Buffalo and Greyhound

Assassination of President McKinly in Buffalo 1901St Patricks day 2008 saw me head to the Greyhound station in Syracuse for the relatively short trip to Buffalo where I was to speak at around 5 o'clock.  It was still late winter, there was plenty of ice and snow in piles along the highway and here on the edge of Lake Ontario the Homeland security border control were active.  They checked everyone on the bus before it left Syracuse and then boarded it again at the Rochester stop.  This was the 14th and final stop on the second leg of my tour.

It should have been a three hour trip getting me into Buffalo with a couple of hours to spare but perhaps half an hour out of Syracuse a tyre blew on the bus.  Not a problem you might think, it would only take 40 minutes for a replacement bus to be sent from the depot but no that's not the way Greyhound works.  Instead we were stuck at the edge of the highway for over two hours waiting for the bus that had left New York city that morning to catch up with us.  It's not that pleasant being broken down on the edge of an interstate, even in something as solid as a bus as a constant stream of 18 wheelers hurtle past only inches away at 100kmh.  I was to hear scary stories about drivers sleeping at the wheel later in the trip but even here it was not hard to imagine a driver who had left New York early that morning nodding off for a second and ploughing through the coach as a result.

After a couple of hours the New York bus finally arrived and there was a bit of a scramble to get off our bus and onto the New York one (it was not clear there were enough empty seats, I think some passenger may have been forced to wait for the next bus).  The the occupants of the NYC bus were pretty visibly not pleased to see us, most of them had a pair of seats to themselves and were trying to sleep, they didn't welcome the unexpected stop and the people squeezing in on top of them.  They guy I forced over was a bit frosty at first but we got chatting after a while, he was on his way from the Bronx across the border to Canada to catch up on his children from a relationship that had broke up.  He was pretty vague about it but it seemed he'd been unable to see them for some years, I guessed he may have recently got out of prison or something similar, he was certainly visibly concerned about the border crossing.

The bus route turns off the interstate to stop at Rochester and the clock was ticking.  At Rochester Homeland Security came on board and decided they didn't like something about one of the passengers at the back of the bust.  So there was a long delay while they took his ID and ran some sort of check on it.  Then they came back, handed it to him and said the bus could depart, I guess they couldn't find anything on him beside that he looked latino, enough to hold him and the rest of us up for 30 minutes. 

It was pretty clear I was going to get into Buffalo some time after the meeting was due to start so I rang ahead to warn them and they sais they'd hold on and have someone to meet me at the station.  As it was I got to then Greyhound stop some 30 minutes after the meeting was due to stop and it seemed to take an age to back the bus into the bay.  I couldn't spot anyone obviously looking for me but once I was off the bus I located my contact (I think I'd phoned ahead a description so really he found me) and we headed for the venue.

So forty five minutes after the start time and only 45 minutes from the end of the period that had been booked I finally started the talk in the Buffalo Pride Center.  The name had me confused in advance of arriving ('pride in Buffalos's' I'd wondered) but once I saw the rainbox flag I realised I was an idiot.  Reminds me of the German anarchists who visited Dublin years back and when we met them expressed concern at the number of Nazi shop fronts in the city.  On questioning them it turned out they meant the multiple outlets of the 'Paddy Power' betting shops!

I was too flustered at being so late to remember to count how many people were there, I'd guess about a dozen and I also forgot to pass the contact sheet around as I'd done at every previous meeting.  And the lateness meant I had to cut the talk as I went to try and leave at least some time for questions at the end.  But in the circumstances I think it went quite well.

Afterwards we ended up in a pub called the Founding Fathers which was decked with Paddys day stuff and full of people in green. I had sort of forgotten it was St Patricks day.  So at least I got a couple of beers in and the pub also did free salsa and chips which was a pretty impressive gimmick.  I was meant to be staying with the organiser of the meeting but his house had a power cut (which meant no heating) so I stayed in the house of a friend of his nearby.  The friend was a student trying to get an essay the following morning so I ended up spending Paddys' day night in a small room on my own somewhere in the Buffalo suburbs.

In 1900 Buffalo was the 8th biggest city in the world but today although it is still the second biggest city in New Yrok state it is dwarfed by New York.  The city population is only around 300,000, in the late 1970's it dropped by 30% in only five years due to the deindustralisation that I saw across all the cities that now form the rust belt.  Buffalo was another one of the cities which I was told was the poorest in the US, the per capita income is only 15,000 dollars.  In the last decade the city has demolished 2,000 vacant houses but its estimated 10,000 remain.  It has a single metro line and unusually this ia actually free to ride in the city centre although you have to pay once you go outside this.

In terms of historic anarchism Buffalo would be  best known as the city where the anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley in September 1901.  I blogged about this in my entry on Cleveland where I spoke about a month after the Buffalo stop. A time map of my route would look rather irrational at this point, a week before I'd been in Richmond, Virginia now I'd travelled all the way to Buffalo but the next stop a couple of weeks later was Miami.  The reason was that my visa was running out so I needed to cross the border back into Canada within 48 hours, the next leg of then trip was on a new visa I obtained on re entry.

The following day we had a small private meeting in the organisers house. My discussion had been part of a sequence of meetings he was doing to try and get a group together in Buffalo.  There were maybe half a dozen at that meeting, from what I remember we talked a good bit about whether they should join up with NEFAC (I thought they should) and also what sort of activity would make sense in Buffalo.  They did launch a group shortly after I'd passed through which is still going, this is Buffalo Class Action, and I see they have just launched a quaterly paper called ' Tenants United!'.  Publication of free local anarchist papers was one of the concepts I pushed in the private talks as apart from giving anarchism a public face I think the experience of writing for 'the man on the street' is much more politically useful then writing for the 'punk in the infoshop' which is the reality of a lot of anarchist publciations that depend on sales.

After the meeting it was back into the city and to the Greyhound once more where I again caught a bus coming from New York city, this time crossing the Canadian border for a two week break in my trip to get some regular sleep and food before the final stage which at this stage was still being put together by email.  I was pretty exhausted by the 14 stops that were in this leg, bringing my city count to 20 but the last and final leg was going to be much more gruelling taking in 24 cities from the South East back to the Rustbelt and on to the West coast to end in LA.

You'll find blog enteries for all 44 stops of my North American speaking tour on the site, I'm slowly returning to them and fleshing these out, you'll find the ones I have done this with at the  Extending the accounts of my North American speaking tour page.

WORDS: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


Hey, Buffalo Class Actions

Hey, Buffalo Class Actions paper is called "The Free Times." "Buffalo Tenants United!" is affiliated with BCA but is but is the main body for the Buffalo Tenants Union.


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