Monday, February 2, 2009

In Defense of Buffalo

It’s February. Days are getting longer. This is a picture of the sky last night at 5:30 PM taken from our third floor balcony.

In the past few days, my reading journey in William Ashworth's book has taken me through Cleveland and along the eastern shores of Lake Erie. I went to summer camp along those shores. At Camp Lakeland, (the significance of the name never occurred to me when I was a kid) in the 1950’s we never swam in the lake. The camp had a swimming pool, and all we did at the lakeshore was to have one campfire a session on the beach.

The Ashworths drove into Buffalo from the south. That’s where my enjoyment of the journey ended. Ashworth’s description of my hometown was disheartening. It was dismal, but unfortunately somewhat true as what the author saw only the worst parts of the city. I realize that his interest is in the Great Lakes and therefore he was describing what he saw along Lake Erie and the Port of Buffalo, but to say what he did about Buffalo was upsetting to this native daughter. To quote him “I doubt that God will send anyone from Buffalo to Hell when they die. Why bother?” Not fair, Mr. Ashworth.

If you had driven even a little off the lakefront, you would have seen beautiful neighborhoods with tree lined streets. You would have City Hall, with its beautiful Art Deco style.

You would have seen the buildings of famous architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. You would have seen Delaware Park, designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted, and the world-class Albright-Knox Art Gallery. The wooden carvings of Wright and Olmsted you see here were displayed in the plaza in front of City Hall two summers ago. They were carved from 100 year old trees that were destroyed in a storm in October 2006.

Sure, Buffalo was where President McKinley was assassinated, but no one condemns the whole city of Washington DC because it’s where Lincoln was shot. Buffalo was a good place to grow up. A medium sized city, it had good schools, cultural events, and safe neighborhoods. Only someone from Buffalo can make fun of Buffalo, and only we can joke about the weather.

However, the loss of jobs and population is no joke. A bright young science teacher I know couldn’t find a job in Western New York and so moved to Florida where within a few years he was named Teacher of the Year. Buffalo lost someone who wanted to stay in Buffalo, and still enjoys going back to visit it - in winter.

It is a badge of honor for those of us from Buffalo to give our credentials. “I’m from Buffalo,” we’ll say. “I can handle weather.” In a similar vein, I heard yesterday that President Obama made a little fun of Washington when it closed schools because of bad weather. His daughters commented that not only would there have been school on such a day in Chicago, there would have been outdoor recess.

See, I told you before that Buffalo and Chicago are a lot alike. Now if Buffalo could just make its lake front as pretty as Chicago’s, it would be in great shape. Maybe we should send Mayor Daley east for a few years to straighten out the City of Buffalo. If anyone can do it, Daley can.

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