Cleveland understands the value of drinking out of doors. Perhaps this has something to do with the extremity of the city’s winter weather. When spring finally comes with summer quick in pursuit, people feel an intense compulsion to occupy the spaces of their worlds that were long blanketed in snow and utterly uninhabitable.
There are few pleasures in life as entrancing as sitting somewhere outside, sipping something cold and alcoholic. This quotidian joy, if you happen to be itinerant me (or pretty much anybody else) is buoyed by good company and good conversation. Since the weather finally gave poor, pallid Clevelanders a break, I have spent the majority of my porch-drinking time talking about love and politics.
These are heady subjects, you might say, for casual social gatherings. But that is the beauty of the porch: the warm breezes and kind light mitigate what might otherwise prove antagonistic engagements. It’s so much easier to disagree, to debate, to all out stand opposed to those sitting across the table from you in such scenarios.
Don’t believe me? Well, the President of the United States does. So take that.
The point here is simply this: the environments in which we confront each other matter. The physical landscapes, the light, the architecture, the sound, the smell–all the textures that compose a moment–color our capacity to understand one another.
Perhaps this is no radical suggestion, but it bears outlining nonetheless. Our most productive, meaningful, even epiphanic insights about ourselves and the strange networks we inhabit are often connected to where they occur. And perhaps our grim political exchanges, both local and global, might be in need of alternative meeting grounds.
Besides: who doesn’t swoon at the thought of an afternoon, even with an enemy or two in tow, cooling the seasonal sun with a beer and trying to figure out what on earth we’re going to do with our lives/loves/countries/cities/cats?*
As a small token of my belief in the power of place to change the world and the self, I give you a list of just a few of my favorite neighborhood patios/porches/yards:
Prosperity Social Club: In addition to being in my neighborhood, Prosperity has a lovely, small outdoor deck in the back. It’s a diverse crowd and a full bar. And it’s called Prosperity Social Club. Obviously, they’re in my camp.
Tremont Tap House: There’s a fire pit. Need I say more?
Edison’s Pub: Pizza delivered right to your table. Dogs napping on the bricks. General camaraderie and beer.
My backyard. Known by my landlord and others as ‘chateau ghetto,’ I have a fire pit too. And often provide marshmallows for roasting.
So take someone you don’t understand outside for a drink. Because, tis the season for micropolitics.
*People worry about their cats a lot.
The Play of the Day, oh readers of mine, is the play of most of my days here in Cleveland.
One of my favorite things about the city is the Hope Memorial Bridge (more commonly known by its former title, the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge). Finished in 1932, this epic engineering feat crosses the Cuyahoga river between Ohio City, on Cleveland’s near-west side, and downtown, on it’s near-east. Posted at either end of the bridge are four epic sculptures known as the ‘Guardians of Transportation,’ or ‘Guardians of Traffic.’
Each one of these gentlemen, designed by Frank Walker and sculpted by Henry Hering, is a janus-headed figure grasping, between enormous hands, some type of vehicle. One has a carriage, one a construction truck, one an automobile and one an early version of a semi. These huge, stoic, art-deco (and pretty phallic) dudes are my comrades.
I cross the bridge on my daily trek to work. I usually say hello to the guardians on the way in or out of my neighborhood. These wildly handsome concrete pylons always prove a salve to my savage, commuting soul.
They are certainly a mammoth indicator of the city’s industrial apex, and of its ties to a particular moment in art history. But more than that, they are gorgeous pieces of public art that mean something to Clevelanders.* And while their design, which was meant to celebrate the progress of transportation, might have missed its speculative mark in terms of Cleveland’s particular historical trajectory, they none-the-less do carve themselves into the city in an arresting and spectacular way. And I think their power as Cleveland landmarks is as much about what they indicate in retrospect, as it is about what they were meant to mark at the moment of their construction.**
They never respond to my ritual salutation. But I love them. And their indifference does not negate my feeling that they watch over me, and the city, and perhaps all urban travelers, everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that I am not the only resident who finds herself speaking to the guardians. I bet they’ve listened to many itinerant wanderers, as they head somewhere in this weird and engaging landscape.
*I have one friend who has a guardian tattooed on his calf. He cannot possibly be the only Clevelander who chose to memorialize his homeland thusly.
**I’ve written in this blog about some of the ways the history of an urban landscape, Cleveland’s more specifically, is sometimes veiled by its public art. The guardians cannot, because of their age and their position in the city, disguise what was misguided in their production. While this may become true for other ventures, the guardians were not built (as what might be called their contemporary equivalents) in the full flush of commodity capitalism. But, as with all speculation of this sort, I could be wrong. Maybe commodity capitalism is only just now beginning to find its real flourish and things like the outdoor chandelier in Playhouse Square will become friendly indicators of a certain moment in aesthetic history. For the sake of us all, I’m going to go ahead and hope not.