It occurred to me last week, existentially, how divorced Buffalo is from it’s lakeshore. Buffalo arguably has more green space than other cities its size – I don’t have proof to back this up, but having lived in NYC, anything seems better than there – but it still lacks a connection to nature I found living out in the smaller towns out west.
I’ve been working at a house situated right on the waterfront, the biggest and most readily present opportunity to get out into a natural setting in the city. The other option is Delaware park, which is bisected by a thruway and other roadways and buildings and developments. Anyhow, I get to look out at the waterfront daily and I can’t help but notice the lack of foot traffic and people I see there. There’s a park and a bike path directly in front of the house, so it’s easy to see the foot traffic. Granted, it’s winter in Buffalo and this one was exceptionally cold with plentiful amounts of standing snow. Even I became a bit jaded by the snow covered sidewalks and frigid temperatures by early March that I stopped carrying on my normal routines and starting fucking off, drinking, not doing chores, not leaving the house, or leaving the house way too much and doing nothing at local piss holes.
What I’m getting at is this: Buffalo’s waterfront is the biggest connection the city has to nature, yet it is so inaccessible from the city proper that for the 2.5 some miles of waterfront available to the downtown districts, there are only two – two! – vehicle access points connecting the city and the waterfront. One at Porter Avenue and one at Erie Street, literally 2.5 miles apart. Then there is one footbridge located at Hudson Avenue, smack in the middle of the two vehicle bridges.
The experience that really made me frustrated by this terrible, terrible situation happened last Monday. I rode my bike to work, from Allentown, and decided to take the footbridge via Hudson. Most people in this town would refuse to take the bridge because to get there you have to traverse through a section of town the locals refer to as Vietnam, an area so riddled with hard drugs, illegal guns, black market life, and poverty that it’s too dangerous to go through. The local Dominican who informed me of this, himself an alleged heroin errand runner, told me that it would be safe for me to travel through there, because, as a tall, white male, it would be thought that I was a narc and therefore be avoided. In a land of lawlessness, though, not everyone plays for the same team and there’s no guarantee I would be left alone.
So, anyway, I ride down Hudson, passing by spray-painted buildings, one-stop corner shops, and people loitering and walking in the streets. It’s just before 9 AM. I get to the foot bridge, mind you, one of three total access points to the waterfront, and as I roll closer see there is no cleared path to the bridge. It’s all covered with snow. I come to a stop and my eyes hit the bridge and see that the bridge has not been cleared once this whole snowy, cold, god-forsaken winter. There’s atleast two feet of standing snow the whole way over the bridge, and it looks as if the bridge has only been crossed by pedestrians some twenty times, the path untrodden and unclear. It’s early in the morning, I have my bike, and I’m somewhat hungover from a Sunday of way too many hours of listless, depressive drinking in the Allentown pissers. I count my options and decide against riding the 2 miles in either direction to get to my destination not half a mile in front of me. I decide to take the stupid footbridge across.
Since there’s no clear, hard path, I start postholing through the layer of hard crust on top of the wind-blown surface. Step, sink, step, sink, step, sink, step, sink, stop, step, sink, stop, as it goes. I throw my bike over my shoulder, and continue up, huffing and puffing my way out of my recent slumber and one cup of coffee breakfast. On top of a head full of shit and a liver full of beer. Not a brilliant start to a Monday but I guess this has been my life. I pick up the pace, bringing myself to a riddled jog, trying to get my heart rate up so I’m not half dying by the postholes. I make it to the top and mount my cycle, a veritable dual suspension mountain bike. I rode this because my roadie had a flat and the roads have been covered in snow which makes the mountain bike the best option either way. I mount the cycle and try to get moving, only to sink into the snow and have my front tire dive around to the right and left aimlessly as it sinks when I try to go. Nothing. Dismount. I try again some twenty feet later as the grade increases. Still nothing. Dismout. I throw the bike back over my shoulder and say forget it as nothing has changed. Still no path, still two feet of snow, still Monday morning with a head full of shit and a stomach full of coffee. I get to the end of the bridge, and for some odd reason expect the path to be clearer when I hit the park. No, no, it’s only gotten worse from the wind, with deeper snow and a few clear paths of lonely postholes. I make my way across LaSalle Park, postholing some one hundred odd feet to the road, wondering how late this little Monday morning challenge has made me. Huffing and puffing, I hop on the cycle and go, navigating my way around six inch deep potholes, one inch piles of salt, and layers of brown snow too resilient to the sun and salt. I finally find my way to the LaSalle bike path and it’s clear as day, less a couple slicks of ice. I get to the job on time and gather my wits, my body trying to regulate itself after my unexpected physical exertion on a night of piss and morning of nothing.
Why is it that across this once great city, with many fine assets to offer, that there are but three total avenues connecting it to it’s greatest feature, one of the world’s largest bodies of fresh water? Why, because, in some group of scholars, bureaucrats and businessmen’s infinite wisdom, they chose to value the higway over everything else. The highway as the paramount pinnacle of human ingenuity. The highway as testament to the power of man, the supreme force of economic mastery. Forget everything else, the vehicle is what it is to be man, to be alive. Forget your history, forget nature, and forget god. Nothing matters but the easiest way down, and that road goes there and it is good. Damn the lake, damn the river, and damn the future. Its our way or the highway, and its for your own damn good.
Like a dam in a river, the Buffalo thruways hold us, the waters, captive, releasing a slow trickle of us beyond, to the waterfront of this once great city. And like a dam in a river, we are stewing in our own pollution, succumbing to the force of the madness of the road. The chaos of one force repelling all the rest. But someday, it’s going to drive the whole place mad and the then the road will crumble and fall, as it can’t hold us back, and it will become the broken down signature of past successes, unable to be repaired and unable to function without the strangling of our monies and works.
And on the other side, the quiet, serene scene of a lake, with nothing but birds and a few smart pinnacles of rocks holding back the forces of nature from overtaking us here on the other side. And its ours, if only we get could get there. If only we could change our history, we might be able to touch something real. But you have to find your way to the other side, and damn the people that have gone mad in their quest to make you their servant. Don’t be held back by the dam of this forsaken highway, for it is nothing but madness and a thief until its end.