Growing Up Cleveland, Living In Cincinnati

640px-Cleveland_Skyline_Aug_2006I was born in a small farming town about 35 miles south of Cleveland. All our TV and radio came out of Cleveland. To us, the world was Cleveland. We lived by it. We died by it. Which meant we suffered through the second longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball history. When I graduated high school, the Cleveland Indians were owned by a dead man and usually mathematically eliminated from the pennant by the end of February. The Cuyahoga River burned when I was 3. (I don’t remember that. I do remember the moon landings that year.) Snow from Thanksgiving to St. Patrick’s Day was a fact of life. In fact, many of us had “winter cars,” an old beater you got for chump change in the fall and kept until the salt and snow melt dissolved it by spring. As I got older and traveled more, I found that Cleveland had a lot more in common with Chicago and New York than it did the rest of Ohio.

Then I moved to Cincinnati back in 1991. It was a strange city to me that got stranger by the day. Here I learned that the West Side was a foreign country. Or maybe everything this side of I-75 was a foreign country. I learned chili was thin, watery, scooped over spaghetti, and piled with mounds of cheddar cheese. I learned that “please?” means “Excuse me?”

I grew up near a city of heavy industry where the unions still hold sway, last names often end in vowels, and ethnic humor is often penned by the groups made fun of in the jokes. I now live in a city once described as being “as far north as you can get and still be south.” Instead of a tumultuous inland sea someone laughingly called “a lake,” Cincinnati sits on the Ohio River, usually placid, occasionally prone to flooding but never fire.

Cleveland goes through pronounced boom and bust cycles. When the steel industry in the US collapsed, it hit the town hard. The auto industry’s fortunes did little to improve their lot. But still, Cleveland often markets itself on comebacks. It felt the Great Recession when many people were still overmortgaging McMansions in other cities. And yet it was also one of the first places to notice the current recovery.

Cincinnati’s pace of progress is maddening. Where Cleveland’s response to news that a stadium and an arena would replace part of a rundown neighborhood near downtown was to push out the pawn shops, gun stores, and check cashing places for bars, nightclubs, and retail, Cincinnati built two stadiums and a museum on the riverfront, then let the so-called Banks sit empty for ten years. The Banks, however, are a thriving place. It just takes time. The place is staid, conservative, and takes things slowly. Mark Twain once said if the world ended, he would just move to Cincinnati since everything happens here ten years later. But because of this, the city tends to weather booms and busts better. It doesn’t become a mecca during periods like the dotcom boom, but it withstood the Great Recession much better than most cities.

I held onto my identity as a Clevelander just into my forties. But I’ve now lived more adult years in Cincinnati than I did in Greater Cleveland. Twenty-four years in one place makes you a part of that place. I even know some of what happened here when I grew up more than those who lived here back then.

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WMMS

large_buzzardOver the years, most people ask me about WKRP. Was it a real radio station? What local station was it based on? Only when WKRP in Cincinnati was on the air originally, I lived in the Cleveland area. I didn’t listen to rock station WEBN. I listened to the old G98 in junior high. But in high school…

The THUNDERING Buzzard!” Len “Boom Boom” Goldberg would bellow during station identification. “W Emmm Emmm Essssss!” Alan Freed might have coined the term “rock and roll” on the old WJW, but WMMS made careers. Ask Aerosmith, Todd Rundgren, Bruce Springsteen, even Guns ‘N Roses. WMMS, like a handful of other stations in other markets, was one of the stations you wanted to play your music back in the 70’s and 80’s. A friend who moved to Cincinnati from New York liked to brag she heard of bands like REM and the Red Hot Chili Peppers before I did because she lived in Queens and I lived in Cincinnati. I informed her that an ex-girlfriend gave me my first REM tape in 1988, and my favorite record store played Mother’s Milk on heavy rotation back when it first came out. She didn’t like that. But then she’s not my friend anymore.

In the 1980’s, Kid Leo, the afternoon drive jock, shepherded a lot of new bands on the air both playing their records and interviewing them. To many of use who grew up in the Carter and Reagan eras, Kid Leo was WMMS. It was Leo, now program director and afternoon jock on Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius XM, who embraced new acts and got them on the air. Springsteen and Rundgren were early examples. Break big with Kid Leo in Cleveland, then you were off to Chicago, then New York, and finally, Los Angeles. WMMS became the lynchpin for the entire Midwest.

But WMMS also made sure local acts felt the love, too. The soundtrack to my graduating class’s adolescence includes heavy doses of The Michael Stanley Band. Stanley came very close to breaking big with a few singles you might remember: “He Can’t Love You Like I Love You,” “Lover,” and “My Town.” He might have done it, too, in the early eighties if he and the band relocated to LA or New York or even Nashville, which had become friendlier to rock acts by the mid-eighties. But Stanley was and is loyal to Cleveland. And WMMS was loyal to Stanley, sometimes playing his albums in their entirety, with Stanley (to the record company’s irritation) invitation to go ahead and roll tape. It didn’t hurt his record sales.

We also would start our school days with Jeff and Flash, which evolved into The Buzzard Morning Zoo. From 1972 until the early 90’s, Jeff Kinzbach and newsman Ed “Flash” Farrens handled morning drive in the days before the morning zoo became an annoying cliche on classic rock stations. When a rival station in Chicago called out Rolling Stone for consistently rating ‘MMS as the readers’ favorite major market station, Jeff & Flash called out Rolling StoneĀ for disrespecting the Buzzard’s audience with accusations of ballot-box stuffing. Ironically, WMMS continued to be the readers’ favorite, with WONE in nearby Akron (which, I’m proud to say, employed my cousin, Mike Rose, for many years) suddenly winning the medium market crown.

‘MMS also played a key role in luring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Cleveland. Stations in other cities cried foul, but ‘MMS stood its ground. It also did not flinch from disagreement when Kid Leo interviewed Grace Slick. Slick, in her final days with the Starship, suggested that not only was Cleveland the wrong city, but her own San Francisco did not deserve it, either. She said it belonged in the Deep South because of the music’s delta blues roots. Kind of hard to argue with it.

WMMS is not the station it once was. The same could be said for its Clear Channel sister WEBN on the other end of the state. When I first started visiting Cincinnati in 1990, I noticed a lot of parallels between the asylum up on Frog’s Mountain (better known as the hilltop neighborhood of Mt. Adams) and the Buzzard. ‘EBN, like ‘MMS, was subversive and about as anti-corporate as you could get in 1990. But those days soon ended. Both stations were bought out by Jacor, the radio behemoth that later got swallowed up by Clear Channel. You have to go to satellite radio or the Internet to find anything remotely like it these days.

Second Hand Goods: Eric Teasdale

Of all the characters in Second Hand Goods, Eric Teasdale came about as an accident. When Lenny and Nick realize they have to hide the limo, they need someone outside the city who lives in the last place anyone would look. Enter Eric Teasdale.

He actually came about in an aborted short story involving Nick Kepler and two strippers. Originally, one of the strippers killed Teasdale, and Nick was left dealing with learning he’d helped set it up. Since I never rewrote that story, I thought about keeping Teasdale alive and making him something of a sidekick. So…

The aborted short became a reworked back story. It wasn’t Nick investigating the felonious strippers. It was Teasdale. The end result found Kepler firing him as an employee. All this comes out over the course of Second Hand Goods and its follow-up, Bad Religion. In the meantime, the new Eric Teasdale had to have a personality. I didn’t just want Nick to dump the limo off on some unemployed redneck who sits around in his boxers drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon all day.

So Teasdale has to have moved on since Nick fired him, which gives them an automatic point of conflict. Nick, of course, is not above lording it over someone who screwed him over at some point. He uses equal parts persuasion and coercion to get Teasdale to hide the car. That puts Teasdale at risk. He’s got his own investigative shop going. Seems that Sally Struthers correspondence course paid off after all. (Sure! They all do!) He’s also an auxiliary cop in a nearby township, serving as a detective when their speed trap police department and the county sheriff get into a pissing contest. “Get Teasdale to do it. He’s a private dick. He’s neutral.” Sweet gig. Hiding a limo with a corpse in the trunk that’s been reported stolen might risk that sweet gig.

Teasdale lives in Valley City, a speck on the map where their high school played my high school in the late, lamented Pioneer Conference in Northeast Ohio. I thought that was close enough to Cleveland for Nick to drive out to, since many in Valley City (which is neither in a valley nor is a city. Discuss.) commute to Cleveland daily, but it’s isolated enough, being almost a rural setting. I had a job in Valley City for a few months in 1988. I had a hard time finding the actual town. So it’s sparsely populated enough for Teasdale to stash the car at his place without arousing much suspicion. It’s also literally down the road from Nick. The apartment building Nick’s is based on a building that sat at the corner of Columbia and Lorain Avenue. (Don’t bother looking for it. They tore it down to put up a Walgreen’s. But the UDF is still there. I think.) Teasdale lives on Columbia Road as well, just twenty miles south. (And Nick takes the freeway. Driving a limousine in the middle of the night on a back road? That’s just crazy talk!)

So Teasdale’s home and occupation are established. I needed one more thing. What kind of investigator is he? Early on, I established that Teasdale was 1.) frequently broke and living in a trailer, 2.) a bit of a slob, and 3.) had a redneck-y love of old muscle cars, in his case, a 1968 Ford Thunderbird roughly the size of the USS Nimitz. In Bad Religion, it is established that Teasdale is afraid of carrying a gun, though he will if he has to. In short, he reminds me of Jim Rockford.

So what do I do with him? He’s got a history of his own. He could probably support a series of his own. Would I?

You tell me.

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