In the last few weeks, not one but two out-of-town people with whom I was casually talking about the Buffalo region and its many fine attributes responded with genuine surprise when I mentioned that my wife, grandson and I spent the day at the beach.
"The beach? There are beaches in Buffalo?" they queried incredulously. Their shock was, I think, overshadowed by mine.
"Are you kidding? You're really surprised by this?" I demurred. "What, you think we have glaciers here all year?"
The conversations got me thinking about the recent announcement of the new slogan for Buffalo tourism: "Buffalo. For Real." Now I'm not about to second-guess that tagline. I'm sure plenty of thought went into it. That it was test-marketed. And that perhaps it will grow on me.
But permit me to toss my hat in the ring and suggest a moniker I think makes a lot more sense: "Buffalo. You'll Be Surprised!"
Just as surprised as the aforementioned folks, when I brought up the beach scene. And I think this slogan works on several levels. Taken literally, people will indeed be surprised. How many know, after all, that we have some of Frank Lloyd Wright's and Louis Sullivan's best work here? Or that our art museum is chockablock with both classic and contemporary masters? Or that we boast a world-class symphony orchestra? And that we're practically in misting distance of a natural wonder called Niagara Falls?
"You'll Be Surprised" also strikes a chord of adventure most people would embrace. People like to be surprised. So this slogan offers a promise to them -- the promise of finding something here they never expected. And making good on that promise isn't difficult for Buffalo: a burgeoning waterfront; nationally recognized professional sports teams; bucolic parks; great, affordable shopping and housing; renowned art and food festivals; and an old-fashioned neighborly ethos.
People need to be disabused of their sometimes outrageous perceptions of our city. I've encountered otherwise enlightened people who honestly think there's an arctic weather pattern here all year long. Their immediate response, when you tell them you're from Buffalo, is, "Oh, you guys get a lot of snow there, don't you!"
This kind of stereotyping is an easy trap to fall into. Admittedly, don't most of us think of grass skirts, pineapples, palm trees and luaus when we think of Hawaii? Yet it has crime, poverty, blight, inclement days, gridlock and more. That would surely surprise many of us. Likewise, there are people in Las Vegas who are not connected to the gaming industry, and folks in Wisconsin or Nashville who couldn't give a porcupine's behind about cheddar cheese or country music, respectively.
All of which may come as a surprise to a lot of people. I have to admit that, when I first set foot in Georgia, I expected throngs of Southern belles and bushels of fresh peaches. But it wasn't like that. And when I first walked Hollywood Boulevard in L.A., I thought I'd spot dozens of movie stars; I didn't see a one.
So what do people expect when they imagine a visit to Buffalo? Snow all year-round? Chicken wing restaurants on every corner? People still wringing their hands over four consecutive Super Bowls without ever bringing home the game's holy grail? Fact is, they'd be surprised. Especially when it comes to beaches. Yes, we've got 'em in Buffalo. And plenty more. They'd be surprised -- for real. Doesn't everyone love a surprise?
Paul Chimera is a Salvador Dali historian and writer and teaches media-writing courses at Daemen College in Amherst.