Friday, August 15, 2014

Rochester, MN


     Rochester, Minnesota. I never expected to spend any extended amount of time here because frankly… I didn’t even really know it existed. People will spend whole lives, entire existences living in a place that you’ve never hear of. A place that you might never consider even visiting. People may cringe if you mention a place like Behghazi, Libya, or consider science fiction to the thought of Zam, Burkina Faso. Yet it’s another person’s entire existence.  

                I’m a firm believer that every place has its own charming qualities. Rochester is a very unusual town, its whole existence hinging on the world renowned Mayo Clinic. A strange mixture of rich surgeons, young nurses, and the old, sick, and dying.  Some things you notice right away. The elevator in the hotel is large enough for a roll in gurney. The airport has 6 gates, but claims international status for wealthy non-Americans to have direct access to the clinic. Other things come later. Trendy shops, upon a closer look, build fashionable custom limb replacements for amputees. Everything is about the clinic, for the clinic, and exists because of the clinic.

                Fortunately, rich doctors lead to good restaurants, a pleasant downtown area, and some pretty fantastic golf courses. With a population just over 100,000, it’s a city that’s on the rise. A somewhat surprising and pretty substantial Muslim population throws an interesting curve ball into the diversity mix. It really is an odd place with a somewhat fascinating aura.

                But once you get to our extended stay hotel, the perspective of why the city exists switches to the people that need it so badly. The blind, the broken, the sick. People on their last hope, and sometimes quite literally their last limb. We met men watching their wives die. An old ghost of a man clings onto the last hopes of his past life and watches them fade away night after night into the bottom of a bottle. The broken and weak of all kind congregate as their loved ones watch them die.  We use the back patio of the hotel to escape after work and be social. They use it to escape from their lives and their mortality, even if just for a few minutes. A certain bond has formed between our group and the people of the hotel.

                People need more than just a doctor. Whether you’re sick or not, you need a release. And as sad as it has been to hear the stories of the various people that circulate through the hotel, we’ve gotten a lot of smiles too. Many warm hearted thanks have come our way. We’ve been open and welcoming to everyone around us, and it’s been heartwarming to see them smile, relax, and forget why they have to be where there are for a little while. And that’s where the charm in Rochester eventually ended up coming from. It’s not always served with a plate of caviar on beautiful blue beach. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find what makes a place special.

Rochester is a lot more beautiful than other places I’ve been in a lot of ways. The landscape can be beautiful. The skies have presented epic shows of clouds and storms. But like most places I’ve been, it’s the people that grow on you. Once you break through the tough outer skin, at the end of the day, everybody just wants to smile and have someone to call a friend.