My first interaction with the city was waiting for the bridge to lift up and let a large cargo ship pass through. As I said earlier, I arrived in the city late enough that exploring would have to wait until the morning. So I spent the evening getting to know “the boys,” the three lovely crazy eclectics that offered their home to me while I was in the city. It was a wild evening and a perfect example of why couchsurfing is a fantastic way to travel. You just don’t get to see the inner lives of people like this any other way. It’s definitely one of the most amazing experiences in one’s life to meet complete strangers that are honestly open and interested in sharing their world and perspectives.
The next day, the boys went off to work and I started exploring. I spent a couple hours driving through downtown into the East Side and back across the south into the West Side again where I’m staying. I would never have imagined driving through the center of a city with virtually no traffic on the road or people on the streets. Parking was definitely not an issue and I only paid 3.35/gal for gas.
The most obvious attribute of Cleveland is the overwhelming number of bridges. My notice of the Lake Champlain bridge earlier seems almost like prophecy. There are approximately 384 bridges in Cleveland, according to Wikipedia. I wouldn’t be surprised. There are bridges under bridges that are under bridges and any type of bridge you might think of, there is likely one here.
So I returned my car to the house and head out on foot towards the nearest abandoned lift bridge. It was about a 3o minute walk through a cemetery of old industrial buildings. The area was so desolate that the only people I ran into was a work crew filling in pot holes and one of them asked me if I just appeared out of the bushes and whether I was lost. Later, when he caught up to me, he watched me climb the stairs of the abandoned lift bridge.
After the bridge, I decided to visit a couple more and take a walk through the downtown area. Cleveland is a complicated city. While there are full blocks of abandoned buildings, there is a lot of construction. The air is heavy with the splendor of the past and at the same time, buzzing with the aura of hope. There is a constant faint smell of warm asphalt or metal and on occasion, an absurdly monstrous swarm of mosquitoes that might come out of nowhere. At night, they cover any window where there are lights on.
The city also has an eerie way of being quiet and noisy at the same time. At any point in the city, you hear the unlocalized pounding of machinery and at the same time, crickets. Walking into the heart of the city, the Warehouse district and the Public Square area, I start to see more people, mostly in business attire or waiting for the bus. I wouldn’t call it a crowd though. There are few cars on the streets; it looks like Boston at 3 am except its noon.
Besides bridges, Cleveland seems to have a penchant for churches. As I wandered, I began to notice that nearly every 3 or 4 buildings was a church. Many of them are very old with glorious architecture and enormous stain glass windows protected with plexi. I tried to keep track of what demonitions were the most prevalent but my trek was hardly extensive enough to make an educated conclusion. I did see quite a few presbyterian and baptist churches though.
Before returning back to the house, I did bring myself to stop at one rather touristy destination. The sculpture by Claes Oldenburg of a large “free” stamp, first commissioned by Standard Oil of Ohio, was the subject of much ridiculous political controversy. I simply visited it to see the gargantuan work of art as an aesthetic form. Besides, I was in the area.