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Long Story Short: Life at a distance

4/20/20



Limited edition masks made by artist Jozef Bajus as a fundraiser

Blockade for Buffalo

As you read this, “Gridlock Buffalo: Free WNY Cuomo” may be starting shortly, or it may have already taken place. It’s scheduled for 11:30 a.m., April 20, in Niagara Square. Modeled after a similar protest in Maryland, cars and trucks are supposed to drive around the Niagara Square circle (I know, that sounds strange) blocking traffic. Although it’s not clear how much traffic there is in Buffalo during the New York Pause. It looks pretty sparse if you believe the drone footage of our desolate city recently making the rounds.  

 

Homegrown activism

Well-known local political activist Rus Thompson is organizing the event, in the belief that Governor Cuomo’s stay-in-place mandate is properly geared toward New York City, but shouldn’t apply to Buffalo, because we don’t have the concentration of infections they do. And that’s the way Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz wants it to remain. “If Erie County opened-up tomorrow,” he says, “what are hundreds of cases, would be thousands of cases.”

 

Paladino hops on the bandwagon
Though he is not a Gridlock Buffalo organizer, Carl Paladino has embraced the blockade, ensuring this is a far-right-inflected political event. “To my friends and colleagues,” says an email blast from the developer, former Buffalo school board member, and notable Trump supporter, “please join me and participate in this safe demonstration.”

 

A story by the right-wing online newsletter The Post and Email reported on the protest after being alerted by a Paladino email. Then Paladino sent parts of the article out in a second email blast (talk about echo chamber). In the article, Paladino was asked if he finds that the media “does not cover these [right wing protest] things,” to which he replies in somewhat muddled fashion, “I’m finding the media very much in bed with the liberal thinking, that they can make one rule for all.” One rule for all sounds like the American way, except the media doesn’t make the rules. And can you get in bed with “thinking?”

 

Consider another Paladino quote from the article: “He’s a narcissist; he loves himself, and he loves being on TV,” he says, “they’re giving him national TV.” Who does that sound like? I know, right? But Paladino’s actually talking about Cuomo, who the developer unsuccessfully ran against twice for NY Governor.

 

Freedom of speech, even in a pandemic
Give the Gridlock Buffalo organizers some credit; they are planning a safe event, in which everyone stays socially distanced in their vehicles. If they don’t break any laws, they have every right to exercise their First Amendment freedom of speech. However, in a WKBW TV interview, Buffalo Police Captain Jeff Rinaldo reminded prospective protestors that “Buffalo police are “still on-duty and plan to maintain public safety. [The protestors] cannot block traffic. The rule of law has not gone out the window."

 

 

Mask mania

Masks were once the cultural domain of Halloween ghouls, bank robbers, vigilante superheroes, and Mardi Gras revelers. Not anymore. Today, neighborhoods throughout WNY are populated with masked faces, concealing identities and obscuring expressions. On Friday, April 17, the first day of Governor Cuomo’s mandate to wear masks in places where social distancing is difficult—grocery stores for example—I went shopping at Wegmans. I donned a rumpled sky-blue dust mask that was laying around the house, the facial-covering equivalent of sweatpants.  As with most masks being used by the public, mine is not capable of filtering out viruses. Face coverings are meant to provide some protection to others if you are unknowingly already infected. But mask-wearing, like it or not, is now a social reality, demanding varying degrees of ingenuity and know-how.

 

Here’s what I saw and experienced on my shopping trip.

 

Invulnerability

Donning my mask in the parking lot, I felt an immediate rush of confidence; masks can provide a false sense of security. While shopping, I didn’t wash or sanitize my hands as frequently with the mask on, and I was less aware of my proximity to other shoppers. When I coughed—a persistent sinus cough that I’ve recently grown self-conscious about—I didn’t cover my mouth, as it was already covered. On the plus side, I didn’t touch my facial mucus membranes while the mask was on, so there’s that.

 

About eighty percent of shoppers wore some sort of facial covering, as did store workers. The supermarket was not enforcing the state mandate for the unmasked. The vast majority of the eighty percent were wearing surgical masks, which both the WHO and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) specifically say not to use: “Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders…” says the CDC. There are severe shortages of surgical masks used by health workers, of which I am very mindful.

 

Some mask-wearers wore theirs slung below the nose, clearly missing the point. Several times, I saw store employees pull their mask down to the chin to talk to customers, and I noticed two store workers were chatting in close proximity with their masks lowered. Kudos to Wegmans for mandating facial coverings for employees, but perhaps they should do a bit of training on their proper use.

 

Mask envy

I quickly became conscious of mask fashion, as some shoppers sported stylish face coverings. One young woman was wearing a snug-fitting black number, with an air vent that lent it something of a cyborg vibe. I would look so cool in that, I thought, as I briefly considered asking the wearer where I could get one. But that felt like a coronavirus faux pas. What are the rules of social etiquette for mask wear?

 

As I stood in the snaking six-foot-spacer check-out line, I caught a glimpse of two variations on the skull theme passing by. I realized then that there must be a whole world of mask fashion out there waiting to be discovered. ShieldStars.com, for instance, offers a wide array of themed masks, guaranteed to make you the talk of the produce department. They have something to suit every interest, many having the added benefit of being capable of scaring children. Way back in 2010, Mexico's Gianfranco Reni got ahead of the pandemic curve when he unveiled his jewel encrusted gas mask, though I imagine this would be a bit much for grocery shopping. It’s more formal wear.

 

Anything goes
Masks are gender neutral. Colors and patterns are largely unisex, especially among young people. More importantly, mask mandates around the world have opened the door for creative solutions. I saw one woman at Wegman’s with a facial shield, the kind meant to protect the eyes and face against chemical hazards. Some people wore patterned winter scarves smartly draped around their heads, which made sense during Friday’s April snow flurries, but how will these look in July?

 

For some fun, check out the TMZ collection of innovative solutions to the mask problem. “As you know, or should know by now,” says TMZ, “we're all being advised not to wear the professional-grade masks which are in extremely short supply and reserved for frontline health care workers, so the creative ones are welcome by all.”

 

 

Living the bicyclist dream

Chris Stucchio always wanted to be a bike messenger. It’s an occupation generally found in large metropolitan areas, where traffic delays and scarce parking make bikes the ideal means of reliable document delivery. Here in Buffalo, the demand for such a service is low. About a year ago the slim, athletic bicyclist with the cleanshaven pate and Elvis Costello glasses, discovered that Uber Eats was hiring bike-riders, so he signed up as a food peddler. His regular job as a freelance writer and editor afforded him the flexibility needed for the job. Up until then, he had resisted owning a smartphone, but, at age fifty-two, he bit the bullet and purchased one so he could use the food delivery service app. With the added purchase of an insulated cyclist backpack, he was ready to peddle grub.   

 

Memoirs of a food courier

Stucchio’s first delivery originated from an Elmwood Avenue restaurant just 1.6 miles from his home, with a drop-off destination behind the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. “I couldn’t believe my first bike delivery was only four streets from where I live,” he says. “As soon as I confirmed the delivery through my smartphone, there was money in my Uber account, and at that moment, I realized I was living the green dream.”

 

The job helped Stucchio enjoy summer weather, and get, on average, four hours of exercise a day, while exploring different parts of the city. Early pickups took him to North Buffalo, Kenmore, Elmwood Village, Buffalo State College, Black Rock, and Ardmore Place, which he calls, “a hidden gem of a side street with a brick road between Baynes Street and Richmond Avenue.”

 

An environmentally conscious existence

Stucchio and his wife Lori strive for a green life. “I believe in living simply,” he says, “so for me, part of that includes trying to have a low carbon footprint, which is one of the reasons I bike or walk most places.” Back between 1994 and 2012, Stucchio drove a Jeep Wrangler, not the most fuel-efficient vehicle on the road. Once when he was out on a bike delivery, he passed another Wrangler and instinctively waved, “because Jeep Wrangler owners wave to each other on the road,” he explains. “Old habits die hard.” Today, Stucchio exclusively bikes to get around. When he reached forty deliveries, he jokingly estimated on Facebook that he saved “approximately 4,236 barrels of oil, singlehandedly saving the world from global warming and climate change.” Clearly, he loves his work.

 

By his one-hundredth delivery he’d peddled by his own estimation, about five-hundred miles through Buffalo, Kenmore, and Tonawanda. On one Mighty Taco delivery to a Niagara Street waterside location, his customer met him outside. As Stucchio reached into his backpack his short sleeve slid up. “Nice Red-Hot Chili Peppers tattoo,” the peddle-patron exclaimed. “I told him I got it after ‘Californication’ in the summer of 2000,” says Stucchio, “and it was like we were old friends after that.” Stucchio marvels at how something so simple as band-love can create a customer/courier connection. Plus, he scored a $10 tip. Red-hot, indeed.

 

At 170 deliveries, Stucchio made it a goal to hit 200 by the end of the year, weather permitting. It ultimately took to January. Riding a bike in Buffalo is fun,” he says, “but riding a bike with a purpose in Buffalo is even more enjoyable.” To illustrate this, he recalls one occasion where arrived at a beautiful North Buffalo house and was greeted at the door by three adorable little girls about five or six years old, along with a woman who was watching them. The girls jumped up and down, cheering because Stucchio was delivering Happy Meals. One of the girls exclaimed, “My dad loves Happy Meals too,” to which Stucchio replied, “Who doesn’t love Happy Meals? They make everyone happy,” as the girls cheered more. It was best, Stucchio thought, not to mention that he’s vegan. “It would have ruined the moment.”

 

An essential service
In recent weeks Stucchio’s job has taken on new significance, as he provides a lifeline between struggling restaurants and socially isolated patrons. “I’m still doing bike deliveries every afternoon for Uber Eats,” he says, “It’s actually been busier since the coronavirus insanity went into full effect.” When Governor Cuomo mandated that all nonessential workers across New York State stay home to limit the spread of coronavirus, Stucchio was exempt. “It’s both strange and nice having so much space on roads that normally have a lot of traffic,” he says, “Of course, I’ll be much happier when the roads are busy again with cars, because that will mean things have improved.”

 

Stucchio has done about sixty deliveries since the coronavirus outbreak, but without many people in restaurants, it’s usually easy to maintain the proper social distance. If there are more than a few people waiting in a restaurant, he’ll wait. “Most customers want their food left at their door now,” he explains, “and when I do that, I text or call them to let them know the food has arrived.” Then he waits by his bike to see they get the delivery. He won’t enter buildings, and customers have been understanding. Otherwise Stucchio doesn’t feel he comes into contact with many people. “I think it’s important to help the restaurants stay in business,” he adds, “and to bring a little joy to people who don’t have much to enjoy today.” (It should be noted that restaurants make more money from customers who pick up their own takeout; delivery services do take away a certain percentage of profits.)

 

The funny side of social distancing

One recent afternoon Stucchio delivered to a business address on Grant Street near Buffalo State College. As he was locking his bike to a rack, a young woman approached from the sidewalk.  Stucchio moved to a different rack to maintain social distance. The woman started to follow, so he moved again. She followed again. “Can I help you?’” Stucchio finally said. The woman smiled, and replied, “You have my food.” Stucchio awkwardly explained that he was so focused on social distancing that it never occurred to him why the woman kept following him. They both had a laugh.

 

A few days ago, he was riding on Delaware Avenue, when someone suddenly darted out at him, coming well within six feet. He immediately became angry, until he realized it was “a giant inflatable air dancer on the sidewalk in front of a business.”

 

Peddling more than food

As of Sunday, Stucchio has done 285 bike deliveries for Uber Eats. In his other job, he has a new nonfiction book, Buffalo Football: A Game-by-Game Summary of the Glory Years, which includes facts, statistics, and scoring information for “every meaningful game the Buffalo Bills played from the start of the 1988 NFL regular season until the day they lost their fourth
consecutive Super Bowl in January 1994.” The book includes quotes from the likes of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, Darryl Talley, Steve Tasker, Marv Levy, Bill Parcells, and Don Shula. You can purchase a signed copy by contacting him at fleawarhol@aol.com. He may even deliver it by bike.

 

Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

 

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