I went back to Ohio (again)

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 5, 2023, 7:59 PM | comments: 0

I did a very fast overnight back to Cleveland and Cedar Point this week, fast meaning I was semi-working the whole time or traveling, so there was little time to do much of anything else. Economically, there was nothing smart about this endeavor, because it cost me about six hundred bucks total, and much of that involved waiting around for shitty Frontier Airlines to stop sucking. But every previous time that I've been invited to some kind of event like this, and I didn't go, I regretted it. And this one involved a ton of people that I value, including my PointBuzz partner, Walt, and my friends that work at CP. I knew I wouldn't get a lot of face time, but those relationships are important to me, and any direct contact is worth it.

Cedar Point, of all the things in Ohio, is one of the few places that has almost no negative feelings or memories. Stephanie and I had great times there. I think it was my third date with Diana. Catherine and I had epic times there and I turned her from terrified to enthusiast in one year. When I started going to the park as an adult, maybe in 1997, two years after college, it got me hooked on roller coasters, amusement parks, and most importantly, helped me into a community of people that I would not have met otherwise. Granted, much of the coaster nerd community is not for me. Most of it, actually. But this is the genesis for creating a core group of people that I still interact with regularly, not to mention spawned PointBuzz and CoasterBuzz. What else have I done consistently for 25 years?

Other feelings about Ohio, they're not so great. A former college classmate (a few years difference) is at Ashland University this weekend for an alumni thing, and I can't help but think what a mixed experience that was. I have few positive feelings about high school, and how lonely and out of place I felt there. Cleveland itself provided a few interesting professional years, when I worked at Penton Media and expanded another social circle, but in the general sense, I spent 30-something years in Ohio and it limited me.

Let's be honest, the dread starts at the airport. CLE is a shit hole, and this after it was "improved" to impress people for the Republican National Convention back in 2016. Terminal C isn't terrible, but even there, if you're from Cleveland, you can't help but remember the promise of Terminal D, now shuttered, as a beacon of hope to make Cleveland a hub city. When you leave the airport, everything around you is dirty and run down, from the crumbled roads to the lack of any landscaping at all. The drive to the car rental hub is especially depressing. And there's a good chance the skies will be gray and terrible. This is the experience I had this time around, and it just brings up decades of similar feelings. Outside of Cedar Point, it's hard to remember the sun in Cleveland.

The drive from the airport to Cedar Point is familiar, though when I lived in Brunswick, it involved a short stint on the turnpike, crossing over in Elyria (also shitty) to SR 10. The airport route involves the I-480 stretch, crossing over in Westlake or Avon, and maybe even stopping at the Winking Lizard, an all time favorite bar-food restaurant. The drive down 10, to Rye Beach Road, is intensely familiar, and to this day, associated with the excitement of knowing where you're going. There's a side memory of driving out that way for volleyball tournaments in Toledo.

This time, I stayed at Sawmill Creek, which was acquired by Cedar Fair, and renovated (trip report forthcoming), but the morning of the media event was all the classic feels. Driving up the otherwise empty causeway, the incredible skyline of some of the world's greatest rides, and to this day the disbelief that it's a thing. I remember driving up that way with my friend Dan back in early 2000, looking at the ridiculous rise of Millennium Force. It's a special place. Many of those trips were in the off-season, and there are few things as special as going to a place usually occupied by tens of thousands of people on any given day, empty. I have driven my own car around Cedar Point's midways, and that is an infinitely special memory for me.

And the social part of that can't be understated. Few friends still work there, but I'm still in touch. The marketing guy is still there, and I adore him, even if I see him rarely. As I said, there are so many memories of romantic entanglements of the past, and also with Diana. Great memories of drinking buddy memories with people who have passed, and friends from elsewhere that I visited with just last year. The rides are honestly secondary to all of this. Cedar Point has always been such a happy place.

About a year ago, when I went with my buddy Ken to see Tears For Fears and Garbage, the operations performance of the park was deeply unsatisfactory, but it still felt good to be there (in no small part because of the bar action). The sights and sounds and smells are core memories. When I hear the Magic Kingdom train whistles at home, I still think of the Cedar Point trains as heard from the hotel or campground.

On that trip last year, I returned to Brunswick, where I attended high school, and bought my first house. I met my college roommate Jen for dinner, but the town felt so incredibly foreign to me. I didn't recognize it, and that was only traversing a few blocks from the freeway.

It's been more than a decade I think since I've seen downtown Cleveland up close. I admit that so much of my issue with Cleveland has to do with the weather. It took Seattle, which is not the weather profile you think it is, to make me realize how miserable the Cleveland weather made me. This was amplified when I moved to Orange County, Florida, a decade ago. That's the triggering thing. When I got off the plane this time, driving through the rain down SR 10, it brought back decades of sadness that I couldn't even associate with any specific events, people or places.

I don't want to hate Cleveland, because the place itself didn't do anything wrong. It was so great to return to Blossom Music Center last year, where I saw my first show. But it's clear that the place gave me everything that it could offer by the time I left it. Cedar Point is an exception, certainly. But while I sit here on my patio in May with a wonderful 79˚ breeze and the tunes from recent years playing, I feel more at peace than ever. These retrospectives and assessments will likely continue throughout the year as I recognize the decade anniversary of our move to Flori-duh. I still feel like socially I don't exactly have a tribe here, but that's really my whole life. So tomorrow I'm going to get on Segways with my little family and motor around a Central Florida area that is, today, what I consider home. The concept of "home" is flexible for me, but right now, it's pretty great.


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