'Do You Want to Light the Town?' Well, I Thought You'd Never Ask ...

When a Patch editor is presented with the opportunity to flip the switch on 1.5 million downtown lights, she channels her inner Oz and says yes.

Do you want to turn on the lights?

That's an easy enough question to answer when you're in your kitchen trying to read a dinner recipe as day gives in to night.

Or when you're trying to search your daughter's closet for something that works for both art class and gym class on a dreary, dark school morning.

A light would be great, yes.

But when the lights you're being asked to turn on are those lights — the ones that stop traffic on any given December night, the ones that take four weeks and a crew of a half-dozen engineers to hang, the ones that help define a downtown — well, it's hard not to tremble just a little when you answer.

Um ... yes, please. I would love to turn on those lights.

I left my ruby red slippers at home

I was making the Patch rounds in downtown Rochester last week when I stopped by the Downtown Development Authority office for a quick word with executive director Kristi Trevarrow. The DDA office is at the top of a narrow stairway located above .

I asked Kristi how the testing of the was going. The show, which involves 1.5 million lights that cover most of the downtown buildings, begins Monday night.

We somehow got on the subject of the light switch.

"Who flips it?" I asked.

"Oh, haven't you seen it?" Kristi replied, smiling.

I follow her into her office, one with only half a view of the downtown she helps oversee. There's a window high off the ground, mostly covered by an awning. In the corner, a few feet below the window, there sits a shoebox-sized white box.

If it were any other day in any other office, the box would have been overlooked. 

But on this day, I soon would realize that box holds all the power.

"That's it? That's the switch?" I asked, getting out my camera to take a picture.

It's not unlike Oz, the one with all the greatness and powerfulness: in the moment, he's all big and green and wonderful and wizard-like. But when Toto pulls away the curtain, he's really just an ordinary guy in a nondescript booth who's helped along by a lot of special effects.

That's how I would later describe the box: it's drab and it's plain. But its power, in an instant, can turn a whole town's anticipation into glory.

Look what I did, Mom!

If you happened upon downtown Rochester last Monday just after lunchtime, you may have seen them.

They were on for only five minutes — long enough for me to run down the stairway and out onto Main Street to take a quick photo of what I had just done.

I did it! I turned on the downtown Rochester lights! All 1.5 million of them!

I wanted to shout it from the rooftop of , to call my mom, to tweet it to everyone I knew.

One-point-five-million-lights, I texted.

In reality, I wasn't really all that special. You see, in order for the lights to flick on without a glitch, there is a lot of testing that takes place beforehand. At any given moment during the past few weeks, you might have seen them come on or shut off while downtown. Kristi and her team check every single lightbulb. They've been on in the daytime and at night. So my five minutes were just another rehearsal.

But, still.

I would be chanting "Light the town!" in my sleep for days.

Big and bright

Tomorrow night, when the lights go on for good in Rochester for the sixth year in a row, it's Kristi herself who will flip the little black switch.

Up in her office, she'll listen for the chanting down below. When it makes sense, she'll do what the crowd of thousands wants: she'll light the town.

Wow, I thought.

"Isn't it a little lonely?" I asked Kristi. "You have to flip the switch all by yourself? Can't you get someone else to do it so you can be down on the street enjoying the party?"

She just smiled and shook her head, and somehow it made sense.

I don't think, for Kristi, it's a lonely moment at all.

Think about it: she will be surrounded by 1.5 million of the best gifts this downtown can give this holiday season.

Alan Stamm November 28, 2011 at 07:21 PM
Thanks for pulling away the curtain to show again that you're really an extraordinary writer whose hometown pride also gleams brightly. And if you ever do shout from the rooftop of Mr. B's, please make sure someone snaps that scene.


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