New York City Street Art

Living in a small town gave me an affinity for any and every sign of urbanity as a child. I didn’t care what it was so long as it signaled that many people from many different places were living within one area and generating ideas together, or at least in the midst of one another. Having been born in Baltimore and raised in the country in Ohio, my family took frequent trips back to the East Coast while I was growing up. I always knew we were in the city when I saw graffiti. And sometimes I was lucky and spotted more than just graffiti – bona fide street art. Street art has appealed to me in this nostalgic way ever since. And because we don’t necessarily expect it to be good, it takes us especially by surprise when it is.

%Gallery-187109%The art form has always been poignant to me, representing a phenomenon that I envied lustfully while growing up: the city. When I moved to New York City at age 18, street art was one of the few things I would stop and look at almost every single time, so long as I had the time. You can’t make allowances like these often while living in NYC. If you were to stop and reflect on every creative, cool or crazy thing on the streets of this city, your path would form a constellation of zero destinations; a spider web of unfulfilled plans and missed meetings.

The first few years I spent in NYC were captured only with spontaneous disposable cameras containing film, which I didn’t always develop. When I got my first digital camera, I carried it around with me everywhere I went. But it was clunky and inconvenient and most certainly not always in my hands. I didn’t truly begin documenting the art I see on the streets of NYC until the last year or so, thanks to finally having an iPhone. I’ve been back in New York since October now and without even consciously meaning to, I’ve collected images of exposed public art, some blatantly advanced and others simply iconic. It always amazes me, the way creativity oozes out of every brick on every corner here; the dark of alleyways or unsuspecting buildings. Vandalism and general destruction of property are not things that I condone. Needless to say, these expressions more often than not come at the expense of another person or company, but there’s more to a discussion on street art than its legality.

There’s something special about a job well done, executed with expertise and available for all to see for a limited time only. Street art is fleeting and maybe that’s one of the things I like most about it. When you come across something great covering the walls of some otherwise unmemorable building, it’s difficult to feel as if you hadn’t just had an intimate moment with the place and the artist. The art is painted over or removed; there’s never any promise that any one image will become permanent public domain. Beautiful street art exists as a moment in time – not the past, not the future. It is what it is and it only is for now, just like the rest of us. It helps us to see the cracks in societies, the cracks in buildings. I don’t know what it is that inspires some artists to take to the streets instead of canvas, but no matter the reason, every once in a while I feel overfilled with gratitude for the opportunity to see art for the sake of itself, without a name or price tag attached. It exists for itself in this way while still managing to exist for all of us who are interested enough to stop and look.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

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]

Queens, New York To Open First Brewery Since Prohibition

Next week, the NYC borough of Queens is set to debut their first beer brewery in decades when Singlecut Beersmiths opens in Astoria. Most of their new brews will feature a high IBU (a bitterness measurement, putting IPAs and stouts in the middle to higher range) and a healthy amount of hops. Fitting for the first Queens brewery since Prohibition, the first beer on tap (if you’ll pardon the pun) will be called 1933, in honor of the year alcohol was made legal again, as well as a reference to their address at 19-33 37th Street. A “flagship” IPA to debut in December, with seasonal offerings planned as well. Check out the blog and Facebook page for details on the launch and special events. According to Thrillist, Singlecut plans to collaborate with such neighborhood establishments as Queens Kickshaw, increasing Astoria’s foodie street cred.

See Singlecut Beersmiths for details on brews and brewery tours. Hoppy travels!

[Photo credit: Flickr user chrisscott]

Video of the day: New York City 1938

Today’s Video of The Day takes us all the back to the year 1938, when New York City was ‘The Wonder City’. Watch this video through to the end and take note of all the changes you see. Not only is New York City very different these days than it was back then (even more people, even more speeding cars), but, naturally, the people of New York are different these days, too. But the differences, after they have been accounted for, aren’t actually what I find to be so striking about this video. It’s the similarities that get me. Watch as the video guides you through the Statue of Liberty and Wall Street, take note of how easily you connect with the traffic on the streets. If you have ever lived in or visited NYC, this video takes you back in time but simultaneously serves to show that NYC is, as always, pretty timeless.

Cockpit Chronicles: Hitching a ride to Kentucky in Concorde

Occasionally, when pilots are together, the subject eventually will come around to airplanes. Specifically, just what airplane we’d most like to fly.

While I have a rather long list that includes the Ford Tri-Motor and the Spitfire, solidly at the top of the heap lies Concorde. An airplane so special, you’re not even allowed to put ‘the’ in front of its name.

Since there was no possibility of ever flying this airplane at my airline, I knew I had to do the closest thing. Even though my wife and I were very recently hired at our respective airlines, we both agreed that we’d have to pay for a non-revenue (slang for employee reduced-rate) flight in Concorde before it was retired. This was in the mid ’90s and the one-way tickets were still a relatively steep $600 per employee.

At the time, my wife was a flight attendant for United, based in Newark. She was working in the aft galley when a gentleman came back for something. He happened to mention that he worked for British Airways at JFK as the director of Concorde charters.

My wife told him of our plans to purchase a pass on the airplane for a flight to London in the future, just for the experience.

“Don’t do that.” He said. “We have a charter flight from New York to Cincinnati in two weeks. Come along on then. No charge.”

He even extended the offer to the other flight attendants riding that day, but they all passed on the opportunity.

Two weeks later, Linda and I arrived at the Concorde lounge early enough to watch the inbound supersonic jet taxi to the gate. There was a tremendous amount of activity by the staff, with everyone even more frantic than what would be typical for agents eager to ‘turn-around’ an airplane quickly.

We soon discovered what was happening.Princess Diana was arriving on the airplane to sell some dresses for charity in New York. The Princess of Wales was escorted off the jet and down to a waiting car on the ramp, and unfortunately we never actually saw her. But soon afterward, our hero, the director of Concorde charters, came upstairs carrying a large plaque featuring the princess with a warm thank you message written on it given to him by Diana. Needless to say, he was beaming.

While waiting to board, I spotted the co-pilot in the lounge making his way to the gate. I approached him and mentioned that we’d be one of the 14 passengers that day to fly with him to Cincinnati. I explained that I was currently flying the 727 and showed him my ID, hoping that just maybe he would invite me up to the cockpit at some point.

“Let me check with the captain, maybe we can get you the jumpseat.” He said, taking my I.D. and license with him.

As we stepped on board the airplane I took a quick picture of my wife in front of the Concorde sign.

The co-pilot came back to where we were sitting and asked my wife if she would be upset if I rode in the jumpseat. I turned to her with my most buoyant look.

“No, not at all!” She said, as a flight attendant handed her a pre-departure champagne.

Concorde, just like many airplanes of the ’60s and ’70s had a cockpit where the major systems were operated by a flight engineer. At the time, I was an FE on the 727, so I was rather interested in this panel aboard Concorde.

The flight engineer panel on Concorde

The flight engineer showed me the jumpseat, but I was amazed that my perch was well behind the captain. It wouldn’t even be possible to see out the front from that far back, I thought.

As I began to sit down, the FE explained, “No, no, no. The seat slides up forward.”

Sure enough, in what had to be the most unusual cockpit seat, I found my place just behind the captain with the chair locked into place.

The cockpit jumpseat is tucked in just behind the captain seat.

We taxied out with the nose drooped down for better visibility looking forward. As we lined up on runway 31L at JFK, the co-pilot said that this was the lightest he’d ever flown the airplane.

In a scene reminiscent of the original Battlestar Galactica, we blasted down the runway and rotated far sooner than I expected.

The captain reached over and flipped a three inch switch under the glareshield that raised the nose. As the nose sealed into place, I was shocked to see just how bad the visibility was. It was like looking through two sides of a humid greenhouse. It seemed like the first pane of glass, in front of the pilots, was a full ten feet from the retracted windshield that maintained the smooth, needle like appearance of Concorde.

Jumpseating is usually just a method for pilots to get to and from work or where they needed to go. But that day, it was how I confirmed my supposition that the Concorde would be the ultimate airplane to fly.

Climbing through 10,000 feet, I couldn’t hold my enthusiasm any longer. “Guys, you don’t fly an airplane. You fly a rocket!” I gasped.

They explained that even on a lightly loaded airplane they still used ‘reheat’ or what us Yanks call ‘afterburners,’ which essentially injected fuel downstream of the turbine section of the engine for added thrust, producing a glow on the four Olympus engines that could be seen for miles.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t fly supersonic over the continental United States as sonic booms are generally considered annoying for groundlings. Still, flying at .95 Mach, or 95% of the speed of sound may have set a commercial speed record between New York and Cincinnati. (The CVG airport is actually located in northern Kentucky).

Interestingly, six years later the same airplane, G-BOAG, received special permission to fly supersonic over land to set a commercial speed record while flying from New York to Seattle on November 5th, 2003 for its last flight.

It’s fitting that today G-BOAG is now on display at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, since Seattle is where I met the exchange student while I was in high school who would later become my wife who landed me this rare experience.

If you have the chance, check out the museum. It’s a must see for any aviation geek.

Special thanks to the director at British Airways who made it all happen for us. I only wish I had remembered his name.

And thanks to Ruthann O’Connor for the photos.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.