|you call this traffic?
|YOU CALL THIS TRAFFIC?
I live in Los Angeles. But I grew up in Buffalo.
From time to time I return for a visit. My friends
in LA question the wisdom of spending vacation
time in Buffalo but I tell them I have my
reasons and the main reason is: its fun.
I get together with people I have known 40
years and we play golf and beach it and one
meal follows another and we talk, talk, talk. It’s
the perfect vacation.
Buffalo is a city in decline. The economy has
tanked and the job market is zero. Downtown
is a morgue and North main, a stretch of once
thriving business districts had fallen victim to a
sort of creeping urban crud that has manifested
itself in the usual ways: derelict storefronts and
showrooms and office space--boarded up,
locked down and fenced in--and this has in turn
led to a proliferation of church revivalist type
operations and your neighborhood health care
and drug rehab clinics—the welfare
My friend Sam said: “its pathetic. There are no
jobs because there is no business and there is
no business because the city is falling apart and
this serves to effectively thwart any future
possible investment strategy. It’s a vicious
Sam is correct. It’s a mess. But there is an
upside to all the decay and squalor and dismal
economic stats. For example:
1) Buffalo is convenient. The city is a morgue
which has done wonders to improve the traffic
situation. There is no traffic. Whatever your
plans—to play golf, grab a movie, a bite to eat,
attend church, visit with a friend, etc, takes 15
minutes to get there. I was playing golf with
Carl Calamare. Carl lives on Richmond—the
West Side. The golf course is in Canada—Fort
Erie. You take Richmond to Porter, Porter to the
Peace Bridge, over the bridge and through
customs and into Canada and jump on the QE
for one exit and there you are at the club. Time
elapsed: 15 minutes. On the way back we hit a
pile-up at the bridge, the usual swarm of semis
that have become the curse of the free trade
agreement with Canada. We got in line and
bumped along for 20 minutes. Carl was ranting
I said: you call this traffic?
2) density of polulation. Buffalo has negative
populations growth. People are leaving. Where
are they going? They are going to Los Angeles.
You may recall a famous experiment with rats.
They put 3 rats in a cage and everything was
cool. The rats were fat, happy, motivated. They
were always laughing. Into another cage they
put 20 rats. In this cage nothing was cool. The
rats lost weight, they couldn’t sleep, they couldn’
t eat, they couldn’t poop. They developed ulcers
and their hair fell out. They were not laughing.
There was a lot of anti social behavior that
manifested itself in the usual ways:
biting, raping, maiming.
Need I labor this one?
3) Noise pollution. In LA we have noise
pollution and the two prime culprits at the top
of the list are: the hovering chopper at 2AM and
the car alarm. There was a story in the Times
last year involving a woman who rose from her
bed at 3AM and grabbed a shotgun and marched
outside to deal with a car alarm problem. She
blasted in the windows of the car and then
moved on to the owners house--her neighbor
and landlord--and applied the same treatment
to the windows of the house. That was her
mistake. Now she was in jail. I wrote a letter to
the Times. I said: this woman should not be in
Jail. They should put her face on a stamp. (The
Times failed to print). The point I am making is:
in three weeks in Buffalo I heard one car alarm.
4)Personal service. Buffalo has no jobs so the
people that do have jobs tend to be
overqualified. You have all this splendid help at
places like Target and Wegmans Markets and
Teds Hot Dogs and so forth. They are educated,
polite, eager to please.
5) Buffalo is cheap. I had lunch with Jack
D'Amico. I know jack from College. He is a
teacher, an English Prof, also a writer and we
have a lively correspondence going, entering its
35th year. It will make good reading one day
when all the ex-wives and girlfriends are dead.
We were at Chefs, on Seneca, the South side, a
It was an Alice in Wonderland type situation. You
parked in back and passed inside and once
through the door you were whisked back to
Buffalo circa 1950. It was the same room with
the same bar and the same food and the same
chairs and tables and table cloths and pictures
on the wall. There were the same people—
customers, waiters, waitresses, barkeep—
wearing the same clothes and haircuts.
We ordered. I had the braciola stuffed with
prociutto and cheese and pine nuts and Jack had
the breaded tripe and there was an antipasto to
start and desert to finish. There was wine. The
bill was $37.00. I defy you to eat a meal like
this, of similar quality, anywhere in Los Angeles
at the restaurant of your choice for less than
7) There is a charm to Buffalo. Back to Chefs,
with Jack and myself eating. Two guys entered
the restaurant. One guy is tall, mid-forties and
the other a few years older. They are business
types in suits.
They take the table next to ours.
Jack knows the tall guy—the Mayor of Buffalo.
They exchange hellos and jack introduces me:
“Jack—this is the Mayor—Tony Massiello”.
I said hello to the Mayor. The other guy was Joe
Deneke—the Mayors driver. Joe was a cop.
Jack said: “Jack is visiting from Los Angeles. He
grew up in Buffalo”.
Joe Deneke said: “what are things like in LA”?
Everyone wanted to know what things were like
in LA. I could tell them.
I said: “they are like the little Dutch kid in the
story with his fingers in the dike. He has ten
fingers but there are nine thousand holes in the
dike. That’s what its like in LA”.
We chatted briefly and returned to our lunch.
We finished and stood to leave.
I said goodbye to the Mayor.
I said: do I call you your honor or what?
He said: “call me Tony”.
In the car I said to jack: “this is what I love
about Buffalo. You can be sitting in a restaurant
and strike up a conversation with a guy at the
next table and its the Mayor of Buffalo”.
Jack nodded: “that’s Buffalo”.
He said: “have you ever thought of moving
I said: “I have thought about it—many times. I
have lived in LA for 30 years. Its my home. I
have my job, my friends, my little routine. But I
am burned out. I could live in Buffalo and be
happy. The question is: could I take the
winters? The answer is: no”.
Jack said: “Last year was a milestone--even for
Buffalo. I wrote you about that storm. It was
hilarious. That was the only possible response—
laughing. We had one foot, then 3 feet, then 6
feet. It came down like someone was up there
spraying the city with foam. It was
hallucinogenic—like being on acid”.
I spent three weeks. I played golf and visited
with friends. I walked around. When was the
last time you took a walk in Los Angeles? It’s a
pointless activity. But in Buffalo you have
Elmwood ave and Hertel Ave and Allentown and
Delaware park, etc. Delaware Park, and the
splendid neighborhoods woven in at the edge,
feeding into the park, were designed by
Frederick Law Olmstead who also designed
Central park in New York.
And You have the river. There is something
about a river, especially this one, the Niagara,
that serves to funnel the waters of Lake Erie
into Lake Ontario and midway between the two
occurs the spectacle of Niagara Falls. You stroll
Tonawanda Park, sucking an ice cream, ambling
along in the swarm--of young couples and old
couples and families with their kids and dogs
and the usual squads of zit covered rollerblading
youths--and there is the river with the sun
setting behind, a giant red blister lighting up the
sky with this blazing ferocious wash of color and
on a steaming midsummer Buffalo night of
pulverizing heat and humidity you get a puff of
breeze gusting off the water, and this is the
place to be.
Well-—I could go on. I could speak of the
people, your average hard working family
types, modest, friendly and in no way
interested in securing the services of an agent.
I could speak of the architecture, the
museums, the Univeristy, Kleinhans Music
Hall and the Buffalo Philharmonic.
I could speak of the Mafia, also in a slide,
mirroring that of the city, but still around to
perk things up from time to time, a body in a
car trunk or a righteous gunfight, such as
occurred several years ago, on the west side,
and the police arrived to find a guy named Louie
Sacco thrashing in the street, nursing 6 bullet
holes but still alive, very, and the cops asked
what happened and Louie says: “Ill take care of