Business took me to Ohio last week, just as some of the nation’s Republicans were descending upon Cleveland to select their nominee for president. My party arrived at Hopkins International Airport just after 7 p.m., and a quick count suggested that the K9 units scouring the terminal and arriving passengers and baggage were only slightly outnumbered by LeBron James jerseys.
Cleveland’s stock is rising. Thanks largely to LeBron, the Cavaliers this year finally won an NBA title. The Indians, whose last World Series title was during the Truman administration, are in first place.
It’s easy to smile at snarky “tourism” videos, and yes, Cleveland has fewer than half the residents it had in 1950, but the city boasts a world-class orchestra, has worked hard to diversify its economy, and (in 2011) was voted 17th most walkable of the nation’s 50 largest cities.
Days one and two of the GOP convention saw the expected suppression of an attempted coup against Donald Trump, and his inevitable nomination. There was strong rhetoric outside Quicken Loans Arena, open-carry gun rights groups, and some flag burning on the third day, but as much as I’d have enjoyed the show, my business lay to the west.
More Sina-cism: See the nanny state? Say something!
We passed Kiffer Industries, a specialty machinery company, and stopped for dinner at a Chili’s just off the John Glenn Highway. The Indians had taken an early lead on the Royals in Kansas City. Our greeter’s T-shirt offered three choices: Republican Party, Democratic Party, Margarita Party. Only the last was checked.
Trying to be conscious of my health, I ordered the Quesadilla Explosion Salad, which turned out to contain 1,430 calories, meaning I would have had to walk to Toledo to undo the damage. How often, it seems, what we are sold in Cleveland turns out to be less good for us than advertised! But take heart, for we may actually choke to death on what we are fed in Philadelphia.
Back on 480, we drove by the Moen plant in North Olmsted, passed into Lorain County, and took the Christopher Columbus Highway west. Flatbeds hauling steel. Acres of corn. On through Elyria, where writer Sherwood Anderson once lived, and the padded bicycle seat was invented. Across the Vermillion River, one of 16 bearing that name in North America.
Northern Ohio is the first truly large, broad and flat region you meet as you head toward Middle America. Outcroppings of trees mark the edges of the farms, and the houses — large, functional and plain — speak of a time when Americans were too busy tending the earth to worry about architectural excess.
As dusk fell, I spied a barn turning crimson in the fading light, Old Glory painted above the door, and a phalanx of vintage Gulf and Citgo signs down the side, paean to the passing age of petroleum-powered locomotion.
Top reads from Chris Sinacola:
We crossed the Huron River and reached Milan, birthplace of Thomas Edison, who was only 7 when the railroad passed the town by, prompting his family to move a bit north to the shores of Lake Erie. Then Norwalk, made locally famous for having been burned by the British during the War of 1812, and noted for its ordinariness in Ian Frazier’s memoir “Family.”
And on and on, past the Schlessman Seed Company, NASA’s Plum Brook Station, a string of water parks, and finally to rest in Sandusky, at one of the many anonymous boxes that house restless Americans on the road.
I put on the news. The Indians had lost. The Republicans were still conventional.
But while the nation’s attention was fixed largely on Cleveland this night, the real story of America was out beyond the lights of The Forest City, in the farms, factories, town halls and strip malls of Northern Ohio, in this swingiest of swing states, a must-have for any Republican aspiring to be president and nearly the same for any Democrat.
Northern Ohio is a place of red barns and white churches, hardworking, ordinary Americans who never let you down, and home sweet hometowns of little account to the world for three-and-a-half years out of four.
Today it is a place divided, dissected and analyzed half to death by the pundits. Soon it will be a place that, in the inevitable and dreary calculus of politics, propels the Buckeye State’s 18 Electoral College votes into the rapacious claws of one or the other of our major political parties.
Yet it will remain a place that neither of those parties deserves to call their own.