About five years ago I returned to Cleveland after 8.5 years in central Missouri. I worked downtown for a few years and I noticed that most, if not all, of the out-of-towners I’d encounter sang the city’s praises. Yet, many around the country wonder to themselves out loud why anyone would want to live in Cleveland. Then to learn that someone wants to actually return to the city leaves them scratching their heads.
Stories from my childhood so often involve events that took place in the city itself. I grew up in a suburb, but my memories are of Indians games and enduring glacial temperatures at Browns games where my seven-year old self learned new and unequivocal words you can use to tell someone they’re wrong.
So why did I return? It’s not just about missing friends or family, or that you want to move back to Cleveland to start your own family, or be there when joyous events take place. That’s true of people who hail from anywhere.
The hemorrhaging population, the loss of jobs, fifty years of burning river jokes, and the snide comments from people around the U.S. (Google search that blowhard Colin Cowherd if you get a chance…amongst others) stick in the psyche of Clevelanders. So, there’s a desire to prove the cynics wrong. That’s for sure. We have a need for validation that transplants to Cleveland from places like Kansas or elsewhere can’t ever truly understand.
But there is a pride amongst Clevelanders in our toughness as we snicker when we hear about traffic jams in southern states caused by a half-inch of snow. Being a Clevelander means prideful defensiveness.
“You said what about my city?”
“There are closed factories in Cleveland? That’s a shame that we’re the only city with that.”
“The Browns suck? Hmm. I’ve never heard anyone on TV or radio make any mention of that.”
“Oh it snows in Cleveland? I didn’t know that, since no other city in America gets snow.”
Oops, there I go being defensive.
But this defensiveness gets mixed with a sense of pride in what’s happened to our city in the past, and a hope that the negativity can be reversed while we’re living here.
Yes, we as Clevelanders must do more for ourselves. For starters, we need to overcome the undeniable east-west divide. When something positive happens on the west side it affects us all as Clevelanders. If something bad happens on the east side, it happens to us all. This is our city. Maybe the suburbanites who bravely venture downtown once a year could do a little more, not to help the poor urbanites forced to live in the enclosed confines of the immoral city, but to assist in making Cleveland once again what it was not too long ago. We also need to cast away the cynicism that seems to affect so much of our thinking, and almost validates the snarky comments outsiders make.
I imagine it’s possible that I could leave Cleveland again. Or more likely, move to one of those suburbs, I mean anything is possible. I love Cleveland not just because it’s where I’m from, or that a part of it is inside me, but because I want to be here for its best day. And though too many Clevelanders adopt cynicism as a default position, I think our best isn’t behind us, but still awaiting us.