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 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.