There are many people who don’t understand my obsession with Buffalo, New York, and I get why. Buffalo is a rust belt city, never quite reaching its full potential for the last 50 years, a mere shadow of its original 1900’s glory. If you live in or around Buffalo, you’re fully aware of its struggles, the poverty, the sagging politics, the snail’s pace of urban and waterfront development, the twenty-year argument over a new Peace Bridge, and obviously, there are the endearing, forever-underdog sports teams. Oh and, PS, it snows. Especially if you’ve lived there your entire life, never leaving to see anything new, you may even hate Buffalo. Those who’ve never visited or adorably think Buffalo is located down the street from New York City, they too, may never understand its appeal.
As I’ve mentioned before, when I left home six years ago, I was more than ready to go. The idea of not knowing every third person at the grocery store, not driving the same path downtown to work everyday, the thought of experiencing anything new filled me with excitement. Living in a smallish town will get to you after a while. Leaving is a good, good thing. I think everyone should do it. It’s only when you leave the place you’ve known your entire life, that you can fully start to appreciate all it has to offer.
You’ve heard that Buffalo is among the most affordable places to live in the US, best places to raise a family, and more importantly, the only acceptable place to eat chicken wings in most of the world. This is true, I’ve done the research. But what you don’t hear, is that despite all the challenges it faces, Buffalo does, in fact, have everything. For many of us, including me, it has our family. It has our friends, our histories, our memories, and our legacies. If you should find yourself wandering around as a stranger in some other town, attempting to set up a life, you may come to realize the average Buffalonian has something you might not find everywhere else. They possess a blue-collar charm, a welcoming, open-armed enthusiasm for newcomers, a passion for local issues (whether it’s a happy passion or a frustrated one,) and a spirit that cannot be broken. Buffalonians care for each other. The ‘City of Good Neighbors,’ (go ahead, Google it,) was built on the common thread of wanting to help and support its community. And when you come home, you’re in. You seamlessly transition back into the embrace of the warm, Western New York mentality.
Sorry, but this is a feeling I never got in Halifax. I never got it in Ann Arbor. I never quite felt it in Irsina, Italy (although I did feel something there, it definitely wasn’t a clean, neighborly love.) The feeling I get in Buffalo is one that I can’t wait to immerse myself in after six years away. It’s one I hope to raise my family with and share with all of the friends I’ve met along the way. This week, I return to the city I’ve grown to love more than I ever imagined I could.
There will be cranky, cynical Western New Yorkers who read this entry and roll their eyes. “She’s out of touch and overly idealistic,” they’ll tweet. Perhaps I am erring on the side of blissful, visitor’s ignorance. All I know is that I can confirm, from experience, there are plenty of great cities in the world. Some of them are larger, some of them have great ideas, programs, and innovations, but none of them are perfect, or better than the other. None of them are my home. You never fully appreciate what you have until you don’t have it, and you never see a place’s full potential until you leave. Finally, I’m coming home.