CLEVELAND – Lake Erie isn’t prime real estate for your beachhouse, its water not renowned for purity. The last half-century has witnessed a shrinkage in both population and the economy as its manufacturing base dwindled. Pro sports teams have an agonizing litany of failure dating back to 1964.
It’s tough to be a Clevelander.
Yet all is not lost in the city some derisively call “The Mistake by the Lake.” Nope. Cleveland has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
I park in a lakeside lot and hike the quarter-mile westward, toward the glass-covered, triangle-shaped building I assume is the art museum a friend raved about.
But art museums don’t have Bruce Springsteen exhibits. The rock hall does. Two floors’ worth of Boss memorabilia. Penned drafts of lyrics and song lists. The leather jacket he wore on the cover of “Born to Run.” Photos of his six-boy band when he was 14.
It is staggering, overwhelming, this 150,000- square-foot hall designed by famed Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei. (He also planned the modern entrance to the Louvre.)
You have time for a quick tour?
Basement floor: In two cozy theaters, films discuss the roots of rock – not only rhythm and blues, but country, gospel and folk. Then came the ’60s, peace and love and rock ’n’ roll.
Second floor: Check it out. The Who singer Roger Daltrey’s Shure 566 mic, covered heavily in red tape to keep it on the cord as he twirled it violently.
Time keeps slipping into the future, and when I notice it’s 2:32, I race up two flights to the Foster Theatre for the 2:30 film showing U2 in concert in 3-D.
Speaking of Steve Miller (read the lyrics to “Fly Like an Eagle,” you’ll get it), it’s notable that he was quoted recently as saying the hall is “corny.” Don’t dwell on the past, he said; why not use money being sunk into the hall to help kids learn and study music?
He has a point. The hall is silly in a way, but it could serve to inspire that next generation, too. It’s a celebration. Plus it’s just cool, way cool.
Third floor: Overpriced food you can take out on a veranda overlooking Lake Erie.
Sixth floor: Ha. I see a typo in Bruce’s “Born in the USA” lyrics. “There” should be “they’re.”
You’re already on Orbitz to price plane tickets, aren’t you? It’s true. Cleveland rocks.
The hall gets nearly half a million visitors annually, coming from all 50 states and more than 100 countries, Margaret Thresher, spokeswoman for the hall, informs me in an e-mail. It’s nearly 8 million guests.
“We are an important economic engine for Cleveland, bringing in more than $100 million each year – $1.5 billion since 1995 when the Museum opened,” Thresher says.
Not all is right in the Cleveland area, of course.
At the Norwalk Inn in Norwalk, a small city about 60 miles west of Cleveland, manager Dave Mohan gives a grim review when I ask about the local economy.
“They’re dying,” he says of local industries, four of which he says recently failed. I note the motel isn’t busy. “These are tough times.”
If you’re a sports fan, you know about Cleveland’s abysmal half-century. No World Series title since 1948, no NFL title since 1964. No NBA title ever. And here’s an illustrative anecdote:
At the Cleveland Indians’ game against the New York Yankees the next night, I look for LeBron James jerseys from my seat in the left-field bleachers. Many fans were so incensed with the July 8 nationally televised announcement that the Cleveland Cavs’ megastar was signing with the rival Miami Heat that they burned his jerseys in spite.
There are a few, but they’re a fraction of what there would have been a month ago.
Then it gets interesting. Not the game – an 8-0 Yankees blowout. I hear jeering to my right and see a man in his mid-20s walking up the stairs in a Miami Heat LeBron James jersey.
Is he serious?
He knows that wearing such a jersey is rubbing local sports fans in a sensitive spot. Even I’m mad at the jerk, and I’m not a fan of the Cavs or their beloved Akron, Ohio, native who played with the NBA for seven years, giving starving fans title hopes.
So when he returns to his seat with a beer in the sixth inning and some huge guy in a green shirt purposely slams into him, splashing suds on the jerk’s jersey and face, I’m not sorry for him.
There’s an ovation for the guy in the green shirt, and things get even testier. The LeBron jersey guy’s girlfriend flips off the crowd. The green shirt returns obscene gestures. I’m maybe 30 feet away from near mayhem.
It’s such a distraction that Yankees outfielders are looking up between pitches. An usher can’t calm the situation, so a policeman arrives to escort the jersey guy and girl out of the stadium, to safety. Thankfully, no one gets hurt.
Maybe the scene doesn’t bode well for Cleveland, but it proves they love their city.
Peace and love are paramount to this city’s success. Anyone who visits the rock hall knows that.
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