Walking Elmwood one Night

21 Aug

Last night I walked Elmwood with a dear friend.

If you’re not from Buffalo and don’t know what Elmwood is, then I shall tell you. It’s a strip of shops and restaurants and coffee places close to down-town Buffalo. There are also tiny art galleries tucked into alleys and an all-organic grocery store where the cashiers have dreadlocks and when interviewing for their position are asked, “Are you a vegetarian?” (OK, that’s just speculation.)

Most everything is pricey. But Elmwood is not Wall Mart, and those who walk it aren’t looking for a good deal. They come from the suburbs with pockets stuffed with cash, like rich chipmunks. (Unless you’re like me, however, who comes from the  suburbs, but whose pockets are not, and never have been, stuffed with cash.)They’re looking for something no one else has, and they generally don’t care about the tiny scribbled price tags dubiously attached to items. The “clearance sections” are a joke. They’re there because they have to be. “Every store must have one, right?” thinks the store-owner who hangs the clearance sign around one corner and begins randomly dotting the red-dot items. But no matter. If you want discount, go to Target.

Many of the shops are painted in blue and green and purple hues. There are no drab grays or browns here. They’re overgrown doll houses, filled with shimmering trinkets, like the necklace that came from Spain and the bendable brass-colored bracelet slash necklace which, when you put it on, looks like you’re wearing a piece of sculpture art. That came from New York City. And, my friend bought me one, along with the one she bought herself, as a belated birthday gift. Like the “best friend” charms we bought as kids at Claire’s in the mall, these were our grown-up, sophisticated versions.

Animals walk around, or lounge in, many of the stores. I’m tempted to use the word “charming,” but really it’s startling, at first. You think the fluffy cat stretched along a counter where earrings and necklaces dangle is part of the artful display, when, suddenly, it yawns and flicks its striped tail, and you realize it’s alive. If you’re like me, you absolutely must pet the cat, who has long, luxurious fur, and more than anything in the store, you wish you could take the cat home. But there’s no price tag. Even if there were, your family is deathly allergic. In another store, the one where we bought the bendable brass bracelets slash necklaces, a dog appears in the open doorway. I bend down to scratch his head, like a traveler paying her tolls, before entering.

You won’t see the same kind of person twice here. For people watching, it’s perfect. As we pop out one store and begin looking for the next, we pass a drunk sitting on a tree stump who hollers garbled words at us in a good-natured kind of way. We ignore him. Then we pass a group, all barbs and black leather, the ogling kind, and we ignore them too. It’s not that we’re unfriendly. It’s just that there’s too much to see and do here, and we haven’t yet got dinner.

I wish I had worn sensible shoes, with arches, rather than flat ones. I think this is how you know you’re growing old, when you begin dismissing fashion for comfort even in very hip places, like Elmwood. We have seen and touched our fill. In the last store we go in, gauzy shirts hang from racks suspended along the ceiling. The shirts look like they float. Ethereal, almost. We look a teapots and quirky greeting cards and little boxes my friend decides to buy to put her bobby pins in. “It’s perfect!” she declares. Only on Elmwood. She also buys a ring that only fits her middle finger. I saw it first, but my fingers were too slender, and it slipped right off. Lucky for her, she has wider knuckles. It’s a silver, lovely ring with cherry blossoms on the top. It matches her nail polish.

It’s growing dark, and the balmy air is now replaced with a breeze. The crowds have grown closer together as they move along the streets, passing in and out of shops. But the store-owners have begun jangling their keys as they fix clothing racks and straighten pillows before closing for the night. We decide that we’re hungry and must find somewhere to eat.

We choose a popular restaurant with outdoor seating. But we sacrifice the outdoor seating, in the end, to get a table without waiting. The waiter is swift and brings us lemon water followed shortly after with an appetizer: bread covered with asiago cheese and all sorts of wonderful things imbetween. We both get an open beef slouvaki with extra pita on the side. The beef is tender and full of flavor. The lettuce is crisp. The feta is abundant.

We finally leave Elmwood and drive home, she to her own suburb and me to my own. We are full, and happy. We have found necklaces from Spain and bracelets from New York City. Our pockets are lighter. The small merchants who secretly worry whether they might have to close, amidst the bright hues, are more sure that yes, they can stay a bit longer. Pray business continues. The moon is cheery tonight. The cooks scrub steel counters clean to sparkling while the waiters count tips. Everything is summery.

And this, all of this, is Elmwood.

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