“After school is over…”

Education is the silver bullet. Schools should be palaces. Teachers ought to be making six figures salaries”

That was part of a pretty high minded speech from one of the admittedly high minded characters on the West Wing. It was one of the shows that I admittedly had a problem, never missed it. But that piece of dialogue had a point.  I got myself over and made sure I voted in the school board elections in the City of Buffalo on Tuesday. I don’t pretend to know all the answers by any stretch of the imagination, but the school board has some issues that could spill over into volumes.  With one child still in the system, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for sure. He’s in a good school that is working and his mother and I are grateful for that. But the world is a different place than when our eldest entered the system 20 years ago. I don’t know how many parents remembered the magnet system and it seems to have slipped the minds of a lot of the board folks. I am not philosophically aligned with some of the more public folks screaming for reform, but you got to admit, they have a point. This thing isn’t working. There are teachers doing incredible work against staggering odds and the winds aren’t going to start blowing in their favor anytime soon. That is a tragedy. Because that is where things matter.

Perhaps it is getting looked at “behind the scenes” but there doesn’t seem to be much urgency in fixing what is failing. The rush to transfer has created another problem in the whole “where do you transfer them to?” I mean let’s fix stuff too, not just relocate problems.

Voter turnouts are always low and that’s too bad, because I don’t think folks realize what all that means. If the schools have a lousy reputation, the district run by the keystone kops, the ramifications are huge. If a business is trying to recruit talent, “what are the schools like?” is a question that enters into any discussion. If the answer is “a mess with administrative infighting over every little thing,” getting folks to come to anyplace to work and live is that much tougher.

When the town I grew up in had a bit of a fit about a proposed school tax increase last year, a tax increase that would have been resulted in a rate that is still among the lowest in the region. Cuts funds and something has to give. As usual it was stuff for the kids.  Nobody likes increases but stuff does cost monies. We all want to see those funds spent well. A quality school system is good for the town or city that it covers. Lord knows the abuses that have come to light and will come to light in the months ahead. I have friends teaching in the system and they have to cope with the effects of “No child Left behind,” twisted evaluative systems, kids that come from homes that might not have school as a priority.

So, I don’t know what exactly to make of the Buffalo elections last night, but the winners are correct in that there is a lot of work to do, a lot of words being spoken about how they got to do right for the kids.

Hope they mean it.


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Usherin…got my chips cashed in…

There are some places at certain times where you can get an interesting insight into the human condition, where you can study without being studied. Patrolling the aisles at the local professional lacrosse game the other night was one of those times. I’m a sports fan, but this one doesn’t do it for me. So, I guess that makes me a more attentive usher since the game isn’t distracting me (yeah, we’ll go with that for now.).

Look up in the aisle, it’s Usherman…able to leap tall drink spills in a single bound.

I knew this most recent game was going to be interesting to watch unfold. A promotion had autographed lacrosse balls for sale to raise monies for a worthy cause. A family appeared in my section where the grandfather produced the autographed ball and gave it to his granddaughter, a little moppet of maybe four years old. She accepted the ball and considered it for a moment, duly looked at the signature as her grandfather pointed out, thought for a moment and prompted tossed the ball down to the section beneath ours. This usher? I thought that was funny.

There was the t-shirt gun. I’m convinced it’s the hunt that gets folks going, not the actual trophy. This was confirmed to me as the Bandits‘ mascot brandished a t shirt gun that had some wallop, and turned a few folks near me into searching for “the precious.”

A recent balloon drop had me shaking my head as folks in the upper levels were jumping in the first row of the upper level to catch a balloon that had a coupon inside. Again, the prize was for something not so rare. It’s the hunt that is the thing. But I can’t walk in that first row without getting the proverbial willies.

So, I have to ask, the chance at a not rare souvenir something to take a foolish chance over? I think not, but people forget themselves, and that they are not alone, or at home, or the manners their parents carefully taught them.

It’s priorities, man. I remember a few years ago, my dad and I were heading to see some minor league baseball and there was a giveway that night, I believe a stadium replica in some fashion. One of those little desktop size statues that was produced with the same level of care and detail that the average 4 year old puts into their playdough houses. But again it was the hunt. Folks lined up around the block as there to be one admissions gate where the freebie was going to be distributed. This line snaked by plenty of other ways into the stadium. Dad and I looked at each then sought higher council, as seats, beer and grilled meat in tubular form was decidely more important.

So, yeah, I don’t get too jazzed with the fast food company blimp flies over ahead and drops coupons, because that isn’t worth putting the effort to, well, stand up for, let alone post up to keep somebody else from getting one.

But if that suits ya, have at it, as at least the cost of the seat didn’t rise with ya.

Well, this time


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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Lots of weather out there.

In this age of social media, I’m amused how basically having a place to post a gripe, complaint, witticism, that we don’t all have the equivalent of a digital barstool to mutter from atop of.  For every weather related facebook post or tweet showing how much snow landed, there is somebody else grousing that they didn’t get any.

Guess the Western New York snowbelt is living up to its name. Here is North Buffalo, we are looking at pavement. Hamburg, Orchard Park are looking at a foot or more. This, to me, isn’t anything dramatic. I might have even lost my wonder to a degree, because I’ve seen it before. I think that makes us the snow waistline.

That song, think about it, somebody is getting slipped  a mickey, but this is still the best version.

That said, it feels a bit like old school western new York winter. I took this photo on the way into the sabres senators game this week.
You could hear the water getting colder, but the wind chill was at your back at least. The walk back to the car? Not so pleasant.

So, I don’t get a little awed by the big snow fall that the southtowns are wrasslin with because that is sort of well, normal. When we got a few inches a week or so ago, we’ll instagrammed the beauty of it, but it didn’t slow anybody down at all.

Despite the “Battering” that CNN says we took, the four inches basically amounted to a condition my dad labels Wednesday. I suspect NBC and CNN covered not for the snowfall, but because our wings are better than the ones where the snow was really falling.

It’s beginning to look like Christmas? No, it looks like Buffalo usually does in December. Winter Wonderland? No, single digit wind chills aren’t part of that song.

Even as I write this, (morning on December 12) and can still see pavement, the Today show talks about Buffalo being hit by snow. It would be more accurate to report that half an hour south of Buffalo they got some snow. Those of us in the city were just cold.

In these days of shortened attention spans, that’s an important thing this city resident got out of my car, walked to my door and didn’t hit snow at all.

In the City

Got to wander a bit. Set aside your anecdotal memories of a spot and explore. While that is a bit of greeting card wisdom, I’m beginning to think there is a lot of truth to it. Given my pretty cool day job, I get to see a lot but also hear from a pretty nice cross section of perspectives from around Buffalo. A couple of months ago, I represented my employer at an event at the Transit Valley Country Club. It wasn’t exactly tough duty as you can imagine and not exactly what you would call the hood either. It confirmed a suspicion of mine that folks can get a little compartmentalized here. I do some work with a few groups that try to entice more visitors from out of town, but think folks from half an hour might be in for a bit of a surprise.

There isn’t anything really wrong with that. If you live in Snyder, your kids are in WIlliamsville schools, and your job takes you in the Amherst area, it’s natural that your axis tends to form around those points. Again, nothing wrong with that, but it struck me that at the Country Club event, many of the folks participating remarked that they hadn’t been down there (meaning my employer and probably the North Buffalo area) in x amount of years (x being at least five or more). Now, I’m not griping. There are plenty of other folks who sit in the back of the internet throwing spitballs, I’m not that guy.

I’ve been a city resident since 1988 and it’s a kick to be able to see things happening, but also witness little things popping up. It’s a nice change to see major construction cranes working on projects downtown. I’m sure larger cities might think our excitement is “cute,” but it is a nice thing to see stuff happening from the medical campus, Elm-Oak arterial, to the HarborCenter. All good.

But the power of letting yourself meander can reveal what folks are talking about with Larkinville, shopping at Horsefeathers Market on Connecticut Street (yup, the streets with states for names aren’t so scary), eating at some pretty great spots on NIagara and Grant streets.

The old H.H. Richardson complex near Buff State is about to start morphing into a retail and hotel space that always seems like a no-brainer for the Elmwood area. The Hertel Avenue area, especially between Main Street and Elmwood Ave, is doing a pretty good job out “Elmwood-ing” Elmwood. The big projects, like Harborcenter, are awesome. I think the sense of excitement comes from seeing something substantive actually happening, in enough size and scope that you can see it from the thruway even as you are passing through. The fact that you are passing by projects that are happening, that there plenty of “was that always there?” sorts of sites, is a refreshing change.

Some of the folks who like in my parents neighborhood of Clarence think I might as well live on Mars instead of 15 minutes down the road, using phrases like “came all the way out to see the folks?” like I had to stop in Cheektowaga to complete the journey. That always struck me because any other city I’ve ever visited if you can get to someplace cool in 15, you’re not talking about it you’re gone.

Venture out, I know a place you can get a killer egg sandwich.

Hailing to the Chief

C’mon, admit it, regardless of whether or not you like the office holder, it’s still pretty cool seeing this fly over the area today. This was a picture caught by a sharp eyed contributor to the Buffalo News website and it’s pretty awesome,Air Force one

I think it’s good when our leaders get out talk to us. By this point, nobody really remembers the speech as various restaurants pout about no motorcade for them. While nobody is compiling mp3s of the special themes used to intro coverage, it was nice for the area to get a little national attention.

And we should share the wealth. The White House press corp has gotten their share of LaNova’s, Duff’s and Charlie the Butcher. Good for some of those folks to get themselves a proper garbage plate.

Doesn’t matter who’s plane it is, Obama, Nixon, Bartlett, still cool to see it go past. The visit to Buffalo and the other areas, including nearby Scranton (thanks, MSNBC) ultimately don’t mean a great deal beyond the symbolism and soundbytes. Wouldn’t it be great if he announced college tuition became entirely tax deductible or something of that ilk? (Alas, Josh and Toby don’t work for him. He is right about the expense going on a runaway trajectory at some schools. I know a few could stand to be a little more efficient.

I saw a few posters who took that hallowed medium of facebook for everything from business failings in the Western New York area to sundry other drumbeats of the opposition parties. Everybody has their soap boxes for standing on, I guess. In the case of businesses failing, the state and the business operators can have some shares of the blame I think. But opinions are like tookuses in that regard.

Had he gotten into the city proper, I know we could have brokered a polar bear meeting.


For the first 18 minutes, the Sabres and Rangers played a good game Friday evening, two flukey goals later, the wheels came off. They weren’t Ryan Miller‘s fault. Stuff or skates happen, especially on those first two goals, but when four straight shots over two periods amount to four goals, it was hard to watch the wheels come off. I don’t begrudge Miller’s wave after some sarcastic cheers for a save. Actually from my ushering vantage point, it was pretty funny considering. A few of the sportwriters were talking how it was a Patrick Roy moment, referring to Roy’s last moment on Canadiens ice before winning two cups in Colorado (by the way, I’d love to see Roy, a current OHL coach, get a shot with Buffalo, if Rolston doesn’t return).

I sort of hope not. I couldn’t blame Miller. He’s been statistically pretty good this short season. Given how inconsistent the play in front of him has been, the good numbers are a flippin godsend.

Yeah, fans made noise once again. There were a lot of Rangers fans in the house. There’s a lot of frustration in the air and in the aisles. Nobody wants a season to end this way, to be on the outside, while the Leafs (the LEAFS!?!?!) are the most charming hockey team in the region.

I’ve never been a BOO-er, doesn’t do anything for me. But you have to see it as a sign that the fans (you know the folks in the 300s) care, it’s how they show their love, that they are watching, not just applauding the goals (like in some rinks).

The post Drury/Briere hangover lingers and it sort of feels like Miller and Thomas Vanek‘s primes got a little squandered as we shoot for an identity.

But I got to tell you a balanced team that shows up and plays hard gets respect, even when the scoreboard doesn’t smile on em.

Puckin’ Around

Hard to watch the Sabres these days and not be a little nausated a bit if you are a fan. People are wanting all sorts of changes. My goals are a little more modest. I just want them not to suck.

When I was a lad in the summer and fall of 85, I was an sports department intern at WGRZ. One night in January, the department was short a few people and the sports anchor that night sent me with a camera down to the Aud for the end of that night Sabres/Canadiens game. I was under strict orders not to ask questions, just to get a microphone under anybody who might be talking (as the team was in a tailspin that wasn’t as bad as this season’s). I’m not going to lie, it was incredibly cool to strut in the media entrance, hang out by the Zamboni area to watch the final few minutes and more importantly, not get shoo-ed away when the gates closed as the players from both teams were coming off the ice. If only somebody I knew would have seen me.

It was a bad Sabres loss. The door to the locker room stayed shut for awhile as nobody was allowed in. I recognized a few of the real media gathered there, but standing with us was Scotty Bowman, the Sabres GM at the time. Despite his being about a foot shorter than I, his gaze scared me a bit, enough that I started to cover up the WSBU logo on the jacket I had on with the Channel 2 Mic flag.

After the longest 15 minutes I had ever experienced outside of a dentist office, we were let in. You were supposed to get the head coach then players, but the coach at the time, Jim Schoenfeld, never appeared. Scotty was apparently gazing at him. I got my player interviews and got out of there, and was right that something was up in regards to the coach.

Scotty took over the next day and didn’t do any better. It turned out it just wasn’t a good team. Cut to modern day, and people are screaming for Lindy or Darcy to get dumped. I’m not certain what the answer is. I mean, everybody has a bad day at the office periodically, but how many of us have to sit and watch other people work to remind us how to do our gigs.

I don’t know what the answers is, but when the announcement that pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training, it was a little frightening that spring training baseball could be the diversion we’ve been waiting for.

Come on, Terry, we don’t want Buffalo to be hockey heaven for visitors….

Intergalactic Orchestral Manuevers in the Dark

For the uninitiated, to make a little extra cash, I got a gig as an usher at the downtown sports palace (no free ads in my journal). It never fails to be interesting leading up to a given event, but once you get tired of being in the same circle for a given time, the charm can sometimes depart quickly.

Given the NHL work stoppage, there hasn’t been much going of late, but I got the call to come work for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra shows (I couldn’t begin to wonder where a Trans-Siberian shops, maybe in the Village, but I digress). Something stupid, maybe it was my checkbook, said to make myself available to work both shows.

Stupid checkbook.

Unlike a few friends of mine, I’m not huge fan of the proceedings. I’m sure the players are lovely folks and kudos for giving a buck from every ticket to a charity. All well and good, but this is essentially hair metal for soccer moms and that’s fine, but not really my cup of tea, so while on duty, I people watch (which I guess you are suppose to, given my station and mentally wander to happy places provided the locks haven’t been changed). As crowds go, it’s a fairly innocuous gathering. I mean, who would “pre-game” for the Transiberian Orchestra? So, you don’t have much to worry about breaking up fights or any other type of concert shenanigans. I don’t there has been a transiberian mosh pit in the now six shows I’ve now seen

So, it’s a kick to people watch. There are enough pyrotechnics in these shows that I pity any epileptics as it can be a bit seizure inducing. For the first show, I was just to the left hand side of the stage where among the visual treats were a couple in their late fifties doing a rather impressive space dance and an amazing number of folks concerned with trying to record portions of the show instead of actually watching the show.

It makes you laugh, especially since in the previously undeclared war between firework and smart phone, the firework will win everytime.

A night out down there isn’t cheap. That isn’t a knock or a dig, just an observation, and regardless of event, it always startles me a bit to see the amount of time and money spent in not watching the show. The TSO audience could use some ritalin for the amount of time up and down getting snacks and whatnot.

A few folks popped up later in the show, must have been comped tickets. The cheapest seat I saw was in the $50+ dollar range and I know if I’m paying that money, I got my nutritional needs filled and watching the flipping show. Maybe I’m jealous of the well-financing, as my dinner break set me back $12.75 for a burger, fries and a coke. I bought a bag of some of my parents’ christmas baked goods to snack on and judging from the envious look that got from an fellow usher, I could have made good money peddling nickel bags of my folks’ chocolate chip cookies. Take this tidbit my friends. Those of us who attend/have attended rock shows have come to expect them  to be like parties and not start at the time printed on the ticket. But it probably isn’t a good idea to wait until that actual time to enter the venue.

For the second show, I was dispatched to the 300s (toward the top of the effin center), where again, it wasn’t a whole lot of heavy lifting, just giving directions, pretending to find the jokes about how high the steps are are just hilarious, and watching folks in pursuit of that last beer while the TSO chirps “Merry, Merry Christmas.” Hearing that for the second time made me want to heave my little tree out the living room rock star style when I finally made it home. But, I didn’t as I bought some cool (or nerdy) ornaments this year.

The one bonus wild card to the first event gig in sometime (thanks, NHL), was the return of Buffalo winter weather. Since it hasn’t snowed for real since 2010, I was keeping an eye peeled Wednesday as the weatherdudes called it right. That made me wonder how the roads around the arena would be and how my landlord would be about digging us out.

For once, the train won, but after ten hours walking the concrete hallways, it was fun to traipse to the train in the snow.
Continue reading “Intergalactic Orchestral Manuevers in the Dark”

Ain’t Nuthin But a Party

Let me set the scene.

My best childhood chum and I are headed into the city in the splendid comfort of my Mom’s land yacht of a 1972 Catalina Wagon. Ten Buffalo winters hadn’t done the Queen Mary much good, but we had wheels. It is December 1981, and we are pulling through the snow into the lot at Kleinhans Music Hall. I moor the boat into a parking space, turn off the engine and in no time, we are greeted with a rapid knock at the passenger side window. It being dark outside and the Music Hall lot wasn’t very bright (apparently neither were we), it was a little tough to see and imaginations run a little amuck. I thought we were about to get kicked out of the lot. It turns out, we were just encountering our first unlicensed vendor of concert t-shirts.  $5 got you a black baseball jersey style J. Geils Band tshirt! Of course, we bought em. You HAD to wear your trophy to school the next day and who’d have these.

This was already a little special because of the setting. Who’d a thunk J. Geils would have been at Kleinhans? A month earlier, the conductor stopped a Philharmonic performance to yell at an audience member for coughing?!?

Centerfold hadn’t arrived yet, but radio, okay, 97 Rock, was playing a lot of the wild r&b stuff J. Geils did and it was awesome to my ears. Never had much thought about Freeze Frame or Centerfold, more of a Musta Got Lost or Whammer Jammer fan myself, but I remember them putting on a really fun show, and maybe being in Kleinhans made you feel like you blasting some party tunes the folks’ stereo while they were away and a friend snuck some drinks over. J. Geils disappeared not long after that and haven’t recorded since, but periodically get together for some shows. Apparently, the namesake guitarist isn’t with them this time out, but I’m pretty sure if you head to the Harbor to hear them, a good time awaits. Hell, might even be a Houseparty.

Best part? In school next day, “Where’d you get that shirt?”

The Things We Choose to Care About

The Bethlehem Steel Building? Is that really a hill worth dying on? I mean the property is a close to dormant that I wonder what there is to preserve. This seems kind of loony to me as the building has been setting there forever. It begs the question what is the cut off point from preservation to clinging to a lost cause. I prefer interesting architecture too, but that site has been in such a coma for so long. There are folks upset and I respect their passion, but it seems a little late in the game. Much like the folks who got upset that the Aud was going to come down, after it had been mothballed for more than a decade.

We got to let a few go.

Much like the sudden cautiousness over waterfront land that has sat for generations, it might be better to get ticked over the viable stuff, like Greatbatch leaving the hostile climes of Clarence for Texas or even more locally when Children’s Hospital bolts the Elmwood neighborhood for the High Street Medical Collassus.

I’m not saying, don’t worry, but perhaps we could worry sooner.