11 September 2013

Notes from the road

Notes from the road by Jeff Metcalf

‘A Slight Discomfort’ in Rochester, New York

September 9-12, 2013


Rochester carries the weight of many of our cities on its rounded shoulders.  The once thriving city and home to American multinational and international icon Kodak is tired and broken.  Kodak, formerly the largest employer in Rochester is clawing its way out of bankruptcy and from my window on the Genesse canal looks all but empty.  The iconic red neon Kodak sign beckons out into a lonely night and hardly warrants a shrug from those left wandering the streets, panhandling and working Main Street in the seedy undercurrent of a city on life support.

When I visit any city I like to wander the streets taking a pulse and studying the architecture of a bygone era trying to imagine what it must have been like in its heyday.  There have been brutal winds and lightening storms, the likes of which I have only seen once before in the desert of southern Utah.  The night air cracks with flashes with slashes of lightening, unpredictable and ominous.  On Main Street I am immediately confronted by men and women wanting spare change, cigarettes or trying to sell me everything from drugs to sexual favors.  They appear from the shadows of abandoned buildings and boarded store fronts.  I consider my own safety and instinctively know better than to walk the street alone and yet I am drawn to a city that once was.  The souls and spirits of Rochester’s past have departed, leaving an apocalyptic landscape of broken dreams and promises.

We all carry the weight of our own history.  It is early morning on 9/11/13 twelve years after the brutal and cowardly terrorist attack on New York and the Pentagon that changed the shape of the world.  On television, reporters interview people asking them if they remember where they were on that day.  Of course they do.  We all do and it seems a rhetorical question.  President Obama addresses the nation, attempting to build a case for America’s intervention in Syria for their use of chemical weapons on their own people.  The nation is skeptic about getting involved in yet another conflict.  The pause button has been pushed.  Syria has offered to give up its chemical weapons and perhaps, just this once, we will consider restraint.  It would be a beautiful opportunity to show the world exactly what we are capable in the face of hideous consequence.

I listen to the news and listen to the primary results in the mayoral race.  Lovely Warren, a beautiful African-American woman is running against Richard Thomas, a 70 year old, former Vietnam vet who leads in the polls by 38 to 40 points.  It seems the same old story but there is hope in Lovely’s voice.  She speaks of the need to change and says that ‘the polls don’t mean anything to her and what really counts is the final vote and people will voice their need to vote, to be heard.’  What are we as a nation if we do not believe in possibility?

I prepare to walk across the Radisson skywalk and into a conference room to tell my story about survival….about hope…about possibility.  In the lobby, I hear Lovely Warren thanking the people for coming out and voting for her.  She hold her daughter in her arms and her husband stands to her side.  Lovely Warren has defeated Richard Thomas in the primary and has astounded all political experts. She has done the impossible….the unbelievable.

I think of Seamus Heany’s beautiful poem The Cure at Troy which says:

History says, Don’t hope

On this side of the grave,

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme.


And I believe firmly that today is just such a day.

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