Crossing the Crooked River
The moment you start making binaries is the moment you start getting things wrong. The East Side might have the Orchestra and Playhouse Square, but the West Side has the Beck Center and the up-and-coming Cleveland Public Theatre. You’ll find just as many blue collar customs and attitudes in Lake County as in Lorain. You’ll find the same thing in Mayfield, but with more Italian-Americans. Rocky River wouldn’t be out of place on some New England gift shop postcard. Everything contains its opposite, and that’s especially true for the once-great, once-fallen, blue-and-white collar patch of Rust Belt we call home. If you’re going to let articles like this only confirm your assumptions about the other side of town, then we at Thrillist have failed to do our jobs.
We’ve come not to settle the rivalry, but to issue a directive, and it is this: cross the river. Go to that restaurant you’ve heard good things about in North Royalton. Plan an afternoon trip to Chagrin Falls. Visit Berea for some reason other than going to the airport. You will explore a new part of the place that you call home, and you might find that it’s worth the extra 15 minutes of your drive.
In Crooked River Burning, Winegardner has this to say about the Cuyahoga and the name of our city: "Cleave: ‘to sever.’ Cleave: ‘to join together.’ Cleave is its own antonym... the river doesn’t just divide. It also joins. All those bridges cleaving east to west. All those festivals and taverns, down by the river, places where people from east to west come together and play.”
Winegardner wrote these words in 2001, when The Flats as a happening spot was nothing but a fond memory, and it would be years before its resurrection began. Today, this symbol of our fractured unity doubles as a stand-in for the city’s renaissance. It gives us more of a reason to get together -- to go down to the river, if not to cross it -- than we’ve had in a long time.
Young people especially don’t need a passport to cross the river anymore. There are more of us living, or at least hanging out, on both sides of town. Artists and businesses are getting in on the action with projects that strive to bring East and West Siders together, whether on a bench or over some beers.
We in Cleveland love debating the rivalry, sometimes in ways that are downright laughable. It has been a constant through the city’s best and worst years. There is something damn near mythic about it: two warring tribes of people so similar, separated by a windy, crooked river that caught fire -- several times in the previous century. They share the same core values, but develop slightly different customs: one tribe worships at the temple of Honey Hut, the other at East Coast Custard; one catches its rays at Mentor Headlands, the other at Edgewater Park; one catches its indie features at Cedar Lee, the other at Capitol Theatre.
When the members grow brave enough to cross the river and interact with the separated tribesman, the differences feel huge. But only because they are magnified by the things held dear on both sides of the river: sports, of course, but also our world-class orchestra, internationally renowned hospitals, and our disdain for Parma (which, come on guys, let’s give it a rest already).
The Cuyahoga is a mirror, but a crooked one. On the other side, we see ourselves distorted. We need both parts to make the whole. And we can hope that the future will bring us more that will bring both sides together: performances and events in the new Public Square. Improved urban public schools. More championship rings.
Then, maybe everyone in our divided metropolitan area will live out the prophecy of Scott Raab: "They are no longer from Rocky River or Solon or Avon Lake or Chagrin Falls; every last mother’s son of them is proud to be from Cleveland, motherfucker. Cleveland."
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