Long Story Short: Go with the flow
illustration by JP Thimot
Take me to the river
The word sounds like something out of a post-apocalyptic novel—the ordained guardian of H2O, protector of the last precious reserve of uncontaminated water.
Recently, Waterkeeper tribes from around the world gathered in Buffalo to plot the salvation of Earth’s elemental liquid of life.
The Waterkeeper alliance is a network of grassroots activists that devotedly fight for drinkable, fishable, swimmable water everywhere.
Last week, they held the annual Waterkeeper global conference in the Buffalo Hyatt Regency Hotel. They came to swap ideas, share horror stories, and exchange strategies for engaging the public. And the best way to do that, they say, is to get people to the water to connect with this liquid life force firsthand. When that occurs, citizens tend to become vocal. And when citizens become vocal, progress sometimes occurs. The trick is to help people experience for themselves how the environment impacts their lives and the economic health of a community.
In Western New York, the nonprofit volunteer-driven Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper has assumed the stewardship of local waterways. They lobby and speak publicly, then roll up their sleeves and get down to the nitty-gritty by removing contaminated sediment, planting indigenous plants along the shoreline, and recreating natural aquatic habitats. Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper is always looking for new ways to engage the public, and that’s where the Waterkeeper convention comes in.
Ideas were shared
You can’t make beer without clean water, so Milwaukee Waterkeeper tested the waterways in sixteen sites and found caffeine, antibiotics, heart drugs, pain-relievers, opioids, and, oh yeah, cocaine. Fish refuse to join twelve-step programs, so Milwaukee is sounding the alarm and sharing their story as a cautionary tale for other cities.
In the Susquehanna region of north-central Pennsylvania, the tiny Riverkeeper group use students and prisoners to help with environmental cleanup. (Whatever gets you out of school—or prison.) Nova Scotia employs a sewage-sniffing dog, which would probably have an aneurysm if it got anywhere near the Scajaquada Creek. These, and other creative approaches to saving our aquatic resources were shared at the conference.
And then the tribes departed for home waters.
Elmwood Village People don’t cotton to franchise food.
Burger King lasted longer than many, but eventually closed and became locally owned Elmwood Taco and Subs. Canada-based Hero Burger made it eighteen months before shutting down its Elmwood franchise. “Gourmet sandwich shop” Jimmy John's didn’t last a year, and the owner reported verbal protests and hostility by the community. But now, in the location where Jimmy John’s made its unsuccessful corporate stand as a franchise amongst mom and pop businesses, comes a local red meat legend.
Mister beef on ’weck himself, Charlie the Butcher, will be piling the cow and turkey high in a new location. Third generation Charlie (Charles Roesch) plans to serve sandwiches and grab-and-go meals, plus a special carved sandwich daily. The restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. There won’t be a grill or fryer—they’re not allowed in residential buildings, which is what 770 Elmwood Avenue is. But for over 100 years, Charlie the Butcher has been known mostly for roasted meat, usually served on kummelweck rolls with horseradish. Charlie III plans to open the new space sometime around late September or October.
Let the salivating begin.
Sign of the times
There’s a billboard on the 190 going south, just as you leave downtown, which goes up every year around June. It’s an ad for fireworks sold in Pennsylvania. Aside from what New York calls “sparkling devices,” fireworks are prohibited in this state. And here’s the strange thing; fireworks are prohibited in Pennsylvania too. Residents of that state can’t buy what they are advertising to New Yorkers via billboards. To purchase fireworks in Pennsylvania, you must prove you’re from another state. Then you’re given a twenty-four-hour permit to transport them out of state. Think about it; people aren’t traveling from states where fireworks are legal to buy them in Pennsylvania.
So, the sign on the 190 is there to inform New Yorkers where they can obtain fireworks to illegally transport across state lines in violation of United States Code § 836. Bringing more than fifty-dollars’ worth of fireworks into New York State is a Class B misdemeanor with a fine up to $500.
You’d have to be deaf and blind not to be aware that the New York fireworks ban is perhaps the most flagrantly violated law this side of jaywalking. On July 4 (give or take two weeks), all forms of pyrotechnics are ubiquitous throughout the region.
But this billboard takes it further by openly promoting the illegal activity. That seems strange.
I’m a staunch freedom of speech advocate, but the First Amendment doesn’t extend to speech that is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action" (Brandenburg v. Ohio). So how is this sign legal? Could New York State authorize billboards in Pennsylvania advertising opioids for sale in New York, as long as you take them back to Pennsylvania to use them? Could you have billboards promoting other out-of-state crimes? The mind reels.
The national average for recycling is 34 percent. Really? That’s it? Just about one third of all potential recyclable materials are actually reutilized across America? Well, Buffalo must certainly beat that, with the city’s promotional efforts, and the nifty green city-provided totes we get for free!
Buffalo is at 28.36 percent waste recycling as of last year, including green totes, yard waste, electronics, appliances, and donations to nonprofits. Curbside recycling rates—where households separate recyclables from non-recyclable garbage—is only up a fraction.
Overall, our numbers are up measurably from a few years ago, but it’s not yet at the national average. Here’s the thing: our failure to recycle isn’t just an assault on the Earth’s landfills; not recycling actually costs the city (and by extension, taxpayers) money! Every ton of recyclable material that doesn’t go into a landfill saves the city $36.63 dollars.
So the city is upping its trash game.
Once upon a time (in 2015), Mayor Byron Brown said the garbage user fee would go down if recycling increased, but he never said by how much. So, while our recycle numbers have been going up, apparently, we haven’t reached the magic threshold yet. (Hint: this is government, so expect the secret percentage to be a moving target.) Okay, so maybe we haven’t reached the level where taxpayers can benefit from the city savings, but as of July 1, the user fee is actually going up! Mayor Brown, how is that fair?
I suppose the argument is that the higher fees will force people to recycle, so there’s also a “Let’s Do This” recycling competition between block clubs. And a food scrap drop-off program led by Massachusetts Avenue Project. You can find out about these are other recycling opportunities at 34andMore Buffalo Recycles.
Here’s a way to LOWER your garbage user fee (if you’re currently using a large blue tote). Learn what can be recycled, and other tricks for properly disposing of unwanted materials, then do it. This will dramatically lower the amount of non-recyclable material you have left to throw out. Then you can call the city and get a smaller blue tote—and pay less for the remainder of your trash pick-up. Come on—you know you should.
Long Story Short is one month away from its first anniversary. Eleven months without missing a week! But writing is not all I do. Many readers know that I’m also an artist. I’m having an exhibition of my work that opens this Saturday. I’d love LSS readers to stop by and say hi. Other members of the Buffalo Spree staff will be there as well.
As I have written before, galleries do not charge a fee to enter, and there is no dress code. The atmosphere is casual. Openings are kind of like parties. You can stay for five minutes, or 2 hours.
Here’s the pertinent details:
Bruce Adams: Untitled (Part 1)
Big Orbit Gallery
30 Essex St, Buffalo, NY 14213
Part One of a Two-Part Exhibition to Open June 23 (7–10 p.m.)
Presented by Benjaman Contemporary Gallery
Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
Get Long Story Short delivered directly to your mailbox as an enewsletter. Sign up today