Friday, July 6, 2007

Cleveland Rocks

As my loyal readers can attest, the blog has been a little light on the creative content over the past few weeks. My apologies to those who routinely check in for a laugh or two, but I was busy spending the better part of the last seventeen days learning about the effects of U.V. on Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer (think: George Costanza in the Hamptons), the recommended methods of adhesion for both Extruded Polystyrene and Polyisocianurate insulations, and the various benefits of using a bitumen modified by Styrene-Butadiene-Styrene versus those modified by Atactic Polypropylene. Didn't think you'd ever read that sentence here, did you?

Seeing as I dropped science after being forced to dissect the frog in the tenth grade (still having nightmares about the stench of formaldehyde), learning the myriad components and intricacies of the various low-sloped roofing systems available didn't exactly come easily to me, meaning that there wasn't a great deal of time left over for creative endeavours, despite my suggestions to the class that we all break the ice by getting together to compose a poem about the equiviscous temperature of Type IV asphalt. But as you might well imagine, that idea didn't really fly. I guess roofers just don't dig haiku.

In any event, Cleveland is a pretty sweet town, and there is definitely a weekend's worth of fun to be had if anyone is interested in hitting it up for two or three days. But before I get into all of the good times and merrymaking, I would be remiss if I didn't mention something that rubbed me the wrong way about the place. Now, maybe it's because I live in Toronto, one of the most multicultural and racially-integrated cities in the world; or maybe it's just because I'm naive and believe that we've come along a lot further than we actually have; but driving through the various neighbourhoods in Cleveland's east side, I was absolutely shocked by how racially divided most of that city is. Honestly, you can drive for thirty blocks without seeing a white person in some neighbourhoods, and then cross some kind of a threshold and go twenty blocks without seeing any black people. It's totally surreal.

I have no idea how the city got to be that way, or why anybody would ever want a city to be that way, but I guess it's just like Frankie D says: "it is what it is". Not much you can do about it from this end, except to be thankful that you live in a place where all people can not only co-exist, but benefit and thrive from that happy co-existence.

One other note about the city of Cleveland. I came across this article in the Cleveland Scene (Cleveland's answer to NOW Magazine), and immediately determined that this has to be the worst urban revitalization idea of all time. As far as impending city planning disasters go, it's right up there with building a major metropolitan American city on the San Andreas Fault.

What city planners are proposing, in an apparent attempt to revitalize a once prosperous part of town known as "The Flats", is that all of the city's "Gentlemen's Clubs" be moved to the same location along the East Bank of the Cuyahoga River. This new "Adult Zone", city officials contend, would become a place for out-of-towners and conventioneers to congregate.

What those same city officials fail to mention, obviously, is that this same "Adult Zone" will undoubtedly become the number one destination for out-of-towners and conventioneers to go to have their asses kicked by people brawling in the streets while trying to avoid the spray of .45 shells during the nightly last-call moving target parade.

Honestly, do the words "Pacman Jones" mean anything to these so-called “city planners”? Just think about the types of people that go to these “Gentlemen’s Clubs” late at night: drunk, testosterone-fuelled dudes who, by virtue of their very walking out of the strip club, are decidedly not getting laid. And I, for one, should know; I’ve been one of those guys on a number of occasions. We’re about as close to “Gentlemen” as Mike Brown is to coaching greatness.

It doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to project the implications of having, say, six rip joints worth of drunk, testosterone-fuelled dudes who aren't getting laid, all spilling into the streets at the same time, looking for a way to pass the time while waiting in vain for a slew of cabs that may or may not arrive... What could possibly be a more volatile situation than this? A Klan meeting at Caribana? Maybe? I can't even think of anything else that comes close.

If the good people of Cleveland want to revitalize The Flats, they should think about putting some kind of public transportation system in place so that revellers don't have to drink and drive in order to get to and from the area, which has all of the potential in the world to become a riverfront hotspot once again. Either that, or offer the abandoned space at a discounted rental rate for all of the artists who won’t be able to afford to live in Coventry Village much longer, thereby allowing things to prosper organically over time. But an "Adult Zone" on the East Bank? I think I’d rather have R. Kelly host my kid’s birthday party.

Anyway, these were the highlights of my three weeks in Cleveland:

Jacob's Field

An absolutely magnificient place to see a ballgame. As some of you may or may not know, I have an unnatural fetish for two things (aside from those other "natural" fetishes that we need not get into): waterfalls, and ballparks. I've travelled all over North America, checking out the likes of Wrigley, Fenway, Yankee Stadium, the old Tiger Stadium, what was once Pac Bell (San Francisco), Seattle... if I'm in your city and you have a pretty little jewel of a yard, you can bet your Barry Bonds approved tube of flaxseed oil that I'll be there drooling all over it, cursing out the city of Toronto for building the Skydome when they could have easily built themselves a Camden Yards. And Jacobs Field was no exception.

Not getting to the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland to sit with the other 700 fans for a Jays/Indians game in the late '80's is one of my great regrets in life, so I wasn't taking any chances on this night. I got to the park about an hour before the game and took a self-guided walking tour, checking out every angle, talking to the security guys about the intricacies of the yard, and marvelling at the beauty of the place. Their version of monument park, hidden behind the batter's eye in dead center is something that gets no media play but is something to behold if you get the chance to check it out: Satchel Paige, Bob Feller, Cy Young... This team has had some serious tallent on the hill.

Anyway, my company hooked us up in their box behind the Indians dugout for the night, so as the game went on, things generally disintegrated to near gong show status, what with the open bar and all. There were only a few of us who hung around until the bottom of the ninth, and we were treated to the first walk-off homerun I can remember being present for, courtesy of backup catcher Kelly Shoppach. I have no idea who this dude is, but he was kind enough to let us in on the "mayhem".

The American Tavern in Solon, OH

We ended up here one Wednesday night when the bar we were supposed to go to turned out to have been closed down for two years. This place was the quintessential watering hole - kind of like a cross between the VFW in Macungie, PA and a Saturday night at Ted's Collision and Body Repair on College St. We pulled into the parking lot and I tried to do the old "Goodfellas" at the Copa entrance through the kitchen, but the dudes behind the locked screen door were having none of that.

We ended up seated up at the bar doing Jagerbombs beside a girl who told my buddy that her hobby was giving blowjobs, and a dude who I somehow ended up buying shots of Bushmills for in an attempt to convince him to tell me how to get to the original Agora Ballroom (the site of the greatest Springsteen concert of all-time: August 9th, 1978. He opens with "Summertime Blues" and it gets infinitely and unbelievably better from there. If you ever come across it, buy it. Pay whatever it costs. This is the quintessential Springsteen show). The bartender and I became lifelong soulmates because he put $5 into the jukebox and played nothing but Tom Waits tunes, so I decided to get him in on the Bushmills brigade as well.

By the end of the night, we were pledging a lifelong allegiance to "The American", pledging to come back one day soon. The only problem with the place is that it was impossible to get a cab from there, forcing us to put our lives in the hands of our most experienced driver, a West Point grad who may have been within a hair of the DUI-line, judging by his parking job (up on the curb in the hotel parking lot) which we noticed for the first time at 7 o'clock the next morning.

Basketball on the court at The Renaissance Inn, Beachwood, OH

Yeah that's right, I schooled a fourteen year old in a one-on-one battle my first afternoon there. The competition got a little stiffer in ensuing days as the guys in my class decided to get in on the action, but I somehow managed to hold my own out there with most of them. There were a couple of big boys (a 6'6, 265 pound Dirk Novitzki clone; a 6'8, 290 monster), a couple of ringers (a 24-year old speedster who never slowed down), and my go-to partner: a 5'8, 230 pounder from Arkansas. We put on quite a show for those brave enough to take their beverages courtside (there was a free keg at the hotel every night from 5-7), and managed to get just enough exercise to keep most of the weight off for the three weeks. Good times all around.

Look for my $14.98 Starburys to make another appearance at the upcoming 3 on 3 tourney in Dornoch this weekend.

Self-Guided Walking Tour, Cleveland, OH

I set out one Saturday afternoon to hit up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it was such a nice day that I just started walking around the city. American cities are generally pretty empty on weekends, and this one was no exception, but I found myself fascinated by the eerie emptiness of the place which is usually otherwise bustling with people. I stumbled upon a sweet little cafe for breakfast, decided to walk across the river, and the next thing I knew, I was snapping photographs of old industrial buildings and bridges within bridges, loving the old industrial charm of the place. I know what you're thinking: write a poem and get on with it. I think I will.

Record Revolution, Coventry Village, OH

On the recommendation of a vinyl hip-hop bootlegger downtown, I ventured to the ultra-cool half-mile strip of town known as Coventry Village, which is where I happened upon Record Revolution. If you're a vinyl collector, this place is a must. And if you just happen to be a jazz head (which I, unfortunately, am not), this place is heaven.

I spent a solid two hours perusing their stuff and ended up stocking up on the likes of Otis Redding ("The Immortal" - previously unreleased tracks), Ray Charles ("Genius + Soul = Jazz), Charlie Mingus, an original version of Gary U.S. Bonds "Dance 'til Quarter to Three", Chuck, Johnny, Costello, Dylan's "Nashville Skyline", a fantastic reggae compilation (Zap Pow, The Maytals, Lorna Bennett, The Wailers...), and the piece de resistance: a copy of "We Are The World" featuring the most dated photograph I've ever seen. The fact that I actually remember this album being current makes me feel about twenty years older than I actually am.

The highlight of this entire ransacking was when I went to pay for this collection of vinyl gems and tipped the guy off that I was from Toronto. His response? "Toronto, huh? How are things on Spadina Avenue?" What a legend. Turns out the guy used to play all of the jazz clubs in Toronto back when Toronto actually had a decent repertoire of jazz clubs. When I told him I used to live at Spadina and Bloor, he took 50% off some of my selections. Fantastic. Hit up the Revolution while you still can.

Karaoke at Scalpers, Mayfield Heights, OH

If Hurricanes ever had a bar-separated-at-birth, Scalpers is surely it. I felt like I was walking into the 'Cane on a Monday night with Nate and the Bomber as my wingmen. The only thing missing was Karaoke Katy belting out an even-more-unlistenable-version-of-Hoobastank's "The Reason". This place had it all: from the wallflower old men sidling up at the bar to the throngs of drunken "10-2" girls dying to get up on stage so they could belt out Ani Difranco tunes; from the good cheap suds to the Karaoke host taking over with a death metal medley of tracks that had people racing for the exits. It really couldn't have been any better.

This was our last night in town, and about 12 of us ventured out to Scalpers to tie one on. All of the ex-military guys in my class were doing Toby Keith tunes for the red-white-and-blue, one of the older guys from Worcester, Mass did a ridiculously stellar version of Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" (they were all out of Coconut Pete's "Pinacoladaburg"), and my boy Davie from Arkansas and I butchered Johnny's classic "Folsom Prison Blues". All in all, it was a fantastic night that ended with me going drunkenly back to my room while some girl informed my buddy (whom she had been sleeping with for the better part of that week) that she had told her therapist about him...

Cleveland, baby. Enjoy.


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