The Scintas now performing at the Las vegas Hilton in Las Vegas. They just started their 9th year in the entertainment capital and celebrating over 2000 shows.  

By Paul Chimera

There’ve been plenty of jokes about Buffalo – usually revolving around our colorful, sometimes quixotic weather – but the last laugh is on the joke-tellers themselves: this is a city that continues to “talk proud,” and for plenty of heroic reasons.

Ok, so maybe we don’t have the ocean front view of Miami. Or the year round balmy temps of San Diego. Or quite the charm of San Francisco or the glitz of Las Vegas.

But Buffalo still has lots to boast beyond its world famous chicken wings – and one of its advantages that some predict the rest of the country will become increasingly envious of is the abundance of fresh water in our region.

That might not sound like a very sexy attribute, but with 109 temperatures already making meteorological headlines in Places like Las Vegas and Phoenix in only mid-May, Buffalo’s greatest natural resource might have the allure of a fine cabaret about now!

Some well-known former Buffalonians are raising their glasses to toast the benefits, delights and promises that our region continues to hold for them, partly in their memories and partly in their anticipation when they return here to visit the city they can’t stop talking about.

Win Free Trip – Winner to be Announced June 13!

The Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau (BNCVB) cobbled together a host of laudatory comments from some celebrity expatriates, and said “Sure!” when this writer asked if After 50 could cull some of those morsels for this month’s cover story.

A communications specialist with the BNCVB also pointed out that they’re running a contest called Tell us why you LUV Buffalo, in 150 words or less. Details are posted on their website: www.visitbuffalo, but the winning entry gets two round trip Southwest Airlines tickets to anywhere Southwest flies. Winner will be announced on June 13.

“Fly two friends or relatives back to Buffalo this summer!” the Convention and Visitors Bureau urges, and that would be a treat for an awful lot of people.

One whose arm wouldn’t need additional twisting is Tim Russert, a Buffalo native who went on to become one of the world’s most famous journalists. He’s moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press and a political analyst for the network’s nightly news and the Today Show. He cites the practical convenience of getting around town as a key selling point of our region:

“Within an easy 20-minute drive in any direction, you have available to you the very best scenic, cultural and athletic opportunities anywhere in the country: skiing, seasonal festivals, charming towns like Niagara-on-the-Lake,” says Russert. “In many parts of the country it’s an all-day drive or a multiple day trip to experience what we have just a short drive away.”

True. And in many parts of the country, the morning and evening work commute eats up the bulk of the before and after work hours each day, straining nerves as well as gasoline budgets.

A city with spirit and fire

Tom Fontana, a native of Buffalo and graduate of Buffalo State College, has written and produced for numerous television shows, including St Elsewhere, Oz, and The Jury. Fontana considers Buffalo “the true heart of America.” Noting that the city is all about its people, he believes Buffalo “has spirit and fire. It’s a great place to visit – especially the waterfront – on a summer or fall excursion. Or take a walk around the streets of the West Side – West Ferry, Lincoln Parkway and Elmwood – where you’ll find great bars, restaurants and shops as well as amazing residential areas…Here, you’ll find what’s great about our country.”

Similar feelings about the Queen City are shared by Nancy Reisman, author of House Fires, a short story collection that won the 1999 Iowa Short Fiction Award. Her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2001, Tin House, and The Kenyon Review, among other anthologies and journals.

“There are many great restaurants in Buffalo – Chef’s, Rue Franklin, San Marco, the Towne, and Family Tree, to mention only a few,” she states. “Ted’s Hot Dogs, Anderson’s Frozen Custard and the Anchor Bar’s chicken wings are longtime favorites. I’ve always loved Delaware Park and the many beautiful houses in that area of Buffalo, and as a child I was awed by the grander homes on Delaware Avenue. I’m especially fond of Elmwood Avenue – the Elmwood Village, with restaurants, shops, cafes and galleries right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”

Paintings seem like old friends

Reisman adds that, since her childhood days, she’s regularly visited the Albright-Knox Art Gallery – “a great museum. Many of its paintings and sculptures seem like old friends.”

Old friends for Paul Maguire, former Buffalo Bill and now a sports analyst for ESPN and member of the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2002, are the Buffalo area’s great ethnic diversity and food – and the weather! “Yes, the weather,” Maguire makes clear. “We love the changing seasons. Most people get four. In Buffalo, we get eight. And there’s no better place in the summer time, with the cool lake breezes and absolutely incredible boating, fishing and golf.”

32 teams – one of them here!

Maguire used to live in San Diego – much vaunted for its idyllic weather – but now resides with his wife Beverly in the countryside south of Buffalo. “We also moved back for things like the Albright-Knox Art gallery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Artpark, Chautauqua, and rides through Amish Country on the Southern Tier. Of course, we also wanted to be here for the football. There are only 32 teams in the National Football League. We have one of ‘em.”

What’s more, Maguire adds, “Where else are you going to get the original chicken wings? They’re all over the United States now, the entire world, but they taste better in the city where they started. For us, Buffalo is just a wonderful place to be.”

Author Virginia Deberry believes it’s the “unexpected” that’s a key part of Buffalo’s allure for her. “People are always surprised – ‘You have an art museum in Buffalo?’ they say,” referring, of course, to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. And a great symphony orchestra and wonderful zoo, too, Deberry points out.

She’s co-author, with Donna Grant, of Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made, Far From the Tree, Better Than I Know Myself, and Exposures. Their latest novel, Gotta Keep on Tryin’, was released in January.

“Our City Hall is pretty spectacular too,” Deberry continues. “There are great performing arts venues in Buffalo as well: Shea’s Buffalo, Studio Arena Theatre. People know we have a football team and a hockey team and chicken wings – and snow, but they’re always surprised to hear we have so much culture.” She recalls a trip home for Mother’s Day when she, her mother and sister went to the Museum of Science to see a particular production.

A uniquely Buffalo experience

“Students from Bennett Park Montessori had written and performed an Italian language opera. What a wonderful and delightful moment that was. It was the most charming thing I had done in Buffalo in 20 years. One of the songs had a line that said, ‘To be what you can be, you have to dream beyond what you can see.’ It renewed my faith in schools, that they can be innovative and creative and challenge children. That was a special and uniquely Buffalo experience, and reminded me once gain, ‘Buffalo is just not what so many people think it is.’”

What Mark Russell thinks Buffalo is is a place that should have a sign posted for those visiting the city: “Welcome to Buffalo – Where the Weather Keeps out the Riffraff.” Russell, a resident of Buffalo until his graduation from Canisius High School, has seen his witty Mark Russell’s comedy show in its 27th season on PBS and his syndicated column enjoyed across the country.

Says Russell, with a dollop of the comic’s keen timing: “Buffalonians have the tenacity to withstand the weather. And if you’ve got it, flaunt it! In Washington, D.C., we don’t need the government or an act of Congress to shut down the city. All it takes is a half-inch of snow!”

Russell says he marvels at Buffalo’s City Hall and the rest of the great architecture here. And he enjoys the city’s connection with Mark Twain, what with the author’s donation of his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn manuscript to the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. Likewise, he’s impressed that UB houses rare and exclusive works of James Joyce manuscripts in its Poetry/Rare Books collection. “And Buffalo restaurants are fabulous.”

Scinta brother still calls Buffalo home!

Fabulous wouldn’t be hard to find coming from the lips of Frankie Scinta of The Scintas, now one of the longest running and most successful of the musical variety acts on the famed Las Vegas strip. After 50 contacted The Scintas directly, and of the four key group members – Frankie, Joe, Chrissi and the “adopted Scinta, Peter O’Donnell – Frankie weighted in:

“What can I say about Buffalo? It’s a city full of warm, traditional people. There was a time when the city was very diverse, with people from all cultures. You could spend time in any of its great neighborhoods.

“There was a true Italian, Irish, Polish, German, African-American part of town, where you could enjoy any one of their cultures, food, and great traditions,” Scinta offered. “It’s still the kind of city that, if you broke down in a blizzard, there was always someone there that would come out of their house or out of their car to help get you going again. Even offer to get you home or where you were going.”

Not surprisingly, food strikes a chord with Mr. Scinta, too: “The food in Buffalo is always rich with flavor and always more than you could eat.” But even more appetizing, he says, is the sense of family values that Buffalo is so much about. “Family values seemed to be so important to Buffalonians,” Scinta notes. “You always knew someone’s family, like their uncle, cousin or other close relatives. There’s a warmth and heart about Buffalo people that is unmatched anywhere these days. I’m proud to be from a city that’s still full of great people and rich with culture.

The talented musician took his bow with seven fitting words: “Thank you, Buffalo – you’re still my hometown.”

Tony Galla misses the Buffalo-style camaraderie

Another musical act, former Buffalonian (his 87-year-old mother still resides here) and good friend of The Scintas is Tony Galla, a long-time musician who’s enjoyed big success, lives in a section of Los Angeles County called Castaic, and has a unique take on the relationship between Buffalo and “time.”

Says Galla: “I really believe the clock is slower there.” He told After 50 in a telephone interview, “I find people in Buffalo just more friendly, period. They’re more easy-going, more laid back. When I do come back to Buffalo (he was here last year for the Italian Festival), the clock slows down. I find myself having more time to be with people. It’s a matter of geography, of being in a different place.”

By contrast, Galla notes, there’s not the neighborliness in Los Angeles. “L.A. County is enormous,” he explains, “and the friends I do make here, it’s difficult to even get together with them due to the distance and the traffic. I say hello to my next door neighbors, but there’s no camaraderie.”

He remembers a very different story growing up in Buffalo. “It was a phenomenal place to grow up in, due to the family ties, the camaraderie among people. Everybody knew each other,” Galla reminisces. “Even if you weren’t family, it felt like family – even with your neighbors.”

The blues singer tells of the time, last February, when a major snow storm altered his group’s plans to fly into Buffalo for a fund-raiser. Instead, they had to land in Rochester, then take more than three hours to drive precariously through the blizzard-like conditions to finally get here. He told the guys not to expect much, since the weather was predicted to get even worse, and the 800-seat venue in which they were to play would surely be sparse at best.

“Instead, when we got there, it was packed, it was sold out!” Gallo vividly recalls, a fact that had the promoters and his fellow musicians surprised and perplexed. But it didn’t surprise Tony at all, who says, “You’ve got to understand the whole tenacity of the people living here. I told my guys, ‘They’re just Buffalonians!’”

Which, in the dictionary, would surely be easily and succinctly defined: Buffalonians – hearty and proud.

Paul Chimera is a freelance journalist, marketing writer, and adjunct professor at Daemen College. He writes for a variety of publications and corporate clients, and can be reached at:

Tim Russert
Nancy Reisman
Paul Maguire
Virginia DeBerry
Mark Russell
Tony Galla
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