Leaving Clyde, Ohio, was a bittersweet. Although the town was clearly on the decline, there was something very likable, very American about it. The sky was overcast until 9 a.m. when the clouds dissipated, freeing the sun from any obstruction for the rest of the day.
Kyle and I knew our destination for July 7th was Clyde, Ohio, a small town made famous by Sherwood Anderson’s novel Winesburg, Ohio. this was my first visit to the prototypical American town where big dreams die fast when the idea of being different makes you an outcast. The town where, if Sherwood Anderson had stayed, American literature would never have given birth to Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or William Faulkner. Most of the people we met in town were a little stand-offish, and everything on Main Street was closed, but at least most of the businesses were actually all still going. Clyde can’t say the same today, 13 years later.
The Lincoln Highway is one of the nation’s first cross-country highways. It still starts and ends on the east and west coasts of the nation. In Ohio, the Lincoln Highway is the main strap of the Rust Belt, and driving across it lets road-trippers know how the loss of manufacturing has created the moniker Rust Belt.
The names of the town echo the past of the settlers of Ohio—Findlay, Massillon, Canton, Lima, Mansfield—and most of these towns have quaint yet quiet downtowns where the business of civic life keeps them busy. Some towns, like Mansfield, have reminders of the past on the Lincoln Highway that have been maintained and/or preserved by locals. But keep traveling east and you’ll see the debris of factories, crumbling buildings and decaying homes that belie the truth of what’s going on in our country.
I’ve been teaching the novel Winesburg, Ohioby Sherwood Anderson as a way into rhetorical analysis of personal events for the last 13 years. Every so often I’m impressed to see some of my first year students have been assigned the book in high school, but most have never heard of the author, let alone the title of Anderson’s best work of fiction. For the last 10 years I’ve shown my students images of Clyde, Ohio, the town that was the original backdrop for the novel. Clyde was one Anderson’s childhood hometowns (Elyria, Ohio, being the other).
The first time I went to Clyde was in 2001, two months before 9/11. I returned to Clyde in 2005, 2006, 2011 and this year. As the years have passed, I’ve watched Clyde’s Main Street deteriorate to a bunch of empty buildings, but in the last two years I’ve seen Main Street try to revive itself. Although the town’s only local newspaper has moved to smaller offices, Main Street now has a coffee shop, a martial arts school, and no less than 4 places to get your hair done. The old office of the Clyde Enterprise is now a Green business, and the street is lined with hanging flower baskets and many empty store fronts. How is Clyde’s Main Street supposed to compete with the Wal-Mart where overweight shoppers smoking in Jazzys and Hoverounds are Continue reading
Heading west on U.S. Route 20, the 21st century moniker of The Oregon Trail, from Cleveland takes you through main streets that have seen better days—they are no longer “main” and I can assure you that lurking on the outskirts of the small former farm and steel towns of Ohio are the aluminum and concrete behemoths named Wal-Mart that are occasionally dogged by the Dollar Generals that have replaced the old General Stores where farmers would go for threads, seeds and the occasional top coat.
There are no hotels in the downtown areas, but along Route 20 you’ll find some classic roadside Motels, such as The Elyria Motel in Elyria, Ohio, birthplace of Sherwood Anderson, author of Winesburg, Ohio. According to the local paper, The Elyria Motel is the location of an accidental suicide, so I can’t account for how cozy or clean the place is, but like many mom-and-pop motels, finding a clean well-lighted place is getting harder to do by the day, and Super 8’s are no replacement. So the road is where you find yourself in constant haze of movement, trying to get from the somewhere you just where to the where the hell are you going ahead. And every main street bleeds into the other through the veins of short-stalked browning corn—it’s too late for many of the crops in central Ohio, so ashes to ashes and dust to dirt for next year; the corporate-sponsored farms with their corporate logo signs waving to cars as they pass by will have to wait ’til next year, which is fine because now they can squeeze and extra dollar out of consumers for every four ears of corn. Continue reading
I was born in 1971, and my early Christmases are best remembered as times I convinced myself each year that I could eat an entire turkey leg, or when I tore open green wrapping paper to expose Star Wars figures while listening to my entire family fight from the moment they got out of bed to the time I went to bed. Today, I view Christmas as the only time I get to see my family and the only chance I have to watch A Christmas Story on loop for 24 hours. With the exception of my kid, I am the only other person in my family who loves this movie. So it was only natural I had to go visit the house that was used for the exterior shots in the movie while I was in Cleveland.
I remember when I used to work at a local paper, my friends Robyn, Nick and I would go out to grab something to drink before we started our work day. We’d stand in line, all three of us holding a different type of beverage—Robyn with hot tea, Nick with chocolate milk, and my own left hand wrapped around a cup of Wawa’s cigarette butt flavored coffee, six sugars and a cup-and-a-half of cream. The background music leaking out of the speakers in the ceiling would surround the air with some 1950’s excuse for Rock and Roll—Fabian begging to be turned loose, Bobby Rydell asking to be held tight or Fats Domino looking for his thrill. I’d turn to robyn and Nick and say, “How did our parents ever like this?” I got my answer to this question in Cleveland.
In downtown Cleveland, surrounded by four right angles of traffic, stands The Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, or known locally as Cleveland’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. The monument’s most notable recognition would probably come from the opening scenes of “A Christmas Story,” where little Ralphie, his brother Randy, and all their friends press their noses against the display windows of Higbee’s Department Store—in the background stands the monument ignorant of the Christmas season, blackened by years of soot and pollution from the burning furnaces of steel mills circling the city like like stationary iron and chromium buttresses.
Today the monument has been cleaned and invites visitors to look at her insides, walls lined with gray granite and Amherst sandstone where the names of local soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War are carved, with the notable exception of any Black soldiers who served (apparently there are plans to add those missing names to the stone walls as the names are discovered through research), and four interior bronze wall reliefs depicting important moments of the Civil War. Above the walls are the bronze carved images of high ranking officers. The yellow, bronze and red colored walls and their echo gives today’s visitor the feeling that he/she is in the bathroom of train station. Albeit a clean bathroom, but this is a step back in time when the cultural symbols were different. When memorializing and the neutral color of yellow depicted remembrance. Still, around the exterior of the monument all you can smell is urine— you can see the decades of piss stains on the red sandstone. Continue reading
Whenever I tell people from my home state of Connecticut, or my adopted state of Pennsylvania, that I love Ohio, I get the same response: “WHY?” The “whys” either come from some preconceived notions about Ohio that I can not connect to, or they are the blanket smart-alek response you get out of someone who thinks New York City, L.A. or San Fran are The Metropolises of the U.S., and therefore are the only places worthy of inspection when traveling in the U.S. Almost every city in America, in some way, strives to be their state’s defining -opolis of culture or society, but the truth is, with so many conglomo corporations trodding over the mom-and-pop places, Times Square, Chicago’s Michigan Ave., San Fran’s Market Street and L.A.’s Rodeo Drive are pretty interchangeable with any upscale mall.
Enter Cleveland, yet another notch on the walls of “Gateways to the West!” I entered Cleveland at night, 9:15 to be exact, and checked in to the Doubletree Suites downtown. The reception area is full of lesbian and gay softball players visiting the city for some sort of conference or event. Outside, on the streets of Cleveland, there is the sound police sirens bouncing off of buildings and a light breeze coming off the shore of Lake Erie. I drop my bags off in my room and venture towards what I think is the heart of downtown—an area just east of the Terminal Tower.
This has been a messy summer, and due to certain events, my 2012 road trip had to be put on hold. I will not only be delaying the trip, but I’ll be chopping it up into smaller routes that will be more manageable in terms of time. All of these mini-trips are a lead up to the finishing of my creative nonfiction novel, Dispatches to America. SO, I’ll be brave and layout the times for the future trips now and cross every appendage on my body that none of these plans change.