I learned at a young age that everything around me was a lesser version of what had come before. I’m not sure at what point I realized this, but I know it began early in life. The drives up to see my Grandmas in Tonawanda passed by the hollowed out hulks of industry, their broken windows staring out at us like the empty sockets of rusty skulls. The quarter century long depression descended upon the rust belt at about the moment I was born. The economic grim reaper and I are both children of ’68.
All through my youth I felt as if I sifted through the ashes of a ruined empire. I sat at the table as the grownups talked of layoffs, and closures, and listened to my grandparents generation tell stories of the past over Genny Cream’s and games of Euchre. My earliest excursions beyond the confines of our block were bike rides on the back of Mom’s bicycle, through the bombed out remnants of the great urban renewal, to her office in the cavernous hull of the old Johnston Harvester Factory. Is it any wonder melancholy flows like oxygen in my blood?
Then came the blizzard of 77’, and the Love Canal, and we would watch our own decline on the nightly news, as we became the punchline of Late Night TV. As our world decayed around us, we sought escape from reality by investing our emotions in O.J. Simpson and the Buffalo Bills. But even our professional sports teams conspired to kick us while we were down as our woeful Bills dwelt at the bottom of the AFC East. So in 1980, when they finally broke their streak of going “Oh for the 70’s” against the glamorous Miami Dolphins, it was as if 10 years of pent up angst blew through the safety valve of professional sports, and allowed us to smile for the first time in years. In Western New York we came define our self worth by the fortunes of the Bills on Sunday afternoons.
I do not exaggerate.
So when the Bills broke a 0-15 streak against the New England Patriots yesterday, to move to 3-0 and claim sole possession of first place in the AFC East for the first time since the mid 90’s, I could hear the safety valve releasing from 900 miles away. As I type this I know in my heart that Western New Yorker’s are smiling at each other this morning, and riding the high that only Meth and Pro Sports can bring to them.
Sure, we realize it’s still an illusion. We know that win or lose, nothing ever changes in our long slow fade into history. But for one more week we are winners. Let us enjoy our moment.