After eight years in Buffalo, the sidewalks have seen me through each transition. Managing a local boutique, some of my customers have asked how I can stand walking most places or being at the mercy of our bus system. Mind you, they ask out of concern and not because of any bout of classicism. I know this for sure because one declared that if she were my mother, she’d see to it that I had a car just as she did for her daughter. I imagine that this is a well-earned BMW that her baby drives to tapas bars, so I could really feel her unconditional love from the other end of the counter.
(Any way, I will put this blueprint of a large crucifix away for a short moment and get on with it.)
I can stand it because I have to. I made a choice. As humans, we have to be okay with whatever choices we make even when we doubt them. Coming from my native Syracuse, I chose not to purchase a car and skipped renewing my license. I preferred to put my paychecks into bills, rent, pet care…other things that I will make sound important. When going from point A to B on the west side, I could easily wait for a bus. During the dead of winter, I do take advantage of the buses. When we are snow-free, I want to enjoy my commute in a city that wears its houses like Jayne Mansfield wore dresses. Whatever happens during my day, stopping in my tracks to take in the west side’s landscape makes it all worthwhile.
Again, this all about choices, not destiny.
I am content with walking because if I wasn’t okay with it I would just be sizing myself up for the cross mentioned above. Plus, no one is going to leave a ticket on my coffee mug. The only boot that I have to worry about is the one that I have to prevent from sliding into chicken wing vomit outside of Good Bar. Time management? Timing is never an issue for me. Having a white rabbit complex works in my favor. I am early if not right on time. “Late” is the one four-letter word that I refuse to be part of my vocabulary. In fact, I tell myself too often that if I don’t hustle, I will be late and only assholes are ever late.
At this point, I could go on a romantic diatribe about Frank Lloyd Wright, stained glass windows, that bright magenta house on Lancaster Avenue, Buffalove, etc. Not that it’s undeserved. Our city’s architecture and gardens are our greatest assets. I have no desire to regurgitate passages from tourists guides; even on the quaint side streets of Ketchum or Union, you can’t see a cat in a window sill without having to dodge the occasional maimed rat.
Suppose this writer is seeing the glass only half-full of bloated brown fur, but that’s reality for any of us on foot or cycle. The west side is worthy of the high-praise Western New York residents give it, but we should not over-look where we have faults that are especially problematic to those of us who forgo four wheels. Consider the littering, street harassment, bike theft, reckless drivers. Then again, I am a typical millennial digging through my touch-screen conscience for what couldn’t possibly be my shortcoming.
Walking three seasons of the year makes me feel spry and street savvy no matter what. But it was around this time last year that I noticed that I had become no better than any Lloyd’s-Taco-stuffed Templeton—headless or scurrying on its last heartbeat between recycling bins. Like these ill-fated sewer foodies, I would be right in front of the sideways house on South Putnam or the curious, cracked thirteen Park but not see any of it. My eyes wouldn’t be able to focus on these beauties. Clear vision was unobtainable as my mind was starting to decay before my body could. What is more troubling is that these plague pals have valid excuses whereas I would be a flailing body, not seeing my all the good around me due to rush, worry, hypothetical scenarios… texting and Facebook notifications.
(I’ll remove this crown of thorns now. I wanted to accessorize with that thing that I almost built, but Chanel said to always take one thing off, right?)
Talking straight now, during summer 2015, I spent my time shuffling down Richmond and Elmwood to the beat of my own self-pity. It was the last summer of my twenties. I was not writing, not feeling as close with my best friends, not inspired to go out, not sure how to fix it. Wondering if I threw my last chance to do anything that I really wanted to do into a bag containing a customer’s new wardrobe, I felt defeated. These were (what I can now acknowledge as) my chosen problems. My REAL problems were that I was not grateful and (worst of all) I was not being present for what I go to experience just walking every day.
In Stiff: The Curious Life Of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach compared being dead to being aboard a cruise ship. “These cruises take their passengers to unknown, unimagined places. They give them a chance to do things they would not otherwise get to do…Why lie around on your back when you can do something interesting and new, something useful?” Being out in the world, doing what we need to survive, we put our bodies into our day-to-day full-throttle while our active minds are spinning wheels stuck in mud pits such as stress, despair, desire, and Snap Chat. Conditioned to believe that this is the best means of coping with what brings us down, the opposite is true. When body and mind are disconnected, we miss new discoveries or opportunities when we can take detours that we have plenty of time to take.
This summer, I decided to handle my walks as mindfully as possible. Skipping the Showtime drama recap, I will disclose that circumstances caused me to have to move back to the west side after moving to the second ward due to very sudden circumstances five months before. I came back to the neighborhood. The demographic shift has caused me to be unable to afford a place of my own.
The good is that I live with two wonderful chaps and I am blocks away from anywhere that I both want and need to frequent. The bad is that my ex has sole custody of my cat (one roommate is allergic) and there are still living/dying/dead rats to avoid from time to time. The ugly is that anyone could (doesn’t mean that anyone has or will) tell me that all my decisions leading up to now should make me ashamed of my bank account or upcoming birthday.
There was no movie moment when I adopted this new mindset. I didn’t hear my grandmother’s voice behind me at the co-op’s hot bar nor upon being knocked down at a Bird Haus show, left with a concussion. This awkward anti-heroine has no exact answer to how her attitude shifted.
Perhaps I’m still savoring an endorphin high from a hot Sunday this past May. I was running around the village, carrying my weight in veggies in one hand, pulling my dress off my sweaty backside with the other. From cross-walk to cross-walk, I caught myself stopping and going to tune of, “Girl, you are in a bad position all because you are bad at living and if you don’t fix it…nag nag nag…” Only the song wasn’t as loud as it was the previous year when I decided to look at each home on Bidwell without emerald lenses. The volume turned down from eleven to three when I started to check out one second-story resident’s outstanding cacti collection because there was really no reason to look it any of it over.
Aaaand “epiphany,” isn’t just a bad name for an exotic dancer.
Anyone who may have spotted my weird-ass absorbing the scenery wasn’t about to push me down for not going to a home that I owned with my former partner or for being “only the dress shop.” The only person who is driving any of those nine-inch nails is me while I entertain such harsh criticisms. The life-path-police, they live inside of heads. We can chose to pick up that invisible night-stick or not.
Then I thought about any fellow west sider who I really cared about. Most of them—who are between the ages of twenty-five to forty— also don’t own their own homes, don’t own cars, and don’t work well-paying nine-to-fives. Why don’t I bully them for “only being” their debts or their co-signatures? Because it is not how I value them. I have nothin’ but love for even those separated by that point-seventy-five of a degree because of their commitments to whatever their passions may be, may it be art or acro-yoga.
If my ego-bitch-monster came to life to sit at a certain bar to tell the lovely part-time burlesque dancer pouring IPA that she needs to find a way to make money with her clothes on and without pint glasses, I would be quick to inform the bitch-monster about what the nearest pool cue can do to her neck. If she were to stand between a musician and his bike to bite his head off over not being a rich rock star by now, I would push her into traffic. (With my luck, she would take me with her. It would be worth it just to get to stand next to the cycling musician who I am picturing.) If the same visceral villain were to go to even a fair-weather friend with whom I have exchanged confrontational words over his lifestyle choices or income, I would find myself at the wrong end of her southern set of jaws. Call me a knight in dull armor. I can’t stand anyone treating anyone else poorly over something as senseless as wealth or status. My guttural reason is that no one has a right to judge.
Though it’s a struggle, I have to remind myself that judgment is the petty thief of one’s own precious time. For all the seconds that I damn my clumsy self for spilling water down my jacket on Lafayette, I can laugh about it once I turn down Parkdale. Instead of wondering if whoever holds the keys to 409 Linwood is really happy, I am just going to be happy for them. Five minutes of kicking myself over not finishing anything is better spent tracking down a writing prompt or breaking out my oil pastels. An evening sulking at home over any mishap from the past six months is not going to result in me seeing friends perform and dancing like mad.
What do I truly want to say to my cringing customers? Hmmm. I don’t want to say anything more about the subject. I don’t care about a car or getting around without one. I hate driving because I hate the idea of putting myself at risk of being locked in anywhere. Dehydration? Hypothermia? Being mugged? Yes, all are issues that I face. I would rather fight through the elements with water, thermals, and pepper spray than be tied to a motor-run money pit that can be over-heat or crash into a snowbank with me inside.
Don’t even think that I am not going to be able to go where I want without a car. When I want to take a break from Buffalo, I downsize to one bag, buy a ticket, and subject a cab driver to a game of, “Marry, Do, Kill, Go!” There’s no safety in that? There’s no safety in anything! As a gal who always thinks of worst case, it leaves my guts in one big noose.
Alas, we never left the wild west. If you don’t shoot from the hip, you are going to get hung up. So, I am not going to choose between spurs and can-can ruffles. If anyone wants to patronize me for I choose to fade into the sunset, I say, with much light and love, fuck you.