Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Flats

Yesterday was cold, man. 19 degrees when I headed out with 30 mph winds gusting to 40. No one wanted to run outside with me (not that they're wusses, they just had other plans). But, the sun was blazing in the bright winter sky and I was consumed by this strange winter optimism and I charged on in my blue fleece and blue polyester hat undeterred.

The only place for a lone female to run in downtown Cleveland on a cold windy day is the Flats. That's it. On a non-windy day I could run along the shoreway, but the problem is it's an out and back, coming back due west, and in the winter almost always straight into a nasty headwind. I don't like headwinds, especially not 3 miles of continuous headwind. Any other routes are either full of traffic, bum havens, or through pj's. So, I hit the Flats.

If you're not familiar with Cleveland, the Flats have an interesting significance. At one point (actually at a few points) they were the land surrounding the burning Cuyahoga river. At some point in the 80's, in between the quarries, the harbors, the bridges, the barges, and the post-industrial brown fields, clubs and bars sprouted. During my late childhood and adolescence the Flats were where grown-ups went to party like Jimmy Buffet. Some would dock their boats along the banks next to Shooters on the Westbank or the Beach Club on the Eastbank and create their own private Margaritaville.

When I was in high school and early college the cool kids went to places like Smart Bar and Metropolis (later called Trilogy and now Metropolis again). Once, during the summer of 1995 I think, I was at Trilogy on a Sunday night (THE day to go) and Marilyn Manson was sitting next to me and I made fun of him with my friends. At the height of it's popularity it boasted at least 4 "upscale" strip joints, and chains like TGIFridays, Joe's Crab Shack, Fado, and my personal fave, Hooters. On a Friday or Saturday night, there were guys hocking gyros on every corner catering to the poor hungry drunken frat boys stumbling out of the really cheesy clubs like one called the Basement.

But then, things got ugly. A new entertainment district popped up the hill in the Warehouse District. So, first all the cool people migrated up there and places like the Smart Bar folded or like Metropolis/Trilogy changed their focus. That left the Jimmy Buffetites and the frat boys, et al down in the Flats. Then one summer there were multiple incidents involving frat boys drowning in the river. The city cracked down and put barriers along the river preventing the Jimmy Buffetites from docking and partying. So with one fell swoop, the frat boys and the Jimmy Buffetites left the Flats too. Soon, Joe's Crab Shack was empty and dilapidated. The Basement couldn't attract anyone but underage hussies and roaches and eventually folded under the crush of citations. Shooters is still there. I'm really not sure why.

This brings us to yesterday. I took off from my office and after five minutes or so I made my decent into the wind, the sparkly salt crunching under my feet as I went. At the end of this stretch lay the remains of a club called Spinakers or something. It's a decaying mess of white and fuscia and purple. I make the turn and next to Spinakers along the river lay nothing. Developers have cleared out a swath of former clubs and restaurants: Max and Erma's, Joe's Crab Shack, Fado. Across the street is the Hustler Club next to a boarded up place last known as the House of Brews.

I continue on crunching away and squinting in the intense sun up over the rapid tracks (the City sadly installed an expensive rapid transit line through the Flats that opened just as the district met its demise) and headed for the Westbank. I pass the former Smart Bar and cross the red swing bridge. I run down the middle of the road because I almost never see a car. I pass the Powerhouse that used to house TGIFridays and a bunch of other wildly popular stuff. I head on down and turn just past a bunch of giant industrial tanks of something on one side of the street and Metropolis Night Club on the other which looks a lot smaller than I remember it. I make a turn onto a heavily traveled truck route and now the wind is really fierce. Perhaps because of the truck traffic there is so much salt on the roads that it's almost like I'm running on a limestone trail and the wind is whipping it into salt devils like the ones you see on a PBS show about a desert.

My lips are cracking now and when I lick them I taste salt. That's kind of gross, but almost cool in a way. I run past big trucks and wonder whether the drivers are protective or predatory. I cross the street and ascend a very decent hill along a hopeful newly built condominium complex next to a bridge. As I finally make it to the top, lips still burning and still tasting salty, I come to St. Malachi's church, the host of a popular Cleveland 5 mile race and the savior to many of the cities poor and homeless. I run back down down down to the flats. And retrace my steps. It's the same thing really for three and a half more miles. I won't bore you with the details.


Miss Adventurous said...

I had my prom at the Powerhouse! It was one of the least magical nights of my life... (:

Viper said...

wow, way to run through a bunch of memories. I saw many a rock show at Peabody's Down Under. I miss the Flat's heydays.

Joseph P. Wood said...

You know, this is the quinnesential story of American Rivers, IMHO. You just look around towns on the Mississippi or Missouri or Ohio which once had a heyday. Then, viola, no more.

Running past places of youth gone to shit makes on feel...well...old.

Douglas! said...

I remember the "Flats" all too well! Back in 1996-1997 while I was attending school in Cleveland, I went there almost every weekend!

The two bars I went to most was "The Basement" (Yes, the "Cheesy" one was my major favorite of them all...LOL) as well as "Have a Nice Day Cafe". I also liked "Kindlers" as well as "Dick's Last Resort".

It's ashame that "The Flats" has gone downhill as much as I've read in the last 11 years since I left Northeast Ohio. :(

k.seitz said...

i go way back to the days of smart bar on the west bank of the flats to the flat iron bar was one of the first techno type clubs around.early part of the 90's is when it was cool,say 93 94?lots of great memories from the old flats days.its sad to see what happened to the flats.if you go down there today most all of everthing is gone.r.i.p. peace to all that remember the clevceland flats...kenny seitz