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November 8, 2008 - 7:13am

Batavia: Not just a place to pass through

posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bill kauffman.

After 18 months of living in Batavia, local blogger Martin Szinger is getting settled into life in his new home town.

I was born and raised the Town of Tonawanda, a first-ring suburb of Buffalo. As an adult, I moved out to the "country" in Genesee County, Town of Batavia. Always Buffalo-facing, I never gave much thought to the City of Batavia, five miles to the east, other than it being the shopping destination of choice for most of life's daily needs. I came to understand that most of Genesee County is more likely to be Rochester-facing - we got the 585 area code with them, bland pollsters operating from a half a world away assume we watch the Rochester TV stations, and so on. But I never gave much consideration to the idea that any significant number of people could be Batavia-facing.

Great way of putting it: That you can live in Batavia and not look to Buffalo or to Rochester, but actually be Batavia-facing.

It's probably no surprise that Martin getting knee deep in appreciation for Batavia coincides with his reading Bill Kauffman's book.

Slowly, I've become more interested in the history of the place. I've just finished reading Bill Kauffman's Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette, in which the author's classic experience of the Native Son returning to his small hometown is set in the very same Batavia. It's his vehicle for bemoaning so much of what's been lost in Small Town America and also celebrating the good in What Remains There, but it's also very much about Batavia. Literate (probably to a fault) and witty (to compensate), Kauffman produces a veritable parade of references that shed light on Batavia so as to almost move it from the Real to the Mythic. You can feel the love, and it's contagious.

And we're gratified to know that Martin reads The Batavian and that he is considering taking our advice to subscribe to the home town newspaper. We also encourage him to make a habit of WBTA.

You can enrich your life when you turn to your own home town and make it not just a place where you watch TV and sleep at night, but where you actually live.

lazario Ladou
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So long as what you do and care about can be found in your hometown I've lived in place -Batavia looking- Batavia itself currently -rochester looking ..and more and more buffalo looking- and place not so much large city looking but large city itself of 95,000 For me Life was best in the larger city as it was a great mixture of near everything Life in Batavia hasn't been too great for much of what I love and need just isn't to be found here Life in the small town was nice because it had everything I really wanted at the time I see Batavia as needing some change Some are very happy here and don't need anything to be changed Some were happier before any change occured and desire change in the other direction Goldilocks phenomenon, I guess we all experience the "just right" but it usually doesn't last forever because change is always being called for Be true to your school but don't fail to see where it can be improved upon and if you do see potential for growth make sure that growth is really a positive and not just growth for growth
Bea McManis
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When I lived away from Batavia (notably Philadelphia and San Jose) I always thought of Batavia as my Bedford Falls (from "It's a Wonderful Life"). It grew smaller as I got older, but it seemed its arms were always open and ready to embrace me. I chose to remain here and enjoy the first throes of my retirement years. I don't know if that will change, but for now I'm extremely happy. Can Batavia improve? Of course. It had a better mass transit system long before the term was a buzz phrase. A main line bus route, friendly for people coming and going to work as well as those who prefer not to spend almost two hours at a store before the next bus arrives, would be perfect for many...including a bus service on Sunday for those who want to attend church...and a bus service at night for those who would like to attend social functions or just go out for dinner. Batavia is the typical graying community. But gray does not equate with stagnant. While the population is aging, it certainly is capable of contributing to the lifeblood of the city. I love Batavia; Genesee Co., and Western NY. It will always be home. As an aside, several years ago I worked on a project where people were always asking about my home town. It was easier to just write WNY. One day, someone asked me what country that was. That took me by surprise. I stated, it means Western NY not to be confused with New York, New York. I guess I just figured everyone could figure WNY out.
Russ Stresing
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Since coming back to the States, our family has lived all over the eastern part of the Buffalo suburbs. Lancaster, Depew, Cheektowaga, West Seneca. And then in Binghamton and Connecticut. But it was in Batavia and Genesee County that we found a home. The original move to Batavia was a matter of convenience for our family. We were barely able to keep a car on the road, so the drive from the area of Cheektowaga near the airport to a steady job in Batavia was a real concern. There were times between paychecks when we couldn't afford auto repairs, so I took the bus. Walking the 2 miles from our house to the airport during two weeks in January convinced me that it would be a good idea to shorten the drive. We managed to find a wonderfully considerate landlord (Tony Scalia, Sr.) who graciously excused the security deposit for a family of 5 (going on 6), which allowed us to move into an apartment that was within walking distance of my work and the kids' school. It was the best move we ever made and we're forever grateful to Tony. There's lots of stories I could tell about many instances of consideration, charity, camaraderie and shared sacrifice that would serve as reasons why my wife and I choose to continue our life in Batavia while our kids live hundreds, bordering on thousands, of miles away. Suffice it to say that experience has given us a standard by which we can comfortably base our decision. The people in Genesee County and The City of Batavia are some of the toughest people we've run into. And that extends to their sense of fairness and compassion. They will not be put off their integral moral compass by distractions. They mostly judge people by their actions and intent. Drape the person in whatever political, religious, philosophical position you choose, most people around here make their own assessment of particular persons. People around here resist being told how to feel about people they've never met. And they allow that some people will never get along. But they try like hell not to let that interfere with getting things done. And that's because people around here are the kindest, most considerate people we've had the great good fortune to meet. It takes considerable toughness to be charitable towards people you've been told don't deserve it. People around here are tougher than that. We've lived in other counties, other states, other countries. We love it here. Its worth fighting for.
Timothy Paine
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Russ, I couldn't agree more. I've been in all the lower forty-eight. Some of them I've just passed through, but most of them I've spent some time in. Several years ago my family and I were looking to move to Carlisle Pa. It would have been a great move for my business. We looked at houses and schools and when the time finally came to choose a house there, we couldn't do it. Even though I would have gained a few extra days a month with my family I felt it would have been a mistake to take them out of WNY (really, Batavia). My wife moved here when we got married and really loves Batavia. We decided we want to grow old in the house we have here. I've always lived with in a few miles of this city and have no regrets with our decision to move into the city. I've been to many places that are very close in climate and visually nearly the same. But, Russ is right. It's the people that made us want to stay here. No matter where I was, I couldn't wait to get home to Batavia.
John Roach
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laz, again, I don't think anyone knows what you mean. By the way, you never did get back and say how you, Laz, could prove you are not a racisit. I hope you didn't forget feed line.
lazario Ladou
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For small town america to work for you you have to enjoy small town america It's goldilocks At times in your life the place will seem ideal and at other times you may not like it -what it has to offer you- all that much at all Anywhere USA is a great place to live so long as what you yourself need is found there the real truth behind that is that Anywhere USA is a great place to live so long as you take part in it and when something you need isn't found there ..you bring it in This creates change in the community It's love of the hometown but it isn't necessarily love of the ORIGINAL hometown Goldilocks in a way If something is too hot you blow on it and if too cold you heat it up Sometimes you need not do a thing for others have done it for you "bemoaning so much of what's been lost in Small Town America and also celebrating the good in What Remains" All that is lost are the things the new people in the town taking part in their town have brought in What is left is likely what these new people sought Lets not delude ourselves into thinking that Batavia has stayed the same since founding Those people would not recognize the place and what was loved by Kauffman was just something new that people more like him than the original settlers brought in Batavia is still small town hometown america Just a different one Home is always what you make it Home doesn't just exist for you to find "make it not just a place where you watch TV and sleep at night, but where you actually live." "enrich your life"
lazario Ladou
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John Not sure you've ever answered "any" of my questions and yet you bring up your questions in an entirely different thread Give and Take requires giving as well I don't think I'm racist The proof thing was in response to your "wikipedia" proof of jesse jacksons/byrds racism I don't believe I'm racist but I'm not going to say I've never thought discriminatory thoughts before or said something that I perhaps didn't really mean to say or just should not have said
Philip Anselmo
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Laz: You've got some great thoughts, here. I'm especially fond of the notion that rather than "bemoaning" what your community lacks, folks ought to make the change—bring in the thing, style, shop, thought, whatever that will fill the need, even if, at the time, the need is merely your own. As you say—much more succinctly—"When something you need isn't found there ..you bring it in. This creates change in the community." Because what is a community other than the collective reverberations of each and every one of its members. This, of course, has another side to it... that many people can also "bring in" what isn't needed. I'm thinking, in particular, of the glut of big chain shopping outlets that have amassed along the fringes—and sometimes right in the centers—of small and big town America alike. I live in a city, but I think first in terms of my neighborhood. Thankfully, we've still got a hardware store around the corner, and the grocery store isn't too far, but for many of our needs, we're forced to drive out to a distant suburb and shop at some enormous retail "center" that is anything but central, where people shop simultaneously for socks and motor oil and breakfast cereal. What's important to distinguish, however, is that what's "brought in" in this instance is cookie cutter and mass produced. It's not individual. It's not from the bottom up. It's top down. And a strong case can be made for many of this country's current woes being caused by too much top down thinking. I'm also fond of your guard against nostalgia—in my mind, a very dangerous sentiment—"It's love of the hometown but it isn't necessarily love of the ORIGINAL hometown."

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