I admit it. I’m no longer a spring chicken. (Did you ever see a chicken dance? Did you ever do the chicken dance? I can’t do it anymore.)
This past weekend, I joined classmates from as far away as California, Florida, Washington, DC, and Toronto at my 55th graduation reunion of Rocky River High School in that Cleveland suburb.
We traded stories and joined in general frolicking and merriment–Friday night at Bearden’s Restaurant, an old hamburger hangout.
On Saturday we took a bus tour of Cleveland, a city that has experienced a rebirth since 1960 when my novel Canoedling in Cleveland takes place. Its unemployment rate is 4.3 percent, well below the national average, and the city ranks eighth in the nation in the growth rate of college-educated millennial residents aged 25 to 34. New homes line Euclid Avenue from the Cleveland Clinic in the east to downtown. The tour brought back many memories of scenes in Canoedling in Cleveland, although much has changed since 1960.
We boarded at our hotel–the Doubletree on Crocker Road in Westlake–and flew all the way across Cleveland on I-90 in twenty-five minutes to Cleveland Lakefront State Park, turned right onto Martin Luther King Drive (was Liberty Boulevard until renamed in 1981), went through Rockefeller Park, named for John D. Rockefeller who gave over half a million dollars to purchase the land and maintain the park. Rockefeller, from Cleveland, was the richest man in American history. He founded Standard Oil Company, which at one time controlled around 90 percent of the oil refineries and pipelines in the United States. The government broke it up into thirty-seven pieces, and today its successors include ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron. But I digress.
We followed MLK Drive along Doan Brook to University Circle. We passed the Western Reserve Historical Society where Jeff and Lori (protagonists in my novel Canoedling in Cleveland) spoke with the historian about how Cleveland became racially segregated.
Next we drove by Case Western Reserve University, the CWRU Medical School, and the University Hospitals, and then Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Symphony, and the Cleveland Museum of Art , and turned west onto Euclid Avenue past the Cleveland Clinic, the largest employer in Cleveland, with about 5000 employees, toward downtown.
Euclid Avenue was much different than I described in Canoedling in Cleveland. Once called Millionaires Row, the wealthy eventually moved east to the suburbs and lower income people who worked in the mills and factories moved in. The mansions were broken up into apartments, and in later years, when the manufacturing plants and oil refineries were driven out of business, the big old houses fell into ruin and were ultimately torn down. Many were dilapidated in 1960. Now, bus lanes and stations have been installed from University Circle to Public Square downtown, and new housing is being constructed for people who want to step out their door and board a bus to work.
We drove by Playhouse Square, Cleveland’s theater district, where five large theaters and four small ones host plays, operas, ballet, children’s theater, and musicals.
Soon we came to Progressive Field, the new home of the Indians, who seem to be headed for the playoffs. In 1960, the Browns and Indians shared the old Cleveland Browns stadium on the lake, which I can testify was a bitter cold place in winter and a windy place in summer, especially when a thunderstorm blackened the sky over the lake, textured the water with ten-foot whitecaps that smashed over breakwaters, and roared onto land.
Next we saw Quicken Loans Arena, home of Lebron James and the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
We drove down East Ninth Street, but we did not see Roxy Burlesque, which briefly appeared in Canoedling in Cleveland (Randy and Jeff took Lori there dressed as a boy to see Irma the Body dance. But I cut this chapter because it didn’t advance the plot and was out of character for Lori and not appropriate for younger adults.) Alas, the Roxy, like my chapter, is no more. And looking down East Ninth Street, we could not see Captain Frank’s Seafood Restaurant either. It was long gone.
We passed the big new convention center, which is nearly invisible because it is all underground, and looked out toward the lake at I.M. Pei’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
We then wound around Public Square, which has been turned into a park. It used to be a hangout for people who were homeless, but when we drove by, it was packed with people attending a street festival. The park is programmed year round with events, from farmers markets and yoga classes to holiday tree lighting and winter ice skating. The first event was a July 29 concert by the Cleveland Orchestra, which was soon after the Republican National Convention.
The Soldiers and Sailors Civil War Monument still stands on the left, just as I described it in a scene in the book,
but across the street is the Jack Cleveland Casino, which now fills what was Higbee’s Department Store. The 771-foot tall Terminal Tower (1930) at the top left corner was surmounted by the 947-foot Key Tower (hidden on the right side of the square). From there we drove past the Carl B. Stokes Federal Court House tower, 23-stories high, and down the hill into the industrial flats by the Cuyahoga River, whose oil-blanketed water caught fire many times and on which our intrepid trio in Canoedling in Cleveland raced an ore boat and lost.
The industrial flats still is crisscrossed with the old bridges (most of which I drew into the map on page 156), and is filled with bars and restaurants.
As we crossed the river, we noticed rowers. Regattas are now held at the head of the river. See my blog post, “A Mallard on the Cuyahoga” from 2010.
From the Flats, we drove up the hill and north along West 25th Street, past West Side Market and Great Lakes Brewing Company to Whiskey Island where the salt mines are (and where Jeff searches for his friends).
We continued past Edgewater Yacht Club and Edgewater Beach and Park, where Jeff and Lori nearly were caught canoedling in the bushes (oops, that’s “canoodling”). The beach was closed in 1960 due to pollution, but now is open most of the time.
At the end of the tour, we had drinks at Wine Bar Rocky River before returning to the hotel.
Saturday night at Cleveland Yacht Club, I signed some copies of Canoedling in Cleveland and we enjoyed a delicious meal and more visits with classmates.
Sunday morning we bade farewell at breakfast at the hotel and left for home.
We enjoyed seeing friends from long ago, but were saddened to hear the names of the departed. We all vowed to return for our 60th reunion but wondered who would be missing. And I also enjoyed revisiting many of the scenes I described in Canoedling in Cleveland.