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Analysis: For such a worldly city, New York really needs to get out more

New York Cleveland tweet
Posted at 1:55 PM, Jul 03, 2021

Editor’s note: Unlike most of our articles, this is a first-person essay.

One of my favorite trips was with my wife (then girlfriend) to my hometown in New Jersey in 2017.

I had been living in Iowa for about four years working as a TV reporter. She lived in Iowa for most of her life, with a brief stint in Omaha, Nebraska. She had never been to “The City” before, and had certainly never visited it with a seasoned pro like myself. In New Jersey, no other city looms quite as large, so including “New York” when declaring your destination is unnecessary.

We marveled at Times Square as I pointed to the building where the crystal ball drops marking each New Year. We visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and talked about how how our families came to the United States. We geeked out at Trinity Church and Wall Street, marveling at grave sites and locations brought to life in the American consciousness by the hit Broadway show Hamilton. We somberly walked through the Ground Zero Memorial where we found the handful of names connected to our family in various ways that I look up every year on 9/11. No one grew up in my part of New Jersey and doesn’t know at least know a few people who died that day.

The trip showed off much of what I think is great about New York to my Iowan girlfriend. Since I moved away from the “tri-state area” when I graduated from college, I felt like I had license to enjoy it as a tourist, shamelessly flinging my head back to admire the height of the buildings in a way native New Yorkers would (and did) scoff at.

No matter. New York City is one of the coolest places in the world.

That’s why I was especially frustrated when the Official New York City government Twitter account sent out a picture of an overcast New York City skyline with the caption, “A gloomy day in New York City is still better than a sunny day in Cleveland.”

I’m sure New Yorkers loved it — I would have been right there with them a few years ago, before I knew enough about the shapes of the Midwestern states to tell one from another or pinpoint the general location of any Midwestern city. But the facts remain that it was an attempt at a cheap laugh and punching down at a smaller city is a bad look.

New Yorkers aren’t bad people. Much of my family proudly wears that classification. But they do have a perspective that makes the ribbing they take from the rest of the nation warranted.

The novelist John Updike is credited with the quote, “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding."

That belief manifests itself in the feeling that when New Yorkers travel somewhere else, that everyone there wishes they, too, would be leaving where they grew up and going “home” to NYC. I felt that same feeling until Iowa became my home, before I lived at Cleveland and Lakewood, Ohio addresses.

It was on display on a trip I took to Italy when a perfectly nice, but loud, couple from Brooklyn joined our pizza-making class in Florence. Without a shred of irony, they told our Italian pizza-making guides how great the dollar slices are around the corner from their apartment in New York.

New Yorkers think everyone is so impressed by their “New Yorkness” that nothing else matters. I’m sure some people feel that way, but it doesn’t occur to many New Yorkers that most people don’t care. New York is just another large city to them, maybe larger than Los Angeles and Chicago, but not in any way that matters to the people in Dubuque, Iowa or Mansfield, Ohio.

While Cleveland erupted over New York’s tweet, the NE Ohio Regional Sewer District (whose social media genius we have long recognized at News 5) fired back, and Ohio social media sensation Sir Yacht promised to roast New York, it’s the New Yorkers who are missing out.

They’re the ones that miss out on the Hidden Gems a place like Northeast Ohio has, or the Iowa tradition RAGBRAI, which links various communities across Iowa together by little else but bicycles and lots of sweaty cyclists.

RELATED: 100 hidden gems of Cleveland

A refreshing contrast to that is my Hoboken-based Best Man who makes sure to detour through Playhouse Square when he visits to see the chandelier.

Playhouse Square.
Playhouse Square

Which brings me -- I promise, this is going somewhere -- to my wedding, when many of my New York-based friends came to Iowa for the first time and toured the city with its new bike-share program and found the downtown to be much cooler than they expected—simply because they finally experienced it.

The rehearsal dinner hosted a hilarious conversation about regional speech patterns, where our New York and Midwestern guests asked each other to say different words that highlighted their different pronunciations. This shouldn’t be confused with large cultural exchange programs that try to calm strife in other parts of the world, but everyone learned a little about everyone else that night.

The highlight was when one of our New York guests mused over Cedar Rapids, Iowa when she said, “They call it a city, but, you know...” trailing off, talking about the community with a population of 130,000 people, compared to New York City’s nearly 8.5 million.

It was hilariously funny for me while I straddled the divide, but it sparked a conversation later about that trip my soon-to-be-wife and I took two years before. She excitedly told a group of guests who claim New York as their region how she had visited the Statue of Liberty and loved the view it provides of lower Manhattan and was slowly building up her "East Coast cred."

My life-long New Jersey resident friends fell quiet before sheepishly admitting they still had never been to the Statue of Liberty.

The recurring flaw among many New Yorkers is that they have appointed themselves the judges of what's cool and the only two rules are: anything that isn't centered around New York isn't invited to the party, and if you have a problem with that, fuggetaboutit.

Our wedding showed that even New Yorkers don't always know the cool thing, even when it's standing 305 feet tall in the middle of New York Harbor.

Cleveland's responses to the tweet that prompted these musings have been, predictably, fantastic.

Among many things, Cleveland is pretty good at defending it's honor. The Indians, Browns and Cavs have all given the city plenty of chances to hone those skills, though less so in recent years.

Something about Northeast Ohio makes converts out of its transplants. Some of the biggest champions of Greater Cleveland, I've noticed, are people who are not from here and are frustrated by the self-deprecation Ohioans sometimes fall back on and want to see it be an even better place to live. Just like my Best Man's conversion, all it takes is one trip.

So, we should enjoy Cleveland's collective clap-back at New York's ill-advised tweet, but then we should turn our phones off and use the extra money we're not paying to rent studio apartments the size of our closets to go enjoy the holiday weekend.

And when you can, invite your East Coast friends for a visit to see what Cleveland is really all about. If nothing else, they'll appreciate the square footage.

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