Buffalo, New York: The Best Maligned Place

Every year around this time we return to Buffalo, our wonderful, maligned hometown like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano. Buffalo is a city of exiles and I’m one of them. Up to half the people who grow up in the region leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere, but we remain fiercely loyal to the place. The rest of the country assumes that the Queen City is an armpit and treats us as such, but that only makes us love the place even more.

I’ve moved more than a dozen times since I left Buffalo for college at 17. I’ve traveled to more than 50 foreign countries and 40 U.S. States and have lived in five countries and seven states. But Buffalo is the only place that I return to at least once every year. My family keeps me coming back, but even if they skipped town, I’d still come back at least once a year. Why?

Since leaving Buffalo in 1990, I’ve been asked thousands of times where I’m from. When I tell fellow Americans where I’m from, I’ve never once had anyone say, “Buffalo, wow, you’re really lucky,” or “Buffalo, man, I have always wanted to go there.” Not at all. People often repeat the word “Buff-al-lo” slowly, as if digesting a chicken wing bone as a pained expression comes over their faces.

“It’s really cold there, snows all the time doesn’t it?” they’ll say.

This kind of response makes sense if you’re talking to someone from Arizona or Florida or California, but we get it from everyone. Chicago is my adopted hometown and it always astonishes me how Chicagoans, who endure long, miserable winters, somehow assume that Buffalo’s weather must be worse. I try telling people that while Buffalo gets more snow, Chicago is colder but no one believes me.

People who are trying to be nice will mention our weather but will shift focus to our other claim to fame: chicken wings. (We just call them wings.)

“Terrible weather but you’ve got good chicken wings, right?” they’ll say.

Men will also make some reference to the fact that our beloved Buffalo Bills lost in the Super Bowl four times in a row or the fact that we now have the longest playoff appearance drought in the NFL.

There is only one place I’ve been in the world where people were impressed by the fact that I was from Buffalo and you would have a hard time finding this place on a map. It’s a village in Sicily’s rugged interior called Montemaggiore Belsito. My mom’s family emigrated to Buffalo from this village and when I went there for a visit in 2005, everyone we met there knew about “Boo-fah-loh” and had a favorable impression of the place.

“Boo-fah-loh, that’s a beautiful place,” said a young man we met in a café. “My uncle owns Frank’s Sunny Italy restaurant on Delaware Avenue.”

I thought that this was a remarkable coincidence until we realized that everyone in the village had relatives in Boo-fah-loh, as they call it. But aside from Montemaggiore Belsito, Buffalo doesn’t get much love. In the ’80s we had a Buffalo’s “Talkin’ Proud” PR campaign (see video above) and before that we had “Boost Buffalo,” which audaciously suggested that Buffalo was “ideal in every way” with a “wonderful climate” (see video above), but in recent years many of us Buffalo natives have given up trying to convince others that our city isn’t so bad.

For years, I’ve tried to tell people that there is more to Buffalo than snow storms, failing sports teams and wings. Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tim Russert and Mark Twain lived in Buffalo at various times. Buffalo was the 9th largest city in America in 1900 and Delaware Avenue, one of the city’s principles thoroughfares, once had more millionaires than any other street in America. Many of the city’s architectural treasures are still intact; including six Frank Lloyd Wright designed structures.

The city’s population has been declining for decades but there’s a flipside to that depressing trend too: very little traffic and no parking hassles. Buffalo has amazing restaurants, the terrific Albright-Knox Art Gallery, a lively bar scene, and the least pretentious city folk you’ll find in the country. You can buy a nice house in Buffalo for the cost of a mediocre parking space in Manhattan.

The Frederick Law Olmsted designed Delaware Park is one of the finest urban parks in the country and Buffalo’s Art Deco City Hall is a showstopper. We have Niagara Falls, the Niagara Wine Region, a bucolic Amish country and some good ski resorts right on our doorstep. But this is not a list of things to do in Buffalo, because the city’s charms can’t be visited and ticked off like a shopping list.

If you haven’t spent time in Buffalo with a local as your tour guide, you probably won’t get it. A guidebook won’t help you. You’ll drive around in a fog and wonder what the hell to do with your time. You have to go with a local to Ralph Wilson Stadium for a Bills game in December. Sit in the end zone and share a gulp of whisky from your neighbor’s flask. Go ahead and hug some complete strangers when the Bills score – if the Bills score.

Go to a Tim Horton’s for donuts and coffee on a Monday morning and ask the guy at the table next to you how badly he thinks the refs screwed the Bills the day before. (We always get shafted, or at least think we did.)

Go to Gabriel’s Gate in Allentown, sit at the bar, order some wings and share a basket of popcorn and some conversation with the person sitting next to you. Break bread with us. Stay out until 4 a.m. with us at the bars. Commiserate with us about our sports teams. Ask us about our weather if you must. Help us push our cars out of a snowdrift. Spend some time here and you will like it. I swear. But if you don’t come, that’s OK too, because we don’t mind keeping Buffalo’s charms a secret.

[Photo credits: Elif Ayse, Yurilong, Jason Paris, and DMealiffe on Flickr]

Photo Of The Day: Buffalo In Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is among our country’s most famous, and arguably most beautiful, natural wonders. In addition to dramatic scenery, the park is home to an impressive array of wildlife, including elk, wolves, bears and that most iconic of symbols from the American Plains: the buffalo. I love the lighting, the idyllic setting and most importantly, the herd of buffalo grazing in today’s photo of Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, courtesy of Flickr user Max Waugh Photography.

Taken any great photos of our nation’s national parks? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Max Waugh Photography]

Austin’s wandering bison found, returned home

Austin, Texas is no longer where the buffalo roam. The escaped bison that we first told you about last week, was found on Friday and returned safely to the ranch where she had escaped more than a week earlier.

On August 3rd, the bison was purchased by a local rancher, who returned home to introduce her into his existing herd. While unloading her on his property however, something spooked the creature, and she escaped into the surrounding woods.

Several days later, the bison turned up at the 280-acre Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, where she proceeded to evade all attempts to catch her, while simultaneously capturing the imagination of the Austin community. She earned the name “Liberty” from the local media, and while we all knew the inevitable outcome, there was still hope that she might continue to wander free.

On Friday Liberty was sighted for the first time in several days and animal control officers moved in quickly to tranquilize her. After the drugs took effect, she was then loaded onto a trailer and returned to her owner, who was able to integrate her into his herd at last. She’ll now receive a steady supply of food and water, which was an ongoing concern due to the oppressive Texas summer heat and one of the worst droughts in recent memory.

[Photo credit: MyFox Austin]

Ghostscrapers – Top ten post-apocalyptic abandoned skyscrapers

When city plans exceed reality, or the money dries up, or people simply leave in a mass exodus, skyscrapers vacate and slowly decay. High winds thrash through broken windows. Rats live undisturbed amongst decades old rubble. Stairways lead to doors that may never open again. The ghost of ambition’s past arrives in the present like a howling specter, creating eyesores, dangerous conditions, and free housing for opportunistic urban survivalists.

These abandoned skyscrapers range from forsaken structures aborted long before their doors opened to icons from a bygone era. While a slumper like Detroit has its fair share of empty giants, even cities with tiger cub economic growth like Bangkok are not immune to the plague of creepy abandoned high-rises. South America brings vertical favelas to the list, and Poland has a tower named after a pop-culture villain. And even San Francisco, a city with a high recreational scooter to human ratio and droves of individuals who see the world just beyond the tip of their nose, has its very own abandoned skyscraper.

From North Korea to Venezuela, these structures differ in their stories and circumstance, but each is a fine glimpse at post-apocalyptic urban decay.


Michigan Central Station
Location: Detroit, USA
Stories: 18 floors
Story: The Central Station was finished during the advent of the automobile – 1913. The Beaux-Arts style of the classical building recalls a time when Detroit possessed the resources and momentum to rightfully emulate Parisian architecture. Its old school ambition is not lost on current Detroit residents but its function certainly is. It is a doorway into a forgotten world and a poster-boy for urban decay. The graffiti and dilapidation tells the story not just of Detroit’s acrimonious decline but also the abandonment of rail travel in the United States. At its peak during the 1940’s, 200 trains left this station daily. Today, none. While rail travel is receiving some political buzz in Washington, the fate of this gorgeous structure is uncertain. Many have flirted with re-purposing the old building, from the Detroit Police to casino developers, but for the moment it stands quietly on the outskirts of the modern world like an old ornate wrench that fits no bolt.
Abandoned since: 1988

Ryugyong Hotel
Location: Pyongyang, North Korea
Stories: 105 floors
Story: This massive pyramidal structure (above, furthest left) is a 105 story symbol for the absurdist ambitions of Kim Jong Il and the hermit kingdom. It has been under construction (on and off) for decades. It has been called the world’s most hideous hotel. It is an unnecessary extravagance in a country that can barely feed its people. The project was abandoned after the fall of the Soviet Union due to Soviet subsidies to North Korea coming to an end. The hollow shell stood vacant for decades, just towering above the city – a failure too large to ignore but too painful to acknowledge. The North Koreans spent years denying the structure’s existence, removing it from photographs and excluding it from maps of Pyongyang. Too much shame, it seems, in the very obvious failure. Construction on the structure resumed recently with Egyptian architectural firm Orascom leading the project. It is slated for completion in 2012, to sync with the 100th birthday of Eternal President Kim Il Sung, deceased since 1994.
Abandoned since: 1992, currently under construction

Tower of David
Location: Caracas, Venezuela
Stories: 45 floors
Story: The Tower of David, one of the tallest buildings in Latin America, is the quintessential slum-scraper. There is no government interference, just 2500 squatters carving up its 45 stories for purposes ranging from housing to business. The building includes apartments, home-brew PlayStation arcades, beauty salons, and perhaps the most suspicious dentistry operation in the new world. While the current occupants have yet to climb higher than the 30th floor, it is only a matter of time before the anarchic housing market pushes residences higher towards the dilapidated rooftop helipad – a symbol from Caracas’ forgotten banking boom.
Abandoned since: 1994, never completed

Buffalo Central Terminal
Location: Buffalo, USA
Stories: 20
Story: The Buffalo Central terminal has been looted for artifacts, vandalized by bored delinquents, used for art exhibitions, explored by ghost hunters, and even sold for $1. It is a gorgeous old structure plagued by a series of humiliating footnotes, caught in a perpetual fall from grace. But it was not always so. At a time, the Buffalo Central Terminal was an important hub servicing hundreds of trains daily. Still an Art Deco architectural masterpiece, the structure possesses a prominent tower worthy of superlatives, and its halls are said to be haunted by ghostly apparitions waiting for trains that will never arrive. Last Halloween, the TV show Ghost Hunters filmed a 6 hour marathon in the creepy old building. It is possible to tour the structure and even get hitched in its lofty halls. Click here for more information.
Abandoned since: 1980

Szkieletor (Skelator)
Location: Krakow, Poland
Stories: 20 floors
Story: The tallest building in Krakow is a a hulking skeleton of a structure unofficially named after the villain from He-man – a show extremely popular in Poland in the early 1980’s. Construction began in 1975, but the Pols ran into economic troubles. Today, the building is primarily a backdrop in which to drape massive advertisements. It is also a constant reminder of the decades old malfeasance of Skelator – an urban Castle Grayskull looming on the Polish horizon.
Abandoned since: 1981, never completed

PacBell Building
Location: San Francisco, USA
Stories: 26
Story: Once the tallest building in San Francisco, the PacBell building is a Neo-Gothic marvel abandoned last decade. Completed in 1925, the giant is capped with 13 foot tall art deco Eagles looking out over the great San Francisco expanse. While the building was purchased in 2007 for $118 million, it has since been left to decay quietly in its own upscale way. Unlike most abandoned skyscrapers though, this one still has some life in it. Security guards patrol the ground floor, and the tower is lit up at night. A couple of brave urban explorers over at Bearings snuck past the guard and explored the tower’s heights. Check out their first hand account of the abandoned skyscraper. The PacBell Building will likely be repurposed into condominiums in the coming years.
Abandoned since: 2005

Edificio Sao Vito
Location: Sao Paolo, Brazil
Stories: 27 floors
Story: The original vertical favela arrived on the scene in the late fifties with the intention of providing housing to Sao Paolo’s middle class community and expats. Before long though, the building fell into disrepair and became an overpopulated den of urban plight – a favela that sprawled up. As basic services and utilities declined over the years, tenants began disposing their garbage out the window and obtaining illegal electricity. Many of the Edificio’s 624 apartment units were split into two – stressing the already shaky infrastructure of the building known as “Balança mas não Cai” (It shakes but does not fall). By the eighties, the tap water was polluted and only one of the three elevators partially worked – making its way halfway up the building. Edificio Sao Vito was formally evacuated in 2004, though crackheads and drug dealers have taken to the abandoned structure like moths to a flame. Allegedly, the Mayor of Sao Paolo tried to demolish the building because it obstructed his otherwise pleasant view. While this bit of urban lore may or may not be true, the building has been flirting with demolition for the last decade. At the time of reading its graffiti flecked concrete walls may simply be dust.
Abandoned since: 2004

Book Tower
Location: Detroit, USA
Stories: 38 floors
Story: Construction began on the Book Tower in 1916, just a few years after Henry Ford transformed auto-making forever with assembly line production. It is the old style of high-rise – more a kin of masonry than a child of steel and glass. For years, the classic structure with an ornate copper roof stood for the old world extravagance of Detroit. Now, it has taken on an altogether different metaphorical role as a sad reminder of when the eminent address spoke for the industrialist success of one of America’s finest cities. The property has changed hands many times in the last decade and plans exist to drop hundreds of millions in restoring the old-school giant.
Abandoned since: 2009

Sathorn Unique
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Stories: 49
Story: During the Thai tiger economy of the 1990’s, skyscrapers grew all over Bangkok in a display of Thailand’s new-found economic prominence. This one never completely grew up. Crows circle the pinnacle and rats call its lower levels home. Locals, convinced its hallways are haunted, stay out of the ghostscraper. Expat urban spelunkers have explored the building and returned to Khao San Road with stories from its upper reaches. The verdict: it is a dilapidated mess. The future of the Sathorn Unique remains unclear but perhaps someday it will be finished. For now, it looms on the Bangkok skyline with many other abandoned skeletal structures.
Abandoned since: 1997

Sterick Building
Location: Memphis, USA
Stories: 29 floors
Story: Once the tallest building in the southern United States, the original “Queen of Memphis” is a ghostly skyscraper, boarded up and decaying from the inside. The late Gothic architectural marvel once shuttled around thousands of workers, from stockbrokers to barbers, in its eight high-speed elevators. It has been the domain of urban explorers and desperate vagrants ever since being completely abandoned in the late nineteen-eighties. While inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places preserves its era appropriate charms, the future of the towering structure is unclear. Perhaps a redevelopment boom in downtown Memphis will reignite a need for the large ghostscraper.
Abandoned since: 1980s

top flickr image via country_boy_shane

‘Thirsty Dudes’ drink up beverages from all over the world

Tired of drinking the same old stuff? Three Thirsty Dudes are on a liquid journey to taste test the world’s refreshments, one beverage at a time. Together, the team of Buffalo natives has reviewed over 1,200 drinks, ranging from mass produced soda pop and iced tea to more obscure drinks that fall into categories such as ‘chunky drinks’ and ‘elixir.’ They’re like foodies, except they steer clear of solids.

“I love when I go into what appears to be a run down corner store and it ends up being a beverage Mecca,” writes beverage buff Jason Draper on a recent review of Jarritos Pineapple, a soft drink from Mexico. Along with friends Mike Literman and Derek Neuland, the team has tackled drinks from six continents.

Some of my favorite reads were of Wonderfarm White Fungus Bird’s Nest Drink, a strange liquid described as “what the water looks like after you spit out a loogie while brushing your teeth,” and Taiwan’s Hey Song Shaking Jelly Soda, a half liquid, half gel concoction. “It’s like someone poured a nice half glass of sparkling white grape juice, then they filled the rest with unflavored Jell-O that wasn’t completely solidified yet,” writes Draper, with Literman (who pried open his can with a pair of pliers to get to the good stuff) adding: “Now I have a cup of just amber colored sludge and I’m loving it.”

Whether they are gagging on vinegar drinks or sipping down a refreshing workout drink, reviews by the Thirsty Dudes are written with humor and honesty. Check their website to see if they’ve reviewed your favorite regional drink – and if not, send the boys a care package and they’ll be more than happy to give it a go. The only think these Thirsty Dudes don’t throw down the hatch is alcohol; this trio of daring, drink devouring fellas is completely straight edge.

[Photo courtesy the Thirsty Dudes]