Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Joys of Parenting, and etc.

I have a few friends -- happily married or in a really long-term relationship that might as well be marriage -- who insist they will never have children. I can respect that. I probably even contributed to their resolve by cancelling rides to spend time with my kids and then complaining about it.

But there's something indescribably magical about the special little ways that our littlest ones get a kick out of life.

For instance:

Or this:

And my child-eschewing friends will miss the joy of watching their youngsters take after daddy:

OK, here's today's forwarded-all-over-the-internet joke:

A curious fellow died one day and found himself waiting in the long line of judgment. As he stood there he noticed that some souls were allowed to march right through the pearly gates into Heaven.
Others though, were led over to Satan who threw them into the burning fire. But every so often, instead of hurling a poor soul into the fire, Satan would toss a soul off to one side into a small pile.
After watching Satan do this several times, the fellow's curiosity got the best of him. So he strolled over and asked Satan what he was doing.
"Excuse me, Prince of Darkness," he said. "I'm waiting in line for Judgment, but I couldn't help wondering. Why are you tossing those people aside instead of flinging them into the Fires of Hell with the others?"
"Oh those . . " Satan groaned. "They're all from Ohio. They're still too cold and wet to burn."

I'm sure if you ride, you can especially relate.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Stealing a Win in Steel City

Congrats to Chris B. for SBR's first road win of the year at the Steel City Showdown. I could point out that he had to go to that pathetic place called Pittsburgh to find a field crippled enough to beat. And that the price of a victory in a bike race on the most sacred of Christian holidays is eternal damnation. (Double up on the water bottles, CB). And that I'm jealous. But I won't.

- JN

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mini-Malabar for a Maxi (weight) Rider

Some of the East Side's big engines, the relative beasts who sometimes kindly wait up when I get dropped on climbs, were heading out this evening for some serious hill hammering to prep for one of NEO's hardest races, Saturday's Tour of Malabar Farms.
I knew, and they knew, that I wasn't really invited to this evening's throw-down. Nobody has to be that blunt with me. I can't climb with the Cat 3s and should-be 3s who were going to go beat the crap out of themselves. I can't even climb with the good-climbing 5s. We all know this. So there was only a brief bit of awkwardness Tuesday night when Dave said to me, "See ya tomorrow night?" and it became clear I didn't know what he was talking about because I was carefully not invited. Thom fumbled for a second before telling me what was up, with a subtle but polite warning: "Uh, it's going to be fast. It's going to be hard."
Enough said.
I might eventually get back to good crit form this year. But I doubt I'll ever be a climber in this lifetime.
Nonetheless, I decided to go off and do my own mini-Malabar on a long lunch hour.
I have on many occasions ridden down Gorge Parkway thorugh the Bedford Reservation, but never up it. It always seemed intimidatingly steep. So it struck me today as a good place to go punish myself for not being worthy of chasing Dave, Pete, Thom and Ray up and down the Chagrin River valley.
I drove out to the Canal Visitor Center in Independence and rode over to the bottom of the gorge, then up the parkway. It was a strain because I wasn't really warmed up, but I found a steady rhythm up the steepest grade (which, I was surprised to discover, was only about 1/2 mile long). Then I barrelled up and down the few miles of rollers to the golf course at the top, at Hawthorn Parkway.
There I doubled back over the rollers but hung a left before the plunge, onto Overlook. That brought more rollers until Egbert, where the road dropped downhill to Dunham.
There I turned around again, back up to Overlook and then back to Gorge Parkway. That steep drop seemed a bit less steep now, having gone up it; I barely touched the brakes on the dive back down to Dunham.
It was getting close to time to head back, but I'd only ridden about 15 miles. So I turned left and headed south up the hill on Dunham for a mile or so until I saw six deer staring at me; I u-turned to chase after them, then rolled on back to Tinkers Creek and back to the visitor center.
I was about to stop there when I saw another hill on the other side of the railroad tracks, which is Hillside Rd. It is a wall - only about 2/10ths of a mile, but straight up for half of that, then there's maybe 50 yards of rest before a steep switchback. Then there's a mile or so of false flat; I saw a stoplight and wondered what road it was, so I kept going until I confirmed it was Brecksville Rd. at the top.
From there I turned around and headed back to the start at the visitor center. But the CuyValley train was parked across Hillside and cars were backed up. So I turned around and started up that short, steep grade again. Halfway up, the train started to roll, so I turned around.
I wasn't blowing myself up trying to hang with the Cat 3's -- I think my average was a mere 16 mph. And it was only 20 miles. But close to half of that was uphill. That makes for a good little workout. For me, anyway.
Oh, and it was enough to drive home that I'm not about to go spend $25 to get dropped a few miles into the Malabar Farms race on Saturday. Good luck, team!

- JN

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I Am Nothing

1) In the incestuous little circle of bike bloggers in this area, it's usually not necessary to link to another blog, because most of us seem to read the same ones anyway. Having said that, I still want to steer you to this particularly insightful post. My friend Dave nails it, with understated yet razor-sharp wit. Unfortunately, he predicts, and mocks, my excuse for my inevitable shitty season -- that I'm "targeting" the late-season races -- before I ever even got to dust it off. Now I have to think of something new. I'm, uh ... racing in New Zealand next winter and I'm just building base miles now. How's that?

2) The San Fran Chronicle published a story on Friday that, along with its 400+ reader comments, is kind of worth reading, especially for us cyclists. No need for me to rehash it. But I would point out that the comments ought to give us pause. I'm on record as being opposed not only to special infrastructure for bikes but also opposed to the elitist self-righteousness that cyclists spew. Yes, you have the right of way over vehicles overtaking you, and no, you are not obligated to ride in the gutter. But you are nothing more than the driver of a vehicle -- a small and vulnerable one. Don't do stupid shit. Don't antagonize motorists. And above all, don't make me and the rest of the cycling world look like assholes. If everyone who rides a bike would share the road as considerately as possible, the flak we catch from drivers would plummet.

3) One of my anonymous un-fans from Jamestown, N.Y. (coincidentally, home of the pro-Landis/anti-JimmyNick website called Trust But Verify) ripped into me the other day, telling me to "get over [my]self" and adding that I'm "less than noticeable in the 'blogosphere'."
I get the first part, which isn't all that unfair.
But as for the remark on my status in the blogosphere: Is that a compliment or a rip?
Help me out.

4) Looking forward to reading "Roadie: The Misunderstood World of the Bike Racer." That world is particularly misunderstood by people who think I represent it ...

- JN

Friday, March 21, 2008

Flogging my Blog

It's been a pretty overwhelming week for me, and not just because I spent much of it in bed recovering from the flu.

Consider these two developments:

First, I discovered Paris Hilton is family.

Then, only a day later, I stumbled into a way to take this pathetic little blog global. I'll share the secret: Say something snide about Floyd Landis, so that his cyber-soigneurs take offense and call you out in a way that tittilates people from around the globe to see what you said.

They're two Holy Week gifts from God.

And I don't have the slightest clue what to do with either one.

The Landis quip, and Trust But Verify's link to it, got me more hits in a day than I'd had in the previous week or so, and they still keep banging in days later -- visitors from all over the U.S. and from foreign lands where hardly anyone speaks English, such as Germany and California.

I know this because I have a little gizmo on my website called Sitemeter, which not only counts my visitors, but tells me a little bit about them -- where they are, for instance, and what site referred them to mine. Usually, the Sitemeter shows me hitting my own site 13 times a day (I used to "hit my own site 13 times a day" when I was a lot younger, but in a different way) so that I can artificially inflate the web counter and leave phony comments that make other visitors -- both of them -- think my site is popular. But suddenly, the meter showed visitors dropping in from all over.

Which is exactly what I'm afraid will happen now that it's been made public that Paris and I are related. She has to know by now. And what timing: It's Easter weekend, and she probably has nowhere else to go -- so few real friends, and the rest of the family considers her a pariah. So I would not be surprised if she drops by on Sunday -- with about a million paparazzi in tow.

Like the Landis-related attention to my blog, this kind of visit would just be something for which I'm completely unprepared. And that bothers me. I need to think about ways to exploit this nexis of the naughty.

And I think I might have it. Look for a link on my blog to this video soon - if I can get a couple bucks per click, Snake Bite Racing might be riding some new Cervelos, pronto!

VOICEOVER: "When Floyd Landis needed to ride hard into Paris, he knew where to turn."

HILTON: "Floyd chooses Testoderm (R) brand patches. And I'm glaaaaad he does."

VOICEOVER: "Testoderm. When you need help climbing your own private mountains."

- JN

P.S.: Let's try this again: Floyd Landis! Floyd Landis! Floyd Landis! Cheater Cheater Cheater! (Now the Blogger server is gonna crash!)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Share the Road (and my high opinion of myself)

By Dallas Murphy

It has happened again. Sadly, it is no longer surprising.

Yet another cyclist has gotten punched in the face and thrown off a bridge by a 6-foot-4, heavyset Maori. This time it was a 63-year-old woman in Auckland, New Zealand.

But it could have been one of us, any of us, anywhere. It may have already been you. Or me. It has become all too common. The March 9 attack was at least the third time a Maori man has attacked a cyclist since January -- and that is in New Zealand alone!

Who among us who rides regularly hasn't come across a Maori warrior who has tried to hurl us from a bridge? How many times must we hear Tā moko-adorned 300-pound men say, "He came out of nowhere!" when police ask them why they toss bike riders into the water?

How many more times indeed? Give me a couple days with Google and let me go far enough back into the past and far enough afield, and I can undoubtedly string together maybe half a dozen barely connected conflicts involving cyclists and Maori, or other Polynesian aboriginals, in New Zealand, Australia and across the South Pacific. Then I, as a cyclist, will indulge myself in some logical fallacies and flights of fancy to lace together those tenuous commonalities, and extrapolate from them an ominous, oppressive and generalized specter that supposedly applies universally.

Having thus inflamed my grossly overblown sense of persecution, I'll puff myself up in outlandishly outrageous and indignant harrumphing and demand that the whole Polynesian world be subjugated until it begins to see me as I see myself: messianic, blessed and just plain better.

Yes, give me enough time and I will dredge up the anecdotal shenanigans to build any case I choose in favor of my fragile yet innately resplendent existence as a bike rider. I will then damn you all even as I hurtle up alongside a line of stopped traffic and get slammed by a right-turning curb-lane car whose driver really had no legitimate reason to look for a cyclist where no cyclist should have fucking been in the first place. I will scream until society commits virtually unlimited resources to building bike lanes (through communities where children suffer and die from an epidemic of lead poisoning because we haven't provided the resources to abate it). I will not rest until Maori and their smog-belching autos are forced from the roads -- or at least forced into the gutter as we sanctimonious cyclists pass, slurping a Starbucks and pulling a Clif bar from our messenger bags.

However, I have to admit: I don't really have time for all that damn Google work right now. I have to drill out my new bar tape to shave a few grams and file down all the links in my new chain.

After all, the Covered Bridge series is coming up. And to you Maori in Summit County: Share the bridge.

Test Those Jelly Beans First

My kids and I are getting so excited! Only five more days 'til the Floyd Landis Is Innocent Bunny comes to our house! (Shh! They still believe!)

Monday, March 17, 2008

NOT the Pride of Erin

On a March 17 night two or three years ago, as my wife, the babies and I drove home from a friend's party in Lakewood, my 2-year-old suddenly got way, way too much into the spirit of things by puking in the car. A lot.

"Welcome to St. Patrick's Day," I grumbled. "There will probably be many more of these for you when you get older."

Aye. On this particular St. Patrick's Day, sickness is nigh again. I feel I'm spinning and need to just double over and purge myself of the poison that poured into my body this evening.

Don't get me wrong: I don't drink anymore.

This is worse -- worse than the nausea that rises after 11 hours of downing shots of Jameson's with pints of warm, flat (and grossly under-malted) Guinness to blunt the despair you feel when even drunken girls won't heed your "Kiss Me, I'm Irish!" button.

Hold on ...
(Raaaauuughhhh ... fluuuuussssssshhhhh. Cough cough ...)


Maybe if I explain, I can quell the hurl.

See, a lad named Peter Callahan, from the County Sligo town of Gurteen, came to the States in 1863 with his wife, Margaret.

Peter Callahan is my great-great grandfather. Also along with Peter on that trip 'cross the pond was his brother Cornelias.

Which leads me to what is churning my stomach like hill repeats after cabbage-and-cheese soup and a glass o' whiskey:

Great-great Uncle Cornelias, I discovered a couple hours ago, has a certain great-great-granddaughter who's not a cyclist but knows all about crank stiffness and having her hands deep in the drops. Cycling must be in her blood, because her mom is a hell of a climber.

Cornelias' spawn -- my cuzz -- is Paris Hilton.

And I shudder to admit it, but the mite who did all that barfing in my back seat bears some likeness ...

Augh. I'm going back to the drink.

- JN

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Warning: Graphic Content Below!

If I could, I'd send a truckload of roses to the Florida Senate in Tallahassee.

The members of the Sunshine State's upper chamber are considering outlawing those idiotic saggy pants that hang halfway, or all the way, down the asses of young men, exposing their boxers and butts. The punishment for wearing them to school: suspension.

Hear hear. Long overdue. The only bad thing I hear about this bill is that it lacks corporal punishment for offenders.

Who says Florida is the CDC biohazard dumpster of the states, a backwater filled with mouth breathers, political Cro-Magnons, well-paid college football players and environment rapists? (Well, pretty much everyone, come to think of it -- except one of the 7 or 22 guys named Chris who ride with the Heightsriders group.)

But if Florida can produce something this enlightened, it should embolden all of us to engage ourselves civically and stand up against the assaults on our senses. Personally, I'm not just moved -- I'm inspired.

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to start a grass-roots campaign (I might even recruit a judge or some other unsavory politician for some up-front heft) to target things here that are just as insidious as those prison-inspired droopy drawers. Just a few things worth outlawing:

1) Hair protruding from any opening on a T-shirt or jersey.

2) Cycling shorts that say "Park Tool" on the rear, as though it were an invitation.

3) This:

4) or this:







6) And this jackass, of course, could be shot on sight:

The cleanup would even be easy: With his hematocrit count, his blood would spill like toothpaste.

- JN

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Toward a More Bike-Friendly Cleveland?

Years ago, my wife and I were enjoying dinner at Luchita's on a night slow enough for leisurely conversation with our Mexican-American server.

Somehow -- I don't remember how --the topic turned to the local "Hispanic community" or, as she put it, the myth of an Hispanic community. Cleveland's Hispanics are many communities, and generally don't have a heck of a lot in common, she said. Nor do they necessarily hold one another in equal regard, or in high esteem. They're fractured and fragmented, and sharply divided politically.

A Puerto Rican co-worker later said pretty much the same thing.

That's not exactly surprising, I guess (although the slurs and stereotypes they used toward one another were). People -- just about all people -- are innately tribal.

But that fragmentation and disdain does help to explain why, after all these years, Hispanics have no collective voice and disproportionately little political clout here in Cleveland.
Which brings me around to cyclists.

It's pretty safe to say that anyone who believes in the myth of a "cycling community" isn't a cyclist. Cyclists, too, are fractured into many different groups: roadie racers, fast recreational riders, tourists, mountain bikers, the fixie sect, the strident car-haters, the every-third-weekend bike-path pedalers, etc.

There certainly is some overlap among them: Some roadies commute, and MTB riders ride road bikes, and I've heard rumors that there is at least one bike messenger who actually doesn't sneer in contempt at the rest of the cycling "establishment."

But the only time I'm aware of that representatives of most of those groups get together is for the annual MS-150 Pedal to the Point.

That's because these subsets generally have little in common beyond our affinity for bikes. And the truth is, there's a lot of eye-rolling and even downright hostility toward one another. I certainly plead guilty.

Nonetheless, lot of devoted and well-intended cycling activists are celebrating NOACA's decree on Friday that it promises to work toward a more bike-friendly region.

NOACA is the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, which is a planning board that is supposed to prioritize federal transportation funding. Theoretically, if it wants to, NOACA can put some serious muscle behind the push for more funding for bike lanes, bike paths and more by pressuring, or even compelling, communities to build them if they want money for roads.

And in another symbolic development, a bunch of local cycling advocates under the leadership of Cleveland Bikes is planning a week of bike-focused events in May, which is National Bike Month. Among them: Bike to Work Week, a "Discover Mountain Biking" day at the new Metroparks Canal Corridor Reservation, a "Bike to the Movies" event, "Celebration of Bikes" at Cleveland City Hall, etc.

Both are great in their intended symbolism, and any sign of growth in bike-riding locally is a good thing.

But both the NOACA document and the ClevelandBikes plans underscore the divisions among cyclists at least as much as they nurture some sort of bike community.

For instance, a whole lot of cyclists would argue that the more the region encourages bike paths and bike lanes, the worse it is for cyclists. Right now, with that kind of infrastructure in preciously short supply, newbies are afraid to saddle up and share the road, which is understandable. But if we want to build a cycling-friendly community, we need to be very careful about building it on the needs and priorities of people who ride only occasionally.

Consider this: The closer a cyclist is to a bike path, the greater the likelihood of motorists being assholes. Drivers willingly share the road on Chester or Detroit avenues (at least during non-peak times), usually without so much as a honk. But try riding through the Rocky River reservation on the road; it is all but certain that a cyclist will get honked at or cut off about 90% of the time by people yelling, "Use the bike path!"

That, I'm sure, is what those of us who ride downtown from the East Side can expect more of when the bike lanes open on Euclid. That will be great for anyone who wants to wobble along on her hybrid or his beach cruiser once a month. Not so great for the rest of us: Bike lanes and bike paths doom us to bike ghettos -- unswept, debris-covered, low-speed alleyways, and when we have the audacity to leave them, we get cursed.

That's no way to create a bike community.

Neither is pretending to be one in spirit and body with people who ride bikes like asses. I do not want to embrace reckless riders who cut in and out of traffic, jump from sidewalk to street and zip up between cars or on their right when there's a line of traffic at a stoplight.

I'd rather take the millions of dollars that stand to be spent on fatuousness such as those two silly towpath-trail bridges and use it for practical things: a prolonged, intense multimedia campaign promoting the "Share the Road" message; training for novice cyclists and commuters; training for POLICE and prosecutors; and maybe even a program to pay bike-commute leaders. And I'd use some of it for a concerted enforcement campaign -- cracking down on hostile motorists AND on bike anarchists who give all the rest of us a really, really bad image.

That would accomplish more in a short period of time than all of the resolutions and events and bike ghettos could.

- JN

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

TV Hates Bikes -- And Now It's Payback Time

So "The Wire" is gone and I never saw it. No HBO.

"The Wire," I've read, had widely been called the best show on TV, and some critics went so far as to claim it was the best show in the history of TV. That, my friends, has to be hyperbole given that the medium has produced 19 Action News, "Joanie Loves Chachi," "Room 222" and the memorable private-eye saga "Barnaby Jones."

(Here's a barroom argument for ya, by the way: Who was the better shot -- Barnaby Jones or rotund but deadly Frank Cannon? I once seen ol' Barnaby shoot a guy off the top of a 4-story parking deck, with a snub-nosed .38, from the goddamn hip! That was some fancy shootin'. Hard to top.)

Tell 'em Barnaby says ... "You're dead, bitch!"

But for the hell of it, I'll grant the premise that "The Wire" really was the best show on TV. So why was it canceled?

I'll tell you why: It's a sign of a groundswell of public indignity that the evil mainstream media has still not picked up on -- er, up on which the mainstream media still has not yet picked.

So let me spell it out for them:

The public has quietly, but inarguably, been getting increasingly disgusted with the persistent anti-bike bias in Hollywood.

Look at the evidence of the grassroots uprising -- it's inescapable. "George Lopez" -- no bike themes, cancelled. "King of Queens"? No bikes, no renewal. Ditto for "Reba" and "Studio 60 on Sunset Strip."
America, it seems, is staging a silent protest with its collective remote control.

We needn't go back very far in history to remember a time when bikism was rampant on television -- so omnipresent that it was taken for granted. Little more than a generation ago, people thought it was hilarious that Lucille Ball rode no bikes and had no bike-riding friends. It was OK to openly not care about cyclists then.

When bike riders did appear on TV, they were characters to be mocked and scorned, such as evil villain Eddie Haskell on "Leave It to Beaver." (Ironically, Haskell became a bike cop in L.A. before he died in Viet Nam when he stepped on an explosive booby trap packed with headset bearings -- no lie!)

Some people thought times were changing with the civil-rights movement, but there was little progress on the screen. People still called cyclists "bikers" without a hint of shame.

Even "Starsky and Hutch," the show most renowned today for its fearless and groundbreaking social relevence, reportedly caved in amid an undercurrent of bikism. According to Wikipedia and other infallable sources, visionary writer/creator William Blinn originally planned to depict pivotal character Huggy Bear as an African-American bike messenger and friend of crime fighters. But activists went ballistic during those racially tense times, threatening a boycott if ABC didn't head off the pejorative portrayal of a black man as a cyclist. ABC mollified the potential protesters by redrawing Huggy Bear's character as a flashy, jive-talking, snitching pimp who sold out friends each week for a $20 bill.

Historical note: The experience embittered Blinn, who persisted in trying to inject cycling themes into his scripts. Eventually, he drew upon his experience as the writer of "Brian's Song" and tried to break down the bike barrier with maudlin sentimentality. Late in the show's run, he penned an episode in which Hutch helps Starsky, brain-damaged from a gunshot wound, rediscover the joy of life through the poignant and symbolic gift of a hand job on a bike.

"C'mon buddy -- there's still muggers to catch!"

However, ABC cancelled the series before the episode aired.)

Each time progressives thought the tide might turn, Hollywood and the networks squashed the normalization of cycling. Lawsuits ensued, but invariably they failed as courts held that plaintiffs failed to establish that any bias against bikes was intentional.

However, the legal tide is turning in concert with -- or perhaps because of -- the grassroots hostility toward bike bias.

In the landmark lawsuit Orehek v. NBC et al., attorney D. Steiner and other legal intellectuals advanced the proposition that they need not prove discriminatory intent to prevail. Instead, they claimed -- and a trial court in Los Angeles held -- that under the so-called disparate impact theory, the statistically demonstrable lack of bike-themed programs establishes discrimination via a pattern of facts that “are facially neutral in their treatment of different groups but that in fact fall more harshly on one group -- bike riders -- than another and cannot be justified by business necessity.”

So everyone gets the picture now. Everyone, that is, except HBO, NBC, ABC and etc.

But here's my prediction: Whether it's because of the coming popular revolt against bikism or a court-imposed woodshed session, the tide will have turned completely by next season. In fact, word is that , if "American Idol" contestants aren't riding bikes while they sing, that show will be as doomed as "The Wire" and Fox will be cooking up a show about security guards at Interbike.

- JN

Monday, March 10, 2008

The so-called "Criterium" International: A LIE!

All that good Karma from this morning is blown, and now I'm pissed.


I just found out the Criterium International isn't really a crit at all! And they don't let Cat 4's in!

Shit ... in ... my ... cereal. That was my "A" race.

Now I'm totally confused. If a criterium isn't a criterium, then what else is a lie in European racing? Are their quote-unquote time trials really stage races? Are their "stage races" actually Madisons?

Yet another reason to hate those Eurotrash commies.

- JN

Back on the road!

It is a happy day!
For the first time in days, I got to ride outside. It was only about 8 miles to work. But it clears my head and lifts my mood. I feel energized.
It also reinforces my conviction that Cleveland drivers are getting more considerate toward cyclists with every passing year. It seems to not matter anymore how crappy the driving gets, or how narrow the semi-plowed lanes are -- people give room, and almost always without begrudging.
One car tooted a horn at me. And he gave me a wide berth as he passed. Not sure why he honked -- he didn't explain himself when I rode up alongside him at the next stoplight.
But I didn't yell at him or glare, either. Not sure what the point is in that.
Consider: Probably a couple hundred cars passed me on my 30-minute commute. One honked. So roughly 99.5% of all the motorists out there shared the road willingly at best, and without complaint at a minimum. That is a pretty darn good rate.
And it's usually even better: The days I even get honked at are few and far between.
Right now, the snow continues to melt and I might stretch the ride home out by 30 or 45 extra minutes. And it'll be in broad daylight!
The cloud has, for now, lifted.

- JN

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Oh God. I Just Remembered: We DO suck.

Quick -- somebody please remind me why I live in Cleveland. Please point out enough great things about it to chase away the pervasive funk that sets in every time I go to just about any other major city (except Detroit) and see beauty and vitality that isn't even conceivable here.

I need your help.

It's not like I just got back from San Diego or San Antonio. No, I only went to Cincinnati -- the place that, only a few days ago, an acquaintance was trashing.

I hadn't been there in 10 years or so, and the few times I'd visited, I didn't see a whole lot of the town. I didn't this time, either, so I can't say whether it is as bad a place to live as my cycling buddy made it out to be.

But I saw enough to remind me that other cities have vast swaths of livability within their city limits -- trendy neighborhoods and tony neighborhoods and nice walkable neighborhoods with shops, restaurants, galleries and things to do, and people who actually live in them and talk to each other.

You know -- the kind of neighborhoods that do not exist anywhere within Cleveland's city limits.

I'm not talking about three-block-long stretches like Larchmere or Clifton Boulevard. I'm talking about square miles of niceness -- anything that can compare, for example, to Cincinnati's Hyde Park/Oakley area. Or Mount Adams. Or Mount Lookout. Or ...

Here's what I saw while eating dinner for an hour at a super little Oakley Square restaurant on Madison Avenue at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night: At least 50 joggers. Several packs of cyclists (yes, Cleveland -- cyclists, at night!) and people strolling and dog-walking. Then I went over to Hyde Park Square and saw what appeared to be well-to-do people enjoying themselves -- in the city! These were neighborhoods that don't need to be gentrified because they never fell into disrepair in the first place, where even the rental properties are well maintained.

Then today, I spent several hours along Madison and down at the University of Cincinnati and in Clifton and Over-the-Rhine and a few other areas of town. Not surprisingly, much of what I saw around and downhill from UC could only be described as desolation. But at least as much of the city looked like someplace I'd like to live, and even more of it looked like a nice place to visit.

Then I returned to Cleveland, where the only neighborhoods with well-kept housing stock -- West Park and South Hills -- are pretty low on cool quotient and held together largely by the residency restriction applying to city cops, firefighters and other employees. The retail comprises Giant Eagles and hardware stores, Dollar Generals and Convenient Food Marts. The restaurant scene is pretty much wings or a burger at an Irish-named bar with seven TVs, a video golf game and a jukebox filled with Pink Floyd, Bad Company and Todd f--king Rundgren.

Oh, Cleveland does have Shaker Square -- for the moment. Yes, Shaker Square, which is now anchored by a goddamn CVS pharmacy. I go to the square pretty often, for coffee or ice cream. There's not much else to go for, though. Luchita's is gone. Joseph Beth Booksellers and Wild Oats are long gone. Just about every bit of retail is gone, in fact, except for a toy store and a wine shop. They were there last I checked, anyway.

Retail is gone, but thuggery isn't. In fact, it's thriving. Sit around Shaker Square for long enough and you're sure to see some roving thug or band of thugs saunter in to drop F-bombs or harass outdoor diners for laughs. Is it any wonder that local hotels advise visitors not to go there?

I suppose we have Little Italy. As a neighborhood, it's 300 yards long and 200 yards wide, and its housing stock looks like something out of a West Virginia mine town after the mine closed. But the amenities of its two main streets make Little Italy a nice place to visit -- if you can find a place to park. And if you're white.

But what about West 25th Street, or Tremont? Sorry. Anyone who considers those to be neighborhoods either spends little time there or else has never seen a real neighborhood. Move a block or two away from the popular streets and things start getting ... edgy. Bands of cyclists? Nah. Attractive young women out for a jog? Riiight. Maybe for a sprint -- from the front door of a restaurant to a car. The new "New Urban" townhouses look like an empty movie set: No one ever sits outdoors. Maybe it's because they are uncomfortable being panhandled or offered drugs. Maybe it's because lots of the more-established locals don't appreciate the gentrification agenda or the folks they call "yuppies" and challenge to fight.

We hear from time to time about the boom of thousands of residents in the Gateway neighborhood and the Warehouse District. But those places are fortresses -- living spaces that, ironically, are detached from the streets that surround them. Lunchtime and early-dinner crowds of lawyers and bankers support the restaurants. Then, if there is no sporting event, the streets and alleys around Gateway are abandoned to those who tinge them with urine. The Warehouse District becomes the nouveaux Flats almost every night of the week except Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. All the rest of the nights of the week, it teems with the tanning-booth crowd swarming from Strongsville, Beachwood and Eastlake in search of "Tequila Bombs" and carnal knowledge.

Sure, we have Lee Road, Coventry and Cedar-Fairmount in Cleveland Heights. Both -- especially the former -- are thriving, somewhat diverse economically and racially, and are walkable and reasonably safe. Cedar-Lee is even a destination for people from all over the area.

But they're in a suburb, not in the city. And they are in one of the very few decent suburbs Cleveland has.

For Heaven's sake, Cleveland must be the only major city in the U.S. that has a world-class university surrounded by world-class cultural institutions but no culture -- or a culture of nothingness. From a daily-living standpoint, there is hardly any more that is cool around Case than there is around Hiram College, which probably makes for a perfect learning atmosphere because what the hell else is there to do but look at books? I'm sure the reason China and India seem to account for 96.7% of the CWRU student body is that they're the only places left that haven't figured out yet that college isn't exclusively about book-learning and that it can, in fact, be more fun than entering a convent or a prison. That is why semi-normal Case students (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) live in Cleveland Heights.

Speaking of colleges: Don't even get me started on Cleveland State ... not after I just came from UC's campus.

Yes, when you have just returned from somwhere else, Cleveland is depressing.

But don't get your hopes up -- I'm not moving to Cincinnati. I don't think I could live in any city that names a major expressway after Ronald Reagan.

I'm not moving to Portland or Minneapolis or Austin or San Antonio or Raleigh either.

No, I'll stay here.

After all, we have ... uh, the Cleveland Orchestra ... and Steelyard Commons!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I've figured out why Cuyahoga County just can't seem to get its election results tabulated in the same week in which votes were cast. Seems Tym Tyler is running the show.