I never thought I would hear myself say it. I miss Buffalo. All my life, I eagerly anticipated the moment that I would break free from the city of dilapidated storefronts and an abandoned steel mill. I couldn’t wait to relocate to a progressive city where employment was plentiful, a city that time didn’t seem to forget. But as I sit in the shade of a palm tree in beautiful Orlando, I feel an aching emptiness inside me. I can’t fully explain the tug that I feel at my heart when I see come across a picture of the magnificent Richardson Complex, or when I reminisce about Saturday nights spent at Spot Coffee. While Buffalo certainly has its downs, there is no other city quite like it. Yes, it has been in a recession for the past 30 years. If you drive down many streets on the east side, you will see houses that have been abandoned by slumlords and forgotten by the city, surrounded by what could pass for small jungles. You will likely see a sofa sitting on more than one porch, and a clunker in the driveway. The bitter cold is enough to send one into a deep depression. At the same time, the sense of community in Buffalo is something that you would never understand without having lived there. I remember the days of heavy snowfalls that exceeded a foot in depth, when the streets were so treacherous that a driving ban was put in place. Neighbors would step outside of their doors bundled in layers and armed with shovels, ready to clear a path for whoever needed such. When they were finished piling snow into small mountains on each front lawn, a kind soul was bound to offer hot chocolate to the hard workers. I think growing up in Buffalo had me duped into believing that this was simply the way of human beings. Everyone bound together to make the city, the world, a better place.
When I set foot on Florida soil, I was astounded by her beauty. The lush green leaves of the palms against a crisp blue sky in the middle of January were better than I ever could have imagined. I took my heavy winter coat off to feel the warm air against my skin. I was home. I said the words out loud as if to convince myself that I was not dreaming. I was home. I was so excited to be in Florida, I could barely contain myself. I couldn’t help but smile at everyone I passed. Slowly, I began to notice that those smiles were not returned. People almost seemed to view my friendliness as an intrusion. How could this be? This was one of the most breathtaking cities in the country, yet it was not reflected in the personalities of its inhabitants.
In my three years of residence in Orlando, I have experienced a definite lack of community. That is the only way I can describe it, the best way to explain the menacing stares you will often receive when you happen to look different than the people around you, the hours that you can stand beside a car on the highway with smoke pouring from under the hood and not have a single person stop to offer a helping hand. “Welcome to Orlando, the City Beautiful”, a sign beckons upon entering city limits. What the sign doesn’t tell you is that a deep rooted hatred of anything outside of the ordinary resides here. It doesn’t warn you about going down the wrong country road after sunset. It doesn’t speak of the kind of racial prejudice that we thought died in the 50’s. Don’t get me wrong, Orlando is not a complete disaster. Its Farmer’s Markets will put those in many other cities to shame. The fact that you can barbecue in February without having to shovel a path to the grill is pretty cool, too. And nothing beats being able to witness the launch of a space shuttle up close and personal. With all that being said though, it is still not my Buffalo. There are no red and orange maple leaves lining the trees in the fall, no sledding in the winter time, and no Wegmans. I have yet to find a place that sells cannolis as decadent as the ones at Dolce on Elmwood Avenue. Most importantly, there are no returned smiles.