Julia Buckley was hired as the assistant travel editor at the Sunday Times of London in May.
In her first meeting with her editor, she literally could have proposed a trip to any place on the planet.
Her pitch? "I want to do a story on Buffalo."
The story that resulted was published in the Sunday Times this week, and it turned heads locally not in small part due to this headline: "Buffalo, New York: America's Coolest Summer City."
Why Buffalo? Well, it's a long, fun, typically Buffalo story. Buckley had made a few previous trips here, the first of which ended with her being "adopted" by a flight attendant, who invited Buckley to stay at her home. A travel writer since 2006 who has been to the United States many times, Buckley has become quite fond of Western New York through additional trips that had her writing stories on Buffalo's chicken wings and about New York State in general.
Buckley's original pitch to her editor was to write about the regenerative properties of Buffalo, including how older structures were being reused, a la Larkinville. However, once she got here in June, she was having too much summer fun.
"It was really nice weather when got here, and there was the waterfront, and I couldn't get it all into one story," she told The Buffalo News this week. "It's all amazing. I love it. Not enough people know about Buffalo."
Buckley's fondness for the region includes things that it has become known for – architecture, food, Niagara Falls, a re-energized waterfront – but it goes beyond that.
"You can get complacent in this job, having been fortunate to see so many places and wonders of the world, so what stands out to me is the people," Buckley said. "What stands out is that Buffalo has everything else, but it has this really lovely, friendly atmosphere, and that's really, really special. It's the atmosphere that makes or breaks a place for me."
Buckley has driven cross-country across the United States, and she estimates she's been to 35 states. For about an year and a half, she lived in Las Vegas, which is when she took advantage of a 2010 JetBlue "all-you-can-jet" promotion that allowed her to fly to any of the airline's destinations.
"I just wanted to go to Buffalo," Buckley said. "I didn't know anything about it, I hadn't heard of Buffalo wings, and I knew Niagara Falls was there. I just thought it would be fun."
On that first flight to our good-neighbored city, she met a flight attendant from North Tonawanda, who, naturally, invited Buckley to stay at her home.
"She said, 'We have to meet in Buffalo – do you need somewhere to stay?'" said Buckley. "They sent me to Duff's, to Anderson's ... The whole experience was so American – just quintessential America to me. And I mean that in a really good way. It was beautiful and so nice. It was lovely."
Buckley remains friends with that flight attendant to this day, and building relationships during her stops here is a recurring theme.
"Every time I go to Buffalo I become Facebook friends with new people or swap emails, and it's all completely genuine," she said.
That happened again during her June trip, which included her checking out the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor. At the Colored Musicians Club, she had "one of the most fun nights of my life" after being welcomed by president George Scott and talking with bartender Shirley about moving to New York City and back home to Buffalo.
Earlier that day, Buckley stopped by the Michigan Street Baptist Church to take a look at one of the stops on the Underground Railroad ... and came upon the birthday party for 74-year-old Bishop Clarence Montgomery.
"It was so Buffalo," Buckley said. "They're having a party outside, and this strange foreigner says she wants to see your church. I got talking to them, and the Bishop shows me the basement. He even apologized for 'rushing' me because he had to get back to the party. Everyone is open, and that's so lovely.
"There's like an innocence about Buffalo. They've obviously been through stuff there," referring to the city's rise, and fall, and rebound over the last century, "but there's just this lovely friendliness. The stuff that's happened hasn't rubbed away the niceness of the people. It's so lovely."
That moment when your years-long unrequited love is not only noticed but also possibly - POSSIBLY - reciprocated 😍 https://t.co/ZaK12huJse
— Julia Buckley (@juliathelast) August 7, 2018
Among the many lively phrases in Buckley's story, and one that got quite a reaction from readers, was this description of Buffalo: "It's California meets Coney Island."
"I absolutely stand by that – because UK people, when going to America, you want a one-stop shop kind of place," Buckley said. "You've got the beaches and the weather, and that's California. And then you've got the characters, and that's the Coney Island – not just cookie-cutter people, people with a real soul doing slightly different things and having this passion for what they are doing. ... We as Brits, we love both of those places.
"This is what I love about Buffalo, it's kind of a microcosm of America. It's a mini-Chicago, architecture-wise. Everything is so easy to find. And the friendly people, it's like Alabama, because it may be a stereotype, but here we think of the deep south as having really friendly people. And it's all right there."
Another impression she said the British have of America is associating it with "things being knocked down to make way for new things."
Which is why she valued reinfused, still-standing structures such as Larkinville, RiverWorks, Silo City and many buildings around Buffalo.
"At Marble and Rye," the restaurant at 112 Genesee St., "the building was gorgeous and lovingly restored.
"I loved Silo City, it was just one of the most extraordinary places I've ever seen. I went back five times. There is something romantic about things watching things die ... after concrete hits 110 years , it starts deteriorating, and there's this gentle dying process, and that never happens, we don't allow it. To see them turning that into something so beautiful ... it's just a special experience."
Shd also say my only sadness is that the strict summer theme meant we had to lose colored musicians club, Michigan st church & Nash house, and the Niagara falls underground railroad center. Hope to make another piece entirely about them.
— Julia Buckley (@juliathelast) August 7, 2018
Buckley also called the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area (which opened in May) as "fascinating," lauded our two Frank Lloyd Wright stops, and said the view from the observation deck of Buffalo City Hall was "incredible to see these two countries that are so far away from the English, touching right in front of me."
And then there's the food.
"I love the wings, and love that every one is so proud of wings, and the frozen custard, and the beef on weck, and Ted's Hot Dogs, and the sponge candy. And me being sort of a snobby outsider, I'm thinking it's kind of a small town, and we'll eat some wings.
"At Buffalo Proper," the restaurant at 333 Franklin, "I was blown away. You get presented with this great restaurant, on par with New York or any other city."
Such rave reviews have drawn a very warm reception from Western New Yorkers.
"It's been quite emotional with everything, the feedback and emails from complete strangers telling me thank you for writing about our city," Buckley said. "It was really lovely, and it reinforced everything that I think about Buffalo."