Ohio: The Heart of It All (Yeah, Right.)
(Posted by Jim Winter)
[WARNING: Lots of footnotes. Please read before commenting, or I will say rude things about your mother.]
Since today is July 31 and the end of John’s sabbatical, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on this mysterious state he and I share.
When you travel, it’s amazing what people really think of where you live. This is especially true when the people you meet have never been to your neck of the woods. If you live in California, or especially New York City, people’s opinions of your home are pretty much set in concrete. They’re experts on the place without ever having visited.
I’m finding the same to be true for Ohio. On a recent business trip to Baltimore, a colleague asked me how Ohio could support two baseball and two football teams. Aren’t those teams awfully close together for such a rural state?
Well, I wouldn’t say that. For starters, the Indians and the Browns play 225 miles from the Reds and the Bengals. And having lived in both cities, I can tell you it’s like moving to a foreign country travelling between the two. And rural? Well there are vast stretches of the state where you can almost hear Michael Learned calling out “Goodnight, John Boy.” Indeed, my parents lived in such an area, where broadband is a rumor, cell service an urban legend, and everything closes after eight. My youngest brother still lives in that area, but he moved into the nearest small town in search of cable.
“But surely,” you must say, “you and John are in the same corner of Ohio. Don’t you two get together at all?”
Technically, we’re in the same area, but I live in Mt. Washington, a detached neighborhood of Cincinnati that’s sort of its own suburb. If the wind’s blowing in the right direction, John can call his area Dayton, though he lives in Darke County. I never even heard of Darke County until he mentioned it. It’s north of Dayton, over an hour-and-a-half drive from my place. In actuality, we’ve only met once in person, at a book signing in Dayton. It was a drive for both of us.
John can better describe where he lives than I can. I’m fairly certain he does not have to dodge Amish buggies or their resulting droppings. (That would be up in Holmes County, where my brother lives.) I can tell you that most of Ohio is urban, suburban, and increasingly exurban. I can also tell you everyday I live in Cincinnati is another day of culture shock for a boy raised on a culture of American cars and steel, Slavic food, Bruce Springsteen, and Cleveland’s answer to political correctness, the Certain Ethnic joke.* Cincinnati is college basketball, German Catholics, Bible-belt crusades against anything remotely sexual, and UDF ice cream.**
Along with Columbus (Buckeyes football, classy strip bars, and pro soccer), Cleveland and Cincinnati are the major urban centers in Ohio. But their attitudes are like night and day. If Cleveland has a rival, it’s Pittsburgh, two hours away in Western Pennsylvania. It’s barely aware of Cincinnati, probably because the Ohio State Buckeyes block the view. Cincinnati, on the other hand, has a prevailing attitude that Cleveland is the portal to Hell, based largely on the fact that Art Modell lived there when he screwed over Paul Brown, former Cleveland Browns coach and founder of the Cincinnati Bengals. This attitude is generally not based on anyone having actually VISITED Cleveland, which never stops AM talkshow hosts from expounding on how the city to the north is so much worse than Cincinnati.***
Still, Cleveland has a tendency to go broke a lot. It hasn’t gone bankrupt since the late seventies, probably because the last three mayors tended not to take advice from space aliens or Shirley MacLain****. That alone has helped the city rebound time and again. Cincinnati, for all its lethargic development, tends to be a quiet city. When the murder rate rises above 75, people call it a major crime wave. Meanwhile, even smaller cities in Ohio are saying, “What are you doing right?”
One thing I do not miss about my hometown is the weather. I’ll be honest, I hate snow. I’ve lived in Ohio all my life*****, and believe me, a couple days of heavy snow every winter beats the weekly onslaught of lake effect snow hands down. The temperatures also stay warmer in Cincinnati. Spring starts earlier, and fall lasts longer.
I suppose the big difference is this. Cleveland has more in common with the East Coast. When I go to New York or Baltimore or Philly, I feel right at home. I think it’s the culture and the ethnic mix. It’s also because Cleveland sits on the edge of a large fresh water sea someone with a warped sense of humor called a “Great Lake.” (Lakes do not swallow iron ore carriers whole. They just don’t. See EDMUND FITZGERALD; LIGHTFOOT, GORDON). Cincinnati has more in common with the south. A river town, Cincy is otherwise landlocked. Parts of it remind me of Atlanta or Memphis (though it’s much easier to get around than Atlanta, which doesn’t say much.) Cincy is more conservative as a whole, like the South, and has more in common with Kentucky, across the river, than it does the rest of Ohio.
So there you have it. Ohio. It’s not a foreign country after all.
It’s four or five of them.
*Invented by an angry Pole who thought the FCC had no business telling him he couldn’t make skits out of Polish jokes.
**Have to plug UDF ice cream on behalf of my employer, who makes a killing off the stuff. Also pads my 401k nicely.
***Glaringly absent from such talk is that all the action in Cincinnati is actually across the river in Northern Kentucky. Cincinnati is a suburb of Covington.
****We had a mayor who, in fact, did that. Dennis Kucinich. The town went bankrupt on his watch. However, careful analysis of the situation shows that the former CEI (now FirstEnergy) triggered the bankruptcy. This is the same outfit that triggered the Great Blackout of 2003. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has added FirstEnergy executives to its list of open seasons for hunters. I plan to mount the CEO’s head over my fireplace.
*****Yes, I know. I could always move to Florida or Texas, but are hurricanes really preferable to six feet of snow?