Wednesday, October 18, 2006

East Aurora, New York to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The "lake effect" contributed to Buffalo's heaviest October snowfall on record

The garbage trucks woke me before 8:00. Kathy was just leaving. She slept on the sofa and said she never sleeps this late. Priscilla was up just in time to dress and dash off to work. I took my time packing. Washed laundry. Cleaned up a bit, as usual, trying to leave no trace of my presence.

Left a note to my cousin: “thanks for putting up (and putting up with) all us wayward Kampions.” Her house is like a roadside inn. (“Like the Pony Express,” she says.)

Overcast, but mild. I stopped in at Taste for a cinnamon roll and coffee. Numerous attractive young ladies! It is apparent that this town is drawing some affluent people these days. (Affluence and beauty are not necessarily coincident, but for some reason there does seem a common association between the two!)

For Taste, their coffee is the weak spot. (Their service is not great, but they could really improve the place by offering a higher quality coffee, or better yet, roasting their own.)

Off to Buffalo around 2:00 to have a look at the devastation from the early snow storm. Suddenly, it felt I was entering uncharted waters. I only know a few Buffalo landmarks.

I started on the east side exiting the Kensington Expressway at Harlem Avenue and worked towards downtown. The storm made a real mess, but my first impression: "this is nothing compared to Katrina’s devastation."

The entire city is busy cleaning up. City crews and homeowners everywhere, moving broken limbs, chainsawing, piling debris. At curbside, mountains were forming. I wandered into the Mt. Calvary Cemetery, which seemed particularly hard hit. (I didn't realize until much later, this is where my grandparents and other relatives are buried.) Most of the snow was already melted, though occasional banks survive in the shadows.

Continued downtown on the Kensington Expressway and somehow ended up on Parkside near Delaware Park and the Buffalo Zoo. This section was particularly hard-hit and zoo staffers formed a chain, dragging limbs out through the entrance gate to the street. Many four-lane streets have only two lanes open, with the curb lanes overflowing with debris piles.

Trees downed by snow in Buffalo's Delaware Park

Fallen branches litter Delaware Park

A crew carries debris from the Buffalo Zoo

I searched for West Oakwood Place, where my mother lived as a child, but soon got lost and discovered I was heading back out to the east side. Found my way to Delaware Park once again. I gave up trying to find mother's house, and instead just wanted to capture some images of particularly devastated neighborhoods.

Crews clean up a downtown Buffalo neighborhood

Found one such block near the park where crews were just beginning to chip up the debris. The street sign was barely visible through the piles of branches. It was Oakwood, where mom lived.

In Buffalo, I searched for the home where my mother lived as a child. After giving up, I decided to pick out a street that showed the worst of the snow damage. It turned out to be Oakwood Avenue, where my mother grew up. Her house is the charcoal with red shutters.

As I was taking pictures of her home, I met a black fellow who had parked along the street. He had lived 25 years in New Orleans. We talked about Katrina.

I asked him “do you live here?”

“No, I live on Grand island, but my people live here.” He pointed to the house he was parked in front of. I told him my mother lived two doors away - over 60 years ago. A gentleman he was waiting for came out to the car. He said his neighbor in the house between his and "mom’s" just passed away. He was the longest-living resident in the neighborhood. "His wife may remember the Grotzes. I'll ask."

Out in front of the house, a sign on the lawn showed a white dove and the words “nonviolence begins with you.”

Oakwood Avenue at Main Street

I felt my little mission in Buffalo was accomplished, and easily found my way back to the Kensington Expressway and onto I-90 towards Erie, Pennsylvania. Chilly, with low clouds blanketing the region, but my electric vest made the ride fairly comfortable.

Rode the New York State Thruway for an hour or so to the Pennsylvania line. The Thruway (a toll road) runs 495 miles from New York City to the Pennsylvania border near Erie.

In the air, I thought I smelled grape "Kool-Aid". Suddenly the forests gave way to vineyards. Near the Lake Erie shoreline, it appears thousands of acres of vineyard have been planted. From the fragrance in the air, it's still harvest time.

This has been the longest autumn I've ever experienced! From it's first traces in the Rockies, to the full-blown spectacle in Quebec, to the developing colors as I track westward again, it has been a great ride.

Gas prices dropped about 30 cents in Pennsylvania.

Running toward Pittsburgh, I pushed my speed well beyond the 65 mph limit. I needed to make Pittsburgh before nightfall. This part of Pennsylvania is densely forested, and it was clear to me that deer would be a significant hazard as darkness fell.

But there were lots of police as well. Many more than I'm accustomed to seeing. I spotted a driver who appeared to be using a radar detector and trailed behind him.

The Pittsburgh area has a very unusual geology for a city. It's almost hidden in folds of mountains. You can’t see the lay of the land. I got totally turned around. At some point, I just give up trying to follow my sense of direction and relied completely on directions from others.

Approaching the city on I-79, the informational signs that had been a regular feature on the highway for the past 100 miles suddenly ceased. "I guess you’re on your own." I opted for I-279 toward downtown. There were no hotels to be seen, except when I finally dropped right into the city center (where I obviously couldn't afford to stay.) I didn't stop, but just followed signs for the international airport. "There must be hotels out there!"

Well beyond the city center, I saw a Cracker Barrel sign and figured surely there would be hotels around it. I found an amazing concentration of chain and big box stores, and actually a number of hotels, but they were all "upscale" and business suite hotels. Continued further afield toward the airport. Moments later, I came upon an accident scene. A driver had just struck a deer. I was growing increasingly anxious. "What am I doing out here?"

Pittsburgh is surrounded by “belts”: green belt, orange belt, red belt, etc. What's this all about?

At the airport, I found only one hotel. Clearly a monopoly and certainly expensive. I stopped curbside at the terminal and asked some police officers where I could find the budget hotels. They told me to go south. South??? I was completely confused, but didn’t question it. I found a cluster of hotels near the Robert Morris University. they all looked a bit shabby. The Hampton was sold out, as were the others. (Anyway, they were overpriced for the conditions.)

Continued wandering, without a real direction. Ended up crossing a river (the Ohio, I learned later) into Sewickley, which I had recalled as the hometown of Thom, a consultant who worked with me at Mondavi.

This was getting insane. I finally resigned myself to back-tracking north on I-79. At the Wexford exit, I found one motel, the Best Inn. The $70 price was acceptable (even if there were buckets in the hallways catching water dripping from the ceiling.)

After unloading, I walked to a small shopping center down the road. There were several eating establishments, but Eat ‘n Park seemed clearly the most popular spot, so I went in.


Drew Kampion said...

Wow, major big stuff for early October ... but why so much damage? Two feet of snow is pretty ordinary for Buffalo.

timtraveler said...

This was unusually "heavy" snow and it arrived while most of the trees still had their foliage, so it added enormous weight.