Monday, June 24, 2013

This is my hometown

As I type this, I'm sitting in a hotel room in Boulder, Colorado, with rain falling outside and thunder crashing off the mountains that wreath the city.

I'm here on a business trip, and I cannot deny the beauty and attraction of this wonderful place.

Boulder comes by its liberal-leaning, green-focused consciousness honestly, and whatever you think of their politics, you have to acknowledge the earnestness of the hippies who make the city what it is.

Tonight I walked back from dinner along pedestrian-friendly streets while sipping a Starbucks mocha frappuccino light. Well, actually, I didn't walk...I strolled. I never stroll. I walk purposefully almost everywhere I go.

But in Boulder, you stroll because you can't help it. There are invisible waves of laid-back energy flowing everywhere, and doing anything quickly or with a sense of urgency just seems so out of place.

I'll admit, I love it here.

I'll also admit that I would never live here in a million years.

Not that I can really find anything wrong with Boulder. It's just that I wouldn't want to live anywhere other than where I do now.

I would say the same thing about London, New York, Toronto, Paris and Beijing  all cities I've visited and enjoyed, but places that will never be more than temporary destinations for me.

I have lived my entire existence in Northeast Ohio. And specifically, in a little town called Wickliffe, about 15 miles east of Cleveland.

We get made fun of a lot by people around the country. People hear "Ohio" and think "hicks." And when you tell them you live within short driving distance of a major city, they realize you're talking about Cleveland and laugh.

It used to make me angry when people mocked Cleveland, a city I love. But now I realize they do it out of almost total ignorance. And I think to myself, "Good. That will keep it less crowded for those of us who already know how great it is."

I'll be the first to tell you the weather in my part of the world isn't always ideal. And we don't have the same cool vibe as Boulder. And our economy has been limping along for several years now.

But Northeast Ohio has beautiful changes of seasons. And largely unknown cultural and restaurant scenes. And it has salt-of-the-earth people who work hard, raise families and live their lives in a straightforward, genuine way. Seriously, it's like a Ford Truck commercial come to life.

It also has my family. And wherever they go is where I go. As long as it's not Siberia. Or Pittsburgh, which has the Steelers and therefore may as well be Siberia to me.

But really, even if I didn't like where I lived, I would stay in order to be close to my family. They're my tribe, you know? I could no sooner separate myself from them than I could separate myself from my right arm.

Nor could I separate myself from good old Wickliffe, which almost inexplicably has seven or eight nice parks  for fewer than 13,000 people living in four square miles. What's that all about? We don't have a real community rec center, but by gosh, we have more swings per capita than any town you care to brag about.

I often say that Wickliffe is like Mayberry without Otis the town drunk. Or Floyd the barber. But we did once have Chicken and French Fries Charlie.

Chicken and French Fries Charlie was an unshaven mess of a man who used to hang out at the snack bar of the now-defunct Zayre's discount store. He always seemed to be there when my friends and I walked in, and he always seemed to be eating (you guessed it) chicken and french fries.

This was back when discount stores all had snack bars, you understand.

I don't know what ever happened to Chicken and French Fries Charlie, to be honest. I'm not even sure he had a home to go to when Zayre's closed each night. But somehow he had enough money to buy those paper containers of chicken and french fries, so I guess he had a job.

The point is, Wickliffe has always been full of characters like Charlie, which is another reason I love it.

Many of the people my wife and I grew up with have left, but we choose to stay. And I wouldn't be surprised if we end up staying until the bitter end.

Or until the entire city becomes one gigantic park, I guess. Whichever comes first.

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