Why Rochester again? This was the question we asked ourselves as we pulled out of Cleveland on a Monday morning. Chief Officer Will — always quick-lipped — informed us: “Because we have a place to crash.” Ahhhh, of course! On the way we made a quick trip over the border to check out Niagara Falls — and say hello to the City that elects Rob Ford as their Mayor (Toronto).
Our experience at the border this time was much smoother than crossing into Vancouver and back. We parked the car on the American side and walked over, passing hordes of traffic. It was a quick photo shoot at the magnificent Niagara Falls and then back on the road. By the way, it costs 50 cents to cross back into the US — so apparently freedom ain’t free.
We arrived in Rochester for dinner around 7:30 PM. Our host, Xavier, and his roommates, had a BBQ waiting for us. We grilled out burgers and ate our fill. The house was home to three University of Rochester Medical students and one crazy, rambunctious dog, named Rocky. After dinner we transformed the family room into our command center and began uploading pictures, working on content, and general indulgence in WiFi.
Early in the morning we awoke to Rocky bombarding us with kisses (and bites). After lounging with the dog a bit and making some oatmeal, we headed to the University of Rochester in search of interviews. We explored the entire campus and were able to snag several interviews. After being trapped inside for a brief downpour, the two interview teams (Phil + Will and Malcolm + Matt) rendezvoused. Our next destination was downtown Rochester.
When routing our GPS to a downtown, we normally choose a coffee shop. Three of us need our daily fix in the morning, and in this case a nice afternoon pick-me-up. We hopped in to Homer and headed to Java’s Cafe and loaded up on some (more) caffeine. Afterwards, we again split up in search of more interviews.
In our first round of interviews we had heard some startling things about Rochester being the “Murder Capital” of New York. The grim moniker and dreariness of the downtown didn’t give us the best feeling about the state of the city or its people. Matt and I chose to explore the Eastman School of Music in the downtown area. Eastman is a professional school within the University of Rochester and among the top graduate music programs in the country. Industrialist and philanthropist George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, established the school in 1921.
We later learned that Kodak used to be a force in the local economy, employing thousands of people. Currently, the company is in bad shape, having declared bankruptcy in 2012 due to the company’s general failure to adapt and compete in the digital age of film. We can assume this had a significantly negative effect on the local economy in Rochester. Other floundering companies also call – or did call – Rochester home, such as Xerox. But in general, it did not seem like a vibrant downtown. As one interviewee put it when asked about Rochester, “Everyone’s trying to leave here.”
However, we did receive a great recommendation from someone we met in Cleveland for a dinner spot in Rochester. Apparently, getting a “garbage plate” is a thing, and several establishments in the area sell them. A Garbage Plate is a combination of two selections of cheeseburger, hamburger; and two sides of home fries, French fries, baked beans, or macaroni salad. On top of that it’s drenched in chili or a sauce of some sort, depending on where you get it from. After much deliberation with Xavier’s roommates about the where to get the “best” garbage plate, we chose to eat at Dogtown. The garbage plate is actually quite delicious and totally manageable for young men like us; it’s also been dubbed New York’s “fattiest food”.
After dinner we stopped at Beers of the World and selected a delicious California-Style IPA made by Rohrback Brewing Company located in Rochester. Us California IPA-lovers were pretty impressed. Since we left dinner a huge thunderstorm had rolled in and was dumping rain on Rochester. Undeterred, we left to meet some of Xavier’s med student friends at a local watering hole.
We arose early the next morning and hit the road. We had a stop at Cooperstown scheduled for a look at the baseball hall of fame. Perfect for getting us in the mood for our next stop, Boston, home of the Red Sox.