Thursday, January 26, 2017

Special US edition: Buffalo, NY

General mills
Independence Day here in Buffalo is sleepier than I thought. It's very warm. I find myself in the middle of Deleware Park. I'll be here for another 12 days. Since there's nothing to do, I'll ride my brother's bicycle around. He's got a Marin San Rafael. Not the most comfortable ride but it has good suspension. I was cycling the track around the park, which is also a road, until it occurred to me: I was going the wrong way. All traffic--even pedestrians it seemed--moved in a counterclockwise direction. The place seems dull with its golf course, broad parched lawns and zoo that has a few sleepy buffalos. Some of the trees are nice: sycamores, elms, maples.

On the waterfront
(original date of this entry: July 11, 2016)
I'm at Talking Leaves, a cafĂ© attached to a bookstore in the Elmwood Village section of Buffalo. The relentless traffic on Elmwood Ave makes the terrace less than restful, as does the pile of cigarette butts at my feet. Many of the vehicles that pass are gas-intensive behemoths: souped-up pickups, Hummers, jeeps and so on, vehicles of the sort you see in Austin, spewing exhaust fumes into the morning breeze. An occasional cyclist contributes sanity to the scene. 


Elmwood Village
It is probably considered dangerous what I'm now doing: taking a break in a deserted downtown park. That would be Prospect Park off of Porter Av. The park neglected, the lawns parched, but it's dotted with maples. Having misplaced my sister-in-law's directions, I just headed west toward the lake. On the map it appears you can take a bridge to Squaw Island. I headed down W Ferry Street. The landscape soon turns depressed and butt ugly, and all the people are black. Crappy stores. No bikes of course, just groaning vehicles spewing exhaust into the hot air. I reach the lake bank to find a drawbridge up and an orange sign warning bicycles not to venture onto the pier under penalty of fine. So I turn around, head down a busy avenue lined with decaying industrial buildings. As in Latin America, the landscape is dominated by autos. But this park, though derelict, makes a shady interlude.

Amvets Drive path, along Lake Erie
In front of Prospect Park is the larger Front Park but it's being torn up by dozers. I take a perilous narrow bridge over the highway, keeping to the pedestrian path. On the other end I find an open lot with a sprinkler in the middle populated by black children frolicking around on this hot afternoon. Then I'm riding along the waterfront, also deserted, but quite pleasant, lined with trees and a few benches. Must be the Amvets Drive Bike Path but there are few bikes. It would be easy to install knooppunt signs, convert this into a pleasurable user-friendly route. But clearly there isn't much interest. So why bother?

Communication breakdown
"And I been tellin' Ticketmaster for days, I'm a 1-800 number? ... They don't wanna talk to people. ... It's actually kinda bullshit, I wanna kinda complain. ... I'm talkin' to my mom, I gotta get to work, I gotta get off the phone ... So then I thought, well ... I know he's got a commitment. He missed practice (prektis) when he went on vacation."

On and on. It's either incessant traffic on the Elmwood side--trucks parked and leaving their engines running, SUVSs rolling by blasting rap, motorcycle morons--or that obese middle-ager with her mom, going on endlessly: "Center lanes are like, you know, ya gotta lotta traffic (treffik). But getting out of it is tricky, I take a right and then I go to ... They got the Roma pizza, they've got bread. They've got all kinds o' cookies and pastries." Meanwhile, fitness babes jog by.


Now on the 'main square' of Buffalo. I wonder what a tourist could possibly find of interest here. Downtown is the repository of broken-down, mostly black people, but also obese, unkempt whites engaged in unhealthy activities like cigarette smoking. The mood is much like that of Austin: monolithic glass-and-steel buildings rising up around smudged concrete, crap franchises at base. An insalubrious place, not for lingering. 


That rant out of the way, I will admit that the Outer Harbor is nice. A bike path runs out along the banks to a harbor that is protected from the open lake by a long breakwater. A series of fingers extend between the harbor and the roadway, some ducks bobbing within them. It's a splendid recreation area and I even get a bench to enjoy the scene. 

Tifft Nature Reserve
Now this is nice: Tifft Nature Reserve with trails through the woods along banks of swampy brook, varied bird life, peaceful. Worth exploring. I followed the brook south and the path widened out, then reached a T. Here I turned right, climbed a hill covered with tall grass, the trail a broad swath cut through it. At the top I could see to the lake, a line of eolic windmills, an old grain elevator. Then I went back north, the woods on my right, to the entrance.

I returned via the wide desolate streets of downtown Buff: Louisiana, Seneca, Michigan, Virginia, Ellicot, Elmwood. Hot sun beaming down at 7 pm. Sticker: BUFFALO HATES YOU TOO.

Now I sit at the south end of Squaw Island where there's a little park and a covered pavilion with beat-up picnic tables. The Peace Bridge is just below. The Niagara River rolls swiftly northward. Some black dudes fish over the fence. The highway drones to my right.

"Instead of eating you're wasting the ketchup! You're nasty as hell!" - woman at nearby picnic table

Going nowhere (Peace Bridge to Canada in background)

Earlier I rode out on the pier, a concrete strip edged by piles of rocks--the domain of ducks--that goes underneath the Peace Bridge and continues for about a mile, then just stops at a retaining wall. Unlike in Holland where all paths lead somewhere, here it's about 'recreation' rather than communication. 

Waiting for the bridge to Squaw Island 
Made it over to Squaw Island. Found a spot north of the railroad bridge. Trees along bank, boulders beneath them. Theoretically a good place to hang on a hot day like today. But there's a sense of abandonment: trash strewn about, odors of decay, not unlike similar spots in Puerto Rico or El Salvador. As elsewhere, bikes are few and far between. Cars roll slowly through, park by the bank, then pump out bass-heavy jams while bare-chested boys sit inside them. There's something disheartening about the place. Maybe I'm just homesick. 

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