Buffalo, Then (Part Two)

This week, the Buffalo News printed a piece on coffeehouses in the Gusto section of the paper. This was very cool and I am super excited for the continued success of coffee in Buffalo, NY. While the scene is growing today, we at Gen X Reactions are more on the side of nostalgia and enjoy a trip down memory lane when it comes to coffee. I am also famous (amoung my small group of family & friends) for being somewhat of an archivist (read: hoarder), which is why I have the following gem from 1997. It was an article on the ‘new’ coffee scene in Buffalo. I’m certain that the 90s were not the only booming time for coffee in Buffalo – I mean it is a Rust Belt city and what substance keeps the working people going like coffee – but it was a great time.

In the mid-90s, we were just getting the Seattle scene wave in the city and it was glorious. You could still smoke indoors, which made the ambiance of the coffeehouses much more mysterious and murky. Baristas talked to patrons like bartenders – the relationship was not merely transactional as it can feel today. Technology had not reached everyone yet, in the form of smartphones and only a few lucky (read: wealthy) kids had cellphones at all. We would sit for hours, playing mancala and chatting with the various people that frequented these spots.

So – without further ado – here is the article that I speak of. Enjoy the nostalgia and be sure to patronize the coffeehouses of today! They are cool in their own way and in 20 years we will look back on them with the same fondness we do for these joints. After all, Grindhaus is Java Temple, Remedy House is Stimulance, Tipico is Topic, and Aroma will always be Aroma. It is all in your perception.

Cover photo of Stimulance coffeehouse was taken by Robert Kirkham.
Not the best headline, but it was the 90s.
Caffe Aroma – still a mainstay of Buffalo, NY
Back when sPot was still The Spot.
References to Hallwalls are so 90s.
Gotta love that ‘coffee ring’. So retro.
Stimulance says, “why drink depression?”
One last capture to acclimate you to the 1997 pop culture scene.

This was truly a great time in Buffalo for coffee and camaraderie. The 90s had it all – grunge, caffeine, nicotine, and that thing where you ingest substances until 4 am and then get up for school the next morning at 8 am like nothing happened – I am pretty sure it is called youth (h/t to Stefan).

2019 is shaping up to be pretty awesome, coffee-wise, too for Buffalo – so check out the Gusto article for more on that. I must say that I was very disappointed that they didn’t include Caffe Aroma in the article, if even just to give a nod with spot and sweetness_7 as one of the originals. At this point, they ARE the original for Buffalo. They also snubbed my favourite coffeehouse in Buffalo: Grindhaus. Why they were left out is confusing since they are an excellent place to get your caffeine fix. They also have awesome food choices for a quick snack or a lunchtime meal – like the VLT with a side of mujadara or a ricotta toast.

Still – lots of awesomeness is finally happening in the Buffalo coffee scene. They have embraced third wave coffee much better than the previous generation embraced fair trade (Stimulance did do fair trade and a cup program, just for the sake of clarity) and the baristas are extremely knowledgeable now by comparison.

The coffee scene in Buffalo has definitely been revived, after surviving a dry spell in the first decade of this new century. So get out there and enjoy!

Peace and happy caffeinating,


The Tape

How often do you hear a song on the radio that can take you back to a specific place and time in your past? A song that is so indicative of a specific memory that you can, even if just for a moment, feel like you are instantly transported to a happier moment. This morning, on my way to work, the Billy Joel song “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” came on the radio and that feeling rushed over me. Most songs by Billy Joel, from his 1970s phase, will transport me through time, but this song has special meaning.

When I was a teenager I was obsessed with music from the 1960s and 70s. Billy Joel was one of my favorites because when I was a child my parents would play him, along with such greats as Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Yes, Carly Simon, Chaka Kahn, Jackson Browne, Chicago, Hall and Oates, Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, Queen, Jethro Tull, The Doobie Brothers, Stevie Wonder, and James Taylor, on heavy repeat. As you can tell from this list, which is just the tip of the iceberg, my parents loved music. My whole family was musical and that was one of the reasons I ended up eventually pursuing a degree in music, but that is for another post.

Getting back to Billy Joel, in 1999 I was living on Elmwood Avenue near Summer Street. At the time there was a Bakerman’s Donut Shoppe and a Wilson Farms directly across the street. Bakerman’s was not a good place to hang out at night. Things went down on that corner that most people in the neighborhood did not want to be involved in. At the time, I was working an overnight shift, so I was rarely at home during the nighttime hours, but on the weekends I would be off for 3-day stretches (working 4 by 10 is actually the best – I miss it) beginning at 10 am on Fridays and ending at 8 pm on Mondays. I would spend Friday trying to adjust back to a ‘normal person’ schedule and by Saturday evening realize that my adjustment had failed and simply return to the vampire life.

During this time I was driving a Toyota Corolla that I bought when I was in college (new!) and, by this time, had about 100K miles on it, easily. It was a huge upgrade from the 1985 Ford Escort that had a push button radio where the dial would shoot across to the set radio stations. Actually it was a 1985 and and a half (the 1/2 year changed over to flat headlights – hello Jeopardy – I’m ready for my appearance!)! Automatic locks, along with electric windows and cd players, were not yet standard in the 92 or 93 (my memory fails here) Corolla but I did, however, have a radio with a tape player!

I carried all my mixtapes around with me at all times, housed in one of those metal lunchboxes that many grrrls in the 1990s carried in place of purses. This one came with a CKOne set that I was given for Christmas one year so I just used it to store the tapes, never as a purse. It fit about 30 tapes at a time, so I had to place my tapes in a rotation from bedroom wall to silver lunchbox and back to the wall. The cassette player also had the flip feature, so when the tape got to the end it would flip over and start playing the other side. This was, truly, advanced technology for the time, which quickly became old news a few years after I bought my car.

One tape, in particular, was a favorite of mine and the Grunge Doctor‘s. And this, my dear readers, is what we now affectionately refer to as “the tape”. One night, after going out with the doctor (long before he became a doctor!) and his brother, I had dropped the brother off at home and returned to our apartment. This was a Saturday night and my plan was to park the car on Elmwood and not leave the apartment for the rest of the weekend. We had stocked up on the essentials from Wilson Farms and made sure that the beverages were filled to the appropriate levels. I arrived upstairs, threw off my shoes, sat on the couch and proceeded to loaf for 3 full days. (Ahh, my twenties were a wonderful and lazy time!)

Earlier in the year, my car was parked in the back parking lot at our building and it had been broken into. The drivers side window was shattered and the aforementioned silver lunchbox was stolen. I always believed that the people who stole it (they didn’t take anything else from my car) probably got super pissed when they got down the street and realized it was not a purse, but a box full of tapes. And MIXTAPES at that. Not even valuable outside of the sentimental value I had placed in them. Having had a break in happen to me already on this stretch of Elmwood Avenue, you would think that I would have been extra careful, but, this particular weekend I was more concerned with being off from work than worrying about my car. I left it parked on Elmwood for 3 straight days and never went out to check on it.

Little did I know, the brother had left the back passenger side door unlocked. He was already used to people having cars that locked automatically and did not know that he had to manually lock his door. Since he did not lock the door, it was available, on Elmwood, for 3 whole days and nights, to any passerby that decided to rifle through it. And rifle through it they did. When I returned to my car on Monday night to go to work, there was a distinct level of disarray that I noticed well before entering the car. The passenger side rear door was open, not just unlocked, but open. Everything that was formerly in my glove compartment was strewn across the front and back seat. Everything that was in my back seat was thrown all over. A blanket, 2 hats, a pair of gloves, a scarf, bottles from different beverages (maybe mine, maybe not), an umbrella, 2 ice scrapers, a snow brush, and various other bits of papers were scattered throughout the car. All of this was no big deal. Other than the violation of people rifling through my things, I had learned from the first break in to not leave anything valuable in the car, so I felt good about the fact that there were no broken windows and nothing major was missing.

Just as I was letting out a sigh of relief, I sat down in the driver’s seat, turned my head toward the center console, and saw it. My tape deck – my prized possession in the car – had the face ripped off. The person that was trying to steal the radio obviously didn’t realize that it was the manufacturer model, which meant that it was pretty securely in the dashboard, and really only the face was detachable with a great deal of force. I could tell that they had tried to pry the face off with my ice scraper and were unsuccessful. It was half off, so I ripped it the rest of the way. It was either that or leave it hanging there while I was driving and potentially have it fly off half way to work. I sighed again and started the car. After all, I had to go to work. As I started to head north up Elmwood to get to the 198 I noticed that the cassette tape that was in the player, prior to the break-in, was still there, in the player. And it was playing. This, I thought, was actually great. At least the cassette player still works. (Even though I was goth back then I still tried to look on the sunny side of these situations.)

After a few days of driving back and forth to work with “the tape” playing, it started to skip. Halfway through a song, it would stop and flip over and start playing the other side. In order to stop this from occurring, I shoved a matchbook above “the tape” to steady it, which appeared to work. After a week of listening to “the tape” over and over, I finally got bored with it and decided to eject it so I could listen to the radio. But, of course, that was not possible now since the face was missing from the cassette player and I had no way to get to a station. I also realized I could not put in another tape because the eject button was gone. “The tape” was the only thing I would ever be able to listen to in the car, ever again. It would be either “the tape” or silence in my Corolla henceforth. A break in that didn’t seem like that big of a deal became a really big deal in a matter of minutes in this realization. Now I would have to listen to my hits of the 1970s for eternity.

Oh right – I never told you what was actually on “the tape”! So, as you may have guessed, the first song on side A was “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” by Billy Joel. The first song on side B was “The Tide Is High” by Blondie. These two songs were the most frequently listened to due to the constant flipping. I went through a multitude of matchbooks to try and make the flipping stop, but in the end, the cassette player won that battle. Other songs that graced “the tape” were “Come Sail Away” by Styx, “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac, “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull, “The End” by the Doors (of course) and many others that I cannot recall. I am sure that the doctor remembers more than I do, since he was my most frequent passenger during “the tape” years. Yes. Years. He actually got so annoyed with this situation that, for the holidays one season, he headed to The Stereo Advantage (now defunct) and bought me a new cassette player for my car.

Ah – sweet relief. I had the new player installed in January and the universe righted itself. When I went to pick up my car from the shop that installed it, the installer asked me if I wanted him to dislodge “the tape” so I could listen to it in my new player. I looked at him with a look of disgust that he probably thought was super rude and said: “um – no – I’m done with that.” And that was the end of “the tape”. But was it? I still love all the songs on that tape, individually, and I made a playlist that is a homage to “the tape” and my youth. So if you are looking for a fun trip down memory lane, instigated by “the tape”, check out the link below. You will NOT be disappointed.

Peace and happy listening,


Buffalo, Then (Part One)

Certain neighborhoods can be a magnet to those that inhabit them multiple times over several years. Main Street in Buffalo is no exception. Specifically the section located between Hertel Avenue and Niagara Falls Blvd.

In the 1990’s, Main Street was a destination for high school and college students alike. The main meeting place was a coffeehouse called Stimulance. Inhabiting the space next door to Talking Leaves bookstore, Stimulance offered not only some of the best coffee and bagels in town (they mixed, boiled, and baked them in house) but also events that were geared toward the teen and twenty something Gen Xers that were hanging around at the time. This was before NYS passed the no smoking laws so a night at Stimulance could include not only the stimulation of an espresso laden beverage, but also a pack of smokes which you could buy on the premises in the old fashioned cigarette dispenser between the two unisex bathrooms, located across from the counter.

Upon entering the space, one would be greeted immediately by the friendly, hipster staff. For regulars, a specific coffee cup and a seat at the bar awaited them. A refuge from the cold weather or the aggravation of the daily grind was something that could always be found there. A small area with couches and coffee tables was situated up front, to the left of the door and a stage was setup in the back right corner. Open mic night and poetry readings abounded in this space and most Music and English majors from Buffalo State, UB, and Canisius eventually found themselves on the stage singing or reciting poetry and prose.

Staying open late into the next morning was a feature of all the coffee houses during this period of caffeine excellence in Buffalo and Stimulance was no exception. Patrons would shuffle in from the local bars, after a night of drinking, and sober up over a pack of Marlboro reds and a cup of Fair trade Sumatra. Stimulance was one of the only establishments to brew beans that were ethically sourced and they led the movement to get other coffee houses on board as well. Always forward thinking, the owners were happy to provide the best quality products and stressed the importance of these items in the greater landscape of the coffee industry.

When the smoking laws began kicking in, Stimulance tried to keep up by enclosing the front room for smokers. Once the full indoor smoking law was passed though, Stimulance could no longer remain open. Coffee and cigarettes were so intertwined that they lost large swaths of their customer base causing them to sell the business and move on. Much like Java Temple, Topic, Cybeles, Coffee Bean Cafe, and 3Bs, Stimulance was an institution of coffee in Buffalo that will never be recreated. The 90s were truly a golden age of coffeehouse culture in Buffalo and no matter how many pour overs one ingests it can never replace the feeling one obtained from sitting at the bar at Stimulance, smoking a cigarette, reading the artvoice, drinking a quad shot mocha, and talking about the latest news in the world of culture, activism, or music with a truly interesting barista. Those days are most certainly gone and all that remains are the memories of a better time in Buffalo.

Trying to Process


In my shoes, a walking sleep
And my youth I pray to keep
Heaven sent hell away
No one sings like you anymore

I’ve had a few weeks to deal with it and I don’t think I’ll ever process the fact that Chris Cornell is dead. I’ve read posts on social media, articles on the Internet, and even listened to interviews of those who claim to be close friends or family. None of that has helped any. Talking about it has made it more real rather than provide any kind of distance. Absorbing all of the music he produced in his short life is the only thing that truly helps, but I think that’s only because that fools my soul into believing he is still alive. He lives on in my speakers and my headphones. He can still affect us when we hear him sing and he can fool us all that he’s doing just fine.

His death gave me an opportunity to revisit the music of my youth: grunge. When I was a teenager, one of the reasons I loved this genre is because there wasn’t a clear definition of it. Those who didn’t know would never know and that was fine by me. I knew that us insiders were in the know and this music was ours. We didn’t need to define it or explain it. We just listened to it and that was enough. Twenty five years later, I am trying to create a playlist on my computer I aptly named GRUNGE4LYFE and I have to be honest—I am struggling with deciding which bands should be included! Why wasn’t there a clear line delineated so we knew who was grunge and who wasn’t?

The obvious components are included: Mother Love Bone. Pearl Jam. Soundgarden. Temple of the Dog. Nirvana. Screaming Trees. Alice in Chains. Mudhoney. Hole. But it’s at this point I get stuck. STP? No—they weren’t from the Pacific Northwest. Scott Weiland only sounded like Eddie Vedder; he wasn’t actually grunge. Billy Corgan did not play grunge music so the Smashing Pumpkins are out. Who else? Do I put the Lemonheads in? What about Bush or L7 or the Foo Fighters? Was grunge over by the time Grohl started his band? Wikipedia has a list of American Grunge Bands, but I don’t follow that, mainly because it doesn’t follow the classification of grunge I have in my head.

My categorization of grunge is: a subgenre of alternative rock that began in the early 1990s in the Pacific Northwest. While many traditional definitions of grunge embrace the style or fashion that includes baggy or torn clothes, I do not. So bands that were founded in Los Angeles or London or New England are not included in my definition of grunge. Maybe my characterization is too narrow. Maybe I am not being inclusive enough. I don’t care. I am not saying that anything outside of this definition is not worth listening to—far from it. I am just saying this is what grunge is and this is whom I included in my GRUNGE4LYFE playlist. Needless to say Mr. Cornell was featured quite prominently in my list.

As I said earlier, it has taken me a while to get over Chris’s death. And I use his first name because although I did not know him personally, he has been a part of my life since I was a teenager. He and I are part of the same generation. He came with me on road trips; he motivated me when I was feeling apathetic; he stuck by my side when other people in my life didn’t. And all that being said, I don’t think I would have counted Soundgarden and Audioslave as my favorite bands. Back in the day the argument was always Pearl Jam versus Nirvana. You were on one side or the other. Soundgarden was in the background just rocking the EFF out not caring which side you were on. And Chris was in the front belting his words out as softly or as brutally as we needed. As we now all know, he carried the weight of his life on his shoulders. He wasn’t healthy. He was in pain and he needed help. Eventually that all became too much and he needed out. Maybe the reason I haven’t been able to come to terms with this death is because he was the one who stuck around. He was able to drop the drug habits that killed Kurt and Layne in one way or another back in the mid 90s. He made it through his twenty-seventh year. He spoke for Generation X when others were not able to and in a way others just couldn’t. Soundgarden broke up and he was still able to go on to do other amazing things and then ultimately get back together with his bandmates. He made it to his fifties. He would be around for the long haul. Obviously I was wrong.

He left us with hundreds of songs and maybe even a handful more that we haven’t heard yet. After I collected all of my grunge tunes into one list and hit shuffle, the first song that came on was “My Wave” from Superunknown. These words seem somehow fitting:

Cry if you want to cry, if it helps you see; if it clears your eyes…


Cheers to you, Chris.