When my wife, Stacey Frey, and I moved to Western New York in September 1999 to join WKBW-TV, neither one of us had ever been to this place called Buffalo. Oh, we knew it, much the same way the rest of the country knows it - the place with the chicken wings, the endless snow and the Bills who lost four Super Bowls.
What we found when we moved here, though, was so much more. We discovered a clean, friendly and inviting city that offered a rich history, jaw-dropping architecture and a picturesque park system. It was a place that had big-city amenities but with small-town charm.
We were able to find a beautiful and affordable place to live in a wonderful neighborhood within walking distance of all kinds of unique shops and restaurants. Topping it off was the fact that it was just 2.5 miles from City Hall. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and I didn't think such a combination existed in an urban setting.
As we saw all of this, our reaction was: How could it be that such a secret could remain hidden? How is it that the rest of the country didn't know what Buffalo had to offer?
As we talked with longtime Buffalonians, the answer became somewhat clear. Decade after decade of loss had done a hell of a job on this region's collective psyche, feeding an inferiority complex that seemed to prevent people from seeing how good they actually had it.
There's an old saying that is a personal favorite of mine: A guest sees more in an hour than a host sees in a year.
As a guest in Buffalo for the past three years, we didn't look at what Buffalo lost, we were amazed by all that Buffalo still had. So what if you're not one of the nation's 10 largest cities as you were a century ago. Do you really want to be? Do you really want the inherent problems that accompany such a distinction?
One of our greatest thrills over the past three years was welcoming friends from out of state who were visiting Buffalo for the first time. We took great joy in seeing the look of surprise on their faces as they saw for the first time what we saw three years ago.
That said, I know this isn't Camelot. This city has its problems. But the current financial crisis, though difficult to swallow now, will only serve to position the city to be stronger in the long run. Economic realities are forcing elected officials to make tough decisions that politically they would never have otherwise made.
We say all this as we, like so many people before us, leave the city for other parts of the country. In our case, it's just the nature of the television business we've chosen. But as we settle into a new life across the lake in Cleveland, please know that we leave Buffalo as two of its biggest cheerleaders, hoping to change in our little way that outside perception.
So when people ask about the chicken wings, I'll say, yes, they're as good as you've heard. When they ask about the snow, I'll say, yeah, it snows but they get rid of it. I'd rather deal with two feet of snow in Buffalo than two inches of it just about anywhere else in the country.
And the Bills? Well, when your team gets to the big dance four years in a row, then we'll talk.
JOHN KOSICH and his wife are former anchor/reporters for WKBW-TV 7. They now live in Cleveland, Ohio.
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