The following is the first in the “Wiggy’s Favorite Places to Not Ever Live” series which highlights the social, economic and cultural benefits of various locales throughout the world and why you couldn’t pay me enough to ever live there. Visit maybe, permanent resident, no way!
This particular spotlight is on Rochester, New York. A city of 208,123 residents…1,098,201 if you count the outlying suburbs…Rochester is located on the Genesee River…yes, inspiration for a really bad beer popular in the 1970s…in Monroe County near Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Sandwiched between Buffalo and Syracuse, this jewel of almost-Canada was founded on November 8, 1803, by a couple of Revolutionary War soldiers. Because of its proximity and potential for water power, the city quickly grew from a population of three in 1803 to 15 by 1811. By the 1950s, the population had reached a high of 332,448, no doubt because the majority of residents figured if nuclear war broke out with the Russians, the Kremlin would never waste an ICBM on such a worthless piece of real estate. With the end of the Cold War and the start of a new millennium, the population has steadily declined to its current level of just more than 208,000.
Known as the Flour City, by 1838 Rochester was the largest flour producing city in the U.S. By the early 1900s, Rochester also became a center for the garment industry, particularly for men’s fashions. Coincidentally, New York’s oldest gay and lesbian monthly community newspaper, the Empty Closet is published here. It’s also home to several pioneering businesses including the Cunningham Automobile Company…oops…was home to. The city also was once the location for corporate headquarters for Western Union, Xerox, Champion Sportswear and French’s (as in mustard), key phrase being “was once.”
Proximity to major transportation infrastructure has played a major role in the development of the city and its flourishing industry. Located along the Erie Canal, maritime transport as well as air transportation is important to the vitality of this city. Greater Rochester International Airport, serviced by air carriers including Air Georgian, AirTran and JetBlue, connect the city with neighboring Canada. Recently a high-speed passenger ferry, “Spirit of Ontario I,” linked Rochester to Toronto. Unfortunately the cost to the city was upwards of $42.5 million annually and it was sold to a German company for $30 million. Not to be outdone by other burgeoning metropolises, Rochester’s light rail underground transit system called the “Rochester Subway” opened in 1928. I guess the creatively-challenged residents couldn’t come up with a more original name. At the time, Rochester was the smallest city in the world to have an underground rail system. The system now serves as shelter for the city’s homeless, as it was abandoned in 1957, again in part to the fact the tunnels didn’t need to serve as fallout-shelters as the city wasn’t on anyone’s target list. The city has recently proposed to fill in the tunnels with dirt leaving the less-fortunate to migrate to nearby Buffalo.
Climate also makes Rochester, home to the largest population of deaf people per capita in the U.S., an attractive place to raise a hearing-impaired family. With winter temperatures approaching -17 and an average snowfall of nearly eight feet annually, indoor ice skating and shopping at Rochester’s many shopping centers tend to be the popular past time from October through April. During the summer month, Rochester is home to several cultural festivals. These include the “Image Out/Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and the Clothesline Art Festival.”
With Rochester’s ethnic diversity comes a plethora of cultural culinary masterpieces. One local specialty is known as the “white hot.” Essentially a hot dog made from uncured and unsmoked pork, this local favorite is infused with powdered milk to enhance its white color. Home to French’s Mustard, it’s fitting a lactose-laced hot dog is Rochester’s gastronomic gift to the world. Another of the regional restaurant fare is called the “Garbage Plate.” Just take your choice of a cheeseburger, hamburger, steak, red hot, white hot, Italian or breakfast sausage, fish, fried ham, grilled cheese or eggs. To complete it just pile on top one of either, home fries, French fries, baked beans or macaroni salad, and smother with a greasy hot sauce containing ground meat. And to wash down these exotic epicurean delights, the “Made for Living” city hosts such premium beverages as Jolt Cola and Genesee Cream Ale. Also readily available in various box sizes is Rochester’s answer to Boones Farm Wine, Arbor Mist. When one fruit and two bottles aren’t enough…
Rochester is one of the few American cities which host at least seven professional sporting teams. These include the Rochester Raging Rhinos (soccer), Rochester Rattlers (field lacrosse) and Empire State Roar (Women’s professional football team). The city’s also home to the Next Era and NWA Upstate professional wrestling leagues.
Sister city to Bamako, Mali; Krakow, Poland; Novgorod, Russia; San Felipe de Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic; and Rehovot, Israel; Rochester’s famous sons and daughters include:
• Susan B. Anthony – suffragist and inspiration for ill-advised coinage
• Kenneth Bianchi – one of the Hillside Stranglers
• Angelo Buono, Jr. – cousin to and the other of the Hillside Stranglers
• Emma Goldman – anarchist
• Lou Gramm – lead singer of the rock band Foreigner
• Seth Green – pioneer in fish farming
• Norman Kerry – silent film actor
• Joanie Laurer – professional wrestler, a.k.a. Chyna
• Chuck Mangione – flugelhornist
• Frank Ritter – dental chair pioneer
• Savanna Samson – porn actress
• Lee-Hom Wang – pop/hip-hop superstar
• Wendy O. Williams – vegetarian and suicidally-deceased lead singer for the punk-rock band Plasmatics
Rochester’s proximity to Canada, abandoned subway system, sub-zero temperatures, not one but two professional wrestling leagues and its peculiar processed pork products make this city one of “Wiggy’s Favorite Places to Not Ever Live.”
Marc “Wiggy” Kovacs
Raconteur of Rochester Ranting