I’m from Cleveland.
If you live in Cuyahoga County or maybe a neighboring county, you’ve probably said it at some point. Hi, I’m Jason, and I’m from Cleveland. (Most guys from Cleveland are named Jason, just a fact.) It is perhaps even true that you may say you are from Cleveland even though – technically – you are not from the City of Cleveland itself.
For example, you might be like me. I grew up in Mayfield Heights. When I’m out of town and someone asks where I grew up, I say, “Cleveland.” It’s easier than saying Mayfield because the other person will always ask “Where’s Mayfield?” Then I have to say, “It’s outside Cleveland.” Then they say, “Oh, so, you’re from Cleveland?” And at this point I could either explain that Mayfield is actually a mattress-store-filled suburb seven miles east of the City of Cleveland if you take Mayfield Road, which you never want to do on a Saturday because the construction is always oof, or I can just nod and say, “Yeah, Cleveland,” which is fine because what they really want to ask me is if I know Jason. (Yes, I do.)
But it’s not just with out-of-towners. Many of us still identify as Clevelanders, psychologically, even while living in places such as Solon and Rocky River. The more interesting question then becomes: Why do those of us who live outside the border of the City of Cleveland still choose to primarily identify as Clevelanders and not the places where we have invested large sums of money in both homes and home basement waterproofing systems and yet ... we still don’t mainly think of ourselves as Solonites or Rocky Riveranians? (Before anyone emails me about what residents of Rocky River are called, I think it’s only fair to warn you that I don’t care. Rocky Riveranians is fun to write, and I won’t let something like accuracy stop me.)
I tend to think we’d rather still consider ourselves Clevelanders because, let’s face it, the suburbs are massively uncool. Even Cleveland Magazine’s award-winning suburbs with all their hype and well-paved streets and places to do CrossFit and get a smoothie that negates the CrossFit – at the end of the day, they are pretty much all uncool. Do we have a cool suburb? Lakewood, probably. And why do we like Lakewood? Because it feels like a leafy extension to the City of Cleveland. Mentor is a nice place to raise your family and offers lovely amenities, but it’s not cool.
Another reason that we are all Clevelanders is sports, which plays the role here of entertainment in Los Angeles, money in New York, politics in DC and poorly conceived chili in Cincinnati. Sports are our connective tissue, and the teams know it, and they are rewarded for constantly reinforcing the Cleveland-ness of their franchises. That hometown-ism includes team names, merchandise and marketing. It’s all centered on the idea that the teams are in Cleveland, and the fans are all Clevelanders of a sort – even you fancy Rocky Riveranians. Between our sports teams, and the startling speed of the Cleveland T-Shirt Industrial Complex, we are constantly being made aware of our Cleveland-ness, even though grandpa left The Old Neighborhood back in ‘65.
But I suspect it all runs even deeper than sports. Some of us, I think, enjoy seeing a bit of ourselves in the city’s fractured reflection. Cleveland was and still is a tough town – old, industrial, blue-collar, skyscrapers, loading docks, hot dog carts, old churches, poor, immigrant, underrated and overlooked. There’s a certain type of Midwestern city, and Cleveland’s one of them, that had a heyday, and that knows the heyday will never be matched because the specific historical forces that led to the heyday cannot be replicated, and yet still there’s a pride of place coupled with a dry sense of humor and still always the hope that maybe just maybe, if we dig in, we can get it turned around, somehow. It costs none of us anything to identify with Cleveland’s grit.
Right here, my guess, is the point where another writer for the sake of self-righteous aggrandizement or, worse, clicks, might tell you who deserves to call themselves Clevelanders and who does not, but I won’t do that. There are too many people who ought to know better who are relentlessly cleaving all of us up for political, personal, and financial gain – raising their own status at the expense of others and profiting from turning you against people you don’t even know. (When I was a kid, you personally knew the people you hated. It was a simpler time. A better time. For hating.) At this moment, we need more things that bring us together than tear us apart. If Jason (real name) from Rocky River wants to identify as a Clevelander, who does that hurt? And might there be invisible benefits to the millions of citizens of Northeast Ohio feeling in some way tied to each other beyond 17 football games each fall? There could be. It costs us nothing to face the world together.
A reader responded to this, and I published that response in a subsequent "What Happened Now?" newsletter. I've embedded a copy of that newsletter here.
Joe Donatelli writes the What Happened Now? newsletter. Subscribe here by adding your email up top, scrolling down, selecting the newsletter and hitting submit.