"Which part of India did Francis Xavier arrive at in 1542?" If there are esoteric questions in the air and small groups of people with pensive looks on their faces huddled around tables, then it must be Trivia Night at the Old Toad Pub.
"Most English pubs have trivia nights on Mondays," says Old Toad manager Simon Higgins. "It's typically a slow night and this brings people out." The Old Toad --- a traditional English pub at 277 Alexander Street --- has two trivia nights: Sundays and Mondays.
Teams on Sundays are limited to four and compete for a jackpot. On Mondays, there's no limit to the number of team members and no prize money, but winners do get a T-shirt and, "the prestige of being a quiz winner," Higgins says.
Bill and Audrey Zufall, a middle-aged couple, have been coming to Trivia Night since it began about 12 years ago. They arrive early, have dinner, and work on a crossword puzzle.
"We like this kind of thing," Bill says. Audrey paused from her crossword puzzle and added, "We're the kind of people who watch game shows." They're also part of the team to beat. "We win pretty frequently," Audrey says. So frequently, in fact, that the pub instituted a handicap system to level the playing field.
At the other end of the room, and spectrum, is a group of current and former RIT students that has only been coming since last summer. "It's better than going to a stupid bar, drinking and being stupid," says Eric Berkow. They've yet to win, but are undaunted. "We show up, drink, lose, and have fun," says Lin Sleboda.
None of the teams admit to doing any preparation for the quiz. Most players read newspapers, watch TV, and have good memories. "I just have an uncanny ability to remember nonsense that other people don't," says regular Terry Schnurr.
Trivia Nights are Sundays at 9 p.m. and Mondays at 9:30 p.m. 232-2626. (The answer to the trivia question above is Goa. Du-uh).
--- Joseph Sorrentino
He called it "pure bliss" during the State of the City, and he swears that's not an exaggeration. Yes, it seems Mayor Bill Johnson has been loving life since Maggie Brooks assumed her post as Monroe County Executive. In fact, the change is so palpable, Johnson says, he can literally feel it.
Of utmost importance to Johnson is Brooks' recognition that "there's a lot of stuff going on between the city and the county every hour of the day that was being adversely impacted by what was going on at the top," he says. "She has begun to clear out those paths."
"What was going on at the top" of course, was the acrimonious relationship between Johnson and former County Executive Jack Doyle. But that's a thing of the past. Johnson uses a recent consolidation discussion with the Council of Governments and the RUMP Group as an example:
"They used to ask Doyle and me to send reps, because they knew [consolidation] was a very divisive issue," Johnson says. "But after Doyle was leaving, the COG asked Maggie and me to attend. So we went. And suddenly, a thought came into my mind: You know what? If this were Doyle here, I'd have come to this meeting prepared to defend my position. I would have been on edge. I would have been ready to go to the mat with him. But at this meeting, people were throwing out ideas and I was responding, Maggie was responding. It was a palpably different atmosphere. My whole body felt more at ease."
As for Brooks, Johnson says she doesn't receive enough credit for her intelligence. "She's a lot smarter than people want to believe," he says. "There's nobody manipulating her. She understands that there are things we need to get done, and that we can do it by working together."
Talk continues to surface in the daily newspaper of locating a casino in downtown Rochester, possibly in the struggling Sibley Building on Main Street. But to Mayor Bill Johnson, the casino idea is no good.
"I don't see how anybody who truly cares about this city would really want to be so quick to turn to this solution when we have many more options at our disposal," he says.
Johnson refers to a recent trip he's taken to Niagara Falls, where "you've got this nice glittering palace in the heart of downtown, but it's surrounded by blight." He says he's seen similar problems in Atlantic City and Detroit.
Any momentum for this project seems to becoming directly from Wilmorite, Inc., whose subsidiaries own the Sibley Building. Wilmorite Chairperson Thomas Wilmot has been eying the casino business for years, and has been courting a branch of the Seneca Nation in Oklahoma as a possible entrée into the casino business.
Johnson thinks Wilmot is just trying to find a solution for the Sibley Building, which stands to lose its main tenant if Monroe Community College locates its Advanced Technology Center in the proposed Renaissance Square.
"MCC wants to move," Johnson says. "This is an area where [County Executive] Maggie [Brooks] and I are still trying to reconcile our differences. I'm still saying we don't have to move MCC across the street. Using the logic that's been advanced that things have to be built adjacent to this transit center, well the Sibley Building is not only adjacent to it, but it's attached by a skyway into that complex. So there's something going on there. I think that maybe in Wilmot's mind this is a way to finally move that building in ways that he hasn't been able to move it before."
It may be another urban legend: that small businesses universally oppose raising the minimum wage because doing so will keep them from preserving jobs or creating new ones. At any rate, some local businesses aren't buying into that. They recently put their names to an ongoing campaign --- led by labor, religious, and human rights groups in the "$51.5 Is Not Enough" coalition --- to boost the minimum wage significantly.
The signers of a March 4 statement of support are: Genesee Co-op Federal Credit Union, Chimo's Sandwich Shop, Hogan's Hideaway, Cheesy Eddie's, North Clinton Business Association, Rochester Children's Nursery, Dicky's Restaurant, Women's Coffee Connection, Savory Thyme Catering, Rudy's Oven, Clinton Pharmacy, and Foodlink. "Businesses owners aren't heartless," they said in a joint statement. "We know that paying them a higher wage results in less turnover, less training costs, and more committed employees." A raise will benefit the whole community, they said: It will "create a level playing field" so independent businesses won't be chains that pay poverty wages.
Incidentally, State Senator Joe Robach joined the effort. He said he's proud to be a co-sponsor of a bill (already passed by the Assembly) that would raise the state minimum to $7.10. As a member of the Senate's Republican majority, Robach may make an impression --- not only with his call for a wage hike, but with his labor solidarity.
The fastest-growing homeless population in Monroe County is between the ages of 16 and 21. According to a report released last month by the Department of Human and Health Services, the county provided emergency housing to 940 youth last year. That's up from 773 in 2002.
"They don't have [a] reason," says Carla Palumbo, who sits on the county's Human Services Committee. "Their best guess was that these are kids who end up too old to really go into the foster-care system, with parents that are absent. They end up homeless."
On the surface, the report seems to hold some very good news. Placement of homeless individuals and families decreased by 6 percent in 2003. The county provided emergency housing to 7,991 families and individuals last year. That's down from 8,533 the year before.
But, Palumbo cautions, the report shows that most people are becoming homeless because they've been evicted by their primary tenant. "So it sounds like what's happening is people are doubling up," she says.
The average cost for an emergency placement in 2003 was $453. In total, the county made $3,625,893 in emergency housing payments last year.
Seventy-eight percent of the clients were placed in shelters and 22 percent in hotels. There were 1,830 placements at the Cadillac Hotel. That's down from 2,318 in 2002.