Last weekend I went to visit friends in Auburn, a trip I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time.
Auburn is about 40 minutes outside of Syracuse, which is where my friends used to live. I always have a good time when I visit them, which has given me fond memories of both Auburn and Syracuse. I mean, who can forget their first trip to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que?
But when I mentioned my Auburn trip to a friend, he looked at me with pity.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Don’t be sorry,” I said. “I like Auburn.”
My friend is from Syracuse, so it’s not like he’s sneering down his nose at a region of the state he’s never set foot in, which is the sort of thing that drives me crazy. He’s sneering down his nose at his hometown, and he has every right to do that. But his hometown really isn’t that bad, in my opinion.
Of course, I might be a bit unusual in that I tend to like most of the places I go.
In my experience, few places are completely worthless, and I always find something in the landscape or local architecture to interest me — a pleasant park to wander around in or a historic house to tour, a quirky bar or pretty little swimming hole. Many of my trips bring me to places that aren’t obvious vacation destinations, often because I’m visiting friends. For every trip I take to the British Virgin Islands or Denver, there’s a trip to Lexington, Ky., or Durham, N.C. Or, closer to home, Auburn.
As soon as I set out for Auburn, I felt much more relaxed. Interstate 90 has a reputation for being a really dull, bland stretch of road, but I’ve always sort of enjoyed it.
I like the way the land flattens and widens, becoming much more Midwestern, and the relative lack of traffic between metropolitan areas, which are few and far between. Maybe I’m easily entertained, but rolled hay bales make me smile. I’d never seen one until I was about 14 years old, and their appearance signified that we were crossing into a different region of the country.
I arrived in Auburn around lunch and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon with my friend Marnie and her wild children. We sampled a gluten-free beer that I had brought her, as she has celiac disease and is unable to consume foods and beverages containing barley, wheat and rye, and made pizza for dinner. After dinner, we escaped downtown to watch a stand-up comedian, leaving Marnie’s husband to put the kids to bed (“Quick! Run!” Marnie said as soon as the kids were distracted), and then made our way to a nearby bar, where we somehow managed to buy three drinks and chips and salsa for a mere $15. I’m a big believer in cheap nights out, so this made me very happy.
The next day we walked through the park and took the kids to a bounce house at the mall, which isn’t the sort of thing I usually do for fun but seemed like a decent enough way to pass the time, at least when you have two wild children in tow.
My drive home was pleasant enough, and I felt quite pleased with my trip, even though I’d only scratched the surface of what that part of New York has to offer. Hitting the local wineries is always a lot of fun, and I’m a big fan of the Seward House, the home of former secretary of state William H. Seward.
My affection for Auburn is not tongue-in-cheek or ironic. The city easily qualifies for my list of Places I Like Even Though They Don’t Get Any Respect, a list that includes the South; LaCrosse, Wis.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; rural Ohio; and the Capital Region.
Weirdly, I spend more time talking up the virtues of the Capital Region among people who live here than people who don’t — my basic theory is that this area suffers from low self-esteem due to its proximity to New York City and would be regarded as a pretty cool place to be if it was in any other part of the country. And I’m always amazed by the number of ostensibly open-minded people who are perfectly willing to bash the South, sight unseen. When I lived there, I discovered a place that was rich in food and music, history, art and friendly people. The South isn’t perfect, but nothing is.
Occasionally, I get a bad impression of a place. It happens. For instance, my friend Nachie and I stopped at a rest area in Indiana while driving back to New York from LaCrosse, and we both were overcome by a desire to get out of there as fast as possible. The food options were terrible, the service was awful and the building was ugly. It isn’t fair to judge the state of Indiana based on one rest area, and I’m sure I could take a trip there and find a lot of interesting places to explore, but I don’t know that it’s an excursion I’ll plan anytime soon.
My next trip will be to Ohio, to my alma mater. The knock on this school has always been location — why would anyone want to spend four years in rural Ohio? But I grew to like the town, and I’m eager to revisit it, walk around and swing by some familiar haunts. I also plan to stop in Auburn on my way out there, and also in Rochester, to visit some other friends.
I’ve never really spent any time in Rochester, and I’m excited to see what it has to offer. It’s not a vacation destination by any means. But it’s someplace different, and I’m sure I’ll return with stories to tell. Which is all I ask of a place, really.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.