Allow me to tell you the nutshell version of my story: I was born and raised in Buffalo and spent the better half of the last decade living in Chicago. I was sent there by my then-employer, PBS. I was working for WNED, the Buffalo affiliate of PBS, raising funding for a digital conversion project when my department was shut down. The three employees who had been with the network the longest got to stay with the organization. Two of them were given jobs in a different branch of the Buffalo station. I was sent packing to Chicago to sell tickets for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. That job didn’t pan out.
It was fairly easy hopping from job to job in Chicago for awhile, but like everyplace else, the Chicago economy tanked after I was there for a couple of years. I worked a few odd jobs, including a long stint as a bicycle messenger which broke down my body and left me in a galaxy of debt. The economy being what it was, my service was eventually sold and I was out of a job yet again. But this time, there would be no last-minute work to rescue my dwindling bank account, and all of the city services which might have held me over have an apparent bias toward independent contractors, which is basically what I was.
I was prepared to face the worst, but was recalled home by my folks literally at the last minute. Three different housing plans I had thought up for a move to Texas fallen through.
My time in Chicago brought out my best. I grew up more in those years in Chicago than I ever did in Buffalo, so much to the extent that I find myself wondering frequently which of these two cities is my real home. I’m very loyal to them both. I wonder how much I’ve changed since I left for the Windy City, and how much the Nickel City (and no, I refuse to fucking call the place by its boring, generic, and annoyingly official nickname, the Queen City, and this is the LAST time you will see me refer to Buffalo by that title in this blog) changed while I was gone. One never stopped moving, the other looks poised for a renaissance. One is a mecca for the entire civilized world, the other is known as a secret corner of America. One is reputed to be the high-flying capital of the midwestern United States, the other is reputed to be a run-down factory town which was once as awesome as Chicago but is now known primarily for snow, chicken wings, and a sorry excuse of a football team.
The shock was nasty. This blog is an attempt to make sense of my situation. I will do that by frequently using it as a kind of impersonal journal, and comparing the two cities, which are so alike in so many ways and yet so different in many small ways that count. It’s also an attempt to show off – I would love to make my living as a writer, and so anyone is free to contact me personally and ask about my prices.
My first couple of days since landing in Buffalo were lost days, time taken out for my own recuperation. I spent the time watching several mindless movies – Star Trek Generations, From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. I watched the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Knicks and pined for donuts from Tim Horton’s, one of the aspects of life in Buffalo I missed during my time in Chicago. I walked around on the street, getting to know a little bit of the area and the habits of the local drivers. It was decompression period. The preceding two weeks was the most physically, mentally, and emotionally draining period of my life, and I needed some time to sort out my thoughts on the situation.
My best friend, Rob, is a lifelong Buffalonian, and I’m certainly not complaining about the moral support he gave me. He was the one who convinced me that a move back to Buffalo would be a good idea. But one of the primary problems of life in Buffalo is that he had long been my only friend when I left. In Chicago, I made more friends than I ever did in Buffalo, and the hardest part was leaving them all. I try to look at it as a leap from one support group to another, but such detachments are never easy. I am a quirky person in real life anyway, and my friends in Chicago were the first people outside of my family and best friend to have any desire to look past my sometimes inexplicable behavior. I’ve weirded people out in Buffalo; I perplexed folks in Chicago too, but in Chicago I was at least recognized as a harmless oddball with his own style and given the benefit of the doubt. In Chicago, I was more free to be who I really was than I had ever been in my life. It took me awhile to break myself of the social constraints I had shackled myself with in Buffalo, and for awhile I was involuntarily restricting myself. When I broke free, it was like a deep, purifying breath after being in a smoky room.
I miss that feeling.