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Border agent helps writer shed anti-Buffalo bias

Big city journalist comes to Buffalo, and discovers that despite its terrible reputation, the city actually has its redeeming moments. There's been an anthology's worth of such stories in recent years, yet the surprise persists.

So maybe they're good for Buffalo's image, helping convince potential visitors there's still reasons to come here despite the city's perplexing failure to exploit its place in North American consciousness with a Losers Hall of Shame. (Hey, the National Buffalo Wing Festival worked, so why not?) 

Yet the latest installment, by Adrian Brijbassi of the Toronto Star, struck me for his depiction of a city full of people eager to put a shine to the old Queen City. He describes encountering pro-Buffalo pitches starting at the U.S. border, with an agent who, upon learning that Brijbassi would be writing a Buffalo story, asked about his itinerary to make sure he made it to the right places.

“I have to stand up for my city,” [the agent] said and handed back my passport. “Have a good time. Write something good about it.”

That ended the best conversation I’ve ever had at a border crossing and began a weekend in Buffalo full of charming encounters such as this.

For those of us in southern Ontario, picking on Buffalo and Buffalonians has been our guilty pleasure. We’ve laughed while fate dumps a torrent of snow on them; we’ve snickered at their failures, exchanging enough “wide right” jokes to keep us going straight on with our bias; and we’ve used their serious misfortunes — high crime rate, low prosperity — to make us feel superior about ourselves and where we live. It’s not very neighbourly, let alone Canadian.

I’ve done it, too often making fun of the city and — as I discovered this weekend — doing so without ever really getting to know it.

My previous experiences in Buffalo were always for an event: a hockey game, concert or wedding. I never lingered or explored. The routine was the Anchor Bar for chicken wings or a couple of beers at one of the tacky clubs on rowdy Chippewa Street and then back over the border in a bus or on to the hotel for the reception or party.

This time, I got to know the place and the people. Turns out, they like us, and they really want you, Toronto, to like them. Give them a chance and you will.

He goes on to recommend places like Tempo and Blue Monk, the Mansion on Delaware. He made it to Allen and College and liked what he saw, but didn't take the agent's advice to hit Hertel Avenue as well.

Despite Buffalo's warts, Brijbassi concludes, "There are more good parts than bad and lots more genuine kindness than you’d expect. It’s a fun and attractive place to spend a weekend — and that’s no joke."


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