Start: Massillon, OH
Finish: Cleveland, OH
Weather: 80 degrees, thunderstorms
Distance to date: 2,260
I woke to thunderstorms, so took advantage of the hot breakfast at Hampton Inn; I do love that waffle flipping machine. By the time I was finished the thunder had stopped, though the sky was still grey. The forecast was for thunderstorms on and off all day, and I knew the bike trail to Cleveland was erratically paved, so I had mapped out both a trail route and road route. I started on the trail, but after being caught in a shower, I switched to the road at the first town, Canal Fulton. This proved a good move, as the old highway between Massillon and Cleveland is straight and nearly empty on a Sunday morning. I made excellent time, arriving in Cleveland just after noon. I got back on the trail just before the I-490 loop, so I followed the bike trail instead of most of the busy streets, but the trial ended and I got tossed on to Independence Avenue, high above the city.
Just as I arrived in Cleveland, developing thunderstorms turned the sky over the lake soot grey. In the foreground was one of the most intricate industrial landscapes I have ever witnessed, a labyrinth of mills, overhead pipelines, railroad bridges, highway overpasses and conveyors. The outlines of the skyscrapers rose behind the industry, one shade darker than the menacing clouds, looming warriors marching out of the fog. It was an unworldly vision scripted from a comic book.
I pedaled towards the storm and when it hit, which it did with vengeance, I took shelter under an overpass. After twenty
minutes or so it passed and I continued on. By the time I got downtown, after dodging more Interstate exits than I could count, the weather was fine.
Cleveland is a big city that has been chopped up so badly by railroads and highways that all that remain are fragments. Euclid Avenue has hotels and theaters and restaurants, and the surrounding streets have office towers, but the urban scape is a cramped strip between two highways. I went to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, more to see the IM Pei building than the exhibits. It felt dated to me, yet another one of his buildings
with a triangular atrium, a circular plaza and a protruding cube where the visitors are escalatored underground to the exhibits. He was a wrong choice to design this building, which should be more free spirited.
The really interesting part of the day happened after lunch, as I wound my way out of the city going generally east, but weaving in and out to capture the fabric of the place. I wanted to come to Cleveland after reading an extensive NY Times article about the city a year or so ago. The article outlined the trauma of the city, the shuttered buildings, the empty lots, the trials of the government to simply keep abreast of the arson and theft, and the crazy land schemes reminiscent of old Florida, where Cleveland houses are sold online to unsuspecting buyers for as little as $1500. I wanted to see for myself if the article rang true.
Yes, it did. Cleveland is a shambles that defies a solution. Yet, in my afternoon of wheeling through the streets, I came away with more optimism than despair. Nearly every block has vacant lots, most have boarded up buildings, and some streets are entirely boarded or burned.
There are areas with massive public infusion of money, notably the Euclid Street Corridor which is being revamped for miles.
But what is far more interesting is what is being done in small ways, a renovation here, a new building there, things that may benefit from public support but are clearly private endeavors.
My favorite intersection in the city is the corner of E 66 and Hough Street. One corner is an empty parking lot with a Navy recruitment billboard. The opposite corner is a vacant single
story brick storefront. The third corner is an urban garden with grapevine trellises in neat rows, and the fourth corner is a new house, 2,500 square feet or more, two car garage, brick with tall
entry and professional landscaping. No urban planner in her wildest dreams would conceive such a combination, yet there it was, and other corners were similarly unique and robust.
Cleveland is oozing infrastructure. There are so many streets, so many buildings, so many services, so much untapped potential; it would take years for it to be fully utilized again, if ever. So it is redefining itself in a haphazard, barely urban way that in time will have its own quirky charm. Cleveland is definitely down, but it is not out.
Heading east on Euclid, which is US 6 and US 20, I came upon old fashioned roadside motels. The first few I passed were too derelict even for my open-ended tastes, but the Cleveland Motel was bright and clean. Only after I was in my room did I realize the ceiling was mirrored and there was a sign on the TV describing the porn channels. The ladies of the late afternoon whom I met when I went out for a walk were respectful but bemused by the cyclist in their midst.
Cleveland Humor – Claus Oldenburg Scrulpture in City Hall Park