Magic Workers of Cleveland

Mural on West 65th Street, Cleveland

Billy here. After a family vacation with the nieces and nephew, we took an intermission to visit our friend in Cleveland, a fellow corvid family member and magical human being. We met working in a coffee shop together in Portland, Oregon years ago where we spent our evenings cawing like crows, drinking absinthe and twirling around lamp posts. So we were looking forward to his tour of Cleveland.

We drove through Spence’s old stomping grounds – Flint and Ann Arbor – and took highway 2 from Toledo to drive closer to the lake.

Another environmental aside: As we were driving through this idyllic Americana countryside,  near the amusement park Cedar Point where we could see roller coasters from the highway, I was somewhat surprised to see the large iconic cooling tower of a nuclear power plant rise up ahead on the shore of Lake Erie. Having come from fracking and oil country down southwest where nuclear power is scarce, I am surprised every time I see one. There is not a single nuclear power plant from Comanche Peak in Glen Rose, Texas (Comanche Peak seemed like a swear word growing up) all the way across the Rocky Mountains to Palo Verde in western Arizona. This particular power plant, Davis–Besse Nuclear Power Station, has been the source of two of the top five of the most potentially dangerous nuclear incidents since 1979 in the United States. Just two years ago, there was a leak in the reactor coolant pump seal. Palisades Nuclear Generation Station in southeast Michigan leaked radioactive water into Lake Michigan only last year. The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on Earth. They contain 1/5th of the world’s surface freshwater: that’s 95% of the surface freshwater in the United States. There are 38 operating nuclear power plants in the Great Lakes Basin. Here is an interesting map of seismic activity overlaid on the location of the nuclear power plants of the lower 48 states: Nuclear Power Plants and Seismic Activity.

As we exited the highway into Cleveland proper, dusk began spreading. The country curtain peeled back and old brick buildings invited us in. A bicyclist without headphones rocked his head to unheard music, swerving all over the street. Decrepit business signs from shops closed for decades still stood yellowing in cracked windows. A grizzled man with a white handlebar mustache sat down with a good looking dog and a tallboy beer on a stoop behind a building that could have been a cheap apartment or an auto garage. “I like this town already.” I said aloud. Our friend and his new partner were waiting for us in their modest apartment in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood with a spread of delicious Middle Eastern food. He introduced us to the “Cleveland Special” (perhaps Cleveland special if you are an urban wizard) – a Budweiser Lime-A-Rita with tea.

We walked through the neighborhoods the next day, exploring the book stores, parks, train tracks, backyard chicken coops, the amazing West Market and urban farms. We learned that Cleveland is one of the top cities for urban farming: The city mesmerized us: the beautiful diversity of people, the beauty of the old city half overgrown with wildflowers, the incredible support for low income healthcare, the low cost of living, the trans and queer resources, the laid back atmosphere for such a big city (no one ever seems to be in a hurry), the preservation of ethnicities (even European ones) over homogenization and the arts culture. We seriously considered moving there for an afternoon.

We had delicious cheap food at classic Cleveland haunts such as Sokowlowski’s, Steve’s Lunch and Happy Dog. Our friend took us on a special journey to Mystic Imports, a magic shop of esoterics that included a popular selection of Santeria items. We enjoyed a chicken and waffles brunch, where we learned how to toast in Ukrainian: Будьмо!

Night time activities included buying pizza from Nunzio’s from behind bulletproof glass, watching The Lost Boys while drinking Miller High Life, perusing the Big Fun Toy Store (where I found a kaleidoscope!), vaping, astrological divinations, delightful conversations on magic and astronomy and watching the new Planet of the Apes in the Capitol Theatre on Gordon Square. The evening we watched the Planet of the Apes, I lay in bed thinking of whether or not it was true that an apocalypse of industrial culture would really just deteriorate into violence and civil war as the media fears portray. Then out of the silence I heard screaming on the street only a block away. Then a gunshot. Then I heard more screams and then nothing. I lay there for a while, wondering if Spence heard it too and if the police would come. I was awake for a long time listening and there were no sirens. The next morning I awoke with N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton in my head.

The last day in Cleveland our friend, my raven brother, took us to Phoenix Coffee Roasters where he works as a technician. He is about to install a lovely new La Marzocco machine into their up and coming location in Ohio City. He took us on a tour of the roastery and pulled us some beautiful shots that tasted like caramel and lemon zest with a hint of dark chocolate as we listened to Morrissey and Depeche Mode. I’m going to miss him.

“Are you sure you don’t want to move to Cleveland?” he kept asking. Maybe I do. Cleveland fam, I love you!

Spencer here: Billy and I love to travel, this is obvious. One problem with this lifestyle is often we are sleep deprived, as we are light sleepers and seem to rarely be sleeping in the same spot for more than a night, a week, or even a few months. That said, we rolled into Cleveland, exhausted, but still in good spirits with a high level of excitement. The reception of the friends was so welcoming and loving, my eyes teared up. The next day, after not sleeping so well, (not due to any accommodation problem–we had our own room!  Awesome!–just due to excitement, different noises and an anxious disposition on my part), Cleveland felt like a movie. We were characters, just as all the people out in the world. Cars and buses went by, as did birds, grasshoppers, ants, planes, bikes.  I felt like I was on drugs, but in a “PG” “Disney-movie” way. We walked and walked and it felt good. It was a brilliant film.

Our friends showed us West Side Market, which started in 1912! An old school way to shop. Local butchers, creameries, organic produce, and ethnic prepared foods all under one roof.  If we lived there, I probably would never go to a supermarket ever again! It is a good model for how things used to be and how things could be in every city or town (I probably sound old, but seriously, everything was really well priced–haggling encouraged and the selection was amazing.)

The thing I appreciate about Cleveland is even the white people have culture and its not consumerist, i.e., Abercrombie or the Gap. People mingled. We mingled. Rent and brunch are cheaply priced and everything seemed to have potential.  We joked that Cleveland is like Portland, minus 20 years. Again, I I know it makes me sound like an old timer, but even 10 years in Portland has made it much different and more expensive and uptight. Cleveland helped me realize that cities can have all the cool shit–nice restaurants, neat architecture (I miss Midwest architecture),  good libraries, good transit–all with humbleness and openness. Thanks friends, and thanks Cleveland.

Environmentalist Aside: Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga river in Cleveland have actually caught fire at least 13 times, with the most significant fires taking place in 1952 and 1969. At one point, the pollution was so bad in these waterways it was said the river “oozed” instead of flowed. According to a rather thorough Wikipedia article, the fire in 1969 garnered a lot of media attention and sparked monumental environmental legislation–the Clean Water Act and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency also came about because of this particular incident. The clean-up efforts have been overwhelmingly successful because of this attention, however, growing up nearer to Lake Michigan, in my familial circle, Lake Erie was always considered to be an oil pan of a lake.  Honestly, even after reading about all the efforts, I was still skeptical about what it would look like after all these years. When Billy and I walked down to the lake, through Lakewood Park, I was thrilled to see a mighty clear Lake Erie. It even smelled good! Unfortunately, where we were walking there was no swimming. I was tempted to shrug off my clothes and dive in anyway. Too bad that was last week. Now with new headlines about phosphorous green slime (it is agricultural phosphorus runoff from livestock and crop producers which feeds toxic algae blooms, in conjuncture with wind and water currents concentrating the blooms in certain areas) and drinking water quality troubles in Toledo, Ohio, I am reconsidering how far any of us has come in the progress of environmental enlightenment.  I ask the same questions over and over again… what can I do? How can we make this better? Not only who is responsible, who is accountable, and what is my part? I told Billy that if I was to involve myself in a direct action group and lay down in front of a bulldozer, it would be to save the Great Lakes. I signed up to receive Great Lakes’ alerts and to read more about what is actually happening through the Alliance for the Great Lakes.  When we have a sense of home and a sense of place, we tend to care more about what happens and tend to get more involved locally. I think this is an important step in considering “home”–not just your house, your lawn, or cul-de-sac, but the extension and health of those places underneath it all.  Nature is everywhere–in us and around us–our care for nature, ourselves and others is one in the same. My dream is to be able to drink and swim in whatever body of water I want, wherever I want and it is every species right to have this be true.

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