Hometown advantage: gift, but also curse

When I walk across campus at Oswego State, a mere 12 miles away from my hometown, I could just as easily be a thousand miles away.

All around me are people that are different. Some have different clothes, haircuts and slang; others have different hobbies, backgrounds and goals. I say soda, not pop; orange, not ‘ourange’; coffee, not ‘cawfee’; crick, not creek; cool, not wicked; and fire barn, not fire house. At a school of more than 8,000 students, I’m a minority. I’m a local boy, a hometown guy. Virtually everyone at Oswego chose to go away to college. I chose the opposite.

I’m from a two-traffic light town down the road from Oswego called Mexico. It’s a nice little place with a grocery store, a Chinese restaurant, two banks, three pizza shops, three gas stations, a diner, a florist, a chiropractor, a dentist, a McDonald’s, a Subway, a Dunkin Donuts, a Dollar General and half a dozen churches. Our 200-year old high school sits beautifully in the middle of town on Main Street.

As picturesque as Main Street is, it turns into State Route 104, which runs through the woods, over a river and to Oswego. I’ve lived in the same house my whole life and Oswego is my home. So it seems understandable that when people rag on the city and the community, I take it personally. If the locals don’t have enough personality, it’s my fault. If there aren’t enough bars or things to do in this city of 20,000, it’s my fault. Even when, not if but when, it snows it will still be my fault. When someone takes a jab at your home, intentional or not, it stings.

Wouldn’t it sting just as much, however, if it were your home that taking the verbal beating? Aren’t most of us attached to our homes? I don’t mind getting a reputation among friends as that guy who knows everything about Oswego. After all, I’d be embarrassed if people thought otherwise. It’s also a nice advantage to have. Wouldn’t it have been nice as a freshman to know where the best food was, or how to navigate through the city with one bridge out and how to find the Wal-Mart? There’s something nice about being at a store or a restaurant and having people know your name. There have been countless times that I encountered a friend of the family and struck up a conversation. Those conversations almost always end with "Tell your parents I said hello." My out-of-town friends are always amazed at how friendly everyone seems around here. It helps when you know half the people around you.

What I just can’t understand is why so many people want to rag on Oswego when they chose to come here in the first place. If you had lost a scholarship to Notre Dame and came to Oswego State to find out there’s no football team, then I’d understand. Likewise, if you’re from Owego, a town in Tioga County, N.Y., and were mad at Oswego for trying to steal its thunder, then I’d understand. In 2009, Budget Travel Magazine named Owego "The Coolest Small Town in America;" I guess there could be some competition there, but still, there seems to be no real reason for disliking the city of Oswego.

Maybe the reason is far too simple to be obvious to most of us. Perhaps Oswego is just an unfortunate punching bag for our frustrations. Even I have found myself taking a few jabs at Oswego during the height of winter. It does make sense that we would take our frustrations out on our little city by the lake. For all its imperfections, though, there has to be something innately good about Oswego. Why else would so many college students choose Oswego as the place to hang their shingle? That’s part of what makes Oswego good. Think you have a lot of reasons why Oswego is bad? I’ve got more than 8,000 reasons why it’s great.