Cleveland has not aged well. When I was a grade school student, it was one of the ten largest cities in the United States, famed for its steel, machine-tool building, and automotive support industries. Now it is a fraction of the size, with a large bombed-out crater of a central business district and suburbs stretching across several counties in Northeast Ohio. When I graduated from high school, there was a regular diaspora to … anywhere but Cleveland.
The “Mistake on the Lake.” The “Worst Location in the Nation.” Perhaps the ultimate insult was when Amtrak pondered whether it was worth even stopping at the large underground station in the Terminal Tower, illustrated above. There was a time when the Terminal Tower was the largest building in the country outside of New York City.
Just being from Cleveland makes one feel humble. Wasn’t the movie that Maynard G. Krebs of The Affairs of Dobie Gillis always going to see The Monster That Devoured Cleveland? Well, Cleveland got devoured all right: The monster that devoured it was rampant unemployment.
I can only talk about the Cleveland that was because, after 1962, I spent most of my time elsewhere, either in Hanover, New Hampshire, attending Dartmouth College, or here in Los Angeles, where I seem to have set down roots.
The last time I saw my native city was 1998, when I attended my mother’s funeral. She had died in Kings Beach, California, on the shores of Lake Tahoe; but at her request, my brother and I had the body flown to Cleveland, where it was buried next to my father. After the funeral, my brother and I spent some time driving around our old haunts.
What surprised me more than anything else were the trees! When I lived on East 176th Street in the 1950s, the neighborhood was still relatively new and bare; and the trees were all tiny. By 1998, they were gigantic and imposing. It was actually rather nice. I should probably go back there again, perhaps stopping in on a visit to New York or Boston. Most of the people I grew up with are either elsewhere or under the ground, especially the older generation. So it goes.