A Sense of Place II: Western New York

IMG_0765The sight of derelict barns and abandoned silos dot the landscape of western New York State. Despite the beauty of a midsummer day, the region has clearly seen better times. We drove along the blue highways from Deposit, New York to Niagara Falls through mostly farming country hoping to catch a glimpse of more scenic views than is offered by I 90. Our drive was scenic and beautiful, and depressing. The towns and villages we drove through offered only a hint of the hospitality it once did. What it did offer was a ghostly aura, a whisper in the ear of the traveler driving along its roads. “Don’t forget me,” it was saying, “I’m still here.”

Western New York contains a high concentration of conservatives that go back for generations. It has always been a mystery to me why the poor and the middle class subscribe to conservative ideology, especially since the diehard conservative mind, the Republicans of today, have no interest whatsoever in supporting the small businesses that once pumped blood through this country. But now that the Republicans find their party in freefall, a certain stubbornness clings to the mindset. The Second Amendment is the Word that informs the passions and beliefs for most of what we witnessed. We came across numerous signs in yards demanding that the state repeal its current gun laws, now some of the toughest in the nation. This may spell trouble for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s future, but with a sharply declining population upstate, and with New York City a bastion of liberal sentiment, the trouble may be just a hiccup in his political career. Nevertheless, upstate New York, especially western New York, is a world away from the concrete and glass canyons of Manhattan.

When we finally pulled into Niagara Falls, New York, my wife and I were both shocked to see how decayed and insignificant it was. The falls themselves are impressive, but other than that the area looks and feels like a developing country. In one particularly appalling shop, “Made in the USA,” we were laughing at how everything was junk that was USA made. Cheap goods and a casino that looked and felt like something out of a B movie were all the American side of the falls had to offer. The most interesting aspect for us was the amount of foreigners, especially Indians that we encountered. Not only were there Indian tourists, but Indian restaurants, and small stands run by Indians. If this were a big city the section would be called “Little Mumbai.” The foreign presence is something I liked about the American side of the falls, since it made the landscape more interesting and colorful, but one would be hard-pressed to find much else to admire.

We stayed less than 24 hours in Niagara Falls, driving back downstate once again on the blue highways that crisscrossed the rural farmlands. It’s a pretty drive and it certainly gives validity to the term “God’s Country,” but all in all the landscape and towns are depressingly rural. It certainly seemed to me to be a part of the state that Albany had abandoned, and that’s a shame.

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