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Labor Day weekend has become a weekend that I really, really look forward to.

I’ve always enjoyed the holiday because it serves as a nice bridge between a hot-and-humid summer and a busy fall. Autumn is usually the most hectic time of year for me; ratings are most important this time of year, many artists are on promotional runs gearing up for holiday releases and there are a number of big events to cover – ranging from The Rockettes to the American Music Awards to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (the latter two usually fall in the same week on different coasts).

Fall is also my favorite time of year, and no it’s not because of UGGs or Pumpkin Spice Lattes. We have the start of football, meaningful baseball, great fashion, scenic views and the best weather of the year.

OK, I like pumpkin beers as well. Sue me.

Anyways, LDW serves as a chance to rest, relax and reset before the busy season. In what has now become an annual tradition, I take a bus to Scranton on Saturday and drive with my buddy Danny to Niagara Falls. Brews, barbecues and pool time are a-plenty over the three days.

We usually throw a wrinkle or two in to that mix as well. Last year, it was clubbing in downtown Buffalo and attending the Chicken Wing Festival. This year, it was hanging with my cousin Anthony at his engagement party, which was catered by the venerable Niagara Falls restaurant The Como. From there, we went to the Seneca Niagara Casino downtown where I lost a little bit of money in Blackjack, and then made it back ten-fold by learning to play Craps! If you know what you’re doing (and you’re winning), it’s a really fun game.


But like I mentioned, the trip is really centered on the beer and the pool, both of which were prominently featured on my Instagram that weekend.


God bless Niagara Falls. And Western New York. And Labor Day Weekend.


And, fall.

I love Delta but they were wrong, twice.

Also, some very talented musicians are featured in this video.

A 5 hour bus ride to Syracuse, there for about 9 hours, then a 3 hour car ride back to Niagara Falls…

On a normal year I spend the first weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas. I traditionally travel alone but upon landing west, am greeted by a group of guys that I grew up with in Niagara Falls, NY. Now what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but specifics withheld, the three days are usually filled with lots of sports, casino chips and the occasional alcoholic beverage (read: bottle).

However, 2016 would prove to not be a normal year. I’m 30 and most of the fellas in my group are at least a year or two older than me. They also all live back in Western New York. So while I’m still single and relatively care-free, my boys are now proposing, closing on houses, having kids or taking care of their young ones.

And this year, essentially all of those things happened at once, creating the perfect storm to cancel our annual Vegas excursion.

But, I’ve grown so accustomed hanging with the guys for March Madness, and we’re so used to seeing each other that we quickly decided something had to serve as a placeholder for Vegas until 2017. With a founding trip member and their wife was expecting a baby that weekend it was decided that we’d rent out a suite in North Buffalo, set-up three TVs, stock up the kitchen and bar and enjoy all of the Cinderella stories and buzzer beaters we could handle.

Perhaps keeping with the Vegas spirit, not many details of this trip will be publicized either; however I documented a modicum of it on Instagram. The fun began after an all-nighter Wednesday night, with a first-class Delta flight to the 716.


Of course I represented for my Syracuse Orange – who advanced to the Sweet 16 after thumping both Dayton and Middle Tennessee State.

And when in Rome… well, you know. On Thursday’s menu: La Nova pizza and char-grilled barbecue hot chicken wings.


Friday’s menu: Breakfast pizza from La Nova (highly recommend) along with spicy Bloody Marys that lasted until our early dinner: a huge fish fry with the fixings from WNY-staple Wegmans.


On Friday night, the trip’s itinerary took a turn: snow and rain were projected to hit New York on Sunday, the day I was supposed to fly back. I’ve become all-too-familiar with delays in-and-out of the tri-state area. In the interest of not spending all day Sunday at the airport or getting stranded in Niagara Falls, I proactively called Delta to have my flight bumped earlier. The airline was not as accommodating as they should have been but they did switch me to a Saturday flight.

That plane departed at 5:45 am. I found this out at about 1 am. So, I did what anyone else on vacation would do: I called my buddy Shawn who was working downtown at a nightclub, took a cab to meet him with my luggage in tow, hung out, grabbed food at Elmwood Taco and Subs (ETS!) and then Shawn drove me to Buffalo Niagara International Airport.


Sure my weekend wasn’t spent in Vegas, but most importantly it was spent with my friends. And besides, with the eating, drinking and sleeping habits that ensued, I don’t think my body could tell the difference anyways.

Keeping with tradition, I stayed in the city for Thanksgiving and worked, however I took a lengthy vacation around Christmas. By lengthy, we’re talking nine days. Almost a week-and-a-half. I love my family, but it was a bit much.

Nonetheless, it is always nice to return back to Niagara Falls and visit with family and friends that still live in Western New York. I flew out on Sunday the 20 and snapped this shot as the sun was rising over the RFK Bridge.


Rarely does returning back to WNY solely consist of resting, especially around the holidays. But it’s nice when I’m home for events that normally I would have to see on Instagram or hear about after the fact. Example: My very talented niece Taylor had an art showing at a local wine bar in Niagara Falls the night I landed. She is ridiculously talented (you’ll see later) and the place was packed. It was great to be able to not only join family there but support her.


On Monday we had a family dinner with my Mom’s side and on Tuesday my Dad’s favorite bar, DeFazio’s Stadium Grill, had its annual Christmas Party. Here’s me and my cousin Mike.


Yeah, it was a good night! Attending with my Dad has turned in to an annual tradition that hope doesn’t end anytime soon.


Had a chance to spend some quality time with my cousin Anthony on Wednesday. I ran a few errands with him and we grabbed lunch in Lockport – home of course of the Erie Canal.

A photo posted by Ralphie Aversa (@ralphieaversa) on


V ARTSY as the kids say. Thursday was Christmas Eve aka my favorite meal of the year: The Feast of the Seven Fishes. It’s an Italian thing, and I love it because I want all of the seafood.


Then Santa stopped by. We opened gifts as a family on Friday and then went to my brother’s house for brunch. That’s where my niece, the aforementioned Taylor, gave me this!


How amazing is that?! Her and I both share a love for Coldplay. All-in-all, Santa treated me well.

A photo posted by Ralphie Aversa (@ralphieaversa) on


It was just great to be able to hang with all of my nieces and nephews.


Saturday was a blur of a day, spent mostly visiting with friends from high school and grade school. Then on Sunday, I headed off to the Carrier Dome to see Syracuse play Texas Southern.


‘Cuse won and I got to see one of my old college roommates and my family that lives there, so it was a solid trip back to Central New York. I kept with the sports scene Monday night, heading to Buffalo to see my Sabres play the Caps. Sadly they lost but it was still nice to get back to the First Niagara Center and see all of the great development happening in downtown Buffalo.


Of course it’s not a trip back to Western New York in December if you don’t have inclement weather.


But soon enough I was back in the air and en route to the city.


Definitely a trip home for the books and a solid way to end my 2015 travels.

How did I spend my #LaborDayWeekend2015? Well, given that it’s the last time before Christmas I’ll get to visit my family in Niagara Falls, I traveled back to Western New York. This trip was a bit different from past years; my colleague in Scranton Danny had NEVER BEEN to Buffalo before. So Saturday I hopped on a bus from Port Authority headed towards Scranton. He picked me up at the bus stop in the Electric City, and we drove up I-81, across 690 and the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse (Go Orange!) and over to I-90 where we drove to Niagara Falls.

After dropping off our bags on Saturday night we headed to downtown Buffalo for a few drinks and so Danny could experience the piece of Heaven that is a Jim’s Steakout Chicken Finger Sub (medium, lettuce, tomato, blue cheese on wheat).

On Sunday, we went for a jog from my house to the scenic campus of Niagara University, spent some time at the pool and then drove back to Buffalo for the National Buffalo Wing Festival.
wing
It is everything we thought it would be, and then some. We tried wings from WNY’s big three: Duff’s, Anchor Bar and La Nova. There were pubs serving up the deep fried (or in some cases, dry rubbed) delicacies from across the country and even from across the pond – a wing spot from England was there!

Duff’s is without question my go-to.


After a few hours of stuffing our faces, we were off to see THE Niagara Falls. I grew up about 10 minutes away from the rapids.


Still pretty gorgeous. We followed up our visit with a trip to Hard Rock Cafe in Niagara Falls. My buddy Vinnie is the OM there so we said hello to him and partook in our first Oktoberfest (Samuel Adams) of the season.

Then we returned to my house, where my Mother had prepared my favorite meal: Chicken Francese with a side of my Mom’s patent homemade pilaf. YAS.


Labor Day, sans a run, was rather Labor-Less.


For the most part, the same could be said for Tuesday (I took an extra day, sue me!)


Another highlight of the trip: Tuesday night. My Dad and I went to one of his favorite watering holes, Stadium Grill on Hyde Park Blvd. We downed a few beers and watched the Yankees game together.

I flew back early Wednesday morning so I could interview a one Justin Bieber.

The trip home was everything I wanted it to be and then some. Next up on the #RalphieOTRA itinerary: Scranton for Mohegan Sun Pocono’s Oktoberfest and Atlantic City for Miss America – all in the same weekend.

Technically there are two guests in this episode of, “Hey, Really Excited.” The title-guest is the talented and lovely Leona Lewis, who is dropping a new album this September. She talks about the creation of ‘I Am’ and performs the single, “Thunder.”
Hey, Really Excited
The second? Race Taylor, who I teamed with for the Leona interview!

I’ll also update you on my summer travels and I recap my trips home to Niagara Falls and Randall’s Island for Urban Mudder.

This week, I chat with one of my favorite bands, Walk The Moon. You’ll hear Nick, Sean, Eli and Kevin talk about everything from life after a mega-hit to opening for The Rolling Stones. The guys also talk about the next single from Talking Is Hard, “Different Colors,” – and you’ll get to hear that as well.
Hey, Really Excited
Plus – I’m headed back to Niagara Falls this weekend. I explain why and what I’m looking forward to while I spend some time back home with friends and family.

Don’t forget – next weekend I’m participating in Urban Mudder, and all of the money I raise is going to Make-A-Wish. Find out more by clicking here.

It turns out Jimmy Fallon CAN do wrong. On “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” the other night, while interviewing Nicole Kidman, the topic of Niagara Falls came up. Nicole’s husband, Keith Urban, performed on the Canadian side for New Year’s Eve.

“That’s the side. Canada’s side is like lights and it’s almost like Vegas. It’s fun. The New York side looks like a Lemony Snicket book cover. It’s sad. There’s all these trees with no leaves on it. And you go, ‘What happened? Why is that side so much worse?’ Canada’s side, that’s the place to do it. It’s amazing.”

I’m so disappointed that Jimmy, who I am a big fan of, decided to take some digs at my hometown. I’m sure in the heat of the moment he was simply trying to fill time because of how awkward things became during the interview, but that’s no excuse to throw a city under the bus. Besides, with great power comes great responsibility.

Sure we don’t have the abundance of cool wax museums, haunted houses and other tourist traps that Clifton Hill has Jimmy, but seriously when was the last time you visited the area? Have you walked through any of the renovated parks or stopped at some of the superior viewpoints to the Falls itself?

And what about all of the other great things the Niagara region as to offer, whether it be the Lewiston/Youngstown area with Fort Niagara, Art Park, and Center Street – or the other development happening around the casino downtown, with the Culinary Institute and Old Falls Street?

Not to mention all of the glowing press that Buffalo is receiving these days. Development is happening on its waterfront and those outside the area are finally recognizing Western New York as a great place to start a business and raise a family. It’s a part of the same metro.

Let me know when you’d like to take a trip down to Niagara Falls, NY Jimmy. I’d like to think that you would really enjoy it there.

Then again, I thought that a TV host who comes off as a such a relatable, every-day guy would be able to appreciate it anyways, especially since he usually lauds the same quaintness found in the small New England towns that he has heaped praise upon before. My bad! I guess you’re just as oblivious to the endearing traits of the community I grew up in as you were to Nicole’s advances.

Inside the ring, opponents knew Randy Poffo as “Macho Man” Randy Savage, a fierce competitor who could drop a devastating elbow from the top rope. Outside the ring, fans came to know Poffo to be just as “macho” – but not for the reasons you might think.

I had the pleasure of meeting Savage on a couple of occasions. The first instance happened so long ago, that I can barely remember all of the specifics. Here’s what I can scratch out: I was three or four years old at the time. My father, Ralph Sr., was serving his first of two terms as a City Councilman in Niagara Falls, NY, where I grew up. The WWE frequently performed both televised and non-televised events at the old Niagara Falls Civic and Convention Center. At the time, I was obsessed with all things Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (bet you couldn’t guess who my favorite was), New York Yankees, and WWE. So, my dad took me to the matches – my first of many shows. We had great seats for the evening – and I watched with excitement during the main event as “Macho Man” Randy Savage beat “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase.

After the ring had cleared and spectators began exiting, I remember my father bringing me backstage. We walked down a long hallway where a number of WWE officials and a few paramedics were following Dibiase to the dressing room. I’m pretty sure I was trying to yell something at Dibiase, and my father was telling me to zip it or else “The Million Dollar Man” would come over and beat me up. That doesn’t sound too far-fetched, especially if you know Ralph Sr. I also vaguely remember my dad stopping a couple of times to chat with some of the city workers he knew who were at the event.

However, as I would come to find out before the end of the evening, the whole reason my dad brought me back there in the first place was to meet “Macho Man.” A WWE official had told my father that Savage was on his way out of the venue. We quickly walked to the main exit where Savage and “Miss Elizabeth” were in the back of a black limousine that was getting ready to depart.

Now, I don’t remember exactly how this went down because we’re talking like, 1989 here. But my dad and I walked over to the back, driver’s side of the limo so Savage could see us. I was waving at the limo, and I’m almost positive my dad was gesturing for the wrestler to come out of the limo so that I could meet him. Next thing I know, the door opens, the “Macho Man” steps out, hoists me up, and all I see is a flash.

I can specifically recall my dad yelling, “Ralphie, smile! Lift up your face!” But clearly, I look petrified. If anything, you now know that my ability to act cool around celebrities wasn’t a natural gift by any stretch of the imagination.

Randy Poffo died Friday at age 58. While many will memorialize Savage for his great matches in the ring and over-the-top Slim Jim commercials – I’ll remember the “Macho Man” for something far less “macho” – but just as telling of the type of man he was.