The flight was almost full.
Save for a few open seats scattered throughout the airplane, there were dozens of people awaiting takeoff on an early Monday morning to voluntarily leave sunny, 75-degree Atlanta, Georgia, one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in the United States, for Buffalo, New York, which, on this particular day in September, had a weather forecast calling for a high of 57 and rain showers all day long.
And yet the flight was almost full.
A few rows behind me, a woman sat puzzled, openly questioning why so many people would fill a plane heading to Buffalo. She was simply connecting to another flight out of Buffalo Niagara International Airport, so she wouldn't be staying long.
"I don't know why it's full. Maybe there's just something really exciting happening in Buffalo," she said sarcastically, as though it were scientifically impossible for anything exciting to ever happen there.
Although her comment bothered me, I didn't feel the need to intervene. I sat silently, with a smirk on my face, because I knew exactly what would happen next. The three women in the row in front of me - who I could tell right away were Buffalo natives because of the way they'd been pronouncing "bar" (ba-hr) and "car" (ca-hr) - turned around simultaneously, almost as though it were clockwork.
"But it's a great town," one of the women said.
"You should try the food," says the one in the aisle seat. "Then, you'll see."
"It really is a great town," the other one says.
One innocent comment from that perplexed woman behind me then turned into a heartfelt discussion about which restaurant makes the best wings in the city, how many games the Bills would win this year now that it looked like E.J. Manuel was a competent quarterback and whether people in other cities also use the word "the" before referring to their highways, like The 90, The 190 and The Scajaquada.
We didn't hear a peep from that woman the rest of the flight.
This attitude, my friends, is why I love Buffalo.
I moved here four months ago from a foreign land called Missouri, which, to Western New Yorkers, may as well be Mars. As I sat on this airplane, I was flying back to Buffalo from Atlanta after taking a trip to visit my older brother and watch our hometown St. Louis Rams play the Falcons. For the first time since moving to Buffalo, it was the first weekend I'd traveled outside of the region and had the opportunity to proudly tell people that I lived in Buffalo now. The reaction is almost universal. Buffalo? I heard it when I originally took the job at Channel 2 in the spring, and my parents say they've heard it whenever they tell people they have a son who moved to Buffalo. And I heard it in Atlanta again. Buffalo? They say it with the same inflection that the woman on the plane had-- a confused, what-in-the-world-are-you-talking-about expression that bothers me every single time. Why in the world would you move to Buffalo?
When I get this reaction from people, I just smile, look them in the eye and tell them the truth: that Buffalo is awesome, and they have no idea what they're talking about.
I could try to convince these people by talking about things like the food, Lake Erie, the beautiful summers, the observation deck at City Hall, the architecture, the history, the friendly people, Niagara Falls, the nightlife, Delaware Park or the proximity to Canada, but this traditional recruiting pitch hardly works. To the outsiders, Buffalo is just a snowy wasteland, a place that might technically be in New York but still isn't New York City. Tom Brady, Willis McGahee, a random guy from the Toronto Star, Dan Marino and countless others have taken public shots at Buffalo, and people soak this stuff up. So when you travel across the country and tell people you live in Buffalo, you get that universal reaction. Buffalo? What's in Buffalo?
Except this all plays into exactly why I love this place and all of you that grew up here. When you're told over and over and over and over again that you're inadequate, you begin to fight back. You begin to form an unbreakable bond with each other and an immense pride in the fact that no matter what anybody else says, Buffalo has a lot to offer. You begin to believe it is a great city, even if nobody else in America can see it. This community has done that. When I tell people here that I'm new in town, you don't scoff at me or dismiss me. Instead, you tell me where to eat dinner. You ask me where I decided to live and whether I've been to Wegman's yet, because people here care about where they're from, protect it with all their power and seem to enjoy sharing it with people such as myself, who've chosen to make it a new home after moving from somewhere else.
Buffalo is The Underdog City. Coming from someone who grew up in St. Louis, which is constantly told by outsiders that it isn't Chicago and has nothing to live for besides baseball and Budweiser (which, to our dismay, wound up getting bought out by a Belgian company anyway), I respect this underdog status as much as anybody. So the next time people who aren't from here tell you how terrible Buffalo must be, don't even bother wasting your energy by trying to change their minds. Just do what I do. Smile and take pity upon them for missing out. Embrace the fact that you know something they don't. Embrace this place as a hidden gem, and absolutely refuse to allow other people to define what you've created here. Because even when other people are wrong about Buffalo, you know you're right, and that's all that matters.
It's too bad the woman sitting behind me on the airplane was only passing through the airport in Buffalo. She'd probably love it here if she gave it a chance. I have no clue where she headed next. But for the first time since I moved here, I stepped off that plane and didn't feel like a tourist anymore. I will never be able to claim myself as a true Buffalo native because I didn't grow up here, but I'd like to ask you to accept me as an honorary member. I get Buffalo. I understand it, I think, because I'm from a city that's just like this. Just like you guys, we love our sports teams and hometown beer in St. Louis a little bit too much, but we're proud of what we have and constantly defend ourselves against the outsiders who seem to get a sick, twisted enjoyment out of making fun of us.
Just remember: we don't live in Buffalo. We live in Buffalo, which is our city, not theirs. And you know what's funny? On my original flight from Buffalo to Atlanta, the airplane was about half-full. According to the antagonist of this story, that clearly means there was nothing exciting happening in Atlanta.