I just heard it again.
“Buffalo is a great place to raise a family.”
Yeah, the Addams Family. The Jackson Family. The Manson Family.
Hey, I’m a native, too – and I don’t think it’s that bad here, but Holy Denial can we get a little perspective up in this place? Let’s stir the cauldron of controversy and see what bubbles up. Ready? OKAY!
Attached is an exhaustive list of common rationales people use to (somewhat inaccurately) portray Buffalo as a golden utopia filled with candy canes and rainbows and unicorns. We’ll debunk them as we go.
LIE #1: “The schools are among the best in the country.”
Yes, compared to the Deep South, sure. It’s like a MENSA convention for nine periods a day. But, then again, nobody is trumpeting Jackson, Mississippi as a hotbed for literacy. Public schools in New York, New England, California, New Jersey and (*gasp!*) even Rochester are so well-funded and top-notch that many of them have their own space program. By the way, those are the kids making six-figures. Here, you’re looked upon as a success if you graduate in four years from Canisius.
LIE #2: “Summers here are unbeatable.”
They also last for three weeks. Small sample size.
LIE #3: “There’s no traffic in the city! You can get anywhere in 15 minutes.”
You know why? Because there’s no people left! Anyone with a car and a degree drove off to Raleigh years ago! I don’t trust any place to be a hotbed of activity when you can drive through downtown midday and be the only non-police vehicle within a six-block radius.
LIE #4: “The food here is the best in the country.”
Whoa … did you know you can eat in a different restaurant in New York City every meal of your life and never eat in the same restaurant twice? Best in the country? Don’t be me wrong. The food here is splendiferous. Wings, Weck, Italian, Thai, Mexican, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert … all tasty treats. This point needs not to be argued. However, it is due to this indelible truth that everyone in Buffalo is six pant-sizes larger than most of the rest of the country. What do Cincinnati, Chicago, Kansas City, Memphis and Pittsburgh all have in common? All have delicious local cuisine. All are also frequently in the Top 25 Fattest Cities in the United States. So before you toot your “Our food kicks ass!” horn, remember that our food also goes straight to it if you’re not paying attention.
LIE #5: “Buffalo’s a drinking city.”
When you can’t golf, hike, walk, run, play tennis, have barbecues nine months out of the year, you better find something indoors to kill the time. Also … I take issue with drinking city. We don’t drink any more often than most major cities … the difference is, we drink a LOT more when we do. Nine beers isn’t a sign of alcoholism; it’s a badge of honor.
LIE #6: “The people here are fantastic.”
And totally uneducated, sheltered, narrow-minded, confused, unambitious and rude. We have all the manners of a large East Coast city with all the tact of Pennsyltucky. Other than that, we’re terrific. You know why people live here? Because they’ve got nowhere else to go.
LIE #7: “Buffalo’s starting to come back.”
Just because there are white people living west of Elmwood again doesn’t mean the city as a whole is turning around. Put down your Baked Brie and Apple Panini, get off your ironic fixed-gear bicycle and wake the fuck up.
LIE #8: “We have major sports!”
The Buffalo Bills are gone as soon as they finish that stadium in Los Angeles and Ralph Wilson kicks the bucket. We’re on a short list with Jacksonville for relocation. Until then, we will not be competitive because the Bills are paring costs to make themselves attractive to outside investors. Right … from other cities. And you better pray that day comes later, because the Bills are all we have that separates us from Toledo. Also, the Sabres? Forget their 7-1-1 record. Do you think the NHL really wants to see a Sabres Stanley Cup finals victory? How many people internationally would be intrigued by this … four? Do you really think having JUST a pro hockey team would make us still a first-tier city? No. That would make us Columbus.
LIE #9: “It’s scenic here. Between our water and our seasons, it’s ..”
Stop right there. Robert Moses absolutely CRUSHED this city, with no hope of it ever becoming scenic again. The 33 cut the East Side in half and turned it into a nightly shootout. The 190 turned potential riverfront property into dilapidated low-income housing with a highway running through the backyards. The skyway choked off the south harbor. There are no hills here. Spring and fall occur much later and much more quickly than they do in other parts of the country. If I wanted to look at white, I’d find Tony Montana.
LIE #10: “The cost of living is quite reasonable.”
You know why? Because it needs to be … nobody wants to do business here. Taxes are ungodly and wasted on handouts and pork and infrastructure improvements that are cosmetic at best. You think you could sell a three-bedroom in this dump for $400K like they do in Fairfax, VA? Hell no. We balk at half that price. Reasonable? Everyone else would call this “dirt scooby-doo cheap.” Only someone forced to survive on $9.00/hr to work in an actual real-life office would consider $1.50 for a bottle of water “reasonable.” Everyone else would call it a steal.
That said …
Every one of these reasons are correct answers as to why Buffalo could be a great place to live. The problem isn’t with any of these statements. The issue lies not in the messaging, but in the messengers. Many of the folks – and they’re good-meaning people, perhaps – who say these things consistently are people who’ve never left. People who rarely travel. People who are scared to go find out what the rest of the world is like when you step into the 21st century. I’ve seen friends and family members and bosses and co-workers and acquaintances and so on try and question me. “Why would you want to live anywhere else? Everything you need is right here!”
If you want to enrich your life, you need to venture outside the splash zone of the Niagara’s mist. You need to live someplace else, you need to meet people from different cities and states. You need to see the Golden Gate Bridge with your own eyes. You need to have a slice of New York Pizza. You need to travel to a foreign country – and, no, Canada does not count.
Look, I don’t necessarily disagree with any of the bolded statements I so vehemently smacked down at the top of this column. But I do disagree with people who stand steadfastly behind their opinions of how life in Buffalo compares to life anywhere else without ever actually being anywhere else. I’ve traveled to 38 states and four countries and hundreds of cities large and small. Buffalo will always be home. It will always be my first love, and anyone who’s ever spoken with me knows what high regard I hold this city in. Then again, I love also my family. But I didn’t pick them, either.
I choose Buffalo, for now, for the same reason I’ve always chosen it.
Because it’s better than anywhere else I can afford to live. And because the Stockholm Syndrome of Buffalo residents ain’t nothing compared to the borderline-DSM IV-level PTSD displayed by people who’ll never pack their shit and leave Utica. Another upstate New York haven of a hamlet in which I’ve had the pleasure of taking up residence.
LIE #11: “Hey … you’re from Buffalo? Aren’t the winters aren’t there just brutal?”
Yeah, Simple Simon. And that rusted-out blight you live in just 18 exits east on the I-90 must be a sunshine-soaked villa off the coast of the Adriatic sea.
Go outside and get some fresh air before the downstaters start taxing your oxygen.