This past weekend my wife and I took a quick overnight trip to Rochester, MN, a town of about 100,000 people just over an hour south of the Twin Cities. I’ve posted the past couple days about the reviews of the breweries and brewpubs that we visited, but I wanted to spend today’s entry sharing a couple quick thoughts about the city itself.
Most of the small “cities” that I’ve been to in rural areas are college towns. They’ve grown up around the founding of a university or college of some sort and they derive a lot of their identity around the school that is a backbone of the town. Rochester on the other hand was built up around industry, and specifically the healthcare industry. The Mayo family founded the Mayo Clinic in 1864, making it one of the oldest institutions in Minnesota. From this beginning, the Mayo Clinic has grown to become an international medical institution with a reputation for treating everyone from southern Minnesota farmers to world leaders.
Being that the town of Rochester grew up around Mayo makes for an interesting environment when spending time there. We stayed in the heart of downtown, and much like Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Downtown Rochester is heavily connected by skyways. However, because of the connection to the hospital the skyway also merges with a “subway” which are underground tunnels that connect much of the downtown area to the hospital buildings. Oh, it also connects to one of the only Dunkin Donuts in Minnesota!
Knowing this history, and what is at the heart of Rochester, made walking downtown an interesting experience. As we sat at various restaurants I wondered how many of the people around us were there with loved ones who were at the hospital? How many of these people were doing long-term stays in hotels downtown so that they could be near a parent, child or spouse who was undergoing weeks of chemo? It made all of the life and activity that permeates downtown seem… different. I know that realistically a great many of the people we saw were probably just regular folks, doctors, nurses and other residents of the city.
It still made me wonder and pause at a town that lives and breaths on trying to save people’s lives through the worst of conditions.