Tag Archives: Canada

Knee Jerk? Not Real.

1 Jun

Having proudly derided “Buffalo: For Real” here, I was interested to read this defense of the now-infamous slogan, penned by one of its pro bono creators, Joe Sweeney from local ad agency Travers Collins.

First, it speaks to Buffalo’s authenticity. After conducting some significant research, VBN realized that “cultural tourists” are the folks they should target with this new brand—people who visit a place to learn something, to feel the weight of history, to be inspired by human expression. People who would be intrigued by the prospect of seeing work by Wright, Sullivan, Richardson, Picasso, Kahlo and Burchfield, in a Rust Belt city known mainly for chicken wings and snow. “For Real” speaks to them directly, positioning Buffalo as a place where all of the sights are genuine, and none of the parks are themed.

Second, the line implicitly references the rampant skepticism that’s out there about our city. For far too long, when we’ve told out-of-towners that we love it here, they’ve responded incredulously — “For real?”

Now we have a comeback. For real, we love this place. For real, it’s beautiful. For real, it will move you.

I’m still having trouble deciphering what an “authentic” sight, is as compared with an inauthentic one.  But apart from the silly existential argument – if I can see it, isn’t it “real” and “authentic”? – the reason why this branding was so ripe for mockery has to do with something Buffalo is great at:

Even when we think we’re promoting and puffing the region, we do it in an apologetic way.

Excuses, excuses. We’re not as great as we once were, but we’re too poor and depressed to have torn it all down to make way for new stuff! We might have a dead downtown, but hey – no chains!

But these lines, earlier in the piece, stuck out:

I get the criticism, to an extent. Lord knows we should be critical of anything purporting to help our city. If we didn’t make our voices heard, we might have a fishing superstore dwarfing our historic waterfront. Plus, it’s tempting to make fun of a new “slogan,” especially when it’s for a place that’s a go-to punch line for bad comedians.

I think “purporting” is the key word in that passage. That video and this slogan merely purport to help the city. But they don’t. For the very select few who love old, dead buildings and architecture, they’ll love this campaign.  I’d be willing to bet that lots of people would come to Buffalo for a day trip or weekend from within a 200 mile radius if they knew there was something to do. (Wing Fest, Allentown Art Festival, etc.). I’d be willing to bet that efforts to attract people already in Niagara Falls or Niagara-on-the-Lake would also be lucrative and easy.

We have crappy signage, poor tourism information at or near the border crossings, (Ontario has staffed welcome centers off the QEW and 420), and some sort of ridiculous conceit about being “real”. We’re critical of this campaign because the campaign sucks, not because it “purports to help the city”.

And because we “made our voices heard”, there’s absolutely nothing – no fishing store, no nothing – on the Inner Harbor Canal Side parcels right now. Just some benches, some grass, some ruins.

I hope this kind of knee-jerk pessimism isn’t the lasting legacy of this marketing effort, because I really like “For Real.”

And another thing. It wasn’t “knee-jerk”; it wasn’t reflexive pessimism. It was a carefully thought-out, considered negative reaction to something silly.

Blog Scrum in the Papers

17 Jan

Donn Esmonde’s last three Buffalo News columns (first, second, third) have basically amounted to the equivalent of a blog fight.  Except he’s not a blogger, and he’s fighting with the whole country of Canada, represented humorously and accurately by Toronto Star writer Cathal Kelly.

Perhaps it’s time for him to drop it?

World Junior Postmortem

6 Jan

The world  (I mean Canada, and a couple Finns) came to Buffalo, and after eleven days, the World Junior Hockey Tournament is over. What did we learn?

– This is a Canadian tradition, and the rest of us just watch and enjoy. It was a travelling national Canadian festival that came to town, the circus with more beer and hockey sweaters. I attended three games – US/SUI on New Year’s Eve, and CAN/SUI and FIN/RUS on January 2nd – and the atmosphere was festive and fun. But it was a bit unnerving, in an odd but not unpleasant way, to be in your own city but have it feel unfamiliar because all the faces and accents have changed. Case in point: the New Year’s ball drop at the Electric Tower – a sea of red jerseys.

– Despite a few grumblings and cheap political attempts to drum up controversy, most of those fans ate a bunch of wings, shopped a bit, and had a good time. Some liked it even more. No, not every restaurant and bar did well. Why should we expect they would? Anecdotal evidence gleaned from the daily news reports indicates that much of the lessened impact was due to the Canadian visitors being hyper-local: if you are coming from Hamilton, you don’t need to make a weekend of the tournament, you just go home. The Albright-Knox is a good example of a group that did have success – off the beaten path from the arena, it brought in fans with its hockey-themed photography exhibit and the Stanley Cup, and then exposed them to the best of WNY artists with Beyond/In. Overall, somewhere between $20M and $100M was added to our collective coffers, 11,000 hotel room nights were booked (according to the CVB and Business First) and Buffalo can be proud of successfully hosting a tri-fecta of sporting events in 2010: NCAA basketball, Empire State Games and the World Juniors.

– Lost in the shuffle of $50 parking fees and ghost town tweets was the logistical success of running the tournament itself. Larry Quinn may not be able to run a hockey team, but he runs a hockey business very well, staging a coup by grabbing the first ever NHL Winter Classic and selling 336,000 tickets to this World Junior tournament, a record in the US, and the second most ever. In addition, these events turned out well from a sport, theatrical and operations perspective. On day one, there was a mess emptying the arena and getting new patrons in. But the snafu was fixed, and the event went on without a hitch after. This is no mean feat: who remembers a shortage of Zamboni machines, a chain link fence to keep people away from the torch, a luge track that killed an athlete, and no snow on the ski slopes at the Vancouver Olympics.

– Canalside is desperately needed. While the organizers polished up what little we had, and provided buses to get you past the nasty bits, the HSBC Arena has been exposed (again) as an island in a sea of emptiness. Pearl Street Brewery is a rest stop for weary travelers seeking food and drink on their way north from events, eventually landing at Chippewa or Allentown. I tried to imagine being new to the arena, and where might I accidently wander looking for food? In the dark, the lights at the Naval Park are bright and inviting – I might make it past the boarded-up Hatch before I realized my mistake. The Cobblestone “District” is two bars. Main Street is not merely embarrassing, but appears dangerous. Buffalo is not lacking in attractions to draw tourists – it is lacking in ways to feed and clothe those tourists near the attractions.

– Best fan display: an entire section of Canadians ironically dressed as Russians (at the RUS/FIN game), chanting “OOHH! AHH! RUSH! AH!” and holding signs (some in fake Cyrillic) that read “TSN: Total Soviet Network,” “In Mother Russia Goal Score You,” and (my favorite) “Finnish Them.”

ESPN Writer: Trade Buffalo To Canada

4 Jan

Last night as the Canadian Junior Hockey team humiliated the American Junior team on the ice, the Canadian fans also took over the HSBC Arena.

The sellout crowd of 18,690 had to be about three-quarters Canadian fans. Maybe more. Canada’s national team jerseys, both the red and white versions, were omnipresent in every section you scanned.

And every chant of “U-S-A, U-S-A” was quickly drowned out by a much louder rumble of “Can-a-da, Can-a-da.”

By the middle of the second period, the Canada fans — the visitors, remember — were chanting, “This is our house, this is our house.” Then they started a full-out wave that sped around every corner of the building.

A Canadian fan chimed in on the overwhelming sea of red in the stands and the dominance of the Canadian fans.

“You didn’t realize this was Buffalo, Ontario?” remarked Ron Mathurin of Ottawa, Ont. “I expected a lot more American fans. That sea of red is just like being on Canadian soil.”

Interestingly, Ron “The Mullet” Mathurin (shocked that his name wasn’t Gord) wasn’t the only person with the “Buffalo, Ontario” idea.

Bill Simmons, aka The Sports Guy, is the preeminent blogger on ESPN.com and told his 1.3 Million Twitter followers that based on the scene in the arena, it was probably time that Canada annexed Buffalo.

Of course, all the knee-jerk Buffalo lovers on Twitter told him to stick his ideas up his own ass.  But is he wrong?  Isn’t it time that we gave up on the great American experiment and embraced our love for all things Canada?  America has left the Rust Belt behind for warmer climates and a dumber existence in the South and West.

We’re the top American markets for Canada’s greatest exports, Labatt Beer and Tim Horton’s Coffee.  Our menfolk enjoy the less morally restricted Canadian Ballet, we all like Chinese food in Fort Erie and it would be way more excellent to be an exurb of Toronto rather than the red-headed stepchild of New York City.

Also, we like hockey, Canadian healthcare is better, college is affordable, corporate taxes are lower, Toronto is going to take the Bills away from us soon anyhow, the Canadian financial system is properly regulated, American companies are building new plants in the great white north, the Canuck economy is booming and let’s be honest…our general laid back municipal attitude has a lot more in common with Canada than it does with the rest of America.

So, who do we call to make this happen?  Because I’m in.  I think it was this video that sold me.


Do You Remember Tor-Buff-Chester?

16 Nov

This piece, written by UB student Brendan Ryan appeared in yesterday’s Buffalo News, and it’s absolutely correct.  For some reason, we exclude southern Ontario and Toronto from discussions about our regional future, much to everyone’s mutual detriment.

…why is it that we often fail to even consider our nearness to Toronto among that list? Toronto and Southern Ontario are bursting at the seams and the Buffalo Niagara region is choosing to not take part in this growth.

Where is the political will to harness it and usher it over the border and why is this seemingly not a priority? What are our elected officials doing to foster relationships with leadership on the other side of the border? In an economic environment in which regions compete for the firms and industries that will help them to grow and become more vibrant, it is imperative to capitalize on assets that make a region unique and that can provide an advantage to businesses considering locating there.

Western New York’s direct line to Canada’s financial capital is an asset that no other region in the country can claim, yet it is almost completely ignored. We need to begin by exploring and discussing what we can gain from Southern Ontario and what we have to offer them. Southern Ontario has a diverse economy with industry clusters in aerospace, financial services, information technology, life sciences, tourism, fashion, design and a wealth of other areas. With a little imagination one can envision our region as a center for logistics between Southern Ontario, the Midwest and the East Coast.

This is absolutely obtainable and only one of the possible methods for evolving a symbiotic, cross-border, regional economy.

Part of this is due to cross-border travel hassles and the various rules and regulations surrounding residency and doing business in each respective country.  I’ve written before about the real need for a Schengen-type agreement between the US and Canada, whereby immigration rules were harmonized and there was true freedom of movement of people, goods, and jobs between our two countries.  Unfortunately, we didn’t even have the political will to cobble together a shared border management agreement for the Peace Bridge, so the likelihood of a North American Schengen is nil.

But the silence from our local political and business communities about better integrating our economy with that of Ontario is unfortunately deafening.

Unintentional Roaming in New York State #ATTSucks

26 Oct

AT&T's claimed coverage map

I am a big fan of Apple’s iPhone. I’ve owned one since the original release in the summer of 2007.  Its weakest link, however, is the AT&T service that an American iPhone customer is ostensibly required to maintain.   Unlike its other phones, AT&T will not unlock the SIM to enable you to easily swap out to another carrier, like T-Mobile in the US, or Rogers in Canada.  It’s possible – but not particularly easy – to hack the phone to enable SIM card swapping.

I had an old, decommissioned iPhone 3G lying around, so I hacked it so I could use it in Canada with a prepaid Rogers SIM card.  For $2/day or $7/week, I get 3G data, as well.  It’s much cheaper than the exorbitantly unfair roaming charges that AT&T hits you with if you make the mistake of enabling data roaming through your iPhone settings.  It’s also much cheaper than the international data roaming option, which adds about $100 to a monthly bill.

Carrier setting

So, when I cross the border – something I do quite often, given that I live within 30 miles of an international crossing – I expect my phone to default to AT&T as soon as possible.  You see, as part of its SIM lock regimen, AT&T has disabled a box on in Settings that’s labeled “Carrier”.  On my hacked iPhone, that box is enabled, and I can see all available cellular networks, and have the ability to manually select any one of them.

The last two times I’ve crossed back into the US from Canada, it has taken far too long for my phone to reacquire an AT&T signal, staying on Bell Canada all the way from the Whirlpool Bridge in Niagara Falls to the 190/290 interchange in Tonawanda. That entire time – on Main Street to Pine, Pine to the I-190, crossing the North Grand Island Bridge, traversing Grand Island itself, crossing the South Grand Island Bridge, and exiting onto the I-290, I was trying to get the phone to recognize the AT&T signal by entering and exiting “Airplane Mode”.  The phone would search for what should be the strongest available signal, and hit onto Bell Canada that entire time.  (Immediately before entering the I-190 S, I had even done a complete shutdown/restart of the phone itself).

Here’s a slideshow of the screenshots of the phone I took between crossing the border at 6:26pm last Saturday, and reaching AT&T coverage in Tonawanda at 6:40pm.  Each photo was taken immediately after a hard reset, or activating Airplane mode for 10 seconds, then de-activating it.


It’s ridiculous that it took almost 15 minutes after entering the United States, and passing by several domestic cell towers, before my phone would register on its default home carrier, opting instead to continue to roam on a weakening Canadian carrier signal.  If AT&T would simply re-enable the “Carrier” setting on iPhones sold domestically, this problem could easily be remedied.  There have been many times when I’m just close enough to the Canadian border and the phone jumps to Rogers or Bell while I’ve been in New York the entire time.

Obviously, this is a problem that doesn’t affect the vast majority of American AT&T customers, ever.  It is unique to those of us who live in a border area.  T-Mobile does not disable the carrier selection menu on its phones.  AT&T does. This needs to change so that we don’t get hit with exorbitant data or voice roaming charges while safely on home carrier soil.  It’s a matter of simplicity and fairness. It’s also time for Apple to cut the cord with the execrable AT&T, and free up the iPhone for sale with all GSM carriers, including T-Mobile.  That’s how it works in just about every other market in which Apple sells that device.  Including Canada.

The Toronto Pizza Hunt

9 Sep

The waiter overheard us discussing another pizza joint we had tried a few weeks earlier. Specifically, he overheard us mention the fact that the owner was Turkish, and he offered flatbreads in addition to pizzas. The waiter had been somewhat short with us during our meal, but upon hearing “Turkish” and “wood-fired pizza” in the same sentence, he correctly identified the obscure hole-in-the-wall pizzeria clear on the other side of Toronto.

Our waiter, Maurizio, then launched into a 10-minute monologue into why Dino’s pizza was just ok, but the restaurant where he worked – Queen Margherita Pizza – got it right. It had to do with the way in which the oven was designed. Dino’s oven was designed for flatbreads and has a higher ceiling – this requires more wood or time to get the heat right. Queen Margherita’s oven has a low ceiling, allowing for better circulation of heat.

Normal people under normal circumstances would be annoyed or bored by Maurizio’s detailed story about how the pizzaiolos at Queen Margherita have been in the business for decades, and how they developed their technique at wood ovens in Naples and brought it to Canada. At the conclusion of our talk, he exclaimed in a thick Neapolitan accent, “this isn’t just food for me. This is my culture.”

There are two places in Toronto that have earned and paid for the “Verace Pizza Napoletana” label. This organization requires the restaurant to use very specific, authentic ingredients – Tipo 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. Maurizio explained that the cheese was the hardest ingredient to get just right, but Queen Margherita uses fior di latte, which comes from cow milk, as opposed to Bufala Mozzarella.

The two joints in Toronto that have the VPN certification are Queen Margherita on Queen East in Leslieville, and Pizzeria Libretto on Ossington near Dundas.

The great thing about both restaurants is that it’s not an expensive night out. The pizzas are about 12″ across, so you can get a few for sharing, and they’re about $10 – 15 each. There is something so satisfying about a fresh pie right out of an 800-degree oven, especially when it uses top-quality, authentic ingredients. These pizzas aren’t drenched in grease, they deliver awesomeness on a chewy crust.

I haven’t been to Libretto and Margherita in close enough succession to compare the two, but I’ll try to do so.

The other thing I noticed is that poutine is so prevalent now throughout Toronto, even in gourmet form, but it’s completely absent in cold, hockey-crazy Buffalo. This ought be remedied.

Queen Margherita Pizza on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Libretto on Urbanspoon

Dino's Wood Burning Oven Pizza on Urbanspoon

Immigration – and Immigrants – Deserve Better

12 Jul

I am a loss to understand why a shrinking region struggling just to maintain its current population numbers is so bloody concerned over illegal immigration. WBEN demogogued the issue during the entire morning news today, and the whiny, phony parallels attempted to be drawn between Arizona and New York as border states were as appalling as they were weak.

First, let’s turn to the Arizona immigration law that the Federal Government has sued to strike down as an unconstitutional state usurpation of federal power to set and create immigration policy.

Two things have been brainlessly repeated without a smidgen of balance on local talk radio in Buffalo. The Arizona statute in question gives state law enforcement the power to demand – upon “reasonable suspicion” of undocumented status – that anyone present their papers to prove their identity and legal right to be present in the United States. Although racial profiling is expressly prohibited by the bill, it’s not shocking or deniable that this law is targeted squarely at Latinos. Arizona is rightfully petrified that the drug wars that have rendered Mexico an almost failed state might escalate on this side of the border.

Proponents of the law, when confronted with the fact that “papers, please” has not generally been used positively in the American vernacular, retort that legal immigrants must carry their visas or Green Cards with them at all times.

But citizens don’t. (That includes you, Puerto Ricans). Because this law in its implementation would specifically target one particular ethnic group at the exclusion of all others, and because it unfairly requires some US citizens – Latinos – to carry their passports or other proof of legal status in the US on them at all times, but not others, I believe it to be unconstitutional on equal protection grounds, as well as federal supremacy grounds.

But to hear our local talk radio goons describe it, bingo-playing grannies get harassed at the Peace Bridge whilst Mexicans on the southern border are untouchable due to liberal bleeding-heartism. Have any of these cretins tried to cross a Mexican border post ever? In the last 10 years? The major border crossings into Mexico, and especially into the US are horrifically backed-up all the time. The scrutiny given to inbound motor vehicles at the southern border makes the trip in and out of Canada seem like a run through an EZ-Pass booth. And yes, you must present the same types of ID in El Paso as you do in Niagara Falls. The difference is that most of the Arizona – Mexico border has no natural boundaries and is an arbitrary construct of treaty. You don’t get a lot of swimmers from Canada into the US because the Niagara River is wide and has a nasty current.

But to compare our situation in WNY to the situation in Arizona is simply idiotic for another major reason. Canada isn’t a third world backwater with wave after wave of economic refugees swarming into, say, Buffalo for our wonderful Frank Lloyd Wright homes and chicken wings. And the reason why we treat the occasional bingo-playing granny to long lines at the border have to do with the fact that there is a distinct history of jihadist terrorists using the US-CDN crossing as a low-key entry point.

No, Tom. Sorry, Sandy. Regrets, Dave. Comparisons of legal border crossings at WNY bridges to illegal crossings in Arizona is so patently stupid and improper that I question your intelligence and that of anyone who agrees with you.

And chances are, the Bauerles, Pesolas, and DiPietros of yesteryear most likely came to the United States as economic immigrants – they came to this country to find their fortunes, or at least a better life. Oh, they’ll undoubtedly self-righteously proclaim that their ancestors came to this country as legal immigrants, as if the situation at the turn of the last century was somehow even vaguely analogous to that at the most recent turn of century.

During the time of Ellis Island, there was no such thing as applying for an entry visa at a US consulate abroad. Immigrants would come to the US on boats and basically apply on the spot for legal entry. If they weren’t mentally or physically disabled, chances were they’d be allowed to stay in the US. Our immigration laws throughout history have oftentimes been little more than shameful cesspools of racism and eugenics, aimed to control not so much numbers, but specific numbers of particular origin. But at the time of Ellis Island’s heyday, European immigrants could literally hop a boat and take their chances.

Such irony, to hear descendants of German or Italian immigrants heap scorn on a contemporary influx of refugees from our own hemisphere, who have overwhelmingly come here for the same economic reasons. Why is 2010’s Mr. Velazquez any more or less deserving of an American Dream than 1910’s Mr. DiPietro? Are Mexicans and Central Americans somehow unworthy or undeserving of the same opportunities as Poles or Italians were a century ago?

And let’s not forget that if every single illegal alien in this country was deported overnight, there would suddenly be a large vacuum of available menial jobs. You going to take it? Is your kid going to interrupt his WoW session to earn $7.25/hour cleaning toilets and sweeping streets?

Comprehensive immigration reform that resets the rules to reflect contemporary reality is what’s needed to help move this forward. We in this country are so focused on migrant laborers, that we ignore the fact that our idiotic visa policies help keep brilliant scientists out of this country, and they go to places like Canada, which welcomes them with open arms, opportunity, and free medical.

When the economy goes south, you can be sure that the weak-minded will take advantage of the afflicted, and reassure them that the fault lies not with a housing crash or credit default swaps gone bad, but they instead release that genie of subtly racist xenophobia that still seems to be socially acceptable in the US, and blame the Mexicans.

I Blame the Comintern and the Common Tern

5 Jun

Now that public meeting attendees have selected the three-arch Peace Bridge expansion span as their favorite, we can no doubt eagerly await the angry press conferences and lawsuits from proponents of either one of the other two proposed spans.

Meanwhile, traffic along the most direct WNY highway-to-highway border crossing – the one that doesn’t end at a 90 degree angle on the US side – has routine multiple-hour delays on a weekly basis.

Blame the common tern.

Facts Are Fun

29 May

The local tea party die-hards (the NYS Reform google group keyboard warriors) and wannabes (Tom Bauerle – a third-rate copy of humorous, real-life tough-guy Curtis Sliwa) have been reacting (as reactionaries do) to news that there will be some extra scrutiny of travelers at US-Canada border crossings.

That is, when they’re not suggesting that ID cards for guest workers under a proposed immigration reform program would be the “mark of the beast” as foretold in Revelations.

Conveniently forgetting that it was a competent customs official at a US-Canada crossing in Washington that halted the LAX millenium bombing during the Clinton Administration, the tea partiers complain – why should shoppers be asked questions at border crossings while the Mexican border is completely wide open? Bauerle went so far as to say one would be called racist for suggesting that the Mexican border be protected.

The Border Patrol watches for illegal crossers between the US and Canada, though, on a quite regular basis. Anyone living in WNY has seen Border Patrol vehicles and choppers from time to time.

Legal crossings between Mexico and the US are very frequent – especially for American managers who commute daily to maquiladora plants in Mexican border towns – and the questioning and scrutiny there is much more stringent than on the US-Canada border.

The Border Patrol is a branch of the U.S. Customs & Border Protection service operating under the Office of Border Protection.

The guys in the booths who ask to see your ID work for the Office of Field Operations, a completely different service of U.S. Customs & Border Protection.

In other words, it’s apples and oranges. Life is more fun when people know what the hell they’re talking about.