Forsake the Highway for the Slow Road

I have a conviction, a belief, that many of us miss out on much that takes place around us. We don’t recognize the amazing places and people that make up “our home.”

I live in the City of Rochester and enjoy it greatly. However, the ability to escape to the beautiful Finger Lakes Region and beyond is what makes this area one of the best in the world to live in.  For me, exploring the open road helps spark my sense of freedom and adventure. Every trip I take is a combination of planned stops and random interactions; a sort of necessary flexibility that allows me to truly capture and experience the spirit of a place. Taking the road less traveled has been a lifestyle choice of mine for as long as I’ve had my driver’s license, whether the road is near (here in the Finger Lakes and the rest of New York State) or far (the Cape Breton Trail in Nova Scotia and circumventing Iceland on my honeymoon).

Last summer, I decided to launch a new iteration of “Slow Road,” a documentary series dedicated to exploring places and building relationships between urban and rural places. “Slow Road” focuses on discovering the paths that intersect with Main Streets and epicenters of community. The name and our ethos represent downshifting in an effort to take in what’s around us in both a literal and symbolic sense.

During each episode of “Slow Road,” we profile routes that connect us with a multitude of different places. We focus on the spirit of what our series represents and the importance of going to new and unfamiliar places. Our goal is to encourage others to follow those routes to understand the benefits of the places and people we meet, and how we are connected to places in ways we don’t realize.
Heading to Mac’s

Episode 1 begins in front of the iconic Little Theater on East Avenue in Rochester and heads south. Most of us in the city recognize East Avenue, but don’t realize it is also Route 96. We travel through the beautiful (and hidden) Village of Clifton Springs, where we discuss the early origins of the community around its healing mineral and sulphur springs. We then continue south via Route 96 to Phelps, to highlight historic Flint Creek Falls. Our next highlight is the Village of Waterloo to see a hand-painted, mural-sized advertisement created prior to 1896. The mural promotes a former, local liquor and tobacco business.

Our main feature is the incredible Mac’s Drive-In Restaurant, celebrating its 55th year in business. We picked the retro, drive-in restaurant as our first destination because we simply couldn’t think of a better place to visit during a show dedicated to the road less traveled. Mac’s embodies an era when highways did not yet dominate the landscape. Located on historic Route 20, it captures the nostalgia of a Finger Lakes summer night. You can sit at the counter or take advantage of carhop service.

As we enjoyed our burgers, fries and root beer floats, we learned more about the amazing people who started it all. Founders Gerry and Cathy MacDougal spoke with us about their decision to create the one-of-a-kind restaurant in 1961. Mac’s is one of only a few places in the world that still serve Richardson Root Beer, and we marveled at the style in which they serve their root beer floats.

We also had an amazing chance to meet the current owners (one is Gerry and Cathy’s son) and talk to some of the staff about what it’s like to work there. In the end, we were treated with an incredible day of driving and discovering new places and people worthy of attention.

The roads less traveled lead to discovery. Make sure to tell Mac’s Drive-In that Slow Road sent you!

The ongoing mission of “Slow Road” is to capture our region in an unprecedented manner. We have just released our third episode this year, which was filmed in High Definition. We look forward to the day our production funding will enable us to film every month and achieve syndication. We feel that there is still so much to be captured. No place is too small to visit. Follow us on the Slow Roads by watching our episodes at vimeo.com/slowroad. Visit us at slowroadtravel.com or read our blog at storyofplace.com. Slow Road Travel is a project of Slow Road Consulting Inc., a placemaking and marketing firm.


by Benjamin Woelk