for a lesson on how to properly take a joke, we must
turn to the politically moderate, business-friendly bloggers
of what they call “New Buffalo.”
have some differences with a lot of the local bloggers, especially
their seeming conviction that starry-eyed boosterism is the
answer to Buffalo’s bleak prospects. Seriously, if I read
another cheery post that lists light traffic and low rents
(classic signs of an economically depressed city) as two of
the things that make Buffalo great, I’m going to...leave a
tenet of the New Buffalo manifesto, apparently, is that opposing
new construction proposals is something only “old Buffalo”
people do. Of course, there’s no question that Buffalo needs
economic reinvigoration desperately, but we’ve also been sold
down the river repeatedly. Despite this, many local bloggers
react angrily to doubters as “anti-progress.”
latest controversy of this type revolves around the proposed
Elmwood Village Hotel, a 72-room, 4-story affair which would
replace 5 small businesses at Elmwood and Forest avenues.
Recently, a group of business owners and nearby residents
filed suit against the city, claiming the approval process
for the hotel was rushed and the hotel didn’t obey zoning
laws. Savarino Companies, the firm behind the hotel plan,
responded by withdrawing its application and resubmitting
it for approval.
bloggers were beside themselves. BuffaloGeek
used the acronym BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere
Near Anything), coined back in 1990, along with the old standby
NIMBY. Bloggers love a catchy meme, so it immediately became
a mantra with the group. Soon they were planning a pro-hotel
protest, spearheaded by Marc Odien—known as Buffalo Watchdog
“The Great BANANA Blackout,” in front of Don Apparel, one
of the businesses targeted for demolition, whose proprietor
has been one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed hotel.
publisher Paul Fallon was rubbed the wrong way. The outrage
expressed at the anti-hotel faction for pursuing their rightful
legal recourse, the smug dismissal of them as BANANAs, and
the general consensus among the “New Buffalonians” that unquestioning
support for any and all new commercial developments was the
remedy for Buffalo’s woes all irked Fallon, and he was not
content to simply ignore it. Besides, the whole thing smelled
more like a pep rally or a social mixer than political activism.
He called me.
got to do something to these people,” he said.
got nervous. Paul has some pretty insane ideas sometimes.
“I don’t know man. A lot of these guys like us, and they link
to our website, and maybe we shouldn’t—”
‘em,” said Fallon. Fortunately, his idea was fairly benign—a
drive-by supersoaking of the protestors. Resigning myself
to burning what few bridges I had left in local media, I committed
to the plan, and added a suggestion of my own: “We should
get some bananas and throw them at them.” Paul loved it.
the next few days, Paul secured a van and a few young volunteers
for the mission. The afternoon of the protest, Fallon and
his minions assembled at my apartment, all donning official
BEAST T-shirts. A BEAST banner was suspended from the van’s
ceiling. There would be no mystery as to who was responsible
for the attack. The triggermen obscured their faces with bandanas.
They looked hilarious.
was dispatched to the protest on my bike, to get pictures
and report back on the reaction of the clean-cut demonstrators.
I rode up and started taking pictures of the crowd—about 20-25
pro-hotel people, and maybe 5 anti-hotel counter-protestors.
The local media was out in full force—the tiny event would
be covered by all three local news channels and the Buffalo
News (the News article was laughably inaccurate and incomplete,
as all of their stories about subjects I’m familiar with seem
to be). I had brief, inattentive conversations with a couple
of people, including former BEAST staffer Gabe Armstrong,
who had joined the anti-BANANA people. “Even if the hotel
winds up going out of business,” he reasoned, “it’ll just
become more apartments for poor hipsters.” I vaguely expressed
my ambivalence on the subject, keeping an eye out for the
approaching mock terror cell.
I was unable get a decent picture of the water-cannon/banana
fusillade. It happened fast, and The BEAST’s meager budget
has yet to afford us a digital camera that doesn’t take a
few seconds to actually snap a pic. But I can tell you, it
was a thing of beauty.
probably the city’s dominant blogger and a big booster of
the Savarino project, described the scene:
it was funny. The high-powered squirt guns were most effective,
fairly drenching some of the well-meaning yuppie flock. The
bananas, deftly tossed so as not to blind anyone, were the
perfect punctuation mark. The van sped off, mission accomplished.
It had come and gone in maybe five seconds.
targets of our attack were fully aware of what and who had
happened to them, if a little bewildered. “Hey those were
the BEAST guys!” one of them shouted. And then something beautiful
happened: they all laughed and cheered. I had assumed a full
“go” stance on my bike, ready to bolt for my life, but instead
Marc Odien was shaking my hand and laughing his ass off.
addition to Buffalopundit, The amusingly named “Brisket
for Chucklehead” said that “Everybody agreed that that
was pretty goddamned funny.” Other bloggers echoed the assessment.
Not a single poor sport among them.
probably helped that July 17th was a classic hot,
humid Buffalo summer day, and being blasted with cool water
was undoubtedly a pleasant sensation for the sweltering carpal
tunnel syndrome candidates. But it was more than that. Unlike
the orthodox lefties at WHLD, these mushy middlers had a sense
of humor. They weren’t afraid to laugh, even when the joke
was on them. I may not agree with them about everything, but
I’d surely rather have a beer with them than the soreheads
favorite comment came from Newell Nussbaumer at Buffalo
Rising Online: “Someone next to me asked if they were
for the hotel or against it and someone else answered, ‘I
think they just like throwing things.’” Well, yes we do. But
there was a message behind the madness.
won’t lie; I’ve loved this little stretch of Elmwood since
I bought my first punk rock T-shirt (“We’re the Meatmen and
You Suck”) at Home of the Hits when I was 14. And it seems
to me that crummy little shops that cater to bohemians and
college kids are a big part of the reason the bourgeoisie
started encroaching in the first place, so I wonder what happens
to the appeal of the neighborhood when they’re priced out
of existence. But that’s how gentrification works. I admit,
I’d advise anyone visiting Buffalo to get a room at this location
rather than our embarrassingly vacant downtown. So, like I
said, I’m ambivalent. What I do know is that it’s not “bananas”
to be wary of a large new development in a neighborhood that
wasn’t opposition to the hotel that brought us out to water
the crowd that day. What we’re really against is intentionally
mischaracterizing one’s opposition. “Build absolutely nothing
anywhere near anything” doesn’t accurately describe the viewpoint
of anyone, and everyone knows it. It’s a ludicrous characterization,
and a rejection of reasonable discourse. It’s every lame buzzword
appellation you’ve ever been saddled with. It’s “cut and run,”
“moonbat,” “kool-aid drinker” and every other baseless label
that demeans the political process.
the hotel gets built, it gets built. At least now it’ll be
done by the book, and I don’t really see how anyone can object
to that. It’s easy to call someone a “NIMBY” when a proposed
project isn’t actually in your backyard.
conventional wisdom among the community calling itself New
Buffalo seems to be that it’s backwards, defeatist thinking
for people to be against any new development in the city.
But aren’t poorly conceived construction projects a big part
of the problem? The convention center, the subway, the Main
Place mall, “Buffalo Place”—would the New Buffalo people have
blindly supported these mega-blunders and called their opponents
BANANAs? I’d say, after so many huge and costly screw-ups
that benefited only those who built (and bilked) them, Buffalonians
would have to be idiots not to be extremely suspicious of
any new large-scale projects.
Elmwood hotel may not be such a mistake, and at least won’t
be a taxpayer-funded one. But what about Bass Pro? The Seneca
Casino? Are new projects to be swallowed whole, without reservation,
in the name of progress, or should they be intensely scrutinized
so as to avoid similar blunders? Should citizen lawsuits be
condemned as the dirty tricks of obstructionists, or recognized
as the peaceful recourse of the weak against the powerful,
an essential element to an equitable civilization? What does
it mean to protest the filing of a lawsuit? After all, if
it had no merit, why would Savarino have been so quick to
restart the process?
essence, our water/fruit assault was a nutritious stand against
the demonization of people who are simply fighting within
the prescribed rules for a cause they find legitimate. Their
lawsuit scored them a temporary victory—that’s all. In other
words, the message is: calm down. This isn’t abortion or gay
rights; it’s a hotel. It’s something to argue about rationally.
To reduce the people who oppose it to BANANAs is only to make
a monkey of yourself.