Excerpted from Right Here, Right Now: The Buffalo Anthology from Belt Publishing.
By Margaret Sullivan
We were so tired of those people—the ones who had moved away from Buffalo, but still wanted to lay claim to it. The ones who gathered at Buffalo taverns in various cities to cheer (or grieve) the Bills, but didn’t have to think about the rusting steel mills along Route 5, or the problems of the second poorest city in the United States, or the constant infighting on the School Board.
Although we true Buffalo people—the ones who actually lived in the Queen City—welcomed them back, with wan smiles, on the Wednesday nights before Thanksgiving, on Elmwood or Chippewa, we didn’t think for a minute that they were really Buffalo People.
No, they were poseurs, in their “City of No Illusions” t-shirts, swigging Genny Cream Ale and debating the virtues of wings at Duff’s vs. Anchor Bar. Because after the holiday, or the wedding, or whatever had brought them back for a few days, they were gone, and we were here.
I tolerated them for years, for decades. Now, I’m one of them: a Buffalo expatriate. And now, finally, I get it: the constant craving for the hometown, the need to talk about it all the time, the nostalgia for what was left behind.
I left for New York City in 2012, after most of a lifetime in Buffalo, including thirteen years as chief editor of the Buffalo News, a place I had come as a summer intern after college in Washington and graduate school in Chicago. Three decades, somehow, went by. Parents died, children were born and raised. Then a job at the New York Times beckoned.
Now, after four years in Manhattan, I live in Washington, D.C. These cities have their wonders, no doubt—glamour, spectacle, a sense of importance and being at the center of the world.
[blocktext align=”right”]So far, I haven’t found anything as real as the First Friday fish fry at St. Mark’s parish in North Buffalo. Or the Turkey Trot as a crucial calorie-burner before the big meal of the year.[/blocktext] But so far, I haven’t found anything as real as the First Friday fish fry at St. Mark’s parish in North Buffalo. Or the Turkey Trot as a crucial calorie-burner before the big meal of the year. Or the first warm day of the spring when Delaware Park is alive with runners, tennis players, would-be hoop stars, and toddlers in strollers.
And that sense of place—that authenticity—is why we expatriates hold on so tight.
It’s why we gather together in other places—for example, in a Buffalo bar in Sarasota, Florida, to watch the Bills get crushed on their overseas road game in London. Or why we gravitate to other Buffalo people who have made the same move. When I moved to New York City, I found a group of literary women with Western New York ties; we called ourselves the Buffalo Gals, and met monthly for dinners to speculate on such matters as whether the Peace Bridge had been lit purple for Prince’s death or for Queen Elizabeth’s birthday, and to talk about the accumulated snowfall in the Southern Tier.
It’s also why Tim Russert, who grew up in South Buffalo, never stopped mentioning Buffalo sports teams when he was the host of NBC’s Meet the Press. It’s why Lauren Belfer, the novelist who wrote the Buffalo-based City of Light, comes to her hometown so often to speak to groups as varied as the working-class patrons of the Tonawanda Public Library and the white-gloved ladies of the Twentieth Century Club and the hipsters of Larkin Square. And it’s why I’ve been so happy to write book reviews for the Buffalo News, and to come around every summer to delight, from a kayak, as the late-afternoon sunlight sparkles upon beautiful Lake Erie.
In short, we want the connection. We need the connection.
And while we know that this yearning may seem, to you who shovel the snow and pay the real estate taxes, like the passing interest of a mere dilettante—you may even feel it has a whiff of condescension—we must beg your indulgence.
[blocktext align=”left”]Allow us to lay claim to the Buffalo that forged us and that sustains us. Because we frankly aren’t sure who we would be without it.[/blocktext] Allow us expatriates to lay claim to the Buffalo that forged us and that sustains us. Because we frankly aren’t sure who we would be without it. Without those roots grounding us and feeding us, we might wither away altogether.
So when we come around for the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, or for the Fourth of July family reunion, or for our best friend’s wedding reception at the Historical Society, we’ll be listening for the words we want to hear.
Even if you deliver the phrase with an invisible roll of your eyes, please say it: “Welcome home.”
Margaret Sullivan was born and raised in Lackawanna, graduated from Our Lady of Victory grade school and Nardin Academy, and was a longtime resident of the Parkside neighborhood and Elmwood Village. A journalist, she spent most of her career at the Buffalo News, including thirteen years as chief editor, before becoming the public editor of the New York Times and, now, a columnist for the Washington Post.