A Buffalo birthday with friends.
Last Friday, the 23rd of May, was my birthday. I went up to my old haunt of Buffalo, New York to visit an old friend who goes by the name of Smethan.
For a good four year period at the beginning of this decade I would swing through Buffalo for a quick stay each summer in a dirty attic full of friends, music, and the youthful spirit of revolt. A collection of tales an memories were made with these friends, and now I still enjoy a good swing through Buffalo to talk of the old days when we were but black clad kids out looking for kicks, rejecting every vestige of our culture, while taking on the new dawn with the passion of antiquated anarchy. The loud portion of my early 20’s youth was left there in that hopeless city.
Buffalo is a rotting, sunless hole of nothingness, but the people there are good, and the city has provided me with plenty of memories of good times, crazy times, and sad times. I have thoroughly enjoyed my runs through that city.
I once took heed to “settle” in Buffalo for a month or so every year while transitioning between traveling in South America and working archaeology projects on the Road in the USA. It was a part of my traveling process, and created a sense of “home” for me when out on long journeys. I had a large group of around 30 or 40 friends who lived on a dead-end street in North Buffalo who lived off of dumpster diving, shop lifting, loud music, and scamming corporate business. We went for extremes, and found them in the long dark nights of youthful anarchism. A can of spray paint, a political issue, and nothing else to do provided us with many nights of love, rage, treasure hunts, and rampages. We had fun. I learned how to eat bitter and to live off of nothing. We had not a dime to spare between us all, but we always found the means to laugh.
But in recent years, my visits to Buffalo and these friends have been cut down to a day or two here and there every couple of years. The times are no longer the same, my friends have grown up: some got married, some got jobs, some moved to the western desert, and some have disappeared into the abyss of train hopping and road-dogging. The punk houses of Buffalo had open doors to all travelers, and many a night kids would hop off their ride in the train yard and make their way to the attics that I occasionally coveted. All travelers were welcomed to make themselves at home in Buffalo, and I took full advantage of having a place to temporarily hang my hat. I must say that I miss those Buffalo days when I would dwell in a dirty attic with crazy thoughts in my head and a smile on my face, pondering with disbelief that we had really pulled off our little adventures.
I remember one time when we had just gotten back to “home base” after dropping some political banner over a highway overpass, which myself and a group of friends had prepared to do for the entire previous week. The banner said some radical political statement about “no this” or “no that.” I do not quite remember what I was saying “no” to at that time, but whatever it was I thought that by doing so the world would be saved. I said “no” a lot in those days. I had not yet gained the knowledge that the world is OK and the only person that I need to save is myself.
But alas, myself and a group of black clad comrades prepared for an entire week making this banner and planning on how we were going to execute the drop with military precision while dodging the Man on our junky old bicycles. We wore black hooded sweatshirts, black Carhartt double kneed dungarees, big black combat boots, had multi-tools strapped to our belts, black knit caps on out heads, and black bandanas over our faces. The most extreme of us even made their coffee with French presses.
Yes, we pulled off our much too executed plan to perfection and looked upon our flying banner with pride as we rode off into the night. We thought we had won some kind of small battle and talked of the minds that it would blow as early morning commuters would see our “no this, no that” political message over the highway as they rode to work. But as we rode our bikes away from that banner dropping site, I looked around at nighttime Buffalo, and realized that I was just doing all of this for kicks. I really knew the that my mission was futile and my actions fruitless. I knew that dropping banners and going to protests in body armor and being run down and beaten by police was just plain fun adventure. I then realized that I could no longer take myself or radical politics seriously. It was all only a joke which took me a few years to understand the punch-line. But on this bicycle ride home the punch-line shown crystal clear and I laughed and laughed. I was just a young kid who came to terms with his youth, and found it all to be so glorious.
These were the kicks that all 20 year olds should strive for. We had a war, corporations were taking over the world, and we thought that the human condition was riddled full of strife and famine. And so we prepared to fight tooth and nail with slogans, sling shots, banners, spray paint, and home made body armor. But we really just had good time.
Our talk was of downing the man and upping freedom, meatless meat, and bad music. We were anarchists and made ourselves feel real free with all of our liberty talk and the decadent dreamings of long gone political movements that we read about in dusty old books. We were on the front lines of a battle for kicks, self-made adventure, and crazy times. We were beaten up by riot cops, ran down by horse cops, put in jail, and loved every moment of our self-assembled “struggle.” But I knew nothing of anarchism in those days, and my mind found itself entangled in far more chains than liberty. I confused freedom with fighting, and I became tripped up by my natural human drive to seek out and revel in conflict.
But we had fun.
Last Friday I returned to Buffalo to meet with my old friend Smethan. This kid is a real friend, and he always provided me with a free bed on my yearly temp stops in Buffalo. When I think of it, he is one of only a handful of real friends that I have, so I make sure to visit him when ever I come through the USA. On this most recent encounter, I found him with hair down to his shoulders, taller than ever – he seems to be like seven feet tall now – and with a big smile on his face. We hugged and then got right into talking about old times and the riot we had while pretending to be revolutionaries.
We drank wine and whiskey and he told me about his plans to be married. The world is turning itself into poetry. Buffalo is moving farther and farther away from me, as I am it. I now think of my times in that city in terms of nostalgia. It is no longer immediate; I no longer hang my hat there; I no longer step in from the Road to find shelter in the embrace of friends and a dirty old attic.
Keep stepping forward and you will invariably move away from what you leave behind. Travel and time turn on the same axis. But I do enjoy brief looks back on the ongoing forward Road.
The USA is my home and home is for nostalgia.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3657 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York
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