Thursday, September 30, 2010

Defining Buffalo

I think I can say with complete and utter sincereity that opposing fans simply do not understand.  New Yorkers do not understand.  Carolinian definitely do not understand.  Syracusans...well...I don't really need to finish that sentence.

There is something quite magical about HSBC Arena, the people within it, and the land around it.  Something so indefinably special that other arenas just don't have.  It's almost impossible to define.

Going to HSBC arena is a journey, regardless of where you're coming from.  For me it begins coasting down the hill to my house onto Rte. 31, driving through the country until I can get in I-90.  Then it's watching the landmarks pass as I get closer.  The Waterloo Outlet Mall, The Montezuma Wildlife Refuge, The Microtel, the Glass Building, The Riverton Community, The Clarence Rest Area,  The _90s count down as you get closer.  590...490...390...290...190...  The Buffalo sign looms.  "An All America City."  Right next to Canada.

After a couple hours, you're speeding past The Galleria on your left, looking over your other shoulder trying to find an opening to make that last lane change before the Downtown Buffalo exit.  As you drive down the 190, the smell overtakes you.  Is it Cheerios?  Is it Lucky Charms?  It's neither.  It's Buffalo.

The arena looms over the 190, popping out among the decaying infrastructure.  I get off at exit six, letting a few people merge in front of me.  I'm always friendlier in Buffalo.  I circle around to Michigan and make a left onto Scott Street, parking at the little chain-link fence lot right on the corner.  It's only a few blocks walk and it's more fun milling through the throngs of Sabres fans on the approach.

The journey is different for everyone.  Perhaps you drive down Elmwood, watching the shops pass and cursing the red lights.  Or ride the metro, shoulder to shoulder with some guy clinging to the better years of his Afinogenov jersey.  Perhaps you park in the sketchy lot run by foreigners under the overpass.  Or in the iron-fenced "Alcatraz Lot" right by the arena, of which there is no escape.

Whenever I'm at HSBC arena, during an intermission or a stoppage in play, I always take the time to look around.  To bask in the other 18,689 individuals present.  They are moments in which I've never felt more at home.  Me, an admitted introvert, feeling at home packed into a building with thousands of other people.

There are so many things you can feel, so many sensations that assault your senses.  There's the anticipation as you mill through the lines with hundreds of others clad in blue and gold.  The excitement riding the escalators to your seats.  The awe at the always suprising cavernous size of the ice and spectator area.  There's the familiarity as the signs begin to go up.  "Population of Pominville" above  311 and 312, "Sabres Rally" above 306, the odd pink and green Goose sign between 319 and 320, "We Believe" above 303, "Duck Duck Goose," above 302 and sadly departed "Mair's Office," above 300.  I'll be honest, I wasn't sad to see Mair leave, but I will miss that sign.  It's a part of home that is forever gone.

Unless you go there, unless you're from there, unless you live there, you simply do not understand.  I think what gets me, what really gets me is witnessing, and sharing in the happiness of thousands of people rise from the stands, and knowing thousands more are jumping with you in adulation from their couches.

I never felt anything when I went to church.  I never felt anything at school.  I feel something in Buffalo.  I feel something at Ralph Wilson Stadium, I feel something at HSBC Arena.  I feel something.

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