Archive for June 20th, 2011

June 20, 2011

How I overcame my prejudice against Buffalo

James at Tempo in Buffalo serves up Maine Lobster Risotto

James at Tempo in Buffalo serves up Maine Lobster Risotto. (Julia Pelish photo)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — “I’m a journalist and I’m writing a travel article about how to spend a weekend in Buffalo.” With those words, I had managed to disarm a U.S. border guard, a young man who immediately stepped back from my car and took a seat on the stool inside his booth. He placed a hand on his shaved head and then swiped it down across his perspiring face.

“You’re going to say good things about the city, right?” he asked without any hint of authority. It was more of a plea.

“I have every intention of being fair,” I answered.

“Have you been to Buffalo before?” He fingered through my passport but didn’t appear all that interested in it.

“Just for hockey games and a couple of concerts a long time ago.”

“What are you going to be doing?” Having collected himself, he stood and once again walked closer to the car.

“The tourism board gave me some suggestions …”

That seemed to worry him. He became more concerned with who the tourism board might be and what potentially lame itinerary they’d set up than with the line of cars waiting to cross the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge on Friday night. “So, where are you going to be staying?”

“The Mansion on Delaware,” I said, totally delighted at this point that I’d found some warmth in a situation that can often be cold and without humanity.

“Good, good, that’s a good start.” He leaned in and tapped a thumb on the roof of the car while I searched for the agenda. “What else? Where’ve they got you going?”

“Dinner at Tempo …”

“Never been there, but heard good things. What else?”

“The Albright-Knox Gallery …”

“Ok, sure. Good. And?”

“A Spirit of Buffalo cruise, Shakespeare in the Park, drinks at some bars.”

“Oh, yeah.” That last bit crossed into familiar terrain for him and he asked, “Which ones?”

“Allen Street Hardware Café …”

“Yeah, so-so, in my opinion. You’re in Allentown, good area, but you should head up to Elmwood and Forest, and try Hertel.”


“There’s lots to do. I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head right now, though.”

“That’s ok. I’ve got a lot planned.”

“Buffalo doesn’t have a very good reputation.”

“I know.”

“I have to stand up for my city,” he said and handed back my passport. “Have a good time. Write something good about it.”

That ended the best conversation I’ve ever had at a border crossing and began a weekend in Buffalo full of charming encounters such as this.

For those of us in southern Ontario, picking on Buffalo and Buffalonians has been our guilty pleasure. We’ve laughed while fate dumps a torrent of snow on them; we’ve snickered at their failures, exchanging enough “wide right” jokes to keep us going straight on with our bias; and we’ve used their serious misfortunes — high crime rate, low prosperity — to make us feel superior about ourselves and where we live. It’s not very neighbourly, let alone Canadian.

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June 20, 2011

Clarence Clemons – thanks for the memories


The original Born to Run cover

When a publisher asked me a few years ago to list my favourite albums of all time for a collection of essays from rock critics, the easiest decision was what to put at No. 1. “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle” was fun, funky and fantastically listenable. It’s also timeless. I didn’t discover early Bruce Springsteen until the late-80s, when I was a teenager, nearly two decades after the release of “Greetings from Asbury Park”. While that first album gets acclaim for putting Springsteen on a map larger than the Jersey shore and while the third album, “Born to Run,” is what produced his signature tune, it’s the second album that has the most soulfulness, I think. It’s not perfect, meandering at times, and not preciously produced like “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. What “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle” has, though, is the exuberance that captures the live E Street Band experience that so many of us not only love, but cherish as some of the best memories of our lives.

Going to see an E Street Band concert is going to church for a lot of us. When I heard “Rosalita” live for the first time in Vancouver four years ago, it was rapturous. Every note swimming through me, uplifting me, making me jump a little lighter. A lot of us are tearful because the passing of Clarence Clemons means we’ll never have such a moment again.

The Big Man’s star turns are on “Born to Run,” with the solo on “Jungleland” and the shout-out from Bruce on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out”. But it’s on “Rosalita” and “Incident on 57th Street” from “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle” that we hear it all coming together: The E Street Band before they were officially called so melding into the great outfit they became, and doing so in large part because of Springsteen’s insistence on having a saxophonist at a time when no one else did.

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