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51 Things You’ll Never Hear a Buffalo Resident Say

51 Things You’ll Never Hear a Buffalo Resident Say

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

1 – “Buffalo wings.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 – “Dolphins are mammals, not fish!”

11 – “Buffalo ’66 needs a sequel.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

35 – “Coffee? Starbucks, of course!”

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

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

38 – “What’s a weck?”

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

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

41 – “William McKinley had it coming.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dispatches from Knife’s Edge

Dispatches from Knife’s Edge

Knife. So they decided to officially call this monster Knife. Winter Storm Knife, cutting across the heart of Erie County.

Maybe it’s meant to evoke some sort of ferocity, but I can’t help but think of it as a little bit kitsch. In Western New York, no one ever refers to winter storms by their proper names. We just refer to them by the features of them that everyone remembers. There is the Blizzard of ’77, for example. That’s all we need as an automatic reference to the legendary Blizzard of ’77, which everyone born after that year knows about. The Blizzard of ’77 is the standard by which every other bad winter storm is judged in Buffalo. I was born four years after that disaster, but I’m old enough to have seen some pretty hefty storms. I have recollections of the famous ’85 blizzard, when then-Mayor James Griffin voiced his battle cry for waiting out snowstorms: “Stay inside, grab a six-pack, and watch a good football game.” There was the Gridlock Monday storm of 2000, which dropped 35 inches and forced everyone driving home at the time to abandon their cars and walk home. There was the White Christmas storm of 2001, an anomaly in an otherwise mild winter which deposited 83 inches onto the city in four days – pretty much the entire snow measurement for an entire winter.

This current arctic blast currently dropped 75 inches in a little under two days, and it kills me that this is only the second-highest snowfall I’ve ever been in. (So far.) This is definitely beer and football weather; my school has been closed every day this week except Monday, which is the one day I don’t have classes. And so, with all my homework done, I’ve settled into backburner mode, except my version of beer and football so far has been tea and basketball. I managed to get out once to take a few photos during he calm before the current, second wave of the storm hit.

There’s a travel ban in place, so there won’t be any going anywhere until it’s time to visit the grocery store. When things clear up a little bit, I might try to go outside for a quick walk, but that’s out of the question for now.

You would never know right now that most of yesterday and today were sunny. This storm wasn’t simply some snow – it was a squall; a whiteout so complete that in my community, going out to shovel meant not being able to see the street.

There’s an odd process to having cabin fever. When you first realize you’re trapped at home, it’s easy to shrug, smile, call into work, and sit back with a nice beer to enjoy your day off. Snow days rarely go beyond that first day, and by the end, you’re refreshed and happy. You start getting sick of the walls by the second day, though, and not getting to go out starts getting boring. By the third day, you just want the snow to stop so you can get to the bar across the street. I tend to look for a little bit of variety – it’s a reason I like to be outside. Although I’m not at my breaking point right now, my routine during Winter Storm Knife has involved a lot of reruns of How I Met Your Mother and Futurama, college basketball and New York Knicks games, and movies. I usually have my workout done in the late morning or early afternoon, which knocks an hour to an hour and a half off my day between the workout itself and the fact that I’m usually so wiped out afterward that I end up napping at some point.

At some point, I started having some odd thoughts. What is this sudden obsession with putting Fritos on everything now? Is someone out to destroy bacon?

In any case, the city was well-prepared for the storm. It’s Buffalo, and snow happens, and getting hit with it in July wouldn’t surprise us. Before the storm came on Monday, I had an appointment with a podiatrist scheduled, which happened to be very good luck on my part because I was able to bicycle to his office. I was caught in the rain (yes, rain) on the way back, but it was nothing I hadn’t endured during my messenger years. The news outlets had been reporting on this storm for a few days by then, and it was due to hit on Monday night. We knew what we were in for; by late evening, everyone was already tuned into the broadcast stations to see the list of the next day’s closings. I think we were expecting a big whiteout but an otherwise minor emergency; two feet, two and a half tops.

You know things are bad when the newspaper delivery lets up, and this is our third day without a morning newspaper. The owner of the Buffalo Bills started offering $10 an hour plus tickets to the football game to drop by and dig out Ralph Wilson Stadium. Then he was shamed for it while drivers were advised to ignore the offer; people gave up when the snow didn’t stop; and now it was just reported that we’re not going to have a local football game to watch while we drink this week; the game is being moved to a different location altogether.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much to tell on the macro level because no one here has been able to see much of anything. I know only what I’ve seen on TV: The Weather Channel is trapped at an inn in Hamburg. One of the local TV stations was trapped for hours at a gas station. Both are giving us periodic updates, mainly as filler: “Hey everyone, it’s still snowing!” Now we know what they must have felt like in the south last winter. All that’s left to do now is wait for the snow to let up and look for ourselves to pop up on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report soon.

Buffalo’s Occupiers Get it Right

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you already know about the Occupy movement. They’re out camping in the streets, angry and frustrated and trying to get some of Wall Street’s insane cash flow back into Main Street, where 99 percent of the people actually live.

Generally, I agree with the idea, but I’m a little suspicious of the Occupiers for a few reasons: First of all, I have a very rooted suspicion that a few too many of these guys can’t exactly qualify as 99 Percenters themselves, but as well-off trust fund hipsters looking for ways to rebel. Second, I KNOW a lot of these people aren’t there as part of a giant 99 Percent mass which wants to take back Main Street, but as representatives of more radical leftist factions pushing a very, VERY narrow agenda and who won’t budge on it. This is liable to cause a number of divisions within the Occupy movement and, in fact, it already has. Buffalo and New York City have both splintered on agenda differences. Thanks, Occupiers, that was fun. You can go back to your universities now.

Now, I have a lot of praise for the Buffalo Occupiers, or rather, the original group that started the movement outside of Buffalo City Hall. Whereas the other Occupy groups did everything in their power to call everyone on the outside racists, Occupy Buffalo knows what unity actually is. Instead of trying to divvy up their agendas, they’ve been concentrating on the big picture.

Its gone shamefully underreported, probably because this is Buffalo and not some glamor city with a ton of nightlife and artlife. But if the Occupy movement wants any chance in hell of changing anything, it would be wise to adopt the Occupy Buffalo’s tactics and avoid alienating all of their potential allies.

While the Police at other Occupy protests have been assaulting and arresting screaming protesters, one of the first things Occupy Buffalo did was recognize that the Police are among the 99 Percent too, and were probably afraid of how they might be affected by the budget. So the local Occupiers held a vigil in appreciation of the Buffalo Police Department, and the result is that the Buffalo Police are leaving Occupiers alone. The BPD and Occupiers are, in fact, on excellent terms with each other. There has been nary even a faint whisper of violence, and when an anonymous donor gave the Occupiers a large dome to help them stick it out through the winter, the Police let them set it up without incident.

The Occupiers have also agreed to let the city provide the necessary maintenance on their spot. This was an official agreement; the Occupiers were invited into City Hall to make it formal. Whenever maintenance is needed, the Occupiers move out for the few hours it takes the city services to clean up.

The Occupiers have even managed to reach out to the Tea Party. Instead of taking the regular path of most of the Occupy movements and saying everyone not with them is a horrible racist, Occupy Buffalo managed to recognize one of the goals of the original Tea Party: Try to end government waste. I’m not sure how the Tea Party has responded, but it was a smart thing for the Occupiers to recognize a major goal they have in common with ideological opponents.

Occupy Buffalo is a true throwback movement to the 60’s. Instead of the us-vs.-them mentality employed by virtually everyone in any kind of political arena today, Occupy Buffalo is taking the general idea of the people vs. the corporate and government interests that united the country in the protests of the 60’s. It’s too bad Occupy Buffalo split, but the Occupy movement everywhere has lessons to learn from Buffalo.

Bicycling Against Nature

I’m finally on a bicycle again, free to go almost anywhere in Buffalo. The experience of cycling in Buffalo, though, is proving even more different than cycling in Chicago than I thought it would.

I always had the nagging feeling that riding a bicycle in Chicago was a little different than riding one in Buffalo, and with the differences so fresh in my mind now, I can finally place my finger on it. It isn’t just the cosmetic, man-made atmosphere that’s different, but the natural environment as well.

Chicago is in Illinois, a midwestern state on the northern end of the great plains. New York is a lot more mountainous, with long expanses of road that dip and swoop through the rural areas, and Buffalo sits at the edge of Lake Erie as a small cranny at the foot of one of the many mountain ranges in the northeast. The artificial surfaces in the cities themselves reflect the general terrain – Chicago with its slightly tilled land slants and Buffalo with it’s numerous hills.

It’s easy to alternate between pedaling and cruising in Chicago because a cyclist can cruise for however long he can stay on a bicycle. Once you start forward, there isn’t much to stop you. In Buffalo, how long you can cruise depends on how much velocity you can pick up for an uphill ride. The land layout means you can potentially cruise for longer, but you also have to ride up the occasional slope, which means pedaling well after your legs are tired and aching, when you would like nothing more than a decent slant so gravity can take over and you can give your legs a brief respite.

Buffalo and Chicago are also both well-known for their extreme weather. Chicago was nicknamed The Windy City back in the 1870 for good reason. (The nickname even picked up an acquisition myth of its very own which is officially taught and widely believed in Chicago.) But Buffalo’s wind isn’t without punishing hardships of its own. The wind on average is actually faster in Buffalo by about 1.5 mph according to national weather statistics, but that doesn’t mean Chicago goes easier. The wind in both cities just plain hates your guts. It will attack you differently in both places, but it’s similar in that it does everything it can to discourage even a staunch cyclist.

When the weatherman on TV tells you the wind is coming from a certain direction, that has no application to anyone outside. Wind swirls and gusts all around on the ground level, and what this means to a cyclist is that it will always feel like you’re riding against the wind. On numerous occasions, I’ve likened going into the wind in Chicago to casting a spell that allows you to walk through walls, then attempting to walk into a cliff just as the spell is beginning to wear off. Chicago’s wind is more focused and relentless, always blowing at your face with a fury, and it will never, ever let up. The closer you get to Lake Michigan, the harder the wind blows. There is a very small pocket in Chicago at the intersection of Franklin Street and Jackson Street – right where the Sears Tower sits – that acts like a giant outdoor wind tunnel, even on days when the wind is blowing at barely a whisper everywhere else in the city.

The wind in Buffalo does let up on occasion, but unless your timing is always in tune with the weather, it will be blowing at you pretty hard when you’re trying to climb a hill. When the wind does let up, it usually does so to switch the angle it’s hitting at. The wind in Buffalo slashes and cuts from every conceivable front angle, like it’s researching you and changing attack strategies like a professional boxer. Like Chicago, it blows harder the closer you are to the lake. When you get to downward slopes, however, the wind can act as a brake.

Cycling in both cities has different obstacles – I’ll be writing more about them in the future – but like everywhere else with a bike path, you just have to adapt as best as you can.

A Tale of Two Winter Cities

Springtime in Buffalo was met with Ma Nature’s traditional greeting for New York state: Snow. Seven inches to be precise, along with a nod in the national news. Because snow in Buffalo is so unusual and the people in Buffalo run around outside screaming “Hark, the sky is falling!” I’m sure.

Must have been a very slow news day. Buffalo ends up in the national news at least a couple of times every winter for being completely buried. If seven inches dropped in North Carolina or Georgia or Maryland, it would be a complete burial by the standards of those places. But up here in the harsh winter crannies of New York, seven inches is barely a dusting. Even pausing to brush the car off, seven inches doesn’t so much as slow down rush hour traffic.

As it happens, I was still in Chicago during the “Snowpocalypse” in February. The coverage of that winter storm was the kind reserved for real disasters like the recent tsunami in Japan or Hurricane Katrina. The city was in the news for a week. A week afterward, the Chicago weather was back in the news again because the temperature had jumped up to the high 50’s and nearly all the snow was melted.

The Snowpocalypse dumped over 20 inches onto Chicago and the populace didn’t know what to do. My opinion of Chicago’s vaunted broad-shouldered winter toughness is rather low, and one of the things I quickly learned was that the reason so many people believe in the myth of winter-tough Chicago was because Chicagoans constantly compliment themselves on it. They are classic cases of talking the talk but saying “I could, but I don’t wanna” when challenged to back it up.

I probably wouldn’t be pointing this out if Chicagoans were a bit more honest about their assessment of their ability to weather a winter. But Chicago doesn’t seem to make a distinction between the toughest large metropolis and actual toughness. The city businesses begin to close down if so much as three inches hits the pavement. The city services slow down at the first sign of a snowflake. A few years ago, Chicago ran out of its snow removal budget, and this presented me with two thoughts which I still can’t quite wrap my mind around: That the big, tough, broad-shouldered, windy winter city didn’t have enough foresight to prepare for such a scenario, and that city budgets have whole piles of money set aside for the sole purpose of getting snow out of the way.

Buffalo was always so good at snow removal that I had never stopped to think of it as a city service before. The one time the white stuff piled up faster than the city could remove it was during the infamous Gridlock Monday winter storm of 2000, and that was only because of the rapid pace of the snow buildup and the timing of the storm, which occurred during the evening rush hour. That was the only time I’ve ever seen people in Buffalo spend their nights at their workplaces and schools. Those who were trapped in their cars simply got out and walked, leaving their cars behind to be dug out the following morning. My mother spent the night at her workplace, and I helped dig her car out. My father just barely made it home.

City-slowing winter storms in Buffalo, however, are anomalies. Buffalo gets hit by at least a couple of storms per year which drop 20 inches. We know the drill here and we routinely work it to perfection. 20 inches means it’s time to break out the shovels and snowblowers. It seems the national media makes a bigger deal out of snow in Buffalo than is warranted. It paints pictures of people terrified and confused by the snow, who stock up on canned goods for storms driving snowmobiles to the stores, and sit nervously in front of the traffic reports, waiting for the opening to get out. But the reality in Buffalo is that we break open a cold six-pack, and the only time we watch The Weather Channel is to make fun of the poor bozos in North Carolina as they slam their cars into telephone poles at five mph. (And yes, we really do those things.) Although we frequently do wish for warmer weather, those are arbitrary wishes which are often shrugged off immediately afterward with the phrase “It’s Buffalo, what are ya gonna do?”

As for Chicago – scared, panicky, confused during slight dustings, 20 inches really can be interpreted as the end of the world. The Snowpocalypse made for an interesting look at a post-rapture Chicago. The largest, busiest streets in the city were completely barren for two days. Meanwhile, I grabbed my camera and had fun. The Snowpocalypse contained a simple truth that Chicago is too busy kidding itself to admit: That all those national stereotypes which are applied to snow-buried Buffalo are far better applied to Chicago.