Saturday, June 13, 2009


I had trouble believing Cleveland would be as rough as they say. Ohio seemed completely harmless, besides the fact that I was ending up walking my bike down miles of dirt roads.

I eventually came out into a more suburban area, but then I biked for miles down a road called Old Johnnycake.

Mentor, Willoughby and Wickliffe all seemed like rich suburban areas. Once I hit Euclid, though, things began to deteriorate. Rapidly. I first noticed the grid begin at E 289th St. The pavement got worse, bus stations appeared with people who looked like it would probably be a good idea not to approach them, trees became fewer and farther between. Drivers became more reckless and some would get behind me, honk, and then try to pass me in a way so as not to give me enough room between the car and the curb.

I stopped at an intersection around where E 200th St should have been and ate the last of the cookies I'd bought at a gas station in Ashtabula a couple days earlier.

I passed a sign that I was entering Cleveland. Of course, I was entering from the east, so I was entering East Cleveland, but I didn't know the significance of that. I was pretty impressed though. I'd seen boarded up houses and empty lots before, but this was something special. I rode a couple more miles before finally getting on the sidewalk, having given up after a car pretty successfully ran me off the road.

On the sidewalk, I got some menacing looks—I saw no other white people the entire time, and I'm quite sure they were not a common sight in the area—but I insisted on smiling and being friendly, and what I found was that women responded in kind, while men proceeded to ignore me.

I got morbidly curious, so I got back on the bike and swung off onto a small side street. For some reason, the roads were curvy and not part of the grid. The pavement was horrible, but some trees appeared, which was nice. I passed houses with kids sitting on porches and waved to them. Only girls would wave back. This was really making me start to wonder.

I don't carry an mp3 player. If I tried to listen to music while biking, I wouldn't hear cars. However, East Cleveland was my chance to listen to music. Approximately every other car had its windows rolled down and was blasting music. Every single one of those was tuned to the same hiphop station. So even as they passed me, and then as they stopped at red lights and I zipped by them, I got to listen to that station quite smoothly.

I rode on. It was all uphill. Massive housing projects popped up out of nowhere. I checked the sun and took a few turns onto more side streets to make sure I continue bearing southwest and don't go in circles.

A few more miles down, where I estimated E 150th St should have been, the neighborhood suddenly improved. As I biked onward, I realized I was in a really nice area. Turns out it was the area where Rockefeller lived, and where he is buried.

It was here that I met Leslie. Leslie is the first woman I have met who enjoys the music of Brak and has it on her computer, which automatically made her cool in my eyes. She doesn't work on Fridays, which freed her up for the more important task of making me lots and lots of food. She then took me to an 80s store that carried Benjamin Franklin action figures and enormous Nintendo cartridges from my childhood. It also sold magazines at a 5,900% profit margin.

She also took me to see the building Frank Gehry designed on the Case Western campus. It further solidified my conviction that Frank Gehry has no taste, no interest in practicality (including whether a building is suitable to the climate at its location), and no regard for the feel and architecture of the surrounding buildings. I know I'm not alone, because I've really never heard anybody say anything positive about anything Frank Gehry has designed. Someday I will investigate the one thing about him that really interests me: how he manages to get commissioned for these things over, and over, and over again.

I managed to break through Leslie's hatred of Cleveland enough to convince her to take me to explore downtown at night. We walked along the clean, clean Cyuahoga River, which once caught on fire. We saw a bridge that was lit from the inside with a very nice hue of purple, and tried to climb inside it from various angles. Unfortunately, they'd taken precautions against teenagers (like us, apparently) and put bars and fencing in all the right places.

We tried to walk out to Lake Erie. Unsuccessfully. I know Cleveland has a waterfront, but they don't make it easy to find, and right downtown, there's a port that has no public access. This didn't stop us though, and we caught a glimpse of the water between the piers. There was nothing special about it.

We also checked out the Amtrak station, by which I'd ridden so many times on the train, but which I had never seen from the inside.

We decided we'll research the laws of Ohio and see how much trouble you can get into for trespassing. I hear Cleveland has some awesome abandoned buildings.

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