Something strange happened when I got home, something I never thought would happen – my love for Cleveland increased.
For my international friends and readers, I have to explain that Cleveland is not exactly the most up and coming city in the U.S. We may have invented Rock and Roll, but Cleveland is a city that peaked long ago and has steadily been in decline for decades. It was a manufacturing hub of steel for the auto industry and other industries. Globalization kind of left the city behind, as with many cities in the Midwest dependent on manufacturing and blue-collar work.
I never actively disliked Cleveland; I never actively loved it either. I don’t know that I struck gold in my own backyard as I wrote in a post last year…
But… Cleveland really isn’t all that bad!
I’m shocked to be saying it, but it’s true. And I realized it as my uncle and I drove around downtown one night. I said to him, “Man, this place is so much nicer than I remember and expected.”
I think the problem is that for years and years, I rarely visited the city as I grew up in the suburbs. Downtown was an “unsafe” place to be avoided like the plague. I grew up with a negative opinion of the city.
Thankfully, while at home in Cleveland this time, I stayed with an uncle who has a beautiful apartment downtown right on Lake Erie and got to see a whole new side of the city.
Some things I realized:
- Slovenian beer houses and Korean karate centers nearby – The city is more international than I remembered
- There is a historical market called West Side Market nearby where I could walk, take in the sights and sounds, and feel like I was anywhere in the world
- Boats were out on the water and the late-spring/early-summer climate was perfect
- The Cleveland Metroparks system is huge and beautiful
- There were a lot of small, family-run restaurants and cafes that caught my attention and were very inviting – in other words, for me, there was a sense of community.
- And there’s Lakewood….
Lakewood and I have an interesting history. My mom grew up in this, the biggest suburb of Cleveland. But over time it got more and more progressive and as a youngster I was definitely conservative. Lakewood was ground zero for the Cleveland LGBT scene and I disliked the city for this reason.
Fast forward and I’m ashamed I once felt that way, of course. But Lakewood is a city I could definitely see myself living in. It’s close to Cleveland, it’s set up like a European city – very walkable, shops on the ground level and apartments above, small yet cozy houses, and again, a genuine sense of community.
In Lakewood I met up with a friend of mine from high school and she couldn’t be happier there. It’s a great fit for her, and I think it’d be a great fit for me as well.
I don’t want to live in the Cleveland area and I have no plans to relocate, but I can’t tell you how great it was to come home and get a fresh perspective on where I’m from.
Cleveland hasn’t really changed; if anything, it’s gotten worse over time. So this change in my relationship with Cleveland was on my side.
I suppose seeing different parts of the city and having different experiences contributed to this change of heart, but I think a lot of the change came from within as well.
At first, I thought maybe it was because I had just come from the developing world. Maybe I appreciated the familiarity of home and what Cleveland had to offer even if other cities have more to offer. But I don’t think it was that. I’ve spent time in the developing world before and returned to Cleveland without any changes in opinion.
I think I definitely see everything differently as a result of this trip and the experiences I’ve had has shifted my priorities in terms of what’s important in life. Maybe the reasons I disliked Cleveland in the past just don’t matter much to me anymore.
Without these artificial constraints self-imposed on the city by me, maybe I finally saw Cleveland for what it is – a nice city with a lot to offer.. and regardless of my nomadic life.. the place I’ll always call home.