I Choose Cleveland

Today is the 4th of July. It's a day when, if you're one of those people who sneeringly say everything Europe does is better than the US, then you simply have to shut up. It's a day to be thankful for what the US does well and for the efforts of those who made it this way. Happy Independence Day!

I moved to Cleveland from Chicago in late 2006. I was puzzled at the muted awe Clevelanders expressed at my mention of Chicago - it was nice there, but it wasn't Nirvana. When I would mention the move, the most common response was actually "why?" Eventually I began to notice an undercurrent of disparagement directed towards Cleveland - and the worst offenders were usually natives. The negativity first made me wonder if I had made the right choice in moving here, and then made me angry that my judgement was being called into question. And I echo: why?

Why? It's a pose. It's the public face of a person too afraid or too weak to stand up in favor of anything. It's pretending that nothing is good enough for them. It's hipsterism.

Examples? When I called to cancel my subscription to the Plain Dealer, they asked me why. Not wishing to explain to this nice lady that I thought her employer was obsolete, I made up the more palatable lie that I was moving out of town. She asked me to where, and I replied Chicago. Her response? A cheerful "oh good for you!" This, from a representative of the local newspaper. Congratulations on leaving. My mind reeled.

Oh, and let's not forget the sickening "fake tourist videos" one and two. These are utterly toxic, lacking the faintest shred of positivity; even the punch line at the end of the second one is degrading.


I chose Cleveland. I choose Cleveland today and every day that I wake up. I will not have my judgement questioned by people who don't have an uplifting word to say about anything. Nor will I stand idly by and let those comments go unanswered. Why NOT Cleveland? What will you do to make it BETTER, hipster asshole? You can start by quitting spewing POISON.

I'm not in favor of unconditional boosterism. Mindlessness on either side doesn't help. This is not a public service announcement. I've never bought the argument that Cleveland is actually awesome because of its world-class museum and orchestra and hospital; other cities this size have a few great things too, but they don't have this counterproductive mixture of narcissism and self-loathing. No, I want to focus on the day to day things that make life here good. The restaurants are good. The weather's never awful and usually pretty nice. Housing is cheap. And I have friends - honestly, right now I want to weep with gratitude at the wonderful people I've come to know here. I am happier here than I have ever been.

Yeah, I choose Cleveland. I hope you will too. And happy Independence Day!


  1. I'm glad you chose Cleveland, Jeff. Every town, and especially Cleveland, needs brain gain. I'm doubly glad to have met you and to have shared interesting discussions over a variety of topics.

    As a fifth-generation Clevelander, I'm not immune from suffering from some of the negative thinking you describe. Many of us self-diagnose with a condition known as terminal uniqueness -- and we tend to extend our thinking to where we live. We think we're the only town that's been picked on so mercilessly, from the river catching on fire, to Johnny Carson jokes, the drive, the fumble, etc. It's a tired argument, especially to those visiting Cleveland. Most people don't think about Cleveland or make fun of it nearly as much as we think they do. As Margaret Mead so beautifully admonished no one in particular, "Always remember: you are unique. Just like everyone else."

    We need to get over ourselves. We've had a gazillion challenges over the decades. So, too, has every other city in the U.S. Our challenges are not so special. Someone new here just wants a nice place to live, work and play. Let's all rejoice that you've found it here in Cleveland instead of someplace else, and then let's see what we can do both about keeping more of our best and brightest here and about attracting new folks. It ain't easy. But it's nearly impossible when we choose to hang on to all that baggage of negativity.

  2. Well, well.You certainly are passionate about this subject, Jeff. In the face of such passion,I was a little intimidated about presenting a comment at first.

    But this being Independence Day weekend and all, I figured you'd stand behind the concept of freedom of expression.

    I've lived in Cleveland my entire life and have actually spent almost half of my life out one county over in a bedroom community that could pass as a bedroom community in any other state in this part of the country.

    As far as I'm concerned it doesn't matter if I live in Cleveland or Cheyenne as long as the people I care about are close at hand. I think a lot of us Clevelanders stick around because we appreciate the value of family ties. We become rooted to our families, our jobs, our communities and moving out is not even on our radar.

    I will say that I think our town is not as advanced in its thinking and planning as some other cities. If you're not into fine dining and drinking, there doesn't seem to be a lot to do after you've experienced the Rock Hall and all the museums a dozen times.

    Others who like golfing or attending sporting events might beg to differ. All I can say is that it is a Sunday and my husband and I are staring at each other trying to figure out an attraction/event we might enjoy together.

    We need a few more events like Parade the Circle (That was delightful).

    I agree we have a nice temperate climate and affordable housing. Those attributes are nothing to sneeze at. But we are an economically depressed town, a good deal more economically depressed than a lot of other towns. We natives recognize this...It's not that we applaud it, I think that it's just that most of us have no idea what we can do as individuals to turn that around.

    Your average Clevelander does not have formal training in economic development or a trust fund to underwrite revitalization.

    So we go about our lives, enjoying our families and friends and laughing at an occasional Cleveland joke. Personally, I realize these are just jokes, even if they do cut close to home. Perhaps it is my midwest, working class sensiblities that keep me so complacent or maybe I'm just content to live in an imperfect town. Who, or what, is actually perfect anyway/

  3. Hey, Jeff. I'm glad you like it. I miss it. Sure, they skies can be a bit dreary, but the haze is better than the summer swelter in Bloomington, IN. And after living in Pittsburgh, one will never appreciate the well-laid-out streets in Cleveland more! The lake is beautiful. There is tons to do. And the freeways can get you anywhere you want in a flash.

    I know a lot of Clevelanders that claim to hate it, too, and I keep asking them: if you hate it so much, what are you still doing here?

  4. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest, folks. I hope none of you felt personally accused. I mostly hear this derision from strangers - like in comment strings by friends of friends on Facebook.

    Steve, I like the idea of terminal uniqueness in this context. It's a tempting narrative. It's a story many individuals tell themselves when they're young, and eventually shrug off. Cities seem to have lives and personalities of their own. We'll do what we can to brighten up this one.

    Donna, for a moment there you had me bracing for a rebuttal! When I think about how to make it better, I'm thinking of simple things like making recommendations. When you have a good experience, take the extra step and tell someone else who might enjoy it. This improves their lives, and the retelling makes you happy too. Just generally ... accentuate the positive.

    At the very least, when we talk about negative experiences, we need to be specific. Maybe even constructive. We can't ascribe it to a universal syndrome of Clevelandness, as in, "oh, well, THIS IS CLEVELAND. What do you expect." That's the kind of malaise we need to avoid.

    By the way, Donna, let me introduce you to meetup.com! You can fill your social calendar in no time flat!

    Betsy, thanks for commenting. Are you Betsy Merkel, by any chance? I have some relatives on the other side of Indy from Bloomington, and the weather seems very fair.

  5. Believe it or not, as a Pittsburgher, I empathize a lot with your Cleveland passion. Despite our regional sports rivalry, our cities have so much in common. Mid-size cities are great places. Just enough momentum to carry some sports teams and decent arts, without the over-population leading to crime and poor family conditions. Now if people realized that supporting local businesses instead of multi-national corporate behemoths would help us shake the rust-belt blues, we'd all be better off.

  6. I hear that Cleveland is a pretty good music town too. Someone suggested I check out the local symphony. They are suppose to be good.

    For jazz, Cleveland is the home of Bull Moose Jackson and Tadd Dameron among others. If you like jump blues and bebop, they have you covered.

  7. Kevin, I've always suspected Pittsburgh and Cleveland had far more in common than in contrast. You have a good point about critical mass there.

    dlwilson, the Cleveland orchestra is actually world famous - they sell better in Austria than in the States, though it helps that the conductor is Austrian. Personally, I'm more into the rock scene. There are several small-to-medium venues here that are a lot of fun: the Grog Shop, the Beachland, the Barking Spider.