I just returned from my first trip of the new year which was to Cleveland for the annual American Bus Association (ABA) Marketplace show. It’s a convention that brings together bus tour companies with destinations from all over the country….or anywhere else you can drive a bus to…I’m assuming. Of course, one of the perks about traveling for work is that I get a little time to explore a place that I might not have ever made it to otherwise.
I had never been to Cleveland before, but since I’m from Sacramento I’m sensitive to the plight of second-tier destinations. And when I say “second-tier” I don’t mean “lousy,” I mean legitimately second-tier after the huge tourist destinations like San Francisco, New York, Orlando, Los Angeles, etc.
There are probably dozens of tiers lower than us too. For example… [Googles tiny towns in Russia]… Sortol, Russia is probably in like the 73rd tier. Take that, Sortol. I’m guessing their tourism slogan is “You’ll Sortol Like It.” Actually, now I see that Wikipedia is telling me Sortol has a population of zero, so there’s definitely some potential for any of you ambitious “placemakers” out there.
Anyhow, what I’m trying to get to here is that whenever I travel, I always compare that city to how a visitor might see Sacramento. I’m guessing Cleveland and Sacramento have a lot of the same obstacles. I mean, when people talk about Cleveland they all make the same jokes about Drew Carey and that ONE time the horribly polluted Cuyahoga River caught on fire, but I found some pretty great things there.
One area where Cleveland has a clear advantage over Sacramento is in the number of Rock & Roll Halls of Fame. They have one. This is the first thing I checked off the list in Cleveland. Then, it was time to dig in a little deeper and do some real touristin’.
I found my way to the West End Market.
Outside of leaving their Christmas decorations up for maybe a little too long, this was a really great public market full of meats, cured meats, other types of cured things and a few veggies thrown in for good measure. One booth was selling pineapples. Those world famous Cleveland pineapples. Ok, maybe produce-wise it can’t really compete with “America’s Farm to Fork Capital” but we don’t have anything like this big, beautiful indoor market in Sacramento (yet). I suppose that’s because we have better weather [looks out window]. I mean, not like right this very second, but a lot of the time.
I also visited a glass blowing studio where a chicken was just wandering around. Apparently, he’s kind of the mascot/ambassador for the place. I bet, as a chicken, that’s a pretty sweet gig. Beats sittin’ around the coop cock-a-doodle-dooin’ all day, that’s for sure.
Anyhow, The Glass Bubble Project offered free demos and was surrounded by breweries, so it’s kinda hard to beat.
Then I ventured out to neighborhoods like Coventry and Little Italy via the Cleveland Regional transit metro train. The RT was easy, cheap and totally empty. Here’s what the central station looked like at 9:30am. Hello? Hello…..?
And look at this cappuccino/biscotti combo I got at a bakery in Little Italy.
Little Italy was probably my favorite neighborhood in Cleveland because it was charming and had everything I want: coffee, a bakery, a tea shop, a spa and like 20 pasta houses.
In Coventry, the streets were lined with hip shops that maybe would have been fun if I weren’t so food-focused. Also, Sacramento’s own Blackalicious were performing at a venue called the Grog Shop, so that was an added bonus. I mean, I didn’t actually attend the show because I get so sleepy, but I was glad it was an option for the younger folk.
In general, Cleveland was a clean city. However, I did find some pretty hard-hitting graffiti that symbolizes the struggle of today’s inner-cities:
She sure is! But let’s try to work in that apostrophe next time, troubled inner-city youth.
Speaking of troubled youth: For you kids who want to start smoking, I guess these old cigarette machines are still legal in Ohio. This one just sits unattended waiting to make some teenager’s day. I recommend the smooth satisfaction of those Parliaments on the far right.
Oh and the official Christmas Story house was nearby, but I didn’t quite make it there.
So basically, if you like rock-n-roll, food, art, chickens and underage smoking, you’ll love Cleveland.
The point here is that second-tier destinations are some of my favorites. Maybe they aren’t as polished and tourist-focused as larger cities, but that’s kind of their charm. It takes hardly any planning and almost no effort to just start wandering around and seeing what you find.
Also, if you want to come wander around Sacramento – everybody’s favorite second-tier destination – let me know!