Written by Jason Clement:
How would you describe Buffalo in one word?
I spent the better part of my summer either asking Buffalonians that question, or editing their responses into clips like the one you see below. The project is called Buffalo Unscripted, and through it I met over 500 Queen City residents who – believe me – had a lot more than one word to say about their city.
In total, we filmed for nine days at 25 meet-ups in 14 neighborhoods. Hardcore, right? However, despite all that behind-the-camera time, I just this morning settled on my one word for Buffalo. I warn you: It’s not that exciting, but hear me out.
Buffalo is surprising.
Yes, a lot of things about your city surprised me. Like when I asked Mark Lewandowski if I could borrow the Central Terminal for a preservation pep rally and he responded in a split second – and in what sounded like one word – with, “Surekiddontworryaboutit.” Or when Rick Smith brought me to the top of a grain elevator and then threw me in the back of a Kawasaki for an, um, fast-paced tour. Or when we realized after a wrong turn and a complicated immigration process exactly how close Canada is to you.
Perhaps most surprising, though, was the effect the city had on me – both in the sundrenched days of the heat wave we filmed during (um, also surprising), and when I was home in DC looking at pictures and questioning whether the trip actually ever happened.
I will always remember the feeling I got – no, the feeling that tackled me to the ground – one morning at Sweetness 7, our chosen venue for caffeine abuse. Owner and general rock star Prish Moran was in my frame, sipping coffee and laying it down like only Prish can. It was during a response that started with, “It’s all about the kids man,” that my eyes veered away from the camera and over to the big table – the honeycomb of the always-buzzing beehive that Prish has created. In that moment, MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” mixed seamlessly with the clanking of cups to create a soundtrack for a question I wasn’t expecting to ask myself that morning: What am I doing with my life?
That’s the thing about Buffalo – there are (at least) two ways of looking at it. The half-empties will see the rust and the scratches and think it’s game over. My week and some change in the Queen City led me to a different perspective, though. I see Buffalo as a place where, if you’re willing to un-tuck your shirt and get really dirty, you can get it done. And by “it,” I mean that idea that has always been in the back of your head – a restored home, a better block, your own artwork, a new business.
Looking at Prish’s big table, where you can watch ideas bounce and bump around like pinball, I wondered if I belonged in Buffalo. If I needed the challenges the city faces to push me into being a different, better, less predictable version of myself. If moving to a place where there’s room – lots of room – to be bold would be the end of my conversations that begin with, “You know, I always wish I had…”
And I’ll have you know the existential crisis didn’t end when my house-blend-fueled buzz wore off. Just ask my dental hygienist. Seriously.
Two weeks after being home, I was due for a routine cleaning. As I eased into my dentist’s teal leather chair, the kind woman who was about to manhandle my mouth attempted to break the basically unbreakable ice that comes along with that situation. “So Mr. Clement, what have you been up to this summer?” she half asked as she readied her medieval torture devices. Fast forward fifteen minutes (literally), and not a single tooth had been scratched or scraped. Instead, she was listening to me go on and on about a city that, up until that point, had only been the butt of jokes to her. I knew I was rambling, partly to delay the inevitable, but partly because it’s like I had been waiting for someone to ask me…waiting for my moment to be a Buffalo booster.
When the appointment was over (no cavities…booyah!), she asked if there was a website where she could see Buffalo Unscripted’s final cut. I jotted our URL down on the back of my business card, and after mechanically telling me to floss regularly, she said she was really excited to see it.
I think she was surprised, too.
Jason Clement works for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, DC. He invites you all to a party he’s throwing on Friday, October 21, during the National Preservation Conference – the screening of Buffalo Unscripted. Learn more about the event and let us know you’re coming on Facebook.