Buffalo in the 80’s: the generic pop of our summers…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

1980s Buffalo Taste of Summer

genericrootbeer
A guy was selling hundreds of root beer cans on eBay, and I picked out Buffalo’s generic pop cans of the 80s.

Red and White was sold locally at Super Duper, and HyTop at Tops before they switched to their own generic brand. Obviously Bells was sold at Bells Markets.

How many of these did you sneak into the Seneca 1-2 Cinema or take to the Crystal Beach picnic area?

Cichon on the Corasanti Jury: There but for the grace of God go I….

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

People base their opinions on any given subject on the amount of information they know about that subject. Sometimes the knowledge is vast; sometimes not so much.

cichonoffice2012Over the last few days, I have found myself correcting factual or legal errors in people’s angry conversations and Facebook posts about the James Corasanti trial and verdict. In doing so, I’ve been accused of trying to stand up for Corasanti, of trying to encourage people to physically go after Corasanti, of making excuses for the jury, and of trying to encourage hatred towards jurors. A reporter is usually satisfied that he’s doing his job when he gets criticism from all sides.

At the end of one such volley on Facebook, I wrote something along the lines of “that I’m merely offering facts I know to be true from the courtroom, to try to make what some people are having a hard time understanding a little more understandable.”

Someone then asked if I understand. “Understand what,” I asked. Understand, he said, why the jury voted the way it did.

I don’t understand, but I think I might have a better insight than most. Over the last year and a half, I’ve sat through two big trials gavel-to-gavel (Muzzammil Hassan’s beheading trial and Riccardo McCray’s City Grill murder rampage), and sat through good portions of the Corasanti hearings and trial as well.

Covering and listening to a trial as a reporter isn’t all that different from listening to a trial as a juror.

I can tell you that sitting through a trial, you’re trying to keep track of dozens of different lines of questioning and trails of evidence, much of it presented and described in terminology and verbiage that is completely foreign. For legal reasons, it’s often presented in a way that is often painfully tedious.

It’s not Law and Order. Most testimony is boring and can quite often be confusing; especially when something refers back to something that happened days before, or uses unfamiliar jargon.

But that’s where it gets much easier for the media. Kinda like a jury gets to do at the end, we get to go into the hallway during the breaks, and discuss among ourselves what we just heard, and how to understand it. Quite often, we grab a lawyer walking by and ask him or her what this word means, or whether we understand something right.

On one occasion during the Corasanti trial, two defense lawyers whose names you’d recognize, gave us reporters completely different versions of what a single legal term meant. Even the lawyers can get a little confused.

I personally reported on the radio at least 3 times in the days and hours leading up to the Corasanti verdict that I was confused by something that went on in the court room. I ran right out of the courtroom to report on something said in “legalese” that was difficult to follow and synthesize, even with the help of my fellow reporters.

Jurors have it worse. At least journalists can talk it through with one another several times a day. Jurors have to suffer through their misunderstanding or desire to clarify a point or even just seek reassurance that they heard something properly. Jurors are not allowed to talk about a case to anyone, period, until deliberations begin.

Most of us can’t even get through an episode of Law and Order without asking our spouses if “that was the guy from earlier who did that…”

So after a month, with all the questions you might have swimming in your head, you are given two hours worth of legal instructions with so many parsed words and phrases put together in a way that satisfies the law, but not necessarily satisfies the understanding of every day people. In fact, for me, the explanations of the laws often obfuscate my understanding the law.

Having sat through a few trials, I know how the process is going to work, and I have my seatbelt fastened, and I still have a hard time keeping up with understanding the laws as the judge reads them. If you get caught on a bit and try to think it through, you miss the next bit. I can ask Claudine Ewing or Pete Gallivan in the hall. A juror adds it to a list of dozens of things he’s not clear on.

My point is, I can see how every day people who are jurors can walk into a deliberation completely dazed. All this incredible and contradictory information that your been hearing for a month. Where do you begin? I think for most people, you begin by listening to the guy with the biggest mouth, and see where that takes you. There was one juror who seemed more agitated that the rest, and I’ll bet he was among the first to do some talking.

Until you’ve sat through a month long trial, you can’t understand what it’s like. I’ve sat through a couple of humdingers, and I won’t pretend to understand what its like to be a juror on a case like this one.

And of course, if the defense has a pulse, there is always doubt. The difference between some doubt and a reasonable doubt is explained by the judge, but its legal language that isn’t in every day soeak, and it’s a few paragraphs in a few hours of legal explanations.

Every time the judge lets the jury off for lunch or a 5 minute break or to go home for the night, the instruction is always “don’t talk to anyone about the case; keep an open mind.” It’s not “use your gut, and don’t forget your common sense.”

Now if you’ve made it this far, you might be saying, what, was Cichon’s mother on the jury? No. I’m not making excuses for the jury, and I would guess that some jurors on the Corasanti trial or any of the others that I’ve covered might be angry with me for calling them confused. I’m not calling any juror confused.

I’m merely saying that it’s not an easy job being a juror, and I’m not really sure how fair it is to ask someone to be a juror in a month long trial like this one.

In my heart, having sat through some of the trial as a reporter, I know how I would have voted. However, if my seat was moved 10 feet to the left into the jury box, I know I wouldn’t have had the same grasp of the material presented. And given that, I certainly can’t say for sure how I would have voted.

This originally appeared at WBEN.com.

A Friend & Brother at 40

Hopefully this is better than a lightbox sign with the message “LORDY, LORDY, LOOK WHO’S 40!” on your lawn

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

To call this guy one of my best friends just doesn’t feel strong enough. For months, as his 40th birthday has approached, I’ve tried to think of some fun or funny or nice or meaningful way to let him know that I love him… or at the very least, make him laugh and remind him of his own mortality on this day that he enters his fifth decade on this planet.It’s been tough coming up with something that has just the right feeling to it. Forty pink flamingos on his lawn would be perfect, but this is a guy who’d actually like that a little too much.  I had some ideas for “stuff” or “events” that we’d both probably think great, but our wives not so much.

steveandmartyHowever, like many things in my life, I was filled with intentions, but it only got that far. “Marty’s Birthday” appeared on at least a dozen to-do lists, and wound up like many other things on those lists– undone.

So here I sit, the day before that big day, with nothing to show for it, except for what I am about to write.  Now I fully realize that a blog post as a birthday present is really about the grown-up equivalent of a homemade card with macaroni and glitter glued on,  but it’s the best I’ve got right now.

I was a 16 or 17 year old board operator at  WBEN when we met; he was just finishing up college, and had joined the weekend news staff at WBEN.  We both thought we were pretty freaking cool, living the dream working at W-freaking-BEN.

There’s really no doubt that providence brought us together.

We share a love for news and politics, and seem to come at it from the same perspective.

We both shared a love for Buffalo and its history, especially it’s broadcasting history. We both had the same 1959 WKBW aircheck memorized when we met. Just ask him what happened at “the fire at the George Root, Jr. farm in the Cattaraugus County Village  of Randolph” the next time you see him.

We’re both Polish-Americans, interested in learning more about and celebrating our roots. We’re both garage sale shoppers, garbage pickers, and packrats, which has now helped up both celebrate Buffalo’s pop culture history on our websites. We both shared an interest in hearing the stories of people like our friend and co-worker Ed Little.

The kicker was, we both wore bow ties, at a time when Irving R. Levine and Pee Wee Herman were the only other two people in America doing so (even Charles Osgood was mixing in the occasional necktie then.)

I remember thinking then, “Wow! Radio’s great! A few months in, and I’m already meeting people who are just like me,” thinking that dorks like us grew on trees, and that I’d be meeting similar people left and right. Luckily for society, the day I met Marty almost 20 years ago, was the last time anyone has even come close.

Marty is like a brother to me, really the big brother I never had; a mentor and someone I have really looked up to since those weekend days we worked together at 2077 Elmwood Avenue.

He introduced me to many of my Buffalo radio and TV heroes for the first time. I’d met Danny Neaverth at Bells as a tiny kid, but Marty introduced me to him broadcaster to broadcaster. That same night, I met Irv Weinstein, John Zach, and Taylor & Moore, too. My head was spinning. He took me to tag along at great broadcasting events he’d been invited to, or to stop by Stan Jasinski’s show on a Sunday morning. Or over to Jack Mahl’s house.

Marty’d give me a call, and ask if I wanted to go to Cleveland or Hamilton to take some photos or check out the sites. We’d climb into his Honda Civic, and I couldn’t have thought of any better way to spend my time. Not as great, but still there for me; Marty also drove me home the first time I ever got drunk in that Civic. I was about 17 and it was at a WBEN Christmas Party.

He gave me an autographed picture of Ed Little as a high school graduation present. “JUDAS PRIEST,” says the inscription. I  laugh every time I think about what Ed must has said when Marty asked him to sign that.

It might not sound like much, but these were some of the great experiences of my young life. Discovering a friend with the same strange interests in the same weird stuff.

I wouldn’t be who I am today were it not for my brother Marty Biniasz, who continues to blaze the trail, inspire me with his passion and hard work, and nudge me when I need it. The guy has done more before 40 than most do in a lifetime.

So, this is a really crappy birthday present… a rambling essay just to let you know that I love you, brother. But it was either this, or a YouTube video featuring some really embarrassing audio that was at the end of a tape you dubbed for me once… I think it’s a 15 year-old Marty pretending to be Danny Neaverth introducing Perry Como records. You have to be pleased I chose this.  And of course, there’s always hope that Eddy Dobosiewicz will do something with flamingos.

So “sto lat,” and Happy 40th Birthday to my mentor, my friend, my brother.

b-kwik, Tim Hortons, & And With Your Spirit: My brain is a mess.

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Unlike many people, I don’t fear change. I thrive on it. It’s sad, of course, when something good changes, but you never know what good thing is going to come of it. Then you have two good things, the old one you remember, and the present one you can enjoy.

I don’t know what i would do if everything just always remained the same. And while I sometimes wonder why some people are just universally opposed to anything different; in many respects I get it.

Does our brain “harden” as we get older?  Am I ever going to be able to relearn things apparently more firmly implanted in my mind than I could have ever thought?

We all like to think we’re so smart, but I for one know I’m a mess. My mind is like the back room of some old office, with rusty file cabinets with papers hanging out and drawers that don’t close all the way.

It’s amazing to me how many things are hard-wired into who I am, and its only, apparently, conscious effort that allows me to do something different.

It’s never been more apparent to me than at mass. The new Catholic mass. Back in November, they changed the words around ever so slightly, to the prayers and responses I have been saying my entire life. Now I know all the new responses. I can say them to you right now. But if I don’t shut down all other programs in my brain, and am concentrating at any less than 90%, forget it. All the sudden, I’m the one guy dropping a “it is right and just to give him praise.”  (An old response that has been replaced with ‘It is right and just’ for you non-Catholics.)

I realize this is new, and it’s only been 4 months after 35 years the other way. But I can guarantee that should I still be counted among the living in 2030s, at least 5 times in that decade I will offer the wrong response at mass, and be angry with myself.

There’s a lot that is hardwired for me, and it frankly scares me. I drink a lot of coffee. Love Tim Hortons coffee, and I order lots of it. I’m fine to order my usual medium black coffee, and will get exactly what I want. The problem comes when I want something different, usually a size smaller.

Now about 15 years ago, US Tim Horton stores made the size shift that Canadian Tim Hortons stores made over the last few months. The smallest cup was discontinued, the medium became small, the large became medium and the extra large became large.

tim hortons sizes

When the picture of the cup that has been a small here for over 15 years pops in my head, I think of it as a medium. If there is time for me to have this rational discussion in my head, all is well. If I’m not paying attention, or am rushed, or change my mind quickly, I often get something different from what I ordered, and drop a “SONAVAB-” on myself.

Similarly at Mighty Taco, there was an order I used to make all the time, but can’t anymore. Every day, on my way home from work, I would stop at the Mighty Taco at Elmwood and Forest, (long gone!!) and order two super mightys, medium, no cheese. It cost $4.16. This was a ritual for maybe three years or so in the early 90s.

Fast forward to today, and I have been on a gluten free diet for 6 years, and eating a flour tortilla could potentially put me in the hospital. Still, if rushed or distracted, I will order two super mightys, medium no cheese, and  not even realize I’ve done wrong. My wife has stopped this from happening at least 4 or 5 times. I don’t think I’ve ever actually received that order, but i know I’d throw it out, disgusted with myself, and figure that at this point i just deserve to starve.

Is it really that hopeless to try to learn something new? I mean really learn it, make it the brain’s new default position? And is it a matter of a hardening brain, or it is that the brain is full and needs somehow to be defragged?

When I first learned how to read, I remember was reading everything and memorizing it. I knew the names of the side streets off McKinley Parkway in South Buffalo, because I’d read the signs and memorize them because I could. I can still go Como, Kenefick, Hubbell…. But I now have to think 3 or 4 seconds about the name of the street one block away from my house, which I have been able to see out my kitchen window for the last 12 years.

I have a hard time grocery shopping, because with maybe 70% of my attention, I’m looking for a box of something. After a minute or two, I’ll often realize that I’m looking right at it, and the box was changed in 1994.

With pretty good regularity, I go for the clutch when driving, even though I’ve had an automatic for 7 years.

bkwik logoWhile my specific examples might be unique, I know I’m not alone. I was in line at Dash’s not too long ago, when the woman blathering on her cell phone said, “I’ll call ya right back, I’m in line at b-Kwik.” After the woman left, I asked the young cashier  if she even remembered b-Kwik. “Yeah, from when I was in like second grade,” she said. Like a decade ago.

It’s also apparent in people’s voices. I spoke to Rick Azar at great length while researching my book on him, Tom Jolls, and Irv Weinstein. It was great to hear his voice get a taste of Spanish accent to it as he reminisced. 50 or 60 years of broadcasting with perfect diction can’t take away that beautiful espanol sound engrained in you as a kid.

I just marvel at the brain, and would love to know the mysteries of how and why it does what it does to each of us. I just wish it wouldn’t do whatever it is to me when I’m trying to order in the drive thru.

I’m a scofflaw. Don’t judge: Why you won’t see me leaving the library with books….

This is embarrassing, and I feel like I have to explain myself.

I love libraries. I mean, even for people who love libraries, I love libraries. I was a library aide at Orchard Park Middle School. On the off chance I had lunch or an off period in high school, I was in the library.

I can honestly say, in college, I probably spent more time wandering the stacks at the Lockwood Library– and learned more there– than I did in class.

I know the Grosvenor Room at the downtown library like the back of my hand. I can tell you almost to the shelf where many of the best books or collections of books are located in that glorious room. And though it was likely the vinegary smell of disintegrating turn of the century pulp paper that caused it, I wept for a moment when I stumbled upon my own book in those stacks. It really means that much to me, seeing my book there, I’ve never felt more like a legitimate author and historian. It meant so much more than having the finished books in my hand, or seeing them for sale at a book store.

I’ve even had the honor at speaking at the library. Downtown. Right between the escalators. About the book I wrote, available for borrowing from the library. Available to you, that is. But not me. You see, I don’t have a library card.

“WHA-A-A-A?,” you ask in a stunned voice. And it’s something that shames me; it really does. I can’t get a library card. Don’t hate me when I tell you that my library card was revoked when I was in middle school. A few hundred dollars in fines and lost books.

It wasn’t me. I know that no man in prison is guilty, but I’m really not. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but it was my scofflaw father who left me in this dire strait.

It was well known by the South Park High School Library, the Daemen College Library, the Niagara University Library, and, yes, the Buffalo and Erie County Library that my ol’man wasn’t too good at returning books. He would tense up at the thought of calling this theft, but that’s pretty much what it was.

I don’t know if he’d ever planned on returning volume after volume and it just got away from him, or whether he really thought one day he’d take them back when he was done with them. But suffice it to say, once when he was trying to write a book about world religions or something (It kept changing, and he rarely finished a project) he drove me to the library, and asked me to take out this big pile of big books. I was in 6th or 7th grade, and these were graduate level theology texts.

Somehow these books wound up in the same place where my parents kept my $120 in First Communion money for “safe keeping.” Neither the books nor the cash was ever seen again.

I had assumed the books were returned, until one day I tried to take out a book and sirens blared and an armed guard escorted me out of the library. Not really, but they said I owed hundreds in fines and loss charges. Dad promised to pay. Never did. I ribbed him about it for years, and always said he’d take care it. Didn’t.

There was always that thought, though, that if I really needed a library card, I’d go get a check from the ol’man and it’d be all set. Now I’ve got nothin’.

A few years ago, I applied again, but they bounced me. Its a shame I live with, but now feel a little better for having it out in the open.

Aside from good ol’books, one could go through a history lesson in audio/visual media in looking at what I’ve been barred from borrowing. I haven’t been able to take out record albums, VHS movies, CDs, movies on DVD, and now books for my NOOK.

So don’t tell me about how you can borrow e-books from the library. I’ve spent a lifetime (at least since I was 13) convincing myself that if a book is good enough to read, it’s good enough to own and put on the shelf.

And since I’m not shelling out that couple hundred bucks anytime soon, it’s something that I guess I’m going to have to continue to believe.