I was born and spent the first 18 years of my life in the sleepy Canadian town of Fort Erie. There was nothing much to do there, especially when I was a teenager, so we spent a lot of time in the city across the river, which was Buffalo, New York.
But the standards of the time back in the 1960s, Buffalo was a great city, with a vibrant downtown core. It was a place where my dad would take me to watch wrestling on Friday night. My dad worked in customs and was well connected with a lot of the people who ran enterprises like wrestling and hockey and were always giving him tickets.
Buffalo was also where we bought all our clothes and shoes, and it was all good because, believe it or not, our dollar was worth a bit more than the Yankee greenback.
We would also do a lot of eating in Buffalo. The restaurants there really pilled on the food, and a lot of it was fantastic.
Over the course of the years, I got to meet and befriend a lot of Americans, many of whom were girls, but there were also a couple of guys. Many of the people I knew were folks who had little cottages in Crystal Beach, which at one time, was one of Canada’s premiere amusement parks. One summer I got a job running the merry-go-round, which, of course, was a great way to meet more girls.
But what I remember most about the Americans I knew is that they were really a lot like us. Many of them had what we could call Buffalo accents, which was kind of like a working-class New England accent with a harder edge.
This was the era of the Kennedy dynasty in America, and nobody really thought much about or worried about politics. It was very much a centrist world, as the country was in the latter stages of the post-war boom. And politics wasn’t anywhere near the blood sport it has turned into. In fact, the country appeared to be quite united over the prospect of putting a man on the moon.
This was an America where everybody was friendly and where archetypes like Archie Bunker had yet to be realized. It was a good life, where most people aspired to be part of the middle class and just enjoy life.
It all spilled over into Canada In places like Crystal Beach. People came and went back and forth across the border and nobody thought twice about it. People were mostly good and kind and treated others with genuine respect.
I think about that America a lot these days. Mostly wondering what happened to it. It’s not like things on the surface changed all that much, but slowly, in one event after the other starting, I believe with the Vietnam War, the country began to split and become factionalized.
Over the next 5 decades that rupture between the left and the right grew more and more pronounced, until four years ago, with the election of a paper mache fascista, what started as a little sliver of factionalization had become an almost unbridgeable canyon.
Funny how you don’t notice a lot of this stuff for what it really is until it fully manifests itself.
Today the United States is more divided than at any time since the Civil War, some 160 years ago. I look at this with a deep measure of sadness, mainly because I knew the America that really was the Bright Shining City on The Hill.
My hope is that, with the changing of their government in 2021, and with the installation of a much more humanistic administration, that this divide can be bridged somehow, and that some of the wounds these people have inflicted on each other will heal somewhat.
But I have no illusions about this. It took a long time to get to this situation, and it will take a long time for the fences to mend. But at least, with this election, there’s a chance for the American people to get a good start on the journey back to being the kind of country where differences of opinion can be settled without creating hate or division.