Rust Belt Chic

Anne Trubek and Richey Piiparinen, two extremely talented and driven Cleveland writers, collaborated to create a book, Rust Belt Chic.  They called out to Clevelanders to contribute essays to their book which would brand Cleveland as a Rust Belt Chic city.

You can visit their blog here.

You can buy the book here.

Or buy the Kindle Edition here.

As you may have read here, Mike and I moved back to Cleveland about 6 months ago, after spending a couple of years in Denver.   Below, you can read my essay, One That Denver Lost, which chronicles my feelings about returning to Cleveland. My piece appears  in this Cleveland Anthology, along with 48 other brilliant nonfiction prose pieces.


One that Denver Lost

The child is an individual who loves whatever locality he is born in to the point that he could not be happy anywhere else.

                                                                                                                             –Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind


            As a child growing up in Cleveland Heights, I felt that my hometown was a paradise. The ravine off North Park Boulevard was just steps from our duplex on South Overlook, yet to me, it was a wilderness promising adventure and otherworldly discoveries.  In the opposite direction, down Cedar Hill, was Little Italy, offering the comfort and delight of Mama Santa’s cheese pizza—extra sauce and double cheese.  When I was four years old, my mom and I started the annual pre-Christmas tradition of ordering Mama Santa’s and taking it with us in our car to devour as we simultaneously took in the holiday light displays at GE’s headquarters and Public Square.  Rituals and places grounded my love for Cleveland as a child.

            But the combination of glamour and contentment that I felt slowly slipped away as I grew up.  By the time I was 16, it became cool to ridicule the place that you came from.  I went to college near Cleveland at Denison in Granville, Ohio, and as I struggled to find my identity and claim my adulthood, I subsequently rejected the authenticity and toughness that comes with being a Clevelander.  Not Rust Belt Chic, but simply: chic.  I thus made it my mission to get out.

            After I graduated college, my boyfriend Mike (also a Cleveland native) and I packed our car with our belongings and drive off towards the mountains and omnipresent sunshine of Denver.  We didn’t know a soul there, nor did we have jobs awaiting us.  What we did have, though, was determination to experience life in a place completely different from Cleveland.  We had only visited the city once, but on that August day, as we drove away from the grey, rainy Cleveland skies and toward our hopeful futures, we thought we would never turn back.  Finally, I was leaving Cleveland.

             Denver and its populace greeted us with big smiles and free spirits.  Each day we’d find people biking, hiking, climbing, feverishly working to achieve the chiseled strength reflected by the Rocky Mountains.  People parading the streets everywhere.  “Ah,” we thought to ourselves, “so many happy people out enjoying every drop of vibrant, buzzing city.”  It really was a new and empowering experience to look toward the nearby mountains, to walk the streets of a beautifully maintained downtown with not a scrap of trash to be found.  Troubadours lined the streets of the pedestrian-only 16th Street Mall, playing their own instruments or choosing one of the many elaborately painted pianos provided by the city.  We felt energized by Denver.  Most people we met were like us—transplants who had made the pilgrimage from the Midwest to Denver in anticipation of a bustling city life, endless sunshine, and proximity to the great outdoors.

            But as we entered out first spring in Denver, the honeymoon began to fade.  It was March.  We had lived in Denver for seven months and I had not felt one drop of rain. I had not felt the glaze of humidity.  I had not breathed in the distinct, earthy-thick smell that only comes with a Cleveland rain rolling in from Lake Erie.  I was wanting and began to look about me, skeptical.  Who were these people?  Why were they here?  Hardly anyone I’d met was from Denver.  They had all chosen to flee their hometowns for this easy, college-like lifestyle, yet they all seemed lost, without purpose.  I felt no attachment to where I was living.  No deep camaraderie for the merry people I met.  I longed for something real.  I began intensely missing the people in the resilient city I had left behind.  I ached for the Rust Belt Beauty I had abandoned.  I craved the feelings of hope and turmoil that come with being a Cleveland sports fan.  I missed the raw, soulful look of the old, dark buildings downtown.  I heard the Lake lapping against the shore. I was homesick.

             Staying true to the first phase that many of us from the Millenial Generation go through when grieving the end of a relationship, I began to stalk my lost love on the Internet.  I spent hours glued to my computer monitor frequenting real estate websites and imagining myself  living in one of the homes on the market.  I would read Freshwater Cleveland and Cleveland Magazine everyday, fantasizing about being at the various weekend events in Tremont or Ohio City.  I was eager to learn more about the Horseshoe Casino and the Flats East Bank development.  I wanted to see what was becoming of Detroit Shoreway and the Gordon Square Arts District.  I craved the taste of Great Lakes Christmas Ale and a #4 with extra hot sauce from Dave’s Cosmic Subs on Coventry.  I dreamt of being at Burning River Fest, Wade Oval Wednesdays, Tremont Farmer’s Markets, and the Feast in Little Italy.  Sometimes I found myself visiting the sites several times a day to ensure that I wouldn’t miss an article on new developments.  It was an addiction.

             Then came the doozy.  I began to realize that Cleveland was in the midst of revitalization.  How wonderful: a resurgence!  Hooray for the Rust Belt Renaissance!  Cheers to Cleveland!  But then it hit me.  Just as in a break –up.  Or that crushing realization that your old flame is doing okay—no thriving without you!  I was jealous.  

            That’s when I fell back in love with Cleveland.  I pictured the lady’s old brick buildings, abandoned warehouses, and empty steel mills, all poised against an unapologetic grey sky.  It fed my soul.  Part of my love is nostalgic.  Part of it is wrapped up in my dreams for the future—to be a part of reclaiming my city.  I decided it was somewhere I need to be.  It’s where my soul is.  Then, one night as I was reading a book, I came across this passage: 

 In former times, in Italy, the people who were born in a village lived and died there and never moved away from it.  Later people who got married  sometimes moved elsewhere and gradually the original population were scattered from their native places.  By and by a strangle malady came about. People became pale, sad, weak, anemic looking.  Many cures were tried but in vain.  So at last when it could not be cured in any other way, the doctor said to the relatives: “I think had better send this person to get a breath of his native air.”.  And the person was sent to his home…and after a little while he came back fully cured.  People said that a breath of the native air was better  than any amount of medicine.  What this person really needed was the quiet given to his subconscious by the conditions of the place where he lived as a child.

                                                                       –Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

I decided to return.


3 thoughts on “Rust Belt Chic

  1. Stephanie,

    So this post compelled me to write something as I went through a similar experience with Denver, yet ended up in a different place (but the dog is the thing that brought me here, not gonna lie, ha, he kind of looks like our dog!). Having grown up, gone to college at Case, and then worked locally for two to three years, I reached a point where I had to make a move and ended up in Denver. I moved with another guy from the Midwest (Pittsburgh unfortunately, but he is great) and we had an amazing time. Playing in the mountains, enjoying all that nature had to offer exceeded every expectation I had of the place, but there was something missing. Maybe it was because I travel a lot for work, but I just didn’t connect with as many people as I expected. I almost felt, and still feel like people there are SO caught up in getting away from it all every chance they get that they were not passionate about living in the city / community itself. Don’t get me wrong, I was one of those people so I was part of the issue, jumping at the chance to hike, ski, ride every mountain I could, leaving for the wilderness after work on Friday and returning with the masses (usually in traffic on I-70) Sunday afternoon / evening. Growing up in Cleveland Heights and then moving downtown and just seeing the city start to come back was something I really enjoyed being a part of, and something that I found myself missing. While I am not back in Cleveland (I moved even further east) I am excited to see and support in any way that I can, without actually moving back and have friends and family getting more involved in growing the community. Native east-siders such as yourself (and my sister) moving to the west-side is exciting to see but I also get nervous the east side will see a pretty hard downturn so don’t forget where you grew up too! A part of me will always represent Cleveland and the great people who call it home (yesterday, today or tomorrow) and exciting to see more people like yourself return to Cleveland and get involved with its comeback.

    • Jack,

      It’s so nice to read your story! I’m glad to hear someone else was perplexed by the city flight in Denver– I was beginning to feel like a bit of a freak for not embracing the mountain fresh air as much as the next guy :o). Not that I didn’t love having that option to escape– but there’s something different and more fulfilling about planting yourself in the raw city and truly becoming a part of its rhythm. While Mike and I both miss Denver every now and then, we don’t regret our move back to Cleveland a smidgen!

      I do love exploring a new part of the city that I did not experience growing up, but don’t worry– I will never forget where I came from! I still like to visit Cleveland Heights and have friends that live there and in Shaker Heights as well. I wouldn’t worry about a downturn any time soon– the community is as thriving as ever.

      Proud to have made your acquaintance– and even though you don’t live here anymore, don’t fret– once a Clevelander, always a Clevelander. I’m happy to have you representing us :o). Tell your (obviously) handsome pup hello for me!


  2. Pingback: How Much Do You Love Cleveland? | Beautiful Days Gone By

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