"We are driven by the thought of how much generational joy that a Stanley Cup will bring to the city of Buffalo and to the Buffalo diaspora." - Sabres President Ted Black (http://bit.ly/h5dlZx)
Diaspora: the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland; a people dispersed by whatever cause to more than one location; people settled far from their ancestral homelands.
Putting aside the discomfort my liberal brain feels when using the word "diaspora" with respect to the migration out of Western New York after having heard the term so widely used to describe the forced movement of oppressed peoples under threat of unthinkable violence, this quote from Ted Black has my mind clicking on all cylinders. At the risk of introudcing myself to the DGWUS audience with what may seem like a post only tangentially-related to the Sabres and their forthcoming playoff run, this first foray into blogging will be concerned with some of the big picture issues whirling around my head at the conclusion of what has simply been a magical season of Sabres hockey. The Yachstman has, for some time, been gracious enough to encourage my participation on this blog, but If I’m going to do this kind of thing with any sort of consistency - and I would very much like to - part of me needs to be cathartic from the outset. And like all of my attempts at explaining my deep and often neurotic love for Buffalo and her sports, or at explaining anything for that matter, there’s little chance that this will be brief.
I can't pretend to have had any real notion of stewardsip when I moved to WNY in '88, though I can say that as Buffalo became that kind of special place for me - a community that gave me so much, while asking for little in return - I found myself eager to find ways to contribute, to establish my own roots in the area, and to make sure that I was doing my part to carry the mantle for a place I loved so much. I like to think I had some success here and there, such as it is.
Not to downplay the role that teachers and friends and coaches, but I don't think it’s hyperbolic to say that the Bills and Sabres were a major part of why I became some enamored with my new home in North Buffalo. (other than those foxy Holy Angels girls hanging out at Shoshone; they looked pretty good to my eight year old self....though much less so to his 15 year old counterpart). My arrival in Buffalo was just in time for a ridiculous decade for both the Bills and Sabres. I was able to live through major times in Buffalo sports history - twelve years that started with this...
The strength of my roots in Buffalo - or, more likely, the strength of Buffalo’s impact on me - is, of course, not limited to sports, though my connection to the city is nevertheless sustained by my love for its teams. Like those early years, the current Sabres and (to a lesser extent, lately) Bills teams provide me with a way to root myself in Buffalo, if only for a few hours, despite the fact I'm on the opposite end of the state. These times are especially meaningful because, living in a city filled with a significant and vocal portion of the Buffalo diaspora, I know that I am not alone in my desire to reconnect with WNY. And based on my conversations withexpat friends here in the Tri-State area, dreams of moving back are never far from our mind. New York City is an expensive-ass place, the subway is a huge hassle, and I for one wouldn’t mind having a little bit more space after dropping $2,000 per month on rent. Last fall, at the PUSH Buffalo event in midtown, during conversation about the Preservationist Convention slated for summer 2011 in Buffalo and the ongoing efforts at revitalizing Buffalo's architectural landscape, an overwhelming majority of the crowd expressed a desire to move back if they could find a job there. The love for the area persists through the years of distance, even if it is little more than a pipe dream for me, given the obvious benefits of New York’s (and pretty much ever northeastern city’s) comparatively supple job market. It is also, like many exercises in nostalgia, admittedly free of the things I hated about Buffalo during my wonder years and then later during the year I Iived there after Hobart. Perhaps the fact it is so divorced from the realities of actual Buffalo living is probably why I'm able to hold onto it with such a tight grip.
With the rebirth of this blog and recent discussions - many drunken - with the Yacthsman, the Scizz and the Apologist, my thoughts on the Sabres have been framed by my love for Buffalo itself, and - sure, I’ll admit it - a silly fairy tale conception that a successful Sabres team could be the domino that starts some chain reaction throughout Buffalo, saving the place I so thoroughly and maybe even foollishly adore. I know that the fantasy that sports glory can jumpstart local socio-economic glory is not germane to Buffalo sports fans, though Buffalonians often revel in the opportunity to look for “Knight in Shining Armor” solutions to our woes (See Bass Pro; see also Marv Levy, General Manager). For the people living in Buffalo, I imagine that this fantasy is may be quite visibly absurd, since it’s obvious to any reasonable thinking person that the answers to Buffalo’s problems are complex and require an infusion of capital (both financial and, to an extent, creative) and smart economic policies that have been frustratingly absent or lacking in local discussions regarding hope for a renaissance. For the people working there, entrenched in efforts to build up the area, linking Sabres success with the success of the area may very well be insulting.
Yet, for the expat in me, distanced from the day to day reality of working to make Buffalo better (as so many residents there do), I can dwell on the fantasy a little longer. For me, cheering on the 2011 Buffalo Sabres means cheering for an organization that finally wants the area to succeed, to finally profit from the beautiful architecture of its natural and man-made landscape. To root for the Sabres is to root for something uplifting to bring the people of Buffalo onto their feet and to keep them standing, walking towards a successful future. Big moments to build upon. Shit straight out of Hollywood. And, as I think about possible transitions ahead in my life, I let excitement wash over me, letting myself step into the fantasy first-hand: what if the Sabres win and downtown is reborn and new investors come to town to do business and Buffalo’s economy grows enough so that I could actually have a shot at finding and keeping a job there? What if the town that has lost so many of its children to other big cities could lure some of them back - people who have for so long cheered their teams on from afar, quietly wishing they could be there, back home, living in the community that they still love? What if I can revisit and rebuild my roots - my attempted legacy of stewardship - in Buffalo and grow old there while children of my own learn to love the place that so thoroughly supported me as I grew up?
These are my dreams as the Sabres' playoff run continues, 7 hours from WNY and far removed from the legacy (such as it is) I left behind in Buffalo. It goes without saying that the rational part of my brain is fully aware of how utterly childish such dreams are. But, as part of the diaspora, filled at times with regret and remorse over the decision to leave home behind, and hoping for any glimmer of hope for Buffalo’s future - and my future as a steward in it - these playoffs are a time to dream big.
Let’s Go Buffalo.