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Friday, June 8, 2012

Ode to Cleveland

It's been a year now since The Wifester and I made the move from Nashville to Cleveland. I can hardly believe it's been that long. In so many ways I feel like I just got here and am still exploring and getting to know my new city.
When we told people we were moving to Cleveland, I heard a lot of, "Why CLEVELAND??" With a rather disdainful emphasis on the word "Cleveland", as though it were a diseased, decayed, vagrant abyss of despair on the other end of the universe.

But it's not!

OK, so yeah, there are areas with boarded up houses, vacant buildings, high crime rates.
Yeah, so Nashville had all of that.
So did Sacramento.
So did Chicago.
So did Dallas.
You get the idea. Every large/ish city has its problems. And the down economy has taken its toll everywhere.

I don't want to stay with that topic. We could talk for hours upon hours and never finish talking about the depressed economy in any region of the United States. What I want to talk to you about is how much of a hidden gem Cleveland really is.

1. There's the MetroParks. This park system completely surrounds Cleveland, so no matter if you live on the richest side of town or the poorest, you are always within just a few minutes of The Cleveland MetroParks with wooded walking and bicycling trails, picnic areas, nature centers, play areas for the kids...This is the most wonderful city park system I have ever seen in my life. Every city should have its own "Emerald Necklace".

And one of the best things is that this park system is so expansive, so massive that even on holidays, when everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE is at the park, it's never so overcrowded that you can't find a quiet, cozy spot with a nice picnic table and some grills. Usually there's even one along side a nice rolling river.  And besides the MetroParks system, there's a million little small parks dispersed around each little area. Within a five mile radius of my house there are 11 parks I have counted, not including the MetroParks. Some of them are small, with only a couple of basket ball courts and a few benches, while others are pretty large with walking trails, picnic areas, and lake views. Like Lakewood Park. I love this park.

There's even a very nice public pool here, if you don't mind swimming with total strangers who may or may not be carrying communicable diseases. But hey, that's your own choice to make.

2.  The Free Stamp. If you don't know about the Free Stamp, let me tell you the tale.

This is one fine piece of public art. Danish artists, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen created this 50 foot tall statement that sits downtown, next to City Hall. See, these guys were kind of badass in that "I'll make my statement no matter if I am up against Big Oil!" kind of way. The story goes that the stamp was originally commissioned in 1982 by the Standard Oil Company. They wanted it to sit in front of their to be built corporate headquarters building on Public Square (which is now the BP Tower). They wanted it to sit with the "Free" stamp facing downward, hidden from view, apparently as a reference to the Civil War era Soldier's and Sailors Monument next door. But before the piece found its home, Standard Oil was acquired by the British Petroleum Company (BP) who didn't appreciate the piece. They said it was "inappropriate". "Free Stamp" sat in storage in Indiana for years before BP finally donated it to the city of Cleveland. The city consulted with the artists, who ultimately chose this location as the home for Free Stamp because they wanted it to be a symbol of freedom and free speech. At this point, the artist modified the stamp so that it would rest on it's side and showing the "FREE" lettering, symbolizing how the piece was "flung across town" from the BP Tower to where it now rests. And I for one love it and all that it stands for.

3.  Festivals. During the Spring through Fall months, you can't go a week without reading about, hearing about, or stumbling upon some sort of festival here. You never have to travel more than 10 miles to find a wonderful festival to celebrate some ethnicity or another, some culture or heritage, some culinary treat or fruit bearing tree, some kind of wooly-worm, or even Duct Tape, as this is the home of that wonderful invention, ya know. And if you know me, you know I love me some festivals! There's always great food, interesting music, and friendly people willing to sell you their hand crafted goods. 

4.  World class health care. The Cleveland Clinic was ranked as the fourth best hospital in America for complex and demanding situations according to the 2011-12 U.S. News & World Report America's Best Hospitals report, and it has ranked number one for cardiac care for 16 years in a row. At this national level, they also rank #2 in Gastroenterology, Urology, and Nephrology. They rank #3 in Pulmonology and Rheumatology. #4 in Gynecology and Orthopedics. #5 in Diabetes/Endocrinology. #6 in Neurology and Neurosurgery. #7 in Geriatrics, #8 in Ear, Nose, Throat, #9 in Cancer treatment, #11 in Ophthalmology with the acclaimed Cole Eye Institute of Cleveland Clinic. They are #17 Psychiatry and #19 in Rehabilitation. Did we leave anything out? No matter what ails you, you are within reach of some of the very best of the best medical care available in this country. Remember that lady with the face that got eaten off by the chimpanzee? The Cleveland Clinic did her face transplant. And they have a phenomenal, radical idea that they are here to actually treat people, insurance or not. They will work with you on a sliding scale kind of system to ensure you can afford access to health care, even without insurance. 

5.  The people here are awesome. And I do mean AWESOME. You always hear about "Southern Hospitality" but truly, its these people up here that really and truly do give personification to that old idea of being kind to strangers and treating guests like family. I have had more random, polite conversations with absolute strangers standing in line at the market or walking down the street since I've been here than I ever did back in Nashville. Maybe the 70 degree temps here make for more pleasant attitudes than the 90+ degree temps back home did. I'm sure there's more small talk in the winter in Nashville than in Cleveland, I mean, cold here is quite cold. But at least there's an end to it and with that comes this beautiful, wonderful spring with flowers abloom and birds a singing...And people everywhere stopping you and saying, "It's a beautiful day, eh?" I love that. 

This post could get unbearably long if I were to keep on talking about all the fine things Cleveland has to offer. I haven't even touched on the lower cost of living, the tremendously good public schools, the great way the city and surrounding suburbs are laid out, the zoo, the museum of art, the museum of natural history, the botanical gardens, the perogies, the symphony, the new casino, Playhouse Square, the West Side Market...

I could go on and on and on. And if I don't stop myself right now, I will. If you don't believe me that Cleveland really is a super fantastic place to call home then just give me a shout next time you're in town. I'll take you around and show you my Cleveland. Because believe it or not, Drew Carey was right, Cleveland Rocks!

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