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How an idea became a WNY bucket list

My editor, Bruce Andriatch, likes to joke that there are four words reporters dread hearing him say:

“I have an idea.”

Maybe we don’t exactly dread them. It’s true, though, that you never know what you’ll be in for. A year ago, those four words led me into something I would never have dreamed up.

There was this list Bruce had come up with of 100 things every Western New Yorker should do at least once. After the list was posted online, he had the idea that The News should explore all 100.

That was the idea I said yes to, a year ago. And roughly halfway through all of them – from “Have your picture taken with Shark Girl” to “Attend Canal Fest” – my life changed.

The 100 Things are Western New York adventures that are right in our own backyard but that, for whatever reason, we don’t get to. The Transit Drive-In, the Eternal Flame at Chestnut Ridge Park, City Hall’s observation deck, picking fruit at a farm, having a picnic to the park – even if they’re on your radar, you’re probably busy. Or you want to wait until you have out-of-town guests. In other words you feel you need an excuse.

The list is an excuse. If you’re going to do all of them, it’s also a challenge.

Some things need to be done in December, others in July. When would be the perfect time to do “Get stuck in traffic by the blue water tower”? I still haven’t decided that one.

Also, the list is set in stone.

One friend, seeing me puzzling over “Play bocce,” kindly suggested I do croquet instead.

“Croquet is not on the list,” I said.

“No, really,” she said. “There are a group of guys who play in Delaware Park, and –”

“Croquet is not on the list,” I repeated. “Bocce is on the list.”

And with good reason.

The list, as impulsively as it was written, has a strange genius. It’s a mad mix of things you’ve never done, things you haven’t done since you were a kid, and things you never thought you’d do. I would never have discovered on my own what crazy fun it was to play bingo, were it not for one snowy night at Blessed Trinity Church. The biggest surprise was a basketball game at St. Bonaventure. Who knew it would be such a riot?

Back to the bocce. My search led me to Ilio diPaolo’s – how was it I had never been to this uniquely charming place? And to Niagara Falls’ Hyde Park, breathtaking in the sunset.

A conversation from that lovely evening sticks in my head. One of the bocce players and I got talking about parks, Frederick Law Olmsted, and related topics. Hesitantly, she said, “I’ve never been to Delaware Park.”

I said, “I’ve never been to Hyde Park.”

It’s good to get out and explore, you know?

That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, usually in the company of News photographer Sharon Cantillon, thanks to Bruce and his idea.

“What are we doing here?” we have wailed on occasion – combing Niagara County in search of Hoover Dairy; getting tossed and soaked on the Maid of the Mist; and, most memorably, being yelled at through a bullhorn by a guard at Attica State Prison.

In the end, though, it always makes sense.

Graycliff, Forest Lawn, Old Fort Niagara bring you face to face with history on a vivid, personal level. Our Lady of Victory Basilica and Letchworth State Park – how do you begin to describe them? Where else will you find anything like Fantasy Island’s Wild West show? Even something simple like “Have a loganberry” illustrates the quirks that unite Western New Yorkers, no matter what our background. Though loganberry is everywhere, the only actual bubbler we could find was in a Hispanic place, the Niagara Cafe.

It’s been a thrill to hear from people who are following the list on their own. If you haven’t done that yet, start now. The fun is just beginning. Jump on board. Be in touch. Celebrate.

Thank Bruce, and his dreaded four words.


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