About a year ago, I asked readers to share with me some of their favorite local places, institutions that have been a part of life in Western New York for generations and are still thriving.
My idea was to chronicle these “Timeless Treasures” in a yearlong series of monthly stories, to remind people that we should celebrate what we have, not bemoan what we have lost.
But being a native myself, with an outlook that is equal parts dread and pessimism, I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to come up with 12 such stories. I was sort of right. There were so many options it was difficult to stop at only 12.
It’s become oddly normal for those of us who live here to buy into the idea that we are cursed – by bad weather, job and population loss and inadequate leadership. The year that just ended reminded me that we are not cursed; we are blessed.
We see things every day that friends and relatives wish they could see again, just once. We absentmindedly eat food whose mere name – foot-long, beef on weck, A-Bomb – will cause lip-smacking a thousand miles away. We make regular visits to places that inhabit the dreams of expatriates.
My one regret is that I didn’t get to visit some of the ones on my list for a variety of reasons, weather being a main factor. Ives Pond in the City of Tonawanda, for example, has been a great place to ice skate for free for decades, but much less so when the temperature never gets low enough to freeze the water. I did get to write about Chestnut Ridge in Orchard Park, but focused on the running trails in the park and the “Ridge Runners” who gather there every Saturday. The original plan was to write about the toboggan run and sledding hill, but once again, the weirdly warm winter weather did me in. Bye’s Popcorn in Olcott, a roadside stand that has a rabid following but is largely unknown to most of the population, was a must-see, but several obstacles prevented that from happening. I’ll come up with an excuse to get there in 2013.
Speaking of rabid followings, I could have done the entire series on restaurants. It occurred to me at some point that the places people kept telling me to visit – Louie’s, Anderson’s, Ted’s, John & Mary’s and Duff’s – all had locations on Sheridan Drive, so I killed five birds with one stone.
Besides being cherished by countless people who live here or have moved away, the other thing every institution had in common was family. Either it has always been in the family – all of the above restaurants, plus Hoover’s Dairy, Vidler’s 5 & 10, Bocce Club Pizza, Mayer Bros., the Transit Drive-In – or a family connection is what keeps it strong: an aunt spending a Saturday afternoon at the Palace Theater with her niece; a father taking his son to bowl a few games at Thruway Lanes or play 18 at Bob-O-Link, like his father did with him years before; a young family sharing a gargantuan sundae at Condrell’s; a mother and her two teenage sons on a thrill ride at Martin’s Fantasy Island.
These are the places, the moments I will think of the next time a clueless professional athlete or uninformed out-of-towner insults us or some list is generated that feeds our communal inferiority complex.
When that happens, I will keep in mind that some may pity or denigrate us, but as many or more envy us. I know at least a dozen reasons why.
The year that just ended reminded me that we are not cursed; we are blessed.