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We can't turn a deaf ear to our critics

Buffalo can be miserable in the winter.

Which is why, when an 18-year-old hockey player calls it like it is, it hits us where it hurts. And it's why a 21-word, grammatically incorrect tweet sent us reeling last week.

Emerson Etem struck a note of truth when he called Buffalo "a ghost town" that makes Medicine Hat, Alberta, "look like paradise." It stung because we've all seen empty streets on a quiet day. It mattered because we've struggled so long to turn the site of the old Aud into something we can call a tourist destination.

It's time to hear how outsiders view us, embrace it and do something about it.

There's a reason why movies like "The Savages" and "Buffalo 66" and "Canadian Bacon" make us look like we live in a perpetually cold and gloomy day.

This place in winter can look like St. Petersburg -- the one in Russia, not Florida. The snow banks pile high and dirty. You're forced to carry a second pair of shoes so you don't have to spend the work day in clodhoppers, and you have to wear a fuzzy hat just to step out to get your mail.

At some point in winter, usually around the 20th day of scraping off your windshield, you want to leave the whole place and move to Florida. But then you get to thinking about the alligators and the hurricanes and the hanging chads, and it just doesn't seem like a better option.

Buffalo's cold and snowy reputation was sealed during the Blizzard of '77. It will never matter how much snow piles up in Syracuse; the rest of the nation will still think we're buried in white eight months of the year.

I was reminded of this fact on a recent -- and unexpected -- trip to Grand Forks, N.D. Caught up in the storm that collapsed the Minnesota Metrodome, my half-day of air travel to the West Coast turned into an overnight layover in North Dakota. Without luggage. In a town where the temperature would drop to -18 degrees that night.

One of the big attractions in the Grand Forks area -- technically in East Grand Forks, Minn., across the river -- is Cabela's. If you've never heard of Cabela's, it might sound familiar. It's a destination sporting goods store with aquariums filled with native fish, displays with stuffed wildlife and any type of fishing and hunting gear you can imagine. A sign at the door asked customers to check their firearms at the front desk.

Stuck in a hotel with no winter jackets, my husband and I hopped in a cab to find out how Cabela's compares with Bass Pro Shops and to pick up some cold-weather gear to survive the night. That was how we met the owner of one of the local cab companies. He picked up our call and started chatting us up.

The conversation went roughly -- and I paraphrase based on memory -- like this:

Driver: Where are you from?

Us: Buffalo

Driver: Wow, you must get a lot of snow out there.

Let me preface this by saying that Grand Forks had some of the nicest people on Earth, outside of Buffalo. But when a guy in a city where winter temperatures regularly dip below zero thinks the weather in your town is bad, you've got an image problem.

Luckily, in Buffalo, we've learned to embrace this image. The Powder Keg WinterFest and the Labatt Blue Pond Hockey Tournament are just two examples of how we've turned icicles into popsicles.

There is plenty to love about Buffalo, and those of us who live here know that is what matters. But we need to hear how outsiders -- especially those young minds we constantly crave -- view us so we know how we can do better.

It's when we tune the Etems of the world out that we run the risk of freezing over.

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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