When I moved back home to Utica, NY 10 years ago I had a chip on my shoulder. Okay, a boulder. I hit 28 years of age with a gripping quarter life crisis that just wouldn’t quit. Still, even as restless and funkdified as I was, within a few months, after a few bumps along the way, I managed to secure two jobs that were equally fulfilling. So, there I was feeling better about life and seeing my hometown through adult eyes. I decided that I Love Utica and I could get used to this place.

From the City of Pity to the City With Relentless Pride

Photo Credit: Arian David – ArianDavidPhotography.com

What struck me as odd was that over this time, whenever anybody would hear that I moved back to town the main question was the same: “Why?”.  As my mom always said, or more like hissed, when my sister and I were acting like little punks, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”  As a kid this statement grated my every nerve. As an adult, it makes complete sense. (Head bowed. Mom’s right.) What was being thrown at me was not “Welcome back!” “We’re so glad to have you here!” “It’s awesome that young adults are coming back to the area.” “Hoo-freakin-ray!!” It was none of that. It wasn’t even a slight sub-text of pure interest or concern. It was more in the vain of a long silence, tilt of the head, scrunched eyes and then a confused, “Why?”. Often times it was with a disgusted glare, “WHY? Why did you come back here?”, finished off with a disapproving, horse lipped “Pffft!”. I would find myself whipping up canned responses like a well-seasoned actor making the press rounds. “I’m excited to be back!” “Utica’s great!” “There’s a resurgence in the air. I feel it.” Then I would leave the party, turn the corner, or jump in my car and exhale, feeling worse than I did before. I realize I could’ve easily responded with a simple: “Why not?” and called it a day. Okay, Hindsight, you can stop nodding. I’m also well aware that I was in a serious depressed state of Eeyore at the time so what I was giving out wasn’t too pretty. My yanking on the Utica train cord, although well-intentioned, was more self-serving than not. I had to convince myself that I made the right decision. After all, a fully fed and well-rested ego is a happy one. And yet, I got exhausted being the cheerleader for a home team that no one seemed to be rooting for. Finally, at my breaking point, I was at a cocktail party when an innocent party goer asked, “Why did you leave New York?”. Without a second thought, I blurted out, “I was having severe panic attacks and felt like I was kind of losing my mind a little bit so I needed to come back home for a little while.” Slurp of the straw. Record screeched. Crickets abound. Whether her silence was in awe of my honesty or shock of my bluntness is beyond me. But finally giving a candid response, instead of canned, instantly lifted a weight off my shoulders. It was then clear to me that my return, as humbling as it was, shined a spotlight on other people’s decisions too. So, I became a duck. Whenever I would hear, “There’s nothing to do,” “There’s nowhere to shop,” “The people are lame,”  “This place sucks,” instead of these comments triggering a nerve inside of me, they rolled off my back. And since I’m always up for a challenge I thought, Nothing to do, you say? Hm? We’ll see about that. I began to be more curious and find spots off the beaten path. Shops a little out of the way. People who weren’t lame and things to do that didn’t suck. And you know what? It wasn’t hard to do.

The most collaborative and dedicated community in NY State.

Listen, Utica isn’t for everyone. I know this. I absolutely have days when I’m feeling frustrated or confined. But before I blame the city that’s stuck it out for decades and continues to be the epitome comeback kid, I think, it’s the people who make cities what they are. We are better than being known as the city with the worst weather or “the city that God forgot”. We have more integrity than being notorious nationwide for devastating church deaths and mocking local store owners on Comedy Central.

It’s time to swap out the relentless pity we receive with the relentless pride that we give.

Just think of the change we could make if we woke up each day and instead of asking what Utica can offer us we asked: “What can I offer Utica?”. (Hm? That sounds vaguely familiar. Wink wink.) We would become the hidden gem that people refer to as the “Best Kept Secret in New York.” Imagine that. It’s not about proving ourselves to the rest of the country. It’s about showing her off.

Utica: The City With Relentless Pride.

The most collaborative and dedicated community in NY State.

To that I say