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room for things we love.
The gifting season is right around the corner, and we’re stocking up on all of the year’s best gifts to make that special someone smile. There are three ways to buy local with the room family this holiday season: room, baby room, and our newest addition, room2, located at the Hotel @ The Lafayette. Visit us at all three locations and find fun printed pillows by Dwell Studio, serveware and glassware by Fishs Eddy, fresh home style by Jonathan Adler, and a lot more. Find room for the things you love this holiday season.
fur niture • accessories • gifting • design
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799 Elmwood Ave. shopannagrace.com
A lovely boutique in the heart of the Elmwood Village. Clothing, handbags, jewelry, perfume, and more! 10 BCM 29
Sarah Bishop pg. 30 Sarah is the executive director of Buffalo First!, a nonprofit organization that fosters a more just local living economy for sustainable business in the region. She also serves on the board of The Pride Center of WNY. Her photography has been exhibited at Allen Street Hardware Café. Margaret Finan pg. 61 Margaret is a student, writer, and editor of Block Club's design and creative blog, Clubhaus. She studies psychology at the University at Buffalo and spends a lot of time thinking about human memory.
Scott Mancuso pg. 56 As a child, Scott grew up on a street haunted by Joseph Ellicott's ghost. As an adult, he lives on one of the streets that haunted Joseph Ellicott. Among other things, he writes.
BLOCK CLUB MAGAZINE EDITORIAL STAFF
PUBLISHER PATRICK FINAN email@example.com
EDITOR BEN SIEGEL firstname.lastname@example.org
CREATIVE DIRECTOR BRANDON DAVIS email@example.com
Peter Scheck pg. 49 Peter's articles about local art and culture have appeared in Artvoice and The Buffalo News, where he is a regular contributor. He plays in bands with his friends, is a handyman, and cuts his own hair.
PHOTOGRAPHER STEVE SOROKA firstname.lastname@example.org
DESIGNER JULIE MOLLOY email@example.com
DESIGNER TIM STASZAK
pg. 30 Amy is a freelance photographer and graduate student. A native Michigander, she lives and volunteers in Detroit's community gardens, and enjoys riding a bicycle. Despite the cliché, she refuses to post a photograph of abandoned buildings, even on Instagram.
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EDITORIAL ASSISTANT PATRICK SIMONS firstname.lastname@example.org
COPY EDITOR SCOTT MANCUSO
FA R M F R E S H &
H O U S E M A D E D A I LY
307 BRYANT ST. BUFFALO 716.881.7592
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From our local farms to your kitchen table Tony Weiss of Weiss Farm | Eden, NY
Open to everyone, 8am-10pm daily 807 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY | 716-886-2667
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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
The Fight It's a bloody bath out there. Everyone's on a side, even if they're between sides. It's them against us, or me against the world. However you cut it, tempers are flared, emotions are amplified, and words are strong. It is our duty, not just our right, to fend for ourselves. It's a dirty way to live, though. Enemies erode us, and when they're at our family dinner table, they confuse us even more. You meet people who “get it,” who see the world and its conflicts the way you do—The Right Way—and you meet people who don't, who somehow missed the memo on what's important, and what priority our issues should take. So we argue, which we all secretly hate, even if it makes us sound smart. We pull out all the stops, calling names and throwing stones like on a playground at recess. Our goal of peace goes right out the window. It's ideal, but feels out of reach once the fists go up and fightin' words start their spew. This is the fatigue of fight, which leaves us exhausted and winless. We don't want to agree with everyone on everything, anyway. We just want to be heard. In Buffalo, we fight a lot. Usually it's with ourselves— with our past, our mistakes, our laziness and complacency. We are more sour on ourselves than any national poll or fluff travel piece, make no mistake about that. The improvements in our city are because we worked and fought for them. Pride has been taken from us before, but it's now ours to lose.
We're all capable of this. Everyone isn't an activist with a soapbox, but that's okay. We're all taxpayers, and we all have voices. We should all use them. We fight all day long—the infuriating alarm clock that won't shut up; the stubborn dog that won't eat his breakfast; the riled-up kids who won't do their homework. They're all worth the vigor. Alarm clocks suck. Kids don't listen. (Dogs? They're just fine. Leave them alone.) But just imagine how much we could get done if we got as mad about the big things as we get about the small things. How many more people could live in a stable house; eat a warm, healthy meal; read a book and learn; work a stable job; get affordable medical treatment; send their kids to good schools; and live without fear? What if we fought as hard for their rights as we have for our own? If their streets felt as lively as ours do? Think about the whole of Buffalo, not just your Buffalo. Just please don't let everyone else do the work. Get busy, rally support, educate yourself and others. And fight like you have no other choice.
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FACE A FACE
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FIGHT ACTIVIST MADELINE D. DAVIS FOUNDED THE ARCHIVES OF A LOCAL CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, SHE WAS THERE.
Interview by BEN SIEGEL
adeline D. Davis has been fighting for all of her adult life. Her causes are many, from political and religious freedom to animal and literary awareness. But it is her work as a gay, lesbian and transgender activist that fuels Davis’s biggest fight. She co-founded in 1970 the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier, a local chapter of the national homophile activist group; served as one of the first openly gay national delegates at the 1972 Democratic National Convention; co-authored a book about Buffalo lesbian history; and in 2001, founded the Buffalo Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Archives, which are now at home at Buffalo State College, and which were later named after her. She was born and raised in Buffalo, and today, at 72 years old, is a retired librarian. In July, Davis spoke to commemorate New York State’s first anniversary of marriage equality, reading an essay written about her 1995 marriage to Wendy Smiley. Like much of her work, the essay is infused with wisdom, humor, deference and humility. We begin, at her home with Smiley in Williamsville, on the topic of personal archiving. BCM Of all of your titles or skills, is there one that you
wrap yourself around? MADELINE Of course, I read. I just devour books. I love the feel of them in my hands. Even books that are not classic and leather-bound, although that’s a wonderful feel. I love just going to the library and touching books.
although I have not let go of my own personal archive. I still have 12 to 15 boxes of books. BCM How do those collections differ? MADELINE I donated my personal collections of gay books, and everybody else’s. Tons of people gave me books. And I donated all of the collections of papers and audios and videos and posters and flyers and invitations and people’s journals, [things] that other people gave to me. And they all went to the archives. I have yet to give them my own personal boxes of material. BCM Will you do that? MADELINE Yeah, oh yeah. In the end I’ll do it. I don’t know what the end is. I also have seven notebooks of photographs of me and my family back into the 1880s. Mostly after that there’s my family, of me and my sister and brother, and photographs with friends.
Madeline tells me about her visit to a friend’s apartment in New York City that housed an archive of lesbian history. I was just so fascinated with that place, and I wanted something like that for us. And nobody was doing it. So after I retired I just decided that I should start a Buffalo gay archive. I put out a call to everybody I knew by email. I said, “Give me everything.” I got journals, recordings, t-shirts, posters ... boxes of stuff.
BCM Why do you think those things had been held onto? I still have my own library, even though when we moved the archives from here to Buffalo State College, we gave them about 1,500 gay titles for the library. It’s a huge donation that goes The Madeline Davis GLBT Archives of Western New York with the Madeline Davis GLBT Archives of Western New is housed at Buffalo State College and is open to the York. And boy, that’s the part that I didn’t want to get rid of, public by appointment. madelinedavisglbtarchives.org 18 BCM 29
photo by STEVE SOROK A
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MADELINE They weren’t going to let them go. They knew that they would be usable at some time for something but they didn’t have a concept of what it was going to be for. And thank goodness for those people.
Madeline recounts the process of interviewing, with Liz Kennedy, lesbians for what became their 1994 book, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold. They asked each interviewee the same question: What do you think is important to tell people about the times that you’ve lived through? They talked. They talked and talked. One woman told us that she was able to get pants during the 1940s for the first time off the rack. She didn’t have to have them made. I mean that’s a significant kind of fact to know about how women were able to express their sexuality. To say how they were a little different from other women. And that is very important in the community, to be able to identify yourself. There was a man who kept journals for I don’t know, 15, 20 years at least. His journals were so funny. He would write things like, “Took Aunt Agnes to Loblaws. Took her too long to pick out fresh fruits and vegetables. Came home and at 4 o’clock, Tony came over, we had sex, and then I had to go to the movies with John and…” All this life is built into these journals, and there’s a sex life built into this. Attached to that was a little black book. I mean a real “little black book.” In it were first names of all the guys that he had slept with, and an evaluation. BCM In the context of this archive, how is that significant? MADELINE This is a real person’s life. This is the stuff that people kept because they felt that they wanted the familiarity of the things that they had done surrounding them over the years. You know when you look at pictures of yourself, and your relatives that you grew up with when you were a little kid, and they make you feel a lot of things. You know, “I hated her. I loved her. It was really warm that day. Oh my god, look what I wore,” all those things. They make you feel close to your life. They put you in a position where you’re right up front with your life.
that for your own good. So see what’s happening in Arizona. It’s hard down there. It’s very hard to be gay down there. There are now institutions in our community that are there to take care of us. Those did not exist before. We have AIDS Community Services, we have Gay and Lesbian Youth Services (GLYS) for young people. Those people who think it’s over, go to GLYS. I mean those kids have been through some crap. And it’s important to hear their stories. Just keep watching television and in the newspapers and see how many gay kids kill themselves. It’s still important. BCM Is the ultimate goal for young people to grow up and not have to fight? MADELINE Yes. That is the goal. We did fight to be treated like everybody else. But there’s a weird thing that happened. [By the mid-1990s] AIDS started expanding out of our community, and the people that were being discovered with AIDS were black and Puerto Rican women, a lot of AfricanAmerican men. You could see it was not a group of sort of early-to-middle-age white men anymore. I spoke with a lot of gay men about that phenomenon and they were mad. They were mad. “This was our disease,” [they’d say]. BCM And did that give them an armor, or a cause, or a mis-
sion to fight with, as opposed to fighting for their identity? Did that seem like a fairer fight to be fighting than the fight for equal rights? MADELINE No. It was a different kind of fight. The fight for gay rights had a layer of very angry people working for it. The larger group of people fighting for gay rights worked much more quietly. They picketed, they sent letters, they did that kind of thing. They worked in offices and they made phone calls, and they interviewed and had meetings with the police. Things that didn’t make the front page, things that weren’t splashy. That was the beginning of the gay rights movement. From Stonewall, which was in 1969, on, it became a more activist movement. It got louder.
BCM For younger people who were born in a time when they may have faced discrimination and oppression on some small level, but probably not every day, who feel as though the fight for these civil rights has been won—
On the topic of outreach, Madeline tells me a story about her trip to the 1972 Democratic National Convention, where she served as one of two openly gay delegates in the nation. The convention, held in Miami Beach, Fla., put Madeline in contact with a number of other national movements, one of which met her with an unexpected response.
MADELINE Good luck. [Laughs.] ... I would say to those people, take a trip to Baylor University. Take a trip to one of those churches, a fundamentalist church in Georgia. Do
MADELINE The women who were feminists—Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinam, and all the women who were with them— could not look at us in the face. We were “lavender herrings.”
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We are every one of us. I am her, and she is me. We can’t leave anybody out. We were the ones that they couldn’t associate with, because they were already experiencing people saying, “They only all dykes anyway. Don’t bother with this feminism stuff. It’s just lesbians.” And they didn’t want the association to become real. It was weird, and it was unhappy. It was very sad.
MADELINE I think the need to come out will probably exist always. Because we’re a minority. If you decide in a Catholic household to be a Seventh Day Adventist, you gotta tell somebody. If you decide in a Protestant home you want to be a Catholic, you gotta tell somebody. They’re not going to just automatically know. It’s the issue of difference. You’re going to have to let somebody know. BCM You’ve written about the overlap of your religious and sexual identities. Do you see that the fight for religious freedom is similar to the fight for gay rights?
MADELINE No. I don’t see that now. I’m sure that fight existed at some point in every country we have ever been in as Jews, including this one. That fight will go forever. People Going to that convention was one of the most exciting and have said to me, “Oh I didn’t know you were Jewish.” And terrifying things I’ve ever done. I was chosen to speak at the there’s something about how that is more interesting than convention. I spoke on the platform for the appreciation of if they said, “Oh I didn’t know you were Protestant,” or “I sexual diversity. It was so frightening. I still have my handdidn’t know you were Methodist.” But nobody would say, written speech from it, of course. “I didn’t know you were Methodist.” Thoughts have more clarity; they make noise in those words. I never thought you BCM What did that mean to you? were...that kind of person. MADELINE I was so frightened. I just had to remember that people at home were watching this on television at three, BCM What about the overlap between the fight for gay four in the morning, and that I had to do it for them. I had civil rights and the fight for African-American civil rights? to do it for them. We had to have good representation. We MADELINE I think that we don’t overlap well. The Africanhad to be professional. We had to speak well. American community has been really hard to break into as far as trying to calm people down about gay identity. BCM How important was the representation of the whole community in this fight for identity and personhood? BCM Do you think that the root of the anger is different, in that for African-Americans it ultimately goes back to slavMADELINE It was very important. It was just a different way of fighting. Stonewall was started by a group of street ery, and that that is a different root of oppression than that people and drag queens, fighting physically against the cops which comes from homophobia? on the street. That was vital how that happened, [but] we MADELINE You know, I think the same story about AIDS were doing it a different way. There are many ways to do that. belonging to “us” might have some significance about our relationship to the African-American community. First BCM It’s interesting, this tug of war between owning all facets of the community’s identity, but silencing those that of all, we’re a much smaller minority, and their focus is so much larger. They’ve been fighting for such a long time, and feed the stereotypes. it’s such an important fight. Even while we’re fighting our MADELINE When I was first in Mattachine, they wanted own fight, we have to recognize that. We’re just in such difto do some television representation and there was one ferent places along that path, you know? We are a very new woman who was a very close friend of mine who was very bunch of fighters compared to those who were slaves or who butch, and there were two or three others, and somebody had relatives who were slaves. It didn’t become a cause to said, I don’t think that we should put her on. She’s too stefight for us until the 1950s, and it didn’t become a cause reotypical looking. And I blew my stack and I said, We can’t to bring out into the streets until the 1970s. The Africando this. We are all of us. We are every one of us, you know? I American community has been doing that fight for a long am her, and she is me, and we can’t leave anybody out. time, in many different ways, even during slavery. So we are new kids on the block, even though the new kids on our BCM What do you think about the day when someone block think it’s over. It’s not over. doesn’t have to come out of the closet? BCM 29 21
Interview by PATRICK SIMONS
ittsburgh's Conflict Kitchen is part art project, part short-order restaurant, and part political statement. The window-counter is around the corner from the proprietors’ recently closed sit-down restaurant, the customer-participation-friendly Waffle Shop (a story unto itself). The concept is simple and inspired: they serve food from a country with which the United States is currently in political conflict. The small menu changes cuisines every six months (along with its visual branding, which is always artful). Customers are treated to meat and vegetarian dishes, but also get a full plate of education, and opportunity for participation. Natives of the current iteration’s country are interviewed for publication on the food wrappers, and locals from that country are consulted in the kitchen. The restaurant holds Skype sessions with those in the current iteration’s country, wherein the native food is simultaneously shared. Local 22 BCM 29
initiatives aim to raise money and awareness. Pittsburghers’ dialogue on the political relationship between the United States and the featured country fills in the information gaps that the food cannot fill. It is, in all respects, a unique dining experience. In just two years, the restaurant has grown in popularity. Owners Jon and Dawn have announced a move to a new location, slated to open this fall. Jon filled Block Club in on the restaurant’s vision and goals, and plans for the next country of interest. NAME
Jon Rubin & Dawn Waleski
illustration by TIM STASZAK
Where did the idea come from?
The discussion started with what doesn’t exist in Pittsburgh. It went from [the fact that] we don’t have a lot of culinary and ethnic diversity, to the fact that we’re not really positioned as a global, international city. We developed this idea [to create] a place that we wanted to see exist in the city. ... And also to not fall into the conventions of peoples’ expectations of either a restaurant or a political activity. Food is democratic. Everyone has to eat. So what does food tell us about conflict, about these conflicts? Or about our “enemies?”
Well, I think, like you said, it’s ubiquitous. We use food in multiple ways. Number one is that it’s a storytelling device. You can trace the ingredients and the recipes in any country and culture’s food back to stories of its development and history and politics; its range in its geography; its economy. It’s a storytelling device. Secondly, it’s a great way of bypassing the intellect and going straight to your gut. We are asking people to think [about] the project, which is very educational, but we don’t want to come off as being didactic. By presenting food, it bypasses any kind of trepidation you might have intellectually, and you start from a “Do I like this or not?,” “Am I interested in the way that this tastes in my body?” So it again bypasses your brain. I think the third thing the food does for us is it creates community. It’s a way of constructing a set of sort of social situations. It’s a way of building constituents, or audience, or customers, or participants. It’s a really simple strategy in bringing people together. That’s very important for us as well. We’re doing the project in the public and we want to get the public involved. In terms of what it has to do with conflict, I think there [have] obviously been issues of food [that have] been used as either a weapon or as an economic stimulus. Take Cuba: We have an embargo specifically against buying products from Cuba, and one of the biggest productions in Cuba was sugar, so the Cuban diet has changed as the United States has removed its buying power from the market and they’ve had to develop different types of resources. Import things they used to export. And there’s been domestic ramifications from that. I mean I don’t [know if] people use food in a specific [militaristic] way, but it’s part of everything.
Tell me about a dish or cuisine that illustrates its country’s people.
I think the Cuban dishes that we’re selling right now are pretty indicative. You’ve got pork, which is kind of a main meat product in Cuba. There’s not a lot of cattle and ranching. Black beans and rice are part of every dish. One of the names that they use for black beans and rice is Cristianos y Moros, which [historically] means the [white] Christians and the [black] Moors. The rice and beans create protein together and are a cheap and easy staple food. One of the things that we recognized when we went to Cuba to do our research is that a lot of the produce actually goes to market very small. The reason is that the farmers can’t afford to wait the extra three-to-four weeks for things to fully mature. They just need to get things to the market. So there’s a lot of interesting kind of background on the food there. I thought that was very interesting that you guys went to Cuba. I wonder how feasible it would be to go somewhere like Iran or Afghanistan.
We’d like to go to Iran. It’s difficult to get a Visa, but I would love to go. We’re actually trying to schedule a trip to North Korea, which might actually be easier than going to Iran, but still much more controlled. How do you connect all this back to the people and the citizens in Pittsburgh?
In small ways, just trying to make connections and disengage from the discourse that’s presented predominantly in the media and through public policy that often times has to do with the most egregious policies of its government. The main goal is to just put a spark in peoples’ minds so that they start to do research on their own, or so that they start to have a more nuanced and complicated perspective on what’s going on in these countries. Because when you go to one of these countries or you meet people from there and you talk to them, you know it’s not simple. It’s not black and white. And that very much reflects our experience here. Where I don’t entirely agree with the policies of my government, I think there are many good things that we have in this country that aren’t available in other countries. And it’s nuanced.
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The other election days THE EVERYDAY POWER SHIFT. by PATRICK FINAN
ach November, I put so much faith into a few politicians, and so much energy and thought into one day of voting. I take my freedom to vote very seriously; I always have. But there’s a tipping point in politics, where an elected official's reach and capacity hits its limit, and where engaged community members and progressive small-business owners hit their stride. With all the emphasis and buildup to Nov. 6—one day of the year—it’s essential that I remember the thousands of votes I cast the 364 other days every time I pull my wallet out to buy something. I can be patriotic, civic and contributive to my community if I commit to being a thoughtful consumer. Each dollar I spend is a vote. Since founding Block Club more than five years ago, I’ve made an effort to be more aware of what I buy. I’ve dedicated many of my business practices to those that support my local economy. It’s a basic idea but a salient one. When I consider the amount of money I spend each year on food, shelter, transportation and healthcare, and on extras like clothing and entertainment, on even a humble budget, these dollars—these votes—add up. And as an engaged voter, I do my best to be conscientious as to who, what and where I give my vote. I think it’s easy to underestimate the stretch of our our dollar. Our money addresses economic concerns in ways that silver bullet solutions cannot, and do not. Our money does not have to leave our lives when it leaves our wallets. When I buy a cup of coffee in the morning, my choice has many criteria. I have to like the coffee, first of all. The look, feel and culture of a coffee shop has to appeal to me, otherwise I'm not going to want to go back the next morning. And as a small-business owner, I know how patronizing another small business amplifies and recycles my locally
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earned dollars right here in my community. It may look like just a cup of coffee, but it is a down payment on a continuous flow of locally generated, and regenerated, money. According to a new study by Civic Economics—a research firm with locations in Chicago and Austin committed to supporting healthy, sustainable economies— choosing to spend your money at a locally owned store generates almost four times as much economic benefit for the surrounding region as shopping at a chain store. The study also found that eating at a locally owned restaurant produces more than twice the local economic impact of dining at a chain restaurant. Local retailers return an average of 52 percent of their revenue to the local economy, compared with 14 percent for chain retailers. Similarly, locally owned restaurants circulate an average of 79 percent of their revenue locally, compared to 30 percent for chain restaurants. The study found that the independent businesses surveyed spent much more on local labor and procured more goods from local sources than their corporate counterparts. They are much more prone to hiring local providers for services like accounting and payroll, printing, banking, advertising and marketing, among others. These service providers are, in turn, just as likely to rely on other local providers to service their businesses. And the hyperlocal business cycle continues. Aside from business, an increased tax base ideally benefits the public services that our community relies on. Things like public parks, police and fire departments, clean streets, and safe schools in Western New York. This isn’t just about investing for the sake of business; this is about investing in the community at large, and in each other as neighbors. The community building that develops from this doesn’t stop on Main Street, either. Our engaged local business owners have a vested interest in Greater Buffalo. We hear time and time again that we’re one of the most generous communities in the country. In my experience, it’s often the generosity of locally owned businesses, in partnership with individual donors, that helps bridge the funding gaps for arts and culturals, educational initiatives and neighborhood organizations. We cannot logically invest our vote in national issues without investing in our local ones. Thankfully, we don't have to wait for one day a year to do that. Buying locally is a large part of the economic development strategy we need to end our fight for survival. Our locally owned businesses and products help to define the character of Western New York and identify our unique community in an increasingly homogenized world. Our
illustration by TIM STASZAK
I'm not making decisions beholden to out-of-town shareholder profit. neighborhoods are not just being shaped by the service and generosity of our locally owned businesses, but by their physical presence in our communities as well. Local storeowners guard their sidewalk property as intently as the little old lady who guards her front porch. They keep an eye on things; they know what’s going on. At Block Club, I make decisions based on the triple bottom line philosophy of people, planet and prosperity. I answer to my customers, my team, myself, and to the community at large. I’m not making decisions beholden to the maximization of out-of-town shareholder profit. I can proudly say that this company helps to increase Buffalo’s self-reliance by building a business that helps increase entrepreneurial capacity in our region. Tens of thousands of companies like ours work to provide Western New Yorkers with basic services as close to home as possible. Working hard with the principles of the pro-local and triple bottom line philosophy, Block Club has grown from a small startup to the third-fastest growing company in Western New York, according to Business First. We’re harnessing the power of progressive business and social entrepreneurship to thrive, turn a healthy profit, and employ a team of 11 young, creative thinkers in Buffalo at a time when running a small business, let alone starting one, has gotten increasingly more difficult. This self-reliance strengthens our foundation and solidifies our economic roots. And the cycle of building continues. Even with my firsthand knowledge of this information, it can be easy to forget that there are choices in front of me.
When a cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee, consumed between meetings or during an after-dinner social gathering, it’s easy to forget the power that’s keeping my hands warm. I am reminded of this choice when I chat with the bookstore owner who’s showing me a recent arrival he knew I’d want (he remembers my last few purchases); or when I sign my employees’ paychecks, and know that they’ll be spending these dollars, made right here in this area code, on the same things that I know I need as a resident. If we are lucky enough to have the choice to rent locally, to eat locally, to buy gifts locally, to find insurance and healthcare locally, and to keep our money in locally based banks and credit unions, then we should consider making that choice, and often. If we make a more conscious effort to cast our votes in favor of our neighbors, the local businesses they own, and the community-wide resources they run, we can build an economy that is sustainable and self-reliant, and that takes care of us the way that we take care of it. This company is proof that it's possible. So you’ll see me at the polls on Nov. 6, casting my ballot in national and local elections. But I'll be voting on Nov. 7 and 8, too, and the day after that. I'll be voting for my friend and against a nameless CEO in another state. I'll be voting for a stronger economic model, one that will not fail me the way the other way will, and has. We are not powerless in this country, or in this city. It's easy to think that we are, but it's just not true. We have power. We just have to choose to use it, every day.
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THE PEOPLE'S FARM 30 BCM 29
In the search for justice in segregated Detroit, one man has found a new way to fight. D-Town Farm's radical, righteous war. By Sarah Bishop Photos by Amy Senese BCM 29 31
hen Malik Yakini speaks publicly about his decades of work in Detroit’s food justice movement, he tells his audiences a fairy tale. The characters and personalities are recognizable, but the morals are revolutionary. It opens on an African farm, where The Little Red Hen has discovered some unaccounted-for wheat. She asks for help planting so that the farm can enjoy the ensuing bread. “Not I,” said the cow. “I thought slavery was over.” “Not I,” said the goat. “It probably won’t grow anyway.” “Not I,” said the duck. “I’m much too busy.” “Not I,” said the lamb. “I don’t do dirt.” Frustrated, but determined, she plants the wheat herself. Again, she asks for help to harvest, transport and process the wheat, and again, she is denied. But when she asks who will eat the bread… “I will,” said the cow. “I will,” said the goat. “I will,” said the duck. “I will,” said the lamb. She scolds their selfishness and denies them their bread, but offers something better. “However, my beloved neighbors,” said The Little Red Hen, “I didn’t grind all of the grain. I started a seed bank to have wheat for next year. Here is a handful of grain for each of you,” and sent them packing. The epilogue, in a fitting and relevant turn, tells of the founding of a communal agreement to grow, harvest and produce its own food. The Little Red Hen is elected chief of the village council, and the farm is filled to capacity, overflowing with prosperity and opportunity. They even manufacture and export their farming equipment. In one bold move, a discordant group of cohabitants become their own saviors. And there was plenty for all.
YAKINI’S WORK in Detroit’s African-American community embodies both the communal benefits of collective input, and the tremendous challenges of rallying the troops. It is a story about what’s right versus what’s wrong; about entitlement versus the entitled; about the haves versus the have-nots. The Little Red Hen’s farm is not a literary trope, though. It is where Yakini’s own story resides. Yakini has dedicated the past four decades to alleviating the impact of racism and white privilege on the food system 32 BCM 29
and advocating for the development of a food sovereignty movement that’s inclusive of black farmers. He believes that the “good food revolution” is part of the larger movement for freedom, justice and equality. For six years, as the executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN), Yakini has championed the cause of urban farming as a mechanism for sustainable self-determination in Detroit’s African-American community. The DBCFSN began as a result of Malik’s earlier work with an Afrocentric charter school called Nsoroma Institute Public School Academy, where he served as the principal for more than 20 years. In 2000 he helped to develop a food security curriculum for the school and began the implementation of it through an organic garden on the premises. This initial garden quickly evolved into the Shamba Organic Garden Collective, which encouraged parents and teachers to plant gardens in their own backyards and take over nearby vacant lots. The Collective grew to approximately 20 gardens dispersed throughout the Motor City. In February 2006, he called together an eclectic group of approximately 40 individuals—farmers, raw foodists, chefs, gardeners, and others connected to the food movement—for the purpose of formally launching the network. Since that time, this broad coalition of organizations and individuals has come together to build food security with a six-pronged strategy: promoting urban agriculture; influencing public policy; encouraging co-operative buying; promoting healthy eating habits; encouraging young people to pursue careers in food-related fields; and facilitating mutual support and collective action amongst members of the organization. His latest project, a website called Be Black and Green, unites under the banner “Cultivate to Elevate.” The site is dedicated to networking and supporting black urban and rural agriculturalists, food justice advocates, and allies in the black food sovereignty movement. The site features short films, photographs, and music in an attempt to raise the profile of black gardeners, farmers, and food justice activists. Be Black and Green also dispels preconceived notions that all participants in the movement towards local food systems and economies are young, affluent whites. “Race has been one of the ways in which those who have access to wealth, and those who don’t have access to wealth, have been determined,” says Yakini. “We have a historical
TENDING THE CROP, above
TILLING THE SOIL, previous
Tate hands his grandson an eggplant during a hot July harvest for the Ujamaa Food Co-op.
Aba, a founding member of the DBCFSN, and D -Town Farm's resident beekeeper, tends to the land. BCM 29 33
inequity that continues until this day because it’s systemic. It’s important that if we’re talking about equity and local economies, and justice for everyone, we have to look at how race impacts the economy.” D-Town Farm, the DBCFSN's hallmark program, is an extension of that vision. The seven-acre urban farm in the heart of Rouge Park serves as a community self-determination project with the intention to model how, as Yakini says, “unused and underutilized land in the city of Detroit can be put to productive use both to create greater access to fresh produce, and as a tool to mobilize individuals to work on their own behalf.” In its current operational framework the mission of D-Town Farm is to address the greater struggle towards racial and economic equality. D-Town is reclaiming land in African-American neighborhoods and repurposing it out of the conviction that they alone can create greater access to quality food, community engagement, meaningful work, and shared prosperity.
DETROIT’S POPULATION HAS PLUNGED more than 25 percent in the past decade, due in large part to the collapse of the auto industry and the ensuing white flight. This dramatic shift has left Detroit with an estimated 40 square miles of vacant land. That figure is equivalent to roughly a third of the city’s land, or just under the total land acreage of the City of Buffalo. Other stark statistics, such as an 18 percent unemployment rate—seven percentage points higher than that of Buffalo—a sizable 35 percent of residents living below the poverty line, and continued racial polarization continue to create unfavorable conditions for access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. These figures present a mixed blessing. Their magnitude has had a tremendous impact on a diminished tax base, high infrastructure costs, and loss of public services. Not to mention the obvious blight it produces. However, access to land has been a tremendous opportunity for organizers in Detroit. In such a state of decline, the African-American population—83 percent of the population—is no longer waiting for governmental assistance or counting on silver-bullet solutions, found in the likes of agro-business or multination corporations. Instead, they are rethinking the ways in which they can contribute to building their community, from the farm up. “What we’re trying to do is get Detroit’s African-Ameri34 BCM 29
can community to become involved in efforts that demonstrate that we have a sense of agency over our own lives. That we’re exhibiting self-determination. That we’re not waiting on others to define what happens to us, but we’re defining our own destiny,” says Yakini. “One of the things that happens in a system where people are oppressed is it kind of destroys that sense of initiative in people, and gives people a sense of dependence on either the government or large corporations. In a sense, we cede responsibility for our lives to what we consider to be these more powerful forces.” It is from this place that Yakini and likeminded urban agricultural activists challenge Detroiters to reject a deficit model and instead embrace an assets model. This alternative narrative deconstructs the deep-seeded “poverty mentality” ingrained within the community’s psyche and replaces it with a “prosperity mentality,” in which vacant land and the people of Detroit are seen as catalysts for change in a sustainable and newly localized economy. This paradigm shift has proven effective, as Detroit is now considered the epicenter of the modern urban agricultural movement, boasting more than 1,400 farms within city limits. “If we’re able to create the mechanism to capture even a small percentage of the money which is spent on food in Detroit, then we create wealth that can be circulated within our communities, we can create ownership, create jobs, create a sense of empowerment,” says Yakini. D-Town has made significant strides towards those ends. The farm has grown exponentially since its inception in 2008 through the dedication of 12 core members, an everrevolving volunteer base, and a groundswell of community support. The acquisition of five additional acres of land in Rouge Park has made room for the inclusion of several new large-scale projects that have continued to refine techniques and best practices that can be replicated for use in Detroit and other cities looking to capitalize on their vacant land. Operations to date include organic vegetable plots, beehives, hoop houses for year-round food production, and composting facilities—all working together to produce thousands of pounds of environmentally conscious, highquality produce. That food is sold through D-Farm’s Ujamaa Co-Op Buying Club and a variety of marketplaces in the city, most notably Eastern Market. And, that’s not all. D-Town’s ability to navigate both the theoretical and practical needs associated with food justice with fluidity has positioned it as a strategic hub for all with-
MALIK YAKINI "There has never been a reckoning with the impact of race in American society. There's never really been a serious, national effort to say, let's sit down and look at what the impact of slavery was."
in the urban agricultural movement. D-Town was named a Regional Outreach Training Center for Growing Power Inc., national food justice organization, and holds a key leadership position on the Detroit Food Policy Council in its efforts to undo racism within Detroit’s food system.
IN A CITY AND FOOD SYSTEM mired by racism and inequality, urban farming is used as a tool for resistance. Yakini and D-Town have created an alternative food system based on the principles of Ujima: collective work and responsibility, self-reliance, and community food security. It is a term Yakini best defines as “a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-determination and social justice.” This directly relates to the goal of reversing the racial ramifications of agricultural work. It recognizes and reframes land cultivation and community building as “honorable work” and fosters a space to train the next generation.
In doing so, they bring healing to a community whose cultural association to the land evokes images of slavery and sharecropping. “All economies are based on land, and the resources that are derived from land. When you look at how American society was founded—in terms of European settlers coming here, either through military action, through fraudulent treaties, or acquiring the land [illegally]; and Africans being kidnapped and brought to the western hemisphere to work on that land which was owned by European settlers—from the very beginning you have an economic divide based on people’s relationship to the land,” says Yakini. “That inequity has continued to this day, because there’s never been a reckoning with the impact of race in American society. There’s never really been a serious, national effort to say, let’s sit down and look at what the impact of slavery was and what the ongoing vestiges of that impact are.” The economic and racial inequality within Detroit’s current food system is evidenced by the existence of only two grocery stores owned and operated by African-Americans citywide. Further, the DBCFSN has been unable to verify if there are any food wholesalers, distributors, farmers, or BCM 29 35
food processing facilities that contract with the city of Detroit and are also owned, operated, or even employ African-American Detroiters. Apart from the predominant role of consumer, and part-time, low-earning service positions, like cashier, bagger and stock person, African-American Detroiters have been mostly absent from the food system. This arrangement typifies a wealth extraction model versus a community cooperative model. In the wealth extraction model we see an outside force pour a large amount of resources into a single entity that provides a limited amount of food with none of the profits being reinvested into the community being “served.” This model perpetuates a divided economy, with the dominant white economy benefiting disproportionately. Unlike in a community cooperative model, where a mutually agreed upon food-production system generates new wealth that is then distributed and re-circulated within the community for its own betterment. This model builds a holistic economy where everyone benefits equally.
WE ALL KNOW Buffalo’s storied tale of industry, manufacturing and race. The crippling impact of deindustrialization on Buffalo’s economy has made it one of the poorest cities in the country. “White flight” during the first decade of the 21st century has only recently (practically) equalized minority and majority stakeholders, in one of the most MAP provides green-jobs training and urban agriculture racially segregated cities in the country. On the urban agriculture front, Buffalo has been keeping outreach through their Growing Green program for young up pace, if not exactly following in Detroit’s massive foot- adults, ages 14 to 20. As part of their training, students gain steps. The city of Buffalo has dozens of community gardens knowledge of food sources, learn how to grow, process, and and nearly 20 food-producing farms, three of which pro- market organic food, as well as the impact of food on indiduce food for sale to the public—the largest being the Com- viduals and their community. Extensive social education is also an integral part of the program. munity Action Organization (CAO) on Harvard Place. Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo is a community-led garBuffalo, like Detroit, has copious amounts of vacant lots (13 percent of the city’s total land mass) available for the dening program lending a hand to the revitalization of neighborhoods and building quality of life through the repurpose of urban agriculture and gardening. So far, initiatives in the city of Buffalo—many on the reuse and beautification of vacant land. It functions in a West Side—have made strides in adapting vacant land for liaison capacity between the city of Buffalo’s administration and Buffalo’s avid community of gardeners. agricultural use. A few in particular have seen growth: Through Grassroots Gardens’ efforts, there are now more In the spring of 2003, the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) transformed a vacant West Side lot into a vegetable than 70 recognized community gardens—from ornamental garden, and they have been “cultivating the revolution” ever to food-producing, and from the East Side to the West Side. since. Lauded as one of Buffalo’s leading urban farming ef- The demand for this adaptive re-use model is clear. Meanwhile, the Farmers & Builders co-op addresses forts, MAP has made great inroads in nurturing a more equitable and diverse local food system in the center of a food the divided economy by presenting a strategy for people to “opt out” of the mainstream economy. Farmers & Builders desert on Buffalo’s West Side. 36 BCM 29
works conscientiously to build communities that intend to exist independently from—and in resistance to—a corporatized economic system that builds power for the wealthy. Their overarching goal is to rid themselves from mortgages, rent and debt, and from dependence on the traditional food system—something they understand as being unhealthy, unsustainable and ultimately unreliable. Yakini’s practice of this in Detroit is a pillar of his philosophical approach. But he says employing it in a functional model takes balance. “I don’t think that creating small alternatives inside of a system which is overwhelmingly corrupt and oppressive will be sufficient,” says Yakini. “They’re important because they give people something to aspire to, but we should never mistake that creating these small alternative economies is going to substitute for a massive shift in power, and redistribution of resources, which is necessary if we’re going to have freedom, justice, and equality.” If looking at Detroit gives Buffalo any ideas, it’s that there are many implications and motives for addressing the city’s dire needs. Solutions are sometimes as complicated as the problems. Detroit’s success in the urban agriculture movement indicates that a city needs to be self-reflective in their pursuit for justice. Yakini's work at D-Town Farm is founded on the philosophy of self-reliance, through which communities identify, define and address their own concerns through organized efforts. It builds itself up by reconstituting its own roots, feeding its own ecosystem, and seeking its own answers to the questions of sustainability and equity. This approach is not only efficient, it is truer to the needs of the community. It does not allow for the kind of colonization that created a number of these problems in the first place. It restores communal power and rebuilds from a place of collective strength and interest. “When people work in communities, the objective should be to empower the community to do for themselves; not to come in and impose a solution on people that you might think people need, or to set yourself up as the overlord with the resources and the experience and knowledge,” says Yakini. “[It’s important] to find the way to transfer that to people in the community.” Moreover, the burgeoning urban agricultural movement necessitates strategic infrastructure to go along with it, something Detroit has been able to accomplish through the cooperation and participation from city council.
The Detroit Food Policy Council was conceived of as a way to support those on the ground with the laws, policies, incentives, and regulations necessary at the local level to make undoing racism in the food system a reality. The council’s production and dissemination of its annual City of Detroit Food System Report assesses the state of Detroit’s food system, including the latest in production, consumption, waste generation and composting, nutrition, food assistance, innovative programming and program participation. The council supports that report with yearlong advocacy in urban agriculture and composting as part of Detroit’s strategic development. They also coordinate programs, convene an annual local food system conference, work with various city departments to streamline processes and approvals required to improve upon urban agriculture in the city of Detroit, and recommend new food related policy as is needed. These coordinated activities propel the movement forward with a united sense of purpose. The measureable successes of organizations and initiatives, such as the aforementioned, have initiated conversations and challenged the architects of the Green Code—Buffalo’s historic rewrite of its land-use and zoning ordinances—to formally acknowledge the movement through the inclusion of a number of provisions that specifically address an array of issues related to local food-growing practices. These include hoophouses and greenhouses, backyard beekeeping, and homegrown produce being sold in residents' front yards.
IF MALIK’S STORY SUGGESTS AN IRONY—in that a city with such discouraging economic and race statistics could triumph in areas of communal unity and racial justice—it is not a surprise to him. His ability to connect the dots for the benefactors of D-Town Farm’s many fruits, to truly rebuild his city, is not solely a feat for the African-American community there. Yakini’s story, and The Little Red Hen’s, indicates that there’s a reason why things fall apart, and there's a reason why things reform. “The irony is, it’s the people who are most oppressed who really have developed the lessons to help save everyone,” says Yakini. “That’s one of the reasons that it’s so important that we value the cultural contributions of everyone."
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E V E R Y T H I N G MADE
S C R AT C H
DA N I E L S R E S TAU R A N T 174 Buffalo St., Hamburg 648.6554 daniels-restaurant.com facebook.com/danielsrestaurant
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The battle for the road has never been more contentious. A look at the many miscommunications between bicyclists, motorists, pedestrians and City Hall. BY BEN SIEGEL
Tristan Lambright, 24, lives with his parents in the Town of Tonawanda. He works at Skyzone, an indoor trampoline park seven and a half miles away in Cheektowaga, near the airport. In his free time, he coaches and referees for the Queen City Roller Girls indoor roller derby league in North Tonawanda, and practices with his band above Mohawk Place in downtown Buffalo. He socializes between gigs, hanging out with friends like anyone else his age, and bikes the whole way. He is a man about town. His way to work is routine and calculated, based on traffic, weather and road conditions, among other factors. He rides the same way every day, and can rattle off the route like the Pledge of Allegiance. “I take Parker down to Englewood. I take Englewood up, I loop over past Main and I get around to where Winspear and Treehaven are. I take those two roads up, make a right on Century and a left on Kensington. I take Kensington all the way up to the circle at Harlem, where it turns into Wehrle. I take Wehrle all the way up to Cayuga, where Charlie the Butcher’s is, and I turn
up that hill. I go two traffic lights up, and I’m at work,” says Lambright. It takes him 40 minutes to get there and 30 minutes to get back. (It’s mostly uphill on the way there,” he says.) On an average day, he’ll spend an hour and a half on his bike, but on a busy summer day, it could be four. On days off, he can clock 90 miles. The math of it all can be daunting, but the logic is simple. He gets where he needs to go, gets physical activity, saves money on gas and car costs, and sees his city from a unique perspective. “I use my bike to go everywhere,” says Lambright. “I love riding around, taking the off-beaten [route]. I love the bike paths and everything around the city; and it’s a very beautiful city, so it’s a great, intimate experience.” But for some, these details of Lambright’s young life add up to a caricature—the rogue, punk biker who lives at home and does whatever he wants, disobeying road rules and torturing law-abiding car drivers with erratic maneuvers and an extended middle finger. He knows what you might think about him, despite the fact that he resembles little to none of that image. “There’s always going to be the a-hole that yells out their window. They think most bicyclists are beatniks; kids riding around, having fun, pissing people off, kicking garbage cans over,” says Lambright. “Some bicyclists can appear as degenerates to others. Some car drivers feel they have superiority on the road. That you should yield to them. That they’re better.” The disparaging division between drivers and bicyclists, where one sees the other as inferior and less deserving of pavement space, is not just about image. It is part of the spark of an ongoing debate between drivers and cyclists about space, ownership, responsibility and safety. Lambright feels the width of that gap. “I feel some people may have a predisposed idea that I’m a second-class citizen to use a bike for transportation,” says Lambright. “I don’t want to broad-stroke anyone, but I can see the potential of someone not understanding the intimate connection you can have with your city if you’re riding your bike versus driving your car.” “I’m out there in the elements; I’m not shelled up in a car, with music blaring and blinded to everything else. I feel like drivers, to a very large extent, are in their own personal bubble.” BCM 29 41
If you ride a bicycle on a city or suburban street, you’ve participated in battle. Painted lanes are your boundary markers; your vehicle of choice, no matter how many wheels it rides on, is your tank; navigation is your artillery. It's trecherous out there, even when everyone plays fairly. But motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians who travel on roads that don’t have bike lanes and other safety features find themselves in trickier waters. It can be, at times, an all-out war, complete with bloodshed and injury. Strategies, tactics and methods of self-defense are employed, proactively and reactively. Confusion is prevalent, from what the rules are, to even who, or what, the enemy is. It typically goes like this: When a bicyclist does not have a marked bike lane, he or she is expected to ride with traffic, between moving vehicles and parked cars, and not on the sidewalk. Drivers unaccustomed to the law might avert the biker’s makeshift path by slowing down, swerving, or veering toward the center double-yellow line. In either instance, a driver’s assumedly protective behavior can cause interruption to traffic and serious injury to travelers of any mode of transportation. The specifics of contact and altercation are limitless, but almost always have to do with moving vehicles—be they car, bike or other—overstepping their boundaries. In the absence of boundaries, travelers draw their own. It is a battlefield without house rules, says Justin Booth, executive director of Go Bike Buffalo, the city’s largest bike advocacy organization. He points to inadequate road design and enforcement as the wedge forced between these different commuters. In the end, both are victims of an incomplete system. “It’s not about pitting one against the other. I keep going back to this word ‘equity,’ because it’s about everybody,” says Booth. This notion of “driver vs. biker” comes up often in this conversation. Certainly, the archetypal image of an angry driver, comfortable in his enclosed vehicle, yelling at the scrappy youth on two wheels, is evocative of this perceived showdown. But Booth, and many others, call that a myth. “I think the biggest war is not so much between cyclists and the drivers, as it is in policy and funding,” says Booth, citing a historical evolution of public and private development, population shifts, and failed bureaucracy. “Look at cities a hundred years ago, Buffalo included. We had a robust transportation system, horse-drawn carriages, some of the first automobiles, bicyclists, pedestrians, a robust transit system that connected [the city] with trolleys 42 BCM 29
You have your spot on the road. You don't have the whole road. we both need it. Tristan Lambright, bicyclist and street cars—the entire city. You were able to get around the city of Buffalo by streetcar all over the place, up to Niagara Falls, out to some of the first-ring suburbs,” says Booth. But that system was effectively dismantled by post-war sprawl, which in turn established the viability of paved roads. Midcentury development placed a greater emphasis on automobile-centric roads, thereby limiting the integrated infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians. The effects today of these incomplete road structures create division. “Today, there’s a lot of animosity between people who choose to walk and bike, or use public transit, and the people who are using their cars,” says Booth. This animosity is a manifestation of frustration, confusion, and ignorance. But while there are certainly angry drivers, wrapped up in everyday road rage, and careless bicyclists, Lambright points out that this is a two-way street. “You have your spot on the road. You don’t have the whole road. There is the road, and we both need it. We’re all fighting, not for a piece of the pie, but for the whole pie,” says Lambright. “I wouldn’t go as far as saying that all bikers want the whole road to themselves, but I feel they want to have that respectable presence on the road where they can do their thing without worry. Just as much as cars want to be able to ride without having to worry about bikers darting in front of them.” The division on the pavement yields plenty of opinions. Ask 10 bicyclists or drivers what their impressions of the roads are, and you get 20 answers. Kristy Mangel, a recent Chicago transfer and a native of Cambria, near Lockport, is critical of bicyclists here. Having rode regularly in downtown Chicago for six years, she’s seen how a more progressive biking culture functions. She did not own a car there, and relied on her bike and public transport to get around the busy, dense downtown. Now that she’s back in Buffalo, she drives a car primarily
and rides her bike recreationally. Not surprisingly, her perspective on road sharing has evolved. And from what she’s seen in Buffalo, she’s not happy. “I’m starting to see why people who only drive don’t like bicyclists,” says Mangel. She’s observed the behavior of some bicyclists in the city; those who she assumes, like her, do not depend on their bicycles as their primary mode of transportation, but for recreation. She says their lack of regard for obvious road rules—riding with traffic, legal turns, avoiding sidewalks— and personal safety measures—wearing a helmet, having bike lights—infuriates her, and are giving the biking community a bad name. It holds the biking movement back. “There’s a problem moving the movement forward. If you are part of any kind of culture that’s trying to get awareness and [respect] for your culture, you have to follow a certain set of rules. The majority will not listen to a counter-culture that’s breaking all the rules. The bicyclists have to be a part of that.” The movement has to be more vocal, too. “We need to hammer home to everybody that this is what we stand for. This is what we want,” says Mangel. Janine Desmond, a freelance photographer who lives in the Elmwood Village, was hit on her bicycle in 2004. A pickup truck backed into her as she was crossing a pedestrian crosswalk in North Buffalo. The driver, she claims, had been prepared to make a left-hand turn, and decided to back up and wait. That’s when the truck crushed the back of her bike, nearly missing her leg by inches, Desmond says. “I could have been pinned under his tire,” says Desmond. “I’m not gonna lie, that definitely scared me off the road [for a while].” She has perspective now. “I think that it is about awareness on both the cyclists’ front and on the motorists’. There’s not proper marking, so you can’t figure out what that space is,” says Desmond. The lack of marked lanes is not just an issue of territory, but visibility. Where motorists don’t see bicyclists, who may or may not be in the appropriate position on the road, and where bicyclists are not using proper road etiquette, accidents like Desmond's can occur. “It would be nice for someone to not tell me to get on the sidewalk. I don’t think they know that I’m not supposed to be there. I think they say that because they know it’s inconvenient [to them] for me to be in the street. They think I’m being selfish, for some reason, taking up ‘their’ road. And it’s not their road; it’s for everybody who wants to travel in any way,” says Desmond.
Though it took Desmond a while to get back onto the road after the incident, she says it is nevertheless important for cyclists to ride despite their fear. “I think it gets better with the growing number of cyclists. With more people on the road, it’s a safety-in-numbers thing,” says Desmond. Aimee Buyea didn’t need to wait for public action to learn about road safety. Buyea was riding her bicycle in Allentown one evening last summer, and was rear-ended by a driver. Buyea was flung backward and landed on the asphalt, hitting her head. She was not wearing a helmet. Her boyfriend, who was riding with her at the time, called 9-1-1 for help, and flagged down fire workers at a nearby fire station. Buyea, who was unresponsive, was hospitalized for nine days. She lay in a coma. Her brain was operated on, tapped of excess fluid. The effects have been life-changing. Besides losing her sense of smell, Buyea attends therapy sessions every other week to deal with posttraumatic stress. Her advocacy for bicycle safety became a lightning rod after her recovery. Buyea says she became a “hyper-vigilante,” commenting, unsolicitedly, to friends who were not following safety rules. Excuses from helmetless friends were consistent: “I haven’t found one I like yet,” and “I don’t like helmet hair,” are common responses. “I’ve calmed down from being so intense [about it]. It got to the point where I was on this soapbox all the time,” says Buyea, whose work in therapy has helped to calm her anxiety. “Everyone has their own right and choices to make, but I hope, at least, everyone’s educated about this.” A number of bicyclists interviewed spoke about the lack of public awareness for laws, rights and safety practices. Though there is information available on various websites, such as the Go Bike Buffalo site, there are few, if any, posted signs that remind motorists and bicyclists of rules and rights. Literature written in various languages, accessible to non-English speaking bicyclists, is apparently lacking, too. “I’ve picked up on what all the laws are just because of my incident,” says Buyea. “There’s this gray zone, where no one is educating bicyclists that they are not pedestrians. That means not going through stop signs; only listening to one headphone; you also have to have lights—a white light and a red light, 30 minutes before and after sunrise and sunset; you need to have a bell, and you need to have reflectors, and you need to have brakes,” she continues, knowledgeable and informed now, with hindsight. BCM 29 43
“I’m a college-educated, independent human, but I didn’t even know these rules. You don’t know these rules until you’re at your deposition and [the lawyers] are asking you, repeatedly,” says Buyea. As of now, there are few roads in the city of Buffalo with dedicated bicycle lanes. They do exist, but they are not part of an integrated system, the missing links of which add up to a danger zone. The question of cost is particularly prevalent. Though painting bike lanes on roads is at the top of everyone’s to-do list, it is just one of many road modifications that must be considered in any proper overhaul. Such a change requires extensive road surveys of traffic patterns, public transportation routes, and street codes. It is one part of a much bigger infrastructure. Analyzing and addressing that system costs taxpayer dollars and time, as well as due review. The City of Buffalo has addressed these issues before, but so far little has been done. In 1998, the Buffalo City Council adopted a bicycle master plan organized by the then-Niagara Frontier Transportation Council. It outlined in two documents—one for pedestrians and one for bicyclists—a conceptual vision and implementation plan that analyzed roadway surfaces, traffic patterns, and other elements vital to proposed road modifications. After approval, the plan sat idle. Ten years later, the plan was updated by the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council, an interagency transportation planning group that establishes policies for the greater Niagara region, and presented to the city council. The council again voted and approved the plan, but has not yet implemented it. The inaction on the city council's part is “typical in Buffalo fashion,” according to Justin Booth, adding, “I don’t know if you can point the finger at any individual entity. We’re very good at passing policy and creating guidelines for enforcement. But we don’t do a very good job of enforcement.” But Chris Hawley, an urban planner for the city, says the 1998 and 2008 plans were incomplete and not suited for implementation at those times. Also, given the city’s limited resources, the city would not have been equipped to handle the necessary infrastructural changes. “Both plans were non-specific. They were conceptual. They didn’t establish performance targets, or dates-ofcompletion targets. We’ll start to introduce some of those things through the [Green Code] land-use plan," says Hawley, saying that the plan will eventually include revisions to 44 BCM 29
biking and pedestrian infrastructure. The city’s new standards will be based on two policy manuals: the Institute of Transportation Engineers Guide for Walkable Urban Thoroughfares, and the National Association for City Transportation Officials Urban Bikeway Design Guide. They suggest a variety of bicycle lane styles, walkway signage and other such demarcations. The city is also working off of the Complete Streets plan, a comprehensive policy approved in 2008 that describes an integrated infrastructure for roadway travel. It includes guidelines for sidewalks, walkways, road signage, green space, bus stop and bicycle shelters, handicap accessibility, trash and recycling receptacles, and energy-efficient options for electric vehicles. The implementation of these proposed plans would mean an overhaul to the way city streets look, operate and protect. It would also bring a procedural change at City Hall, where the city planning board will be responsible for reviewing such changes. “Any time a street is re-striped, reconstructed or newly constructed, the opportunity to do the build-out of bicycle and pedestrian facilities will be present. There will be a formal review process that will judge those applications against the standards in the ordinance,” says Hawley. “No such formal review process occurs now.” The process for this change takes time—too long, some would argue—but there are reasons for that. “It’s more complicated than paint on the road. The truly crucial thing is the way that the cyclist interacts with vehicular traffic, and that’s more complicated than where paint goes on the road. It has to do with vehicle speed, the proximity of cyclists to moving vehicles—which are lethal objects—and how a street is divided spatially, if necessary, between various modes of transportation,” says Hawley. One type of separate facility is a cycle track, a separated bicycle lane first introduced in Copenhagen, a city with progressive street design and a visible bicycle culture. Throughout the city are bike rental stations, marked rules, and ample parking solutions. There, specialized lanes like the cycle track solve many problems at once. “It’s basically a highway for cyclists. It is a completely dedicated facility, and has all the advantages of a multi-use path in a park, except it’s integrated into the right-of-way of the street,” says Hawley. “There is tremendous buffering.” The lane is typically separated by a left-side, concrete curb, but it can also be marked with a painted zone and short posts that pose minimal risk to oncoming traffic. Most
(SOME OF) THE RULES OF THE ROAD, according to New York State Vehicle and Traffic Laws RIDE TOGETHER. Bicyclists must obey the same traffic signs, signals and lights as drivers. GO WITH THE FLOW. Always ride with vehicle traffic. LIGHT IT UP. Bicycles must be equipped with two lights:
a white headlight in the front and a red reflector or taillight in the rear. Lights must be on and visible from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise. UNPLUG. It is illegal to wear more than one earphone attached to a phone or audio device.
designs position the cycle track lane between the sidewalk and the parking lane, which keeps bicycles away from moving vehicles, and helps to temper the issue of “dooring,” wherein a car passenger opens his or her door onto an oncoming bicyclist, unknowingly. Being “doored” is a common injury incurred by bicyclists, and a leading cause of bicyclist death. Buffalo could see the installation of cycle tracks, though Hawley says it’s not ideal for most roads, which are either too narrow or too long for the expensive implementation. He says it’s ideal for a wider thoroughfare, such as Niagara Street, Delaware Avenue or Main Street. “Paint’s expensive. If you want to re-stripe all of Niagara Street, that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s unbelievable, actually, how expensive paint can be,” says Hawley. (Sharrows, painted marks indicating that a bicycle may share the main lane with a car, exist currently on some narrow city streets where shoulders are too small to reasonably accommodate both vehicles.) Still, he says adapted lanes are worth considering. “The cycle track’s safety advantages are beyond dispute,” says Hawley. These issues of road equity are not unique to Buffalo. The effects of mid-century sprawl continue to be felt in cities across the country, though there are a number of cities that have curbed trends of inactivity with progressive, innovative change. Cities like Portland, Ore., Minneapolis, Minn., Montreal, Quebec, and New York City have made great strides in adapting to an upshift in bicycles. Elly Blue runs Taking the Lane Media, a Portland-based advocacy blog that connects the politics of biking with that of economics, feminism, “and other cultural commentary.” She is a leading voice in the city’s innovative bike movement, which she said has been an uphill ride. She calls all the small victories her “low-hanging fruit.”
DON'T FORGET TO SIGNAL:
LEFT TURNS: extend left arm straight out, parallel to the road. RIGHT TURNS: extend left arm straight out, and angle forearm upwards, perpendicular to the road. STOPS, OR DECREASE IN SPEED: extend left arm downward. HELMETS! Bicyclists over the age of 14 must wear a helmet.
Read the complete New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law online at tinyurl.com/nystrafficlaws.
“It’s a lot of fighting for small victories. Incremental measures. There’s not a lot of fighting for grand visions in Portland, and, in part, that’s been working because [smaller victories] have added up. But unfortunately, it hasn’t added up for the whole city,” says Blue. “Portland is fairly accepting of different initiatives, but again we have a long history of this.” Portland's bike-friendliness boomed after the scaling back of its highway system in the 1970s, in response to the widespread midcentury growth. The city initiated an Urban Growth Boundary, which set a spatial limit on suburban expansion. But by the 1990s, interest waned and the movement wavered. Today, things are looking up. “The road builders and automobile makers have been waging wars on American cities. Portland started fighting back a lot earlier [than other cities]. Relative to what needs to be done, it would be possible for any city—it would be possible for Buffalo—to surpass what we’ve done,” says Blue. Hawley is also hopeful. “I think there is potential for Buffalo to be one of the top10 bicycling cities in North America, hands down,” says Hawley. Lambright, with his daily commute, thinks it's doable, if a little late. “You look at other cities, other countries, you see how everything else is set up and it’s like, why did it take so long to catch on here?” says Lambright. But Booth, in his advocacy work, believes that the hope for change is not just in City Hall. Safe roads, he says, are also the responsibility of those using them. “The only true way that we’ve seen communities actually make a significant difference is in encouraging a change in behavior. We’re creatures of habit. We’ve been doing these things for a very long time, so changing our behavior to healthier modes is going to take a comprehensive effort,” says Booth.
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ASHES OF WAR By Peter Scheck Photo by Steve Sorok a Photo illustration by Julie Molloy In her heyday she was called the City of Trees. Her parkways were dense monocultures planted end to end with walls of American and Scotch elm. Their canopies hung over Delaware Avenue and Humboldt Parkway like palisades, turning her broad streets into tunnels. Another city, a high society of birds and squirrels, hummed with life high above us. That was Buffalo before the merciless destruction of Dutch elm disease. When it was discovered in April 1952, it triggered the removal of 90,000 American and Scotch elm, 60 to 65 percent of Buffalo’s street trees at the time. Today, Buffalo’s trees face another great challenge: an invasive insect called the emerald ash borer (EAB), which has ripped through the Midwest and Northeast United States like a selective tornado, has burrowed its way into
South Park. After destroying tens of millions of ash trees in Michigan and Ohio, and having been found in 12 other states, Western New York is now gearing up for a war that most ecologists agree will eventually kill all of the eight to 10 billion ash trees in North America. In contrast to the city’s legendary forest of elm trees, there are only about 1,000 ash trees inventoried in Buffalo’s roadways today, making up only about one percent of the city’s street trees. The first cases of EAB were found just before the city wrote up its master plan for tree planting in 2002, dodging a potential bullet. In 2003, the city stopped planting ash on streets. Its presence, however limited, is felt by those who know of their attributes. “Ash was a great street tree. It’s a shame we can’t [plant] it BCM 29 49
anymore,” says deputy parks commissioner Andrew Rabb. Because so many ash are too large to be cost-effective to treat, or young enough to be easily removed, Rabb says the city will not be treating any ash on public right-of-ways. Instead, when trees are infected with the EAB they will be removed and replaced with a tree from the city’s tree list. The population is not overwhelming on the street, Rabb says, but adds that it’s very common in people’s backyards, on old industrial sites, in railroad beds, and in the woods. Unless treated by homeowners, those trees will be infested and will fall, causing potential damage to their surroundings, homes, cars, and utility lines. It can be challenging to stay upbeat when discussing an impending ecological crisis that spans many states. Without exception, the scientists, foresters and researchers interviewed agree that there is no feasible plan to save the vast population of trees that grow in native forests. Instead, they were eager to talk about what comes next. Mark Whitmore, an extension associate at Cornell University, is one of those people with a vision. “There are things we need to do,” says Whitmore. “There is hope that we can, in the future, have ash in our forests.” Whitmore speaks at awareness events around Western New York. He recently told a group of homeowners and foresters at Canisius College that all of the ash trees in North America will most likely die of EAB infestation. But, he says, “You’ve got to have hope.” “My whole thing is to try and not let this bug take out all the ash. I want to see ash in the forest," says Whitmore.
Ash is common in Western New York forests. It’s a large, fast-growing, deciduous genus with simple arrow-shaped leaves sprouting from opposing sides of the stem. Its bark is perhaps its most identifiable attribute—it has deep grooves and runs up the tree in a diamond pattern. Ash trees account for roughly 12 to 15 percent of the natural tree cover in Erie County, according to the New York State Department of Conservation. It is a commonly seen tree with a well-defined grayish-brown bark and broad canopy. It is popular in cities because it’s easy to grow, it matures quickly, and it provides a lot of shade. It’s also used in furniture, baseball bats, and electric guitar bodies. Louisville Sluggers are made with ash from the New York-Pennsylvania border. 50 BCM 29
Like the tree in which it burrows, the emerald ash borer is similarly revered for its beauty. With its sparkling, emerald green shell, it looks like a beetle dressed up on a Saturday night. Every tree expert tells you a variation of the same sentiment when it comes to EAB: it’s the most beautiful bug they've ever seen. The insect gets its name from the way its larvae bore their way through a tree’s vascular system when they hatch. Unable to circulate water and other nutrients, the tree dies within two to three years. The beetle most likely migrated to the U.S. inside a shipping pallet. It was first discovered in New York in 2009 in the town of Randolph near Allegheny State Park. Last year it was found in a stand of ash trees in South Park. It has since established itself in several suburbs of Buffalo, including Cheektowaga and Lancaster. Delaware Park has yet to see the evidence of EAB in its nearly 600 inventoried ash trees. Take a walk through the outskirts of South Park, though, and you’ll find acres full of ash on the cusp of destruction. The ash population there is intimidating—it is 50 feet tall and so lush and healthy that it seems invincible. The scene is idyllic if not for the groundcover of bald car tires, rusty box springs, discolored air conditioners, and antique computers that have been deposited here. The remains of a campfire occupy the trunk of a mature white ash. The trees in this forest are so well established and such a strong stand of trees, they make you feel far away from the buildings, cars, and Lake Erie, just a few hundred feet away. It’s frightening to think of the future that awaits them. Trees have already begun to die in this stand of ash, and EAB have appeared in the Barney traps. The affected trees stand at the grass perimeter of South Park, where Daley has set up a girdling system to try and slow the spread of EAB. Younger trees are sacrificed as bait in an attempt to buy time for more mature individuals. Girdling trees consists of cutting a six-inch stripe around their trunks with a tree saw. “It throws the trees into stress,” Daley says. “The EAB sense that and they are more likely to lay eggs on those trees than the healthy trees. [In the winter,] you cut those trees and chip them up, thereby killing the larvae that are inside the tree.” Shane Daley is the tree care technician for the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, which is comprised of six parks, eight traffic circles, and eight parkways and roadways. Daley says the plan for EAB is twofold: find the healthy,
"We need time. We’re trying to slow the spread, not only to save ash in the future but to give people time to plan. Now is the time to take action," says Whitmore.
mature ash trees, and use younger or less healthy trees as bait. The city doesn’t have the resources to save all the trees, so they’ve decided to treat larger trees and sacrifice younger ones. “We’re going to have to treat these trees for the remainder of their lives,” Daley says. For that reason, it doesn’t make sense to save easily replaceable young ash trees. “It’s a combination of treating the trees we want to save, and luring the EAB into trees that we’re not going to save.” Daley and his crew maintain traps to monitor when EAB have arrived in a given stand of ash trees. Nicknamed “Barneys” for their purple color, the traps are not intended to reduce the population of EAB, but to serve as an indicator of their presence, a process known as pest pressure. The plan is to save about 40 ashes in South Park, out of 100 that are planted and inventoried. Saving these mature trees will require injecting them with an insecticide for the rest of their lives. Still, since the park can inject the trees themselves, Daley says the injections will only cost about $100 per tree every three years, as opposed to the cost of tree removal, which he says can cost over $1,000. This plan will be repeated in other city parks once EAB presence is detected. Daley won’t know until this winter, when he brings branch samples back to the lab, just how significantly EAB have infiltrated South Park. “[I’d] say the pest pressure is building," says Daley.
Across the Midwest, researchers are in search of resistant specimens. Since city trees come from the same seed and are genetically identical, they are less useful for research than native trees. Species of trees found in unregulated woods can appear identical but have hidden genetic traits that can make them different. Hopefully, there are ash out there that are more resistant to certain pests. In the best-case scenario, scientists will find ash trees that are not hospitable to EAB. In the city of Delaware, Ohio, National Forest Service research ecologist Kathleen Knight is working on the genetic properties of what is being called “lingering ash.”
Knight had been working in the forests of Ohio for years when, in 2008, she found a couple of trees that showed the symptoms—branch dieback, a yellowing of the crown—but that were not dead. “When I was at one of these sites in 2008, we saw a couple of ash trees that looked really healthy in an area where everything else was dead,” she said. Initially there were as many as 13,000 ash trees there, but “It was still enough to get us excited,” Knight says. Though these could have just been the last trees to die, Knight did what any research scientist would do: she gathered up some public money to inventory a seven-mile radius of those surviving ash trees outside Toledo. She and her team inventoried 100 living trees in the area in 2010. They are still standing. “They have symptoms of EAB, but for the most part look pretty healthy,” Knight said. Working with Ohio State University and Wright State University, Knight has been grafting the branches of the healthiest trees onto controlled specimens in a greenhouse. The greenhouse now has several five-foot ash trees, which may help to reveal the genetic properties of resistant ash. It’s too early to tell whether or not the trees have any genetic differences to other ash, but there are some questions that Knight hopes to answer: Are they producing some sort of compound that poisons the larvae? Do they make compounds that are hard to digest, so that larvae can’t chew through them? These answers to these questions could lead to the cultivation of a resistant form of ash. “It’s a long-term project,” Knight said, “but I’m very hopeful.” Another long-term plan is to save ash seeds, which could be the key to preserving ash through this infestation. The process is pretty similar to saving anything else—you put it in the freezer and hope for the best. From these seeds, scientists hope to grow hybrids and harvest a resistant tree. In St. Paul, Minn., Robert Venette, a research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, is studying the cold hardiness of the emerald ash borer and the parasitic wasps that prey on them. The goal is to raise enough parasitic wasps to combat BCM 29 51
“One noticeable feature of the trees of Buffalo,” The Buffalo Express writer Matthew Mann wrote in 1902, “is an absence of variety. ... There are many other desirable varieties of trees which could and should be used here.” Mann was right, but by the 1940s the elm had developed into the perfect canopy tree. It seemed at the time that Buffalo had done everything right. Buffalo was lucky compared to cities like Cleveland, New York, and Detroit, which began losing their trees a decade earlier. Once Dutch elm disease was reported, the city began cutting down its dead and diseased trees, and spent the following decades trying to get ahead of it. By the mid ’60s, Buffalo was removing 9,000 elm per year. In response to this monumental crisis, Buffalo took up a policy of biodiversity in its tree plantings in the 1960s. Shane Daley credits then-city forester Frank Karpick for this foresight. Karpick, who died in 1990, was a champion of an early version of the 10-20-30 rule, a biodiversity guideline for urban planting. It specifies that no more than 30 percent of a planting should be of a single tree family, that no more than 20 percent should come from a single genus, and no more than 10 percent of a specific species. In 1966, for example, the city of Buffalo planted 5,827 trees from 50 different species and 19 genera. Where past practice was to line every street in Buffalo with the best tree, it became apparent that planting a diverse selection of cultures would make the city’s trees less susceptible to disease. Over time, Buffalo rebuilt its urban forest. When Buffalo faced the October storm of 2006, the group Re-Tree Western New York was formed, and has since planted almost 25,000 trees. The Buffalo News has contributed significantly to that project, as well as advocating for and financing the planting of millions of trees 52 BCM 29
over the past century. Our monoculture of elm has been replaced with a diverse forest of different shapes, sizes, fruits, flowers, and seeds.
One thing that everybody—arborists and laymen alike— can do to curb the further infestation of EAB is to keep firewood and other raw wood products where they are. Even though EAB is a fairly slow-moving bug, humans have helped to spread it to 14 states, for instance when driving between camping or hunting sites. Healthy trees can be treated with an extremely effective pesticide called emamectin benzoate. The insecticide is injected directly into the trunk of the tree, so it only kills the beetles that feed on treated trees. Insects, birds, and mammals that merely land or nest in treated trees are not affected, which significantly prevents it from entering the food chain. The treatment can cost several hundred dollars per tree. Homeowners can hire an arborist to treat city trees in front of their homes, but they will need to apply for a tree work permit from the parks department, and will have to administer the insecticide every two to three years for the rest of the tree’s life. If there is an element of hope to this story, it’s that across the country hundreds of people—from local parks departments to the National Forest Service—are working to keep ash a part of the American forest. No matter how cynical the conversation turns, it always returns to possible solutions and work that needs to be done. Mark Whitmore, at Cornell, underscores these two extremes. “Emerald ash borer will kill the trees and they’re going to be gone,” Whitmore says, contrasting that statement with facts about scientists who are raising parasitic wasps and saving ash seeds in a giant freezer in Colorado. “We need time. We’re trying to slow the spread, not only to save ash in the future but to give people time to plan. It’s not going to be long before this is going to be big.” “Now is the time to take action,” says Whitmore.
Image: David Cappaert/MSU
the population of EAB, but the wasps need to be able to survive the same conditions as EAB. “There is a fraction of the EAB population that can survive just about anywhere,” says Venette. He has been attaching thermocouples to the bodies of tiny insects and exposing them to extremely cold temperatures to see what they can live through. “When the liquid in their bodies [transforms to a] solid… we can pull them back out and see if they are alive or dead,” he says. The freeze test is not always reliable, though. “There are insects that can freeze and survive,” he says.
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The Burning of Washington "The latest numbers show a significant increase in gray jackets among the men in the southern territories while a blue jacket resurgence has been seen near the Great Lakes.” by SCOTT MANCUSO
inky Emerson, a 10-year-old courier in the employ of the Postmaster General, had been given the unfortunate task of delivering the news to President Madison that the village of Buffalo had been burned by British troops. The report of Major General Amos Hall had arrived in Washington so distraught by the winter weather that Postmaster Gideon Granger had deemed it practically unreadable. As it was the middle of the night, Mr. Granger went to fetch a scribe to create a copy fit for the commander in chief and sent Pinky to the president’s mansion to convey the essential meaning of the report. Pinky turned his hat over and over in his hands while a servant led him to the president’s private study. The servant opened a wide, wooden door and gestured for Pinky to enter. President Madison stood in front of a large fireplace. There were three other men in the room that Pinky did not know. An elderly, weary-looking man sat at a desk, writing with a quill and ink. A balding man with a pointed nose was examining what appeared to be a map on a table. An excited man with a boyish face paced back and forth at the back of the room. All of the men wore gray jackets and blue pants. “Pinky Emerson,” said President Madison, smiling and un56 BCM 29
surprised, as if he had invited him over for dinner. “We hear you have news for us.” “Yes, Mr. President,” Pinky said, solemnly. “I am very sorry to report that… the British… have burned Buffalo.” “Impossible,” said President Madison, kindly, shaking his head. “I am sorry to say that… it is so, Mr. President,” said Pinky. “My dear Pinky, that simply cannot be true,” said President Madison. “Buffalo are fireproof. Why, Elbridge and I have attempted to set buffalo on fire in a variety of ways and have never been successful. Haven’t we Elbridge?” “Indeed, Mr. President,” said Vice President Elbridge Gerry, who sat, rather occupied, at his desk. “We’ve thrown torches at them, shot them with flaming arrows, aimed fireworks at them. Nothing works. The damn beasts don’t burn.” “Quite so, Elbridge,” said President Madison. “Believe me Pinky, I’d love nothing better than to see the manes of one of those docile, peaceable creatures fully aflame in a terrible conflagration, but it’s not meant to be, I’m afraid.” The president gave a good-natured sigh of resignation as if admitting defeat in a chess match to a worthy adversary. “While I wish it were otherwise, you’ve come by bad information, my boy.” Pinky was unsure what to say next. “Mr. President, are you not worried that the tide of the war
illustrations by JULIE MOLLOY
could be turning? The British could come to Washington next.” “Pinky, my boy, I assure you, everything is going according to plan. Isn’t that right, Secretary of War and Secretary of Tailoring John Armstrong, Jr.?” The man standing at the table looked up and Pinky realized he was not studying a map, but a two-column list, one with the heading “Blue Jackets” and the other labeled “Gray Jackets.” “Aye, Mr. President,” said John Armstrong, Jr. “The latest numbers show a significant increase in gray jackets among the men in the southern territories while a blue jacket resurgence has been seen near the Great Lakes.” “Splendid news, Secretary of Tailoring!” President Madison beamed. “But what about the British?” Pinky asked. “The who?” asked Mr. Armstrong. “The fellows in red jackets,” chimed Elbridge Gerry. “Oh. I haven’t the faintest,” said Mr. Armstrong. “Are you worried that our men might prefer to wear red? No worries there. It’s not even an option.” “I think young Pinky may require a bit of an education,” said President Madison. “You see Pinky, after my first election we were in grave
danger of everyone seeming to want to wear gray jackets, like me and my friends here. That may appear ideal, but in fact, it could be ruinous. A few blue jackets are necessary for the people to believe there is, ostensibly, some option other than a gray jacket. Elsewise, us gray-jacketed chaps would look like tyrants, wouldn’t we? A good fight with Britain, or whoever happens to be around really, helps to encourage those who would oppose such an obviously meaningless conflict to dress in their finest blue jackets for the sole purpose of expressing their dissatisfaction with the conflict we instigated as they work to bring it to a hasty conclusion. Thus, we maintain balance.” “It is a fool’s mission!” yelled the man pacing in the back of the room. “Engaging in such pointless conflict will only serve to strengthen the number of blue jackets and further divide us!” “Nonsense, Secretary of State James Monroe,” said Mr. Armstrong. “You know as well as I, that a balance of blue and gray jackets is eminently necessary to maintaining the stylistic stability of this nation.” “Agreement! Harmony! Amalgamation!” Secretary Monroe blurted out the terms as if he were unable to contain them. “You are a fool, Monroe,” said Mr. Armstrong. “Pinky, I BCM 29 57
dare say that this conflict will go down in history as one of side of the head until he opened one eye and then the other. “Mr. Jefferson!” President Madison shouted. “Tell young our country's finest hours and that school children from New York to Virginia will refer to it as ‘The Great Jacket Unifica- Pinky here about your stroke of brilliance regarding the gray tion Conflict’ and by no other more vague, less meaningful jackets and blue jackets!” “Oh Jesus,” said Thomas Jefferson, drowsily. “This was back name, which might sap the event of any character and make it impossible to remember for anything other than the year in, uh… 1792? Yeah, ’92. We’re in Philly. Madison was there.” Jefferson pointed at President Madison. “This guy. This guy it took place.” “Quite right, Secretary of Tailoring,” said President Madi- was there,” said Jefferson. President Madison shrugged innocently, then smiled son. “The result shall be two sides: the easiest, clearest system possible. It is equal. It counter-balances itself. An unstop- knowingly and nodded. “Hamilton's standing up there going on and on about… pable force and an immovable object. Mirror images. A left hand waving at a right. Anything less than that and you’ll who knows what… and then he gets to what color we should find yourself filled with knife wounds on the floor of the The- choose for the new uniforms for the army, and he's up there atre of Pompey. I do not anticipate such an inherently perfect talking about how ‘obviously blue jackets with gray pants is two-jacket system to ever become problematic for the preser- the natural choice’ because ‘obviously I’m the most boring man in Philadelphia’ and… you know. Nobody's objecting vation of this union’s sense of fashion.” “I must admit, Mr. President, I am still a bit confused,” because... who cares, right? Not this guy.” Jefferson jerked a thumb toward himself, a bit too vioPinky said. “I know just the thing,” said the president. “Elbridge? lently, causing his swivel chair to begin moving in circles. Jefferson continued. Rouse the ex-president if you would be so kind.” “But Hamilton is such a prig, and I'm totally bored, so I'm Elbridge moved to a corner of the room where he turned a thereto-unforeseen chair on a swivel to reveal a sleeping man like, ‘Hey Madison.’ (Madison's sitting next to me.) I'm like, with a bottle in his hand. His hair stuck out in many differ- ‘Hey Madison. Check this out.’ So I stand up and I'm like, ent directions and his shirt was unbuttoned halfway down, ‘Uh... well, what about...uh... what about gray jackets with exposing his chest. Eldbridge dutifully poked the man in the blue pants?’ Madison’s dying. Trying not to laugh. Hamilton 58 BCM 29
goes, ‘That’s merely what I said in reverse!’ I'm like, ‘Well uh... yeah, but, ya know… I, for one... just, uh... totally want to wear a gray jacket with blue pants and, personally, I’d rather kiss King George on the lips than be caught wearing a blue jacket with gray pants.’ Well everyone just starts going nuts. Hamilton's throwing things, all the guys from Virginia are chanting: ‘TJ! TJ! TJ!’ Madison is laughing so hard he's wiping tears from his eyes.” President Madison clutched a hand to his heart, recalling the fond memory as he casually put a hand on Jefferson’s swivel chair to cease its spinning. “So all of a sudden Washington stands up. And everyone gets real quiet because, it's effing Washington. And he's like, ‘Guys... we just finished fighting a common enemy. Do we really want to start fighting each other? Can't we just agree on something as simple as what color uniforms to wear?’ And he's got me there, because Jesus, I'm in pretty deep at this point.” Everyone in the room exchanged worried looks at the potential outcome of the tale, though Pinky expected they all must have certainly known the result. “So I say, ‘Well, you know, that is true. We did just get done fighting a common enemy. And you know what that common enemy didn't have?” Thomas Jefferson paused for dramatic effect. “What?! What didn’t they have?!” cried Mr. Armstrong. “Opp-o-zish-in,” said Jefferson, placing an inordinate amount of emphasis on each syllable. Secretary of State Monroe winced at the word as if it might punch him. “Like, you know, internal opposition. It was all, ‘Oh, blimey, I'm the King, go… drink tea and… wear red and… tax America.’ Is that really what we wanted? A country where every last man is just forced to wear blue jackets instead of red ones? Internal opposition. It’ll keep us honest. Keep us independent. Allow us the autonomy to ‘choose’ to wear a blue jacket or a gray jacket. It’s free will, and selfevidence and unalienables, because... democracy." The room was silent. President Madison wiped a single tear from his eye and said, “Do you see now, Pinky Emerson? This is the reason that we must perpetuate the present conflict. For democracy. For the republic.” Thomas Jefferson’s idea did seem to make some sense to Pinky. However, one aspect of the theory continued to perplex Pinky Emerson’s fashionably unsophisticated tenyear-old brain. “I understand now that multiple jacket colors do seem quite necessary,” Pinky said cautiously, “but wouldn’t that
also mean then, that if two colors are better than one, that three colors might be better than two, and four better than three, and so on?” The men in the room exchanged confused looks. The servant from earlier quietly stepped back into the room and began playing a marching beat on a snare drum that he seemingly produced out of thin air. Pinky stood up on a chair and continued. “Would it not be best to have as many different colors as might be necessary for all men to be allowed the opportunity to choose whichever color jacket they wish to wear? Would this not allow for the best possible representation of each person in the republic? Would this not grant them the ability to express themselves in the most accurate way possible?” Two more servants rose up behind Pinky’s chair, one playing a patriotic hymn on a bugle while the second waved an over-sized American flag. “Should we not strive to create a veritable marketplace of sartorial ideas? Do we not place the most extreme of limitations upon the potential of Mr. Jefferson’s plan by reducing the uniform choices to two? The fewest numbers of choices before there are no choices at all?” The servants finished their song and Pinky looked expectantly at the president and his cabinet. The room became a tumult of noise. “Blasphemy!” screamed James Monroe. Thomas Jefferson waved his hands, and said “Whoa, whoa, whoa, easy buddy. Easy over there!” President Madison gently shook his head and looked at Pinky sympathetically as if he had just suggested they plant a money-garden in the back yard. Secretary of Tailoring John Armstrong, Jr. remarked to himself that it would be “logistically impossible for his tailors to obtain the necessary materials.” Elbridge Gerry only laughed, loudly and persistently, while continuing to write, and James Monroe began to scream “NO” over and over while grabbing his hair and spinning in circles. President Madison walked up to Pinky and patted him gently on the head. “My dear boy. You would do best to keep such absurd notions to yourself if you have any plans of remaining a relevant cog in the machinery of this country. I tell you this, as surely as I know anything: an America with anything more or less than two giant, powerful, conflicting aspects… will never survive.” Pinky Emerson left the white house, and in the snowy Washingtonian darkness, took off his clothes, and went running through the streets of the capital.
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Uncle Stewart Prepares to Tell a Joke at Thanksgiving Dinner by MARGARET FINAN
Here we are, old boy! Ah, yes, Stewart, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Saved up this joke for right around six months now, haven’t you? You got the email from your old high school buddy Charlie right there in Walgreen’s, aisle six, in the company of laxatives and pink chalky digestive aides, and you thought, Here it is, the perfect Thanksgiving dinner joke! You even tried it out on that pretty young girl, the one skirting around solutions to gas relief, and—you scoundrel, you!—she smiled. Sure, it was nothing but nerves, really little more than a tired cringe from a girl whose hand hovered between the 20- and 40-count choices of Gas-X, but who cares? You didn’t notice. You thought, Stewart, you dog, you old scallywag, you’ve still got it! An upside to every case of constipation. So here we are. Thanksgiving dinner! Now, look out into that little sea of beaming relatives. How lucky you are! This year hasn’t been your best, of course, but that’s not bringing you down. So what-your wife left you for her yoga instructor (you sad old bag of ever-loosening skin, hah-hah!), but that won’t rain on the ol’ Stew-man’s parade! So you found several human teeth in the corner of your new studio apartment. Biiiig deaaaaal! And, yeah, well, there’s really no sugar coating this one: on the drive over, your 16-year-old daughter plugged your photo into some “Which Celebrity Do You Most Resemble?” game, and it suggested a strong likeness to Sandra Bernhard, but—well, you know, who really cares? Not this guy! Not thiiiiiiiiiiisssss— …whoops. Stewart, you’re openly weeping into the cranberry sauce. But that’s okay, because we are turning it into laughs! We are sobbing, we are laughing! Hah-Hah-Hah!
All right, back from the bathroom. Time to liven up the room a bit, Stew-dog, warm this crowd up! And you’re four glasses of wine in, you good man—might it be time for the "Braveheart" impression? Might it—oof! Stewart, all that wine has gone to your head. Is this room spinning? There’s your daughter, looking at photos of that muscled up Channing Tater-whosit on her phone. There’s your sister, Mary—yes, hold on to the side of the table, good boy—and I know it’s always been very difficult for you to really talk with her, but for God’s sake, Stewart, you’re a 51-year-old man, and she would appreciate it if you could just be a human being about it! It’s all your father’s fault, of course: stuffing you all up like this, growing you up in an eye-bulgingly tight-lipped warzone of emotional repression, or someth— Oh, it’s getting quite dizzy, isssinit? No, Stewart—Stewart, the point is: what a terribly, terribly lonely thing this life is. Closed up, sealed in separately by our very own skin, permanently apart for however much you—sloshing around inside of ourselves, just desperately— “The pointofitalll issssssss, the point of…” Ah, Stewart, what had you really meant to say? How you couldn’t realize early enough, Stewart, that your parents were actually people before—oh, your daughter’s rolling her eyes now. Too much wine, old man. And, yes, the joke: “Ho-ow, how does a woman scare her gynecologis— noo, Mary, you relax! Somebody… sssso... Pass Stewie the pie.”
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