Where We Went This Year! (22,000 miles of driving!)

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Cleveland, pt. 1 (Cleaveland? Cleavland? Cleevland?)

TRUE STORY: Moses Cleaveland, born in Connecticut, Yale graduate, soldier in the Revolutionary War, captain of the then-newly-formed Corps of Engineers, member of the Connecticut convention that ratified the US Constitution, shareholder in the Connecticut Land Company, founded this city on the banks of the Cuyahoga in 1796. Afterwards, he promptly turned around and went back home to Connecticut. He never, ever returned.

So you see, Cleveland was in fact founded as a place to be from, rather than a place to be. By 1820, 24 years later, the population tipped the scales at 150. Tourism was obviously one of its weaker industries.

ANOTHER TRUE STORY: Originally "Cleaveland" was spelled like the Land in which you Cleave things. As was its namesake. But in 1830, the first newspaper, the "Cleveland Advertiser," couldn't fit the extra "A" into the headline title, moveable type being what it was. So "Cleaveland" became "Cleveland."

Why it didn't become Cleavland or Cleevland or Claveland is a matter best left to personal speculation, but the new spelling was readily adopted by the "public." All 150 of them. Let's be generous - call it 175. But to go through the trouble of changing the name of a town for the sake of a newspaper readership of 175 seems like an odd business decision, one rivaled only by the notion of even starting a newspaper for 175 people, of whom probably only 30 could even read at all. But business acumen, like tourism, seems also to be a civic challenge.

Perhaps such a site was inevitably destined to be the City of Rock 'N Roll.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In we rolled to "The Forest City," "The Cleve," "The Land," "The Metropolis of the Western Reserve," "America's North Coast," and "C-Town" (hence the grocery store chain?), as it has variously been called, on a frigid, Minneapolisian night. It was a cold soon to thaw, soon again to descend, soon yet again to thaw, soon once more to ... you get the idea. We went from sweaters to shorts, back and forth, the whole time.

It was big city living, after our week in East Lansing. They had sidewalks. They had third floors. They had Subway. What more can a body ask for? And so we settled in for a two week visit, content to walk the streets that gave birth to the "Record Rendezvous," Leo Mintz's little shop specializing in "black music," later termed "race music," later termed "rhythm and blues." Alan Freed bet the bank on Leo's little record store with his Cleveland radio program "Moondog Rock'N'Roll Party," and one year later he capitalized on his corner of the market with the Moondog Coronation Ball, the first ever rock concert billed as such. And it was right here in Cleveland.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So we settled in for a two week visit. Two weeks of taking Tag down to the lakefront, to play Fetch The Green Bone. Two weeks of nightcaps from Danny, the bartender at the Wyndham Hotel, where we're staying, whose Hendrick's Gin martini was once touted by Richard Thomas himself as an exemplary example of the species (that being back when I toured here and stayed at the same hotel, and played at the same theater, the Palace, with TWELVE ANGRY MEN).

The last time we stayed here, however, there was a massive construction project going up and down all of Euclid Avenue, involving cement mixers, dump trucks, street-tearing-up machines, and much commotion all beginning at 7am. These being mortal enemies of all actors and other late-sleepers, we left Cleveland so much the blearier because of it; but I am here now to say that this massive construction project, this public transportation coup, this gem of general population locomotion, has finally been completed.

It's a bus lane.


Anyway, it was quieter downtown, to be sure. Dead quiet. Like the kind of quiet that makes you start listening for the "clink, clink, clink" of some gun-slingin' lone wolf, ready to stare down his adversary along the main drag only recently vacated by townsfolk who shuttered the windows behind them as they ducked inside their pueblo-style saloons and barber shops.

Much like old Moses Cleaveland himself, lots o' folk have left town, here. And businesses. Maybe it's the economy. Maybe it's downtown. Maybe it's the weather. And it's not like children could have played 4-square in the streets. But it was quiet.

Tag did his best, though, to be a goodwill ambassador, even charming the eye, during one morning walk & romp, of one city councilman Joe Cimperman who, in a fit of enthusiasm and generosity, bequeathed to us his City Council Member's pin, which sports the official Cleveland motto: "Cleveland: Moving Forward."

A bold choice, seeing as it's so close to: "Cleveland: Let's go, people." I mean, I understand the concept behind it. I just think they need a better publicity agent.

At any rate, he tells us, "I love your show!" and gives us his card. We thank him and offer to have our company manager contact his office about some complimentary tickets. And in the most effusive manner possible, he explains that although he's never actually seen the show, and while he doesn't have time to make it to any of our sixteen performances, he's "one of those people who can sing the soundtrack to 'Rent' before they even see it," which seems to make sense, if you only ever buy the album and never attend a performance. But love is a many-splendored thing, and if - for City Councilman Cimperman - love is best held at a distance, than so be it. He was glad to have us there, and we, Starbucks in hand and dog wandering about a lushly green, downtown city lawn, were just as glad to be there.

The week passed uneventfully, and as Sunday rolled around, we looked forward to the weekend out that company management had planned - bowling at The Corner Alley, in downtown Cleveland. Bowling is a fun endeavor for a bunch of actors. We're none of us very good at it, although it being a musical theater company, there are at least several graceful - if fruitless - poses struck among us in the pursuit of a strike. But bowling is rarely about the game and almost entirely about the companionship, so of course, we thought, what a great opportunity to take our service-dog-in-training.

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