Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Forest Lawn Cemetery: Buffalo, NY

Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, NY was founded in 1849, 11 years after Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. The two are very similar—designed during the rural cemetery movement—which is why it was suggested that I should definitely see Forest Lawn during our recent trip to Buffalo.

One of the first monuments you encounter upon entering through the main gates is dedicated to the only child of Mr. and Mrs. John Blocher, who died after a year's illness. The elaborate, glass-enclosed memorial features the Blochers dressed in their Victorian best, standing watch over their son, who looks as if he's just fallen asleep while reading. An angel hovers above, and although it's all rendered in beautifully white stone and everyone looks serene, the cumulative effect is still unnerving.

Like Green-Wood, Forest Lawn is very large—269 acres—and I feel like I could go back several times and barely scratch the surface of all there is to see. It's still an active cemetery, and a lot of what we saw looked like newer burials, with ample space to continue accepting new residents for years to come.

Forest Lawn has it's share of famous (and "famous") inhabitants, including 13th president (and Buffalo resident) Millard Fillmore; Louise Blanchard Bethune, the first female architect; Aretha Franklin's mother; Irving Berlin's wife; many former Buffalo mayors; Civil War generals, and Rick James (bitch).

But the best find of all is definitely this tombstone, belonging to Timothy Switala, who died in 2002. It's the only one I've found so far in all of my cemetery exploration that is a modern stone, carved in the style of the 1700s stones that I love so much. I can forgive the modern depiction of the atom because that winged skull is so very wonderful. I've long wondered why designs like this went out of favor and wished that they would make a comeback. I'm sorry for the Switala's family loss, but I'm so grateful to have found his incredible stone and to know it's entirely possible to render the classic designs with modern materials—here's hoping I see more of these in my future cemetery travels.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Tepee

I was in roadside attraction Nirvana recently when my dude and I hit the road to go visit his parents in Buffalo, NY. We decided to make a proper road trip of it, and gave ourselves one whole day to make the 6.5/hour journey. When I realized that our proposed route would take us right by The Tepee, I immediately added it to our must-see list.

The Tepee is located halfway between Cherry Valley and Sharon Springs, NY, right off of Route 20 (also halfway between Boston and Niagra Falls). It was built in 1950 and is currently owned by the Latella sisters, the third family to own to Tepee. It's always been a souvenir shop, filled with Native American-themed gifts—which I suppose is exactly what you should expect to find inside of a huge, metal tepee.

The site offers a panoramic view of Cherry Valley, which you can enhance via a (somewhat cloudy) "telescope for public use" by the American Lens and Photo Company. There are also snacks available at Tepee Pete's Chow Wagon, including what their website hails as his "nearly famous chili."

I'm thrilled that there are still wonderful people out there like the Latella sisters, who see the value in a weird little roadside attraction like the Tepee. I hope that people continue to slow down and pull over to check out the view, buy a pennant or pair of moccasins or just to say hello.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The GoodFellas Diner

On Saturday my friends and I walked to what is now my very favorite diner in the city, the GoodFellas Diner. I don't make that distinction lightly, and there are still a lot of diners on my to-do list, but it was nearly perfect. The diner wasn't named GoodFellas when the movie filmed scenes there (it's also called the Clinton Diner), but now it's pretty obvious they've decided to align themselves fully with their namesake film. Despite none of us having seen the movie, we graciously accepted when we were greeted upon entry and asked if we wanted to sit at the "Robert DeNiro table."

The outside of the diner looks like it came from the same makers of the wonderful Market Diner—which is now (quite depressingly) completely demolished. The zig-zag shaped roof is nearly identical to the Market's, although the GoodFellas Diner is quite large with a front room, main diner area, counter and a back bar room.

We arrived at the diner at about 1pm, and it was nearly empty. By the time we had finished our meals we were the only people in the diner, in addition to our waitress and two cooks. I was both thrilled and saddened to have the entire place to ourselves. We had free reign to take photos and explore, which I love, but also I worry about the longevity of places like this—diners are dropping like flies and I want them to not only survive, but to thrive.

Not everything in the diner feels 100% authentic, but the overall effect is still dazzling. The red and silver glitter vinyl booths, stools, chairs and amber-colored lamps are beautiful, but my favorite is the counter with its scalloped edge and basket weave printed top. It's also one of the longest diner counters I've seen, sitting at least 15 people.

The signs inside of the diner are really exquisite, advertising wonderful-sounding menu items such as Beefburger Steak, Fried Filet of Sole, Romanian Steak, London Broil, Beef Goulash, American Fries and Liver with Onions. I love the proclamations "Our Pies Are So Good," "The Best 1/2 Lb Burger in Town" and even the simple and to-the-point "We Serve Grits."

Our hostess/waitress/(probably) owner was so incredible—and straight out of Central Casting. She was generous with the coffee refills, let us linger as long as we liked and was eager to show us around. We didn't have the heart to tell her that none of us had seen the movie, and it seemed easier to pretend rather than to explain that we all just really love diners.

The recent loss of the Market Diner (and seeing a huge hole in the ground where it used to be) really hit me hard. I've lived in New York long enough to begin to see places I love and frequent disappear—and be replaced by luxury condos or something equally soulless. It's sad and unfair but also just a reality of life, especially here where change is a constant and money talks. I can only hope that for every diner I lose, I find another special gem like the GoodFellas Diner to help soften the blow.