A Horribly Stupid Thing to Do When You’ve Got a Jeep Full of Very Scary Gangbangers Riding Your Bumper: 72 Hours or So in Ohio

A while back, I spent three days in Ohio.

Why?

How dare you ask such a question! Ohio is a land of enchantment! It’s one of America’s most vibrant and exciting places. It’s cultural milestones…..ok, I’m lying. When it comes to the list of places “You Absolutely Must See in the United States,” the Buckeye State ranks pretty low. If you’re from Ohio, feel free to send me an angry email or leave me a snide comment below this post.

I would have/could have gone my entire life without setting foot in Ohio if it hadn’t been for a friend’s wedding in Canton. Within twenty minutes of my arrival, I was summoned by the groom to Jose’s Landing, a tavern on Lake Cable. Within moments of parking my rented minivan, one of the locals stuck his head out the window of a Ford F-150 and screamed “GET A CAR, ASSHOLE!” as I waited to cross the street.

The wedding’s other attendees later confirmed that, they too, had been treated similarly for daring to set out on foot in Canton. The residents there don’t take kindly to pedestrians and don’t seem to understand why anyone would walk anywhere. I can only assume that the only time they venture outdoors is when they dart as fast as they can from their front doors to their vehicles.

Many members of the congregation and I had a full day to kill before the ceremony. After looking over a list of Canton-area attractions, a group of friends and I opted to venture into Amish country. I had never seen an Amish person in the flesh  so this was pretty exciting (!!!). After charting a course, we decided that we would visit the Living Bible Museum and spend the afternoon in a nearby Amish town. We formed a caravan of rental cars and….45 minutes later we were horribly lost and heading in the completely opposite direction.

We eventually found the Bible Museum though and it didn’t disappoint. Its key attraction is the “Bible Walk,” Here’s a description from the website:

“The tours are Miracles of the Old Testament and Life of Christ, two 60 minute tours that feature life-size dioramas of beloved Biblical stories. Museum of Christian Martyrs and Heart of the Reformation, two additional 30 minute tours, provide an insight into the hearts of men and women as they willingly gave their lives for the Word of God.

As you step into the Word of God you will feel the strength and transforming power that is only accomplished by God’s Word as you walk the hallways and view life-like scenes. Ohio’s only life-size wax museum [with] 70 scenes and over 300 wax figures. This will be an experience you will never forget and will want to repeat.”

While it was definitely an experience I will never forget, honestly, I don’t know if it’s one that I’ll ever want to repeat. My colleagues opted to tour another wing of the museum, leaving me to face the trials of the Bible Walk all by my lonesome. To make matters weirder, I was the only one in the exhibit. If only to quell my innate fear of long, dark corridors filled with wax dummies, I opted to hit the buttons on all the dioramas towards the end, creating a cacophony of noise that could probably be heard all the way over in Detroit. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a wax Goliath emitting death grunts while, ten feet away, Mary and Joseph sweetly discuss the birth of Jesus.

After (possibly) breaking the Bible Walk, I met back up with my colleagues. It was late in the day so we weren’t able to make it to the town. However, I did see an Amish family in a cart pull up to a thrift store along the freeway. So, yeah, mission accomplished.

Two of my other goals for the trip were to dine in both a White Castle and a Waffle House. The latter of the two was amazing and I cannot recommend it enough. There is no better American franchise when it comes to a greasy breakfast or a late-night gut bomb. The array of hashbrowns on their menu alone is enough to make me a lifelong fan. White Castle, on the other hand? A total letdown. As the wedding reception was wrapping up, a group of us headed off in search of their trademark  sliders. We each ordered a pack of four and dug in. My friend Nong perfectly described the experience:

“The first one isn’t bad because you’re hungry. Then you get to the second one and it isn’t so good. Then you get to the third one and you realize that these things are horrible.”

I feel a bit lousy about badmouthing White Castle because, two weeks later, they posted a photo of me holding a fountain drink on the front page of their website. But I digress….

The next morning I found myself working off a hangover in a coffee shop in an old warehouse. With 12 hours to kill until my flight left, and suddenly struck with inspiration, I asked a barista what I should do with my remaining time in Ohio. She told me to go to Cleveland and check out the Big Fun Toy Store. With nothing better to do, or so I thought, and since Detroit was too long of a drive, I pointed my rental car north towards Lake Eerie.

About halfway there, I remembered that, at some point during the reception, I had agreed to drive the bride and groom to the Canton Courthouse to sign some marital documents. Ninety minutes and a series of awkward texts and phone calls later, I was wandering along Conventry Road, a refuge for hipsters amidst Cleveland’s trademark blend of dilapidated avenues, dive bars and blue collar neighborhoods. After getting kicked out of a certain hot dog stand for taking the photo above (the proprietress grilled me, convinced I was trying to “seal her ideas” and didn’t believe that I was just some goofy schmuck from Portland) , I found the toy shop, a treasure trove of nostalgia.

I spent at least an hour gawking at nearly every toy I had circled in various JC-Penny’s Christmas catalogs throughout the ’80s. Big Fun is pretty dang phenomenal. I walked out of there with a vintage “Han Solo on a Tauntaun” – missing the reins but still a steal for $15.

“Gentrification” is a phenomenon that has yet to infect Cleveland…or the parts that I saw during my afternoon in the city. Han and I headed over to “The Christmas Story House” after taking a detour through a few areas that, after dark, would have led to my bones being picked clean (see above). While it’s a major rewar….er, tourist attraction, the house sits in a neighborhood that could be best described as “rough around the edges.” It was closed so I settled for a few snapshots and a beer at a tavern across the street That I Absolutely Did Not Belong In. The punters at the bar ignored me and the truck drivers looked over every few minutes to make sure that I wasn’t, I don’t know, stealing the coasters or something. I’ll never forget the look one elderly guy in a Cleveland Indians starter jacket gave me after I sat down at a table in the corner. If Dr. Who had shown up in the TARDIS in the middle of the bar, I’m sure the alien would received a similar glare.

Now maybe he knew something that I didn’t. As I headed back to the minivan, I made eye contact with a group of men down the street who looked like they had just walked out of a time warp from an NWA video circa 1990. I turned a corner and, out of nowhere, an old jeep was suddenly following me. Two of the guys were riding up front as a thin woman with cornrows kept her eyes locked on my rear view mirror.

“Hey, maybe they’re just in a rush,” I thought to myself, naively, quickly trying to circumnavigate all the white guilt and self-preservation synapses bopping around in my skull while also trying to figure out the way back to the freeway. “Or maybe they’re going to break out an uzi and pepper the car. I knew I should have paid the extra 30 bucks for insurance.”

This game of intimidation continued for a few blocks before I pulled over to let them go by. In hindsight, this might have been a Horribly Stupid Thing to Do When You’ve Got a Jeep Full of Very Scary Gangbangers Riding Your Bumper but, at the time, it made sense. What would you have done? Seriously, let me know, if only for future reference.

Maybe they realized I wasn’t a threat to whatever operation they were running 75 yards from Ralphie’s old digs. I was certainly behaving too stupidly to be a narc and, in my rented minivan, I definitely wasn’t worth the trouble of robbing in broad daylight. They eyed me, warily, as they slowly passed. It should go without saying that this was one of the longer seven seconds of my life. They rounded the corner and I quickly sped off towards the nearest on ramp.

 

Yeah, I probably won’t be going back to Cleveland anytime soon.

Click the jump for a gallery of additional images from Ohio…

Advertisements
This entry was posted in United States. Bookmark the permalink.