Earlier this year, a friend of mine, whom I'll call D, mentioned that if I ever wanted to, I was welcome to stay at his place in Cleveland when he was out of town. My immediate reaction was: "Why on earth would I want to go to Cleveland?" Cut to six months later...
I was itching for a change of scenery, and since I am a freelance writer, I can work anywhere, so I thought, "Why not go to Cleveland?" Airfare was cheap, accommodation was a waterfront condo, and a fresh new heatwave was just rolling into Los Angeles (110 degrees in October!).
As is my nature, the minute I purchased my non-refundable plane ticket, the thought "This is a huge mistake" went racing through my mind like a drunk driver. But then I consoled myself: an $84 ticket was not a huge mistake; it was a small mistake.
I landed in Cleveland on a Saturday night and took a taxi to D's condo, which is almost jumping distance to Lake Erie (I calculated that if you leaped off his balcony you wouldn't quite hit the water, but you'd land on the wet grass and likely roll the ten or twenty feet, drop off the cliff, and then land in the water). I dropped my luggage in the front hall and ran from room to room oohing and aahing because every room had a view of the lake and the downtown skyline five miles in the distance.
Laugh if you want, but until a month ago, I never realized how large Lake Erie was. I mean, it's a lake for crying out loud – you should be able to see the other side, right? Wrong. As you can see in my photos, it might as well be an ocean.
In fact, I was chatting with a local Cleveland woman who confided in me that when her children were young they so badly wanted to go to the beach like they'd seen in movies that she took them to Lake Erie and told them it was the beach. We laughed and then I said, "But you eventually told them, right?" She grimaced and shook her head. So somewhere in Cleveland there are a couple of teenagers who think that the Pacific Ocean is two miles from their house.
Every single day I found myself going to the window or, if the weather permitted it, onto the balcony and just staring at the lake. It was magnetic and mesmerizing and beautiful in its ever-changing appearance. I couldn't help but wonder how long it would take to cross to the other side. Thanks to Google, I no longer wonder.
In 2013, Steve Wargo swam across the lake in 19 hours and seven minutes. He wasn't the first (Pat Budney, age 17, was the first in 1975), but he was the first Ohioan, the 16th person overall, and the oldest (55). The shortest route is 24.3 miles from a peninsula called Long Point, Ontario (Canada), to Freeport Beach near Erie, PA. Peninsula notwithstanding, it's 57.17 miles from Ohio to Ontario and 241.1 miles wide. It's also 210 feet deep, a fact which I hope nobody told Steve Wargo as he breast-stroked across it.
Before I finally stop obsessing over this body of water, here's a gallery o' lake shots that I took over several weeks from the same point of view (the table where I "worked").
Tap on the right or left side of the image below to view the slideshow:
The next day I set out by foot to explore the neighborhood and wound up walking west to Lakewood Park where I strolled along the seawall and, yes, took more photographs of water.
Lakewood Park is a "31-acre lakefront park featuring a seasonal pool, bandshell, skatepark, plus sport courts & fields." It's also home to the Oldest Stone House in Lakewood, built in 1834, and since turned into a museum.
It’s a dwelling made of sandstone from area quarries by settler John Honam, an immigrant from Scotland, and has been preserved as a typical early period home.
It served as a residence in its original location on Detroit Avenue from 1834 until 1870, in eastern Rockport Township (now Lakewood). It remained there for the next 82 years with a diversity of tenants. At various times it was a post office, shoe repair shop crockery, doctor’s office, upholsterer’s store and barbershop.
My westward walk took me, on recommendation from my friend, to the Humble Wine Bar in downtown Lakewood, a city that's part of the Greater Cleveland Metropolitan Area. I hesitate to use the word "downtown" for an area that comprises one street (Detroit Avenue) of 0.8 miles in length and ends at an intersection with a store called Giant Eagle Supermarket. And no, they do not sell large birds of prey with a hooked bill and broad wings.
But I digress. Humble Wine Bar was a perfect choice for a cold, windy autumn evening. By the time I arrived, frosty-fingered and red-nosed, I was ready for this "stylish destination with an extensive global wine list, plus a menu of Italian nibbles & pizza." I sat at the counter in front of their oven and enjoyed a glass of Riesling while I waited for my mushroom Neapolitan-style pizza. I'm not a huge pizza fan, but this was highly recommended to me and when I travel I try to get out of my Trader Joe's pre-made salad, curried chicken, and Kombucha routine.
The next day I headed east on foot and walked the five miles to downtown Cleveland. Most people crumple to the floor in a dead faint when I mention walking any distance greater than three blocks, but when you're surrounded by beautiful fall trees and interesting buildings and the orchestra of voices in your head, it's hardly any time at all.
On this cool, overcast Monday morning, I strolled along Lake Avenue with its historical, brick houses and their huge lawns and old oak trees.
As soon as I crossed Route 20 slash 6 slash 2, a.k.a. Clifton Boulevard, also called Cleveland Memorial Shoreway, the scenery took a sharp right turn. The houses grew smaller and more run down, then the neighborhood transitioned from residential to business, then graffiti and shifty-eyed ne'er-do-wells appeared, and finally it started to rain.
Not all graffiti is unwanted, however, as this fascinating 3D mural on Detroit Avenue illustrated.
P.S. Despite having started a coffee company in the midst of the Great Depression when people couldn't afford air, never mind a cup o' Joe, The Van Rooy Coffee Company is still alive and kicking 80 years later. I wonder how many people have tried to walk up these "stairs"....
Just before I reached downtown Cleveland, I crossed the Cuyahoga River. It was only afterwards that my brother told me that this river was once so polluted it actually caught fire back in 1969. Jesus. I mean, how full of toxic substances does it have to be for water to catch on fire?? But as is the way of human existence, we have to hit rock bottom before we see the light, and this modern-day River Styx spurred the environmental movement here in the good ol' U.S. of A.
Speaking of history, Moses Cleaveland, a lawyer, politician, soldier and surveyor, first arrived in this area via the Cuyahoga (before it was aflame) and founded the city of Cleveland. Or rather, Cleaveland. Moses returned to Connecticut that same year (1796), never to return to the town that was named after him. No wonder the townsfolk removed the "a" from the name. A local newspaper called The Cleveland Advertiser omitted that first "a" in order to fit their name on the paper's masthead, and we've been calling it "Cleveland" ever since.
Once downtown, I went to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Even though they didn't induct Joan Jett and the Blackhearts until 2015 (after 40+ years of rockin'), I still deigned to visit this place.
I must say, I didn't realize just how fascinating and time-consuming this place would be. The exhibits are arranged to naturally take you on a walking tour of the history of rock (and, because of the nature of music, a lot of other genres, from blue grass to gospel to disco to heavy metal). Each room contains photos, listening booths, and documentaries or music videos to give you an interactive experience of the music journey.
Obviously, some exhibits were bigger than others (Elvis, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones), but by the time I reached the end my heart smashed to the ground like a Jimi Hendrix guitar as I realized: THERE WAS NO JOAN JETT DISPLAY.
Surely, I thought, breaking out in a cold sweat, I must have missed the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll's display. I mean, her most famous song, "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," is baked right into the title of this place. This song was a U.S. Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single for seven weeks, Billboard ranked it as the No. 3 song in 1982, the album of the same name got to number two on the Billboard 200, and it made the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs list by Rolling Stone. Oh and by the way, she made it this big after her album "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" was rejected by 23 record labels and she formed her own label, Blackheart Records, making her one of the first female recording artists to found her own record label. Her first band, The Runaways, paved the way for future female rockers as the first all-girl rock band who, as an added bonus, were all teenagers (while Joan was making music history at 16, I was just learning how to backcomb my bangs). Plus, West Hollywood declared August 1 Joan Jett Day.
And the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame doesn't have a Joan Jett display??
I asked one of the seated security guards where the Joan Jett display was, and he just shrugged and told me that there just wasn't enough room for everyone. "Joan Jett is not 'everyone'," I lectured to a disinterested audience.
I left the exhibit hall discouraged, but when I emerged into the gift shop I spotted a t-shirt with Joan Jett's likeness on it and decided that I could at least buy an over-priced consolation prize. The only size on the rack was large, and when I asked one of the store clerks if they had any other sizes, she just looked at me and said "No" like I'd asked if I could urinate on the floor. With a loud sigh directed at her, I took the t-shirt up to the counter to pay for it.
"Ooh, Joan Jett," said the cashier, scanning the tag of the shirt.
My eyes lit up. Another JJ fan! "I can't believe you don't have a Joan Jett exhibit in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame."
She nodded knowingly. "Yeah, but a friend of a friend took his girlfriend to a Joan Jett concert and managed to get her backstage and then Joan stole his girlfriend from him."
As she bagged my shirt and handed me the receipt, I stared at her and silently willed myself to hold my tongue. When I opened my mouth to say "thank you," out came: "I just spent three hours in this place that takes you through the history of rock and roll where you have the ballet slipper of the girl who danced in the Sia videos but you 'don't have room' for a display of this rock icon who single-handedly forged the way for female rockers and whose number one song 'I Love Rock 'n' Roll' is basically the namesake of this place and you give me a lame story based on hearsay?"
"Good day, madam!" said I (in manner, if not in words) and then marched out of the so-called Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.
Throughout the week I was working during the day, going for a run in the evening, and sitting on the balcony with a cup of tea and staring out to sea. Lake. Whatever. Or sometimes I'd take my book to the nearest Starbucks and enjoy a hot beverage after a cold, wet, windy walk. As a side note, I found Cleveland people to be about the same as Los Angeles people: neutral to friendly and totally absorbed in their technological device du jour.
The following weekend, I returned to downtown to explore it a bit more. Being a weekend, it was fairly empty of life (certainly of cars), but I walked around admiring the old, east-coast-type buildings.
I stopped for lunch at a cafe called Rebol in Public Square, which is described as a "newly renovated park [that] features a singular layout along with other great features like Rebol cafe, a water fountain, an ice rink, a lush lawn with a natural amphitheater, the KeyBank walking promenade, a speakers terrace, and much more." I didn't see an ice rink or a lush lawn, just an open, concrete space with concrete steps-slash-seats which I can only assume was the amphitheater seats, walking promenade, and speakers terrace.
Lunch at Rebol was so friggin' tasty that I asked them if they had any locations near Los Angeles, but alas, this Rebol was the only one in the entire world. I had a quick flashback to the words I so indifferently said to D, "Why on earth would I want to go to Cleveland," and suddenly knew. Rebol is why on earth I would want to go to Cleveland.
First of all, they serve bone broth, and if you have any knowledge about truly healthy eating (not this non-fat bullshit), you'll know how amazing it is that they offer this nutritious elixir that has so many health benefits. They also have an organic, non-GMO menu, use coconut oil for cooking, do not include refined sugar in their sauces and dressings, and use reverse osmosis for their drinking water. But of course none of this would matter if it tasted like sautéed cardboard, which it most certainly did not. It was DELICIOUS!
And perhaps the best part was the permanent sign on their door:
That evening I met up with a friend of D's who took me to Wine Bar in Rocky River, which calls itself a city but is really a suburb of Cleveland (about nine miles west of downtown). The place is described as a "welcoming venue with an extensive wine list, inventive meals & an atmospheric patio" and I don't disagree. We got comfy on a sofa on the outdoor patio under a string of white lights, enjoyed some fantastic port, and talked about, among other things, Joan Jett. Need I say more?
The next day I traveled to the far east – of Cleveland, that is – to a "busy cultural hub" called University Circle where the Cleveland Museum of Art is located. It contains more than 45,000 works covering 6,000 years. Two things struck me right off the bat: 1) the price of admission was free, and 2) the architecture of the museum was worth a visit, never mind the art.
Actually, make that three things: the third aspect that filled me with awe was their ArtLens Wall, "a 40-foot interactive, multitouch, MicroTile wall, [that] displays in real time all works of art from the permanent collection currently on view in the galleries – between 4,200 and 4,500 artworks at any given time." It was really incredible.
In the picture below, those are thousands of digital images of each piece of art, and if you touch one, it enlarges and gives you info about the painting and where to find it in the museum.
After spending a few hours in the museum, I walked further into the "busy cultural hub" to Little Italy where I had some mediocre Italian cuisine.
At the end of the next week, I drove down to Columbus to visit my friend S who lives in London but was in town visiting her family, and the fact that we were both in Ohio at the same time was pretty much the eighth wonder of the world.
Columbus is the capital of Ohio, bigger than Cleveland, and is the 14th-most populous city in the United States (population of 860,090). Could've fooled me! It looked and felt like a small town. The picture below is downtown during afternoon rush hour. True this is a walking path and not the street, but still....
The architecture (she said, pointing to the old church below) was just beautiful.
On my drive back up the 71 to Cleveland, I stopped for a bathroom break and saw a group of Amish folks standing in line at Popeyes, a chicken-centric fast food joint that is oblivious to the apostrophe. This dichotomy of 21st-century urban life and traditional Christian fellowship that eschews the many conveniences of modern technology made me very curious.
During the week, I worked again, Skyped a with a few friends in L.A. who were concerned that I was never coming back, explored the neighborhood some more and returned for second and third visits to some favorite places, like Erie Island Coffee Company, the Starbucks in Rocky River, the Whole Foods that has an in-house bar, and Crocker Park (which is not a park, but rather an outdoor mall with the only Trader Joe's within a 10-mile radius of where I was staying).
The following weekend I got in the car and hit the road, east-bound on the 90.
Quick note: apparently only Californians use "the" in reference to freeways – as in "I took the 90." Why? According to KCET, Los Angeles had freeways long before any other city, but because they were local, they were given names that meant something rather than numbers. So it was The Pasadena Freeway, The Hollywood Freeway, etc. When they switched over to numbered routes to match the rest of the country's new national freeway system, The Pasadena Freeway became The 110, and The Hollywood Freeway became The 101.
Anyway, within three and a half hours on the 90, I had driven through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, which was pretty amazing to me. In California if you drive for three and a half hours, you're still in California. Actually, if you drive for three and a half hours in Los Angeles, you’re still in Los Angeles.
When I arrived at my destination, Niagara Falls, I drove for another three and half hours (ok, maybe 15 minutes) looking for the falls. Before you laugh and point and call me an idiot, keep in mind that everything in that area is called Niagara Falls something – Niagara Falls State Park, Niagara Falls Observation Tower, Niagara Falls Visitor Center, Niagara Falls Discovery Center – and signs for the actual cascade of falling water from a great height were rather obscure.
Finally, I parked in a random lot, strolled across a small, grassy area, and suddenly there I was at river's edge, face to face with the waterfall.
Quick note: apparently I'm the only person who thought that Niagara Falls was one waterfall. It's actually the collective name for three waterfalls: the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls. The one I ogled for an hour and took 800 photos of was the American Falls.
Because Squarespace only allows YouTube URLs/embeds and not video uploads, I shall link to the short video I shot of the falls that I posted on Facebook.
Just a short stroll away from the falls is Niagara River at rest. Nobody was taking pictures of this beauty, but I thought it looked incredible and the color of the water is natural! The green hue is from dissolved salts and finely ground limestone.
Also near the river (i.e. away from the waterfall) was a sign that nobody was interested in. Except me. A bit of history of the falls. Note the Iroquois symbol for "happiness" in the upper right corner. Aw.
And one of the earliest emoji dictionaries, thanks to the Iroquois:
I stopped in Buffalo on the drive back for no other reason than I had never been to Buffalo. I enjoyed a delicious GTL (coolspeak for Green Tea Latte which, I might add, Starbucks actually abbreviates to GRTL, whatever) and as I attempted to read my book, I couldn't help but overhear a delightful woman giving very inspiring advice to her friend about following her passion and trusting the timing and not allowing the obstacles to stop her.
The friend was hesitant and dubious, but inwardly I was applauding the woman like a Price Is Right contestant and afterwards was compelled to approach her to tell her so. She was SO receptive and happy and humbled that she gave me a big hug. Her name was Capucine and she was the type of person I instantly wanted to be friends with. We stood there talking for 5-10 minutes, high fiving whenever a brilliant point was made, and finally hugged again and went our separate ways.
When I was driving around trying to find the entrance to the freeway, I passed this building:
Completely mesmerized, I walked around the entire building snapping photo after photo and as dusk descended I got this shot. I thought it was a church, but I discovered about two minutes ago that it's actually the Erie County Clerk's Office.
Here's what else I learned: "It is a monumental granite structure designed by noted Rochester architect Andrew Jackson Warner (1833-1910) and constructed between 1871 and 1875. The building has three floors and features a large, seven-story clock tower. It originally held offices for the City of Buffalo and Erie County. City offices moved to the Buffalo City Hall starting in 1929, and the building now houses Erie County court offices and records."
By the way, the roundtrip from Cleveland, Ohio to Niagara Falls, NY included six tolls, all of which took cash only. This meant that I stopped six times to have the toll booth attendant fill out a form, come out of the booth to jot down my license plate, get my driver's license info, have me sign the form, and then explain that I had seven days to pay it online or suffer the consequences. Sometimes the incongruence between modern world and horse-and-buggy technology baffles me.
So, these are the highlights of my first trip to Cleveland, Ohio. A very enjoyable trip and, unlike Moses Cleaveland, I shall definitely return to this delightful town.
P.S. The title of this blog post is a play on words of the Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven,” because after a few days of ogling the beauty of an actual autumn, I felt like I was in heaven.
*Unless noted, all photos are mine.