This is the last part of the “Off Broadway” article that was published during the pandemic. These are the memories of Alex Ramsey, who grew up on the East Side of the city. Interestingly, he has lived in Texas since 1977, but his fondest memories are from his youth. Alexander was born in 1956.
“The cohesion of the neighborhood itself made it a really special time and place to grow up.”
My final episode about growing up and finally leaving Buffalo.
It was mid-January 1977 and I had no idea what I was flying towards. I left the Dallas/Ft.Worth airport with a small bag, shorts and a t-shirt (it was 65 degrees in DFW). A simple 2.5 hour flight to Chicago, then a quick 50 minute flight to Buffalo and at 11:00 am, having left my apartment at 7:00 am.
While en route, the pilot came several times to broadcast Chicago weather warning updates. About 2 hours later he announced that downtown Chicago and O’Hare were closed due to ongoing snow squalls there, so we diverted to Dulles in Washington DC I thought, hmmm…I made arrangements with Phil Cupples at Southwire (the man who hired me – last episode), to start work in 7 or 8 days.
I thought, maybe stay a few days in DC to see the sights there since I’ve never been there, then fly to Buffalo. Then the pilot lights up – scratch Dulles, it’s closed too. He had mentioned turning around and returning to DFW, but scratched it due to lack of fuel. Towns just south of our flight path were closed due to ice conditions so the pilot went ahead announcing the option was land in a snow squall rather than in ice conditions.
Therefore, around 11:00 a.m. we landed in a white flurry in Syracuse, NY. We had to get out of the plane while we were on the tarmac, because the galleries adjoining the building terminals were 10′-12′ high. People were looking at me in my canvas Converse sneakers, in shorts, wearing my I love buffalo T-shirt. Neither jacket nor sweater. The airport was closed indefinitely, as was I90, so car rental or a greyhound was over.
Luckily I caught a taxi that took me to Syracuse station! No force other than Jesse James can stop a train, I thought. There was a train leaving for Chicago via Buffalo at 6:00 p.m., with the eta in Buffalo arriving at 10:00 p.m. The 6 o’clock in a creaky old train station in Syracuse was pounding. There were about 10 or 12 of us crashing into the pews which looked like Catholic church pews. At least the coffee machine was working, as were the sandwich machines and the terminal’s heating system.
Finally, after 7 laborious hours, we boarded at 7:00 p.m. I felt so naughty and dirty, craving a hot shower. At least the train seats were comfortable. We were furnished with small blankets and a pillow – a major improvement over sleeping on a wooden bench.
The conductor gave us frequent updates on the reluctantly slow train ride west into the eye of the storm (thanks Lake Erie!). After 12 hours of torture, we slip into the central terminal at 6:00 am. The conductor announces that for the FIRST time since 1832, trains will stop running in Buffalo (inside or out), as the railroads had no way of clearing the tracks to allow passage. He wished good luck to all of us – those who live in Buffalo. He warned us to be careful there – basically martial law has been enacted, threatening anyone who even tries to drive an unauthorized car. Only vehicles linked to FIRST responders – police, fire, paramedics, etc.
The old central terminal building is basically tucked away in a triangle of three streets. Paderewski Drive, running east to west, ended in the building’s parking lot to the east. Memorial Drive and Curtiss Street form a V. Curtiss ran south into the building and north into Broadway. Memorial Drive ran northeast from William Street and Fillmore Avenue, also to Broadway. None of these streets were plowed until you got to Broadway, which was designated “Snow Emergency Street”. It was continuously plowed to allow access for emergency vehicles.
The snow on Curtiss (the most direct path to Broadway), was – according to drifts – literally 4′-6′ high. Snow was still falling from the sky, blowing from west to east (I learned later, right by the lake). Temperature was around 10 degrees, high winds (I heard later 40-60 mph). I had to go home to Broadway with my suitcase and shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers. I could stay in the central terminal, but again on benches, and to what end?
So off I went, literally throwing the suitcase as far as I could. Then I had to crawl over the fins which were up to my armpits at the lowest point and above my head (I’m 6’1″). On the soft-topped fins, I was literally sinking into the snow. I had to dig up. My body was literally parallel to the ground for most of that arduous journey to Broadway. Even though I was shaking, I was sweating profusely, soaking my shorts and t-shirt, which made it feel exponentially colder.
The distance from the Central Terminal building where I exited on Curtiss to Broadway is about 1/4 to 1/2 mile…on dry sidewalk, 8-10 minute walk. I left the building at 6 am, and during my last suitcase toss, I heard it hit the ground… Mazel tov! I was digging with 2-3 feet of snow above me. Freezing and shivering as I was, it was actually warmer while digging because there’s no wind there. Last burrow and my head popped out – I could see the sidewalk of Broadway, with snow, still falling, down and to the sides, the wind howling. It was 7:15 a.m. 1h15 of painful walking and digging. As miserable, cold and exhausted as I was, it felt good to be on my feet, with my feet touching the ground.
18 years later, I was running the Dallas White Rock Marathon. Blue skies, icy streets and 16 degrees when I started the race. 4 hours later when I finished it was 26 degrees. I was cold and tired that day when I finished, but it was a piece of cake compared to the Curtiss Street event!
I was hoping my landlord Pete had come through the day, as he always has in past snowstorms – and he did. The only type of establishment that never closes in Buffalo – at least then – are the bars! I think the old “blue laws” in effect at the time in Buffalo prevented bars from opening until noon on Sundays, but otherwise most of the “Gin Mills” in Buffalo were open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. Sure enough, Pete, who owned a snowplow, kept a 2ft wide plowed path from Broadway, to his bar front door. The bar was open for business already at 7:20am, with 4 or 5 of the “regulars” at the bar drinking beer and knocking down shots.
Pete was surprised to see me, asking where I was and why? I was a freezing, shivering, tattered mess, but the old gas-heated building seemed then good. Pete unlocked the back interior door that led to the stairs of both of our apartments (the galleries adjacent to the building were 6′-8′ high). The door I would normally access to access Rommel’s staircase is at least 7′ high (top half all glass) was totally covered in snow drift. I couldn’t see!
The airport, if I remember correctly, remained closed for 8 or 9 days. I contacted Phil Cupples, explaining to him that I was “trapped” in Buffalo. As a great guy, he told me that Buffalo was making headlines in Texas and that he would keep the job for me until I could pull it off.
My parents couldn’t believe my 24 hour ordeal. Never has a hot bath felt as good as it did on this day. It took 8 or 9 days before the airport reopened. The driving ban was still in effect, so with my converse trainers, long pants/overalls (I’m glad I didn’t take all my clothes to Texas with me!), gloves, a coat borrowed from my dad and a beanie, carrying my suitcase… I again left my beloved parents to start walking to Buffalo airport. The 8 or 10 miles.
Luckily, I walked maybe 2 or 3 of those miles, before – gracefully – a volunteer firefighter (one on a snowmobile) saw me with the suitcase. He drove me as far as he could as they delivered medicine, insulin and hot food mainly to the elderly etc.
I got on the plane and we took off. We flew over downtown and Lake Erie. Only the rooftops were visible from above – a sea of white below me, hardly any movement. The skies were this purplish tone of blue. That day, the winds had died down, with temperatures in the teens range.
I said goodbye to the city of my birth – Queen City, Buffalo, New York – forever (apart from many visits over the years). I settled in Arlington – living in the same house I bought the following year, for 36 years. I worked this forklift job at Southwire for a few months, met GM, also for a few months, and after applying to several police departments, I was hired by 3 in 1 week! DFW Airport Police, Grand Prairie PD and Arlington PD.
For several reasons, I opted for Arlington. I told the recruiting sergeant. “Booger Red” Martin (never asked him how he got that name – didn’t want to know) about my experiences with law enforcement in Buffalo. He said to me, “You’re in Texas now, boy, we don’t play Yankees games here – we hire qualified officers.” Hmm I thought, what a new idea.
I spent 28 1/2 years with Arlington PD, retiring to start a new career in law enforcement with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office in downtown Fort. Worth for another 8 years, and retired with 2 pensions at 57 – after serving as an officer and deputy for 36 years, 7 months and 22 days.
I sold my home in Arlington and moved to Austin, TX to retire to a whole new career – full time grandfather to my beloved twin grandsons, 4 days a week, 9 10 hours a day, from the age of 7 months. ,
These days – part time with my little guys, soon to be 9 – I always make the short drive to my daughter and son in law’s house, I do them grandpa’s breakfasts from scratch – no cold cereal or microwaved stuff, take them to school, pick them up as needed, sleep over at G’pa every few weeks.
I never mentally adopted Austin like I did Arlington, but to this day every time – especially Texans – hear me say you guys instead of you allWhere Pee instead of pikaannI explain automatically, Buffalo, New York…… Go bills!
“Off Broadway” Part VII
Off Broadway” Part VI
“Off Broadway” Part V
“Off Broadway” Part IV
“Off Broadway” Part III
“Off Broadway” Part II
“Off Broadway” Part I
Main image: Wikipedia