Rochester, NY

Lake Ontario, December 2013Even though we began Starling way earlier, the first story of Racheline and mine to be released is a short story in a wedding-themed anthology from Torquere Press. Unlike Starling, “Lake Effect” isn’t set in New York or L.A. or any of the other world class cities we explore in that book and in the Love in Los Angeles series. It’s set in Rochester, New York.

Racheline and I both have a lot of personal history with Rochester, at very different times. She’ll tell her story at some point, but this one is mine.

I was born in Rochester and I grew up in Rochester. I met the guy I would end up marrying, and married him, in Rochester. Our families are still there, and Christmas still means a trip to Rochester.

(And while we’re at it, you’re probably saying it wrong. RAH-chister. Not RAW-CHES-ter. Make those As broad.)

Rochester used to be a great city, and a lot of history happened there. It was a terminus for the Underground Railroad. Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony called it home. When I first fell in love with stories, it was with history books, many of them about the region I grew up in and the people who lived there.

Rochester is smack in the middle of some beautiful geography: The Genesee River valley, the Fingerlakes are gorgeous, not to mention Lake Ontario.

Rochester is also dying.

For decades it was a company town. Everybody worked at Kodak, until Kodak didn’t transition fast enough to digital and the film industry crumbled. What had been a thriving industrial park is now shuttered brick buildings and parking lots growing weeds.

The summer after my first year of college, I worked at a Kodak factory. I spent days crammed into the machines, cleaning grease off with an incredibly unpleasant mix of water and ammonia. It sucked. It was hot, it was cramped, it was boring, it was sometimes hard to breathe. I went home every day feeling like I was absorbing the grease and the chemicals through my skin. I probably was.

The machines I was crammed into were the machines that made movie film. Find any movie made before 2005, watch to the end of the credits, you’ll probably see a “Kodak Film” logo right at the end. Yup, my factory, my machines, made right there. If it had been in the days of camera phones, I’m sure there would be a picture of me sitting on the machine, in a filthy Tyvek suit, holding a bucket of ammonia and a handful of rags.

It sucked, but I got to say I helped make movies, because I did. It sucked, but I got a good story out of it!

That’s what Rochester taught me. Maybe that’s a dubious honor, that Rochester is such a shitty place that the most important thing I learned there was to get the fuck out and in the meantime, tell myself stories about how my life was interesting even when it was miserable.

Besides, it’s Rochester. The history of that city is long and winding and not over yet. Growing up with an awareness of that history, and the importance of all history I also grew up knowing that my own story was a part of that history. My life was a part of the city’s, and whatever city I left it for to call my home after that.

Sometimes, stories are all you have. Your story, and the knowledge that it fits somewhere in the world, that it matters. No one else is going to tell your story for you. So you have to tell it. It’s what I did, one miserable summer sweltering in a factory that’s been bulldozed since, because no one makes movies on film anymore.

This is where we got “Lake Effect” from. The Rochester in that story isn’t my Rochester, not exactly, although I spent a lot of time in the “Lake Effect” Rochester and know it very well. My own relationship with the place is more nuanced and more complicated, though not necessarily happier. It’s a rich and complex and complicated place, and it’s story isn’t quite over yet. And as I keep telling stories about it, and as Christmas keeps being there, my relationship with it isn’t over yet either.

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One Response to Rochester, NY

  1. Pingback: Playlist: Lake Effect | Avian30

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