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Back In Rochester 2018

Home is where the people are normal.

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ROCHESTER, New York- I’m back in Rochester, New York. The place where my parents now live. I haven’t been here in over a year.

I grew up in Albion, a small town on the Erie Canal right between Rochester and Buffalo, so my affinity lies with both cities — sometimes I tell people I’m from Buffalo; sometimes I say Rochester.

It’s a nine hour drive between Bangor and Rochester if my wife is in the car; without her I can do it in seven. I like driving. I never really actualized this before. I really had no need to — driving was just something normal that anyone who traveled often in the USA did. But now I know that within the next couple of decades — within the lifespans of most readers here — people will no longer be permitted to drive themselves and those self-driving days of the past will be something for the nostalgic and movies set in the olden days. The future is for smart cars — vehicles hooked up to centrally controlled traffic systems. Our cars will look more like pods and we will sit in them as though they were some form of public transport — sitting back, sleeping, working, watching movies, reading — do the people of the future still read? — and probably having sex. The days of self-driving are numbered and this kind of makes me relish the practice.

I’m not being futuristic here. Technological upheavals happen fast. The first automobile assembly line wasn’t invented until 1913 — or a little over 100 years ago. This means that there are people still alive today who can remember an America that was almost devoid of cars — where Model-Ts were a toy for the rich — before the country completely restructured itself for the technology.

How long did it take for this restructuring to occur? 30 years? Highways were built, cities changed up their transport routes, the interstate system was eventually built, inland cities grew …

The great American road trip is something for the books.


Rivka and my father doing the dishes. 

Betting was always a part of my growing up. We’d never just go out and shoot hoops. Rather, we’d make wagers on whether we’d make the basket or not. We’d never just watch the football game, but would make family-wide bets on the winners and losers. In fact, pretty much anything we’d do that was a little boring we’d spice it up by putting some money on the table.

In this light, it wasn’t out of the ordinary that my family and I would start making wagers on the 12-year olds racing at my little sister’s track meet.

I suppose it’s suiting that my parents live right down the street from a race track and casino. We go there multiple times each visit home. One night I was a winner, scoring $250 on poker. I took my parents and wife out for a buffet dinner.


Rivka in the backyard of my parents’ house in Western New York. 

I’m back home for my birthday this year — in Western New York, a place in the world that few people who did not grow up there or study there know little about. It’s a region with it’s own identity and culture which can stand on its own but few know about it and even less can recognize it.

When I was growing up I was unaware that my programed responses and thought patterns were any different than someone in, say, Boston. I thought us Western New Yorkers were just the usual old Americans, the same as any others. But when I began traveling around the USA I began discovering that the people I found elsewhere tended to be a little different. At first, I mistook them for assholes. Then I realized that they were just normal. It’s the people from where I came from were the ones that were out of step.

Relatively speaking, people are nice where I come from; they’re just friendly. People engage strangers here. People join each other’s conversations. People tend to be open to meeting other people. In conversation, people tend to try to find points of agreement and commonality rather than trying to say the opposite of whatever you say in an attempt to display intelligence. You can sit down at a crowded bar in Western NY and start a conversation with pretty much anyone sitting there and chances are they will engage you positively.

I told my wife this and then demonstrated.

A random guy at a bar began talking with the random couple sitting next to him. I began talking with both of them. More people join in and soon everyone is talking.

I mentioned that to the random guy sitting next to me who was talking to the random couple. He was from somewhere else — New Jersey or something — so he could see what I was talking about from the outside. He agreed.

“It’s interesting,” he added, “if you come in here on the weekend it isn’t like this. One the weekend this place is full of transplants and it’s different.”

My wife suddenly turned to me.

“All of these people look like you. They dress like you. They talk like you. They are just like you.”

Growing up I never really considered myself having ‘my people.’ I just took them for granted. I never noticed them until I went away for many years. I used to think that I was traveling to find ‘my people.’ I didn’t know that they were at the place I started from.

‘Place’ is a fundamental demarcator of commonality. The people who come from where you come from experience the same weather, the same events, the same tragedies; they have the same stories — the Blizzard of ’77, the Ice Storm of ’91, the four straight Super Bowls, the mass layoffs of the 90s. When you meet someone from your hometown there are dozens of little things that you can mention that you know the other person experienced and probably has something to say about them.

Commonality is probably the main driver of conversation, and if left to their own devices two strangers sitting at a bar will screen each other for shared experience. “Have you been to ___?” “I’ve been there too” “Did you check out the ___.”

In countries like China ‘place’ is traditionally a far greater driver of cultural bonds. It is a place where the regions — and sometimes even individual cities — have their own languages, their own foods, and their own arts. When two strangers meet who speak the same local dialect they feel as if they know each other.

Feeling connected — there is something about this that we like. I only feel this way in Western New York.

This is normal.


The house that I grew up in between Rochester and Buffalo, New York. My parents moved out of it around nine years ago. My bedroom was on the far right hand side, behind the lilac bush. 

I’m viewing Western New York with rose colored goggles. What I say probably isn’t as true as I make it out to be. But home is a concept as much as it is a place — and if you don’t feel this way about the place that you came from there is probably something seriously wrong with it … or with you.

My parents. 

Filed under: Family, New York

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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