State of the CLE

Warning: this one’s long.

I played tour guide the last couple of days to some friends of mine who were in from Colorado. A married couple, I worked with the husband more than 15 years ago and though we’ve both had other jobs for a long time, he’s been a good friend though we rarely see each other because of the distance and my lack of funds to do much traveling. He has popped into CLE on business, but it’s rare, and has been a long time.

I laid out an itinerary for them to undertake yesterday before taking them to dinner. Following my suggestions, they hit the West Side Market and took public transit out to University Circle, where they were blown away and surprised by how fantastic our art museum is. As DINKs, they travel a fair amount and have seen a lot of places, and they said they were really impressed by the pieces we had, the building, etc.

They stayed at the Aloft hotel in the Flats East Bank, which they loved. I valeted my car there last night and we walked across the street to the Phase II development area. A band was booming across the river at whatever they’re calling Nautica these days, but our side was relatively quiet, given that it’s suddenly (albeit expectedly, for this time of year) gotten very cloudy and chilly. Plus it was a weeknight, and we don’t have the mass of visitors yet to make these places hop on a Wednesday night. That’s ok. It was my first time getting there, though I’ve followed the developments closely. After walking around and looking at all the new places, we chose to dine at Crop Rocks. There weren’t a ton of diners but service was great and the food was too. We all shared plates and then walked around and looked at the great rock posters and album covers, and the insanely impressive vinyl collection. I could have stayed there for a very long time. But we moved on, to Punch Club Social, where we bowled a couple of games and I (typically) got my ass handed to me because I suck at bowling but (atypically) managed to get a strike three times in the course of the evening, which is pretty unusual. I liked this place and service was good here also. $10 an hour to bowl and nice lanes. I’ll be back there, too.

This morning, I picked them up bright and early and took them to Slyman’s for breakfast. They are a meat-and-potatoes type and Slyman’s was perfect. They both cleaned their plates, a feat which I have yet to achieve at any Slyman’s meal, and avowed it was the best corned beef they’d ever had. Eggs, homefries and buttered toast accompany that sweet, delicious meat perfectly. I must go there more often for breakfast. The kitchen staff were their usual friendly sort, calling out greetings and asking us if we liked our meals when we were done. It’s such a slice of life there, a great snapshot of the real Cleveland. We saw construction workers, cops, office guys in suits, women of all stripes, older couples and every ethnicity and age group represented. I like how humbling and simple the place is, and it never changes, which is good.

After that, I gave them a driving tour of areas in and around downtown, including Tremont. We talked gentrification, crime, development, construction, all kinds of things. Then we went to the Rock Hall, where, as promised, I gave them a custom tour, based on the little bit of time we had to spend there, my mostly-otherwise-useless vast knowledge about rock music, and my previous knowledge of what’s in the hall, though some of it changes and shifts with each visit. I showed them some of my favorite artifacts and told them the salacious story of how I showed up on opening day with no ticket to anything, nothing but my leather pants and a light pink sparkly t-shirt and managed to tour the Hall right behind bigwigs I.M. Pei, Yoko, Jann Wenner and the like, and got green room passes and two tickets to the concert that night, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I answered a staff trivia question with the right answer and they told me it was like having their very own rock historian give them a tour. Afterwards, we drove into downtown and I scored a great parking space – they were so amazed at all the places you could just park and walk in from across the street, like we did at the Rock Hall, and we had a late lunch at Greenhouse Tavern. They loved the soda with no HFCS and scarfed down wings and fries on my recommendation. Driving out of downtown, some guy almost sideswiped us and I screamed “DOUCHE!” at him out the window, flipping him off and continuing on down the road. They said I should start my own tourism business, giving custom tours that include swearing, pointing out the best dive bars, my tales of madness, and quit my day job. Not quite ready to do that, but it was a great compliment. I drove them to the airport after our whirlwind tour was over, and they were so damned impressed with Cleveland, I know I created two more ambassadors that will help carry the word about how great Cleveland is becoming. They really got the rust belt chic of our river, the massive bridges dotting the landscape, the gritty realism of the city and its people. They get an enormous amount of sunshine in Colorado where they live, and they said you know, you must have to be a tough person to live in Cleveland. I told them they aren’t the first ones to make that observation, we are tough.

Now on to the more relevant and timely moments of the trip.

At dinner last night, they talked to me about what it’s like to be a parent in the culture of gun violence we live in. This came up because as they prepared for their trip here, they read a recent news story about an east-side gang holding up someone who is likely a dealer or another gangster and taking from him enormous amounts of cash and valuable jewelry, at least by the victim’s account. Columbine still haunts the state. The Aurora movie theater shooting is a place they often go to the movies; it could have been them, had it been another day. We talked about Newtown and how many degrees removed we each were from someone who had a victim of gun violence in their family or close circle (I’m one step removed – a friend of mine’s good friend lost a daughter at Newtown). How hard it was for me to send my kid back to preschool after it happened; the tears in the teachers’ and administrators’ eyes as they stood just inside the locked front door all together in two lines, greeting the families as they came in that next day, giving hugs more to the parents who needed them than the kids, who remained blissfully unaware of the enormity of the tragedy the day before. And how many of us cried in the parking lot, together or alone in our cars, having trouble pulling away every day. I told them I still drop my kid off every day and look back again, taking a last look at him to memorize what he is wearing that day, looking at his sandy brown hair and wondering if this one is the last day I’ll ever see him again. And then the relief each day when I arrive and see he is ok, he is whole, and angry I’m there too early for him as he’s not done playing, or silly and running to me with a hug. Or hear the same from his father, that he has him, he is ok. We text each other each day when the boy is dropped off and picked up, basically saying, “He’s ok.” But is it? Is it some “mental illness” as some people have suggested, that these things still haunt me every day to some extent? (And if you post comments like that here, yes, I will delete them because this is MY BLOG and you can fuck off if you don’t like what I have to say. Go read something else). Or is it our terrible culture of extremely lax gun laws and prevalent availability of guns, perhaps?

Today, at the Rock Hall, we sat in a very dark theater and watched a long movie recapping all the inductees each year since the hall’s inception. It was well done and had clips I had never seen before of every person or group. It was really amazing to see. They sat behind me as I had gone out to feed the meter and came back in and found my way to an open row in front of them in the dark.

When the movie had just ended, it was still dark in the theater, and a man walked up to the front of the theater, and turned around and looked at us and didn’t move. In the dim light, I could see he was bald, and that he had something in one hand and something long and skinny in the other hand. He didn’t say anything and an eternity passed while we sat there in the dark, wondering why this man was staring at us. All of a sudden I thought, oh my God, what if he has a gun. He’s going to mow us all down. I thought about where the exit was and how close I was to him, and actually prepared to dive down to the floor and knew which way I would start crawling to get to the other side of my row and try to get there quickly and then get up and run out. I was *THIS CLOSE* to diving down to the floor. It just felt wrong and too much time had passed. All of this of course was really maybe 30 seconds, but it just felt weird and I usually have pretty good instincts. My heart was pounding when the lights came up and I saw it was a Hall employee. He was mentally and physically challenged, and the long item was a cane. The thing in his other hand was a tablet computer, and he carefully read his notes thanking us for coming and watching the movie, and giving us a couple of facts from it. I relaxed instantly once he started talking, and was the first to answer his trivia question, with the right answer. I quickly realized I panicked over nothing, and how embarrassed I would have been if I had actually dove onto the floor.

Or would I have been? If it had actually been a dangerous situation? I think I don’t care anymore. Next time, I’m getting the fuck on the floor and I don’t care what it looks like, because what other choice do we have, when every madman can walk into a gun store and buy a gun whenever they want, however many they want? Can access their parents guns, because the parents think they’ve taught the child “gun safety.” Can buy one from someone off the internet with a few keystrokes.

I blissfully squired my friends all around town, then I went home after dropping them off, and saw the news about the mass shooting (or, should I say, today’s mass shooting, since tomorrow or the next day I’m sure there will be another) in Oregon at a community college, where young people were busy trying to get a fucking education so they could do something great with their lives. And now they do nothing, and their parents and siblings and friends’ lives are all twisted and mangled and they join with thousands of other families with this TYPE OF CANCER WE KNOW HOW TO STOP, BUT DO NOT.

This is our America. Now, even taking friends around town who are visiting has to include language and thoughts and preparation for guns, because everyone has one, everywhere.

It’s pretty sad that while I’m glad my friends had a great time in Cleveland, I’m also just really relieved none of us got shot today. Nor did my kid. But for the gun huggers, there is always tomorrow.

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