I am sure that Scott P. Richert, in his review of Bill Kauffman’s Dispatches From the Muckdog Gazette (“Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” Reviews, November 2003), did not intend to single out my hometown as the standard for the corporate homogenization of America; since he did, however, let me say that I also like Cleveland. This is not to deny that it suffers from the plagues that he mentions—the proliferation of chain restaurants and big-box stores—as well as a host of other problems, such as stupid, corrupt, and evil politicians; businessmen with no loyalty; deteriorating, crime-infested neighborhoods; rotten schools; and citizens who seemingly only like to complain and to dream about moving to a warmer climate. I hardly think that Cleveland is unique in these regards, however; in fact, it probably retains more of its old character than many Sunbelt cities do.
I lived in the heart of the industrial armpit on the near east side for the better part of my life, long past the time when it was a decent place to raise a family. What happened to that neighborhood and so many others in the city and throughout America is a national tragedy. Without this collapse, there would have been no “need” for new-and-improved Clevelands, Pittsburghs, and Detroits.
The road back, as Mr. Richert has written so often, lies with persuading people to frequent local businesses as often as possible, to take greater interest in neighborhood and regional affairs, and, most importantly, to stay put. Communities cannot be sustained by people unwilling to put down permanent roots.
For the record, I have not heard any objections in Cleveland to letting Rockford be Rockford.
—Anthony J. Wawrzynski
Chronicles is my favorite magazine, and Scott Richert is an excellent editor. So I really cannot explain how my November issue came to contain these lines, reputedly from Mr. Richert’s pen, referring to Cleveland as “the old industrial armpit of the Midwest that repeatedly managed the miraculous feats of turning Cuyahoga River water into fire and reducing the multitude of fish in Lake Erie to none.” Maybe there are bugs in the Mac that Apple doesn’t want us to know about, because such sentiments seem more in keeping with the disdain for the real America I’ve heard from self-styled champions of Silicon Valley than what I’ve come to expect from Chronicles.
The old Cleveland was never an “armpit” but a vibrant place, from the cultural wonders of University Circle (including an unsurpassed orchestra) to the strong faith and rich traditions brought here by the many immigrants who came at the turn of the last century to work in the many factories and foundries of industrial Cleveland. As a matter of fact, the water of the Cuyahoga did not repeatedly burn—though oil spilled there did burn in 1952 and again in 1969—and Lake Erie remained a very productive commercial fishery even at its nadir, producing some ten million pounds of fish in 1971, second only to Michigan among the Great Lakes and easily exceeding Michigan in fish caught per cubic yard of water. Each Christmas Eve, we ate the delicious perch and walleye caught by my uncle in Lake Erie, a marked improvement on the carp traditionally consumed by my Polish and Slovak forebears as part of their Christmas Eve dinners.
It is true that the much publicized Cleveland revival of the 1990’s does not quite live up to the hype, primarily because of the disastrous impact of free trade on industrial America. But we still have an outstanding orchestra, great museums, wonderful parks, and great Central European food of the type found in too few American cities—all of which is a legacy of industrial Cleveland.
Mr. Richert Replies:
I know that my friends Tony Wawrzyn-ski and Tom Piatak took my chauvinistic remarks (the product of a youth on the shores of Lake Michigan) in the good humor in which they were intended. Truth be told, Rockford is a better poster child for the corporate homogenization of America—all of our “growth” for two decades has occurred on the East State Street strip of chain restaurants and big-box stores. And we have little left of the legacy of industrial Rockford—as in Bill Kauffman’s Batavia, most of what the industrialists built was destroyed by Republican politicians in the 1960’s, and the rest has suffered neglect, as the grandsons of those industrialists sold their family businesses to multinational corporations. Now, it may be too late for Rockford; let’s hope it’s not for Cleveland.
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