Who knows what fostered the schmoozer in Marty J. Walters? Maybe it was growing up as the seventh son in a family of 11 children in the Town of Tonawanda. Maybe it was bartending for 30 of his 54 years. He’s worked behind the bars of at least 50 establishments including Kleinhans Music Hall, the old Melody Fair, Sunset Bay Beach Club and the Armor Inn Tap Room in Hamburg, where you will find him every other Saturday night.
Walters enjoys academia almost as much as he likes talking to people – and he has the degrees to prove it. After earning a bachelor’s degree in documentary film production at the University at Buffalo, he picked up a master’s degree in library science. At Ithaca College, he added a master’s in corporate communications.
Walters said he can relate to anybody – even bar patrons who’ve had too much to drink. For the past year, Walters has taught a two-hour state-certified alcohol-training awareness program called Green Yellow Red (www.greenyellowred.org). The program is approved by the New York State Liquor Authority. Its goal is to prevent service of alcohol to visibly intoxicated people and underage drinkers.
Walters and Christina, his wife of 13 years, live in Derby.
People Talk: Tell me about your current gig.
Marty Walters: Green Yellow Red is where safe serving meets responsible drinking. There’s two sides to every drink. You present the information where it can affect lives, when they are sitting at a bar. People get DWIs, and they send them to a classroom somewhere. I get people not to drive by any means possible.
PT: You really can’t reason with a drunk?
MW: That’s why people keep dying. It’s being ignored at the point of sale. Studies have shown the most effective person in an intervention is the drunk person’s sober older friend or spouse. People drinking behind the bar is problematic to say the least. The first thing you lose is your good judgment.
PT: Why does today’s generation seem more vigilant?
MW: People are more receptive to alcohol training now. The liability can kill you. If you provide alcohol training for your staff, you lessen the liability. It’s been around for about 30 years. Between 2000 and 2010, New York was one of six states where the rate of people dying on the highways has actually increased. It was always frowned upon, but now it’s unacceptable because of the carnage on the highways.
PT: Would you call yourself a career bartender?
MW: Never. I always considered it a means to an end. It put me through grad school a couple times, undergrad, too. Bartending is nonstop sales. I enjoy people.
PT: Is Buffalo’s bartending community closely knit?
MW: If they’re drinkers, they are because a lot of the bartenders go and trade dollars after the shift. I’m no longer a drinker. I quit about 14 years ago, before I got married. George Bush was my role model. Bartending was a career 30 years ago when I got into it, but it’s not anymore. Mostly it’s a young person’s game now.
PT: You studied library science?
MW: I went to library school because my undergraduate degree was in film documentary at UB. I figured I’d learn how to do research. When I got out of UB, there was a one-year position at Cornell. I wanted to produce media for libraries. I happened to meet a guy who was a proactive librarian. He got me involved in the evangelical aspects of librarianship, getting the word out.
PT: What makes you pursue such disparate livelihoods?
MW: I’m not a mainstream guy. I’ve always believed in making the world a better place so I thought that producing documentaries would be a cross between art and journalism. I worked nights as a bartender so I could do what I wanted to do during the day. One of my graduate projects at Ithaca College was to establish a film commission in Buffalo. That was my dream job, but I moved out to Denver to establish residency. I was going to get a doctorate out there.
PT: Do you have a lot of student loans?
MW: No. I got a free ride at Ithaca College and a free ride at UB grad school. I talked to the people who were in charge of the money.
PT: Aren’t you itching to get back in the classroom?
MW: No. I use my degrees every day. If I did go back it would be for something in education. When I read about “Say Yes to Education,” I had a tear in my eye, honest to God. That was the best thing that ever happened to Buffalo.