ABOARD THE VIKING JUPITER – Cindy and Paul Cardinal were married at St. Gabriel’s, Elma, in 1985. Then they flew to JFK Airport, New York, and Athens to start their new lives on a ship cruising. It didn’t go well.
This week they are sailing again, in this case through the fjords of Norway with stops in Denmark and the Netherlands.
My wife and I happen to be on the same cruise. We are here to celebrate our 40th anniversary. Before leaving, I told my editor at The News that I would drop off an article about a Buffalo expat from the ship.
He wondered how I could be so sure of finding one. I told him it was simple: wear a Bills cap and wait for the magic: someone, at some point, has to say “Go Bills”.
Sure enough, I found Cindy and Paul — or, more accurately, they found me — on our first full day at sea. And it turns out Cindy has the kind of Buffalo history that many will recognize.
Both sets of his grandparents were born in Poland and traveled to America by boat, if not exactly on cruise ships. Both sets traveled to Buffalo and raised families. And that’s how Cindy’s parents met.
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Leonard Gorczynski, her father, was a long-time Superintendent of the U.S. Post Office in Buffalo. Patricia Gorczynski, his mother, was an administrative assistant at Cheektowaga High School. Len and Pat had two daughters: Carol and Cynthia, both graduates of West Seneca East High School and then of Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse. Carol graduated in X-Ray Technology and Cindy’s in Respiratory Therapy.
Carol returned to Buffalo after college and now teaches radiology at Trocaire College. Cindy stayed on working at Upstate. She met Paul a year later, in 1984. He had returned to his hometown after law school to prepare for the bar exam. They married a year later at St. Gabe’s and then left for their honeymoon. But they went to JFK’s domestic terminal by mistake, rather than the international terminal.
“We weren’t exactly world travelers,” says Paul.
Now of course they are. We sit by the pool on the ship as they tell their story. Cindy nibbles on a Norwegian hot dog. “I wish it was Sahlens,” she said.
They have lived over the years in Manhattan, Syracuse and (for the past 33 years) Albany. Cindy always wanted to live at home in Buffalo, but Paul gave her the next best thing: Bills season tickets in the Super Bowl years of the early to mid-1990s. They shared the tickets with Carol and her husband, Mark Weber.
Paul had grown up as a New York Giants fan at Syracuse, but Cindy converted him. “I didn’t have to work that hard,” she says.
“I was quickly assimilated into Gorczynski’s sphere of influence,” says Paul. “You can’t not be a Bills fan once you go to one of those tailgating parties.”
Cindy and Paul took their kids to Buffalo and Cindy’s parents babysat them during games. (Son Stephen now works for Morgan Stanley in Texas and has two children of his own, and Lauren works for Google in New York.)
Once, after a Bills game, Cindy and Paul were sitting around a high table in a downtown bar when OJ Simpson walked in. (It was only a matter of months before he was charged with murder.) He stopped at their table. and autographed a napkin. They still have it, but it doesn’t mean the same thing anymore.
They had joked years earlier, while doing that mad dash through JFK, that they were like OJ – running through airports, like in the old Hertz commercials. They made their flight, barely, and were told their luggage probably didn’t survive.
“We sat down, held hands, had a cocktail and thought, ‘Maybe we’ll buy some clothes in Athens,'” Paul said.
They didn’t have to, as it turned out. Their baggage did. And now here they are, all these years later, still cruising through life, living happily ever after.
They no longer have any Bills subscriptions, but they remain devoted fans. Cindy says this is the year the Bills return to the Super Bowl.
And win it this time?
Cindy just smiles. “One thing at a time,” she says.