On Friday, Le Duc and I decided to take a last-minute getaway excursion to Buffalo, New York.
We had a list: see the newly-restored Frank Lloyd Wright masterwork, the Darwin Martin House, visit the Albright-Knox Gallery, tour the renowned horticultural gardens, hit Suzy Q's BBQ shack ("A Little Pit of Heaven"), but mostly we wanted to ogle the nearly endless examples of mid-20th century architecture in what was once one of America's grandest and wealthiest cities.
Buffalo delivered all delights except the gallery (closed for a week due to cost-cutting measures), and like any good getaway, offered us new discoveries, most notably Beau Fleuve, a charming, luxurious B&B.
Touring the areas where robust manufacturing and shipping industries once thrived, I thought of Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente's comments on Saturday, May 23, in her column "We are witnessing the passing of working-class masculinity". Wente said, "As low and semi-skilled manual jobs disappear, working-class men are getting hammered- and so is their masculinity."
She cites a 'recent British study'. (Why no citation? This one reason I am frustrated by Wente's writing.) An academic investigated why so many men who had lost industrial jobs in Manchester were unemployable. Some of the men interviewed had tried their hand at retail or other service jobs, but washed out. One man said, "If someone (a customer) gave me loads of hassles, I'd end up lamping them."
Wente summarizes the study: "The defining value of working-class masculinity is the ability to stuck up for yourself when someone tries to give you shit. The defining requirement of service work (in their view) is having to eat it. Service work is a fundamental challenge to their masculine identity."
Buffalo's might was powered by the Manucians' counterparts, men who did dangerous, dirty work on docks and mills, in plants and grain elevators- as well as bankers and businessmen, academics and inventors.
Today, Buffalo's largest employer is Kaleida Health. Health care professionals have replaced steelworkers, and new information-based businesses abound. Besides technical aptitude, the abilty to relate to people is an essential component of patient-care and customer-service occupations, resulting in what some call "the feminization of work".
As I looked at the art-deco might of City Hall, the Louis Sullivan-designed Guaranty Building, and empty mid-20th century warehouses of hushed beauty, I thought about the men who once held jobs that valued physical strength and competence, requiring them to, in Wente's words, "work exclusively alongside other men in jobs that did not require them to put on a social mask, and did not call for aptitude in managing their emotions."
The benign neglect of Buffalo, a city that let its treasures simply sit for decades, has preserved the artistry of its architecture. At the same time, how people make their living has forever changed, like so many other communities.