Many years ago, in a cold northern hockey town with music in its soul, there lived a friendly alien.
Its name was IRBIR — an acronym for “I’d Rather Be In Rochester,” the local tourism slogan of the day. And IRBIR’s sole purpose for coming to Earth was to alert humans to the many joys of visiting Rochester, New York, via advertisements and community appearances.
(I was roughly eight years old when IRBIR appeared, and missed the obvious subtext — that the Chamber of Commerce must have had to recruit an alien spokesman because no human being would want to visit Rochester.)
It would be wrong to suggest that IRBIR was loved, exactly. But among Rochesterians of a certain age, IRBIR is certainly remembered, which counts for something. Earnest aliens who set their sights on the shores of Lake Ontario don’t come along every day, after all.
The problem with alien visitations is that they never last very long. And sure enough, IRBIR’s season in the sun (snow?) only lasted a year or two before the friendly extraterrestrial caught a ride somewhere else.
So thorough was IRBIR’s disappearance that even the Internet, that all-knowing source of sapience, offered no pictures of him. There were reminiscences here and there, but no pictures to truly jog the memory.
I know, because I looked. Multiple times. Over the course of years.
I made an intermittent personal crusade out of finding a picture of IRBIR. I went to the reference room of the Rundel Library in downtown Rochester, and pulled their envelopes of media clippings related to the Chamber of Commerce and tourism. No dice.
I checked books published around the time of Rochester’s sesquicentennial celebration, which took place in same period. No friendly alien there, either.
I looked on YouTube. Gone like yesterday’s thunderstorm, if he’d ever been there to begin with.
A few years ago I even tracked down the guy who’d developed the IRBIR campaign and sent him an e-mail. He was perfectly friendly, but not quite engaged to the point of wanting to scan in or photograph the IRBIR remnants he still had in storage.
Of course, I don’t really fault him for not immediately rushing out on a stranger’s prompt to dig out something he did 25 years before.
I still wanted to see the goddamn alien, though.
So did other people, judging from the comments on this page:
“It would be great if any visuals could be posted.”
” I would love to see a video of IRBIR.”
“There was a video spot of IRBIR landing at Cobbs Hill. He had a very nasal sounding voice. I would love to find a copy of that piece. Perhaps one of the TV stations has it? Anyone know?”
“I swear I am not making this up, but I can find no traces of IRBIR’s existence on the web, or in Rochester junk or antique shops – yet. Please chime in if you have any memory of IRBIR!”
Well, I am proud to report that today IRBIR is real. Not loved-to-a-raw-edge real, like the Velveteen Rabbit. He is real because, at long last, his picture is on the Internet.
Earlier tonight I ran the same Google search I’d run before — “irbir rochester.”
Most of the links looked familiar. But there among the dead ends, as if placed there by an occult hand, was a scan of a suburban weekly newspaper from October 1982.
I’d never heard of this newspaper before today. It has been defunct for 20 years. There is no earthly reason why it should be on the Internet.
I can only conclude it was put there to fulfill a quest. My quest.
I am going upstairs to open a bottle of Genesee 12 Horse. I am not sure yet whether I will drink it, or pour it over my head.
While I’m doing that … meet IRBIR.