Your Own Private Cheektowaga

The busiest supermarket within a hundred miles of here is the Wegmans in Williamsville, New York. Stores in Ontario seem nearly abandoned by comparison but on any given day in greater Buffalo, shopping is king. I found myself there on the morning of the NFL season kickoff and although the Buffalo Bills were playing many miles away in Chicago, the fans were representing by wearing their colours and stocking up on beer, meat and chips to ramp up for an afternoon BBQ on a beautiful day in Western New York. The place should have been a complete zoo but it was all very polite and orderly. Canadians pride themselves on niceness and holding doors but we’ve got nothing on the folks in Buffalo. Scratch that. I really mean Torontonians, not Canadians in general. No one in Western New York has ever willfully tried to bash me with a car. I’ve been hit twice in Taranna though. The chap who very nearly killed me there leaned over as I lay in the road and said “What did you do to my car?” Give me Buffalo any day.

I couldn’t count how many times over the years I’ve sat through a tirade from some boring Torontonian slamming the American people. Sorry to break the news, dear Citizen of Canuckistan, you are American people. A leftier version for sure minus the flag veneration and copious guns but admit it, you are jealous about being able to buy beer everywhere. Guess I’ll confess, I was in Wegmans admiring the brews and snagging a tub of Jif at 10 am. This is what folk do for Breakfast In America on a Sunday. Jif crunchy was on sale, still #1 with choosy mothers. Bonus!

We, the people to the north, have pretty much cloned it all, especially their infrastructure. Other than its eight lane span, Transit Road in Buffalo could be Imperial Road in Guelph. If you place yourself on the sidewalk like the little Google Map person and rotate around, Guelph in many places IS Cheektowaga, Lackawanna, Rochester. Tim Horton’s coffee is equally as shitty on either side of Niagara Falls. Why do you keep drinking it if it’s not an addiction or any good?

The Costco on Long Island, NY is identical to the much celebrated one here on Elmira Road. Beyond the currency, tax rate and slight overall price point differences, the products parade is the same. Most people have wholeheartedly committed to consumerism being an important thing and those that build and run the infrastructure are identical the world over. It’s a big box built to buy goods from smaller boxes that traveled many miles in trailer boxes or thousands of miles in steel boxes so you could buy them and be happy you got a deal. Hurray! Aren’t you a screaming success. Toss me that spoon from the glove box buddy, I’ve got Jif to eat.

You say you want a boutique/local/greener version of different things? Smaller unique tchotchkes you can pay more for in a downtown setting that has character and hipness? It’s all as readily available in Elmwood and Allentown as it is on Locke Street in Hamilton or our very own Wyndham Street. You may have convinced yourself that your walking distance shopping is something different or special. Truth is we are hardwired to acquire and source things be they of the utmost practicality or merely shit that you want to have. Consumerism is mandatory in this society but oftentimes stretches into the realm of a syndrome. iPhones, in particular models 1, 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S 5, 5C, 5S, 6 and 6 Plus, are for suckers. The guy who ran my bike riding pinko ass down with his Volvo in Etobicoke would not hesitate to flatten you as you check your device in the crosswalk. It should be posted to the back of all devices, “over-consumption of tweets and status updates may result in death”. You’ve been warned.

There are no condo towers in Buffalo of the Toronto (or Guelph) type. I couldn’t see any and I looked pretty hard. Condos have become an economic engine of their own. An expert must have written it in a paper somewhere; Condos + wealth + happiness = problem solved. Implement the equation by building dwellings on the ashes of the business that an aggressive equity fund ran into the ground so a veritable one percenter asshole can roll around in his millions in an Oakville mansion. And if you truly believe anything written in a condo development’s promotional material, it’s time to seek professional help. Buffalo has nothing of the sort, just the ashes.

My buddy’s old student enclave in the east side of downtown Buffalo was the wrong side of the tracks both literally and figuratively in the 1990’s. We took a nostalgic spin through and you wouldn’t think it possible that a place could go even-more-wrong all these years later. A house burns down and stays burnt down. Once decent serviceable places are boarded up or have a trashed roof, crude graffiti on the window plywood and gutters stripped for scrap. Three lads in an Ontario plated car will get a continuous “what the fuck are you looking at” glare from all sides. Nobody from the busy Wegmans to the north would dream of coming here, let alone shopping for anything on this section of Broadway. This ain’t the same street the Drifters are singing about. It’s the raw have-not side to the American Dream no one really wants to contemplate – straight out of Steinbeck, Marx or Compton. There is no fix on the horizon. There never ever was.

When I got home there was a big pile of laundry to tackle so I went to King Cleaners for a mass wash. A woman came wheeling in with a couple of kids in tow. She stuffed all of their clothes into two industrial washers, checked her coffee can worth of change and not having enough to cover it, she reefed everything back out again and jetted out the door at record speed as if she’d done something wrong. “We can’t make it” she declared to no one and everyone. There is no 18 story deluxe apartment in the cards for her. The condo fee alone is probably her monthly existence fund. She can only admire it off in the distance, leaning on her old beater car with a trunk full of dirty clothes taking a long pull on a bummed cigarette. She’s trying not to cry in front of the kids. Did she work for years in the factory where the glass towers will stand? There is no afternoon BBQ for them, no peanut butter from a spoon, no devices to upgrade or complain about on-line. Even the ashes are on loan.

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