When I moved home, back into my mother’s house,.two and a half years ago it was a matter of pragmatism. Though things had already not quite worked out the way they were meant to do I was meant to have finished school, plans had been made, and I was supposed to go to Europe in a few months. It didn’t make sense in my head to be paying rent at my apartment in Columbus during that time and I had a distinct feeling that it was time to move on. I’d been living like I was in college for far too long. It was only supposed to be a few months, and then when I got home from traveling I would figure out what it was I wanted to do.
When I was in high school my friends and I had love affairs with movie theatres and Applebee’s. We never looked for better restaurants and we never thought to find out if something interesting was going on. Instead we watched Never Been Kissed four times. We weren’t the partying types, because we were mostly theatre nerds. We were silly and ridiculous and we had a lot of fun, but I don’t think that I could say we had the typical high school experience. Certainly not like the rumors I would hear about our classmates. Though I don’t think that anyone who came from my school could possibly have the quintessential movie high school experience.
It seemed that people from my school treated Cleveland like a weigh station. They’d stop here in between chapters of their lives, sitting around their parent’s houses terminally bored until they can move on to the next great job, another glamorous city, or a new relationship. Like it had been ingrained in us from a young age; we grow up in nice suburbs and then we leave for something better. We don’t explore, we don’t get involved, we don’t disturb the wildlife.
But as things turn out, nothing quite went to plan and I ended up living in Cleveland for not several months but rather several years, I got involved, and I found that I rather liked living here. And a large reason for that is because, not only is there a ton to do (as posted here) but there are a lot of young people seemingly trying to prove Cleveland, well, rocks. I’ve never come across a group quite so adamant to defend liking the city where they live.
And I have to wonder why. Why is it that young Clevelanders feel the need to constantly beat everyone they know over the head with how awesome their city is? The answer is really rather simple; because those who don’t live here don’t believe us. They see rust and factories and a Downtown area that is not bustling and they write it off, because they don’t bother looking anywhere else. There are, of course, two areas of Downtown where one may find activity, but Cleveland is not that kind of town. We’re a town of areas rather than one metropolis busy with spectators. It’s a city that’s geared towards the commerce that takes place there during the day. It’s a working city, not a partying one. Of course that doesn’t mean that you wont find a dozen delectable restaurants on East 4th to choose from, or crowded stadiums for games and sports bars for those who don’t manage tickets, or that West 6th doesn’t have it’s fair share of eateries and bars. Or that if you travel several minutes into Ohio City you wont find just what you’re looking for. What it does mean is that there aren’t a lot of people walking Public Square or twisting through city streets. What it means is that the areas of Downtown Cleveland activity are are compartmentalized as the rest of the Cleveland. Cleveland is never going to be New York or Chicago. The days of it being that sort of city died in the Depression. Cleveland is a city of steel mills and black bridges, but more importantly, creativity.
I have this theory that once someone moves to New York they are ruined for the rest of their lives. My desire to live in the Big Apple died in high school when my imagination flew to much older, and in my opinion grander, cities, like London. Or Paris. And it seems like everyone who moves to New York returns a douchebag. Suddenly nothing is good anymore. Unbusy streets mean there isn’t anything going on anywhere and local music from anywhere else blows. New York is the end all to anything and you have to wonder why on earth it was that they ever returned here in the first place. It’s New York this and New York that and suddenly McDonald’s tastes better with New York water and they don’t understand why it would be worth it to go to this gallery because there is one much better in New York. Oh, no they never went there but they heard about it. The thing is this; if you want people out on the street and subway travel from wherever you are to wherever you want to go, then you need to be in another city. However, if you want affordable living, the possibility of owning a car, and a manageable amount of award winning restaurants and bars, if you want a livable city that the people who live there really love, then Cleveland is the place.
My best friend has decided that if she gets one question for Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dollhouse, and Angel, then she’ll ask why he chose Cleveland as the location of a second Hellmouth. She wonders if it’s because he had a bad experience here or knew someone from here that was less than kind, but I don’t think it’s complicated at all. He chose Cleveland because it has a reputation as a hell-hole. A gritty town with two buildings, burning rivers, and a depressed economy. A city that’s known primarily through jokey tourism videos on YouTube that are hilarious, but are probably taken as serious from those non-Clevelanders and their preconceived notions.
And this quick judgment is not even exclusive to non-Clevelanders, because there’s an internal struggle as well, between the East and West side. I live in the heights area, which places me firmly on the East side of Cleveland. I prefer it. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in this area, but unlike many friends I have never even had the slightest inkling of an urge to move West, mainly because everything I want is here. I have two bars that I frequent, more or less, one is the Charles Stewart Parnell on Lee Road. It’s a casual Irish pub where I know the bartenders and I can always have a conversation with friends or watch a soccer match (which is the only sport I enjoy watching). The other is the Grog Shop, located on Coventry Road, which is mostly a music venue for affordable, yet good, shows where I know the bartenders and know who pours vodka with a heavy hand and who pours so much vodka it comes out tasting like battery acid. These are both the sorts of places where I can go wearing jeans and a tee shirt and not feel out of place. I don’t need to put on any pretenses and I don’t need to spend half my day putting together an outfit. I can, but I don’t have to. On the West side things are… different. There’s more to do, yes, but I don’t have a problem driving to those things, and they are not the places where I spend the majority of my time. When I go to a bar on the West side I feel like I need to make an effort. Everyone’s wearing elaborately cute little outfits and spouting nonsense about some creationism museum in Kentucky that I never care to visit. I’m not necessarily saying that there is anything wrong with the West side, there are areas that I quite like and wouldn’t mind living in at some point in my life, but I like the convenience of every day living on the East, I like not needing to search out a grocery or a parking space. I like throwing on jeans and tee and going to a concert. I’m a casual girl, and the East side suits me.
But whichever side of the river you inhabit it’s become clear to me through, mainly, social networking and being active in the community, that there is a network of young Clevelanders trying to show people that there are things to do, places to do them, and people who are willing to join in. They create venues and stores that sell locally made items, during the summer there are countless festivals and street fairs that showcase what Clevelanders have to offer. Ingenuity Fest, which I began going to several years ago, has bands, art installation, plays, dance, galleries, food, and events all centering around Cleveland. And they’ve branched out from one large festival in the summer to many (somewhat) smaller festivals in creative, often tucked away, spaces. What I am getting at here is that young Clevelanders care what people think of us and are trying to prove that we’re better than our stereotype. It’s possible, and maybe even probable, that no one is watching, but in the mean time everyone is having a really good time and I find that I am more often than not really, really busy.
And perhaps that’s the point after all. We may need to sober up before we drive ourselves home across town rather than waiting around for public transportation to take us wherever we want to go, but that seems like a small price to pay in order to be engaged in our community. Cleveland is like a big city and small town rolled into one package. And we’re finding that that suits us just fine.