The Cavs are in the playoffs. The Republican Convention is coming to town. Over the next couple of months, Cleveland is going to be getting a lot of press. There will be stories about the ever-disappointing sports franchises, the attempts at rebirth, the depressed economy, the deranged man who kept three women locked in his house for more than a decade. Reporters will speak lovingly, condescendingly, disgustedly about the city. They will talk about its former heyday. They will talk about the industry disappearing, the people becoming depressed and hardened. They will most assuredly talk about the Cuyahoga River lighting on fire and maybe throw in a mention or two about the Flats, the Drew Carey Show, Great Lakes Brewing and Johnny Manziel.
But they’ll never talk about the things that make Cleveland great. Really great. The MetroParks, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the people who are loyal and tough as only a community assaulted and often on the butt end of jokes can be. They won’t talk about the strange mix of pride and hope, the feeling of being us against the world.
They never do.
I grew up in Cleveland. I wasn’t born there. I was born in Wisconsin and lived in California and back in Wisconsin before my family settled down in Cleveland. It’s the place I consider home, the place I return to on holidays and special occasions. Sometimes, just because. It’s also the place where my mind returns when the weather finally breaks in Cincinnati and we get that one perfect week of spring.
A week like this one.
Cleveland is a place of extremes. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Extreme optimism and extreme pessimism (sometimes within the same person in the same day). The weather is freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer.
But for a few weeks every year, it is idyllic. When the snow has thawed, the leaves have begun to sprout and the flowers bloom. Lake Erie is still too cold to swim in or boat on, but you can’t help but be outside. A light layer to buffet the cool breeze off the water. Sun coming down in gentle rays, you want to explore. You are compelled to wander – along the lake, downtown, through Little Italy. You look forward to the summer season at Blossom. You check out that new restaurant on West Sixth or East Ninth, you able down the paths of the Rocky River Reserve.
Spring means baseball and the return of the Tribe, but also the little leaguers taking over the parks. It means excitement for the NBA playoffs, which you’ll more than likely watch with friends, your hearts on your sleeves, a Commodore Perry IPA in your glass. It means the return of color to a place dominated by gray through the winter months. You walk through Lakewood or Tremont or Cleveland Heights and you hear music coming from the bars and restaurants. You meander downtown, you sit at Huntington Beach in Bay Village and dream across the water.
It will get hot, you know that. Once Lake Erie has warmed up, the humidity will be intense, the summer storms frightening. But all of that is ahead of you, just as the lake effect snow is behind. Your teams are more than likely to disappoint, but you hold out hope – for the Tribe, for the Cavs, even for the beleaguered Browns. Last season’s wounds have scarred over and you still have wishes left in you.
Sure, the construction on I90 is causing delays. But you don’t mind being in your car for a little extra time. You’ve got the sunroof open, the top down, the windows lowered. You’ve got music playing and you smile – you’ve survived another winter. You’ve made it through to these few special weeks that, along with the chilly late October when the leaves turn and the world smells like grass and high school football games, seem to make it all worth while.
You can’t understand what it means to be from Cleveland from a headline. You can’t understand why people love the place so much when you only know whats in the news. To know Cleveland, to love Cleveland, is to understand and embrace the extremes – the cold and the heat, the rich and the poor, the optimism and disappointment – and to appreciate the in-betweens.
I’m proud to be from Cleveland. I’m proud to know the truth. It’s far from a perfect city, but that, in and of itself, is where its perfection lies. Cleveland is your favorite old pair of boots that have seen much better days but you can’t bring yourself to throw away. It is your mom’s meatloaf – you’ve had better, but never experienced anything that compares. It is your first car, your first love, your first heartbreak and all those things that come to define you later on in life.
A lot of people are going to be talking about Cleveland over the next couple of months, but I know they won’t have much to say. And the things they do talk about might be factual, but they have little to do with the truth of the place. To know the truth of Cleveland is to be from there, to experience the highs and lows, to suffer the outside world’s slings and arrows and love the place anyway. Because you know they can say anything they want, but they can’t take away those few perfect weeks, those in-between moments where everyone who has lived there remembers and those that still do look forward to.
Cleveland is not what you think.
image from: https://www.csuohio.edu/international-admissions/international-admissions