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By Kristine Conroy
“No. You must get out of the sandbox.”
I stared at him blankly. It wasn’t his thick French accent that was confusing. I just wasn’t expecting this as a response to asking him if he would write me a letter of recommendation.
“Why won’t you apply anywhere else? Don’t tell me it’s for a boy.”
“No, um, no boy. I just, I dunno, I like it here, I have a job…an apartment…I dunno.”
“I will write you the letter.”
“Oh, okay, thank—“
“If you apply somewhere else in addition to our department. Look at Binghamton’s program, Stoneybrook…but Buffalo. Yes. Look at Buffalo.”
Don’t they have cables running between all the buildings on campus so you can pull yourself to class through the blizzards? I didn’t ask. I just agreed meekly and left his office. I had not expected anyone to tell me that day that I should walk away from everything I knew and had built here so far for the city of Buffalo. It is a city, right?
After doing some research that mostly consisted of one Wikipedia page, I could not substantiate my snow cable rumor but I did have some new bits of information about this suggested new home. President McKinley was shot there. Rick James was buried there. That asshole that did the Cross-Bronx Expressway destroyed a neighborhood or something there. High crime rate, one of the highest poverty rates, good art scene…whatever. I’ll get through the application, he’ll write me that letter and then I’ll submit it to the school in the city that I was actually living in.
I began this process of appeasement without much problem. But then I got profoundly stuck on the statement of purpose I had to submit with my thesis. It had to include why I wanted to go to UB so badly. And even though it was strictly theoretical at first, I actually began to think through why I would want to go to school in Buffalo. What life in Buffalo would actually be like. So far, it seemed it was a place that (in my narrow view of the world that only involved looking at maps of New York State) seemed to be close to nothing (I now know where Toronto, Rochester, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit are, don’t worry), would naturally be cold and snowing year round (lake effect, duh) and intensely lonely (I knew no one that lived there, even peripherally, and the ‘city of good neighbors’ moniker seemed suspicious). But somehow that list of what seemed like reasons not to move somewhere became intensely attractive. Overwhelming so.
And six months later, I was living on West Ferry.
I won’t bore you with all the unexpected things that happened between then and now (except for the fact that I never attended graduate school), but as it turns out, Buffalo was not the place to go to be cold, desolate and alone. All the little bits of information I had gleaned before I arrived were not necessarily untrue, but created an image of this city that was incredibly underwhelming compared to the reality. The Wikipedia page didn’t mention some of what I have come to find most energizing about this city—it didn’t mention our growing refugee population and their small businesses starting on the West Side; it didn’t talk about the working urban farms that provide fresh food and jobs to the city’s kids and their families; it didn’t describe the organizations that are working for safe and affordable housing for the residents already living here; it didn’t detail the innovations and experiments in inner-city education and it didn’t explore the spaces and projects that exist for the art and the music and the writing that the residents of Buffalo and their friends are responsible for.
After two years of living here I’m sure I don’t have the whole picture, but I do have a much better idea. And what I like most is that this city is so many incredible things in the face of being known mostly for its wings and snow and sports teams.About a year making the move, with a life that looked entirely different and a completely new way of seeing this city and what was beyond it, I thought back on that day in his office. It was never his thick French accent that made him incomprehensible. I guess I didn’t understand the sandbox because I wasn’t out of it yet.
Kristine Conroy can most often be found making pancakes instead of regular dinner food. She’s trying to come up with new hobbies that don’t involve stalking acquaintances and drawing comics about it. She loves Buffalo most of the time and loves the people in it also most of the time. She has finally learned how to tumble around and does so at puzzleboxhoney.tumblr.com.