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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.

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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.

The 2016 Extinct List

The 2016 Extinct List

And so, after a year off so I could relocate and get settled, it’s time to start writing my annual shit list again. Yes, I know this is something I would ordinarily save until the proper time – that being December – but 2016 has been unique in how rotten it was. (Besides, I always wrote these at the beginning of the year anyway until now. From now on, it goes properly near the end of the year so no one gets confused. Especially me.) All the early Christmas shit is driving me crazy, but if anything can serve to hasten its arrival and signal the end of the year, I’m all for it. Hence, I’m doing this a little bit earlier this year in the hope that there’s going to be some weird Back to the Future Part II timeline split. Why not? The Chicago Cubs just won the World Series, after all. If you’ve seen Back to the Future Part II, you know that Marty McFly took a trip to the year 2015 and saw a headline where the Cubs won the Series. Michael J. Fox, who played Marty McFly, tweeted after the Fall Classic this year that the movie was only off by a year. (“Not bad!” he said. Of course, in the movie the Cubs beat Miami for the title; there wasn’t a team in Miami when the movie was made, and even though there is now, they won’t play against each other in the World Series because they’re both National League teams.)

So today, my list of little things that drive us all nuts through our everyday lives. These aren’t necessarily big problems, but they’re the things you get exposed to often enough that they get under your skin, no matter where you live. That means they tend to hit home on a more primal level and have an existing probability of creating a version of you that wanders out into the world and starts creating the bigger problems.

The Simpsons
It’s over. Done. Kaput. With any long-running show, you’re going to get a few bad episodes, and there are reasons for that: Writers lose interest in a story, draw out the quirkier aspects of their formerly well-rounded characters, get Writer’s Block, fly off into segues, or have an idea fly off in a direction they didn’t see before. But The Simpsons raised this into an art form DECADES ago, and I’m being literal when I say “decades.” It doesn’t help that, since The Simpsons is an animated show, the characters don’t grow, mature, or age, and the revolving door of writers has to keep up with the changing youth culture. What does that mean? That The Simpsons hasn’t been good in a long time. I don’t know how the show keeps lurching on by now. There’s no way around it: The Simpsons is so far past its fresh date that it has turned into craptacular show in the overall picture that just happened to start with a few good seasons. You can’t bring seasons two through eight to the forefront as a case for what The Simpsons can do anymore because those were seven seasons out of well over 20, and they get swamped by everything else. You can watch a daylong marathon of The Simpsons and not stumble into one of the show’s classic episodes. It’s time that someone hit Matt Groening over the head with a hammer a few times. Anything to get this shitshow off the air.

Travel Food
You do realize there are places that hold food licenses from professionals, right? Your favorite means of travel don’t seem to be one of them. Freeze-dried quick-heater snacks seem to be the order of the day while you’re on the road, and all of it is overpriced. The more you eat while traveling on a train or plane, the more you start to think the food available there has one purpose: To keep you awake so they can get you off the vehicle in a hurry once you’re wherever you’re going. This is the kind of food that gets in and out quickly. Most, if not all, of it is staleWhen it gets heated, it’s not for the warmth; it’s to make it soft so you can chew it. Once it’s warm, you then have a limited window to get it into your body before it goes from soft and chewy enough to be edible to being tooth-breaking again. Most travel places also offer a grab bag of junk food which is also wildly overpriced, but it’s probably better to go with that anyway because at least you have a better idea of where it came from.

The United States Flag Code
You know all those little rules you think you know about how to respect the flag of the United States? Yeah, someone sat down, thought about, and then had the spare time to write that shit up and have it edited and published. And now, when you’re not wearing the flag – which is a direct violation of the Flag Code – you revere it and treat it like you would your third kid. The fucking Flag Code has come to mean so much that you have the most powerful professional sports league in the country trying to feed us the idea that a kneeling quarterback is the reason why its ratings are down. You know this story: A quarterback doesn’t like the way his people are being treated, and so he rebelled by practicing his right as a patriotic American to not perform a meaningless gesture at a time when a piece of cloth is being waved. This says something about us. None of us stopped watching football when the NFL was lenient in cases of spousal and child abuse. Guy beats his wife, he gets a two-game suspension from the league and the fans don’t give a shit. A player beats his kid, and the league didn’t do anything – it was his team that took action, by suspending him for one game. We keep watching football and don’t mind. A quarterback takes a knee and NOW we want to forget the NFL? You do realize those flags are made in China, right?

Quentin Tarantino Imitators
God love his movies, but as says the mythology of Highlander, there can be only one. The problem with redefining filmmaking is that it can spawn a glut of imitators, and Tarantino’s imitators have always been on the egregious side. Your script isn’t good or imaginative just because you’re taking the time to place all the emphasis on every curse word and forbidden slur and anatomical term on the planet. Your movie isn’t cool just because you’re wrecking the structure on purpose. Placing a few funk tunes here and there isn’t going to spark a style revolution. If you want to enter the world of independent movies, you have to understand a couple of things about Quentin Tarantino: First, his movies in the 90’s worked because he was able to create a style from merging foreign directors which placed punctuation in every scene and every shot. Second, his style works because of a merging of factors which Tarantino happens to be good at. The style of his 90’s movies never went away. Even though he moved beyond his 90’s movies to create more period, epic work, he still sticks his own trademarks into his movies and they work just fine for him. If you’re trying to imitate him, that’s what you’re going to look like: An imitator.

Air Pockets on Painting Surfaces
These things can drive you crazy if you’re ever done any construction or decorative painting. The paint you’re using for the job has to get all over everything and into every nook, because if it doesn’t, you’re going to end up with a series of little tiny dots all over your new surface. Getting everything entails spraining your hand and your wrist in order to make sure your paint of choice gets into everything so the surface looks covered, and the next thing you know, you now have carpal tunnel syndrome without ever having touched a keyboard and you’re soaking your hand in a bowl of ice. You would think that with all the modern technology we have, it would be possible to get a perfectly flat surface without any of those annoying little pockets, but nope. Or a paint that could get into those pockets without you having to press your hand against the surface so hard that you’re practically drilling into it.

Automatic Spell Correction on Computers
If you write a lot, this is something that can drive you crazy. If you spell a word wrong, it automatically corrects the word you misspelled. It seems like a great idea, right? The problem is, the people who program these things don’t get every word in the language. They don’t get every slang word in the language, which is a bigger problem when you realize how much your writing style depends on slang and made-up words in order to make it pop. Worse are those times wen you don’t know how to spell the word you’re trying to use. You type it in, expecting the computer to get at it and correct it right off the bat, and you know you don’t have it right, and the computer properly calls you on it. Yet, it doesn’t correct you – it only points out that you got it wrong. But when you go back and start trying to type in every possible alternate spelling, the computer still points out the error rather than just correcting it because it can’t figure out what you’re getting at, no matter how common the word is.

Daylight Savings Time
There’s no use in trying to save energy by kicking the clock back an hour once a year anymore. The way we use energy has changed too much since those days, and the only thing daylight savings is worth these days is an hour of lost sleep. So why do we still do it? I guess that’s because somewhere along the line, it became a tradition, and since people are a bunch of fucking sheep, we stopped questioning tradition and just assume they’re right and that things have always been this way. The main thing I want to know is that, since daylight savings was created during World War I as a way to save energy, how the hell was it not outlawed the second the war was over? Who did all the governments that adopted it think they were saving energy for?

Tribute Records
There’s only one reason these things are floating around: Money. Tribute records are a bad idea by their very nature. Think about it: You take a legendary rock back that hasn’t done anything in awhile and probably lost a few key members to a decades-long cocaine binge. Then you take of bunch of cool singers and bands du jour who everyone knows now – talent optional – and get them to sing the old rock band’s tunes, which you then compile and toss together on some ridiculous compilation CD. The first thing to object to on these things is obvious: Exploitation of the band itself. The second is also obvious: Exploitation of a group of fans which is probably too smart to fall for the trick. The third is with the songs themselves. All of the songs from the original band were meant to be performed in a certain tone to convey a particular meaning. A song that goes into immortality is remembered because of the way it’s performed as much for just the music and lyrics. And when you’re making a record that strictly sounds like the original, a lot of that gets lost. Yes, there are successful covers of songs, but when a good cover works, it’s because the new artist found a meaning hidden in the original that opened up a new way of hearing it – think Bob Dylan throwing out his own version of “All Along the Watchtower” to start performing Jimi Hendrix’s cover or Trent Reznor saying “Hurt” wasn’t his anymore after hearing Johnny Cash’s cover.

Belts
I just don’t like them.

Six Hot Dog Buns Per Pack and Eight Hot Dogs Per Pack
You can tell this was a thing that caught on before anyone had any idea what math was. Or what parallel meant. But you would have to buy four packs of buns and three packs of hot dogs before the ratio was properly aligned. It’s one of those what-the-hell things that can, once again, be chalked up to useless tradition and no one being smart enough to say, “Hey, wait a minute, what are you guys trying to pull here?” You have to wonder if this is something that came out of some kind of collusion or whether the two industries just started a war with each other which the consumers just got stuck in the middle of. It seems to me like the hot dog bun industry should start losing ground to the bread industry because of this, but that would probably invite a whole new slew of problems. Of course, maybe this is just me, and everyone else is too busy eating to pay attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Tell Buffalo Transplants from Buffalo Natives

How to Tell Buffalo Transplants from Buffalo Natives

Transplant: Tries the wings at Anchor Bar and thinks they’re the best ever.
Native: Acknowledges that the Anchor Bar definitely invented wings, but has a personal favorite wing spot they’re ready to go to war for.

Transplant: Is interested in seeing what kinds of cultural events happen at Niagara Falls and when.
Native: Takes out-of-town relatives to Niagara Falls State Park, but otherwise avoids the city like the plague out of a perfectly justifiable fear of being stabbed.

Transplant: Remembers the Goo Goo Dolls were that one band in the 90’s that had those three or four hits and sang that weepy song from that Nicolas Cage movie no one remembers.
Native: Has drank a beer with Robby Takac and/or George Tutuska somewhere on Chippewa.

Transplant: Nietzsche was a philosopher who ruminated on the death of God.
Native: Nietzsche’s is one of the most highly-regarded bars in the city, which hosts live music and comedy.

Transplant: Respects Ani DiFranco.
Native: Believes Ani DiFranco sold out when she moved to New Orleans.

Transplant: Can barely decipher the Indian names of the suburbs.
Native: Can tell the difference between Tonawanda and North Tonawanda easily.

Transplant: Is nominally aware of a sport called hockey; it’s basically ice boxing. Its greatest fighter is some guy called Getzky… Gits… Grits… Something with Grits…
Native: Frets over games even when the Buffalo Sabres aren’t involved.

Transplant: Gets a little freaked out upon waking up and seeing a foot of snow on the ground.
Native: Is only a little pissy about having to leave the house ten minutes early to brush the car off.

Transplant: Tries to become a savvy downtown navigator, but can’t make heads or tails of Main Place Mall or the Convention Center.
Native: Gave up that ridiculous idea years ago, and now just finds a place to park and hoofs it everywhere.

Transplant: Wonders if all the Dunkin’ Donuts went into hiding or just turned into Tim Horton’s.
Native: Timmy’s is fine, but the best donuts come from Paula’s.

Transplant: Buys a snowsuit.
Native: Snowsuits are just added bulk.

Transplant: Thinks the local college football stadium is a pain in the ass to reach.
Native: Struggles to remember there’s a Division I college football team in the area.

Transplant: Thinks it’s a good sign they shot part of the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie here.
Native: Has encyclopedic knowledge of all the movies shot in Buffalo, and seethes over the one thing almost all of them have in common: They rarely take place in Buffalo.

Transplant: Thinks New York City should be held up as a model city.
Native: Will kill anyone who thinks that and be commended for performing a public service.

Transplant: Sees beef on weck as a rip-off of beef sandwiches from Arby’s.
Native: Will kill people for thinking that too, and make it exponentially more painful.

Transplant: Visit’s Wegman’s for the first time and is impressed.
Native: Goes out of state and never finds a decent place to buy food.

Transplant: Thinks sponge candy is something you wash with in the shower.
Native: Knows an Easter or Halloween going by without sponge candy is a ruthless abomination of everything right and just in the world.

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.”

Dunkin’ Donuts vs. Tim Horton’s: The Ultimate Donut Shop!

Dunkin’ Donuts vs. Tim Horton’s: The Ultimate Donut Shop!

Ah, donuts. Quite possibly the world’s most perfect pastry treat. It says something that whenever people begin their attacks on large, corporate fast food chains, the big donut shops always seem to escape relatively unscathed. I’m not quite sure what, exactly, it’s saying, but I’m sure it’s something. In any case, donuts are delicious. I love them, you love them, and there’s nothing better than going into a neighborhood donut shop on a freezing winter day to order our favored center-hole (or cream-filled) pastry with a nice cup of hot coffee and reading for an hour.

The big question, of course, is figuring out where you want to go to do that. Well, of course there’s always your local joint, but as much as I promote as much locality as possible in matters like this, there are those local places that just aren’t suited to the quiet atmosphere you’re looking for to get out of the cold and lose yourself inside a book for awhile. So as much as I don’t like going to the big places, they’re good at serving that purpose, and I frequently like to take advantage. If you live in the United States or Canada, your choices for such a joint are set in stone: Americans can take advantage of Dunkin’ Donuts, while Canadians have access to Tim Horton’s. But what if you’re living along the border and have ready access to both? Which one do you go to? Well, I’m one of those rare border people who is as likely to visit Dunkin’ as much as he is Timmy’s, and I say it’s time to mine a definitive answer to which one of these places is better. So let’s do this! Dunkin’ Donuts vs. Tim Horton’s. One day, I’ll learn.

Donuts
Well, these places are both donut shops, so we might as well start with the obvious. Both Dunkin’ and Timmy’s are known and, well, at least tolerated for their abilities to whip up batches of creative donuts. Both bakeries have a habit of expanding their selections on a seasonal basis – Dunkin’ even offers a selection of donuts for Valentine’s Day, featuring donuts filled with cookie dough or brownie batter. Timmy’s goes for a more localized basis, and when football and hockey seasons roll around, they have pastries dedicated to the local teams – even the Bulls if you happen to be on the University of Buffalo campus. In the fall, Timmy’s has pumpkin donuts, and Dunkin’ has a seasonal selection more based around apples. When it comes down to the actual structure of the donuts, though, well, those tend to be pretty different too. The donuts at Dunkin’ Donuts are bigger and more dense while the ones at Tim Horton’s are fluffier, airier, and easier to chew on.
Winner
I know this is blasphemy in this area, but I’m giving this edge to Dunkin’ Donuts. Although I think Tim Horton’s probably has the better selection, I tend to think of donuts as dense treats that need to be washed down with a nice batch of brewed coffee, so the variety at Timmy’s just isn’t going to be an acceptable substitute if I decide I want a regular, classic Boston Creme or peanut donut. Dunkin’ does the classics pretty well, and that’s what this whole section comes down to.

Coffee
There’s nothing like a cup of bold, robust coffee to wash down your pastries, so both places offer combinations that include it, along with a wide variety of ways to spice it up. Both places offer iced coffee and dark roasts, as well as a set of cappuccino drinks. There’s not much else to say about coffee – it’s pleasantly bitter and hot, can go with any food, and is a nice way to warm up.
Winner
Tim Horton’s wins this one by a mile. Not only is their dark roast better, but if you go to Dunkin’ Donuts, you have to order the dark roast in order to have a drink that tastes even remotely like coffee. And even then, the Dunkin’ Donuts dark roast is more like one of those vending machine coffees; something that’s there, quick, painless, and convenient that you can drink when you’re in dire need of a pick-me-up. The regular Dunkin’ Donuts coffee has been likened to dishwater, although I personally prefer to compare it to hot water which has been flavored with ink. There’s not much difference, though, and the message remains the same: Dunkin’ Donuts coffee is something that can be thrown out without regret.

Bagels
The redheaded stepchild of the regular donut, bagels aren’t as soft or sweet, but you get to fill them up with butter and cream cheese. And Dunkin’ Donuts makes its bagels considerably bigger than Tim Horton’s, so there’s more for the price and more room for cream cheese. Unfortunately, Dunkin’ bagels also tend to be rather chewy, and also very difficult to bite off. They’re more like the bagels a lot of us get from grocery store bakeries. The bagels at Timmy’s are smaller, and they don’t offer quite as much variety when it comes to toppings, but if you want the bagel sliced and toasted, first of all, it really tastes like its been sliced and toasted and not merely heated in a saucepan for ten seconds. They are hard but just soft enough for you to be able to eat without chipping your teeth, but Timmy’s isn’t quite as generous with the cream cheese. Both places offer a great variety of bagels, from your regular flavors to temporary seasonal offerings.
Winner
Tim Horton’s. Not only are the bagels more like real bagels, they go a lot better with butter if you’re not up for cream cheese. Also, their bagels are a lot more flavorful and taste like exactly what they’re supposed to taste like. The way they’re baked is excellent – you don’t wear yourself out trying to chew one of them.

Muffins
The larger, tastier, more filling, and less healthy alternative to the donut is an incredible treat at Dunkin’ Donuts. Moist, gooey, and packed with whatever flavor you ordered, there’s really not much of a contest to be had in this department… Until you get to know the various branches of Dunkin’ Donuts are realize they all seem to use very different muffin recipes. And that’s a real key here – Dunkin’ muffins COULD be the best you find anywhere, IF you happen to find a branch that does them well. Unfortunately, just as often, you’re also likely to find Dunkin’ muffins that are stale or dry. Tim Horton’s muffins are significantly smaller, and their best don’t hold a candle to the best at Dunkin’. However, there’s a more interesting selection at Timmy’s, and some of their muffins have small pockets filled with an appropriate cream or jelly. Although Dunkin’ ultimately has the higher quality muffins, Timmy’s makes up for its lesser quality with better consistency – a muffin cooked is going to be done in a particular way whether it’s done at Harborcenter or the University of Buffalo campus. The quality remains the same no matter where you are.
Winner
Tim Horton’s. And my god, what a place for Dunkin’ Donuts to squander its potential. Dunkin’ seemed to find the perfect way to make muffins, and yet, it can’t get that method of baking to every store. Hell, in my experience, it can’t get its baking methods to half its stores, and so you have a scattershot chance of finding the best of any particular kind of muffin that gets served at Dunkin’ Donuts. This kind of roulette has never happened at Tim Horton’s. I’ll grant that Dunkin’s blueberry muffins are consistent, but sometimes, I just want a damn chocolate chip muffin that isn’t fucking stale! Or a pumpkin muffin that doesn’t completely crumble after I take my first bite!

Sandwiches
There’s a decent selection of sandwiches at both donut joints. At Dunkin’ Donuts, you get the feeling that everything that’s not one of their breakfast sandwiches was whipped up in a hurry using leftover breakfast materials with lunch meat. Not that I’m docking them for that in itself, because some of those selections are pretty tasty – their turkey sandwiches make a good, fast lunch sandwich in a pinch. Tim Horton’s does subs – or, really, half-subs, bigger than the sandwiches you’re likely to find at Burger King. There aren’t a whole lot of varieties of them, and it feels more like Timmy’s is banking more on its own selection of infallible breakfast sandwiches, which include biscuit sandwiches. Their selection of breakfast sandwiches is pretty standard, and has the usual ingredients, like eggs, sausage, cheese, and bacon.
Winner
Tim Horton’s. Dunkin’ Donuts seems to have whipped up half its menu as a compliment to its putrid coffee. That’s a bad enough crime as it is, but Dunkin’ compounds it by demanding you pay lunch sandwich prices for most of them. At Tim Horton’s, you can actually get a sizable lunch sandwich for an appropriate price.

And the winner of this contest is Tim Horton’s, and a four-time Stanley Cup champion and Hockey Hall of Famer destroys one of the silliest, most unsophisticated uses of the word “dunk.” Although, let’s be honest: The real winner in this contest would be Ipsento. Or Spot. Or Coffee Culture, or Sweetness 7, or whatever other local cafe serves coffee and pastries for the local intellectuals. The small places seem to get it right every time.