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Empty City, Empty Streets (the book)

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This is Rich

This is Rich. We met this morning as I walked to work in the rain. I heard him before seeing him. “Are you having a blessed day,” he called to me as I passed. He pronouncing blessed as two distinct syllables, “bless-ed.” Turning, I was surprised. He looked old enough to be my father, but he was out asking for change to get something to eat on a rainy Wednesday morning.

I had gift cards to two separate restaurants and asked which he preferred. His eyes lit up and asked, “Can I have both, I’ll use both if I can have them.” So I handed them over. He kept glancing at the camera that was tethered to one hand so I asked if I could capture his image. Before the words were out of my mouth he smiled and said yes.

He told me that he is an army war veteran and was discharged in 1980. I don’t know if this is true as I’ve learned that only a small amount of what people tell me on the street is actual. But nonetheless, here was this old man asking for change. I only had a minute to chat as I was on m…

The Blessedness of Blessed Trinity...

This evening I rode to Blessed Trinity RC Church on Buffalo’s east side. My intention was simply to capture some images of the crazy exterior brickwork which I have heard about. But I was unprepared. By this I do not mean unprepared in that I had forgotten a lens or battery or something other camera-oriented (which I’ve been known to do). What I mean is that I was unprepared for the incredible beauty of both the interior of the building and also the Mass, which I accidentally attended.

The church resides in one of Buffalo’s financially-challenged neighborhoods, so as I coasted up to the building its splendor was a juxtaposition to the surrounding area. While locking my bike to a railing the sound of the priest chanting echoed out a side door.

I have to qualify this post in a few ways. Firstly, while I consider myself Christian in that I try to follow the teachings of Jesus the Christ the best I am able—but usually fail miserably—I am not Catholic. I mention this because a Catholic mass,…

When did we see you hungry?

This is an image of the Homeless Jesus sculpture which is outside St Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Buffalo and adjacent to one of my favorite micro-parks in the city, Cathedral Park. If you are not familiar with this statue, Google it. It has an interesting history and is quite moving. Anyhow, I was pedaling by and stopped to take a photo. People had left items on the statue for the homeless. Visible in the photo are a couple vests, a blanket, and a bag of sundries. When I see this it truly makes my heart swell. To paraphrase Anne Frank, “Despite everything people are still good.”  People want to help.

Anyhow, as I knelt to take the photo unbeknownst to me there was a guy lying on a bench in the distance watching me. When I looked up and saw his eyes staring at me from under the blankets it at first startled me, but I also couldn’t help notice how similar he looked to the Homeless Jesus statue lying on a bench in front of me. Also, what I didn’t know until arriving home and up…

Hummus with Ancho Chilies and Lime

So here's yet another version of that incredibly versatile, delicious, and nutritious concoction known as hummus. Here I made a sort of Southwest American adaptation on the classic...I added ancho chili and lime (and a bit of smoked paprika for added smokiness). The outcome is incredible...slightly smokey. slightly spicy, super creamy, and bursting with flavor. I ate it with cooked and raw vegetables, plain yogurt, and fresh cilantro; slathered it all up with naturally leavened whole wheat flat bread which was rolled thin using my late grandmother's rolling pin which was brought from "the old country." Anyhow, try this...you'll be glad you did. Hummus with Ancho Chilies and Lime

Makes about 3 cups

1 cup dried chickpeas
2 teaspoons baking soda, divided
3 ancho chilies
3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2/3 cup tahini

Place the chickpeas and 1 teaspoon baking soda in a bowl and cover…

First Selfie...

This is not my first selfie but it is the first that I remember. That’s me on the right and roommate Paul on the left. We are sitting on the front steps of the roach infested tenement which we shared (along with the late Gerry Brien III) in Poughkeepsie, NY 1986. I remember this day well though it was 34 years ago.

I set the camera on a tripod—a trusty Canon AE1 which sits on the shelf beside me now—and set the timer for 10 seconds then dashed back to the steps to look natural. Thus the reason my scarf is askew. This is a scanned image of the original photo and the original is on my desk as I type these words. But I digress as I often do. Let me begin again.

This evening after a meeting at church I had stopped out for a beer and a bite to eat and ran into someone who addressed me as Chef George. He’s a successful business owner now but 20 years ago was a student of mine. He had many kudos, which is something I don’t handle well. I kept diverting the topic.

The reason this is pertinent i…

Things that can be carried on a bike (#743), plus a brief observation…

Yesterday I rode my old workhorse, a Yuba Mundo v3. Years ago I dubbed it “Sal” as in “I've got an old mule and her name is Sal, fifteen years on the Erie Canal.” The bike weighs 70lbs (32km) with nothing on it; it is slow, but it gets the job done. I had forgotten how fun it was to ride this bike. Anyhow, and this said, yesterday while riding slowly and carrying a few things a couple thoughts came to mind. One is that voluntarily giving up car ownership 10 years ago was one of my best decisions and that I’ll likely never own a car again. The other thing is that as I’ve gotten older riding hasn’t seemed to get more difficult but just that places which I’ve traveled to many times have gotten slightly farther away. Like Sal—the bike—I may move a bit slower but get the job done.

On the bike… two 4ft (1.2m) perforated metal tubes, a couple small pieces of sheet metal, an electric space heater, a camera bag, two jackets, and a small bag of screws and bolts.  

Show Me!

This evening I went to the waterfront
to see beauty
wanting it
needing

So I spoke
aloud
but quietly
to the Universe

Show me
I said
almost demanding
then waited

She laughed
then lifted Her veil
and I knew
that I was alive
This is Boniface, we met this evening while I was downtown capturing images and he asked if I was “taking photos for my postcards.” That made me smile. Detecting an accent, I asked where he was from and that’s when I learned his story. He is from Nairobi, he is his father’s eldest son and came here two years ago with him with hopes to bring his remaining family once established; they are currently in Kenya. His father became ill last year and died; he’s been on the street until recently. His heart is both bursting with joy and also heartbroken, he told me. Just today, through a local agency, he was able to get an apartment, and also last week he was awarded permanent resident status in the US, that’s the card he’s holding. He also proudly showed me the small American flag which is in his wallet that the government gave him with the card. The reason his heart is broken is that earlier in the day he saw a woman walking downtown and her high-heel got caught in the pavement and she fell. …

Why I Don’t Scream (in the kitchen)

So a couple things. This is a photo of me pretending to scream at at friend and coworker, the late Kara Evancho, more than a dozen years ago. You can see it was a joke because she’s laughing hysterically. I can’t remember who captured this photo but I love it. Anyhow, I’m posting this because someone who is close to me has recently been the target of the aggressive behavior of a chef. I cannot believe this still happens in 2020. One does not learn from a screaming chef, they only know not to piss them off. A screaming chef shows not only their own insecurities but also their own self-loathing. And I am fully aware that someone now has their fingers poised at their keyboard to counter this. One of my favorites was where one of my pieces was published in a national magazine—titled, An Open Letter to Gordon Ramsey, which is still floating around the internet—where I spoke of the disservice he was doing to the entire industry by screaming at his cooks. There were many comments but my favo…

Seeds...

In the summer of 1982 I wrote these words:

We are bodies with some pleasure and pain, we toil for our gain. We are bodies with souls for a brain.

At the time I was 19 and for whatever reason have been thinking of this lately.

Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 3 that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun.”

In his book, New Seeds of Contemplation, the radical monk Thomas Merton writes, “Every moment and every event in every person’s life on earth plants something in their soul” (edited to make it gender-neutral).

Nearly 40 years after writing the aforementioned words I am still not entirely sure what I meant other than to question.

Question life; our very existence.

What is a life, I wondered then just as I do now?

Is it simply a series of events strung together one after another, walking ourselves from womb-to-grave, or is it something more? I like to think the latter. That everything we do and think changes us and those around us. That each moment does…

Harissa!

There are probably as many recipes for this fiery North African condiment as there are cooks who make it. This is my version. Traditionally it has a coarser consistency but I prefer it smooth so put it through a blender rather than a food processor (no doubt it was originally made with a mortar and pestle). The applications for harissa are also many. While I ate it with roast and fresh vegetables this evening it is equally at home with meat, poultry, and fish. The process is simple...roast the peppers over an open flame (click here to see how), toast the seeds in a skillet, then place everything in a blender and puree it. The simple recipe is below.


Harissa

Makes about 1 ½ cups

2 red bell peppers
2 serrano peppers
½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
½ teaspoons whole coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon whole caraway seeds
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon salt

Place the bell peppers and serrano pepp…

Roasted Beet Hummus

A couple notes regarding this recipe. Firstly, it's delicious. If you've never had beet hummus you should try this. Not only is it pretty to look at but the beets add a lot of nutrients. This said, to have this very smooth and creamy make sure the beets are cooked until soft and the chickpeas are overcooked with most of their skins removed (directions below). This recipe was made with dried chickpea (where they need to be soaked over night and then cooked for at least an hour), but it works equally well with canned chick peas which, after draining, you simmer in water for about 15 minutes with a teaspoon of baking soda (to overcook them and loosen their skins). 1 cup dried chickpeas when cooked equals about 3 cups; 2 (15oz) cans chickpeas equals about 3 cups. The recipe is below. 

Roasted Beet Hummus (bil tahina)

Makes about 3 cups

1 cup dried chickpeas
2 teaspoons baking soda, divided
2 medium beets
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspo…

This is Johnny Lickers.

This is Johnny Lickers. We’ve chatted before but not in a few years. Today as I pedaled home from a grocer he was on the corner sipping from a bottle so I stopped and asked if I could capture his image. “Yea, sure,” he said, “the news did a story on me recently.” When asked who interviewed him or what news he couldn’t name them. He told me that he started adorning his bikes with different things when he was a kid, “It makes them more difficult to steal,” he added. The mask hanging off the bunny’s ears were a nice touch, I told him. Both times we’ve spoken he made a point to tell me that he is a Native America, part of the Onodaga Nation, and that his brother is police chief. We chatted for a bit and he said he remembers me; he also suggested we should grab a beer together. I offered him a gift card instead, “Good, now I can get something to eat,” he responded. There are so many different people in the world and to me this is one of the things that makes life so interesting. Things wou…

Show Me.

Sometimes when I’m stressed or tired or a combination of both which was how I was feeling today I’ll ask the Universe either silently or aloud to show me Her beauty. And She never fails. As I was unlocking my bike today after a busy day at work—stressed and tired, as aforementioned, but also really sweaty—I spoke those words allowed; I threw them out as an exhale as if it were as natural as breathing. And it is if we allow it. Then I looked to my side and saw this flower looking back at me. Its edges withered from the late summer’s sun but the center still bursting forth full of life and ready to recede into another long winter’s hibernation. It’s all right in front of us, and we are part of it.

This is Donald

This is Donald. We’ve met in the past and I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me when I saw him this evening collecting cans in a downtown square; his hand is visible holding his bag of cans. It’s a public place where—given the current Covid conditions—the authorities have been a little lax, and it’s a place where people gather outside to enjoy libations which is what I was doing after a long workweek. And I’ll be honest in saying that I didn’t feel like talking to Donald—or anyone from the street, or anyone at all for that matter—but when he came to collect my can he recognized me, sort of. “Hey you’re that guy who hands out gift cards and takes pictures,” he said after asking if my can of beer was empty. A moment earlier he was collecting empties of a table across the square when a guy from another table threatened to punch him in the face if he touched their beers. After he recognized me I asked If I could capture another image; he agreed. The scars on his crown and forehead are from be…

The Can Lady

So this image is interesting to me for a few reasons, so I’ll give you the very brief backstory. This evening I had just parked my bike and was locking it and unloading a package when I glanced down the street and saw this woman carrying a bag of cans in one hand and another enormous bag of cans strapped to her head while collecting additional cans in recycling bins with her free hand. It was quite an efficient operation. As she approached I said hello and she said hello back. Then asked if I could take her photo, mimicking a camera with my hands and motioning to the cans on her back. She shook her head yes, then turned a little sideways so I could get the photo. I showed her the photo on camera and could see in her eyes that she smiled, then offered her a gift card to a restaurant which she accepted and said thank you. I told her my name and asked hers which she told me in such heavily accented English that I don't know it. Then I heard her mumbling or speaking quietly but couldn…

Things that can be carried on a bike (#742)...

Two gallons of house paint.

This is Joseph.

“74 more cents and I’ll have a dollar.”

Going through some photos from last year and came across this one. This is Joseph, we met just after boarding the 6 train at Union Square in NYC. I heard him before seeing him. I was standing at the far end of the crowded car when he got on at the other end announcing himself, “Hello good people of New York, my name is Joseph.”

Personally I’ve mostly stopped giving money to street people for a few reasons, one is that I myself have very little of it these days but also I’ve become overwhelmed, especially in a city like NY. These days I hand out gift cards for food which hopefully have a greater impact on a person’s life. But Joseph was different, he wasn’t asking for a lot, just pennies or whatever change we could spare.

He held a small plastic baggie with some coins in it as he swayed through the car telling his story. He hears voices, he bellowed, this is why it is difficult for him to keep a job. At first he thought they were real—that everyo…

Good.

The world seems upside down to me today.
I know it’s not, but it feels so in the literal sense.
It’s making me dizzy.
Nauseous.
But we have to hold on.
Hold on to this upside-down spinning orb.
Hold on to what is good.
All that is good is holy.
From something as simple as a reassuring smile.
Or someone saying thank you.
Or standing for what is right.
To saving a life.
The word good comes from Dutch-Germanic origin.
Meaning god.
Hold on to what is good.
It’s okay to be angry.
To be active.
But don’t let it overtake you.
Hold on to what is good.
Turn this world right-side up.
One person at a time.

Hope.

Miriam-Webster dictionary defines hope as this: to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true. The same dictionary lists an antonym or opposite of hope as despair. There have been times in my life—dark times—when I’ve been in a state of despair. Though even then I could still grasp the smallest sliver of hope and cling to it as if my life depended on it (and it does). But let me be clear, I do not feel that hope—like prayer—is simply wishful thinking, though that in itself can offer positive change in a person’s life. But rather to me hope is a verb, an action word, and like prayer it is the action of tapping into what is inside one’s self. For to have outward results one must first travel inward. One may sit and hope or pray—wish for things to happen—and sometimes it does, but for hope to take form, to manifest in one’s life one must take action of sorts, however small the steps. To me, and these are just my thoughts, that it is like working in tandem …

Chickpeas and Sesame...Hummus v2.0

The English word for this humble legume of Mediterranean origin is chickpea. In Spanish, garbanzo; Italian, cece; French, pois chiche, and in Arabic, hummus. Thus the word hummus which we've become accustomed to as the prepared dish of chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), lemon, and garlic, refers to the chickpea itself, or hummus. The full name for the prepared food in its native tongue is known as hummus bil tahina, or chickpeas with tahini (sesame paste). But for simplicity in American English it is simply referred to as hummus.

Personally I have made and eaten lots of this delicious paste in my lifetime, both at home and in restaurant kitchens, and in fact grew up eating it before it was trendy. It's a very simple recipe, one which originally entailed mashing the ingredients with a mortar and pestle, but now can be made simply by tossing all the ingredients in a food processor and pressing a button. But like anything there are also different levels of refinement, even to an ex…

Chili sin Carne

So a couple things. One is that while I am not a vegetarian this is a vegetarian—and accidentally vegan—chili recipe. I do eat meat at work simply because of the nature of what I do for a living (cook other people’s food) but when not at work I generally do not eat meat. Thus the translation of this recipe, Chili sin Carne (Chili without Meat).

Also, this is just one of a gazillion recipes for chili. You or whoever may have your own version, and that’s great, but this is one I put together for lunch today while waiting for a plumber to arrive to install a new hot water heater..

Lastly, as I state with all of my recipes (or at least most of them), this one is not carved in stone. It is merely a suggestion. If you don’t prefer other vegetables, substitute those with which you do. This recipe will also suit itself to meat as well. And if you want it more spicy or less spicy adjust the seasoning to your taste. These ingredients are simply what I had in my fridge and on the kitchen shelf, …

It's not always about the photo...

So here’s a brief story which has nothing to do with this photo...well, sort of. I was out taking photos this evening and as I walked back to my bike which is visible to the right in the photo I was looking through the viewfinder of the camera assessing an image just captured. Then out of the shadows I hear, “I don’t want to be in no photo.” It was a guy sitting on a bench in a shadow I hadn’t noticed. As I looked through the camera he thought I was taking his photo. I assured him I was not and asked if he wanted to see the photo but said no. He sat on a bench with a backpack and another bag. I engaged him in a brief conversation but he was very guarded (wouldn’t you be). I was just about to leave when I asked if he could use a gift card to a restaurant. Yes, he said, that he was hungry. I have one for McDonald's and one for Burger King, which would you prefer, I asked. It didn’t matter because he would go straight there to eat, he said. He also asked where the closest restaurant …

Things that can be carried on a bike (#741)...

$92 in groceries, including 20 pounds of flour, a gallon of olive oil, and a live basil plant.

Becoming...

seconds
become
minutes
become
hours
become
days
become
weeks
become
months
become
years
becomes
a life

today
becomes
yesterday
becomes
a memory

now
is all we have

Journal Entry, 20 July 2020

I was pedaling home this evening and the sight of this church lit up against the blue sky was striking so I stopped to capture an image. Now known as Pilgrim-St. Luke’s United Church of Christ, this location as a church was founded as a bilingual congregation (German-English) in 1872 and was originally called St. Lucas Evangelica, and later St Luke’s Evangelical and Reformed Church. In 1968 it merged with another church—First Pilgrim Congregational Church—which stood where there is now a chain drug store on the corner of Elmwood and Bryant, and became the hyphenated Pilgrim-St. Luke’s that it is today and is once again bilingual (English and Spanish). It has been a progressive and activist church throughout the years. During the Vietnam War, for example, the congregation housed conscientious objectors, and today they help refugees and those new to this country find safety and citizenship. For 150 years this small but beautiful church has preached the power of love not hate, and peace …

Journal Entry, 13 July 2020

Allentown. Buffalo. 13 July 2020. Sitting on the patio of a cafe sipping a beer. The virus has made it unsafe to sit inside. Legally we are able, but bars and restaurants are listed as unsafe. Sitting here contemplating what a different world we live in today and it occurred to me that I first visited this neighborhood in the summer of 1980. I was 18 years old at the time and it was just one year after my mom had passed away. I thought I was an adult but now see that I was just a child. A friend and I had smoked some weed and drove into the city from the suburbs. Though I didn't move back to the city for another 6 years—I grew up on the east side but spent my teen years in the suburbs—in many ways I've been here ever since. At first visit to this neighborhood I was and still am attracted to the bohemian atmosphere. So much has changed since then but at the same time so much is still the same. On that day 40 years ago I remember having just one single dollar in my wallet, that …

You make a difference...

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ― Albert Einstein

This is Jersey...

This is Jersey. He’s one of the regulars in the neighborhood and if you’ve visited this page prior you’ve seen him as I’ve profiled him before. This is the third time I’ve captured his image. I won’t tell his story again—the original is still on my page—and I didn’t tell his full story as it is too personal and I feel people may judge. What I do know of Jersey is that the system has failed him. Yes, he likely has a drinking problem, he had an open beer when I spoke to him this evening. I just came from having a beer at an outdoor patio on the very same street a block away, does it make me better than him? If so, then judge me as well. Anyhow, I’m jumping ahead as I often do. I’ll start over. While walking home I saw him and knew that he would ask for money, he always does. When he did I asked him when the last time he ate. He had to think about it for a minute, then told me “Yesterday sometime.” When I asked what he had he couldn’t remember. I gave him a gift card to a restaurant just…

This is Brian...

This is Brian. We met while I was capturing images of downtown this evening. I had the camera set on a small tripod just a foot off the ground, I was sitting on the ground, when he walked by with all his belongings in tow. I’ve seen Brian many times prior but had never spoken to him. What made me notice him is one of his legs. He wears shorts and it is swollen to the point that it is the same thickness from ankle to thigh. Tonight when I saw him it was freshly bandaged. Anyhow, after I captured a few images of the city-scape I walked the bike past where he was sitting and charging his phone (I’m not sure if this is unofficial from the city, but there are outlets throughout downtown where I see people charging phones). After saying hello I asked if he’d like a gift card to get something to eat. He initially said no (and can you blame him?) but after telling him that people have given them for me to give away he said sure and was very thankful. So here’s the thing. This is an example o…