"So what are you doing this weekend?"
"I'm going to Cleveland."
"Of course you are... Wait -- why?"
I can't tell you how many times I had this conversation.
Well, I can, but it would make your head explode, and then you'd be dead, and be unable to read the rest of the column. And none of us wants that.
However, it's true. I spent this last weekend -- four days -- in and around Cleveland, OH, home of the Indians, the Cavaliers, the Browns, and my friend Caitlin. I crashed at the home of one of those four; you get one guess.
Having rarely traveled off the East Coast within the continental US (one visit each to Houston, Vegas, and Los Angeles), I was excited to see what things were like in the Midwest. Now, I know what you're probably saying -- Ohio isn't exactly the Midwest [Editor's note: Damn straight.]-- but it's still the closest to Illinois I've ever been, as well as the farthest I've ever been from an ocean. So in my mind, it counts, dammit.
I came into the ticket in kind of a roundabout way (to my creditors: don't worry, my airfare was purchased for me), but in the end, last Friday saw me headed to a city I'd never seen, in a state I'd never been, on a lake I'd never heard of. Well, okay, I'm lying -- two of those statements are at least slightly false; you get one guess.
Regardless, I have learned a few things about Cleveland that I feel you, the reader unlikely to have been there previous to my sojourn, deserve to know.
In no particular order:
1) The land surrounding Cleveland is seriously flat and unimpressive. There seem to be a lot of farms. I even saw one dirt farm (but what do you grow it in?) I'm not sure why I was surprised by this, but it made getting a bead on where I was kind of tough. Everything seemed fairly nondescript, so I never really managed to get my bearings. And when you're in an area where there's only an intersection every quarter-mile or so, it's really not easy to navigate. "Oh, we're on the straight, flat road next to the farm with the drainage ditch. That'll come in handy."
Cleveland, on the other hand, has some pretty serious valleys. And some very cool bridges over those valleys. They light up the bridges at night. It was actually kind of pretty for what's more or less an industrial city.
And, I do, in all fairness have to suggest a ride along Lake Road. There are some great houses right on the shores of Lake Erie, if looking at great houses is your kind of thing. I was in awe of some of these mansions.
2) Cleveland is not big. Not at all. I'm thinking you could fit the entire downtown area inside Central Park. I might be exaggerating a little bit, but it's not a large city. This can be evidenced by the fact that the sports "complex" is a) right in downtown Cleveland, and b) really close to, well, everything else.
I guess growing up outside of Philadelphia, and then living in Boston and New York, I'm used to having to travel outside of the city to see most sporting events (Fenway and the Gardens notwithstanding.) I've definitely never seen a football stadium within blocks of the City Hall. Which isn't to say that it's bad, just not large. Check out the photos.
3) If you do not consider yourself one of the "cool" people when you go to a club, consider doing so in Cleveland.
Seriously, I was dragged to go clubbing on Saturday night, an activity that, if you know me, you'll realize I usually approach with a mixture of disgust, abhorrence, and maybe just a dash of fear. In New York, at the Hamptons, and even in Boston, the club scene is one in which I am just not comfortable. It might be because I'm not exactly the "alpha-male" that drunk coked-up party girls usually gravitate towards. Or it might be because I think the music they usually play at these places has about as much human aspect as, I don't know, an MX missile. Possibly less.
Cleveland was different, however. Well, yeah, the music was the same. And the coked-out party girls were, well, coked-out, but as I surveyed the dance floor at the first club, I couldn't help but notice I was surrounded by dorks. Serious dorks. Get-beaten-up-by-the-football-team-and-shoved-into-lockers dorks. Now, I know I'm not exactly Joe Cool (one of Snoopy's better characters), but I honestly felt like I could hold my own in these places. Maybe even better than that; I felt like I could make other guys feel pathetic. No wonder it happens to me in New York all the time.
4) It's actually affordable.
That's right, kids, things in Cleveland, for the most part, are worth what you'd think they are.
Now, I know that because I live in New York, I might get a little too excited when I see a can of soda for less than a dollar. And I know that people in other, dare I say lesser, cities and towns also pay the correct price for things. I've heard rumors that in some places, you can even get alcoholic beverages for less than $3.
But seriously, I know this isn't a huge selling point for most of you who live in other places than large cities in the Northeast US, but honestly, it was so nice to walk into a Taco Bell and see things on the menu for less than $2, and it wasn't even their value menu.
An aside: For those of you worried about me, yes, we ate at places other than Taco Bell. There was a great brew pub in Ohio City (I think) called Great Lakes Brewing Company. Everything on their menu came with a suggested beer, including, I might add, the salads. If Cleveland has its own cuisine, this is probably it. I was confused for a minute when I saw that they offered the "GLBC Signature Dessert: Bread Pudding." I'm not sure what makes a pudding Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual, but I certaily didn't want to find out.
I should also mention that my friend ordered something called "Beef in a Bowl." It's almost as much fun to eat as it is to say. As to how it was served: you get one guess.
But, yes, the prices were fair. Even at the clubs, drinks were around $4 or $5, and one bar we went to even had beers for $2.25. Trust me, when you live in a city where it's impossible to get Yuengling for less than $4, this is exciting.
Also, I might add, in Cleveland, it's important to seek out the exciting. Trust me.
Hell, even the guy taking tickets at the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame charged us the student price. Which brings me to my next point:
5) The Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame kicks some ass.
Yeah, it really is that cool. If you're a Rock music buff, anyway. And I am. I love everything from Elvis and Ricky Nelson, through the Beatles and Stones, on past Hendrix, Janis, and Jim, the Who, Pink Floyd, into The Clash... well you get the idea. Rock, Punk, Metal, '70s Pop, '80s Hair, '90s power-punk, etc. I love it all. This museum was created for me.
Picture it -- exhibit after exhibit of costumes, guitars, records, rare photos, letters, lyric sheets, posters, all commemorating the history of Rock n' Roll, from its roots, right up to the present. And for a trivia-phile like me, it holds even more wonder.
Then, to top it off (literally), the two uppermost floors (7th & 8th, I think) have recently become home to an entire exhibition about The Who's "Tommy." It traces Pete Townshend's opus from its initial genesis through its various stages, first as a two-record conception album "rock opera"; then as a movie, as performed by Ballet Canadiens, as a concert tour or two, and then as East End/Broadway musical. Imagine watching on a large screen the Who in 1969 performing Tommy live on stage, and then looking to your left and seeing the costumes and the instruments from that exact performance. It's a little bit surreal, but in a wonderful way.
I should also specifically mention another installation -- the one dedicated to Pink Floyd's "The Wall," featuring giant set pieces from Roger Waters' historic performance at the Berlin Wall in 1990 is also pretty damned cool. The life-sized Pink doll watching an endless streaming video of "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2" -- well, again, surreal and wonderful.
Anyway, that's what I took away from Cleveland. There were a few other things, of course: the women in the clubs seemed even more eager than in NYC to get topless and no one stopped them; the supermarket we visited had a nicely-stocked Kosher foods section; the speed limit on the highways out there is 85... I could go on and on.
Of course, two of the above are out-and-out lies; you get one guess.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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5.11.05 @ 1:41a
You got it right, its Ohio City. Also the beef in the bowl that I ordered, pretty much resembled Shit on a Shingle (can I say shit in this forum?). It was a slab of beef on a piece of beer bread. What more could a girl ask for?
Oh, and lastly, I have to add that it was not I that suggested the clubs! You can blame that little excursion on Kelly!
I'm glad you had fun though!
5.11.05 @ 9:44a
A co-worker of mine is moving to Cleveland Monday. Naturally, I had to link him to this column. I can't help but wonder, however, if he'll find Cleveland more exciting than Des Moines.
Don't answer that.
5.11.05 @ 10:01a
My theory: Somebody misspelled Clive, a Brit interior decorator who came to town to decorate all those mansions on the lake and nobody ever corrected it.
I sorta assume that spring and fall are the best times to visit Cleveland which is hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.
Thanks for the rundown on the RNRHOF. That's why I'd go to this, I'm sure, quite lovely city.
Were there any buffalo steaks on the various menus? (I mean buffalo as in bison, not as in Buffalo wings stuff.)
5.11.05 @ 10:29a
I want to see the RNR HOF too. Even with the '80s hair.
5.11.05 @ 10:32a
There may have been buffalo steaks. But you can get those in a lot of places these days, right? Hell, I know a place around here where you can get an ostrich burger.
Apparently, Cleveland is known for its sausages and its cabbage?
5.11.05 @ 10:54a
I haven't been to Cleveland since passing through during my college days. But good to see some positive press on my homestate.
5.11.05 @ 11:01a
That was positive? Whoops. I was going for apathy.
5.11.05 @ 1:15p
You should have come out to Cincinnati Ohio for the wedding. That would have been much more exciting for you with the riots going on during that time. You could have been even cooler there if you were wearing a red bandana.
Cleveland is great....One top of the Flats it is very Close to Put-in Bay (like a mini key west) and of course Cedar Point, the roller coaster Capitol of the world.
5.11.05 @ 3:22p
Yeah, Cedar Point is the place to go for roller coasters. I hear you can see the entire lake from the top of the tall one -- in the seconds before it sends you shrieking to your doom.
I was never that impressed with the Cleveland clubs. I'm no expert, but they were very.. generic? Except for the skeezy one in the flats we always ended up at no matter what our intentions were.
5.11.05 @ 4:27p
Cedar Point rocks. Although I always have to remind Cleveland people that it's in Sandusky, not Cleveland. They claim it like it's downtown or something.
And well, maybe not positive, Adam, but certainly not negative as my home state knows negative.
5.11.05 @ 6:23p
Honestly, the only thing I know about Sandusky is from Tommy Boy. And I don't even remember what it was.
5.12.05 @ 10:18a
So you're all saying that I need to make a second trip to Cleveland?
5.12.05 @ 4:14p
I think you may need to make a second trip to Cleveland! Great Lakes want you to come back and personally taste more of their beers!
5.13.05 @ 10:59p
The only thing I know about Cleveland I have seen from its airport. And the airport, lemme tell ya, ain't too hot. Cleveland is the only airport I've been in where I've taken a major airline, and yet was made to walk out on the tarmac to board my plane. Worse, we had to walk down a flight of stairs into a cinder-block basement to a set of fire doors, then through those doors, then ... we got momentarily lost. There were a couple of planes on the tarmac and no one to direct us to the correct one. We finally approached the one that had the luggage cart by it that held familiar looking luggage. Thank God we were right in our selection - otherwise, we would have ended up in Moorhead, Minnesota.
However, it is nice to know that there is something to redeem the city so well, considering the only thing you see lining the airport is smokestacks.
5.15.05 @ 9:49p
As for airports, O'hare and Dulles suck worse than Hopkins in my book.
As for Cleveland, you did it justice, Kraemer, a fair bit. It's just another broken down Great Lakes working-class city, with a big, but often-trampled heart.
The great thing about Cleveland is the people. The ones you swill whisky with while clutching a giant raw-hide bone and freezing your ass off in the November wind at a Browns game, the ones you quaff beer and Winkin' Lizard wings with before a game at Baseball Heaven, also known as the Jake.
If you want to get bead on the real cuisine, visit your bud during Lent and get your kosher self to Slavic Village for a fish fry, pierogies, and beer. There is (was?) a place called the Red Chimney down there that emanates basic Clevelandness.
5.16.05 @ 9:52a
Ahhhh......Winkin Lizard. Good stuff! I had forgotten all about them until you mentioned them. Oh, Cleveland!
5.21.05 @ 1:43p
The Red Chimney is still there. I lived in Cleveland for 12 years and didn't think I'd last one. Dan was also right about the people. Hell, I went through a wife and a fiance there!! Adam, I'm glad you hit GLBC. If you had tried the beer cheese soup you would've written about it. They use the Dortmunder in it. I have been trying to duplicate it for years.
You were also right about Ohio City. Next time you go have your friend bring you down to Tremont. It's trendy and cool and the home of now celeb chef Mike Symon's Lola. He is an old buddy of mine and you can find him on the food network from time to time. Have a reservation a month in advance though. I miss Cleveland now man.
5.23.05 @ 11:03a
It was Passover; I couldn't have bread products. (Technically, I also couldn't have beer, but I think God would understand.)