Remembering my first Bills game… and it hasn’t gotten much better

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My ol’man took me to my first Bills game at Rich Stadium against the Baltimore Colts in 1982– the players’ strike shortened season.

Gramps was a ticket taker at the stadium, so we didn’t pay– we handed him a matchbook which he ripped and gave back to us in case the boss was watching. Aside from the free admission, Gramps letting us in also meant we could get in with the big bag of home-popped popcorn, which was our only snack for the game.

The fact that we didn’t pay to get in probably means we weren’t part of the 33,900 announced attendance that day, but it doesn’t matter anyway– we left early because I was five years old and cold.

That all sounds better than what happened today, when I turned the car radio on just in time to hear Murph say that first time rookie starter Nate Peterson threw two interceptions in the first four minutes of the game against the LA Chargers.

Tearing down not just buildings, but our soul

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This isn’t anti- or pro- or anything specific … just what I thought about as I drove down Elmwood Avenue today.

They were shooting a movie in front of Voelker’s, because that is what attracts people to Buffalo. WNY is real, authentic, and lived in.

A few blocks away, a battle’s being lost to retain some of that authenticity to make way for a building that we might see in Tampa or Phoenix or anywhere else in the world.

Progress is good and we need it– but we also need to keep in mind what draws people here.

In a word, it’s our soul. The soul that lives in us and the soul that lives as part of our streetscape and buildings.

If something new is going to take away from that soul, it had better bring something tangibly more to the community.

Protecting soul can’t be written into a zoning plan. We have to be stewards of the essence that makes us who we are, and as a community, we need to continue to talk about all the Buffalo intangibles that money can’t buy– but sure as hell can ruin.

As my ol’man taught us, it’s not enough, but “thanks”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My ol’man taught us respect for everyone, and as a veteran, he made sure that we understood that veterans deserved extra respect.

We always gave a buck to the dusty, shriveled World War I vets who were selling poppies outside the grocery store and the bank.  In this increasingly cashless world, when I don’t have a dollar and wish I did, Dad’s lesson from these hundreds of times echoes in my mind. “You always you make sure you have a buck for something like this,” he’d tell us, giving one of us a crepe paper poppy with a green wire stem.

For as long as I can remember, we regularly spent time at the VA Hospital, whether to visit Dad, go to an appointment with him, or to visit one of our many relatives who received care there.

Now my ol’man really didn’t care much for rules, especially if they didn’t make sense to him. “No visitors under 14” was an edict he ignored with relish. “People who are sick need to be cheered up,” I know he thought, “and what have I got that will cheer people up? These little lemons!”

I’m not talking trying to slip in a 12 year old, either. I remember visiting the bedside of my dad’s Grandpa Scurr at South Buffalo Mercy Hospital. I had just turned three when he died, so dad looked at the age limit as plus or minus 11 years.

A couple years later, dad snuck us into the VA hospital to visit my mom’s grandfather. Grandpa Stephen J. Wargo spent the second half of World War II as a Navy mechanic fixing planes on Guam, and he and my dad got along great—which wasn’t always true for either one of these irascible men named Steve.

Getting over on Mercy Hospital to visit a sick grandpa was one thing—my ol’man had been gleefully giving nuns the business since the days when he was kicked out of St. Stephen’s Grammar school in the Valley on Elk Street.

He was a little more careful at the VA, though. While not quite the military, the Veterans Administration Hospital was really just about the only place I’d ever seen my father “behave” for a prolonged period of time. At any other hospital, the rule was stupid. Period. Same rule at the VA, but he’d employ the kind of protocol he learned in the Marine Corps—if we’re going to bend a rule, we’d better do it carefully and for good reason.

So when the elevator dinged for the right floor on our way to visit Grandpa Wargo, Dad stuck his head out of the elevator looking both ways to make sure the coast was clear, before grabbing and jerking my hand and my brother’s hand with a very direct, “c’mon.”

In the early 80s, every floor at the VA still had a smoking lounge, usually right next to the elevators. With purpose, Dad threw open the door to the smoking room and threw us in. “Don’t move,” he told us as he left to go get Gramps.

There was a friendly elderly black man in a bathrobe in the lounge, probably just trying to enjoy a smoke. I can’t be sure of the exact words, but dad asked something along the lines of, “Can you keep an eye on these animals while I get their grandfather?”

Almost four decades later, I can’t forget that guy’s smile and his standing in front of us… Holding his bathrobe open to hide us in case someone looked in the room. It’s powerful when just your presence can make people smile, and we made quite a few people smile with a few bent rules and only a small dose of secondhand smoke.

Later, when dad was spending more time in the VA himself, we’d often get to know his bunkmates. Especially when it was clear they didn’t have visitors or family, dad would adopt them—meaning we’d adopt them. I’d call dad to see if he wanted anything before going to see him. I’d usually bring a paper and a good cup of coffee, but he usually wouldn’t ask for anything– unless his buddy needed something.

All this is to say I hope that I carry with me and share my ol’man’s respect and honor for those who have served. I don’t always have an extra buck in my pocket, but there aren’t a lot of folks selling poppies, anyway.

But on Veteran’s Day (and everyday), when I meet someone who has served or see someone who is outwardly representing their service with a hat or bumper sticker, I offer a firm handshake, a look in the eye, and a thank you.

It’s not enough, but nothing’s really enough. It’s my honoring my dad, my dad’s service, and the sacrifice of every man and woman to ever wear the uniform.

Thank you.

Election Day 2017: The best is yet to come!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

A social media recap of the 48 hours after Election Day 2017, where I was defeated in the race for Erie County Clerk by a margin of 52% to 48%:

The one good thing about no longer running for office is…. I can be snarky whenever snarky is called for. Here’s an email I received tonight, and responded to appropriately. Thank you everyone for your amazing love and support!

 

I love this photo– captured by the great Derek Gee of The News– because it really says everything I want to say about running for office, the race Team Cichon ran, and even the results. Since jumping into this race in March, I’ve been enriched in friendships new and lifelong…and the process has pushed me to rededicate my intense desire to make the world a better place by serving the greater humanity and the marginalized who need help being heard. The results aren’t exactly what any of us wanted– But my head is held high and my heart is full today. We left it all out there, and are ready for whatever else good is coming down the way.

Erie County Clerk candidate Steve Cichon talks to members of the media at the Democratic Party’s election night celebration at Statler City, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Breaking news– the election didn’t turn out the way we worked for… but the good news is, no matter what is to come, it comes with the best most supportive partner imaginable. Monica and I got to swing by the Channel 4 studios yesterday, and stop in the room that used to be WBEN Radio’s control room— the exact place where we met as co-workers 24 years ago. As I tell anyone who’ll listen, my wife is the brains of the operation, and the person who makes be better everyday. Thanks Sweetie Pie!!

Drove around today, filling my trunk with Cichon signs plucked from various places around town, including a few that were out in front of the former War Memorial Stadium… where Gramps was a ticket taker for 40 years and where my ol’man took us to Bisons games. My fondest five-year-old memories of the place are of the big metal troughs in the men’s room instead of urinals.

In perhaps my greatest “get off my lawn” moment ever, I was chatting with four friends who I worked with during this election season. I was wearing this ensemble from my “putting the outdoor furniture away” collection, and someone mentioned it was strange seeing me not wearing a bow tie. As I looked down at this plaid work shirt, I gloriously realized that it was purchased when I was in middle school in either 1989 or 1990 and was (quite a bit) older than all four of these friends. I proudly shared with them that bit of trivia, and enjoyed it way too much. Now stay off my lawn.

Asking for your vote!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

A social media recap of the 24 hours run-up to Election Day 2017, where I was the endorsed Democrat running for Erie County Clerk:

Thank you for eight months of love and support– I have two last favors to ask. First, if you believe that I would bring common sense and integrity to government, I humbly ask that you share this video with a personal message about why you’re voting for me with your Facebook friends.

Second, please, PLEASE vote tomorrow. Having a great message, having a heart in the right place, having the drive and determination to make our county and our world a better place doesn’t matter unless we get one more vote than the other guy. Thanks and love!

A Trusted Voice

Vote for the candidate with real world experience and a new voice: Vote Steve Cichon for Erie County Clerk on November 7th.

Posted by Steve Cichon for Erie County Clerk on Sunday, October 22, 2017

 

Somewhere, Grandpa Cichon was smiling…. as I interrupted people trying to make urgent last minute, get-out-the-vote phone calls with Paula’s Donuts.

In case you were wondering how I was voting in the clerk’s race…

It’s been eight long months on the campaign trail and hundreds of people have lent their time and talents (and maybe a spot on their lawn) to share the word: I would consider it an honor to bring common sense, humility, and public service to the clerk’s office. There are two final steps in that process. The first is done– I have my lucky bow tie socks on. The second is in your hands… Thank you for all your love, support and vote!!

You look for signs on a day like today, and these are the winter cups unveiled at Tim Hortons this morning…

The family that votes together… WINS!

 

hashtag ME TOO resonates

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

For most women, it has to be an awful combination of shattering and (hopefully, in some way) freeing to write “me too” in social media.

I know it’s shattering for me reading them. It’s shattering for me that people I love have been victims. It’s shattering that people I love have been aggressors.

Just like every other social justice issue that’s come to the forefront recently, it’s horrifically discomforting to the core. And it needs to stay that way.

Our natural human reaction is to somehow find a comfortable place to exist within something terrible, but men– you can’t do that with this. You just can’t. We can’t.

This isn’t going to change unless we all keep with us the pain, fear, disgust, and shame that every woman has ever felt with us.

Not being a dirtbag yourself isn’t enough. You’re being a dirtbag every time you smile at a story instead of saying it makes you sick.

You’re being a dirtbag when you agree that she’s a bitch and he was just kidding— when you know he wasn’t kidding, because you’ve watched him push to see how far he could go so many times before.

You’re a dirtbag if you still think of “that one friend” as some kind of undefeated, virile sexual conquistador hero– especially in light of reading stories in social media over the last week. You have to now know, without question, that he’s either a liar or a sexual predator (and probably both.)

Guys, if you imagine that your disapproval of some guy’s perverse story is met with him calling you “a pussy,” doesn’t that prove the point? Be someone who stands up when it isn’t easy.

I don’t have an answer, but being “sorry” and being “a good guy” yourself won’t end this.

Refuse to be comfortable with it. Don’t give a fist bump and laugh, even if it means you become the object of that sexual predator’s fury yourself.

Don’t “turn in your man card;” UPGRADE IT.

Being a man does not mean demeaning a woman or making a woman feel small through the exercise of your masculinity.

Be the person you hope would be there for your loved ones. Every time. No excuses.

With a little help from my friends….

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I was interviewed by The Buffalo News Editorial Board today. It’s difficult to know what to expect walking into such a meeting–so it was great to see two of my great friends and mentors staring at me from the wall behind the six questioners.

Two amazing writers, amazing men, amazing Buffalonians. Renaissance men who wrote about sports but wrote about community and life.

I learned so much from Larry Felser and Jim Kelley– and several times have wished to have their counsel as this race has gone on, and here they are–unexpected and unexpectedly together– on a day where I probably would have called for advice, chitchat, and some idea of what to expect.

Brilliant guys both. Both looking at me from photos on the wall of The News and from the heavens today… the same way they used to look at me through the glass in our radio days together.

In the chaos and uncertainty of a political campaign, unexpected moments of reflection and reminders of the incredible people who’ve helped put me where I am in life are spirtually gratifying and calming.

Thanks guys.

Frank Clark knew how to turn a phrase

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Longtime Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark was exactly the man he appeared to be in the quick soundbites you saw on TV or heard on the radio.

Buffalo News photo

Like most who’ve held the title “District Attorney,” Frank Clark had an insatiable passion for justice and very little time for those who tried to side-step it.

The difference with Frank Clark was the way he expressed that passion. His style displayed the grit forged as former Marine prosecutor, but also the humanity and humor of a man who clearly loved people and loved his job.

When he retired from the DA’s office, I spent a day or two combing through WBEN’s archives to put together a couple stories that were emblematic of Frank’s style and also my appreciation for him– covering him and his office was one of my great joys in 20 years of broadcast journalism.

These stories won an Associated Press Award for Best Feature in 2009, and I’ve never been any more proud of an award. Frank loved it too– which made it one of my favorite stories, ever.

This is Frank Clark at his finest– making a point and turning a phrase. After he retired from the DA’s office for health reasons, he remained a valuable legal resource for us at WBEN, and it was clear that he loved talking to us nearly as much. He loved getting worked up during a phone interview– which were often done while he was undergoing dialysis.

Brilliant, never plain in his plain-spokenness, a genuine good guy.

Rest in Peace, Mr. DA.

Sign of the times

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When I was a kid at Holy Family grammar school in South Buffalo, I loved election season. Watching the news with my dad every night, I got to know all the players on the local scene, and through my ol’man’s instant, savage analysis, I always knew who was a good guy and who was a chump.

That was fun, but just as exciting for me was driving around and looking at all the big colorful lawn signs.

We never had a sign on our lawn, but like a lot of South Buffalonians in the 80s, my grandparents usually had one for Mayor Griffin or one of the Keane brothers (Assemblyman Dick or Councilman Jim) stapled to the front of the porch.

Some kids liked to drive around looking at Christmas lights or spooky Halloween graveyards— but during political season, Dad would take us the long way to grandma’s house, maybe down McKinley Parkway, to look at all the political signs on the big lawns.

In some kind of simplified kindergartner way, I loved and appreciated the artistry in the varied designs and executions.

“Fahey At Large” might as well have been by Rembrandt or “LoVallo” by Monet.

Well done paint on wood was always eye-catching, but far more rare than it’s sloppy-stenciled cousins which seemed to be everywhere. But the printed signs were like works of art to me. The color choices. The fonts. Was it plain or well designed? How did they look after rain? Did the staple job detract from the sign?

Something, too, about three houses in a row with the same sign in the same spot. Or the uniqueness of a single sign among dozens of signs for “the other guy.”

Then and now, no where does all this drama play out better than Potters Road between Mount Mercy and the city line.

Unlike the manicured and rolling expanses of green on wide and open McKinley, houses seem almost on the street along some parts of Potters.

And it seems like just about everyone on Potters is in the game, maybe even why they moved there in the first place. The manic jumble of lawn signs make the tight ride even more claustrophobic if not thrilling, with the dozens, even hundreds of signs over those few long blocks next to the creek, including many that you wouldn’t see anywhere else in South Buffalo.

Potters during Election time has always felt like the lights of Times Square or the Vegas Strip to me… and this time, it’s my name out there… on a great sign designed by my friend Jake Wagner.

Wow, ya know? Kneeling next to a sign with my own name on it on Potters Road, 14210.

It’s really a lot of work and easy to get caught up in the grind of running for office– it’s nice to be reminded of how amazing all this is every once in a while.

I can’t wait to serve as your next Erie County Clerk. More on my plans at steveforclerk.com.

I pray that they’ll never understand

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

September 11, 2017

As a child of the ‘80s, I understood that the adults in my life talked about the Kennedy assassination and the bombing of Pearl Harbor differently than any other story about the old days.

I’d beg for stories of these events as a grammar school kid with a love for history. Every time, it was a real story—a story that often showed a person in a different light. Someone who smiled a lot would turn heavy-hearted. A grumpy person became reflective. A talkative, easy storyteller quickly became someone of few words.

As a tiny little historian, I knew about those events and the gravity of them, but thinking back, what I naively yearned to understand was how these tragedies made people feel so sad and reflective so many years later. Of course, as a product of the world that was changed by those moments in time, it was impossible to fully comprehend the loss of “what we had been.”

This all flashed in my mind this morning as tears glossed up my eyes and my heart jumped into my throat, reflecting on this day sixteen years ago.

For the last handful of years, I’ve been in the classroom on this date—and have tried to give young people some insight… to help them understand. I pray that they never will.

I wrote this on September 11, 2015, after an intense class.

For this year’s college freshmen— about 60 of whom I’m honored to teach– September 11th is a history lesson. They were too little to know what was going on that day.

I think our most important job in talking about 9/11 to people who don’t remember is to convey the emotion.

What it felt like to watch that on TV.

To pray as people jumped and the towers went down and for all those men and women who rushed in to help.

What it felt like to be as numb and as helpless and as angry and as sad as you ever have.

What it felt like to wonder if we were at the brink of global nuclear war. To wonder if our city was next.

To wonder how different our lives would be going forward.
Our coming together as a nation.

What it felt like to see things start to return to “normal,” and how uncomfortable that felt.

Textbooks will make sure the facts aren’t forgotten… It’s up to us to talk about how deeply it touched every single American, and for each of these young people to understand that we saw the inconceivable worst as well as the mind numbing best of our country that day.

Some piece of America within each of us died that day, and some new part was born. It’s hard to talk about, and hard to come to grips with, but that’s the thing future generations can only learn from each one of us.