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Buffalo seemed a different place to me the weekend of June 11, not at all like the city I grew up in. The temperature shot up to the sticky 90s, the lazy kind of heat Buffalonians are used to suffering for only a few days in late July. My beloved Sabres were in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since I was 2, and the fanatical enthusiasm usually only afforded the Bills was now being showered on our often-dismissed hockey team. The city was vibrant, leading to the most unexpected difference of my visit: the sadness I felt when I had to leave.

That Sunday morning, in an attempt to beat the oncoming rush of emotion, I hastily said goodbye to my parents. I promised that next time, maybe, I'll come back for good, though I only said so for their benefit. As I drove away, the unexpected tears that I had been fighting back dampened my shirt and I resolved to rearrange my life to make my next stay longer, if not permanent.

After a couple hundred miles and a few good songs from the radio, my eyes were dry. It sadly occurred to me that my parents probably were still sitting under a dark cloud, once again adjusting to the fact I'm gone.

I pushed the thought out of my head, and remembered why I stripped myself of family and friends to move to a new city in the first place. I learned to love Buffalo while attending Canisius College. The hipness of Elmwood Avenue, the great restaurants, the 24-hour stores -- finally, I could indulge my nocturnal tendencies -- all made me feel lucky to be a young Buffalonian.

As I neared matriculation, I talked to several professors about my future. The popular opinion was that an English degree would best be put to use in a teaching career. To write, which is what I intended to do, was pretty much out of the question, at least in Buffalo. And as my bills piled high and I scoured newspapers for any decent-paying job, I realized that they were right. Though it certainly wouldn't have been impossible to find a job in my field here, the odds (and salary) would indisputably be better somewhere else.

And so I've been gone three years. I've learned so much from living in a large metropolitan area. But I sorely miss the many charms of Buffalo, the wonderful characteristics of a mid-sized town that inhabitants of a big city never will experience. Daily commutes that are quick and manageable. The convenience of eating at the best restaurants without reservations.

And, to make up for the harrowing winters, the glorious summers -- perfect sunny days for the Allentown Art Festival, Taste of Buffalo or a day at the marina. All these activities can be gotten to with relative ease and enjoyed with crowds just big enough to make people-watching interesting. Short of the snowfall, nothing in Buffalo is overwhelming.

Sadly, though, I'm afraid I can't yet return. I still need to make a name for myself, and I still believe the best places for me to do so are outside of Western New York. I anticipate a time when my resume is plump enough for me to come back and live the life I'd fantasized about as a student: owning a Victorian off Delaware Avenue, season tickets to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Sabres, maybe a small boat I can sail on the lakes.

When I tell my mother of another friend who's moving away, she says they always come back. I know I will.

TRICIA OLSZEWSKI is a free-lance writer currently working for the Washington City Paper.

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