Every so often, I have an “aha” moment. Just such a moment occurred this past weekend when I realized that I am, indeed, part of the problem.
My friends at WNYMedia.net recently had a NCAA-style bracket tournament to determine who is most responsible for the regional failure in Western New York. And the answer was us. That’s right. Us.
When the results came out, I said to myself, “Yeah, ‘us’ collectively, but I’m not to blame.”
But my “aha” moment told me I was wrong. I hate being wrong. And even more so, I hate being part of the problem. So I’m going to work to fix it.
I’ve always said one of our biggest problems in Western New York is the provincialism displayed by our elected leaders. They all have their fiefdoms and they refuse to work with other communities for the betterment of the entire region.
I’ve even called out non-politician friends for showing the same type of provincialism.
For example, I’ve complained to friends from Lockport dozens of times about what seems to be a common interest in the city: Never leaving Lockport.
“The world does not end at the county line,” I’ve said repeatedly over the last decade.
I enjoy a particular watering hole in West Seneca. I don’t go there as often as I used to, but when I did, I would have people ask my why I go “all the way to West Seneca for a beer.”
When I lived in Ohio, I traveled 54 miles one way to work. An hour there. An hour back. Every day. Five days a week. So a half an hour drive to go to “my bar” doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.
This past weekend, I took the kids to the “Buffalo Pizza Fest” in the Marriott on the Millersport Highway. It happens to be Amherst right there. Based on the reactions on a local website, people were offended that the “Buffalo Pizza Fest” was held in Amherst – outside of Buffalo.
I thought this reaction was silly. I mean, it’s all Buffalo, isn’t it?
And that’s when I had my “aha” moment. I’ve been guilty of the same thing.
You see, I grew up in the Town of Niagara. When I would tell people this, they would say, “Oh. Niagara Falls.” I have always been quick to correct them. The Town of Niagara is most certainly not Niagara Falls, I would explain.
Oddly enough, when I was in Ohio, I would tell people I was from Niagara Falls. Those who were familiar with a map would say, “Oh, I didn’t know you were from Buffalo.” And I would correct them as well. Niagara Falls is not Buffalo.
Why didn’t I want people thinking I was from Niagara Falls? Is the Town of Niagara somehow better than the City of Niagara Falls? Is the City of Niagara Falls somehow better than the City of Buffalo?
The clearcut and obvious answer to both questions is, “no.”
We’re all in the same boat together. Niagara Falls and Lockport. Buffalo and West Seneca. Tonawanda and North Tonawanda. And yet we act like the border to each and every single community in Western New York is the Mason-Dixon line.
There’s nothing wrong with civic pride. But the xenophobia reflected in this region is the wrong kind of pride. Until our civic pride overlaps our community borders, we’re all part of the problem.
And I’m not going to do it anymore.
From now on, I’ll be from Niagara Falls – even though I grew up in the Town of Niagara. I’ll be from Buffalo – even though I live in Tonawanda. And I’ll do my best to remember that we’re all collectively from Western New York.