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Ode to #Cleveland

December 10th, 2012 · 2 Brilliant Opinions · Random Things That Make Me Smile, US Travel

I spent last weekend with my daughter, visiting the city I called home in the early 90s.   I went to Cleveland, Ohio to do my medical residency training.   I knew a few people from college who had grown up in Cleveland but I had never spent any significant time there.  When my residency match sent me to Cleveland the responses ranged from “Oh my” to “I’m so sorry” and ” You’re going to the mistake on the lake!”  I did my internship in New York City  and telling New Yorkers you were going to spend  three years in the midwest was tantamount to saying  you would be going to Siberia.  

I had the distinction of being the first black woman trained in my specialty at one of Cleveland premier medical  institutions.  As the plane touched down in Cleveland on Friday afternoon I wondered why I hadn’t packed a chic business suit.  That way I could changeand go and visit the hospital that I trained at.  Then my historical amnesia dissipated.  While grateful for the opportunity to pursue my medical training – I view my residency as a short and painful stint in the “medical army.”  But unlike the real army – we weren’t in this thing together. My superiors and colleagues chose to make up their own rules and largely seemed hell bent on thwarting me. My attendings (senior supervising MDs) were mostly white and male. Most seemed disdainful or befuddled by me.  A few seemed turned on by me, found me provocative and acted  as if I was their personal “jungle bunny.”  One told me we could have “zebra babies” and went so far as to rub his leg against my thigh vigorously during a surgical procedure I was assisting him with.

To add to my stress level I got into a chaotic and destructive relationship with a charlatan.  For the purposes of this post and to protect his privacy,  let’s call him “The Dentist From Hell.” TDFH was handsome, engaging and funny.  But alas, he was also a pathological liar.  We were supposed to get married.  I thank God that we didn’t.

In the midst of medical training, sexism, racism, a bad relationship (and did I mention the endless snow) – I found a haven in Cleveland.  This little city with its great industrial past is so charming.  Cleveland has real arts.  A superb orchestra and an excellent art museum.  I’ve been to cities where they tout their art collection but  there’s one museum and they stick dinosaur bones next to a Monet.

What Cleveland lacked in nightlife back then – it made up for in hospitality. Since so many people entertained at home, I learned to cook in Cleveland.  I threw dinner parties and showers for my girlfriends. I even baked for my fellow residents.

Clevelanders love their sports and they love a good meal.  I found that I could enjoy high quality entertainment on my meager  medical resident salary.  Even with all my drama, life was in many ways “easy”  in Cleveland. No lines at the cinema. No fights over parking spaces.  I had a spacious, light filled renovated, affordable apartment in a safe and diverse neighborhood (Shaker Heights).

But  the best thing about Cleveland is its people. Down to earth, gracious and kind to a fault.  I took my tween daughter with me to Cleveland this weekend.  She gushed about how “strange” it was that the  people were so nice.

This weekend, after attending a great party, a friend drove us back to our hotel.  He pointed out my old apartment building. “Remember, I helped you move into that place.”  This was not an old boyfriend but someone I met through a mutual friend.  I’m sure  she told him ” We are going to help her move. Period.”  She insisted that we would not take a taxi back to our hotel.  “Don’t worry someone will drive you home tonight.”   So for three long years that was the mantra I received from the Cleveland community.  “Don’t worry – we’ll take care of you.”  “Don’t worry – we’ll feed you.”  “Don’t worry – dinner and drinks at our home tonite.”  Don’t worry.

Cleveland, like many US cities, was hit hard by the recession.   Cleveland seems pumped to reinvent itself. Its downtown, which was undergoing a renaissance 25 years ago, is still struggling.  The Flats is less of the entertainment hub it was in the ’90s but the westside has become a sanctuary for upscale dining.  The luxury mall at Tower City is a shadow of its former self.  There are new stadiums and a bustling new casino.  There seems to a pub or bar on every corner.    But to me, the biggest attraction in Cleveland is its heart.  The heart that embraced a brown girl from the big city and gave her a new home.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Cynthia

    First of all, I just want to say that I always enjoy your posts. They are down-to-earth and informative. Your descriptions allow me to imagine myself in your shoes and some of the best journalists have trouble creating this feeling. It sounds like you had a wonderful time in Cleveland. You are right: The people make the “place.” I’ve had many experiences in my travels where the people created the “good time.” It didn’t matter about the place, itself, but the abundance of heart. Well, I have a lot of orders and customers depending on me to get their items to them before Christmas, so I must work. Many blessings to you and yours. ~Cynthia

  • Ann

    Hi Cynthia – We had a great time. Cleveland is a wonderful city and needs support from tourists to grow and blossom. I’ll be posting soon the details of our trip especially the awesome Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.

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