Western New York brims with architectural masterpieces. But our most talked-about structure wasn't built by Louis Sullivan or Frank Lloyd Wright.
Amherst's iconic Big Blue Water Tower is in the news every single day. Its name is on everyone's lips. Most of the time, that's because of the traffic that surrounds it. "Traffic is backed up by the Big Blue Water Tower." But the tower is also a landmark in its own right. "Pass the Big Blue Water Tower, and bear right."
As the Statue of Liberty presides over the New York harbor, so does the Big Blue Water Tower preside over the complex intersection of the 90 and the 290, also known as the Youngmann Expressway. This is the one area where we can reliably boast big city traffic.
New York State Thruway officials have claimed that the traffic creates one of America's worst 50 bottlenecks. A story in The News earlier this year reported that 145,000 vehicles pass by the Big Blue Water Tower every day.
You would almost think the Big Blue Water Tower had sprung up on its own, like a big blue mushroom. It was hard to find anyone who could say what year it was constructed.
A woman in the Town of Amherst's Supervisor's office, while rejoicing over the tower's prominence on our 100 Things bucket list, confessed she was at sea. She put me on hold, hoping a colleague might know. Nobody did, and so she referred me to the Erie County Water Authority. The Water Authority sent me to Zeppelin Communications.
Eventually information trickled in.
The tower went up in 1987. It is almost 175 feet tall, holds 1.5 million gallons of water, and is of "Hydropillar" style. Its formal name is the Wehrle Tank, because it sits in a park off Wehrle Drive.
Now that you know it better, don't be a stranger.
Drive by the Big Blue Water Tower in the early morning rush hour, or in the afternoon rush hour. That's when you get the peak traffic. Plus, you can appreciate the prettiness of all those taillights.
While your car is idling, your mind can be busy. Take in your surroundings.
Check out the landscape. On a recent weekday the western edge of the 290 looked good, full of vibrant fall colors.
Then, drink in the tower itself. Notice its jaunty red and white checkered roof. The design earned praise on Waymarking.com, a website that lists what it calls "unique and interesting places on the planet." Our tower naturally fit that description. A few lucky folks had visited it, and posted pictures.
"This is one of the prettiest water towers," wrote one admirer. "From the top, it looks like a carousel."
As you continue to contemplate the tower, revel in the fact that, when it comes to traffic, this is the worst we've got.
My sister Margie married a guy from New Jersey and moved there. Not long ago, she was home in Buffalo visiting and we ran into a traffic jam. I was outraged, as we are in Western New York when faced with a bottle-up. How long would this take? Was there construction? Why hadn't the radio warned us? What could be done to fix this?
I opened my mouth to kvetch. It was then that I realized that Margie, who was driving, was still smiling and chattering away. She didn't seem to notice the tie-up. For her, it was simply business as usual.
For us, it's not. The Big Blue Water Tower is the exception that proves the rule. When you're stuck in its traffic, say a prayer of thanks for that.
On second thought, say two.
You have time.