Hometown Nostalgia: Buffalo Edition

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In our last hometown tale from the March ’09 issue of the Blue and White, Katie Reedy defends her beloved Buffalo. And for those who’ve already moved back to school, we recommend this essay/love letter—perhaps the ultimate hometown piece. Friends, you’re living in the best city in the world.

If you’ve ever talked to a Buffalonian, you’ll have heard some tall tales. “There were seven feet of snow,” she’ll say, “and all the trees on the street were cracked in half. Children were impaled by icy branches; people froze to death in their cars. And this was in October.”

The audience stares in disbelief. It’s true that in mid-October 2006, a snowstorm hit Buffalo so hard it knocked out power for half a million people for several days. It’s also true that thousands of still-leafy trees shattered under the weight of the snow, some people died of cold, and some were struck and killed by branches. But stating these facts doesn’t do the catastrophe justice. Embellishment is necessary to convey reality.

Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo’66 is often written off as improbable kitsch by disbelieving critics. But Buffalonians know better: the red-white-and-blue sweatpants (Bills colors), the motel in the middle of what seems to be a junkyard, and the college student betting money he doesn’t have on the football team aren’t cinematic flourishes, they’re all parts of Buffalo life.

It’s hard to imagine Buffalo as the once-gleaming “Queen City”—the consort of new york at the turn of the century. Although the entire Buffalo region contains 1.1 million people, the city limits circumscribe a mere 300,000; in 1950, double that number filled the city. The net population growth since 1890 has been zero.

We wish this were not the case. We wish inept politicians hadn’t squandered millions of aid dollars on a bogus subway running above ground on Main Street, shuttered as a result of the train making shopping traffic impossible. We wish that McKinley hadn’t been shot here in 1901. That the Bills hadn’t lost four Super Bowls in a row. That Niagara Falls wasn’t a tawdry trap, at least on the American side. That redlining hadn’t carved the city into ethnic and racial pockets so deep that only the Catholic Church can bridge the divides.

We wish, but most of us don’t act. We move to the suburbs; we leave town. We grow tired of the cold, and the false promises, the languor and the religiosity. Those who choose to stay are rewarded with a city that grows more familiar the more it shrinks; you’ll run into your doctor at a massive art party at an abandoned railroad terminus. And there are many rewards for the few who move to Buffalo: plenty of cheap space to create good things and live simply, not to mention a short drive to super-globalized Toronto, exquisite art galleries, unlimited fat-based delicacies, gorgeous Victorian houses, and Olmsted parks lying around like ignored nuggets of gold.

Yet whether born and bred, or moved and transplanted, every Buffalonian understands, intuitively, an underlying fact, born of desolate scenery made palatable with human warmth: the wheel of fate turns quickly. In the meantime, eat up—the wings are getting cold.

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  1. wow

    I'm originally from buffalo. this captures it well - as well as it can in a short space - and is probably one of the most beautiful things I've ever read about the city.

  2. mmmm  

    chip dip and wings

  3. alum

    This makes me miss Bison dip and BBQ Lays and Jim's Steak Out like no other. Also Anchorbar and Brick Bar. And Allen and Elmwood.

  4. love this  

    So well written and very poetic. I'm Buffalo-born but have never lived there, even though my whole family does. Everyone in Buffalo knows everyone else in Buffalo (actually), but the city itself has that same feel to it: you get a lovely vibe—a friendly, close-knit, inviting vibe—from it every time you visit.

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