I moved to Cleveland from Chicago a year ago. After not visiting my old home town for many, many months I spent the last two weekends in the Windy City: once for a wedding, and once because Beyonce refuses to acknowledge that Ohio exists.
My Chicago friends had questions about my life since I left their fair city, such as, “How much worse is it in Cleveland? Like, 100% worse or just 90% worse?” Excuse me as I draw out the differences between these two cities scientifically:
Category: People’s reactions when you tell them where you live
· Chicago – oh! Nice. I have an uncle who lives there it’s pretty cool
· Cleveland... like, the Drew Carey place? Oh. OK then.
· I used to live in a neighborhood of Chicago called Lincoln Square. I just checked online and in this neighborhood, which is not near downtown, or close to the highway, or anywhere near the lake, a three bedroom, two bath, 1219 sq. ft, no-garage-having home is currently listed for $400K. Also, it is being sold as-is with the seller’s recommendation that you tear it down and start over because the house is in really bad shape.
· While I was in Chicago I performed in a terrific show called The Paper Machete and informed the audience of 80 people that, in Cleveland, you can purchase a decent home for $120,000. The audience gasped and then fell silent with only the slight murmur of 80 people suddenly questioning all of their life choices.
Category: Highly functional alcoholics
· In Chicago, they like to drink. They like to drink so much that they made Malort, which is liqueur made by taking perfectly good booze and filtering it through a fart. When you drink Malort it tastes terrible and also mugs you and gives you permanent mouth herpes. But we still drink it because: Makes you drunk and shows others that you have no weakness because Malort is currently in your body, murdering your weaknesses one by one.
· During my Chicago show, I also informed the audience that we in Ohio have drive through liquor stores. The hush that fell over the crowd was one of awe and wonder.
Winner: the waiting list for liver transplants
· In Chicago traffic is so bad that it renders the city basically uninhabitable. It’s hard to explain to people here because when you say it out loud it sounds so incredibly awful, so mind-bendingly horrible, that it makes me wonder why I ever accepted such a state of affairs as ‘normal.’ It used to take me 60 minutes to travel 18 miles to get to work in the morning, and then 82 minutes to travel that same 18 miles back to my home at night. Those are the travel times for a good day. If it was snowing, or raining, or there was a convention/sporting event/Obama in town, the traffic would become so, so much worse. Avoiding the highways didn’t even work because half of the population was doing the same thing. In order to save my sanity I joined a gym by my work and went there to work out after work most days. By the time I left the gym at 7:30PM traffic would still be bad, but at least then I could make it home in less than an hour.
· Cleveland: Your traffic is adorable.
Winner: The Land
· Chicago – winning! Lots of winning! Not you Cubs, but otherwise: win!!!
· Cleveland – has not had a national championship since 1964. Seriously – it’s so bleak that some Cleveland dude just won a UFC championship and people are trying to make it count.
Winner: The Chi
Category: Free Shit
· In Chicago, only breathing and complaining about the traffic are free. Everything else has a fee. There’s a $85.97 sticker you have to buy each year so you can park on the street, the $6.50 per hour you have to pay a meter to park on the street, 9.5% tax on restaurant meals, 10.25% sales tax on all other items, and a 9% “cloud tax” on Netflix. If you want to distract yourself from how broke you are with beautiful art, it costs $20 to get into the art museum.
· In Cleveland, by comparison, everything is free. No Netflix tax! No grocery tax! If you need a parking sticker it only costs $10 funky dollars! Also, the museums are SO FREE!
Category: Public Schools
· Bruce Rauner, the Illinois governor, is currently trying to cut funding for Chicago public schools again because isn’t that really the problem? All these goddamn educated children tanking the state budget?
· Cleveland public schools also have budget issues plus, according to 2015 test scores, only 39% of 4th graders are reading at grade level.
Winner: the school to prison pipeline
Category: Killing Ourselves and Each Other
· In 2015 Chicago had 492 shooting deaths and 692 heroin overdose deaths.
· In 2015 Cleveland had 81 shooting deaths and 183 heroin deaths, which sounds better, but when you account for population Chicago has slightly more gun deaths while Cleveland has significantly more heroin deaths.
Winner: None of us. Not one.
Cleveland and Chicago are, in many ways, the same. Both cities have the same problems for the same reasons. Two cities on two great lakes, built because waterways allowed them to easily distribute any goods we created. So they created. They created steel, iron, oil, plastics, chemicals. They created without major competition. But then the steel belt oxidized, turned red, and began to corrode. Southern states started to attract companies due to their lower labor prices, globalization introduced even more competition. Industries collapsed, buildings were abandoned, people left. Poverty, violence, and hopelessness increased.
American economist Richard Florida believes that the key to the Rust Belt revival lies in the creative class – young, college educated individuals who can help pivot a city from an industrial-based economy to a service-based economy fueled by workers who contribute ideas instead of physically making objects. He cites San Francisco as a city benefiting from a creative class revival.
But no one wants that Google Bus $8 artisinal toast San Fran revival mess. It helps the new, young folks, the folks spending their days developing an app that delivers frittatas to your house and their nights developing a drinking problem. But it doesn’t return us to the days when jobs existed that both did not require a college degree and could easily support a family. Developing a service-based economy helps attract newcomers, but it leaves the people who stayed, who were born here and grew up here and did not leave here, to rot. Aiming for that type of revival is one of the reasons that Chicago is now shedding people – soon only those who make a ton of money or who are too poor to leave will be left, but those who can afford to move but can’t afford to stay are leaving. In 2015 Chicago saw the greatest population loss of any major city.
Chicago has more art and cultural events and young people racing to create apps, but Cleveland has what I need. I need a place to raise a family where I can afford to raise a family. I need a place where I can go to the grocery store without fighting ten people in the parking lot. I need a place where people embrace newcomers, but don’t sell them the city. Cleveland still has problems, Cleveland still needs help, and Cleveland is my home.