It was time for me to come home.
For years I was out there, in “Normal America”, among the people who were judging me, suspicious of me, doubtful of me, wondering what part of New York City contained Buffalo and Niagara Falls. In Normal America the people didn’t swear out loud. They didn’t tell you when they were mad at you- they just told everyone else. In Normal America people don’t understand why they “serve wine” at church. In Normal America- everything was so very clean, so very vanilla, so very muted. In Normal America people avoided eating onions or garlic. In Normal America people can’t pronounce your last name.
The stuff this city is made of is in my DNA. I was made from the grandchildren of immigrants, fed by the work of union members, raised by musicians and scholars alike. Here I grew up in an urban village with a hundred parents. My mother knew what I was up to before I could go home and tell her.
I think it’s just right here. This city sustains me. I feel the people and the places are like cushiony springs in a mattress that support me when I need to rest. They’ll hold me up when my bones are tired. They’ll keep watch when my eyes are closed. The waves of summer and winter rise and I ride these waves sometimes softly, sometimes swiftly. The economy is a river on which the raft that is my livelihood floats.
The thing about Niagara Falls is that I am not riding all these tides alone. Above all else- Niagara Falls is a family. How else can I describe it? Love, brotherhood, compassion, reliance. Resentment, frustration, pity, and codependence. All of us here move between emotions, between activity or inactivity- apathy and passion… but we are all moving within the same circle.
I know when something goes wrong- there are people here that have my back. There are people who are going to care- that are going to be outraged if I’m wronged, they’re going to be sorry if I am hurt, they are going to fight for me if I am down.
I almost walked away again. But then I was told, “Don’t go. You belong here. You are home. We need you here.” How many of us get the chance to hear that in our lives? It’s the place that tolerates my temper tantrums and keeps loving me even though I’ve been like a bad child.
How many of us could leave a place that finally, totally, completely accepts you even with your eccentricities and your faults and makes you want to be better? Niagara Falls makes you want to stick with it.
It’s not a dream place. Here in Western New York we came of age amongst cigarette smoke and factory smells. People worked hard all day but they also drank hard all night. We suffered thousands of layoffs and lost people following work to Vanilla Places in Normal America. Now we stand at the edge of a new time for Western New York. The sights of our leaders are turned toward art, culture and architecture.
We stick with it. Because it sticks with us. It offers us Polish restaurants, Italian bakeries and Indian markets. We offer it our creativity, our hope and our love.
This is not a political blog. It’s not a tourism blog. I’ve been accused of being a foolish optimist and a cynical pessimist in the same conversation. This is none of that. It’s just my experiences, offered to you in a weekly journal of this city, Niagara.