Buffalo Gals (and Guys)

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

“People here are such assholes,” joked Brandon, after the babyfaced boy behind the Quick-Mart counter engaged us in some good natured ribbing about the Red Sox.  “Jerks in Buffalo; all of ‘em.”

I admit that Buffalo residents’ general demeanor is quite different from what I’ve known in Boston.  I’m still not used to it, after four months here.  I find myself constantly surprised. It’s been a slow acclimation, and I’m sure I have a way to go.

What best contrasts and accentuates the differences between Buffalonians and Bostonians is very simple – snow.

I was assured that snow in Buffalo didn’t live up to its reputation.  “Relax,” Brandon had said.  “Buffalo gets a bad rap, but it doesn’t really snow that much more than you see in Boston.”  With those words of assurance, I blithely packed up my things and moved 500 miles to Erie County.  Note the name.  Yes, it’s close to Lake Erie. This is notable because apparently, living close to one of the Great Lakes, which by the way, are really more like inland seas, means that yes Virginia, yes there really is a lot more snow here.  Take it at my word. I’m not saying Brandon was lying, though I do think that a decade away from this place softened his home-spun memories.

View out my front door.

The view out my front door, during the storm. The grayish blob in the middle of the photo is our mailbox.

I haven’t seen the sun for the past six weeks.  With the exception of a few days of (blessed) rain, Lake Erie has dumped snow on us every day.  Usually it’s just a couple inches, but late this past November, we had a three day snowstorm that bombed us with over three and a half feet of snow.  Though we had our share of Nor’Easters in Boston, I had rarely seen weather like this.

And I do remember the snow in Boston well.  I remember shoveling a lot as a kid, followed by a good couple hours of sledding at the nearby golf course as a reward.  I remember misshapen snowmen and writing my name in the soft powder with yellow food coloring, as a joke.

Memories from my 20′s are less pleasant.  Parking in Boston has always been at a severe premium (no really, check this out).  Most folks in the Cradle of Liberty lack garage parking, and there are never enough street spots to accommodate the population anyway, much less take care of residents when snow plowed piles take up the majority of street real estate.  There’s a sort of unwritten code that specifies that once a resident has shoveled his or her car out (which, in reality, does take hours, considering the way the plows pack the snow around civilian vehicles), that spot belongs to them, at least temporarily.  Short term ownership is established by the placement of sawhorses, chairs, parking cones, and various other large, found objects in said spot.

N00bs to Boston parking may remove these obstacles from potential parking spaces and naively leave their cars there unattended.  They shouldn’t be surprised then, when they find their tires have been slashed.  Upon explaining the situation to locals, they’ll also find they’re not met with much sympathy.  “You shoulda known.”

Bostonians take a very Darwinian point of view when it comes to snow.  Survival of the fittest and of those with the most weather-friendly furniture, my friend.  Don’t like it?  Move somewhere further down Route Nine.

Personally, I find the whole thing pretty distasteful.  But that doesn’t mean I haven’t taken the occasional recycling bin and tossed it in the spot I spent two hours digging out.  I think my space was taken only once, and the worst I did to the car that usurped it was hurled a couple muttered obscenities in its general direction.  I really meant it, though.  Totally.

Buffalo has proven different.  We woke up early to shovel out the driveway on the second day of the enormous storm.  We hadn’t bought a snowblower yet, as we had only owned our first home for less than two months.  The task looked daunting.  I almost cried when I saw over a foot and a half of snow impeding our way out of the driveway.

Our hero arrived in the form of a neighbor we hadn’t met yet – he saw my husband in the meager predawn light, armed with only a shovel, and decided to introduce himself.  Oh, and he also introduced the plow he boasted on the bumper of his truck.  He had our driveway clear in minutes.  This kindness left us flabbergasted.

Eight hours later, the drive looked untouched from the earlier plow job.  Husband (I call him B) and I battled the white stuff with our shovels yet again.  I felt the muscles in my lower back begin to cinch and pull.  I stood my shovel upright on the pavement and rested my chin on it, wiping the ice off my eyelashes.  Suddenly I noticed our neighbor across the street (whom, like the previous plow driver, we had yet to meet), take a sharp turn with his snowblower.

Two minutes later, said neighbor was in our driveway, clearing out the snow with this Wonderful Machine.  He ran out of gas about three swaths in.  He took the stall as a chance to introduce himself and shake our hands over the sputtering motor of his snowblower, and then excused himself to borrow some petrol from another neighbor.  B and I stood, transfixed at all the damn nicety.  A stranger helping us was weird enough, but then asking yet another person to aid us was absolutely alien.  He returned with a full gas container, and cleared out the entire expanse of pavement.  He even tried to rid our front walk of snow, but the white stuff proved too much and we politely asked him to stop after watching him struggle.  We bought a snowblower that night.

The next day tossed another foot or so of snow on us.  I hadn’t had my snowblower tutorial yet, so I used a shovel to dig out enough room for B to park his car before christening the new blower.  This time, another neighbor, whom we had only met once or twice, appeared out of the storm, and took care of the majority of the mess.  Again, I was agape at the bonhomie. This kind of genial mitvot seemed bizarre, but I shook the man’s hand, thanking him.

In Boston, I only got to know my neighbors by watching warily from my front porch as the day care teacher from next door rummaged though my recyclables on the curb (and sometimes on my porch, which wasn’t so cool).  I never really minded her taking my discarded cans and bottles to redeem at the supermarket, though I would have appreciated her returning the occasional wave or ‘hello’ I threw her way as she went through my stuff.  Common courtesy, in my opinion.

Never.  Never.  Ever.  Ever would a neighbor had offered his or her services helping B and I remove the snow back in my home town.  In fact, that one courtesy would have only been extended to steal a car, or one’s wheels or hubcaps (no really, it’s a singular experience to walk outside and overhear a bunch of youths discussing which car to jack – and subsequently scaring them off).  Darwin, baby.

I read a book about my newly adopted hometown, and it mentioned that Buffalo is called the “City of Good Neighbors” for a reason.  People here apparently, are willing to help others out of a jam.  As a native Boston gal, I may not get it, but I like it.

And I guess all I can do is try to extend kindness to others in the way said kindness has fallen in my weather-chapped hands.  Karma, in a sense (I believe in the whole ‘passing it on’ thing).  I hope I can do as well as the natives around me.

Buffalo people, man.  Wow.

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