Journey’s End: Buffalo

I’ve lived in both Portlands now—Maine and Oregon. Thirteen years apart and both for the same six months. If there is a next time, I’ll know not to unpack. Portland is my transition town, my layover between a life I’m departing and my next destination. When the call came, I resisted moving to Portland—a city on the same coast with a similar vibe, and a destination I’d considered in the past. Had my internal GPS deployed me straight to Buffalo, New York, I’m certain I would have flat out refused.


Portland is indeed a fantastic city. I loved it. I found a fabulous house to rent near a gorgeous park in a thriving, creative neighborhood. The switch from country to urban felt fine and I settled in. I met good friends; lived striking distance from old friends and welcomed the change. I was not looking to move; I was working on creating a new life.


Buffalo came out of the blue and beckoned, not through a dream, but through a dozen humorous signs and a deep felt knowing. I’d never been to Buffalo; had no intention of moving back to the East Coast to live; and absolutely no reason I knew of to move to a city with a lousy reputation and an inhospitable climate where I knew not a soul. Tell people you live in San Francisco and more often than not they tell you about their vacation there. Tell people you’re moving to Portland, Oregon and they understand. They might mention the rain, but they’ve heard good things. Tell people you’re moving to Buffalo and they ask you why. When you don’t have a reason, they mock you and question your judgement.


By the time Buffalo rang, I’d accepted that life is an adventure and I’ve signed on for the ride. I won’t deny that I questioned my unconscious: Come again? Did I hear that right? Is this negotiable? But it only took a week or two at most: I knew I would go. The final sign came when the man I payed to mow my lawn showed up wearing a New York baseball cap and the Nike swoosh on his t-shirt—Just Do It.


Family and friends protested, but I packed my car, queued Ani DiFranco for inspiration, and headed east. I arrived mid-July in the early evening. My first thought as I drove into town was one of disbelief. Have I been punk’d? I’ve never actually seen the show, but I expected Ashton Kutcher to jump out from behind one of the city’s stately trees and laugh with me. I’d cobbled together a grim image of a post-industrial city in decline; an outpost of civilization defined by its love of cheap beer and ice hockey. The city that greeted me was something else entirely—more well-kept secret than outpost. Like stepping back in time, Buffalo is beautiful, and never more so than in the summer. Driving down the Bidwell corridor, I noted preparations for an outdoor concert and decided to check into my hotel, empty my car and return. What better way to assess my new home than to people watch at a community concert on a lovely summer evening.


I returned just as the band was beginning to play and found a seat on the lawn in the middle of the crowd. Not more than a song or two after sitting down, a couple my age arrived and spread a blanket next to me. Conscious of the woman staring at me, I turned and smiled. She commented on my posture and asked me if I practiced yoga. When I said yes, she asked where, to which, of course, I replied that I had just arrived in town. The next thing I knew I had a place to sublet for the summer and an invitation to a dinner party for the following evening. My leap of faith was met with confirmation; I was where I was meant to be, it would feel this easy.


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