On a recent trip to Cleveland, I found myself in different parts of town, and found the town in different parts of myself.
Much of the trip echoed a visit I made in 2004 and wrote up as “A Day’s Walk in Cleveland: From Downtown to the Heights,” which can be found as a “Selected Essay” to the right, with an addendum from another visit ten years later.
Here I focus mostly on new places and new impressions, as I paradoxically felt more like a homeboy of Cleveland than at any time in the past fifty years, even though I approached the “Forest City” more as a tourist, taking in 9 of the top 20 Cleveland attractions on TripAdvisor, and eating at 3 of the top 16 restaurants, with several others within walking distance of the house on West 5th where we were staying. And like a tourist, I had my picture taken in various locales – and despite my aversion to my own image, I include many in this narrative.
With CE, I incorporated three days and two nights in Cleveland into a longer trip that took in several notable and highly-recommended sites in upstate NY, preeminently Oneida Community Mansion House and Corning Museum of Glass. I’ll write about them later in passing, but this story is primarily for fans of Cleveland and its teams.
At 10 years old in 1995, just the age when sports affiliations truly bond, my son Nat pledged allegiance to his father’s hometown Cleveland Indians, then the “best baseball team in the universe.” In early July this year, while the Tribe was in the midst of a franchise-record 14-game winning streak, he read a FiveThirtyEight article titled “The Cleveland Indians Are Dominating Like It’s the ’90s Again,” which revived his interest enough to agree to a Progressive Field pilgrimage that I’d been proposing for years.
Like the effective corporate consultant and manager that she is, his wife Nicole had plane tickets from Boston to Cleveland picked out within a day, while archaeologist Nat was off to his summer field work in the Republic of Georgia. Nicole got me off the stick as well, and I soon had an Airbnb house picked out, called “A Gem in Tremont,” which turned out to be a great location in “The Best Location in the Nation.”
CE and I picked up N&N at Cleveland Hopkins Airport on Friday morning, and within twenty minutes we were at the rental house, where we were able to check in early, so Nicole could set up several conference calls with a major corporate client. Meanwhile, Nat set out with his parents for an excellent breakfast at Grumpy’s, near Lincoln Park, the focal point of the Tremont neighborhood.
I’ll save myself thousands of words by incorporating illustrations in my text. Here’s an aerial view that shows Tremont in foreground, with its location relative to Downtown:
Nat brought Grumpy pancakes back for Nicole, then joined her with laptops open on the dining room table, while CE went up to read and rest, and I went off on several walks. The first took me down the modest old residential street of West 5th till I angled right on Literary Road, and downhill into an entirely different landscape, one that sang of Cleveland to me and set off vibrations of Cleveland-ness in my soul.
Here’s a view of the downtown skyline from the top of the ridge:
I walked down into the Flats and somehow felt as though I was at home in the place where I was born. Actually I only worked down in the Flats for less than a year, but it still sums up Cleveland for me. One of the few Super 8 films I worked on to some sort of completion, way back when, was an ode to the area at its infernal industrial peak, scored to Randy Newman’s “Burn On, Big River.”
Down on West 3rd, I walked toward the Cuyahoga, amongst those monumental cones of crushed stone more evocative to me than Gatsby’s ash heaps. The river was winding – but not burning – through the landscape, crossed by vehicular bridges and railroad trestles with lift bridges, an elevated freight train moving slowly through the air, while cars whizzed by on the Interstate arching over all, with the downtown skyline as backdrop.
(I’ll spare you my endless rant about the monstrous Key Bank Building and how it overshadows and obliterates the iconic Terminal Tower from most perspectives, since from Tremont it appears more balanced in the composition. As we walked around downtown on Sunday morning, CE told me that in gesticulating about the damn building, I looked just like Bernie Sanders railing against Wall Street.)
Going back uphill, I walked around the neighborhood, guided by frequent “Historic Tremont” signs. That history is many-layered and fascinating — starting with short-lived Cleveland University from the 1850s, which began as an offshoot of Oberlin much as Amherst was of Williams, but promptly died with its founder. The one imposing building that remains to this day has been converted to loft apartments. Street names are another remnant: Professor, Literary, University roads.
In the early 20th century, the neighborhood flourished as a largely Eastern European immigrant community, from which the men could walk to work down in the industrial Flats. This accounts for all the varieties of Eastern Orthodox churches in the area — Russian, Greek, Ukrainian, Polish – of which the most famous was the location for the wedding scene in The Deer Hunter. That was also the era for most of the housing stock, including the house where we were staying.
In addition to Rust Belt decline, the neighborhood was afflicted in the 60s and 70s by a crisscrossing of Interstate highways (which now makes for easy access in any direction), cut off and trapped in amber. Until, that is, the usual sequence of urban homesteaders moved in: those seeking cheap rents close to downtown, then artists, then bohos of every stripe, then restaurants and galleries, and finally new upscale townhouses on the north ridge, with great views of downtown. There was also a mixed-income development on the south end of the ridge, near our rental house, with views out primarily on rusting blast furnaces.
In the middle of the ridge, on our nearest cross street, Jefferson dropped away to a view of the huge clustered silos of a cement plant. This trash-strewn waste area made for an out-of-the-way place to toke up, but as I did so, I was overwhelmed by a magnificent embankment of blooming morning glories, a fitting symbol of regeneration and reclamation.
I went back to the house and retrieved CE, then drove over to West 25th, where the century-old West Side Market anchors the equally-revitalized Ohio City district. I don’t remember ever venturing into the near west side during my younger days, except to visit the zoo, so this was a completely new Cleveland attraction to me (#3 on the TripAdvisor list).
Going in, CE asked me what the Cleveland food specialty might be, and I replied, “Ground meat stuffed into intestines,” and boy, was that right! — every way you could think of — but also thick slabs of unnaturally red meat, along with varieties of fish and fowl, baked goods of every sort, as well as condiments and accompaniments (a whole counter devoted to hundreds of types of hot sauce). Then another building’s worth of fruit and vegetable stands. I wasn’t really tempted by anything, but it was definitely a trip, and worth a trip. All done up nicely for the Market’s 100th anniversary.
By the time we returned to the house, Nat was willing to shut his laptop and go out for a walk with me around the neighborhood.
Back at the house, I went out to pick up pizza from Crust, reputed to be Tremont’s best, and after eating, the four of us headed out to Progressive Field, just a mile as the crow flies, but with some hairy detours through the Flats. Our StubHub tickets included adjacent parking, and I was quite pleased with the seats I had finally decided upon, in the first row of the upper deck right behind home plate. Normally I would have spent a lot more time wandering around the ballpark, but our perch was pleasing enough that we didn’t move around till the final innings. Here we sit and here’s our view:
Trevor Bauer as usual mixed occasional lapses into his general effectiveness, but the Indians pounded away in the middle innings for a fully-satisfying 10-4 win over the White Sox. Definitely a fun night at the ballpark!
CE got the joke of my attire, so garishly unlike me, and laughed out loud when she first saw it. I received that tastefully-understated shirt as a gift many years ago, but never had the nerve to wear it. Likewise with the Chief Wahoo hat, but I figure this was one place I could get into a fanatic’s costume without embarrassment. Nat and Nicole were immune to the humor however, attuned rather to the offensiveness of the racist caricature. Nat wouldn’t want it seen by his friends, but was willing to be seen with me on this occasion, within the friendly confines of Progressive Field:
Saturday morning I was up first and out walking, where I encountered Nat and then Nicole out running. I spent some time checking out the new townhouses at the far end of West 5th, and walked around University Road to this view, with me as part of the landscape, and Progressive Field in the distance:
Reconvened and cleaned up at the house, we walked a few blocks, past the aforementioned St. Theodosius, to Lucky’s Café, for a farm-to-table breakfast at a picnic table outdoors, on a wonderfully lucky Saturday morning, with the perfect weather that lasted the whole trip.
Then the group finally got on the road for the Steve Satullo Heritage Tour. First stop was the 93rd & Kinsman neighborhood where I lived through 2nd grade. I already knew from Google Maps Street View that 9411 Carton Avenue was now a vacant lot, but it still surprised me that a brick house newer than the wood houses in Tremont should have been demolished, though there were many other gaps on the street as well.
Driving slowly, but not so slowly as to be intrusive, and forbidding Nat to take pictures with people in them, we drove down Carton, past my school — Boulevard Elementary, now signed as the Freedom Covenant Center, though surrounded by a chain-link fence and possibly abandoned. The field at the end of the street, where I played my first pick-up baseball games (I remember as a 7-year-old playing third base one time, and taking a hard hop to the mouth), was now a more recent semi-suburban housing development.
I circled back to East 93rd and drove the eight blocks to St. Catherine’s Church, where I received my indoctrination in Catholicism, scared out of my wits in catechism class (a ceramic bust of Jesus – with a flaming, bleeding heart popping out of his chest – haunts me to this day), and retaining crazy ideas (I wouldn’t eat an apple till 6th grade because it was such a sin, the original one in fact), which accompanied me in our move to the Heights, though church and Sunday School attendance did not.
I remembered the church as a very imposing brick pile, but it too was now a vacant lot, though its absence was confirmed by the still-standing convent adjacent.
In the ten blocks back up 93rd to Kinsman, we passed Zion Methodist Church, Lake Galilee Baptist, True Gospel Missionary Baptist, Love Center Interdenominational, Golgothan Baptist. If we’d gone two blocks in the other direction, we’d have encountered, per Google Maps: United Missionary Baptist, Tree of Life Temple, and the Glorious Church of God-Christ.
From there we went on to University Circle, where in looking for a parking place we passed by the Peter B. Lewis Building, designed by Frank Gehry like a vest-pocket Guggenheim Bilbao. It wasn’t very large, but on a sunny day, the titanium swirls lit up the landscape from many perspectives around the Circle. We walked around and through the Cleveland Art Museum, with admission amazingly still free, splitting up for an hour to follow our separate interests.
I wanted to take a lightning tour of the whole place, including the two expansions since my days of going there on school excursions, and check out which paintings released megatons of nostalgia or trapdoors to the past. It’s really a wonderful museum in its own right, but as the museum of my youth, it had a particular pull for me.
Congregated again, we drove up through Little Italy to Coventry, where the three others stopped at Tommy’s for lunch, though I was still going strong on my Lucky’s omelette. After that, we swung through Lake View Cemetery and stopped at the James Garfield Memorial, though in the dozen years since I was last there the view of the lake and downtown had closed in, so we made short work of it.
Then up Mayfield and past the former Severance Center and other memorious sites, we turned right on Crest and past the still-vacant — but new in my youth — Severance Millikin School (apparently the deal to turn it into a yeshiva fell through). Thence along my walk home and around my various paper routes to 1467 Middleton Road, where we got out and walked up to old Oakwood Country Club, now fenced off and apparently eaten into by a WalMart on the south.
With some folks requesting a restroom, my first thought was to try the Noble Road Public Library, where I got my start in the book business, as a library page, almost 55 years ago. We luckily got there just before closing, and I was happy to see the inside of the place, both as it was in my revived memory, and as it had become after a recent renovation.
From there, we followed the two-mile route I walked to Heights High. In the “B” streets where most of my school friends lived, the Orthodox were out in droves, in the hour before sunset on the Sabbath.
It was amazing to see all the construction going on at the high school, with the post-Sputnik science wing torn down and much other work afoot. Afterwards I found out that the school had been temporarily moved to Wiley Junior High, while our old 1930s building was being restored and transformed into four schools as a pilot program for the Gates Foundation Small Schools movement. From my day, enrollment had fallen by half to 1600, and transitioned to 90% Black, but it was nice to see some resources being expended on the old Black & Gold.
To drive home the difference between Cleveland and the Heights, I took the newbies down Fairmount Boulevard to see the mansions of Shaker Heights, and then down Carnegie through the metastasizing medical city of Cleveland Clinic.
Back at the house, the others rested from their arduous journey through my past, but I set off on another walk, around the ridge of Tremont, and then directly into the sun as it was setting, behind the tower of the West Side Market. I got to West 25th and looked for a plausible place to eat later and watch the game, settling on Townhall (which turned out to be #9 on TripAdvisor’s listing, but Nat had already come up with #16, just around the corner from our house.)
So Nat’s choice of the Bourbon Street Barrel House turned out to be inspired, as we got seats in a cozy little corner, with our own private tv to watch the game. The beers were interesting, the food was good (though I ate way too much in finishing CE’s as well as my own), and the company was most enjoyable, so it didn’t really matter that the Tribe lost big to the Pale Hose.
Sunday morning, we repeated our walking and running routines, but checked out of the house reasonably early, to go search for parking downtown and a place to eat breakfast. This time it was Nicole and her smartphone who guided us to Urban Farmer (#8 on TA), which turned out to be very good indeed. After that I led the newbies on a walking tour of all the highpoints of downtown Cleveland, perhaps wearing them out.
Down East 9th to the lakefront beyond the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. Here are pictures of Nicole and Nat enjoying the scene. We came back up past City Hall, through The Mall and The Arcade and around Public Square, down Euclid past the familiar terracotta front of the May Company, where I remembered a picture of me as an alarmed toddler on the lap of the department store Santa.
Back on 9th headed to the ballpark, we made a pit stop in a fancy old bank that has somehow become a Heinen’s supermarket. Then crossing over to the ballpark, we were accosted by a weaselly Trump fanatic passing out leaflets at the street corner, and I could not avoid a brief verbal altercation.
“Support Donald Trump, our next president!”
“He’ll make America great again! Lying Hillary sells state secrets for cash.”
“Oh come on, Trump has cornered the market on lying.”
As we were swept along by the crowd and the guy ranted on, even CE the Quaker quietist had to throw back, “What about Trump’s income taxes?”
Nat had surprised me by wanting to attend another game, so he and Nicole went about buying walk-up tickets on his phone, with the guidance of a very helpful usher. The seats were high in the upper deck, and here’s a picture of CE and Nicole (with the Cleveland skyline reflected in her sunglasses). In later innings we worked our way down and around the stadium, and from some vantage Nat took this photo, which as an architectural abstract sums up a lot about Cleveland:
The Indians had a chance to clinch the division when the Tigers lost, but they went down meekly 3-0 to the Sox (on a day when everyone in baseball was shaken by the death of Jose Fernandez in a boating accident.) We left in the 9th inning to get back to the car, and hightail it past the ballpark before the game ended. In short order, we were depositing N&N at the airport departure gate, and continuing on ourselves to Erie PA.
Again, hats off to Nicole for making such a great time together happen. And thanks to Cleveland for providing such a pleasurable venue. Some may have come expecting to scoff at “The Mistake by the Lake,” but everyone departed with a vision of Cleveland as a very livable and tolerably with-it urban playground.
I’d picked out the Baymont Inn in Erie as conveniently located to stay both coming and going – new, inexpensive, and right on I-90. On Thursday, we’d gotten in very late, after a morning at Oneida and afternoon in Seneca Falls, then a big back-up behind an accident on the NY State Thruway, and left early Friday morning to meet N&N’s flight to Cleveland from Boston. But on Sunday, we got there early enough to enjoy the accommodations, and generally recover from a very packed few days.
We got back on the Interstate to go one exit east for an Applebee’s, the best of a lacklustre line-up of local dining options, in the midst of a staggering array of third-rate chain restaurants. On the way, we could see another big back-up in the westbound lanes. So we rushed through dinner, while figuring out the map function on CE’s iPhone (handed down from Nicole), in order to find a way back to the inn in daylight, without getting back on I-90. That quest achieved, we pulled into the Presque Isle Downs & Casino, which was directly across the street from the Baymont.
I’d never set foot in a casino since the long-ago days of one-armed bandits, and only in Nevada, so this was certainly a trip in itself. The lights, the noise, the people. All intolerable, except for the feeling of smug superiority the whole scene engendered. At least I’m not like these people. This is one vice I am not tempted by at all. There’s plenty I could be accused of, so if you want to call me a stoner, slacker, pretentious, bigamist egomaniac, well then, go right ahead. But gambling has absolutely no appeal for me.
So here is the decline of civilization, the epitome of unproductive human activity. We made one deliciously horrifying circuit, then escaped. The attached race track was languidly running a horse race, so we went over to watch, which reminded me of olden days at Pownal Racetrack.
The Baymont was also conveniently located for an alternate route home, through the Southern Tier of NY State, allowing an easy stop in Corning, which we had foregone in the time squeeze of Thursday.
Corning Museum of Glass was the antithesis of the casino, an endlessly enthralling cultural attraction. They had just opened a new addition last year, and seemed to have done everything right. As wonderful as the new Clark is in many ways, the new Corning seems to have answered all museological needs optimally, from shop and food service, to demonstration areas and totally logical progression through the galleries, without herding.
We were cheerfully given two free admissions when I showed my Clark ID, and told that the tickets were good for two days. I wondered why at first, but after several delightful hours was definitely ready to come back for more.
While raving about places to visit, I have to go back to the trip’s beginning the previous Wednesday. Having taken the US 20 Scenic Byway, we got to Cooperstown by noon. With an hour before her appointment at the New York State Historical Association next door, CE joined me for a visit to the galleries of the Fenimore Art Museum (grudgingly offered one free admission, despite the fraternal relationship to the Clark), small but of varied interest, especially folk and Native American art.
When CE went to her meeting about donating some family documents from the very early 1800s, I finished my tour of exhibits, shop, and grounds (along the shores of Otsego Lake), had lunch in the café, and then went across the street to the Farmers’ Museum, another benefaction of Stephen Clark, with an 1840s village re-created from buildings brought from all over upstate NY.
Cooperstown was very pleasant to visit, even without the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is worth a trip but not this one. We drove on and reached the Oneida Community Mansion House by 5, and checked into a wonderfully large and high-ceiling room in the building that housed 300 “Bible communists” in the decade after the Civil War.
This was my first visit to Oneida, though I have been obsessed with the Community and its patriarch John Humphrey Noyes for decades. In fact, my historical novel-in-progress American Candide germinated from an idea planted twenty years ago for a story about Oneida. The canvas is much broader now, but the scene remains that was the seed of it all, a bit of dialogue that is key to the themes of the book.
We walked around the grounds, seeing State Champion black walnut and tulip trees that were planted at the Community’s peak 150 years ago. Then we walked around Sunset Lake and over to the Community’s cemetery, where we had our usual fun reading tombstones as a window on history.
Just before dark, we drove over to what TripAdvisor called the best restaurant in Oneida. Finding the Tuscan Oven in a strip mall, it could hardly have been less prepossessing, but could not have been more satisfactory, excellent food and drink in a comfortable booth, with fine service and a perfect view of dueling tvs, one with baseball and the other with a cooking show, to keep us variously entertained and bantering.
Back at the Mansion House, I continued reading a fascinating new book by a descendent of J. H. Noyes, Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table. Slept great, except for a 4 a.m. fire alarm that forced us into a common area with various residual residents, one of whom may have been the mother of the author of that book.
When I can, I prefer to wander around on my own rather than taking a guided tour, but I made an exception for the Mansion House tour, free to those staying overnight, at ten the following morning. And I couldn’t have been more gratified. CE and I were the only takers, and the giver was the Community education director Molly, a well-informed and engaging young woman, with whom we strolled around for two hours in a very detailed back and forth. By far the most worthwhile house tour I have ever taken.
The plan had been to reach Seneca Falls in time to see the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in the morning, but we got there after stopping for lunch at a strange faux-Amish market that was ranked as best place to eat in town. The park itself was rather underwhelming, and the town quite depressed, so we opted for its second attraction, the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, where we could walk along a canal and drive around a large marsh with hundreds and hundreds of birds, ducks and geese and yellowlegs, plus a solitary blue heron and two northern harriers.
Thence to Erie, and on to Cleveland, then back again.
It’s amazing that of all the times I’ve driven to Cleveland (though few lately), I never thought to go by the Southern Tier Interstates instead of the NY Thruway — much less traffic, more varied scenery, and no tolls, while just a little bit longer drive. When we hit Binghamton and had to get from I-86 to I-88, we ran into another big back-up. Luckily we were right at an exit, and given our success of the night before, figured we could use the phone to find a way to cut across – and did so. Got home before dark.
So aside from that one late stall heading west, we ran into no travel problems at all in the course of a week on the road, while seeing lots of sights and sites worth seeing.
The Indians clinched the division title on the Monday after we were there, then clinched home field advantage in the playoffs on the last day of the season. And as of the day I write this, the Tribe has swept the Red Sox out of the ALDS, and will face the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS. Cleveland rocks!
P.S. The Indians win the pennant! The Indians win the pennant! As of the day I write this, the Tribe has vanquished the Blue Jays out of the ALCS in five closely-fought games, and will face either the Cubs or the Dodgers in the World Series. Cleveland rolls!
P.P.S. The Indians take the favored Cubs to extra innings of World Series Game 7, for a result similar to 1997, but with quite a different feel. Cleveland says, Wait till next year!
What a trip! What a ride! I am so on the bus with these guys! And they’ll all be back next year, except maybe the veteran free agents. Think about it: Starting rotation of Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar, Bauer, and Tomlin. Infield of Lindor, Kipnis, Ramirez, and Santana (with some RH all-or-nothing power guy as 1B/DH partner). Catching duo of Gomes and Perez. Bradley returning to the outfield, a potent Chisenhall/Guyer platoon, and somebody swift and sure to patrol CF (Almonte perhaps, with Naquin as back-up). And the best bus driver in baseball — goes by the name of Tito. Yeah, this boy will sign up for that bus trip next summer.
(Meanwhile the Cavs have kicked off their title defense with a 5-0 start, including wins over conference rivals Boston and Toronto. Sound familiar?)
You know what the problem was? The World Series is supposed to be in October. We won October, finished it with a 3-2 series win. “Indians best favored Cubs in October!” the headlines should blare. Instead, it’s all Chicago this and Chicago that.
But for me Cleveland will remain “The Best Location in the Nation,” because it is the place of my birth, my hometown, my Tribe.