Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cleveland Rocks?

I'm alive! Just barely, but somehow I'm holdin' on.

I'm in Philly, and as I just emailed my friend Rob in Victoria (aka author of the book you really really have to read. Scroll below, I'm lazy), I am sitting in the lobby of an executive class hotel that happens to be pumping good house music, pretending to have an evening out to myself. That's how we roll up in heeeere!

I had many opportunities to access computers earlier in the trip, but to be honest, the first part of the trip was a little rough and I needed to digest my thoughts and give America a chance to shine like I knew it could. So here goes (I may channel my inner Bernie Mac from time to time -- be forewarned):

So we roll into Niagara Falls, Ontario on the Friday night. We hadn't planned on it originally and had not reserved a place until the last minute. In other words, we weren't going to be staying at the Sheraton. The Dog and I had agreed that he would go into the room and make sure there was a crib set up for Nate. We check in at the motel that generously calls itself an inn and the Dog says, "There's no crib." Which leads me to believe that there is no crib, not that there is a crib that they haven't set up yet. I start to imagine what Mary and Joseph went through and I think that a barn looks better than this place.

We park and nod to the yahoos who are drinking outside their motel room. The Dog unlocks the door to the room, surveys and then comes to the car to tell me to bring the sleeping Pup in and put him in one of the two double beds. I get him out of the car and manage to pull some quasi-Dr. Karp shushing, keeping him asleep until we get up to the room. OK, not so bad, I think to myself.

I walk into the room and notice the nasty bedspreads are pulled back already. Yeah, we all saw the same 20/20 on that -- they never wash those things. Oh how sweet, I thought, the Dog knows those things creep me out and he pulled them back! Awesome! And then the smell hits me. The bitter smell of sweat and sex. And I notice that the sheets are crumpled. Someone has already slept in these sheets! And oh fuck I can't fucking put the goddamn sleeping baby down effortlessly.

The Dog calls the hotel manager, a small middle eastern woman, who arrives and loudly announces that "Doze girils didn't clean de room! OmyGud, let me fix dis. GARY!! GAAAARYY bring some sheets for deze people!" If you think my kid stayed asleep through that one, you're on crack. For half an hour they make the beds and bring in the crib and clean the bathroom and all the lights are on and they bring in a vacuum and I have to tell them that maybe a vacuum at 10 pm is not such a good idea. So then she has the nerve to ask me, "Why didn't you come earlier?" Holy fuck I wanted to punch her. The whole point of leaving later was to a) avoid traffic with a restrained toddler who cannot sit still, and b) have said toddler fall asleep on the road so the transfer from his usual sleeping conditions would be seamless.

Needless to say, the toddler was up until midnight. He could not settle down in the new surroundings and the 90 minute nap he had on the way over had him pumped for party time. We finally got to sleep after letting him cry-it-out in the portable crib. I was ready to cry myself to sleep to, but exhaustion got the better of me. Night one was a bust.

The next morning, we headed for Cleveland. I'll have another post with pictures and commentary about pros and cons of things when I get home. For now, I will attempt to describe with words, one city at a time.

Show me your downtown and I'll show you who you are.

Cleveland, oh Cleveland. Thank God things got better after Cleveland, because Cleveland made us want to head back home. No offence readers, but Cleveland did not rock. Oh sure, they've preserved their beautiful old buildings. Sure they've tried to pretty up the waterfront, but you can hardly get to it, except for this one patch behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. RRHF? Not one concert there, not one induction ceremony in Cleveland. Cleveland does not use its downtown, except to go to work and to ball games. Cleveland's downtown on a Saturday was reminiscent of the movie 28 Days Later: You would see no one for blocks and blocks and then a zombie would appear from around the corner.

We asked several people where we could go to eat with our son and the answers were so vague. It seems no one is from "around here." They all live in the suburbs. They come see a game and then get on the train immediately after and vanish. Most people told us that we should go to the food court in Tower City to eat. Tower City is a mall, people. Scarbie may sound elitist, but eating in a mall food court on the first Saturday night of her vacation is not her idea of good times.

We fled back to our hotel to eat. Everything was out of a can or a bag in the hotel restaurant. The portions were enormous! No wonder so many Americans are overweight! Everywhere we went it was quantity, not quality that people were after. Suffering from culture shock and feeling deprived of a proper Cleveland experience, we took our dinner leftovers back to the room and shacked out.

OK, so no one is downtown on the weekend unless they come to see a game. Got it. Let's try some of these other neighbourhoods to see what's up. A drive from downtown to University Circle proved to be... well pretty fucking sad. It looks like Cleveland took its entire African-American population and shoved them into this crappy ass pocket of downtown. America, why don't you treat your people with respect? How can there still be such blatant segregation? How can you stick your fellow man into sub-standard living conditions, and then run to the suburbs where you can't see them? What the fuck is up with that?

I'm not saying that Canada is some pristine utopia, but we try to take care of our own at least. And even if we don't all like each other, we all tolerate each other. The neighbourhood where I live is the living proof of this. The Gerrard-India Bazaar is home to as many Pakistani businesses as Indian. The Muslim Pakistanis harbour huge historic anger towards the Indian Hindus and Sikhs who own the stores right next to them and vice versa, but they work alongside one another anyway, knowing that by doing so, they will attract visitors to the neighbourhood and everyone will thrive as a result.

I can't tell you how many blacks we encountered who began their interractions with us with, "I'm not racist. I love everybody equally." It shocked us that it was even necessary to say this. And it seemed to shock them that we were smiling at those we passed and speaking to them regardless of race or colour. That really fucked me up readers. Really and truly. I know that all of America isn't like this, and maybe even not all of Cleveland is like this, but what I DID see I didn't like.

Fortunately we met a wonderful man named Ron Jackson, who was sitting by the water with his kids. He was trying to strike up conversations with whomever passed him, but most people just acknowledged him with a fake "that guy's crazy" smile. We happen to like crazies and talked to him for a while. He was far from crazy. We spoke of issues of race and he told to check out an area called Tremont. "It's up-and-coming," he explained, "They're still trying to get it going over there, but it's cool. They're doing their thing."

The next morning we packed up and headed to the East Side Market to load up on fresh fruits and veggies for the road. And sure enough, we saw people of all races buying their food. It was refreshing. And it felt good to get some veggies into us too. We grabbed our goodies and drove through nearby Tremont. It was early on a Monday morning, but you could see what my man Ron was talking about -- an artsy, grassroots community. Nothing stamped House of Blues or Hard Rock Cafe or Cleveland Clinic.

"Thank you for forcing me to do this today," my husband sighed.

Other plusses for Cleveland:

DO see a ballgame at the Jake aka Jacob's Field. A beautiful park and I met so many nice people. They have by far (she says with certainty after seeing 5 major league parks) the best kids area to distract those restless toddlers and pre-schoolers. And they let us run the bases at the end of the game. And the Indians kicked ass. Awesome.

DO go walk around the petite lake-side park behind RRHF. It's really pretty.

Next stop: America's best kept secret -- Pittsburgh.

No comments: