Buffalo roaming


I had this notion that I'd have plenty of time for blogging during my recent business trip, without the responsibilities of home for a week or so. Instead, I've worked some 10- to 12-hour days, and the last thing I felt like doing once I got back to the hotel room was thinking and typing. Often, being back at the hotel room just meant a chance to use the high-speed Internet connection to get more work done. Some lengthy e-mail replies to friends were started but never finished.

So there are all these random thoughts in my head -- about baseball, nightlife, Fisher-Price, foliage -- we'll see how many I can get typed on the flight back home.

A week ago Friday night I attended the Buffalo Bisons' season opener at Dunn Tire Park in downtown Buffalo. It was a beautiful evening, and I managed to walk up at game time and get a ticket on the front row near third base -- apparently a lone seat in between two blocks of season tickets. The park is about 15 years old, designed by HOK in a way that fits its downtown surroundings. It seats about 20,000, biggest park in the minor leagues. When the park first opened, the Bisons had a string of six straight years drawing over a million fans a year. Opening night drew over 17,000 and badly overloaded the concession stands -- some of my neighbors would go for food or beer and disappear for three innings. Somehow, as I came in, I found the only concession stand with a short line. Got a beef-on-weck sandwich (along with horseradish packets, of course) and a big Diet Coke and I was set for the game.

The Bisons' program had no player information, not even an insert sheet. The big scoreboard displayed player photos and names, but no stats. Didn't see major league scores on the board either.

The Bisons were hammered by the Ottawa Lynx, 10-5. Tulsa readers may recall that Ottawa was chosen, along with Charlotte, for AAA expansion back in the early '90s. Tulsa was one of five finalist cities that go 'round. The Bisons used to be the Wichita Aeros in the American Association -- they came to Buffalo in 1984.

The souvenir stand on the 3rd base side was so packed as to be impenetrable, but a stroll around the stands revealed another stand on the 1st base side that was nearly empty. They were selling off last year's model of team caps, which are identical to the new caps except for a baseball swooping across the front of the letter B. Minor league teams seem to do this regularly to get collectors to spring for more merchandise. So I got Joseph a 2003 model Buffalo Bisons cap, and got Katherine a Buster T. Bison beanbag doll -- Buster is the team mascot.

After the game, I was curious to see if the crowds would walk from the ballpark on the south end of downtown to the entertainment districts on the opposite end of downtown. The crowds did head north, but dissipated into the parking garages and surface lots close to the ballpark. Unless the entertainment district is right next to a ballpark or an arena, as it is in Oklahoma City, fans are likely to find it more convenient to hop in the car and head home, rather than walk half a mile, knowing they'll have to walk that half-mile again to get back to the car.

Meanwhile, the entertainment districts along Chippewa Street and Allen Street were bustling. Chippewa Street is really a part of downtown, while Allen Street is part of a mixed-use district called Allentown. I spent sometime walking along Allen Street and some of the side streets. Allen Street was a bit like Tulsa's Cherry Street or Brookside, with one- to three-story buildings being used for restaurants and shops on the lower floors and housing on the upper floors. Along the side streets, within earshot of the commerical area, I came across many beautifully restored late Victorian homes. The two elements of the neighborhood seem to complement each other well. Small-scale, neighborhood-oriented commercial development -- pre-World War II development -- can be a good thing for the adjoining neighborhood. Large-scale, auto-oriented commercial development, with accompanying vast parking lots required by the zoning code, has a very different impact on adjacent residential areas, but Tulsa's zoning code doesn't draw a distinction between the two.

There's a vulgar synonym for being angry (or, in some parts of the Anglosphere, for being drunk), based on an old Anglo-Saxon term for micturation. Although I don't use it, I thought that the word had long ago passed into commonly accepted usage, making the transition from obscene to mildly rude. I remember being surprised back around 1988 when I heard evangelical Christians casually using the term, without so much as a "pardon my French". Apparently there are still pockets of resistance. When one of the twenty-something females sitting in the row behind me at the ballpark used this phrase to express her frustration, one of the young men with her gently rebuked her: "Hey, there's kids here."

Every city I visit confirms this: The sine qua non of lively urban entertainment and shopping areas is a critical mass of old buildings. Older buildings act as incubators for novel business concepts -- a cheap place to get started, a place you can fix up as you go along. Likewise for older homes, which can be bought for a song and improved over time with sweat equity. Plenty of urban areas were transformed from dense networks of streets and smaller, older buildings to broad plazas and superblocks, and in the process had the life drained out of them. The neighborhoods that were overlooked by urban renewal and allowed to decay naturally are the neighborhoods that urban pioneers have rediscovered and brought back to life.

Beginning of the trip -- April 13 -- no leaves on the trees. End of the trip -- April 23 -- tiny spring-green leaves. Spring comes a month and a half, or more, later to Buffalo.

On display in front of Fisher-Price's HQ -- parade-vehicle versions of some of the most popular F-P pull-toys: Buzzy Bee, Jingle Elephant, Bossy Bell, and the all-time favorite, Snoopy Sniffer.

Toy Town USA Museum is on the Fisher-Price campus and has a permanent exhibit of Fisher-Price toys from 1930-1950, as well as representative items from later years. They've also got a room devoted to local kids shows on Buffalo TV stations, complete with displays of costumes and a robot from one of the shows. Downstairs is a Fisher-Price store, where among other things, you can pick up spare Little People (the newer, non-chokable plastic ones, not the classic wooden ones).

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 29, 2004 12:46 AM.

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