My 2 Cents
Jon Upton : The Back Bumper             I will soon be removing columns older than 2011. Read up while you can!


Friday started out much like Thursday, only without the spectre of a previous night's excess hanging over me. Eric and I made another beeline to a nearby Tim Horton's, this time at the corner of Main and Exchange. A scene unfolded before us, much like those I see on a daily basis in Canada, with a queue of coffee drinkers stretching out the door (although in Canada, you're just as likely to see a lineup of cars spilling onto the road from the drive through). Here in New York State, the ubiquity of the Tim Horton's brand has not been established, so the chain goes by the extended moniker, "Tim Horton's Cafe and Bake Shop." To a Canadian, that's as redundant as having to insert the words "cream" and "sugar" into a double-double order.

After arriving in the hall, I found myself looking at Dave Steckley's traders, and to my surprise, I found three pairs of YOMable Ontario plates. Eric was already well stocked for those years, so I bought them independently, as opposed to starting a pool, which is our SOP when we're on a plate-finding mission.

I stopped to look at a New Jersey pre-state plate, because I noticed that it bore the exact same size and type of cast-aluminum numbers that Ontario plates have. There must have been one company that manufactured these numbers and supplied them to various entities on both sides of the border. All four digits of the NJ plate are exact matches to their Ontario counterparts. I'm still trying to find an example of what the numeral "3" looks like, though. I have not yet seen a picture of a real leather Ontario plate with that digit included in the serial.

I allowed myself some back breaks back at the hotel on the Friday, since I had already browsed out the entire hall and basically found most everything I was going to find. On one of my trips across the street to the hotel, there was a police officer on horseback, so I stopped to chat and ask for a picture. I learned the horse's name was Dusty, and the idea behind using horses is to increase police visibility in a positive way. In lower income neighbourhoods, kids might avoid a local cop because perhaps an older family member has been arrested, or they might have been told that cops are "bad guys." But put a patrolling officer on a horse, and the kids become curious and will come out to see, and the interaction with a police officer can be positive.

Later on, back in the convention hall, I was taking pictures of low-numbered plates when a group of Canadian club members happened to spontaneously congregate, and we decided to pose for an impromptu group photo. We all smiled, said "Eh" for the camera, and then apologized to each other after the shot was taken. Bob Cornelius had made the trip to Rochester from the wine region of Ontario to check the convention on this day, but unfortunately, we couldn't find him for the photo shoot. 

Martine Stonehouse brought an unusual, unmarked plate to show us. The dimensions were the same as a 1940s era Ontario plate, as were the bolt hole placements. The number was 0000 and the dies used to make the zeroes were exactly the same as those seen on Ontario plates. The province name, crown and date were missing, as was part of the beveled upper border, and it looked as though they all may have been joined together as a single embossing die. Very interesting, indeed. I'll have to look closely at Ontario passenger plates of that era to see if there's maybe a hairline joint visible between the top date/border die and the rest of the plate.

Dinner time was on the horizon, and word had gotten around about the excellent Dinosaur BBQ. A group consisting of myself, Eric, Norm, Bob Ward and Nick Fulmer, decided that it would make more sense to have an early dinner to beat the rush, so we headed over to the Dino at about four o'clock. On our way there, we spotted the remains of what looked like an old open-air subway station, excavated below. Eric reminded us that Rochester used to have a subway system, decades before. We strained to get our necks above the chain-link fence to get a better view. We all like this sort of abandoned urban remnant, so this was a neat find on what was already a great convention trip.

We arrived at the Dino, and there was no lineup to see the buxom hostess, and there were plenty of free tables, and the beer was quick to arrive. Awesome! How could it get better?

Well, we could start with the food. The ribs were fantastic two nights before, and they didn't disappoint when we ordered more. The platters came to us, by way of our smart-ass, sharp-tongued waitress, loaded with ribs and sides. Norm reminisced about the many prior conventions he'd been to, and after weighing the combination of great convention finds, local neighbourhood, quality of lodging, quality of food, and just plain old enjoyment with friends, Rochester 2014 came out on top. I agreed... I had a good time in Providence ten years ago, but I'd been having an absolute blast in Rochester. "How could this get any better?" Norm asked rhetorically. There was no answer... Yet.

We took our time during our feast, and finally left the restaurant at about six, when it was packed to the rafters, with a 45-minute table wait. The ALPCA donation auction would be starting shortly, and that was our next target. But the sun was shining, and we strolled onto the Court Street Bridge to take in the view. The Dino, having been built on the bridge a century before as a train station, was resting on horizontal beams that stretched out from the bridge. There was no basement, because there was nothing below the building except fresh air and the flowing river! The Interstate crossed the Genesee River over an interesting arch span bridge in the distance, and below the bridge were some flow control gates, with water flowing rapidly through them. A large dead tree was caught in one of the gates, which got Nick wondering how often the gates might be shut for maintenance. A police officer walked by us at that moment, so Nick asked him. The officer said it was sort of an annual thing. Talk about the bridge turned to a few different things over the next 20 minutes as we just shot the breeze. Soon enough, we got to talking about the older Broad Street Bridge just north of us that once carried the Erie Canal - and later on, the subway.

Our officer friend told us that the inside of the bridge was open to the public, and the access point was the abandoned Court Street station. He told us that there was an entrance to the south of the station, and that we could freely explore. Well, the eyes of Nick, Norm, Eric and I just lit up with interest. We thanked the officer as he resumed his rounds.

We started toward South Street -- the way back to the hotel -- with comments like:

"That's so cool!"

"I had no idea!"

"I'm amazed that it's not against the law!"

"That was one fantastic cop!"

We reached the corner of South and Court. Bob crossed early via a carefully timed jaywalk, leaving we four to remark wistfully at how cool this all was. I thought for a minute. It was just past six o'clock, the sun was still shining high, and there was plenty of daylight left. It was up to me to break the ice. There would never be a better time-- there would never be another time, for that matter:

"Guys, let's go down and take a look," I said. We debated it for a moment, but the damage was done; the floodgates were opened. The four of us threw our auction plans to the dumpster, and our caution to the wind, and we descended into the dark ruins of the old Court Street subway station.

The concrete pillars, where not crumbling, were cloaked in impressive graffiti. Shrubs had sprouted across the area where the tracks once lay. A few rail ties remained in place. There had once been a ceiling, built using cut-and-cover technique, although it was possible that part of the station had once been open air. We expected to see a boundary fence of some sort, preventing further exploration, but the station turned into an expansive underground tunnel that was wide open for us to explore. The only chain-link fence that we did see had a deliberate gap in it, as well as a welded steel ladder for us to climb. Nowhere were there warning signs of any kind to ward us away.

The fence was there to separate a flooded area from the dry area where the track line was. Water from the river flowed into this area, and back out again. A raised concrete walkway, complete with railings, allowed us to walk right over the water, such that we could peek out onto the river, only a few feet above the water level.

We went back to the tracks and continued through the tunnel. The tracks made a gradual curve from their path parallel to the river, until they straightened out, with arched gaps in the walls. We couldn't believe it... We were inside the lower section of the strange old Broad Street Bridge we'd noticed days earlier, and we were crossing the Genesee River. What used to be a bridge for the waterway of the Erie Canal had been repurposed into a subway train bridge, and used in this capacity for decades before the lower level was abandoned with the closure of the subway. And the whole thing was ours to explore. I wondered if Paul Frater ever made it down here. This was really something! "How could this get any better?" Norm had asked earlier, rhetorically. Well, here was the answer.

"You'd never be allowed to do something like this in Toronto," I said.

"Tell me about it! This is awesome!" Norm said, giddy with excitement. He was like a kid visiting Disney World for the first time. "I can't believe I've stumbled on something this old, abandoned and wickedly cool, with other people who are exactly like me! I mean, if my wife were with me in Rochester, there'd be a snowball's chance in hell that I'd get to go down here."

Nick replied bluntly, "Anybody who doesn't think this is awesome is fucked up!" No offence to anyone's wife, to be sure. We all agreed with him.

The tracks entered a perfectly dark tunnel on the downtown side of the bridge. We could faintly see in the distance that the tracks, which had been buried but never removed in this section, began to diverge and the narrow walls seemed to widen, indicating another abandoned station beyond. We tried to cut through the darkness with the feeble lights on our phones, but it was no use. Eric mentioned that the tracks were said to continue right under the downtown core, and even pass through more stations, before emerging from the tunnel somewhere on the west side of downtown. As curious as we were, it was late in the day, and we were ill-equipped. Such a trek would have been unwise, to put it mildly, so we ventured no further.

While we were free to explore, we were definitely off the beaten path, and the subway was clearly not an official tourist attraction. Some of the graffiti was quite beautiful. There were large portraits of animals, people, and of course, teenage-level tagging like you'd see in a mall washroom stall. On our way back to the east side of the river, we realized that the huge Roman-columned library was right over this huge tunnel. There was no basement to the library that we could see... The entire area underneath appeared to have been excavated, and the rail bed layout suggested that subway cars may have been stored here when not in use. Huge steel beams were supporting the full weight of the library, which, having been completed in 1934, was erected there well after the subway. It was designed to stand on steel beams in the first place. Astounding.

The sun was nearly setting when we emerged from the subway, back at Court Street, about 90 minutes after we'd entered. Normy was over the moon. He had concluded over dinner that this was the best overall convention trip. And now, to top it all off, this happens-- an abandoned subway pops up that we're allowed to explore. Granted, it was not an official "offering" on the part of the city, but it was miles ahead of any other potential tourist attraction-- at least, to geeks like us, anyway.

Our little group broke up once we reach the hotel, for various relaxation and bathroom breaks. It was nearly 8 o'clock. The donation auction would be in full swing downstairs. I wasn't in a bidding mood, but I went down nonetheless to check it out. A wedding reception was just getting underway in a ballroom across the lounge from our donation auction. The new couple were being introduced to the guests, to the tune of "Jump Around." The bride strutted from the lounge, into the ballroom, and onto the dance floor with her new husband in hand. I made a left turn into our comparatively reserved ballroom, where the ALPCA donation auction was underway. 

As I took a seat towards the back, Chuck Sakryd was working the podium, trying to entice further bidding on a handful of plates. The two leading bidders turned to look at each other, as though they were apologetic for the fact that they were bidding on the same lot. Chuck egged them on: "There are no friends in an auction – trust me." The room roared with laughter.

I sat next to Bob Ward, who had already been filled in by Nick on where the other four of us had gone after dinner. Bob was fairly tired, and was heading upstairs. He kindly offered me his bidding paddle, but I declined because I knew I wasn't going to be raising it. I stayed for a few more minutes, so I could more or less say later on that I had actually "done" the auction. 

The gymnasium was still open, so I put on some sweats, and went down to use the elliptical for a while. A rowdy group of teenagers, from the Jehovah's Witness group with whom we were sharing the hotel, were loitering in the gym, and not using any of the equipment properly. A couple of boys tried to impress the group by sprinting as fast as possible on a treadmill, to the point where they could have been thrown into the wall behind them. Rather than raise a stink, I pretended I was finished and then discreetly called security from the hallway. I went up to my room for some water, and the elevator took forever to come back up to my floor because someone had pushed every single button-- they were all still lit when the door opened. I suspect it was the mischievous work of the noisy teens, because when I returned to the gymnasium, it was empty and silent. I finished my exercise in peace.

It was getting late, but I was still wound up from the evening’s adventures. I’d brought my large SLR camera, but as our trip through the subway was a snap decision, I was only equipped with my phone. It takes good pictures, but I wanted to use my SLR somehow. Night had fallen, and there was a great view of Main Street from the skyway over the street that bridged the convention centre to the hotel, so I went there and snapped some time-exposed shots of traffic. I also ventured outside to take pictures of the Main Bridge next to the hotel, as well as the Broad Street Bridge, which I had thoroughly explored earlier with Eric, Norm and Nick. I felt quite safe, and wasn’t bothered by any of the local passers-by. I blew nearly an hour playing with settings and finding locations to rest the camera where I didn’t need a tripod—I hadn’t brought one. After snapping 70 or so shots, I figured it was finally time to hit the hay.

Big day tomorrow... Display awards! That's why I'd come. I slept with fingers crossed.

Some previous instalments of My 2 Cents  

Credit Where Credit Is Due (Jan 31/09) 
YOMPlates (Mar 29/09) 
...A Man Alone... (Apr 26/09) 
Stir-Crazy (May 10/09) 
Watson, Steam, Nash and Fun (May 31/09) 
Oro Express (June 14/09) 
Weary in Erie (June 29/09) 
Weary in Erie 2 (July 6/09) 
Weary in Erie 3 (July 15/09) 
Walking the Walk (Aug 19/09) 
Gettin' My Fillia in Orillia (Sep 20/09) 
Destination Super (Oct 29/09) 
Auction in the Country (Dec 31/09) 
Wintertime Update (Feb 20/10) 
Plates and Parenting in Acton (Apr 25/10) 
Ketchup (Aug 17/10) 
Mileage May Vary in Barrie (Oct 2/10) 
Grim Pickings (Nov 2/10) 
Oppression (Nov 27/10) 
Virtual Display (Dec 26/10) 

Variable Virtual Value (Feb 27/11) 
7 2 1 3 (Mar 6/11) 
Police Thyself (Apr 17/11) 
Twofer One (May 12/11) 
100 / 1000 (Jun 8 /11) 
Cruising and Shopping in Merrickville (Jul 11/11) 
Bert's Barn & Bug (Aug 1/11) 
Hot & Bothered in Bothwell (Aug 23/11) 
Summer's Last Gasp (Sep 16/11) 
Some Facts About Fakes (Oct 24/11) 
You Had To Be There (Nov 4/11) 
Load Runners (Dec 24/11) 
Load Runners - The Sequel (Jan 16/12) 
In Search of the Canadian Car (Feb 20/12)
Passing Time (Apr 1/12)
These Magic Moments (May 19/12)
Seller 57, Where Are You? (June 16/12)
Moseying in Merrickville (July 11/12)
Doors Open 2012 (Aug 13/12)
Let It Rain, Rain, Rain (Sep 15/12)
Volksfest 2012 (Oct 1/12)

Why I Skipped Grimsby (Nov 11/12)
December '95 (Dec 2/12)
Five Oh Eight (Dec 31/12)
Ontario Leather Plates: Fake or Not? (Jan 26/13)
Photobox (Feb 24/13)
Half Acton (May 7/13)
Kids' Day Out (May 26/13)
Overcharged in Oro (Jun 16/13)
Merrickville 2013 (Jul 19/13)
Bugging (Aug 27/13)
Opengo-Monck Travelogue (Sep 11/13)
Friday Night in the Garage (Sep 29/13)
Long Time Coming (Oct 29/13)
August '97 (Nov 23/13)
Behind the Bars (Dec 28/13)
Peoria '96 (Jan 18/14)
Bleak Midwinter (Feb 15/14)
Photobox '14 (Mar 12/14)
Lightning Striking Again (Apr 5/14)
Acton in the Arena (May 5/14)
A Gran Torino Day Out (May 28/14)
Daddy - Daughter - Barrie (Jun 8/14)
Rochester 2014 - The Monday (Jul 21/14)
Rochester 2014 - The Tuesday (Jul 27/14)
Rochester 2014 - The Wednesday (Aug 3/14)
Rochester 2014 - The Thursday (Aug 10/14)

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