You’ll never guess where this sunny, sandy shore is.

The water was warm and calm. The sun gleamed off the surface. It was early in the morning. Mrs. Wife and I had the entire beach to ourselves. It was a nice, quiet hour. But we weren’t on the New Jersey shore, as you might suspect. This, believe it or not, was Lake Erie. (Huntington Beach, to be specific.)

For the uninitiated, thanks to Cleveland’s heavy industry, Lake Erie spent decades as a feted, polluted mess. At one time, the Cuyahoga River, which feeds into Lake Erie at downtown Cleveland, was so rank that the waste floating on the surface ignited and caught fire. To this day, Cleveland has never been able to shake the “river that burned” albatross around its neck.

When I grew up here [mumble-mumble] years ago, spending the morning strolling along the shore of Lake Erie was unthinkable. It was that bad. Thanks to a fed up community and a government that had a shred of dignity, things were cleaned up. Mrs. Wife and I took our shoes off and waded in the water. Here I am knee-deep in Lake Erie. Look how clear it is! This is pretty mind-blowing stuff to people like myself who grew up here.

An astonishing turn of events. And people complain about government regulation. Do you suppose this ever would have happened if it hadn’t been legislated?

* * *

My brother and I broke away from the family festivities to take a drive around the near West Side where our family roots are buried. We went by the alcohol treatment center at St. Malachi on W. 25th and Detroit where our step father, and many like him, got through the DTs.

This is St. Michael the Archangel Church on Scranton Road. It was built by German and Polish immigrants in the 1800s. My mother went to its school and was married there. My sister was married there. Now, it’s a predominantly Latino parish.

A few blocks away is Buhrer Avenue, where my mother, three uncles, grandmother and grandfather lived. Six people lived in this modest house. It’s a lot smaller inside than it looks! We drove by slowly, like we were casing the place out, and I had sudden rush of memories. I dropped my grandfather’s gold pocket watch down a crack in a window sill and it fell into the house’s foundation. It’s probably still there. He never got angry about it. My grandfather, a gardener, showed me how grasshoppers spit.

The neighborhood looked better than I thought it would. I assumed, because I buy into racial stereotypes without realizing it, that the houses would be a wreck. But they were fairly well maintained.

* * *

They closed one block of East 9th Street for a film shoot. Nobody shoots in Cleveland! East 9th Street is THE major north/south thoroughfare that runs through the center of downtown, and it’s a major disruption, but this is for the big Marvel Comics flagship movie The Avengers, due out next spring.

In it, Ironman, The Hulk, Sgt. Fury, Thor and Captain America team up to fight..I don’t know who. Maybe the Republican presidential candidates. Cleveland was remade to look like New York City. I can’t get away from that place!

A crushed NYC taxi cab.

Someone said this scene involves a fight with The Hulk and Sgt. Fury. Nobody could confirm. Samuel L. Jackson was in town. He was spotted at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

The most unsettling special effect was NOT the fake destruction or false fronts built onto the surrounding buildings. The most unsettling effect was seeing a lot of NYPD cruisers on East 9th Street in Cleveland. Very confusing.

18 thoughts on “Roots

  1. some of that clear water is due to the zebra mussels… those pesky non-native bivalves that clear the algae, when they are not busy clogging water intakes along the lakeshore.but it’s far better than the years of the flaing Cuyahoga…

  2. I guessed Lake Erie! Well,it wasn’t difficult-you’re a native and it’s holiday time…It can be sad to tread the old paths, but you seem to have had a good time.

  3. We had a great time sorry I missed the trip down memory lane. Can’t wait for you to come back….maybe next time with a puppy?

  4. I’ve been enjoying your blog Mark. Thanks for showing people how much the city (and the lake) have changed. It’s no New York (despite the NYC police cars), but it’s home, and a great place.I had a similar trip around old neighborhoods not all that long ago. Funny how we are drawn like that, how nostalgic tugs occur at our age.

  5. this is the best commercial for saving the EPA ever! seriously, people need to realize the difference government regulation has made regarding the environment. i’m thinking before and after pictures, right? memories. why do i always hear rutger hauer’s voice: Batty: I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.xoxoxox

  6. daisy: Always the scientist! I’ve read some worst-case scenarios regarding zebra mussels. It’s better than the pollution but they’re nothing to snicker at. dinah: It’s nice to visit the past when you’ve managed to rise above your humble origins just a bit. Wouldn’t want to go back to Scranton Avenue, though.MT: You guys are the perfect hosts! Don’t know about that puppy thing, though. They’re so much work. All our best to FIL. John: Thanks very much. The houses looked smaller and closer together than I remember them being. Did it seem that way to you, too? Colt McCoy seems to be the real deal. Consequently, the odds of him staying healthy seem to be pretty thin. Sav: I don’t understand how anyone can believe that, left to their own devices, industries and corporations would do the right thing. They gutted the banking regulations and look what happened!

  7. remember, i lost my vacation home on lake erie in the divorce! spent a lot of time there – and it is absolutely lovely… and i love to go hopping across the lake erie islands whenever i can.

  8. Must have been a great trip, to see such improvements in your childhood home town, and it looks great. I’ve just been catching up on the posts I’ve missed: very well done on the Thunder Road thing. Must be cheering to feel that all those years of imaginings and work and dreams have brought something good to people. What’s your next project, you can’t stop now?

  9. I’m sure you know this already but clear water doesn’t mean clean water. I remember camping on Lake Champlain with my family and rejoicing about how clear the water was, we could see ten feet down!!!! Then a park ranger came by and advised us that maybe we should limit the children to one or two brief full immersion swims a day.

  10. daisy: Kelly’s Island! Put-in-Bay! I’ve been to ’em all. They’re all lovely secret spots.Eryl: I was just glad to see that the city isn’t on its knees. Yet. Thanks for the book congrats. I don’t know if I could survive another project. But I’ll turn a few ideas over in my mind.nurse: None of the bad stuff floated to the surface of my mind. Isn’t that great!Anon: I certainly wouldn’t drink the Waters of Lake Erie, but it was nice to see it so vastly improved. After wading in it, my wife and I didn’t need penicillin shots. Pat: It was then that I realized my toenails needed a good clipping and a buff. Adam: Thank you. No charge.

  11. I love me hometown, once saw a news report while sitting in my dad’s old apt. in Lakewood, steps from Madison, it talked about how clean the lake was and the nutty reporter goes, “it’s so clean you can do this” and dips a glass in and drinks it, i shit you not… as for W.25th i always remember that area as ESL, a healthy dose of Spanish helped you get by in that hood, even the grafitti was in Espanol, i live a scant 2 hours away and don’t get up there nearly enough.

  12. I lived in Michigan for five years. Walking on the shore of Lake Michigan was exactly like at the ocean; driftwood, gulls, beach sand, ocean-going freighters passing. Except that it had the smell of a fresh water lake instead of salty sea air.

  13. Mitzi: My geography isn’t that finely honed but I do believe the Erie Canal leads to Lake Erie. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?Kono: I used to live in an apartment on Clifton. And another on Lake. I loved that neighborhood when I was there but I think it’s very different now. My dad was a Polish butcher and used to work at a stand at he West Side Market. That’s about as Cleveland as you can get.lx: What happened to xl? Weren’t you xl at one time? I’ve lived by the lakes. I’ve lived by the ocean. Give me the salt water every time.

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