James at Tempo in Buffalo serves up Maine Lobster Risotto. (Julia Pelish photo)
BUFFALO, N.Y. — “I’m a journalist and I’m writing a travel article about how to spend a weekend in Buffalo.” With those words, I had managed to disarm a U.S. border guard, a young man who immediately stepped back from my car and took a seat on the stool inside his booth. He placed a hand on his shaved head and then swiped it down across his perspiring face.
“You’re going to say good things about the city, right?” he asked without any hint of authority. It was more of a plea.
“I have every intention of being fair,” I answered.
“Have you been to Buffalo before?” He fingered through my passport but didn’t appear all that interested in it.
“Just for hockey games and a couple of concerts a long time ago.”
“What are you going to be doing?” Having collected himself, he stood and once again walked closer to the car.
“The tourism board gave me some suggestions …”
That seemed to worry him. He became more concerned with who the tourism board might be and what potentially lame itinerary they’d set up than with the line of cars waiting to cross the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge on Friday night. “So, where are you going to be staying?”
“The Mansion on Delaware,” I said, totally delighted at this point that I’d found some warmth in a situation that can often be cold and without humanity.
“Good, good, that’s a good start.” He leaned in and tapped a thumb on the roof of the car while I searched for the agenda. “What else? Where’ve they got you going?”
“Dinner at Tempo …”
“Never been there, but heard good things. What else?”
“The Albright-Knox Gallery …”
“Ok, sure. Good. And?”
“A Spirit of Buffalo cruise, Shakespeare in the Park, drinks at some bars.”
“Oh, yeah.” That last bit crossed into familiar terrain for him and he asked, “Which ones?”
“Allen Street Hardware Café …”
“Yeah, so-so, in my opinion. You’re in Allentown, good area, but you should head up to Elmwood and Forest, and try Hertel.”
“There’s lots to do. I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head right now, though.”
“That’s ok. I’ve got a lot planned.”
“Buffalo doesn’t have a very good reputation.”
“I have to stand up for my city,” he said and handed back my passport. “Have a good time. Write something good about it.”
That ended the best conversation I’ve ever had at a border crossing and began a weekend in Buffalo full of charming encounters such as this.
For those of us in southern Ontario, picking on Buffalo and Buffalonians has been our guilty pleasure. We’ve laughed while fate dumps a torrent of snow on them; we’ve snickered at their failures, exchanging enough “wide right” jokes to keep us going straight on with our bias; and we’ve used their serious misfortunes — high crime rate, low prosperity — to make us feel superior about ourselves and where we live. It’s not very neighbourly, let alone Canadian.
read more »