-- People in this beleaguered city on the south
shore of Lake Ontario are pretty excited about a new
Toronto-Rochester car ferry promised for May. For
their part, people in Toronto have barely noticed.
That's all to the good because there are several
important reasons why Torontonians wouldn't ever
want to come here.
Rochester's homicide rate, at triple the U.S.
average. The car-theft rate is 2.6 times the U.S.
average. Robbery is nearly triple the national rate.
Then there's the culinary treasure known -- this is
true -- as the Garbage Plate.
$6 (U.S.), you get home fries and cold macaroni
salad, topped with a cheeseburger or hot dog, all
drowned in ground meat, hot sauce, chopped raw
onions and Day-Glo orange grease. It takes a
tattooed cook 14 seconds to assemble. It looks
why they call it the Garbage Plate," says Mayor
William A. Johnson Jr., 61, who is no fan.
sample it at Nick Tahou Hots (slogan: "Home of
the Garbage Plate''). At this
fluorescent-and-Formica joint, the cheeseburger is
as dry as a cracker and the grease pools at the
bottom of the paper plate.
supposed to be greasy," says the skinny
cashier, who appears to eat elsewhere.
used to be open all night until it hosted one too
many shootouts. Located on West Main Street, it's a
quick but perilous walk from the mayor's office,
past a homeless shelter, shuttered businesses and a
high school for troubled youths.
walked there?" Mr. Johnson says. "I
wouldn't walk there. Don't go there again. If you
had made a wrong turn, you would have been in no
man's land." He pulls out sheets of statistics.
Rochester's homicide rate, at 17.4 per 100,000, is
double New York City's.
2001, Rochester had 39 homicides, mostly
a couple of times a year, a purely innocent person
gets shot," the mayor says.
dreamed up the ferry idea in 1995, a year after he
took office. He thought tourism might halt the
city's decline. Conjuring up a vision of
Torontonians streaming across Lake Ontario, he
persuaded New York state to kick in $14-million
toward a ferry service.
the $42.5-million (U.S.) high-speed catamaran is out
of dry dock in Perth, Australia. At the Rochester
harbour, a 30-minute drive from downtown, work crews
are rushing to convert an abandoned warehouse into a
neither side has received approval from customs and
immigration authorities. And construction hasn't
even begun in Toronto. "I'm in the dark as to
exactly what kind of structure they're talking
about," says Mr. Johnson, who has heard rumours
that Toronto's terminal might be a concrete pad
covered by a tent.
Pankratz, Toronto Port Authority chairman, didn't
return calls. Nor did Dominick DeLucia or Howard
Thomas, executives at the ferry company, Canadian
American Transportation Systems.
last I heard they wanted somebody else to put in
money," says Joe Pantalone, a Toronto city
councillor who chairs the municipal waterfront
a sign of how few tourists come to Rochester, rooms
at Microtel Inn & Suites cost $39.95.
get the stupidest calls from the stupidest
people," the desk clerk complained to a room
attendant the other morning. "Like, 'How big
are your rooms?' " In fact, Microtel has queen
beds and full baths, and includes continental
breakfast, free local calls, cable TV and the
would be a bargain, except that Air Canada charges
nearly $900 round-trip for a 25-minute flight.
(Advance bookings are $387, with a $150 penalty for
any change.) By car, the trip via Buffalo takes
about 3½ hours, plus gas and tolls. In contrast,
the thrice-daily ferry will cost $40 (U.S.) per car,
plus $20 per passenger, or $28 for walk-ons. Shore
to shore, the trip takes 2½ hours, an estimate that
doesn't include customs and immigration checks.
such comparisons miss the point, according to Carol
Miller, a retired hospital worker (and my
cousin-in-law), who has lived in Rochester her whole
life. "What do they expect people from Toronto
to do when they come here? There is so nothing
is a typical Rochesterian psyche, less civic
boosterism than civic dumpsterism. Indeed, last June
a number of local organizations offered a
"Reality Tour" of the city's poorest
Miller offers her own blightseeing tour. At the
ferry docks, she points out abandoned buildings.
"The beach is polluted," she says over the
roar of front-loaders. Later, she drives her family
van over potholed streets to the downtown core.
Here, on the Genesee River, is Rochester's star
attraction: a 30-metre waterfall.
Falls is no Niagara Falls, but it did power
Rochester's first flour mills. On this sunny
November day, the footbridge is deserted. "I
hate to tell you this, but it's like this in the
summer, too," Ms. Miller says. "To be
honest, I wouldn't come here day or night
all-day parking is $3. A nearby heritage building is
vacant, with smashed windows and torn plastic
sheeting. Traffic is so sparse it's unnecessary to
look left or right when crossing the street. But
pretensions to a bygone era remain: no-left-turn
signs on every downtown corner.
hundred years ago, High Falls made Rochester the
largest flour-milling city in the world. A hundred
years ago, George Eastman invented the 10-cent
flexible film roll and the $1 Brownie camera here.
His 50-room mansion, which now houses a museum of
photography, is the city's only five-star
attraction. In 1932, at the age of 77, the lifelong
bachelor declared his life's work done and shot
himself in an upstairs bedroom.
decline can be traced to governor Thomas E. Dewey.
In 1948, Rochester voted against him when he ran for
president, ensuring he lost the state -- and the
White House. Two years later, Mr. Dewey saw to it
that Interstate 90 bypassed Rochester on its way
from Buffalo to Syracuse.
digital technology has slashed employment at Eastman
Kodak Co. to 21,000 from a high of 60,000 in 1982.
Two other main employers, Xerox Corp. and Bausch
& Lomb Inc., have also cut jobs. In the past
decade, Rochester's population has shrunk 6.3 per
cent to 220,000 (Greater Rochester has about a
million) and taxable city property values have
plunged 15.3 per cent. It now ranks 173rd among the
nation's 200 largest metropolitan areas in terms of
job creation and economic performance.
the end of a depressing tour, Ms. Miller is pressed
for a genuine Rochester attraction. She suggests
Wegmans, a supermarket. Don't laugh. "It's the
store where I take my relatives and out-of-town
visitors," Neil Stern, a food-industry analyst,
told The New York Times.
went there this summer. Wearing dark glasses and a
cowboy hat, she signed autographs and cooed to the
manager, Bill Congdon, "I'd love for you to
build one of these stores in Malibu where I
130,000 square feet, the Pittsford Plaza Wegmans
offers a caviar bar, a kosher deli that
authentically boils the bagels before baking, and a
less authentic Chinese buffet. The fish department
cooks to order, free. The flower department has a
five-day guarantee on roses. You can hook your latte
cup onto your shopping cart. Your toddler can
"drive" a red plastic car also hooked,
yes, to your shopping cart.
from gargantuan restaurant portions -- the Scotch N
Sirloin offers 48-ounce slabs of prime rib, Nick
Tahou Hots sells 42-ounce drinks -- everything in
Rochester seems to be disappearing. Downtown's
revolving restaurant has closed. The nightly laser
show at High Falls has been mostly discontinued.
Even the Red Wings baseball team had five
consecutive losing seasons, including, in 2002, its
worst in 23 years.
they moved the team to Ottawa, and immediately it
got better," says Mr. Johnson, who himself was
trounced this month in a race for county manager.
surprisingly, Rochesterians prefer to look to the
past. Visitors are told to go to Mount Hope
Cemetery, where Frederick Douglass, the slavery
abolitionist, and Susan B. Anthony, the women's
suffrage leader, are buried. Her home is another
attraction, but everyone from cab drivers to Ms.
Miller to the mayor warned against venturing into
the neighbourhood (just past Nick Tahou Hots).
we have no problem here," Joanne Middleton, the
docent, insisted to the one and only visitor of the
day. "The neighbourhood is fine."