Friday, December 31, 2010

A O Way To Go

There are some days that I feel like Chrissie Hynde

When I came home to Ohio,, my head was filled with grand memories of the way things used to be. All of the years I was gone, I envisioned how Cleveland had evolved. How the city of Cleveland had grown.

For the past 10 years or so I have lived in Indianapolis. That city has improved, it's vibrant and shockingly clean. In the time I have lived here, I went from never going downtown, to buying a condo and making my life downtown. I was certain Cleveland had improved the same way.

Sure, I heard about the Forbes list and Cleveland making it as one of the most miserable cities. I read in horror about alleged serial killer Anthony Sowell. I don't know...maybe I thought everyone was jealous. Come on, Cleveland rocks. We have an Iron friggin Chef.

But things change. Cities change. People change.

I do not for a second regret moving back to Cleveland. I certainly don't regret taking a job in Cleveland. For better or worse, Cleveland is my home, and like my cousin that likes to speak in Klingon at family functions, I won't abandon her.

On my way to work every morning, I pass by abandoned and decaying buildings. Tagged by some pseudo artist in residence the buildings make me sad. I look at the buildings and all I can think about is how beautiful they were, what they meant to someone. Fantastic and glamorous hotels or apartments.

Every day I drive by this building and on this morning, all the windows and doors were busted out.I'm bothered by how much this has bothered me.

It is just a stupid building. Right? Maybe not...

This symbolizes something more to me. Since I left, everything has changed. I can't for the life of me get to places that I had easily driven to hundreds of times. The landmarks have changed. The roads have changed. If I didn't have GPS I would spend more time that I already do lost. There are no Lawson's on every corner to serve as markers.

Even though my city has changed, I'm still happy to be in it. I came home to make Cleveland a better place.

Happy new year everyone or in the immortal words of my cousin,  QISmaS DatIvjaj 'ej DIS chu' DatIvjaj (for the non-Klingon speakers, that is Merry Christmas and Happy New Year)!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bob Feller

Bob Feller.

In the past days, everyone has shared these fantastic memories of chance encounters with the Cleveland Indians legend.  Almost every Cleveland fan has something signed by him (personally, I have a photo and a ball from Spring Training) in their collection. 

Some people said he was gruff or grumpy. I say he was Cleveland.

As a graduate student at Iowa State University, the best part of those two years was an hour side trip that my dad and I made to Van Meter, Iowa to see the Bob Feller Museum. I'm sad to say that this was in the age before digital cameras. If you wanted pictures, you still had to use *shudder* film. Some of you may not remember these days, but you had to buy film, which was expensive and then process it, which was more expensive...and then, the HORROR *wait* for the pictures to be developed. The most difficult part of these days was the dreaded conversation that you would have to hold with people, "I'm sorry, but I only have one picture left, so would you please step aside?" But of course, there was always the joy of the extra picture or two on the roll. There were few greater joys of getting one over on Kodak than the 26 pictures on the film roll of 24.

Ahem...back to the story....

If you have never been to Van Meter, it is nothing more than a blip on the highway. The city is under one square mile. Under. One. Square. Mile. If I remember correctly, there were four stop signs in town.  One on each corner.

When we got into town, I saw families hanging their wash from lines in the yards. Just this little neighborhood and then this red clay building that looked more out of place than anything I have ever seen before in my life.
AP Photo of the flags at half mast for Feller's passing.
The day we went was boiling hot. I thought we were lost. I distinctly remember the sound of my leg being ripped from the car seat when I got out. Never had I been to a city so small. Inside, the museum wasn't very large, but it was amazing to see. Personal artifacts of Bob's...his uniforms, his bats. It was there that I learned that it was on Feller's bat that Babe Ruth leaned on during his last public appearance at a sold out Yankee Stadium.

The visit reminded me of my childhood, going to museums of all sorts with my dad.  The fact that Feller left his fantastic career to serve his country and then...come back? Amazing. Imagine what would have happened if he didn't enlist and instead played baseball for those 4 years.

The last time I saw Bob Feller in person was the inaugural season of Spring Training in Goodyear, AZ. I happily paid $10 for him to autograph my Spring Training ball. My friends laughed and mocked that I paid for the autograph, but I was happy as can be.

Last year, Bob didn't make it to the park when I was in Arizona. I don't remember if it was due to his flight or if he was ill.

I just thought he would be there next year. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Day in the Muni Lot

Welcome to the excitement and exuberance known as a parking lot. Specifically the Cleveland Municipal Lot - The Muni Lot for those in the know. For those not from Cleveland, I dare say you have not seen tailgating until you have been tailgating in the Muni or one of the other many city lots.  The Muni Lot is not just a little itty bitty parking lot you know.

It's ginormous. Gigantic. Huge.

And there are multiple lots. And then there is the Pit, which is an entirely different lot and subculture that we won't go into here. Let's just agree that Browns fans take their team, the game and tailgating seriously.

A few weeks ago, I got up at 4:30 am to get ready to go on another adventure in the Muni Lot. These people are *serious*.  Did I mention that?

I'm fortunate enough to have friends that are what I like to call "tailgating professionals" to hang out with. These folks have food, drinks, a tent, chairs, extra gloves and 5 hour energy shots for those that need them. They even have a potty tent. *That* my friends, is serious.

We left at 5:30 am to get in line to get in the lot. We had to wait in line to get into a parking lot at 5:30 am. As you can see from the photo, we weren't the first in line, but we were in decent shape. You don't want to get stuck too far back in the lots because the walk back from the Stadium can be painfully long.  Especially around 4 pm,  almost 12 hours later for those of you counting.

The view from our parking spot is amazing. Looking ahead and being able to see the Rock Hall and Browns Stadium is a great thing. The view is about as Cleveland as you can get. The air was filled with the smell of tasty meals simmering and grilling. While our tent had a grill and a toaster oven thing, some spots even had flat top griddles (which made yummy egg sandwiches). I didn't see much haute cuisine, but I certainly didn't see anything to complain about.

By about 9 am, the Muni is in full swing. There are buses and converted RVs with djs some of which even had dance floors. Yes, dance floors. Some of the folks that have been, let's say partaking in beverages of an adult nature, are hunted out by the local news. This guy from channel 19 picked a guy in a Browns painted Boba Fett mask to chat with. Well, not so much chat as bark and woof. There was no political commentary on this Sunday. It was all Browns football.

It was about this time I had to pee.

It happens.

My friends have a set up a pee tent. A pee pee tee pee if you will.  Previously, in the tent, it was a bucket that you did your business in and then dumped out. Eww. I'm sorry, but all I could think of is we are in 20th century America and I am not chucking the contents of my chamber pot into the street. OK, OK...honestly, I'm not very coordinated and all I could picture is me falling over in the pee tent and dumping the contents of the bucket all over and the tent toppling and giving the lot and the highway a show.

After nixing the tent idea, I went to find a porta potty with a short line. I finally found one and a bit of ugliness followed.  I was inside, carefully trying not to touch anything and desperately struggling to make sure my scarf didn't touch anything when it happened. I was in a scene out of one of those bad teen movies. All of a sudden... BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! Someone was kicking the heck out of the porta potty that I was in, all with me being in a bit of a compromising position.

Visions of Jackass danced through my head. What was going on and oh my God is this thing going to tip over and cover me with its contents?

Suffice to say, when I gathered myself together and opened the door, I wasn't happy. I was honked off. The guy standing in line was in my direct sight. As I marched up to him, he started waving his hands, "It wasn't me! It wasn't me! It was that guy" and he pointed to a rather large Bluto looking fellow. If I had to guess on who would have thrown a car battery onto the court at LeBron given the chance, it would be this guy.

I was not happy.

I went directly up to him, toe to toe and asked him what his problem was. Oh, yes I did. The smartest thing I've ever done? Not even close. But I was upset. I almost wore poo people. Our conversation was about as far from civil that you could come. He was screaming, rude, vulgar and as his friend said, giggling, he was drunk.

Let's take a little timeout for a second.   I've been a bartender off and on for over 10 years. This guy may have been drinking, but he was hammered like Mel Gibson was on his rant. He wasn't drunk enough to be that much of a jerk.

There are very few things that I know for certain; if there is a crack in the sidewalk I will trip on it, winters in Cleveland are cold, birds chirp and if I had been that guy in front of my friends, it would have been a different situation. I can bet that they would not stopped me from yelling and screaming that way, especially in front of *my* child. They would have apologized to the person I tried to tip over and would have let me have it later on.

Back to the story...

As we are "conversing loudly" I looked over and saw a boy, maybe 10, watching and laughing at Bluto. I put my hands up to him in surrender, muttering something about Father of the Year and left the situation.  I was dumbfounded that there was a child to all of that.

Kids do not belong in the Muni Lot.

Let me repeat, kids do *not* belong in the Muni Lot.

This was something I saw over and over. The worst part of it was that these kids were not with responsible parents, in my humble opinion. There may have been some, but none in my view. We had Bluto and his son, and there were even children jumping into beer pong games. They weren't drinking, but they thought it was great fun to try and get the ping pong ball into the cup. Just wrong. Wrongity wrong wrong wrong.

Jumps off my soapbox

With the exception of Bluto the porta potty kicker, everyone I met was fantastic. Were they drinking? Sure. Was it rowdy? Absolutely. Look people, you don't go to the Muni Lot for tea and scones. There are adult beverages freely flowing and nachos everywhere.There has been quite a bit made lately of opposing fans getting hassled in the lots by Browns fans. Does this happen? Absolutely. If you wear an opposing jersey, I will boo you. I won't hurt you or throw my beverage at you, but I will boo you. But if you say, "Hey, I'm from New York" and you are a Jets fans, you will get less grief. If you wear a Jets jersey and you are from Shaker Heights, you get what you get. This is happening at stadiums all over the country. If you can't take the boos, wear something else.

I fully support razzing and booing, but I do not support tackling and throwing peanuts.

Walking around the lot is fun. I love the creativity of the remodels of buses, vans, RVs, cars.

Among the party people, the ones that stand out most to me are what I call the Four Loko kids. At one time they were the Braylon Bunch but now they are just the Browns Bunch (which is just as well). They have the blaring DJ and microphone heckling anyone trying to maneuver with their car through the lot after 9 or so. I saw quite a bit of that and it must require nerves of steel. Trying to drive your car through throngs of people and corn hole games.

The kids have games and a massive spider looking beer bong. Actually, when I saw that, I realized how old I truly am. There was a day where that would have been fun. Now I just wonder how they clean it and how many people have put their lips around the tubes before me *shudders*. 

One of the games that they have is keg bowling. Knock down the pins and win some shots of Four Loko.

Lose and you have to do push ups, as a friend soon found out.

As game time approached, people started giving away their last booze remnants, all the less that they would  have to take home. People drinking that last beer before you leave the safety of the lot and have to pay $7 for a beer in the Stadium.

This gentleman was fueled by Four Loko and skating with no shirt as I was freezing huddled around a heater.

And then the LeBron jersey burning. There was a decent crowd around as they lit the LeBron jersey on fire and then...well, I'll save my blog readers from the photo, but then there was a fight about who was going to urinate on the jersey to put the fire out. Finally, two guys decided to share in the "honor."  At most games there is some jersey on fire. Usually a LeBron jersey and whatever player has earned the irritation of the fans. Braylon Edwards was pretty popular.

Finally, the long walk to the stadium began with chants and cheers. Signs raised high into the air. Lots of Peyton Hillis signs.

We went down to the wall and I snapped this picture and we were eventually hustled to our seats after security was instructed to "Get those girls off the wall."

Touchdowns are also missed while waiting in concession lines. I always get a hot chocolate for the travel mug. AT&T had a great thing that they would take your picture and text it to you. I'll never go with AT&T, but it was a nice gesture.

After the game, the lot was a disaster. Trash strewn everywhere. The trash dumped on the ground was only partially from the fans. The can pickers would go through all the trash looking for cans to recycle and they weren't exactly tidy about it.

All in all it was a great day. Few things are better than spending time with good friends and catching a Browns game in person, as opposed to a sports bar with the sound on another game.

It's safe to say that I'm happy in Cleveland.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I'm Angry & It Isn't Entirely LeBron's Fault

I'm angry.

After watching LeBron James almost destroy the Cavaliers almost entirely on his own, I thought I should wait before I blogged. You have to understand, I was angry. Very. So, I waited. 
I am still angry. I'm angry about a lot of things right now. I'm angry that the media wanted the City of Cleveland to implode and the National Guard to be called in. I'm angry that LeBron bopped his head to the "Akron Hates You" chant. I'm angry Anderson Varejao hugged LeBron before the game. 

I'm angry that the Cavaliers gave up, rolled over on their backs and let the Miami Heat drive a bus over them. The level of disrespect that the Cavaliers players welcomed from LeBron was something I have never before seen. Maybe they were afraid they weren't going to get invited to a party. It was like LeBron and his posse trudged their muddy boots across your new white carpet and stood in front of the TV with 10 seconds left in a playoff game.

I'm angry that a lot of the things that I am angry about aren't even LeBron's fault. He was just the final piece in a sad, painful puzzle.

I'm angry that people from Cleveland don't understand. 

I'm angry at myself for expecting them to. 

It would be cliche to say, "It's a Cleveland thing, you wouldn't understand" even if it is true.

I grew up in the suburbs, but always said, "I'm from Cleveland." I have never seen a Cleveland championship in my lifetime, but I have always been a Cleveland sports fan. That's just the way it is. 

Growing up in Cleveland, everyone clung to our sports teams to show the world what we are.  The days of Eliot Ness and being home of so many firsts were long gone. For awhile, we had WMMS and the distinction of being the Rolling Stone Reader's pole #1 radio station, but that was about it. 

Many of my fondest childhood memories were based around Cleveland sports. 

My elementary school had Kardiac Kids t-shirts made with our school name on the back (all of the schools in the district had them). I remember running home with the order form *begging* my parents for one.

I had never been to a Browns game, but I always watched them with the family all around. Like other kids throughout the city, my dad made sure I knew what the calls were, what the penalties were.  We talked about the plays. I remember having a huge crush on Brian Sipe and my heart  sinking when Ernest Byner dropped that ball.  

"The Drive," "The Fumble"and "Red Right 88" were added to the list of Cleveland sports disasters.
There were a few Cavaliers games that I went to when I was little. Sitting in the rafters at Richfield Coliseum to see my favorite, Bingo Smith play.  In fact, I had a t-shirt with the old logo, that always made me think of the 3 Musketeers, one of my favorite cartoons at the time. "All for one, one for all!" was the motto. 

Much later came "The Shot" and the Cavaliers adding to the Cleveland sports misery.

My favorite part of summer though, and still is, was going downtown with my dad to Indians games. We were terrible, but I didn't care. I won my first bike at a game, a powder blue Huffy 10 speed with a denim seat. 

Painting by Bruce McCombs,

 A couple of times a season, my dad would spring for reserved tickets, and those were great days. The stadium would be mostly empty and he would tell me to sit wherever I wanted. I was always adamant that we sat in our seats, so he would ask me our seat number, which I would read off, "Seat 5," I told him once. He said, "Well, go find a seat 5." I would run up and down the rows, through out the sections looking for the best seat 5. 

I always would ask my dad how I could get the tom-tom guy's job.  I thought that was the best job in the world. He got to go to every game and get people fired up. How much cooler could the world of work get? It took well into my adulthood before I realized, that John Adams was the "tom-tom" guy, and that wasn't his job. He was a fan. Amazing.

As an adult, I remember seeing grown men shed a tear as the old stadium was torn down and they took little bits of rubble home as a memento from a time long past. 

That is one thing that we, as a city placed on LeBron James. We took all of the Cleveland Sports Misery reel and put it on the shoulders of a high school kid out of Akron. Here was this of our own, a hometown guy that could make a difference.

We gave him names like "The Chosen One." We would later let him call himself the King. King James. We bought it. We loved it. We agreed. We were his loyal subjects. 

If you watch the Nike Witness commercial, you can see. The damn thing makes me cry every time.  Every. Time.

The people in the commercial weren't actors. They weren't flown in from LA. We were proud of LeBron. He was one of us. He stood to put Cleveland on the map. This was our chance to show the world that we are something. I watched the commercials and swelled with pride. This is Cleveland now.

We had a chance. This guy, full of puff and swagger - and skill - was going to get the city of Cleveland a championship. 

All of a sudden, Cleveland games were a sell-out. Cleveland games were the marquee games. When I lived in Indiana, the Cavs games were the Lakers, the Celtics...championship teams. 

I took on the swagger. I had more pride in my city. Sure, our Browns and Indians were terrible, but ... look at the Cavs. Look at LeBron. 

And then ... well...

We started to see that maybe...just maybe, LeBron wasn't perfect. 

Stories would filter out here and there about the antics of him and his "posse" through out the city. Being rude and disrespectful to servers and bartenders (and I am sure if you have ever read my blog you know how I felt about that), ridiculous demands...all mentioned in hushed whispers, behind closed doors. 
Outsiders would talk about the monster we were creating, and would be shot down double barrel style by us.  How dare you talk about our King like that? You're jealous...a poor sport! 

I even called the Papa John's pizza in Indianapolis to give them 9 levels of hell after the t-shirt controversy.

And then...

LeBron made his "Decision."  

This is where outsiders get the story twisted and can't understand for their lives why we can't "get over it."

I'm not angry about LeBron leaving. OK, that's a lie. I am. But, if he stood before the city and said, " I love you all and thank you, but it is time that I move on..." I would have lived. I would have been angry, but I wouldn't have the urge to burn his jersey. 

But LeBron, an Ohioan...I won't even insult him and call him a Clevelander, as someone from the state of Ohio, he had to know that first, nothing good has ever come out of naming a sports "situation."  Everything horrible in Cleveland sports has a name. 

A title. 

"The Decision."

I don't know what planet that LeBron James lives on that he thought it was in his best interest to give his move a title. 

 Watching the ESPN debacle, I almost...*almost* felt sorry for him when he made his announcement. If you watch it (and no, I won't link it here), there is that brief moment that he looks like he is going to vomit. LeBron had to have a brief flash of, "Hey, this might not be the best idea."

But then he took his talents to South Beach. Not Miami. South Beach.

And then the stories started trickling he never had a conversation with Joe Tait. Joe Tait. Not even his rookie year?

More stories about his posse and their extravagant demands.

Owner Dan Gilbert's infamous comic sans letter.

What did we do? Was this somehow our fault?

In a word, maybe. I think as fans we put up with LeBron because we wanted to win. We wanted to believe that he was a *good* guy. We wanted to believe that he was one of us. 

Sadly, he never thought of us that way. LeBron made comments that growing up, he hated Cleveland.

Hated Cleveland.
Those comments make me angry. More angry than ever that our team let him win.

The Cavaliers allowed James to go to the bench and chit chat. James was comfortable in the most hostile, uncomfortable environment imaginable. Cavs players hugged him before the game. They allowed him to chat the bench up when he was on the court. I know I said that before, but I can't believe they allowed that to happen.

I had dreams after the game of the ball boy giving LeBron a hard shove and to shut up. That guy would never have to pay for another drink in the city of Cleveland for the rest of his life.

The fact that it was the conduct of the players and not some drunken Bluto throwing a car battery onto the court that embarrassed Cleveland makes me angry.

The Cavs have a long way to go to win the support of the fans back...not because they lost, but because they gave up.

Am I still a fan?

Yes. Maybe a little smarter, maybe a little wiser, but I will always be a fan.

I'm from Cleveland.