The shopping plazas look like shopping plazas in anywhere, U.S.A. There’s the architectural “Clean lines and fake accents” style. They build it, it looks big and off-white, glimmering in the sunshine, the apartment block, the shopping plaza, the fitness warehouse. Looks so nice for what, 10 years maybe?
There are older versions, older styles, these communities, not really city, more like suburb and exurb. The developers came, they saw grass, trees and big skies and decided to build. They built acres and acres of one-story tall buildings, apartment buildings no higher than three stories. Everything new, everything shiny.
Problem is, these places are eating away at our human connections. Because distances between things are so far apart, you have to drive. Combine all that driving with a sedentary lifestyle and you’ll be fighting your weight and all the health problems. Instead of working things out with your neighbors, you move away from them. People are herd animals.
When I lived around the country, nobody knew of or cared about Kenmore, New York. They’d never heard of Amherst, Clarence or West Seneca. When I told them I was from Buffalo though, suddenly they remembered someone from there, “Do you know anyone with the last name Wisnewski?” Wherever I went, I’d meet Buffalo ex-patriots, at least that’s what they claimed to be, but they were NEVER from Buffalo. They were from Lancaster, Orchard Park, Hamburg and even places as far away as Salamanca and Elma.
There is a definite divide between the urban, suburban and rural people. One would think the internet would make us all the same, but we’re not. The divide is still geographical. It mutates into politics and attitudes, but the foundation of the divide is geographical. It’s funny how those of us who have left our hometowns have dropped the attachment to our little suburb. It’s not that these little places are not good, they’re just not very memorable. Possibly, when you make that transition, realizing when someone looks at you with their face screwed up saying, “Kenmore, I’ve never heard of that, where is that?” You come to the realization that in fact, your little bitty town doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things.
It does matter to you of course. This is humbling, something I recommend to everyone. There is a lot of growth and understanding to be had by putting yourself in uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations. I was talking with a guy who makes approximately four times what I make. He has multiple large and expensive vehicles. I have a little bitty car and bunch of bikes, none of them particularly expensive. He’s mad about everything, I’m not mad about much. I didn’t get the president I wanted, but I shrug my shoulders and write this blog imagining possibilities of doing things differently things that will hopefully help other little guys like me. I have a hard time understanding what he’s so mad about. Then I recall he lives in an even smaller place, more out in the middle of nowhere than Kenmore. Compared with him, I’m wealthy in that I can get just ride 20 minutes across town hook up with friends who have other ideas, who give me support and comfort.
When they aren’t available, all I have to do is get on my bike and in 10 minutes I can be in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Buffalo. When I’m feeling depressed and friendless, I can go to a cool cafe on a cool corner and pass at least three people who are having a worse day than me. At the cafe I can strike up a conversation with someone interesting, or I can people watch, or I can eavesdrop, this time listening to people with different ideas, complaining about their boss, pissed off at their boyfriend.
Mother Teresa once said that Americans suffer from a disease called loneliness. With all the electronic distractions, it’s really up to us to be mindful about where we are, literally and figuratively. If you’re in a bubble maybe you need to make a trip to a forgotten hamlet or to a big city, whatever the opposite is for you. You never know who you might meet and the inspiration you might find there.
And then, if you want something in-between, come to Buffalo.