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Ohio, State Of Light, State of Magic!

With a tip of the hat to the great Randy Newman’s ironic paean to Cleveland [1], I give you native Ohioan Walter Kirn taking a big old campaign season dump on his home state. [2] Excerpt:

To those who know it well, in a way the Census Bureau only could if it were based in Akron or Sandusky, the soul of Ohio is its utter soullessness. What Gertrude Stein said [3] of Oakland—that “there isn’t any there there”—is so much truer of Ohio that no one would ever bother to mention it, let alone be considered witty for doing so. In Oakland, one half expects to find a there and is disappointed when one doesn’t. In Ohio, on the other hand, nothing– and nowhere–ness is the whole premise.

This explains why the state turns out such good rock-and-roll bands. From the Pretenders, whose bitter “My City Was Gone [4],” (about Akron, singer Chrissy Hynde’s hometown) may as well be Ohio’s official anthem, to Devo, whose name is short for “de-evolution,” to the Black Keys, whose thumping garage arrangements convey the very essence of bored delinquency, the driving force behind Ohio rock is the deep human need to feel something, anything, when surrounded by total tedium and depletion. Which is to say that Ohio rocks so hard because if it didn’t, it wouldn’t exist.

Ohio‘s great writers—and it produces a lot of them, most of whom blow town on the first train in much the same way that young beauties raised in Kansas split for L.A. the moment they’re out of high school—offer further tribute to the state’s nullity.  … Human beings of vision and vitality will do almost anything to leave Ohio.

It’s a great rant, but I hope ol’ Walter isn’t counting on the good will of the folks back home. What do you say, Ohio and Ohio-born readers? Is your state really that craptastic? I’ve never been, except for a connecting flight through Cleveland once, during which time I picked up the Plain Dealer, a paper that was spoken of with reverence when I was in journalism school in the 1980s, but which by that time (2004) was so bland and vacant that it made USA Today read like the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [5].

UPDATE: Would some of you mind actually READING this entry before emoting? I have no opinion on Ohio, having never been there outside of connecting through Cleveland. Walter Kirn calls it craptastic. I’m asking if you Ohio natives or residents agree with him. Kindly take your misdirected spite towards me and rub it in your buckeye.

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49 Comments To "Ohio, State Of Light, State of Magic!"

#1 Comment By Derek Leaberry On November 5, 2012 @ 11:31 am

My wife is from a small town west of Akron, itself a postule of industrial decline. Spending time in Ohio is often dull. Chief amusements include high school football and basketball, washing the car(pronounced cair in much of Ohio), and cruising about the Amish in Holmes County, incidentally the most Republican county in the state. I know I like to travel the Amish country, beer in hand, driving past towns like Charm, Walnut Creek and, yes, Winesburg. In defense of Ohio, its town bakeries put most bakeries in the rest of the country to shame. As a Southerner, I have found that the life speed of Ohio is at least ten degrees slower than what I am used to. Which isn’t a bad thing.

To get a feel for Ohio you wouldn’t do too badly in reading Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio” and fast forward a century.

#2 Comment By Charles Cosimano On November 5, 2012 @ 11:32 am

I spent a year driving through Ohio one afternoon and yes, it is there to hold the space between Indiana and Pennsylvania. One can only dream of a change in the election laws that woud forbid anyone in Ohio from voting in a Presidential election, then we would no longer have to hear about the damne place.

#3 Comment By Jay On November 5, 2012 @ 11:37 am

I did my time in Ohio. It is truly everything bad that it is made out to be.

#4 Comment By EricfromCleveland On November 5, 2012 @ 11:41 am

“Is your state really that craptastic?”.

Nope. We’re just a state with bad weather. Occaisonally the pundit class will allow a city (Boston, NYC, Chicago) to have bad weather and still be “cool”, but never a state.

#5 Comment By The Mighty Favog On November 5, 2012 @ 11:57 am

Some folks — like myself, for instance — have this conflicted, complicated love-hate relationship with their places of birth. Walter Kirn, judging from that New Republic piece, seems to have a simple hate-hate relationship with his home state, Ohio.

I’ve never been to Ohio, have no great love for it and have always hated Ohio State football with a white-hot zeal . . . but holy crap! That was vicious and completely gratuitous.

Now I’m left to wonder whether that article says a whole lot more about Walter Kirn than it does about Ohio.

Did Woody Hayes ever take a swing at him during a football game? Could that be the deal?

(FWIW, I think the best decline-and-fall song about Ohio was written by a boy from the Jersey Shore — Bruce Springsteen’s “Youngstown.”)

#6 Comment By Mr. Patrick On November 5, 2012 @ 11:58 am

Ohio is seen as provincial, but it’s much more atomized than that, it’s parochial. Ohio lacks an overall theme because there are very strong local themes. In the central and western rural flatlands, the same culture (corn, hogs, soy) stretches out straight to Iowa. In the Southeast, the Ohio river is obvious on the maps, but it feels more like a giant creek running between two Appalachian ridges. It has no real distinguishing cultural features to separate it from West Virginia.

Columbus has more in common with Indianapolis than it does with any other major city in its own state. Southwest Ohio shares a conservative German Catholic culture with Northern Kentucky, and bits of Southern Indiana, that forms a region running down the river to Louisville.

The Northeast is a melting pot of the type that mass industrial employment created. The only way to have known in advance how many nations the ex-Communist states could fragment into, was to catalog the number of different Slavic Orthodox and Uniate denominations and ethnic RC Churches between Lorain and Youngstown. And the Ruthenians are still waiting, so keep an eye on the map around western Ukraine.

Ohio was the United States’ first venture in drawing of arbitrary state boundaries around mostly uninhabited land. It was a creature of compromise between competing claims by the original 13 states, land speculators who surveyed themselves tracts the size of Benelux countries, and Revolutionary Veterans’ land bonuses. None of the modern regions really feels as though it belongs with the others. It’s not that Ohio is a nullity, it’s that there’s no reason for it to exist in the borders it has, so the composite shared identity is by necessity rather bland.

#7 Comment By Noah G. On November 5, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

That’s funny, there’s a strong prejudice here in Charleston against people from Ohio. I’ve always thought it was dumb and random, and/or due simply to the fact that a ton of people from Ohio move/live here.

Now I know the truth. It’s just an intrinsically hate-able place. (Just kidding, I’ve never been there. I’ll suspend my judgement, for now.)

#8 Comment By Beyng On November 5, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

According to Tocqueville, writing in the 1830s, Cincinnati was literally the worst place on earth (aside from Algeria) precisely because it was effectively a non-place populated by ambitious transients.

Also, having criss-crossed Ohio through its northern Rust Belt tier, its central cornfields, and its quasi-Appalachian South, I can verify that Ohio is the worst/most boring state to drive through–and I’ve driven across South Dakota, Kansas, and Wyoming, among other natural monuments to boredom.

#9 Comment By Matt On November 5, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

Chief amusements include high school football…

So it’s just like rural Texas then? 😉

Seriously, most of Ohio is just like most of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, etc. The vast majority of the land area of the state is flat farmland, with all that entails. I find the cities pleasant with decent cultural diversions, but nothing terribly distinguished – though as a native Chicagoan I’m a tough room in this regard.

#10 Comment By Dan On November 5, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

Places are largely what you make of them, and also what they make of you.

Kirn strikes me as a man who desperately wants to go home again; but you can’t. You can only go to the place where home used to be.

#11 Comment By Kevin in OH On November 5, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

Raised in Ohio from age 3 to 22 and currently living here.

The “why does Ohio get to choose the president” trope is a mere anomaly of the electoral college system, combined with Ohio’s mix of urban rust-belt cities and rural farmland, so I won’t respond to that point. As to our craptastic-ness, speaking only for myself and my family:

We have no aspirations to be the center of the universe (New York, L.A.). We’re not attempting to impose our vision of the good life on the rest of the country. We have humble ambitions. We want to raise our kids, celebrate holidays with our extended families, worship God in our churches, and enjoy a baseball game with our neighbors. The current economics are such that this can mostly be done, on a reasonable single-income salary, without a 2-hour commute to work, if you’re willing to live near folks who might not share your appreciation for craft beer, who get dirty at work, or who enjoy watching pro sports in their finished basements. If that’s too dull of a life for Kirn, well then, we’re glad he’s left, so the rest of us can get on with appreciating what we have.

PS – my wife is from Australia, my two kids are adopted from Guatemala, and most of my work-mates are from India or China, so I think that dis-qualifies me from the “blinkered red-neck” category.

#12 Comment By Al-Dhariyat On November 5, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

Good lawd, what a delicious paean to Ohio mediocrity! Oh it warms my black Pennsylvania soul, it does.

Topology is what rankles me so much about Ohio (besides my hatred of their football teams). It’s just so boring, so flat, so nondescript. Lake Erie once caught on fire in Cleveland. ’nuff said. I will now circulate Mr. Kirn’s brilliant expose on Facebook and Twitter. Everyone will agree.

#13 Comment By Mark On November 5, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

My guess is Ohio gets hate because it is by nature conservative (small ‘c’) It is what it is. The state has never been concerned much with grand idealism or sweeping change (with the possible exception of Cleveland, which makes it such a problem for the rest of the state to deal with). I think Ohioans follow the dictum(apocryphal?) of Mies Van Der Rohe “I don’t want to be interesting, I just want to be good” And what is wrong with that?

If anything, Ohio has suffered from the ill effects of exploitation – both agricultural and industrial. Basically, its been mined and now its being mined for the talented and educated. It lay at an unfortunate location geographically and historically. I have found very good explanation of this is in Louis Bromfield’s semi-autobiographical novel “The Farm”.

While I’ve unfortunately moved on, it still is home. I miss being there. I miss the Fall; the apples, the maple syrup, pumpkin patches, and Football( Big Ten (even in a down year) the Browns (I’ll admit it), highschool, etc.). I miss the rolling hills, and the red barns in the snow. I miss the trilliums in the Spring and the beef cattle taking shelter from the hot July sun under the lone oak near the creek. I miss the big hulking steel plants and the sunsets (yes, the sunsets) over Lake Erie. I miss Great Lakes Beer and Catawba wine.

I suppose I could be criticized for being sentimental, but it is a beautiful place with good people doing good things. I know many of them. Their politics vary, from fundamentalist conservatives to to the most bleeding heart atheist liberals. I don’t know…perhaps Ohio is the mirror of America, or at least a large part of it, and sometimes its hard to look in the mirror when you’ve longed believed you look like something else.

Mark
Charlottesville, Virginia

#14 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 5, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

I love Ohio. Maybe that’s because I know people who live there, as distinct from flying over it, or knowing that I used to live there. I don’t spend a lot of time in Ohio, but I have spent long enough in Akron to know its recovering better than Youngstown (a low bar, I know), and its a place I wouldn’t mind living if I had a reason to be there. (Hi to my favorite Sunday school teacher at Mt. Zion Baptist Church).

Driving across is IS a long stretch, but I enjoyed the scenery along Hwy 35, and the last stretch through the hills on the eastern side.

There aren’t many really bad places, once you get to know them, and, especially, if you know people who live there.

I also love West Virginia, Pittsburgh, but I won’t say anything good about Gary, Indiana, although I do, now, know one person who lives there too.

#15 Comment By Rosie Land On November 5, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

33 years in Ohio. Miserable weather, especially now with global warming coming on; central Ohio summers are now in the ’90’s with humidity to match. I am also very tired of the Ohio State football idolatry. Other than that, it’s about like anyplace else.

#16 Comment By Momma Sue On November 5, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

Kevin had it right, above. We’re normal people doing normal things, and by and large pretty happy about it. I’m in the Columbus area, and there is so much diversity here it’s incredible. We know people from all over the world, and they’re right here. The cost of living is reasonable, there are some noteworthy school systems in the area, and lots of dog parks and people parks too. We have a terrific university with an awesome marching band, and a fair amount to get excited about should we choose to do so. Seriously–you could do much worse.

The weather, admittedly, can be a drawback. But if you don’t like it, hang around. It’ll change shortly.

#17 Comment By elrond On November 5, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

There is an often overlooked gem in Ohio: Hocking Hills, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

See for example:
[6]
[7]
[8]
[9]

#18 Comment By Ellen in MA On November 5, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

I was born in Toledo, a long time ago, and spent my early childhood there. It seems like it was a magic place them, but I doubt it would seem that way now. Ericfrom Cleveland, I disagree. Vermont is way cool and the weather there makes Ohio’s look good.

#19 Comment By Bob Jones On November 5, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

Although born in California of refugees from Ohio, one thing I have learned in my extensive genealogical research is that as far as my family and ancestors go. Ohio seems to be a transitory stop on the way to go somewhere else. Thus, it is often a place to be “from”, not stay in.

Just sayin’

#20 Comment By Matt L. On November 5, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

I was born and raised in Cincinnati, went to Ohio State in Columbus, and spent most of my summers growing up in Akron, where my grandma lives. I know the state well enough to say that you can’t do much of a better job describing it than Mr. Patrick did above.

Ohio is not such a bad place. I haven’t lived there for nearly three years now and probably won’t again, but I relish every trip back to Cincinnati. And it is to Cincinnati that I feel an allegiance, not Ohio. Columbus is a middle American collection of suburbs indistinguishable from fifteen others just like it. Cleveland and Akron are wonderful little outposts of Eastern Europe surrounded by surprisingly beautiful countryside, but I do not belong there. Cincinnati is where I belong. For its part of the country, Cincinnati is a great place to live, rather crunchy. There is a real sense of rootedness in Cincinnati. Neighborhood loyalties run deep, though not as deep as the East/West divide in town. It is intensely Catholic and German. Cincinnati can be quite morally conservative (Larry Flynt trials, Mapplethorpe controversy), but there is also a strong joi de vivre (many smoke-easy bars resisting the state ban four years on now, second or third largest Oktoberfest in the world). When people ask where you went to school, they mean which single-sex Catholic high school you attended, not your college. To be an Ohio State fan in Cincinnati makes you a deeply suspect person–why root for that school up north when SW Ohioans have Cincinnati, Xavier, Miami, and Dayton to support?

Having also lived in Louisville, KY, and having spent a fair amount of time in Bloomington, IN, I feel much more in common with people in those places than people in Toledo or Columbus, just like Mr. Patrick said. Ours is a river country. I’d love to eventually see that little region secede from its three respective states and form one new one. Wendell Berry for governor!

#21 Comment By jaybird On November 5, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

I’m from Michigan, and bad-blood from OSU and the Toledo War aside, I quite like Ohio.

[10]

#22 Comment By TWylite On November 5, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

Growing up in Michigan, it was always implied that it was my duty to hate Ohio. I never could. They have Cedar Point (that’s Midwesternese for “Six Flags”), and back then (late 70’s – 80’s) mostly toothless professional sports teams that weren’t a threat to any of the Detroit teams. So I really didn’t care. Also, the list of Ohio music acts above is egregiously missing the Ohio Players, clearly out of rock-centric racism.

#23 Comment By native ohioan On November 5, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

The disdain of the elites is our salvation. Thank you for leaving, Mr. Kirn.

Concerning musical heritage, no other state of the union has this, the best damn band in the land:
[11]

#24 Comment By Kevin in OH On November 5, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

Further comments:

Hypothesis #1: Mr. Kern has no children.

Hypothesis #2: Areas of the country where the ratio of children to adults in Mr. Kern’s age group (say 25 -45) and income bracket (say $80k – $150k) is lower, are the areas that Mr. Kern would find more “interesting”, and not so dull as Ohio.

If you prove the above hypotheses you may credit me in your next book.

Parents spend a lot of time helping with homework and watching high school football games… doesn’t leave as much time for Mr. Kern’s preferred amusements, but it does build a life, albeit a naturally more “conservative” one.

#25 Comment By brians On November 5, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

5 generations in the Bottoms & Hilltop neighborhoods of C-bus. Definitely not a non-place for me. Great neighborhoods all over the city: great dive restaurants & taco trucks everywhere. Local symphony, great local theater, great library system. Crappy public transit, though, and the city does have a bad habit of bulldozing it’s history. Progress, thbbbppt. And the weather: Oh Hell, It’s Overcast. Oh yeah – Dwight Yoakam’s from Westerville. I’m a thousand miles from nowhere.

#26 Comment By Erin Manning On November 5, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

Ohio is one of the many places I’ve lived in, and one of my sisters married an Ohio native and stayed there. For the most part, the Dayton/Cincinnati area seemed to me like many other places in “flyover country” I’ve lived in; what I miss most is the ability to walk all over the little towns we lived in (you know, and actually get to real places, like libraries and grocery stores)–the area of Texas where I live just doesn’t offer that sort of thing.

But there are a few things about Ohio that are true:

1.Ohio drivers are…well, different. Reportedly in the late 1800s there were only two motor vehicles in the whole state of Ohio, and they somehow managed to crash into each other.

2. Ohio is a *great* state for introverts. When you are at the grocery store or bank or other public place, the person behind the counter will do his/her job and assist you. You must understand that it is not his/her job to smile at you, to ask you how you are doing or anything at all about your parents or family, or to tell you to have a nice day. If the employer makes him/her say that last bit anyway, he/she will say it in a tone of voice that makes you well aware that it is a mere formality and that your reciprocation is neither wished for nor desired.

3. Once you actually *do* get to know the natives of Ohio, they will treat you like family and, in times of crisis, go above and beyond the call of duty to help you.

4. Every single one of them will say what Momma Sue did about the weather, especially if/when they find out you are new to the state or just visiting. Ohio proudly claims to have invented that expression, and will reject any similar claims made by bordering or nearby states. You will not convince any of them that you heard it in, say, Kansas first. And if you tell them, truthfully, that you heard it said in Hawaii and that in fact it is actually *true* in Hawaii (in that it can start out sunny, rain for a bit, warm back up and then get what the locals consider “chilly” at night), they will think you are being rude on purpose.

#27 Comment By Pete S On November 5, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

How surprising that a writer who has moved out of Ohio feels moved to write that Ohio has produced a lot of great writers who left as soon as they could. I guess we would expect a writer with degrees from Princeton and Oxford to be this pompous. There is nothing wrong with being educated, but there sure is something wrong with looking down on the people you have left behind.
I am from Ontario but have been visiting the state for the last 15 years as my wife’s sister lives there. Like most places it is a combination of good and bad, but we always look forward to our visits. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, don’t visit. But Mr Kirn, taking those kind of shots at your birthplace tells us more about you than about Ohio.

#28 Comment By J On November 5, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

From my experience of it, Ohio is pretty much Generic U.S.A. with normal local deviations from the mean. It is anomalous in lacking that one strong positive outlier from the mean- a place, or distinguished group of people, or cultural quality, or industry- that people can glom onto as its redeeming feature.

#29 Comment By M_Young On November 5, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

” I have no opinion on Ohio,”

And that’s the point, isn’t it?

#30 Comment By NRF On November 5, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

Matt L., you call Cleveland and Akron “wonderful little outposts of Eastern Europe . . . .” That is so far from the truth that it is laughable. I lived in Cleveland for two years and it is nothing of the sort. Nor is Akron. I wish. They are dangerous, disgusting, decaying hell-holes with fewer and fewer people of Eastern European — or any other European — descent. (and this from an Indians fan who still has several good friends in the Cleveland area)

#31 Comment By Everhopeful On November 5, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

I was born in Cincinnati, lived for a while in Columbus, and grew up in the farm country in the northwestern part of the state. I went to college in southwest Ohio, got married there, and lived there six years after getting married. Then we moved. I still miss it and would love to return. My husband, an Ohio boy, would like nothing better than to move back. Our people are there, not only family, but also the best friends we ever had, and we’re comfortable there in a way that we most certainly are not where we currently live (my job, which I am lucky to have, keeps us here). We would be happy in Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus, or even Toledo, which has a great zoo, symphony, art museum, and access to Lake Erie. It’s home, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks of it.

#32 Comment By J Ireland On November 5, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

It’s important to understand there are two Ohios. The glaciers of the Ice Age receded from the middle of the state, leaving a mountainous bottom half and a top half that’s mostly as flat as a tabletop. Southern Ohio is closer, culturally, to the Appalachian states near it – I went to college in that area…the KKK still had marches now and then. Northern and central Ohio, where I spent most of my youth, are actually quite vibrant places. Cleveland hosts the Metropolitan Opera, the famed Cleveland Playhouse, the original of Rodin’s “The Thinker,” and the Cleveland Clinic. Growing up near Columbus, I saw Alvin Ailey, Itzhak Perlman, Kiri Te Kanawa…at affordable prices. The state has many excellent colleges and universities.

Yes, many Ohioans are narrow-minded, ill-informed, and “parochial”…but most have a fundamental straightforward friendliness and decency that I do not find in the southwestern state I now inhabit. And for all the “sameness,” the many non-comformists and eccentrics in Ohio are more truly unique than in more “sophisticated” areas of the country.

I will always be a little homesick.

#33 Comment By kp On November 5, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

I’m a native of the Cincinnati area, and would concur with much of what Matt L. and Mr. Patrick have said above, and I will readily admit that I love living in Southwest Ohio -despite having traveled to many other portions of the globe.
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that in an age of celebrity, something solid and yeomanry like Ohio gets little love. We don’t have overly-dramatic scenery, nor overly-large cities; we don’t have Revolutionary War or Civil War battlefields (actually we do but they’re very minor and we don’t like to brag). But we do have beautiful, rolling farmland, spectacular hardwood forests, and fresh water in abundance all within a temperate climate, much like vast swaths of northern Europe – in short very similar to the original homelands of the migrants who eventually made Ohio home. We have middlin’ size cities and postcard-perfect small towns. And at the turn of the last century, Ohio was the “Silicon Valley” of American industrialism; our public schools were the envy of the nation, our industrialists pioneered better working conditions, our engineers and mechanics invented airplanes, etc. As heavy industry waned, so did the fortunes of the state; but things have stabilized here, and productivity and ingenuity are surging once again (we rank 5th in Fortune 500 companies: Columbus is a research powerhouse and Cincinnati is the consumer products capital of the world thanks to P&G, Macy’s and Kroger all headquartered within 5 blocks of each other) Sure our weather sucks from time to time, but so does yours (unless you live in SoCal).
Ohio’s biggest problem, has been hinted at in some of the other comments; we have a Midwestern modesty that doesn’t brag and doesn’t dwell on historic accomplishments (think of Neil Armstrong – perhaps the modern epitome of an Ohioan. We typically – unfortunately- identify as Americans first, and after that, probably more state residents think of themselves as midwesterners before they’d say “Ohioan” which doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. Ohio has always been subsumed within the larger, national story; and I believe we too often of the state as a federal administrative unit. As Matt L. said, regionalism is still alive and well though, and Cincinnati in particular has a pride of place unusual within the state – partly because of the steep hills which give it a natural beauty unusual in the Midwest, and partly because we accomplish world-class things here, from business & commerce to the arts even to food. Side note: one of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods’, Over the Rhine, is making national waves – google it an see.
So, Rod, next time you’re in Southwest Ohio, look me up, and I and some other of your local readers will give you the grand tour; you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

#34 Comment By Matt L. On November 5, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

@ NRF — Cleveland and Akron have rough spots, for sure, and the weather is absolutely horrid, but there is a lot of beauty you may have missed. Cleveland is a fantastic food city. The old-style delis in Cleveland are the equal of any I’ve yet visited. Amazing corned beef. Akron has less to offer, but there are a lot of beautiful homes left over from the heyday of the rubber industry, not to mention the old outposts of privilege like the country clubs and the various civic clubs. In both, there are still ethnic Catholic churches the likes of which you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. I remember being dragged into Hungarian and Croatian churches as a child and feeling like I was in another world. That is to say nothing of the Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox, of which there are many in that part of Ohio. Then you get outside of the cities and you’re in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is gorgeous, pristine, and unbeatable for that part of the country in fall and winter.

#35 Comment By Laurie On November 5, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

I am a native of Ohio, and still love it and miss it. As for Ohio being flat in the northern half — you and I must not be looking at the same topography!!! If you want to know what flat is — come to where I live now – Plano, TX!! Now THAT is flat!

I am from Cleveland, but went to school at Miami of Ohio. MU is beautiful – hilly, green, gorgeous campus. I always thought that Cleveland had many pretty areas – although admittedly without the hills of southern Ohio.

Amish country in north central Ohio is lovely (and hilly).

I remember Cleveland as having a strong Eastern European influence years ago, but I think it’s become more diversified. When I was there in May, I noticed many Indian and Middle Eastern shops.

Emphasis in these comments has been on the people who move away. However, when I think of Ohio, I think of stability. I still have family in the Cleveland and north central Ohio area. Also, this past spring, I met family on my father’s side from the Columbus area, and they have been there for several generations! Never knew them for many reasons, but became connected through Ancestry.com. And no — they were not rednecks watching sports in their finished basements — they were warm, accomplished people who would do well anywhere.

So there you have it — I love Ohio!

#36 Comment By GCR On November 5, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

Once again, Chuck Klosterman nails it in “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” (he used to work in Akron): “… what’s interesting about Akron is that — due to a variety of socioeconomic reasons — the community tends to spawn things that could not have come from anywhere else in America. The band Devo is one example. Jeffrey Dahmer is another.”

The Black Keys seem to like it, though: [12]

And I like it, too, having had relatives and friends hail from that state. A wide range of political views, but all good Christians trying to do their best in life.

#37 Comment By David J. White On November 5, 2012 @ 5:49 pm

I’m from Akron (maybe, GCR, I could have been spawned nowhere else 😉 ), and I have to say, Ohio’s sense of it’s own ordinariness and normality is precisely its defining characteristic. Its most salient quality is precisely the fact that it has no salient quality. It’s often considered a microcosm of the nation precisely because it contains at least a little of everything: urban, rural, suburban, high-tech, farmbelt, rustbelt, river valley, even coastline (people who live in Cleveland like to say that they live on the North Coast), minorities, white ethnics, good ol’ boys, Amish. Even a bit of both Civil War (Johnson’s Island, a Confederate Cemetery on what what a Confederate POW camp, near Sandusky), and a rare War of 1812 US victory (the Battle of Lake Erie, whose 200th anniversay is coming up about a year from now, fought near, again, Sandusky), as well as a number of both American Indian and early frontier settler sites.

It’s also one of two states (the other being Virginia) that claims the title “Mother of Presidents”. Though, considering the presidents born in Ohio (Grant, Hayes, Garfield, B. Harrison, McKinley, Taft, Harding) I like to joke that Ohio should be called “Mother of Mediocre Presidents”. 😉

GCR — I worked at the Akron Beacon Journal around the time Chuck Klosterman did, and I remember seeing him once in the staff lunchroom. Who would have thought he’d move on to bigger and better things? (Well, I’m sure *he* did.)

Rod — Yes, please take my word for it, the Plain Dealer used to be a great paper. So, for that matter, did the Akron Beacon Journal, once the flagship paper of the late Knight-Ridder chain (John S. Knight was editor of the Beacon Journal). It was a sad day when Dick Feagler retired from the PD; he was probably the last link to its glory days.

As for Akron, I’m old enough to remember when all the tire companies were going full blast and the city really did smell like burning rubber. There was a time, maybe as recently as 25-30 years ago, when the largest employer in Akron was Goodyear (for which my father worked). Now the largest employer is the University of Akron (for which I used to work). That right there says something about the way the city has changed.

But all in all, Akron has in many ways weathered the economic shifts better than Cleveland. Somehow Akron managed to diversify its economy more to compensate for the loss of tire manufacturing and other industry. Both cities have lost a lot of population in the last 50 years; but Akron has lost about 1/3 of its 1960 population, whereas Cleveland is down about about half. Cleveland used to be in the top ten of American cities by population; now it’s only the third largest city in Ohio.

When I was in graduate school in Philadelphia I used to tell my students that I had moved to Philadelphia because I suffered from acrophobia — fear of Akron. 😉

#38 Comment By Freedom On November 5, 2012 @ 7:11 pm

Not from Ohio and don’t live there now, but I did live there (Cleveland area) for 10 years.

The minuses: (1) The weather is horrid — gray from November through April (and I like snow and cold). (2) The people are incredibly nice, but it is tight-knit and parochial to the point of suffocation. To echo Matt L.’s comment, when they ask where you went to school, they mean high school, and they don’t know what to do with you if you didn’t go to high school in greater Cleveland. Living there, I felt like an expat. We had wonderful friends in Cleveland, but they were also largely expats and also moved on to other places; we joke that we have more friends from Cleveland in other places than in Cleveland. (3) Related to this, the area is not receptive to new blood and new ideas. When a political controversy arose in the neighboring suburb, every single article in the local weekly pointed out that the leaders of one side had moved to the community in the last ten years. That side lost. Badly. (4) The economy is not good. The best and brightest leave, and see the above comment about new blood. (5) Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are corrupt (not unlike many other places).

The pluses: (1) The cultural opportunities, restaurants, and sports are great (Cleveland Orchestra, Playhouse Square, etc.). (2) Everything is easily accessible without difficult traffic, parking, hassle, or expense. (Imagine a place where public golf courses are plentiful, uncrowded, and inexpensive.) It is the opposite of NYC in this regard. (3) The pace is slow and people are friendly. To a northeasterner, it was a revelation. (4) To echo another point above, the sunsets over Lake Erie are gorgeous.

While I have very fond memories of it, I don’t regret leaving, and I can certainly understand why some would react very negatively to it.

#39 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 5, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

Personally, I haven’t spent virtually any time in Ohio, and I think of it as “that long stretch of highway between Michigan and Pennsylvania”.

That said, Rod, my opinion isn’t worth much. My priest back home (in Boston) grew up in a small town outside Cleveland, went to high school in the Northeast and to an Ivy League college, moved back to Cleveland as a young priest, and eventually moved back to Boston to spend the rest of his life there. He talks about his town in northeast Ohio with almost exactly the same kind of love that you talk about St. Francisville. Hearing him talk about it makes it sound like a nice place to grow up, or to raise a family.

#40 Comment By JonF On November 5, 2012 @ 7:18 pm

I was born in Ohio, albeit by accident: my very pregnant mother, not expecting me for another couple weeks, had her friend drive her down to see her relatives just over the state line– and promptly went into labor.

I also lived in Akron for four years (1999-2003).

As someone else noted above, Ohio is really three states, with the somewhat alien presence of Columbus presiding smack in the middle of them.
Southern Ohio is an extension of Appalachia: Northwest Virginia, or Upper Kentucky. I know it no better than I know those states: it’s drive-though territory.
Western Ohio is mainly farm country, except for Toledo which is really a satellite of Detroit and probably the Ohioans should have let it go in the Toledo War (ducking). This part of Ohio is flat as a drum: originally much of it was the Great Black Swamp, which before it was drained in the early 1800s was the largest wetland in the country, save only the Everglades. This part of Ohio has a homey feel for me: both my parents came from this area, my dad from Toledo, my mother from a tiny town a ways west. It has good memories of family picnics, visits with dear old Aunt Betty, weddings, holidays– and funerals. My parents and my grandparents are buried there.
NE Ohio is the Rustbelt par excellence, with the air of a once rich, now fallen family. Not as far or as awfully as Detroit, but still the good days are behind it. It’s also the most scenic part of the state (IMO), and Cuyahoga Valley National Park was quite a surprise to me when I moved to Akron. (I still have friends in Akron, and I keep up with St Elias’ Orthodox Church there too. I had a– if not “the”– time of my life in Akron. But that’s gone too.)

Well, there you have it: my Ohio.

NRF: a great deal of Eastern Europe is decaying too: it’s also a rustbelt. Akron was disheveled when I there, but hardly a “hellhole”. Good grief, sounds like you would only be at home among the billionaires of Boca Raton!

Re: Ohio weather. Um, Michigan’s is worse. But then Michigan (outside Detoit and its boring burbs) is a beautiful state, affording all manner of venues for skiing, camping, boating, hunting, fishing, and just plain vacations. You can can forgive the weather. Ohio really doesn’t have much along those lines.

#41 Comment By Sands On November 5, 2012 @ 8:12 pm

Ohio produced Robert Taft, so it can’t be all that bad.

#42 Comment By David J. White On November 5, 2012 @ 8:24 pm

I’ll add one more thing: I’m living in Texas now because I got a job here. If I had the opportunity to go back to Ohio, esp. northeast Ohio, I would go back like a shot. I have nothing (much) against Texas, but Ohio is home and always will be. My parents still live there, and I still have a number of friends there, so I tend to go back at least once a year.

One thing I really miss about Ohio, living in Texas, is fall. I don’t miss winter so much, but I really do miss fall.

#43 Comment By Ohioan On November 5, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

As a life-long Ohioan, I agree with others who have explained that there are 4 or 5 distinct parts of the state. The Northeast Ohio business and legal communities have an aggressive East-coast edge, while Southern Ohio has dixie-style mannerisms (where else do people simply say “Please?” when they want you to repeat something). Ohio is liberal and conservative; diverse and parochial; urban and rural; artsy and the cradle of football; industrial and full of service industries; home of “crunchy” bakeries and chain restaurants. It’s too diverse to be boring.

Ohio has many great colleges and universities. Ohio State is far more than a football factory. Miami is often heralded as “public Ivy,” and quality private colleges (Oberlin, Case Western, Denison, Wooster, Kenyon, Wittenburg) abound.

And, yes, after 9/11, more than a few of my East Coast-bred college friends uprooted their familes for a more “boring” (i.e., safer and saner) life in Ohio.

#44 Comment By Jeremy On November 5, 2012 @ 9:23 pm

This reminds me of a song by the Ohio pop-punk band Relient K. In it they compare their state to water chestnut. I’d say that’s about as strong a condemnation as one could make about a place — but it seems born out by the testimonis of others.

#45 Comment By pilgrim On November 5, 2012 @ 11:11 pm

There are thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird. In only one of them does the bird appear craptastic.

#46 Comment By GCR On November 6, 2012 @ 7:32 am

David J. White – I’m jealous! 🙂
Ohioan – you’re absolutely right! My boyfriend went to Oberlin, and one of my best friends (Ohio born and raised) went to Kenyon.
Jeremy – I like Relient K, and I’ll have to check out that song.

#47 Comment By Elrond On November 6, 2012 @ 8:54 am

Rod, do you realize this is the second time recently where you posted an Update which basically said, “Would you please actually read my post before commenting?” And both times, I think the commenters came to their conclusions legitimately (with the post on the hurricane, you elaborated by commenting yourself).

You begin this post by referring to a “great” Newman “ironic paean” to Cleveland, and then finish the post by calling the TNR article a “great rant.” To Ohioans, it’s not so great. We’re allowed to be defensive. Would you link to an extensive put-down of backwards Louisiana and call it great? If so, would you be surprised by the emoting that takes aim at you personally for posting it? I doubt it.

[Note from Rod: I observe that most people understood both posts clearly. Second, to call something a “great rant” is to observe that it is a quality piece of rhetoric. I was very clear that I had no personal opinion of Ohio, having never been there. I am perfectly capable of recognizing greatness in a rant against things I love or value, in the same way I recognize greatness in the Alabama quarterback stealing LSU’s victory over the weekend in the last 51 seconds of the game, with a magnificent performance. It’s about aesthetics, not morals. — RD]

#48 Comment By Capricorner On November 6, 2012 @ 9:26 am

I have also lived in Ohio for almost all of my life. Small town and rural Ohio has a very strong sense of place. Not everyone leaves the moment they get the chance! My grandmother recently passed away, and it was such a blessing to not have to make many travel arrangements – all of her children and most of her grandchildren live in the county we were born and raised in.

Western Ohio is not all flat farm country. In fact the highest point in Ohio is on the western side of the state. You couldn’t claim it’s a mountain, but the rolling hills are lovely here.

I find it annoying that so many visitors think Ohioans are rednecks and out of touch with the rest of the world. It smacks of snobbery and makes out-of-state city people seem out of touch and provincial to us.

If I could change anything about our state it would be that we could have the same level of public courtesy and friendliness as you have in the south. People often treat strangers as family there and I love that!

If you come to visit the rural areas of Ohio, come in the spring or fall. Fall in the Hocking Hills is wonderful!

#49 Comment By droc On July 28, 2014 @ 3:56 am

always liked driving through ohio….people were always friendly, definitely not a boring state when compared to iowa, nebraska, or kansas…not to mention when coming back east on a roadtrip it gave me the first clue that i was close to home….as the first mileage sign for new york on I 80 east was somewhere in eastern ohio around youngstown….short lived excitement was gone though upon realizing it was 6 more hours across pennsylvania before i would hear z100 or krock on my car radio…