My Apologies to Limerick

…and to all cities that don’t show well.

I’m sorry. We didn’t click. Had I been staying in Ireland for ninety days, I would have stayed in town and volunteered at the fringe festival, seen the acts and settled into the place, gotten a fuller picture of the city, but things didn’t work out that way, so I scrambled out after two nights to spend the remainder of my days in Galway. I had precious little time, and Galway was more practical, in the plainest and least judgmental way.

Your nickname is Stab City and your claim to fame among Americans is an extremely depressing memoir of dubious authenticity. I didn’t let that put me off. 

Limerick is no Galway, no Dublin, no San Francisco nor Savannah. It doesn’t have a great reputation and it doesn’t knock your socks off at first sight. Couples don’t walk the streets hand in hand, agog at the wonder of the place. That, however, is no measure of whether or not it’s a good place.

My hometown is Rochester, New York. Our nicknames are Rottenfester, Ra-cha-cha, and Crotchester. Our claim to fame is urban decay, collapsed businesses, and a boom-bust economy that has left so many formerly grand neighborhoods in ruin. Rochester doesn’t show well. We don’t attract tourists. I know, firsthand, all about our crime rate.

But I adore Rochester. It is the greatest love of my life. I love Rochester like James Joyce loved Nora Barnacle, like Achilles loved Patroclus. When I left to live in Florida for a while, Rochester let me go quietly, lovingly, ready to have me back for two days, a week, or for years. “Don’t worry,” it said, “you can always come home.”

Rochester doesn’t show well. No tourist would have much reason to go there. If you arrived at the bus station at midnight, as I did in Limerick, you would cut and run, but I don’t know where to; there’s no Galway in Western New York. Most cities in the region are disappointing at first glance. You might have to go as far as Toronto.

However, people who give Rochester a chance tend to fall in love. They tend to stay. In my community, we call it “The Vortex.” Couch surfers, Helpx volunteers, and good old American wanderers pass through saying they’ll be there two days, then leave starry-eyed and come back sooner than later, for months, for years. We have strong communities, passionate people, more arts, culture, and education than makes any sense for a city of Rochester’s size. We have world class music and a world class rose garden. Our unemployment rate was lower than the state and national average throughout the entire recession.

When people tell me Rochester has a bad reputation and doesn’t impress, I hear a spoiled child demanding something impossible, or perhaps more accurately, I hear an older white man telling me I should smile or do this or that so I’m more approachable. Pardon me, sir, but fuck off: I’m not here to be approachable. I’m going about my own business and doing fine. I am not here to impress.

Limerick, you don’t have to impress anyone. You are a city people call home. The people I met were all extremely friendly, helpful, and compassionate. That you don’t impress is a matter of little consequence.

I am sorry I didn’t have time to give you the chance you deserve. I respect a city that doesn’t show well. It’s still a real place full of people who call it home and have communities and inner lives. I apologize, but I suppose you don’t much care that I left early. You’re not there to impress.

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