Twenty years ago this month, I packed all my possessions into an old postal Jeep, headed south on I-71, and arrived in Cincinnati, aka the Queen City. It was an inauspicious start. I was supposed to start work for a local Chevy dealer only to find out a license suspension three years earlier disqualified me from working there. They neglected to tell me this until after I moved here.
But I wasn’t going back. I’d have to move in with my parents, and they lived in Holmes County, in the midst of Amish country and two hours from any city worth mentioning. I sucked it up, bounced around a few jobs until I eventually got into IT. In that time, I’ve watched the city change.
In 1991, the Bengals were still taken seriously, though founder Paul Brown died a few weeks before I’d arrived. Both the Reds and the Bengals played in Riverfront Stadium. Jerry Springer was a local anchorman. Few people had heard of George Clooney, the son of a former local anchorman and nephew of singer Rosemary Clooney. There were fewer buildings in the skyline. Fountain Square took up two blocks. Third Street was one-way eastbound, and second street did not exist. Cross County Highway, now Ronald Reagan Highway, went nowhere unless you wanted a northern shortcut to I-75 from Montgomery and Kenwood. Northern Kentucky had no skyline. You could see the Roebling Suspension Bridge from Dixie Terminal’s lobby because the riverfront was essentially a parking lot with a few night clubs and warehouses scattered about. And Kings Island, the local coaster-freak mecca? It looked pretty much like it did in the classic Brady Bunch episode set there and was still Hanna-Barbera themed. To this day, if you have to park at a distant parking lot to get to your office, it’s locally referred to as parking in Scooby Doo, which was the name of the most distant Kings Island parking lot. The lot’s there, but the Hanna-Barbera cartoons have since been replaced by Star Trek, and most recently, Peanuts.
In that time, Cincinnati has had three minor league basketball teams, four arena football teams, and two hockey teams, one of which, the Cyclones, still exists. When I arrived, you could still see concerts, hockey, and Xavier basketball at the Cincinnati Gardens. Xavier invested in its own arena. Riverfront Colisseum became The Crown, then Star Bank Arena, then the FirstStar Center, and is now US Bank Arena. The Bengals moved across the riverfront to Paul Brown Stadium. The city then shoved Great American Ball Park in between Riverfront Stadium and US Bank Arena (or whatever it was called back then.) Jerry Spring left town to become the ringmaster. Local radio talk show host Bill Cunningham went from late night loud mouth to conservative blow hard to his own television show. Yes, people. We are responsible for the Bill Cunningham who is not the bike riding octagenarian in the New York Times but the bastard child of Springer and Maury. (We’re sorry.)
Ronald Reagan now connects Montgomery on the east side to a point on the 275 Loop that connects it I-74 and Indiana.
In that time, the Ohio River has flooded three times. We have had four major snowstorms that made me question why I bothered leaving Cleveland in the first place. (Um… Dude, you didn’t live there when you left?) A hurricane actually hit in 2008, Ike was still barely hanging onto that status as it followed the exact same track another storm did in 1900 after destroying Galveston.
But Cincinnati to me is where I became a writer. I discovered the Internet while living in a one-bedroom apartment in Oakley back in 1994 and parlayed that into a career as a technician, then a programmer. I’ve met Springer, Johnny Bench, and Marge Schott. I also met the city’s biggest benefactor, Carl Lindner, in the lobby of the Westin, though, typical of the late Mr. Lindner, I did not realize it until after he walked away. I’ve been married and divorced and married again here. This city has played host to 80% of my adult life.
I sometimes get frustrated with the pace of progress here, the conservatism that occasionally reaches religious proportions, and the idea that there is no reason to go beyond the I-275 Loop. (That last one is most prevalent on the West Side, and I find it pretty amusing now that I work over there in Delhi Township.) But it also has one of the best library systems I’ve ever seen – You have to go to New York to see a better one, had my life saved at a world class hospital in Mt. Auburn, down some serious bar hopping in Mt. Lookout, downtown, and just over the river in Newport, Kentucky. I’ve watched baseball at two Major League ball parks since moving here. It’s changed my life in ways I never imagined.
And it allowed me to be with Nita and AJ, the family I never would have had if I had stayed in Northern Ohio or moved to another city or even another state. In fact, two weeks before I went out with Nita for the first time, I was on business for BigHugeCo in Chicago and began seriously discussing moving there. Then came the big Valentine’s Day date, and by summer, I was remarried. I was also not leaving this city any time soon.
If anything, I’ve got at least another twenty years in Cincinnati ahead of me.
More at the My Town Monday blog.