Millard Fillmore obelisk

My first full day in Buffalo, I head out to see all the stuff I’d intended to see the day before weather and flight delays got in my way. First stop is the Forest Lawn Cemetery. Millard Fillmore is buried towards the back, on a hill, with a big pink obelisk. On the other side of the creek is the grave of funk legend Rick James, which is kind of cool – and kind of fitting, given what happened next.

There’s been very little local radio on these trips – it’s hard to get a flavor for an area anymore by tuning into the local radio stations. In Tennessee I got chain radio and static; maybe a few local ad spots but that was it. On my honeymoon we could turn to stations wherever we went and learn about the area. Sometimes it was just listening to someone reading the morning edition of USA Today into a microphone, but it was still something. Our favorite was an AM station on the road from Springfield, Illinois to St. Louis; there was a Sunday night polka show on, and these three old dudes were having a blast, to the point that you wondered if they even knew there was an audience. At one point they gave an award to someone upon whom they wished a “wonderful polka day.” At another point a guy said “You know what I could go for right now? One of those big Polish sausages.” One of the others said “We just had some!” It was glorious and chaotic and you get very little of that now.

Well, as I drove out of Forest Lawn Cemetery I was listening to something genuinely local – a gospel service from a local church. You could occasionally hear the person handling the microphone jostling it to move it into position for the next part of the service. First a church office person made announcements, including one about an upcoming banquet. “I need you to see me today, I need your money today, I need your tickets today,” she said. Afterwards it was the senior choir, belting out a high-energy song. Another singer gave a sort of homily in the middle of a slow song, exhorting the adults in the congregation to keep up with their own Sunday school. “We think Sunday school is for children,” he said. “But you’re nothing but a child, a child of God,” he said, to cheers. Then the pastor gave his sermon – reminding people that just sitting in church was not enough to secure the blessings of the Almighty. He punctuated a lot of his sentences with an “Amen!” at the end. It was Sunday morning, there was gospel on the radio, I was driving through a cemetery. It was lovely.

Then, precisely at 10 am, the station, 93.7 FM, switched formats – in the preacher’s mid-word, even – to the swishes and stings of modern commercial radio. The first song after the switch? Rick James’ “Standing on the Top,” which includes the lyrics “Where do all the freaks and fancy people go, [I don’t know] I don’t know.” Well, I do know. They go to Forest Lawn Cemetery. Temptations sing.

Rick James gravestone