Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dirty Water

I'm from Cleveland. Born and raised. Specifically, Cleveland Heights, the first suburb east of Cleveland proper. But I also took the city bus across town for high school, and spent a fair amount of time downtown. We would collect canned goods outside Municipal stadium to get free standing room tickets for Browns games. We used to have "workouts" where we would run across the flats, duck into an empty, meaningless Tribe game for a few innings and then run back. And we never went to a single Cavs game, because honestly who was going to drive out to Richfield for that. This was long before The Jake, The Q, and FirstEnergy. We played basketball late into the night in Strongsville. We hung out at Record Revolution on Coventry. We had all the lights timed on Euclid Avenue. We were the opening credits of Major League.

But then in 1990 I went away to college, and my family moved to Virginia. The first couple of years I went back often. My brother lived there for a few summers, still met up with friends, extended family get togethers, holidays, etc. But over the years the visits got predictably less frequent. At the same time, the city itself kept changing, like all cities do. (Yes, even Cleveland.) Old steel mills were turned into nightclubs, the flats became a scene, new stadiums, downtown renaissance. And then the flats died, the Tribe was terrible again, housing crisis, ghost-town. I think the last time I went back was three years ago for my Grandmother's funeral? Stayed in a turn-of-the-century bank that had been converted to a Holiday Inn downtown. Had drinks at a hipster bar that used to be in a pretty shady neighborhood. Gray drizzle. The city was like a second cousin that you only see once every six or seven years. There's something strikingly familiar at the core, but there is so much context and backstory that fills in those gaps that they might as well be a total stranger. (Assuming that you aren't Facebook friends of course.) It's an amazingly disorienting form of nostalgia. Layers upon layers of recent history, almost like an archeological dig, all obscuring something that you lived and breathed for 18 years. Maybe you never really appreciate what it means to be from someplace until you leave it.

But in two years, I will have lived in Boston for as long as I lived in Cleveland. I’ve lived across from Fenway Park, the North End, East Cambridge, and most recently Brookline. (I'm not counting the three years in Worcester, because that never happened.) I’ve worked in Cambridge for 16 years. I've walked from one end of the city to the other in the wee hours of the morning, and I've run around the esplanade approximately 1,356,231 times. I’ve watched with a jealous eye the absolutely ridiculous stretch of sports teams that have graced this town. And of course my boys are from here. They've visited Cleveland multiple times. Cam's first baseball game was even at The Jake, even though he fell asleep on my shoulders the second we stepped foot in the park. But to them it’s just another place where they know some people, no different than DC, Chicago, NYC. Their memories will be of Fenway. Grant knows the names of all the bridges across the Charles. They know all the words to Dirty Water. I'm not from Boston, but I know Boston. It's weird being back in Cleveland for all the reasons I mentioned, but there's nothing weird about being here.

Which brings us to the marathon. I've watched a lot of Boston Marathons over the years, and always regarded it as a pretty cool tradition. Just not mine. (It doesn't help that I can't watch a race without feeling guilty that I'm not running.) After last year people were quick to rally around the city. Boston, even America, had been attacked. But personally, I was more outraged that somebody would target the finish line of a road race. This was about running. And then I got wrapped up in the training and fundraising challenge. Marking off a marathon from my bucket list. Plus being a part of the absolute spectacle / circus that this race promises to be. Not every day you can simply enter an event like this. But the undeniable Boston-ness of this whole thing is starting to take hold. It's hard to go to team meetings at the public library, the police station, the teen center, and not feel like a local. It's hard to raise money for a local charity, and not feel a sense of civic pride. And it's hard to train through the winter in this city and not start to bond with it. I dragged the boys out of bed at 6:30am last Saturday to go downtown to the finish line and be a part of the SI "Boston Strong" cover shoot, telling myself this will be a cool bit of history for them. But I'm not sure I would have bothered four months ago.

(You can't really see us in the main picture. Grant decided to jump off my shoulders at that particular moment. But here we are in the back.) 

Nothing will be different on Tuesday. Well, I'll be really sore, but you know what I mean. It's just a road race. And I still won't own a Red Sox hat. But at the same time, it's the Boston F'ing Marathon. I'm going to go down to Copley on Saturday to pickup my number and jacket, I'm going to get on a bus at the Commons on Monday morning, I'm going to get dropped off in Hopkinton, and I'm going to run home.

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