We Clevelanders are like the awkward teens at the dance, completely convinced that every other city is prettier, more popular and completely blemish-free. We walk into the room - any room - certain that someone is going to spot our inadequacies. So in an effort to lessen any potential blow to our egos, we apologize for our hometown. Or we make excuses. Sometimes we even crack a joke or two at our own expense.
In a spring 2008 article in The Miami Herald, assistant travel editor Marjie Lambert related just such an experience. She'd spent an idyllic day in Cleveland, visiting the Rock Hall and drifting lazily on a Lake Erie sunset cruise. Then the boat's DJ started to explain how the city wasn't as bad as its passengers might think. This caused Lambert to note, "I wondered how much longer Clevelanders - with their pretty lake and cleaned-up river, classic baseball stadium and terrific rock 'n' roll museum - would feel compelled to go on the defensive in the company of tourists who, after all, had voluntarily chosen to visit their hometown."
Many of us have never gotten out and experienced the colorful arts celebration known as Parade the Circle, hiked through Holden Arboretum, attended a conference at a downtown hotel or stayed at a B&B in Ohio City - and we're incredulous that anyone else would. Turns out, nearly 14 million people come to Cuyahoga County each year for business and leisure travel purposes. Day-trippers to Northeast Ohio came in around 51 million. And 7.5 percent of the county's jobs are hospitality-related.
As director of communications for Positively Cleveland, the city's convention and visitors bureau, I have the distinct pleasure of introducing people to Cleveland Plus in one way or another on an almost daily basis. And here's the thing - we've clearly got to get over ourselves. The absolute truth is that most people - be they world travelers, a high-school marching band on a class trip or gay square dancers in for a convention - have absolutely no opinion of Cleveland at all. They arrive with blank slates. And, for me, that screams opportunity.
I can honestly say I've never had a media visit where the journalist didn't leave pleasantly surprised. A CBS Early Show producer told me it was one of her most memorable production outings. A California food and wine writer claimed that, after visiting, she had become a "Positively Cleveland girl." Even the French folks who came over on the first Continental flight left impressed, commenting on the city's charm and asserting it was worth a visit in post-trip articles. These are the French I'm talking about - they have the Eiffel Tower and attitude to spare, and yet they found something to love in Cleveland.
Visitors comment on how clean our downtown streets look. They are amazed by the opulence of PlayhouseSquare and the fact that good seats for Broadway shows here go for what you'd pay after standing nervously for an hour on Times Square with cash in hand at the TKTS booth. They appreciate the walkable square mile of arts and culture of University Circle. They can't believe the core of downtown is only about 15 minutes from a national park entrance. They love the Rock Hall, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the West Side Market. And they are startled by our friendliness.
A few times a reporter has asked me why I choose to live in Cleveland, casually implying that New York City or Los Angeles is where the real action is. At moments like these I smile broadly and ask, "What do you pay in rent?"
Granted, there are problems. But forget for a moment whether you like the bureau's new name or the construction along Euclid Avenue. Get over the fact that our river burned (when Nixon was in office), our sports teams can't quite clinch the big games and we, like many cities around the nation, are facing a mortgage crisis. We're still sitting on a Great Lake with one of the world's top three orchestras, an incredible talent pool of chefs, an abundance of live music venues, a ton of arts and culture, and an East Coast Custard store near my house that features the most delicious mint chocolate chip yogurt every Thursday.
Little or big, resident or tourist, there's a lot to celebrate about Cleveland.