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Contemporary Creative Nonfiction

“That’s the thing about this city. People can’t seem to forget our past, even though what happened here was decades ago. 1969 to be exact. Has everyone forgotten we’ve had three championship teams representing our community?” Julie scowled, taking a considerable bite out of her sandwich. The southwestern spice from her burger burned gently as she washed it down with a Mexican Coke. Julie and fellow coworker, Lucy, sat in the corner table at Wahlburgers restaurant in the heart of downtown on their lunch break. 

“What do they call you guys again?” Lucy asked, nibbling on a truffle fry. Lucy was clearly not from the area. She and her husband had migrated from a small city in upper Michigan a few years back, but somehow, even with their differences she and Julie became instant friends. Why she would come to Ohio in the first place was a mystery to everyone. 

Julie rolled her eyes and licked her fingers. “They call us ‘The Mistake on the Lake’, a nickname we’d rather not remember. Unfortunately, it has stuck nonetheless.” Julie heaved a big sigh, begrudgingly bringing up the past. “In 1969, Cleveland experienced an unbelievable phenomenon,” she paused for dramatic effect. “Our river caught on fire.” She shook her head in disgust. “Yes, our water caught on fire.”

Lucy laughed. It wasn’t everyday you heard water catching on fire. “Okay, okay,” she tried to control herself. “You said three championship teams? You know you can’t count your precious Ohio State Buckeyes. They aren’t in Cleveland.” 

Julie grabbed a tater tot before indulging Lucy’s inquiry of her hometown. “Well, we have our beloved Cleveland Indians who have clinched the American League title more than once and also made it to the world series.” She popped another tot. 

“Then we have our AHL Cleveland Monsters hockey team who won the Calder Cup in 2016. And,” she dramatically pointed at Lucy, “that same year the Cavs took the NBA championships for the first time in franchise history.” She sat back in her chair, satisfied with several viable reasons her city was so great.

“Whoa,” Lucy exaggerated, hands up and waving her white napkin in surrender. “I didn’t know you were such a sports nut.”

Julie, feeling a bit triumphant about her knowledge of all things Cleveland, smiled and nodded. “And that’s not all,” she leaned forward and started again.

“Oh please,” Lucy chuckled. “Everyone knows the Browns are not championship material...”

“Hey, now. Bite your tongue,” Julie snapped. “We are all hard core Browns fans here - win or lose.”

“Fine, I’ll give you that. What else makes your city so great then?” Lucy picked up her milkshake and took a long draw.

“Well, for starters we have Lake View Cemetery where several icons are buried, like Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, President James A. Garfield, Public Safety Director Eliot Ness, founder of Sherwin-Williams Henry Sherwin, Indians shortstop Ray Chapman, traffic light inventor Garrett Morgan, Cleveland Orchestra founder Adella Hughes, and Browns owner Al Lerner to name a few.”

“My word, girl,” Lucy exclaimed. “What are you, the local town historian?”

“Listen, I’m not saying we’re perfect here.” Julie thought for a moment. “But we have had several production crews filming in our city. Most recently, one of the Marvel movies was shot right downtown.”

“Meh,” Lucy said as she shrugged her shoulders. “New York and California can say that ten times over. They are built for movies and television shows.”

“True, but who can argue with the classic, A Christmas Story. It was also shot right here. You can even rent the house for the night.”

Lucy’s eyebrows raised. Perhaps Julie was winning her over. 

Julie’s wheels were turning, bound and determined to show Lucy all the good that has come from Cleveland.

“Ever heard of Michael Stanley?” Julie asked, wiping her face on her napkin. 

“Of course!” Lucy smiled before realizing where Julie was headed with that question. “Let me guess, he was from here as well?”

“Yup,” Julie smiled proudly. “And you can’t forget we are home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Definitely a place to check out if you haven’t yet,” Julie plugged. “We also have another famous Michael. How about Michael Symon?”

“Seriously? The chef? I love his restaurants! He has the best laugh!” Lucy was genuinely shocked by this culinary revelation. 

“Mabel’s BBQ is right down the street and if you are ever watching one of our wonderful championship teams inside the Fieldhouse you’ll be able to try Bar Symon.” Julie piled all her empty wrappers on her tray. 

“Someday," she continued, "I’ll take you to Playhouse Square. We have the best off-Broadway plays in the area. I’ve seen all different kinds, from Dirty Dancing to The King and I. My family goes every year to the Hanna Theater for my birthday to see a murder mystery like Agatha Christie or Misery. You can sit so close to the actors you can feel their spit.”

“Ew!” Lucy cringed. “I think I’ll sit a few rows back.”

Checking her watch, Julie added, “And hopefully you never need it, but we do have the world famous Cleveland Clinic down the road. We have had famous people from all over the country come here for medical attention. Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of our most recent personalities to grace the hospital.” 

“What about Sam Sheppard?” Lucy asked out of the blue. 

Julie cocked her head and asked, “How did you know about him?”

“Easy, my mom loved the movie, The Fugitive. She always told me it was loosely based on the Sam Sheppard case that took place near here back in the '50's."

“You’re right. Again, not one of our brightest memories but one that has made its mark.” Julie got up to throw her trash away and came back to grab her Coke. The girls headed out the door and started their way back to work.

“Did you know we have a millionaires row?”

“Here? In downtown?” Lucy asked.

“Granted, many of the houses have sadly been demolished, but we do have a few left. Innovative families such as John D. Rockefeller and Francis Drury lived here and helped form our industrial city.” 

“It sounds like I have a lot to see here,” Lucy remarked as they entered their building. 

Julie smiled. “And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Talking about her city brought Julie such a sense of joy. There were so many positive attributes Cleveland had to offer, but unfortunately so many people focused on the negative. That is probably true in many cities across our great country. There is always going to be a little good mixed with the bad. Truthfully, you can apply that in all aspects of life. The trick is knowing how to find the good and be grateful you have the freedoms to enjoy all those wonderful things in life.

March 17, 2021 00:20

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