Check out this piece from yesterday’s New York Times about the winter surfing culture on America’s North Coast. It offers the chuckle you need to jump-start your Monday, though it could make die-hard Clevelanders groan over their city’s beleaguered image. (Photo from the Times.)
Cleveland’s PR braintrust was doubtless excited to hear about the Times doing an upbeat story about their town. After all, it comes on the heels of so much bad news. If you aren’t from NE Ohio, you haven’t been pummelled by myriad stories about factory closings, labor-management showdowns, and dubious recognition as “America’s poorest city.”
Should I even mention the Browns?
The Times did a fun piece about some guys whose thick skin and brash demeanor have them hangin’ ten in sub-zero temps. They’re totally nuts, and as we all know, that makes great news copy. (I spent most of my professional life looking for clients who were totally nuts so I could generate this kind of ink! It’s really sucks doing media relations for sane people!)
Yep, this is a fun story, but not all that flattering for Cleveland. Witness lead character, Bill “Mongo” Weeber, who opens the dialogue with this gem:
Surfing Lake Erie is basically disgusting. But then I catch that wave and I forget about it, and I feel high all day.
Can’t wait to try it, Mongo. Among the story’s other pejorative comments:
- Surfers learn to avoid ice chunks the size of bowling balls. Some wear goggles to surf through freezing rain, which can sting their eyes like needles.
- To reach the lake, surfers drag their boards across snowdrifts and beaches littered with used condoms and syringes, Mr. Ditzenberger (another surfer) said.
- The most popular surf spot is Edgewater State Park. It is nicknamed Sewer Pipe because, after heavy rains, a nearby water treatment plant regularly discharges untreated waste into Lake Erie.
Hey, did you remember the sun screen? What about the disinfectant?
I’ll bet the grand pooh-bahs of public relations are sitting around City Hall right now gnashing their teeth. But those folks get paid to worry about Cleveland’s image, where as a lot of us kinda like the place the way it is.
Back when I was courting my wife, a native Clevelander, I recall a popular t-shirt that read: “You Gotta Be Tough to Live in Cleveland.” That was more than 30 years ago, and not much has changed. But lemme tell you, we’re not alone in this tarnished-urban-image thing.
After Sharon and I married in ’77, I lost all sense of place and moved us nomadically to other rustbelt locations. First Detroit, then Pittsburgh, then Buffalo, then back to Northeast Ohio, just 50 minutes from Sewer Pipe Beach. Every one of those cities provided high quality of life at low cost. But each one also had a public image problem and an acute inferiority complex, except maybe Pittsburgh, where Super Bowl victories seem to cure all ills.
Who’s gonna let us forget that Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River actually caught fire almost 40 years ago? In Cleveland, they even named a beer after it! When I moved to Detroit in ’77, the CBers (remember the CBers?) aptly nicknamed it “the Murder City.” We called it home for the next four years, and we had a riot (no pun intended).
Pittsburgh holds on to its gritty image, despite closing its last steel mill back when I could still run a 6-minute mile. Then there’s Buffalo, with snow so deep and winters so long that — well, it’s tough sledding I tell ya.
Now that we’ve returned to NE Ohio, we still think fondly about all of those stops along the road. The popular stereotypes of our past homes seldom cross our minds, but the friends we made there do. You see, the unpolished images of Cleveland, Detroit and Buffalo can be blessings in disguise. The trendoids would never think about moving here and inflating our real estate prices. And rush hour traffic? It’s like a day at a snow-covered beach.
So rejoice Cleveland! Surf’s up! Stretch on your thy dry suit and groove!