McKinleys & Mad Hamburgers
By Tom "on weck " Waters
May 1 , 2004
I can identify with the average Buffalonian, though. We gripe on our barstools about what could have been, how corrupt and Draconian the political system is, how disappointing the latest game was, or how ridiculous the weather is. We bitch about the highest taxes in the country, the highest college graduate exodus in the country (they become smart enough to get the hell out of here), the highest gas prices, unemployment rates, cholesterol….should I keep going? We love to complain for the sake of complaining, and believe it or not, I can relate to that. Venting keeps us sane.
I love this city (Buffalo, NY) like a one night stand I had after getting drunk at a dive bar on Chippewa street a few years ago; I wasn't altogether sober and she was pretty with minimal lighting, but I'd rather not go bragging about it to my friends. One thing I could never tolerate on the promotional junket were the legions of artists, musicians and poets who wouldn't hesitate to fellate the city of Buffalo for a chance to jump a few rungs up the ladder to success. It seems cheap and tasteless, not to mention the fact that it ostracizes the rest of the world. The remainder of the country doesn't know what to make of us, and belting out ballads about local landmarks (pointing the finger at you, Goo Goo Dolls) or penning a script magnifying some of our worst football feats (where are you now, Vincent Gallo?) has a terminal effect on your long term success.
One could say that after a shout out to your home town, you've effectively buffaloed yourself into a corner. On the road to success, it's a Faustian pact. After the bottom drops out, it's a good place to limp back to and lick your wounds (lest we mention Rick James, Jim Kelly, and again, the Goo Goo dolls). I've always had a lot more respect for the local artists who've managed to stick to their guns and hang on to a shred of dignity and integrity. So in the face of all that's holy, allow me to drop to my knees this one time and service the town I grew up in. Be kind enough to pass the mouthwash when I'm done. I would also like a shiny Buffalo nickel for each and every local reference I can manage to summon without a gag reflex.
I can sum up my feelings for the city of Buffalo in one phrase: it could be worse. In the grand scheme of things, we've had some rough times. The economy went from not too bad to just plain awful. If only canals were in vogue again. We've still got other national landmarks and beautiful natural resources to build Casinos on top of, though. Niagara Falls can handle another hundred tourist shops conveniently located every five feet from the middle stretch of Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst all the way to the middle of the jagged rocks where that jackass fell and survived after his suicide attempt a few years back. The Albright Knox still has some of the best paintings and sculptures in the world (I'll never forget their Andy Warhol exhibit). Downtown hosts Lafayette Square, where the town used to hang people a few hundred years ago. After seeing a few of the washed up rockers they drag into town for the concerts, I wish they'd reinstate that activity. Lake Erie is a beautiful shore to look at but swimming in it will give you more diseases than an anthrax smoothie garnished with Ebola. Plus we have the splendor and magnificence of the Buffalo/Niagara Airport, paired beautifully with the thirty year construction project referred to as Genesee 'Street'. Last time I checked, streets weren't open craters that you jettisoned your motor vehicle in and out of.
And if there's one thing we love, it's romancing out of town financiers into dumping their lucre downtown, touting them as the ushers of a new era of prosperity only to find that they've been taxed into Chapter 11 or that they've given up with little or no support. We've had more than our share of politicians who fleeced the treasury and then dug through our back pockets when we weren't looking (Mr. Joel Giambra, you may be seated now). If our funds weren't so misappropriated, we might have public libraries with hours of operation longer than 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. on the fourth Sunday of every month, or public parks that weren't roped off or condemned because the funds went to the trouble of appointing someone's cousin as Royal Chauffer And All Around Grand Poobah to the tune of $300,000 a month. President McKinley came to visit and got shot somewhere in the middle of the last century, and yet Bill Clinton is welcomed with open arms. Mark Twain lived here for a time, as we're told over and over again. Joyce Carol Oates still lives on the outskirts. Political putz/musical satirist Mark Russell pounds the ivory on PBS in our honor. Political cartoonist Tom Tolls finally got enough attention to get the hell out of here and make some real money. Talking head Tim Russert recently shuffled away from Buffalo to make it big elsewhere, and now we hold him over our shoulders in triumph. That's one of the things that gets my knickers in a twist. After interviewing a score of local talent, our gripe is the same. We choose to stay here and get nothing for our efforts. The catch 22 is that you have to leave in order to succeed as an artist, and yet you get no love from your hometown if you stay. It's a dysfunctional relationship we have, Buffalo. We love to hate each other, don't we?
And we've got our share of prodigals, in my generation as well as any other. Those who venture elsewhere, find conditions unfavorable, and decide to come back. It could be worse. It's like the difference between eating a dog turd out of an ice cream cone versus, say, getting a colonoscopy from Popeye. Sure, that's a stretch. I really don't mind it here. If I did, I would have left. The sense of community is binding and unifying at times, suffocating and oppressive at others. My friend Scotty shuffled off to Spartanburg, North Carolina ten years ago and hasn't come back. He still misses it. It's warmer there, and the women aren't as stuck-up (that's a comment I hear often from expatriates), but he misses his hometown. He and his roommate have a shrine over the mantle with Sabres and Bills memorabilia, and they watch a lot of the televised games even though they don't care much for hockey or football. Well neither do I. A lot of people leave for jobs, property and city taxes that aren't crippling, or opportunities beyond the dream of becoming the 5,500th lawyer to graduate from UB this year or the newest manager at a locally owned coffee and sandwich shop.
Don't get me wrong, I dig the local storefronts. Terrapin Station (head shop and all around Grateful Dead emporium) , Talking Leaves and Rust Belt Books (independently owned bookstores), Spot Coffee, Coffee &, Coffee McCofferson's Coffee, Cigar and Latte Hut, Nietzsche's, The Buffalo Brewpub, Shannon Pub, Scottish sweatshirt shops set up in former restaurant settings, and lest we forget Captain Coffee's Beanship and Twice Caffeinated Lunar Landing Zone! We've got the individualistic thing down. It just seems like there's a prevailing inferiority complex. An overwhelming need to prove ourselves to the rest of the country. That could just be the pride, though. We're the middle child version of a town, constantly screaming, 'Hey ma! Are you looking? I'm gonna do a cannonball!' to the rest of the world while we flop upside down and hit the pool flat on our backs, emptying our bladder in the process. Do we have something to prove? Are we still sore from losing two Superbowls and getting screwed out of a Stanley Cup over a crease malfunction? Or could we be bent out of shape from watching Baby Joe Mesi get his brain knocked off the stem in the ring before he got a shot at some real title bouts? Maybe.
Personally, I think it's the food that keeps us close to the nest. It keeps me hooked. Perhaps you don't know this, but the hamburger was invented here. Hence to the town of Hamburg. How anyone can think that Taco Bell holds a candle to Mighty Taco is beyond me. Processed cat meat or not, they make a wicked burrito. And there are more chicken wing concoctions than my ulcer can remember. Buffalo Wild Wings went corporate and franchised elsewhere, and then they came back. The sauce is unbelievable, but the wings are too damned tiny. I prefer Mazia's or La Pizzeria any day of the week. I have La Pizzeria to thank for my weekly dependency of chicken finger and steak subs. I still love Zorba's Texas Hots and there are a lot of places that serve a wicked rippin' Roast Beef on Weck. Our great food is a byproduct of the cultural melting pot that washed over from early immigration. There are a lot of third and now fourth generation Polish, Italian, Irish and German mixes wandering around in the populace. From what my Aunt Linda tells me, Dingus Day (the Polish holiday that follows after Easter, think St. Patrick's day with foamier beer) originated in Buffalo.
And who would we be without our weather? It defines us and maddens us. As I write this (on the 12th of October) it's lake effect snowing outside. I'm not exaggerating, either. You can attribute some of our sullen natures to the miserable weather eight months out of the year. It's arctic tundra that's only good for drinking, fornicating and watching disappointing football and/or hockey games in. This is why we have so many July and September babies who come skating out of the womb high sticking their umbilical cords. I squeeked in at the end of October, so it must have been a late blizzard. Miserable weather is the perfect environment for artistic temperaments, though. Extreme cold with months of minimal daylight followed by four months of paradise where absolutely everyone crawls out from under their rocks to take in a concert at Thursdays in the Square, grab a bite to eat at the Italian Festival, buy some local art at the Allentown art festival or hop on a ride downwind from three square acres of humid barn animal fur and feces at the Erie County Fair, or as it's now referred to (since the backers want no association with our fair county), America's Fair.
I can identify with the average Buffalonian, though. We gripe on our barstools about what could have been, how corrupt and Draconian the political system is, how disappointing the latest game was, or how ridiculous the weather is. We bitch about the highest taxes in the country, the highest college graduate exodus in the country (they become smart enough to get the hell out of here), the highest gas prices, unemployment rates, cholesterol..should I keep going? We love to complain for the sake of complaining, and believe it or not, I can relate to that. Venting keeps us sane. And while we complain, we stuff our faces with wings and drown it with a miniature silo of draft beer. Sure, the rest of the country doesn't know what to make of us, but why let them in on the secret? The traffic's bad enough as it is. Don't even get me started on that. After all, It Could Be Worse. Someone should put that on a sign near the town limit.
What do you think? Leave your comments on the Guestbook!