by Dan McKeown
sf3am.com

downtown Cleveland

01

If you bike north out of Cove Avenue in Lakewood and turn left onto Detroit Avenue where it hits a T and you go down past the shuttered shops by the shuttered pasta house with the spaghetti sign 🍝 that served as the local headquarters for both the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns (and sat vacant the whole time inbetween) right across the street from the rock music club where metalhead gangs like to brawl with bottles and knives in the adjacent parking lot and if you keep biking across West 117th and into the city of Cleveland, and as you'd pass the Pizza Hut and the creaky apartment buildings and the ancient fur store with the dated yellowing posters on the interior walls which is never open but maybe never totally closed and the maudlin wine bar with its trends-hungry patrons convinced that things are different between 97th and 75th and along past the institutional buildings on the right and the wooded roadside on the left too overgrown to obviously reveal the emerging RTA train line 🚋 about to track through the west side station.

As this journey reaches the underpass that reveals the transit center on the left, on the right side at a distance just beyond (due to it sitting on the far side of the asymmetric curving of the serpentine West Side Boulevard) is the park (known as Cuddell Recreation Center) where Cleveland police rolled up and shot 12 year old Tamir Rice in 2014. This was my cycling route into downtown. And we're not even halfway there.

Where West Boulevard takes a snake-turn and joins Detroit Avenue it comes from the north where just a handful of blocks hence the lake hits the saddle point known as Edgewater Park, bordered to the north by its namesake neighborhood which features gorgeous houses along streets that, this being Cleveland, will in six months like all city neighborhoods be encrusted with layer after layer of hardened dirty snow--the city just can't handle basic services.

South on West Boulevard goes through neighborhoods that sit on a very Cleveland line between gritty and vibrant, and the road swerves 45 degrees at one point and bubbles almost up to the edge of W 105th St. (it's a very quirky intersection that I would pass often on my way to the house of a nearby drinking buddy and stopping there and seeing the streets meet the way they do, it's as though two towns accidentally overlap on one another.)

At this point West Boulevard has passed under I-90 as it cuts through Cuyahoga County, but a little further ahead it forks into two other streets. But if one takes the Jasper Road turn and then a series of others which have the curious effect, when taken together, of restoring the southerly direction as a crow would fly (as we say here in Seattle) and continuing on a road known as Tiedeman until we have crossed yet another interstate (I-480) on the right is the Cracker Barrel where a guy from nearby Strongsville left the restaurant to got the shotgun he kept in his car so he could murder his wife and daughters.

But if we are still up north, above all the interstates but definitely below the very edge of the water along the OH-2 where a thin couple-blocks line of gentrification is already being pioneered at 'Battery Park' or whatever they're calling that place now, with the emo wine bar and sand volleyball courts, well then we are around the area where an ad-hoc chalk bike lane was painted in early 2014 as the promises of the city to create a real bike 🚲 lane kept being pushed back further and further with the usual excuses being offered.

Cleveland is a city with a lot of heart, a lot of grit, and a real blue collar core. I lived there on the shores of Lake Erie from 2008 to 2014, marrying my wife at the Cleveland Botanical Garden in 2009. From the farmlands of Columbia Station to games featuring LeBron James at the Q arena downtown, we explored what amounts to a very historic and diverse urban area. Near the opening of my novel I puzzled over the true meaning of the oft-heard phrase "in Cleveland" in the American lexicon.

But its population is shrinking. That we moved west may have surprised no one, but that so many more pack up the cats and head for the South or out West or to New York is part of the city's mythology--but the last act of that myth of course, 'The Return' so effectively symbolized by the superstar James as he brings his money and experience back to northeast Ohio, also illustrates the city's clannish nature: they will wait for their own to return before looking to just recruit the top person they can find--from wherever. In that way Cleveland is quite different from the mega-cities, and perhaps not to its advantage. While The Return does happen quite often as Clevelanders (and Akroners) often long for the attractions of their hometown and the company of their family, infrastructure and education shortcomings along with slow economic growth make some people hesitant to move back, at least to the inner city.

02

The campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2016 pitted the older 'liberals' who were with Hillary Clinton and the younger 'progressives' who joined the wave of support for Bernie Sanders and exposed an already-growing fissure in just one part of the Democratic coalition.

While the concerns about some minority voters being lured by the social (or in some cases economic) conservatism of the Republican Party have largely proven to be overwrought (to me the Bush-era rhetoric about welcoming minorities always sounded like it was directed at white people) the generational fissure between Baby Boomer women and their daughters has been exposed during the campaign [as seen in the loopy comments that Gloria Steinem made about young women], foreshadowing a future challenge to the post-Clinton corporate orthodoxy of the Democratic Party.

How does this matter to the Republican National Convention about to be held at Cleveland's Q arena? It matters because the recklessness of the Republican Party has put them in this place--a low-hope candidate who doesn't seem to have much of a plan for after November whether he wins or loses, a reality which must cast an ominous shadow over the Trump Organization as much as the Republican Party as they contemplate not just losing again in 2016 but for the foreseeable future.

Factional Democratic Party politics could become the country's main national political theater, as the Republicans shrink through demography and desertion into another marginal, hateful rump party with loud racist jerk candidates like the Ukip party in Britain.

03

In the previous decade I was frequently on the Internet talking politics--after all, the country had been led into its worst foreign policy screwup in its history, and the unforced error of the Iraq invasion dealt damage to Middle East security and American "democracy" in perhaps equal measure.

Domestically the Bush administration was busy spying on Americans and trying to decimate all resistance to corporations under snake-terms like "ownership society."

So for thinking people it was pretty clear what needed opposing, if not what needed doing. Liberals, progressives and clear-thinking people could at least agree on opposition to the warmongering Bushies. Dim-witted authoritarian goons (a wide swath of America) made sure not only to fall in line with the blundering, but also to attack those in opposition as immoral and disloyal.

Two trends in the years since Bush left office have pushed reasonable debate to the very thin end of the wedge. First is the cult of language policing: while 'political correctness' is sometimes used by conservatives to mean 'decency,' what is truly disconcerting to free thinkers are the compulsory ways of speaking and thinking rolled out by often authoritarian 'liberals' like the nasty University of Missouri 'muscle' professor seeking to create a world where public places become "safe spaces" and the free use of speech and recording equipment is curbed.

The second trend is the endless desire (on the part of the media but also present in the hearts of many mushy 'independents') to elevate 'conservative' thought as a legitimate ideology and not a dying, hollow shell with ever-fewer voters presenting a thinly-veiled package of extreme big business proposals backed by racists and Upper East Side "conservative intellectuals" and big-biz-paid think tank "libertarians." Instead of realistically discussing politics within what will soon be the new left-leaning 40-yard lines--a lot of regulation to protect consumers, a lot of transfer payments for the disadvantaged, fairly high taxes for the rich but not for the poor, and a curb on reckless militarism--today many issues are argued as though they exist in the deep past. It's true that the country is changing faster than most people are ready for. But it's also true that overall trends are moving in a positive direction, except for those areas (infrastructure, poverty, justice) where the hollow and desiccated Reagan-Bush ideology has caused havoc.

The garbage nostalgia that has dominated American culture for at least a generation is slowly giving way to a more hopeful future. For the people who don't want to see that for whatever reason, I say let them hold their Edmund Burke plush doll and cry--just don't try to have a sane conversation with them any time soon.

04

Cleveland was looking to make noise on the national stage this year--but they already have now, with the Cavaliers team led by James and Kyrie Irving taking the city's first NBA championship just weeks ago. 🏀 The city erupted in celebration, but it was mostly a giddy, elated street party rather than the wanton destruction that many had feared. Clevelanders love their city and they were excited but respectful as they paid tribute to their sporting success.

What are the chances that the far-right fanatics gathering under the fascist banner of Donald Trump this month will have the same respect?

Whatever the out-of-town RNC guests think about the athletic brilliance that LeBron James has shown, they are likely to become quite disagreeable when they hear about his statements against gun violence.

05

Still a football town first, Cleveland has seen great difficulty in re-animating the Browns franchise after watching it disappear for half a decade in the late 1990s. Despite a year or two with winning records, the team has only ever reached the NFC playoffs once [a first-round loss to arch-rival Pittsburgh] since the franchise's revival in 1999. Seeing the team as a source of civic solidarity, locals continue to show fierce loyalty even as the losing continues as players and coaches come and go. So Republicans can learn a bit about losing year after year--something that will become inevitable as their voter base inexorably shrinks. But Clevelanders might want to think twice about wearing brown shirts around the Q this summer so as not to be confused with Trump supporters.