You’re never too old to start new traditions – or pick up where old ones left off.
Such is the case with this pilgrimage to Rochester, N.Y., which began life before the pandemic and just as quickly stalled out as precautions and priorities shifted. But with a return to normal – or at least a new one dawning – a growing group of us knew just how important it was to get this trip back on track.
Life changes as you get older; that much is obvious. But with age also comes focus – focus on what (and who) matters most. That’s why this ragtag bunch gathered in a parking lot on an early spring morning in the first place. Our chariot of choice was, in fact, my chariot of choice: the 2023 Toyota Sienna. As the only guy in this group without children, my adoration of minivans is at least a little ironic; however, there’s simply no better peoplemover on the market, and the Sienna happens to be the best of the bunch.
Of course, a small part of me was hoping to turn at least a couple of these Millennial dads into true believers in the merits of the minivan. More than that, AutoTrader Editor-in-Chief Jodi Lai and I had arranged a comparison between the Sienna and the 2023 Kia Telluride that happened to fall on the very same week as this road trip. Call it a happy coincidence.
The Perfect Companion
So off we set, five (mostly) grown men in a minivan, with ample room for everyone as well as their overnight bags. It’s not as if a three-row SUV couldn’t do the same, but none this side of a Chevrolet Suburban is as generously sized as the Sienna. Fewer still are as efficient, with Toyota making its minivan hybrid-only when this version came out a couple years ago. An all-wheel-drive example like the one we took to Rochester has an official fuel consumption rating of 6.7 L/100 km – a number we handily topped, burning through just 6.4 L/100 km across about 540 km in total (and with an indicated range of 240 km remaining after it was all over).
It wasn’t long into our drive before the dads started looking for the Sienna’s flaws, of which at least a couple were valid. Take some of the interior panels, particularly in the rearmost row of seats, which are cheap to the touch; or the wind and road noise that makes its way inside when cruising along the highway, which is louder than it should be. Then there are the speaker covers, which one dad quipped wouldn’t last long before one his kids mashed a muffin into its cheese-grater pattern.
But then every one of them marvelled at the Sienna’s accessibility and ease of use, particularly for the third-row seats. Whether tumbling them into the floor when they aren’t needed or tilting them forward when they are, most movements can be done one-handed, while opening and closing the sliding doors and tailgate can be done with no hands at all thanks to the available kick sensors.
More than that, the Sienna is an astonishingly family-friendly – or in this case, friend-friendly – vehicle. Everything inside is well configured, there are cup holders and USB charging ports for all occupants, and it’s generally rather disarming to drive. During the nearly three-hour trip to Rochester, it proved itself to be the perfect companion, never protesting when passing slower traffic on the highway or feeling unmanageable in spite of its portly proportions.
So Much to See – and Enjoy
How exactly we landed on this city as our preferred destination in the first place has been obscured by the sands of time, but I happen to be a huge fan of Western New York – and yes, it’s about more than my affinity for the Buffalo Bills (although that certainly doesn’t hurt). The resiliency of the region and its residents is nothing short of remarkable, with the remnants of its economic golden age scattered far and wide along with a general sense of gradual renewal.
Both Buffalo and Rochester were once among America’s earliest boomtowns – cities that saw years of economic prosperity thanks to industrialization, only for much of it to be painfully swept away as manufacturing moved elsewhere. South of Buffalo, for instance, is the former Bethlehem Steel site that was once among the largest steel mills in the world. It now sits mostly abandoned and dilapidated, surrounded by brownfield sites along the Lake Erie shoreline as some sort of cruel reminder of what once was.
A little over an hour east of Buffalo, Rochester wasn’t quite as hard hit by the changing tides of the American economy, but it certainly wasn’t immune from the plight of deindustrialization, either. But just like Buffalo, there’s a tangible spirit of toughness, determination, and reinvention here. It’s a story that isn’t unlike the ones told about Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit – other Rust Belt cities that have been forced to find new ways forward in the wake of economic decline and urban decay.
History abounds in this city of some 210,000, with the gothic styling of the iconic Kodak Tower standing boldly just beyond the banks of the Genesee River that splits Rochester’s core in two. Then there’s the Times Square Building – no, not that Times Square – as well as the home of civil rights activist Susan B. Anthony (which also happens to be where she was arrested in 1872), and so much more. Yes, other places have such storied pasts, but just like Buffalo this is an unassumingly historic city, with hidden gems galore.
Adding to Rochester’s appeal amongst adult travellers is a high concentration of incredible craft breweries, which might well be why we opted to visit in the first place. Stand-outs include Strangebird Beer, Roc Brewing Co., and Three Heads Brewing, all of which – along with about a half-dozen others – are within walking distance of one another. Quite frankly, there might not be a bigger cluster of quality beermakers within reasonable driving distance of Toronto than there is in Rochester, while their close proximity to each other makes this an ideal destination to park at the hotel or Airbnb and bounce between them by foot – which is exactly what we did. (Meanwhile, those looking for some family-friendly fun will find it at the National Toy Hall of Fame, as well as the adjacent Strong National Museum of Play.)
It’s often said that it becomes harder to make friends as we get older, and that’s just fine. As this trip reminded me once more, as much as life changes, the important stuff stays the same. We may not see each other as often as any of us would like, but that makes times like these all the more special. So gather your friends or family and their stuff, pack whatever it is you drive, and find a Rochester of your own. Whether it’s the journey or the destination – or both – fond memories await.
Editor’s Note: This story was not supported or endorsed by a local tourism board or other organization.