I swear, Ohio wasn’t broken when I left it. The Buckeye State was in fine shape in the late 1970s, a solid Midwestern place — high in the middle, round at both ends.
Sure, people snickered at Cleveland. The Cuyahoga River really was so polluted it caught fire. Our mayor, Dennis Kucinich, really did resemble Howdy Doody. His predecessor, Ralph J. Perk, really did set his hair on fire, trying to cut a ribbon with an acetylene torch. An awkward, Nixonian man, Perk made Richard M. Daley seem graceful as Nijinsky.
But we had industry: steel plants, car manufacturers. We had science. My father worked at the NASA Lewis, adjacent to Cleveland Hopkins Airport. I’d visit and wander the place, goggle-eyed. I remember those remote manipulators used to handle radioactive material — you put your fingers into tubes so you could operate large robotic arms, like on “The Simpsons.”
We had culture. A world-class orchestra. An impressive art museum, particularly if you hadn’t yet been to The Art Institute. Even little Berea, my hometown, west of the city, had interesting stuff going on. The Berea Summer Theatre put on edgy productions like “R.U.R.,” the Karel Čapek play that introduced the word “robot” to the English language in 1921. Baldwin Wallace College brought in significant speakers, like Margaret Meade, the great anthropologist. I still have her autograph.
Ohio people were salt-of-the earth types who drank Black Velvet whiskey neat and Genny Pounders — 16-ounce cans of Genesee Cream Ale, the local swill of preference. The state was home to eight presidents. True, those presidents were all guys like Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes and William Howard Taft — their brilliance not exactly shimmering off the pages of history — but that, too, seemed apt. We didn’t have to shine, we Ohioans. We were happy just to show up, punch the clock, survive another day.
To continue reading, click here.