Last weekend I ran the San Francisco Half Marathon with my youngest brother Eric and his girlfriend. Runners were allowed to request their names on their race bibs, or whatever title they wanted. Eric had “NY585” put on his bib, 585 being the Rochester area code.
A few days after getting back to Rochester, I saw this sticker on someone’s car. Also somewhat visible is the corner of the Rochester “Flower City” logo. Which is actually is pretty cool logo, by the way: easily recognized, economical and distinctive. It has become a popular tattoo in Rochester for the truly committed and funky crowd.
This two little instances got me thinking about pride in “place”, and especially in Rochester. Pride in place of origin is nothing new: it has fueled sports rivalries, artwork, song lyrics, large-scale violence and many other things people like since the ancient cities of Mesopotamia.
Pride in Rochester is a little more specific. Like many people who grew up in Rochester in the last few decades, I absorbed a certain amount of fatalism. Kodak was in decline, the Bills always lost, the winters are brutal and the lake was dirty. At least we had garbage plates.
Rochester pride is always leavened with a certain self-consciousness. For me, it comes from too many times explaining where Rochester is in relation to New York City. That wears on your sense of pride, for sure.
Objectively Rochester has plenty to be proud of. Frederick Douglass and Susan B Anthony both lived and worked in Rochester. Kodak was started here (..and failed here, but let’s not dwell on that), there are beautiful parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, an amazing Jazz Festival and world famous universities.
But really, don’t we love Rochester for it’s imperfections? We’ll never be New York or San Francisco, but Rochesterians can take pride in knowing we shrug off blizzards and eat garbage plates and going swimming in freezing Lake Ontario…when the bacteria levels aren’t too high. Here we take the good with the bad and laugh the bad off. And then we get sushi at Wegmans.