Travis “Truey V” Vasquez is a local MC and visual artist who has a clear focus on his art, living, and living as art.
By Kevin Thurston
I first met him a few years ago. He’s equal parts preacher and parishioner and if you’ve never seen him perform, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Together we spent a cold night over the winter driving his autobiography in reverse, as it were, from Allentown back across Main Street.
“I remember last summer shooting a video with Jack Topht on Trinity and thinking, ‘Man, I wish I could live on a street like this.’ That that would be a dream come true. I was thinking the only way I’d live over here is if they passed the collection plate,” said Vasquez. Over near Central Park, he remarks, “It’s funny how the city is split. Some of my friends don’t even get as far as Ferry. I’m like, ‘Damn bro. There is a whole city and you’re only using half of it.’ The city is beautiful.”
As we drive down East Amherst looking at the duplexes we talk about how we both grew up listening to KRS-One and Erik B & Rakim. The structures remind me of the areas of Tonawanda and Amherst I grew up around.His face lights up as he says, “It’s funny, because the first time I went to Tonawanda I was like, ‘Yo! They’ve got hoods too! These are projects!’ It was eye-opening for me. When you see the truth for yourself it’s like hard for lies to hold you back. When people try and tell you things that are false you can say, ‘No! No. No, that’s wrong.’”
We keep chatting about any and everything as we pass a bridge that leads to McCarthy Park and the Bailey area. Taking a break from talking about Socrates as one of the first MC’s, Vasquez continues to narrate, “I was born over here, but didn’t really go outside much. There was the park and this corner store up here. That’s about it. Looking at these places you’d think they were empty, but during the summer everyone is outside.”
One thing that is noticeable over this way is that there is nothing that, growing up in Tonawanda, I’d refer to as a “grocery store”. In this way, it is similar to when we’d visit my grandmother in Kaisertown and “take her by” the Super Duper to pick up her weekly groceries since she didn’t drive.
“But see, the corner store is kind of it,” Vasquez says. The contrast is stark. He continues, “Now that I’m over on Trinity and near Elmwood there is such a variety of food. If you want to eat Japanese, you do it. Over here, if you want to eat healthier or better, there’s nothing around. The only way that is going to happen is if you have the ability to leave your area.”
As we continue driving the irony isn’t lost that this entire article is only possible because I have a car. A car is like a set of wings in this town.
The buses are inconsistent, the metro serves as a steel curtain reminding residents of the city’s division down Main Street, and taxis — if you can afford them — are only starting to become more available since the looming threat of Uber. If you don’t have a car and live far away from where jobs are — like Travis did — and are even remotely curious about the city you have to be dedicated. Dedicated to exploring. Dedicated and motivated. He speaks about his old commute. “Every morning I’d get up and go to work at the Home Depot at six. After work I’d take the bus back home and hurry up and make myself presentable so I could come back this way and be over here. It may sound crazy but I really wanted to be in the Elmwood Village. There was new things to see, people to meet and learn from, just nothing like over where I lived and grew up.
“I feel like that going back and forth and that fluctuation is good. When I’m over there and my friends see me I feel good walking around, but you got to remember that’s because I’m not in my neighborhood. The East Side is big, but not when you start breaking it down into neighborhoods. There’s people near Bailey who can’t go on the other side of the viaduct because it is a whole different situation. Then you go past that gas station? A whole other situation. Depending on who you are, there are even certain places you can’t go within your jurisdiction. To go from feeling free, and that I can go anywhere I want, to coming back here where the world can feel so small… I feel a sense of urgency. I’ve always felt that sense of urgency.”
Earlier on our drive we were talking about dealing with the pain life gives everyone and how racism, to Vasquez, is an extension of the pain you will experience in life. He mentioned how each individual has to decide if they will allow that pain or those experiences to close them off to the world or if they will continue to persevere. I can’t help but draw a parallel to his outlook and his willingness to spend 3 hours a day on buses just to work then come back out to experience something new. I think it would be very tempting to say, ‘fuck it.’
He responds, “I can’t let that happen to me. No one, not a single person, not this city, nothing is going to make me bitter. That’s my life’s work. I take that bitterness in my mouth like a dragon and poof breathe it back out. My old friends see me now and say, “Travis is on an all-time high. We thought he was weird before, but now it’s like we don’t even know him.” And that sucks to hear because you knew this is who I am. And now I am even more who I am. I don’t know, it’s strange.”
This isn’t a “Travis got out” because it isn’t a getting out. It’s an expansion. And perhaps that is how we should start framing all of our interactions. The “getting out” narrative automatically makes someone’s personal history a bad thing that needs to be escaped. To think of it another way, I’m not “dropping down” because I took this tour with Travis. We are both expanding into one another. The Elmwood Village isn’t a savior. McCarthy Park isn’t, to use our President’s terms, “a war zone.”
We continued to chat about it, “If I take you to Pine Grill on Genesee it’s another blip on your radar. And then you take someone else and they are like, ‘How do you know about that place?’ and it all grows.”
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