Tuesday, December 31, 2002

The slicing dicing casinomatic ...

I love infomercials.

Most people, I've convinced myself, actually love infomercials.

There's just something about the glitz, the glitter, the ability to remove tar, gum and grease from any surface without scrubbing.

"Have you ever tried to get spaghetti sauce off your car upholstery? IT'S SO HARD!!! Well now with saucomatic, you can remove any tomato-based product quick as a flash."

At some point while you're watching, you come to your senses and realize that either the product won't work at all or that it may not be quite as great as its marketing experts have claimed.

Most of us, at least, come to that realization.

Some of us take that step and dial the 800 number to "charge by phone" hoping to be one of the first 1,000 callers so that we might qualify for the extra jar for only a penny.

Sunday, I was one of the first 1,000 callers when I trekked my behind across

Niagara County to visit "beautiful" downtown Niagara Falls and her new casino.

The media check in for the casino's play night was scheduled to take place from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. with the doors opening to the general public at 6. I got there at a couple minutes after 5 o'clock and was met with a couple hundred people waiting in the casino lobby to get in.

This was after the parking. Can I just say $8!?! Sorry, I'll move on.

So I move to the head of the line to ask someone from the casino where I should check in. I had to preregister and I knew I needed to pick up a special press pass.

The first three people I asked didn't know and I started to get worried.
"Do these people know what's going on," I thought to myself.

Then the fourth person told me where to go — politely, I might add — and the experience began.

I checked in and was told the rules. I could talk to members of the public and people from the marketing group, but I couldn't quote the marketing people and I could go anywhere except employee area and whah whah whah (think Peanuts).

Alright, I'm off. Gaming floor, here I come.

I didn't bring a note pad since I didn't plan to interview anyone.

No offense to our faithful readers, but I wasn't interested in your opinion on

Sunday. I wanted to know what I thought.

I bumped into some colleagues of mine.

Dennis Stierer (US&J photographer), Hi. How are ya?

Mark Scheer (Niagara Gazette reporter), nice to see you.

Tom Prohaska (he works for the enemy), fancy running into you here.

Tom actually said to me, "I thought they had security at this place. How'd you get in?"

He's a nice guy, let me tell you.

And mainly, I walked around.

Standard operating procedure is to circle the grounds twice to get a feel for things and then move in to take a closer inspection.

So I circled then moved in.

First game - Baccarat.

It goes something like this: Flip flip. Flip flip. "You lose."

Flip flip. Flip flip. "You win."

At the end of the baccarat session, I was ahead.

See, you start with $1,000 and have four hours to blow it.

After baccarat, I had about $1,200.

Next stop, craps.

I met a really nice couple from West Seneca who came to the falls just so they could see the casino.

I never caught their names, but the male of the pair gave me some good advice on playing craps and I ended up winning another couple hundred dollars.

Okay, I'd been there for about 90 minutes now and I was way ahead. I had only two and a half hours to lose $1,400.

Roulette, baby.

It took me a while to get in and when I did, I didn't like it — and I didn't lose my money quickly enough.

In the end, I literally handed my money back to the casino folks and left.

Next time I go, I'll donate $20, just like always.

And I hope I run into people like the folks from West Seneca and the guy who had lived in Syracuse before moving to Niagara Falls to work for the casino.

Just like the saucomatic, the casino will not be a cure all, but I'm guessing that it will reduce the blemishes of aging left behind by years of neglect.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Merry Christmas, Lockport

My good friend Santa Claus visited the Leffler household Sunday night. It was a very nice thing to do.

He was just making sure my daughters got all their wishes in on time.

As we were saying goodbye and good luck for tonight's Christmas delivery, Santa pulled me aside and asked me for some last minute gift ideas for some friends of mine.

I told him I couldn't answer him at the moment, but that he could read it in today's paper.

Santa, I'm told, is a huge fan of the Union-Sun & Journal.


For Mayor Sullivan, I would like to suggest an executive gift set, including a digital voice recorder so he can recall who he endorsed and who he didn't, and a dictionary so he can correctly use words like "support" and "persist."

For Alderman Joe Kibler, some playground equipment, a sock, and a manual on how to properly use the sock. Manual should read as follows: If you are struck with a moment of genius, insert sock into mouth. Better the sock than the foot.

For Alderman (and sheriff's department investigator) Scott Elliott, a seat back on the city's police board, which he resigned from earlier this year.

For Alderwoman Phyllis Green, plane tickets to Florida or North Carolina, so long as she uses them quickly. Oh, and make them one-way.

Give some to county legislators, too, please Santa.

For Alderman Scott Cercone, a horticulture degree so he has the knowledge necessary for tree and monument placement in city parks.

For Council President Patrick Schrader, a Magic Eight-Ball so he can figure out whether his resolutions have the votes or not.

For Alderman David Blackley, a watch set 15 minutes fast so he can make his meetings on time.

For Senator George Maziarz, a clone. This will serve two purposes. He can attend more bar mitzvahs and he can no longer tell me, "Scott, I'm just one man."

For Police Chief Neil Merritt, a phone line that isn't recorded.

For Officer Brian LeBere, golf lessons and greens fees to a course that doesn't call the Union-Sun & Journal with scores. I'm sure he'll be bowled over by that.

For City Attorney John J. Ottaviano, a gift certificate for lunch at Tom's Diner for Dec. 28 at noon.

For Developer Elmer Granchelli, a gift certificate for lunch at Tom's Diner for Dec. 28 at noon.

For City Clerk Dick Mullaney, his own floor in City Hall so he has the room to perform the duties of clerk ... budget director ... Civil Service commissioner ... the mayor ... Common Council ... dog warden ... etc.

For Building Inspector James McCann, a certificate of occupancy for Washington Heights and the foresight to check things out before making statements about whether people live in vacant buildings.

For Community Development Director Bill Evert, a time machine so he can see something happen on the South Block and Richmond Avenue.

For Paul Oates, ... never mind Santa, I think Paul got his wish.

For Lenny Thomas, a home on Lincoln Avenue so he doesn't have to go so far when trouble breaks out at the high school. Also, a bullhorn so the Common Council will listen to him when he warns them about problems on the city's north end.

For John Lombardi, chairman of the city's Republican Committee, a grueling primary battle for the mayor's race, after which the loser runs on another party line and siphons votes from the "other" Republican, letting Tom Sullivan stay in office another four years.

And for all of my friends, a salt shaker so they can take a grain as needed — while reading this column, for example.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

History in the moment ...

There are times in life when you take inventory of the people around you and realize that you're in the middle of something important.

If you're out and you see David Stockton and his camera, you might be in the midst of one of those moments.

I run into Dave now and then. He's one of the tree-huggers — and I say that with the utmost respect for tree-huggers — who refused to let certain elements turn one of the city's prized assets, Richmond Avenue, into a convenience store.

You see, Dave has respect for history.

So much so that as a photographer, he turns up at monumental moments to record them for future generations to see.

I first met him at the Corson's auction a couple of years ago. He was taking pictures for posterity's sake. He knew the meaning of the moment and didn't want it to pass by unnoticed.

I've run into him at a couple of other events or happenings since then.

And then Friday.

On Friday, Dave was taking pictures of J.R. Reid's final "Let's Talk" on WLVL.

J.R. has decided to move to the warmer climate of Cape Coral, Fla., where, he says, it has only snowed once in all of history.

I've found that most people know J.R. from some place or another, whether it be from that call-in show or from his time with the sheriff's department or as a city alderman.

So when I heard a few months ago that J.R. was leaving the area, I knew that I had to do a story on him.

This paper and WLVL — J.R.'s employer — haven't always had a good relationship.

In fact, about a year or so ago, certain employees from the radio station and the newspaper had a meeting to get things out in the open.

Boy, did they.

The relationship didn't really improve.

But now and then, I'd run into J.R. — who I had concluded was a class act — and we'd talk about a variety of issues, mainly local rumors (the kind of stuff we can never prove, and as such, can't print).

Anyway, I had also become a fan of J.R.'s show, "Let's Talk," which frequently included people airing those rumors that I can't print.

It was a good show, and would be a difficult act to follow.

But that's exactly what I must do.

I've inherited that hour and began my own show (which I've dubbed "Dialog") on Monday.

I've got big shoes to fill and I hope to live up to it.

My inaugural show included a surprise guest, Lockport Police Chief Neil Merritt, and it went OK.

I flubbed a button here or there, and I ended up bunching all my commercials in at the end, but overall, I was pleased.

Still, it didn't live up to the J.R. Reid level of quality — that which you must achieve to have David Stockton photograph your last day of work.

Maybe someday, I will.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Yes, Emily, there is a Lockport Monster

A few nights ago, I took the family to Northampton Park in Monroe County. Every year, the county has a light show in the park that you drive through.

At $10 a car load, it was well worth it. I highly suggest making the trip.

Anyway, one of the displays was of the Loch Ness Monster.

My 5-year-old daughter Emily asked what it was and we told her.

"There's a Lockport Monster?" she asked.

At the time, I laughed and said, "No, Emily. Loch Ness Monster."

Then I thought about it some more.

What I should have said follows.

Yes, Emily. There is a Lockport Monster.

He doesn't hide in closets or under beds ... and he doesn't want to scare little girls.

But he does frighten the heck out of adults.

You see, Emily, the Lockport Monster is kind of like the Can't Man.

For some reason, honey, people in Lockport have convinced themselves that certain things just won't work.

"After all, this is Lockport, New York," they often say.

That's their way of saying things work different in Lockport - it's almost their way of saying things don't work as well.

Those people that say that, they've been scared by the Lockport Monster.

Unfortunately, honey, some things in Lockport haven't always gone perfectly. Some businesses have closed and some things that used to be pretty aren't as pretty as they were.

Because of that, people that live in Lockport have convinced themselves that nothing is going to go right ever again.

It's the Can't Man - the Lockport Monster - that convinces them that.

In a sense, though, sweetheart, these people in Lockport are trying to protect themselves. If they think it won't work and then it does, then they're happily surprised. But if they think it will work and then it doesn't, then they're sad.

Think of it this way: If I tell you that we're going to Chucky Cheese and then we don't, you're sad, right? But if I don't tell you that we're going to Chucky Cheese, then you're not sad when we don't, right?

That's the Lockport Monster. That thing that makes you - and everyone else - sad.

What we need is a superhero - or the Ghost Busters - to make it go away.

That way, people in Lockport can believe that things are going to work out right.

Because if they don't believe that things will work out, they won't try to make it work. And then it probably won't.

And we don't want that to happen.

After all, if there was a Northampton Park Monster, you wouldn't be seeing these pretty lights.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

What's the value

I've been fortunate enough to meet some pretty nice people, some fairly influential people, and — to be honest — a fair share of absolute jerks.

Anyway, I'm getting off my topic.

Being in the news business, you get a skewed view of the world.

Whether I'm driving down Transit, taking my daughter to school, or watching television, my most frequent thought is, "How can I write a story about this?"

I'm on watch 24-7. If I don't know the answer to something, I want to. If I know the answer and I think someone else may not, I want to get it in the paper — share the wealth, so to speak.

Excellent qualities for a newsman, I must admit.

But it has definite drawbacks.

First of all, the line between work and home is hardly black and white.

For a lot of folks, there's the time card thing. Punch the card, you're working. Punch again, you're not.

For others, its a matter of entering and exiting a building. Work is a place rather than a concept.

For a reporter, though. Being a journalist is a lifestyle.

In a way, since I'm on watch 24-7, I'm working 24-7.

Now, I'm not just saying this so you'll feel bad for me or anything like that. I just think that far too many of our subscribers don't really understand what we do. They just know that we misspell words and pick on poor defenseless politicians.

Most of what we really do, though, is somewhat innocuous. We write about local businesses, local people, local landmarks, etc.

Like I was saying earlier, problems are inherent.

A reporter by nature becomes judgmental of everything.

"Does this have news value?" I ask myself.

News value, for those who don't speak Reportese, is the determination that a good portion of 15,000 strangers will be interested in the topic enough to not call and tell you what an idiot you are for writing about it.

The news value of this column, for example, is pretty darn low, but I'm hoping you'll cut me some slack.

Where the whole news value thing becomes a problem, however, is anywhere that I'm genuinely NOT working. Dinner at home, for example. Or outside the county.

When conversations with friends and loved ones begin to be judged by how interesting 15,000 complete strangers would find them, you know you've got a problem.

Or when you're talking with your five-year-old daughter and you have to stop her to jot yourself a note because she just said something that reminded you that you wanted to write a story about something, you know you've got a problem.

Apparently, I have a problem.

Fortunately, life goes on.

Okay, to switch gears entirely: This is column number 14 for me in my weekly series carried exclusively by Greater Niagara Newspapers. It's my first on page 3 (a new plan by US&J Managing Editor Denise Young to squeeze more into the paper). I'm hoping for syndication because that's where the real money is.

To further explain, this is a column. It's an opinionated-type piece, typically filled with personal notes and flavor and almost always accompanying a photo.

Anything that says "By Scott Leffler, Lockport Journal" is a story. It is fact based and should be void of this writer's opinion. That's rough to do sometimes, but I try as hard as possible.

Anything that is graphic in nature and was likely paid for is an ad (advertisement).

Lastly, the thing on page A8 that says "Editorially Speaking" is an editorial. It is the opinion of this newspaper, or at least the five people on our local editorial board (which you may note I'm on).

Now that we've got that straight, when you call to praise me (or even to complain) about something in the paper, please don't call a story an ad or vice-versa. It makes it much more difficult to figure out what you're talking about if I'm looking for a graphic and you're talking about a story.

So if you can do that for me, I'll try not to judge the news value of our conversation when I bump into you at WalMart or Tops.