My partner, Jason, and I can’t help but nervously laugh as I pull our compact rent-a-car out of the Buffalo Niagara Airport’s covered parking garage. “Here we go,” I say as I anxiously drive from the concrete shelter. The car is immediately covered in a blanket of snow. The compact’s windshield wipers can hardly keep up with the snowpocalypse happening—a term that the Avis lady said as we got the keys. I’m thankful I splurged on “the insurance that covers sliding off into a ditch.” For a city like Buffalo, though, this weather is hardly anything new. It’s just a Lake Effect blip on their long winter season.
Our plan is to drive from Buffalo to New York City, and while many opt for the spring, fall, and summer to explore New York State, we wanted to discover the magic, excitement, and adventure that comes with exploring this beautiful and diverse state in January. Along our route, we encounter gorgeous small towns, frozen lakes, cozy inns, and, most importantly, the people that make up the Empire State.
We drive carefully and very slowly making our way through Buffalo, to the chagrin of the drivers behind us, and I try not to take my eyes off the road as Jason points excitedly to the redbrick architecture of the city.
Starving after the early-morning flight, I pull into the first place I can find to grab a quick lunch. We park in front of a video store where, to our surprise, it’s still very active. The store’s filled with snow-day kids who are clamoring to get video games, movies, and candies to take part in the snow-day rituals we once worshiped. Across the mounds of snow that have quickly accumulated from the storm, we open the door to Lloyd Taco Factory (1503 Hertel Ave., Buffalo. Tel: 716-863-9781. www.whereslloyd.com). Inside, it’s quiet, warm, and jam-packed. The popular food truck now has this spacious fast-casual brick-and-mortar spot that serves tacos, burritos, and sides. At night it becomes a hot spot for college-aged kids who take advantage of the full-size bar. The hipster woman working the counter insists we try the Dirty South burrito, and we’re glad she did. Buttermilk fried chicken, waffle pieces, bacon aioli, kale, and maple syrup fill a flour tortilla. We tell her about our plans for the day and explain our worry over the weather. “C’mon dudes, grow a pair,” she says laughing.
Filled with a newfound confidence, we take a drive to one of the most iconic pieces of architecture in Buffalo, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House (125 Jewett Pkwy., Buffalo. www.martinhouse.org). This stunning example of modernist architecture was constructed between 1903 and 1905 as the home of Darwin and Isabelle Martin (who made their money in the world of soap). The Martin House is an example of the architect’s “Prairie House” ideal and is often cited as one of his finest residential works. One advantage to visiting in a January snowstorm is that we are the only ones there and get a private tour of the house. As the wind and storm pick up, we enter the house and feel an instant sense of peace. No wind, just an idyllic scene of snow falling. It’s like a page from the picture book, The Snowy Day. A cardinal hides from the environment along the famous leaded windows as the bare trees stand forcefully against the wind. Our tour guide tells us how lucky we are to see the house during a storm like this, and we agree. The symbiosis with nature is incredible, as the falling snow illuminates the carefully thought-out alignments of the windows. The center, which is expanding to include a café, is most happening in the spring when the gardens bloom, but we wouldn’t exchange this experience for the world.