bottles leaves hard liquor aficionados thumbing their noses at me. Apparently, there’s some great difference between the taste of Evan Williams in a glass bottle and Evan Williams in a plastic bottle which only the most sensitive and sophisticated palette can comprehend. I myself have never been able to taste such a difference, but then again, sophisticated whisky nuts are now raising their noses to me and pointing out that I drink Evan Williams, so what the fuck do I know? Aside from the fact that plastic bottle whisky is a surefire sign of redneckdom and the sophisticates would cross the street to avoid my coveralls with one strap unhitched, lack of any shirt whatsoever underneath, and ability to say every sentence beginning with a loud “duh!”

Wine, of course, has a much similar stigma to shake. Actually, it’s not all that similar; it’s actually much worse. Everyone is familiar with the idea of boxed wine, but no one particularly wants to try to wrap their heads around the concept. As it happens, I’ve drank my share of boxed wine too. Every year, Rob’s competitive barbeque team, the Buffalo Meatheads, starts the barbeque season by holding a fundraiser dinner at the South Buffalo Social Club. And by “fundraiser dinner,” I don’t mean one of those suit and black tie affairs where everyone dresses in their Sunday best, sits at circular tables, gets served a single dinner which could be held in your fist, and listens to motivational speeches from the popular football players of the hour. These are extremely blue-collar cookouts. The team cooks its competitive best, artery-clogging brisket, pulled pork, barbeque chicken, beans, mac and cheese, and more and gives it all out all-you-can-eat buffet style. Are you a health nut? You’re suspending your diet for the day, Jack.

The only trace of sophistication is in the drinks selection – light beer and wine. The light beer is of course a crime for which the whole team needs to be punished, preferably by being forced to drink light beer. Most wine diehards will argue the Meatheads need to be punished for the wine in a similar fashion. It’s boxed wine, after all. There’s just something about boxed wine which makes even the most liberal, tree-hugging wine aficionado recoil in disgust before talking up the virtues of the bottle and cork supplied from Italy and France.

Face it: Wine by bottle and cork is growing into an antiquated concept all by itself. I think it’s insane that people make a big deal over not only having a cork – as opposed to a regular, everyday screw top – but constantly bitching over what the proper material for a cork should be. Some are make of rubber, some are made of plastic, and others are made of real cork. This causes some sort of endless debate in the wine community because the tastes of all three can apparently be easily detected by the sophisticated palette. What a lot of these wine nuts share is contempt for the screw top – we have fortified wines (those are the uber-cheap wines sold chilled at the seedy corner store in the bad part of town, and the ones you’re afraid homeless people will buy when you give them money) to thank for that – and the boxed wine. None of those corks, however, are able to solve a very fundamental problem: When you get the cork out, you can’t put it back in. A lesser-known problem that I’ve personally experienced is when the cork breaks off. I can hear the wine crowd preparing their lectures on how my cork was likely made of not only the wrong material, but the wrong material from the wrong place.

Boxed wine solves that problem nicely. It comes with a tap. And without a cork, there’s no cork taint, and it takes a special kind of person to believe a condition which is detrimental to the wine is some kind of flavor enhancer.

The boxed stuff will stay fresh a lot longer, too – four weeks, minimum. The problem with a lot of wine snobs is they’re so used to drinking stuff that’s been oxidized in bottles, they have never had a pure form of wine and don’t know a damn thing about how it’s supposed to taste. The bag the wine is sitting in prevents oxidization, so the wine stays fresh for awhile, and air doesn’t get into the bag. Yeah, that tap only goes one way, and when the wine starts to pour, the tap makes a big difference.

It’s safe to hypothesize that part of the reason boxed wine is cheaper than bottled wine is because the plastic bags and box shell are cheaper to produce. There are wine companies that prefer to use boxed wine for this very reason, and this is a huge benefit to people who need wine. How much does a single bottle of wine hold? A standard wine bottle will hold 750 ml, which isn’t any larger than a standard bottle of whisky. A wine box will usually hold at least three liters, which is over three bottles of wine. Three liters seems to be a standard, although I’ve seen plenty of wine boxes holding 3.5 liters or up to five liters, and you can get that for as little as $20. There’s no such thing as having too much wine, unless of course you bought it in a bottle and were forced to drink the entire thing in a single night because you couldn’t find a stopper.

To thrill the tree huggers who hate boxed wine for some reason, boxed wine is better for the environment than bottled wine. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but plastic and cardboard are both much easier to recycle than glass.

We’re beyond the bad old days here. And with the upcoming generation having a big focus on a more sustainable society, there shouldn’t be so much shame in going out for a giant box of wine. Let’s look over the advantages: Price, freshness, don’t need a stopper, easier to open, won’t spoil anywhere nearly as quickly, and boxed wine containers won’t shatter. There’s no reason for the boxed wine stigma to exist, given advantages like those. Disadvantages? Um…. You can’t tell how much you have left? Doesn’t look as classy without a fancy colored bottle? Uh…. Can’t carry it around in my backpack when I’m bicycling.

“The Experience”

I remember a show. I remember this show only insofar as the show itself and really not much else. I couldn’t tell you what songs I performed, what I said to the audience, if I slipped up on this move, that lyric, or whatever other. Those details escape me in a hazy combination of pot smoke and pyrotechnic smoke which, to my eye, left the audience in a giant pale oyster blob. I couldn’t remember my lyrics as usual, thank god for lip-synching. I had performed both drunk and high for the umpteenth time in my career, and I remember the radiant bloom of the stage lights shining at me, blinding me, screwing with what little orientation I had left. Every time I moved my head just a little, my mind registered some kind of interdimensional shift. Fortunately, I don’t think the audience cared. They knew my music; they wouldn’t have been there otherwise. What they wanted was spectacle. They wanted their tickets’ worth of their hard-earned cash.

My stage spectacle simply rushed by me in a blur. After the lights dimmed, I charged off the stage with force. All I could think about was my next fix. I had all kinds of backstage amenities written into my contract: Wall to wall carpeting, a new CD by whoever the hot artist of the moment was, pizzas, candies, video games set up on giant plasma TV sets. But the allure of the dust decimated all of them, and so they were mainly fed to fans with backstage passes. I would quickly run into my dressing room for a couple of short snorts. After my latest hit, I would wobble out to the backstage area, mumble gobbledygook to the fans, and either knock up the groupies or collapse on the floor when they left. My eyes were bloodshot and my skin pale from too much coke, but the rush of invincibility was incredible. But when my body got used to it, I started needing more and more cocaine. This night, I needed more than ever. My roadie drug dealers cut up the stuff during the show and even left a pre-rolled dollar bill for me to sniff through. I made a beeline toward my bathroom where the puffy white powder called out. I sniffed up the first line and felt the shock wave fly into my brain, hitting with a thud. My thoughts stopped and my mind began to register everything through a fuzzy outline. A powerful wave of pleasure, like the kind of pleasure you feel after a good lay, overtook my body. My movements, which had the stiffness of a ten-year Marine veteran onstage, became loose and vibrant. I needed a moment to recover from the high. That night, I should have stopped after the first one. The second hit slammed into my brain with the same shocking thud as the first. But afterward, I began to gasp for air through my nose. This wasn’t normal. Through my pleasure haze, I was able to make out a trio of large red drops which had suddenly appeared on the floor. I reached up to my nose, more on instinct than on the rational response one makes when he suspects his nose of bleeding. This also wasn’t normal, and I certainly didn’t think it was good. I thought about crying for help, but I was high as a kite. Before my thoughts were able to turn into coherent body actions, the scenery surrounding me faded to black, and the ground rushed up to my shoulder. The light above me was the only discoloration, a circular white blur on an otherwise black field. After a couple of brief moments, the blur died out. OD. Fade to black. Rock and roll.

I was still high when I woke. Or at least I felt high. I could tell I was being rolled out on the top of a medical gurney. But my reawakening wasn’t some gradual fade-in with the blurry eyes and heavy head and all those other crappy good morning symptoms. My eyes just snapped open. I scanned the area, sort of buzzing the scene as I watched the paramedics roll me into the ambulance while screaming that I needed ten CC’s of this or that unpronounceable med drug. I would have thought they noticed my open eyes and welcomed me back to civilization. Apparently not. I decided what they needed was a little bit of vocal encouragement.

“That was awesome! Best high of my life!” I said. They didn’t notice. They carefully threw the gurney into the ambulance, closed the doors, flipped on the sirens, and away we rolled.

I tried again, politely and without the sarcasm. “Hey guys, I appreciate the fact that you all came for me, but I feel pretty good now. Thanks,” I said. One of them shoved an IV into my arm. Message still not getting across. Message blurred, I guess. So it was time to bring out the BFG of my body’s arsenal – a visualization! I sat up. But sitting up turned out to be much like my waking up – no struggle, just a single-motion shot straight up. No trouble. But I noticed when I sat up that the medics never looked up. They continued to stare downward at my legs with troubled looks on their faces. “We’re losing him!” one shouted.

“People!” I said. “What are you doing to…” Well, at this point I made the mistake of turning around and staring at the spot my top half should have still been laying on. Turned out that my top half, or at least the overweight blob of light blue which once housed my top half, was still lying there. It would be customary at this point to tell you about how hard my heart was beating. But I wasn’t feeling my heart. It was still lodged inside the cold, seriously damaged vessel which now sat lifeless in front of me. Gone though as my heart may have been, I was perfectly able to feel awash in dread the way the wave of pleasure hit me earlier in the evening. As I slowly began to drift upward, that same feeling hit me harder. I had been a hard-living rock star just a few minutes ago. Memories rushed by me, my life featuring prominent things I never would have gotten away with had I been some everyday schmuck. I didn’t think my first nine years of life as God’s perfect little choir boy would balance out against trashed hotels, crashed cars, and all those other wonderful staples of the rocker lifestyle. Perhaps God hated me. Wasn’t I supposed to be pulled down a tunnel into some kind of white light?

The white light never appeared. Instead I wafted. I drifted upward, hovering above the paramedics as they now tried to rescue what was left of my body. I continued to drift, slowly and softly as a feather through the top of the ambulance. I saw the mighty skyscrapers and listened to the noise of the traffic. This was really happening. I was still panicked. I was supposed to be invincible as a rock star. But now I was horrified with thoughts of my ultimate fate, repentant, ready to surrender my pride and beg for my afterlife if necessary. I couldn’t possibly be on good terms with the big man. At the same time, I tried not to be resigned to my death. I struggled, swam, grabbed, and did everything I could to fight this spirit drift. None of it worked, but I will never forget what happened next.

I felt a tug on my full body. The drifting stopped. I was now moving along, parallel to the top of the ambulance. I wondered what happened with a mix of both worry and hope. The next two seconds drifted by in an eternity. Then a powerful force grabbed me and yanked me back through the top of the ambulance. I felt weight again now, as if someone had just suddenly performed a cannonball on top of my body. My body and spirit were now reunited as one. I awoke for the second time tonight, but with the expected struggle. I had never been so glad to be feeling like crap. Feeling like crap at least meant I was still alive. I had been granted a second chance to lead a better life and improve myself as a person. I checked out of the hospital that very night, not feeling great but having been pumped of the drugs.

The first thing I did with my second chance was smoke pot and knock up two groupies. Also that same night.

The New Pepsi

I was a little thrown off the first time I laid eyes on Pepsi Next. It came to my attention while I was in Saint Louis, and so my first, incredulous reaction was to turn to Kevin and ask “Did Pepsi learn nothing from the whole New Coke fiasco?”

“That was my first thought too. It’s New Coke all over again,” Kevin said.

I laughed off the idea of a new Pepsi model, but I tend to usually give in to hype when it comes to new pop flavors from old favorites. I’ve long wondered why little pleasantries like Lime Pepsi and Vanilla Coke are constantly taken off the market. Being an ex-Pepsi guy from one of the few parts of the United States which shows an unwavering loyalty and preference for Pepsi, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I gave in and bought this so-called next Pepsi. It wasn’t: It was near the end of my visit to New Orleans, when I had just visited the Amtrak station to buy my ticket home to Buffalo. It was night, and I didn’t see any reason to wait for the spotty NORTA bus to take me back to the streetcar line I needed to get back where I was staying. As I approached the west end of Lee Circle, I spotted a gas station and wondered if they were selling Pepsi Next. They were. I bought one, sat at the edge of the Saint Charles line, and popped it open.

Those who pay attention to the world of politics have seen our non-homemade diets come under attack lately for not being healthy enough. Some of the larger corporate food makers are pricking up their ears and starting to take note. Some are altering their original formulas to create their staples in a more health-friendly matter, others are offering healthy alternatives. Pepsi Next, so far, is the healthy alternative to their popular formula. They’ve avoided the master mistake of New Coke so far, which was trying to immediately replace their popular, beloved recipe with the new stuff and expect everyone to be on board. Right now both the original Pepsi and Pepsi Next are available.

Pepsi Next claims to be the original Pepsi recipe with a whopping 60 percent of the sugar cut out. Yes, we have to be aware of the fact that it’s still pop, which means it’s still little more than liquified sugar and fizz. But cutting more than half the sugar is a big step to be taken, and it does show. One of the ingredients in the Pepsi formula is citric acid, and I’m not sure what it’s in Pepsi or and cola for. One thing is for certain, though: Without the massive sugar intake, that citrus flavor is much, much more obvious.

That’s the biggest difference between Pepsi and Pepsi Next. New Coke forced a new formula onto the public that made it taste more like Pepsi. Coke’s recipe has considerably less sugar taste than Pepsi, and this is no doubt what propels Coke into one of America’s great corporate symbols: Coke goes better with a lot of other foods and recipes than Pepsi. It’s a Rum Coke, not a Rum Pepsi. I was expecting Pepsi Next’s taste to be less sugary and to therefore be more like Coke. But that really isn’t the case. There’s a major difference between letting back on the sugar taste and actually using less sugar.

Yes, pulling back on the sugar in such a strong way definitely shows in Pepsi Next. But Pepsi didn’t back of on the actual Pepsi taste, and this appears in an odd taste contradiction. It tastes like Pepsi Next wants to be a fruit-flavored pop, but without letting go of the cola it’s trying to be at the same time. Pepsi Next is a REALLY over-sugared and fizzy citrus fruit drink.

It’s a good thing Pepsi isn’t trying to replace itself with Pepsi Next. I don’t really see it catching on. It’s an under-sugared version of Pepsi’s over-sugared taste, with more citrus acid. Whether or not people adopt Pepsi Next, I think it’s safe to assume that I’m not going to be visiting bars to order Beam and Pepsi or Daniel’s and Pepsi any time soon.

The Moonshine War

There are times I think Buffalo wants its people to be alcoholics. People here learn about the relatively unique drinking culture of the city from earlier ages, and it becomes a major point of pride in Buffalo to walk around a grocery store in a different region wondering aloud where the beer is hidden. If we’re in a bar in a different state, we vocally express our shock about the early closing of the bar come the 2 AM last call.

The dominating grocery branches in western New York, Tops and Wegman’s, line shelves with beer. Last call in Buffalo is 4 AM all around. People from Buffalo are frequently given the impression that Buffalo is the only city on the planet that does things like this.

The day on which Buffalonians will stop acting shocked at 2 AM closing times will probably never come, but it should. By the time most of us get to the required 21 years of age to have our first alcoholic drink, we’ve already been drinking in Fort Erie or Niagara Falls for the preceding two years anyway because 19 is the drinking age in Canada. At that point, the shock at reaching 21 in Buffalo is that the bar does NOT close down at 2 AM.

The last call is Chicago is 2 AM, but that is simply the common closing time. When you consider the variety of people who migrate to Chicago and get into the culture, you begin to realize how absurd the idea of a city that size not having bars open until 4 AM absurd. Chicago did in fact have handfuls of 4 AM bars, as well as 6 AM bars and all night bars. Bragging about 4 AM closing times suddenly became pointless. Pulling an all-night bender in Chicago is perfectly possible once you know where everything is.

Buffalonians are also proud to have grocery stores which sell beer, but after setting foot in Chicago that boast is not only pointless but downright foolish. On my first trip to a grocery store after returning to Buffalo, I noticed a large section devoted to international beers. Most of the beer people buy from grocery stores in Buffalo is the popular stuff, and the grocery stores selling exotic beers is a new idea here. And taking the word “exotic” in context is important here. Yes, there are beers available from countless different countries, but they’re being sold to a populace which thinks of Ohio as exotic. Great Lakes beer, which is brewed in Cleveland, hasn’t been around in Buffalo for very long. In Jewel and Dominick’s – the respective Chicago versions of Tops and Wegman’s – these beers have been readily available for years.

The Illinois state government seems to have a more laissez-faire attitude toward alcohol sales in general than the New York state government, and this is more apparent in the grocery stores than anywhere else. The alcohol your average Chicago grocer is allowed to sell you isn’t limited to just beer. It isn’t actually limited at all, really. At the average Dominick’s, wine was both more prevalent and more available than beer, and the better known brands of whiskey, rum, Irish cream, and vodka were also available. Dominick’s even served samples of wine and beer, an act which in New York may be worth jail time outside of a speakeasy. If the alcohol stores in Chicago weren’t selling the more local brands, there wouldn’t be any need at all for them.

For all the ways Chicago bests Buffalo in its drinking, though, Buffalo does hold an advantage in a couple of areas which are key to anyone from a border city. For all of the foreign beer you can buy in Chicago, it would seem like Chicago’s attitude toward Canada is that Canada doesn’t count as foreign. My de facto first question upon walking into a new bar in Chicago quickly became “got anything Canadian?” when I figured out the bars never heard of my favorite beers. Even most of the bars with a lot of international beers I went to neglected to sell brands from the great white north. The very few that knew Canadian brands also treated them like foreign brands; they were more expensive and sold strictly by the bottle, concepts which are unacceptable in Buffalo.

Buffalo also falls under the same minimum drinking age as Chicago, but it has an important trump card: Canada. While the 4 AM last call time never did manage to stretch across the northern border, a Buffalo kid can drink legally at age 19 if he’s willing to drive a few extra miles. The Peace Bridge takes us to Fort Erie, and the Rainbow Bridge allows people to cross to the more urbane part of Niagara Falls. Clifton Hill has a lot of highly regarded nightclubs and drinking points, and Casino Niagara sits right at the end of the Rainbow Bridge. Buffalo residents have access to a special kind of driver’s license which allows easier navigation around those damned passport laws.

The most memorable alcohol boast a Buffalo kid can make in Chicago is being able to drink up at Niagara Falls. People take special trips to Niagara Falls for weddings and honeymoons, once in a lifetime events. They go to photograph the waterfalls in all their powerful majesty during globetrots. Niagara Falls is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, but in Buffalo, kids two years short of legal drinking treat it like just another hole in the wall.