A Road Odyssey to Cleveland
And Puddin' Bay (on Lake Eerie), Ohio
By Tom Bielavitz
Our transportation was a 1986 Nissan Sentra two door, black with racing pinstriping. It burned oil--roughly 1 quart to five hundred miles. We had thrown caution to the wind; more correctly, upon entering the PA Turnpike from Philadelphia, we had thrown the Turnpike Ticket to the wind--driving to the PA/Ohio border we'd be paying the full ticket amount of $17.00+ anyway, and we're wild anarchists, to boot (with two vacation days pre-arranged from our corporate-type jobs, months in advance). We drove West listening to a tape of Soul music made by a friend. I was just deciding that the tape had moved from "sucks" status to "sucks ass" when Robin screamed out "Christ! I need some rock!" So long, Soul; hello Cows. When we got to the Ohio toll booth, I told her to claim we'd gotten on in Johnstown, but she pussied out and admitted we'd lost the ticket (the PA hick would have easily believed our lie). We paid full price, and celebrated our arrival in Ohio with Guided By Voices.
Ohio scared me. I felt stuck, landlocked. Driving North, I realized for the first that Cleveland is on the shores of Lake Eerie; I began to relax. Robin told me how the Cuyahoga River was so polluted it caught fire; I felt much more comfortable, and napped.
We met Megan, Robin's college roommate, as she was getting home from work. She had a 12 pack of Michelob, which turned out to be some of the best beer of the weekend. I'm no beer snob. I like Schmidt's, Schaeffer, and Genny Cream Ale as much as Pete's, Yuengling, Anchor Steam. It's those mediocre beers that I'm prejudiced against; as little taste as a cheap beer, yet so much more money. Just not economical. We waited for a couple of Megan's friends, Tim, Todd, and Carole, having a few drinks before venturing into Cleveland proper for an Indians game. Megan's got some connections from her job, so we got good seats. No matter--I ignored the game anyway, busying myself with coffee, beer, and a truly tasty chicken sandwich. The Indians lost, but I didn't let it affect my mood.
We moved on to the Harbour Cove bar in the touristy/trendy Flats Section and met up with Megan's boyfriend and his fraternity brothers. Now, a point about Midwestern college guys, and Midwestern guys in general:* All of the guys I met in Ohio were fraternity men, and seemed to be stuck in the fraternity-boy mind frame, even though they had graduated years ago. I'm no Marlboro Man stud or ex-con-junkie, but they seemed so...naive, free of hardship, probably even blind to hardship. I did like them, very friendly, made me feel very comfortable, and made sure I was included in conversations, jokes, beer rounds. I couldn't understand their lifestyles, tastes, and beliefs, and I'm sure they felt the same way about me.
I made an effort to like both Cleveland and its people, and it really wasn't a hard stretch for two and half days. The only memorable moments of our time in Harbour Cove were two one-liners from Tim: "He's not the sharpest cheese on the platter," in reference to a not so bright friend; and "He pulls more wool then a sheepherder," in reference to a somewhat studlier friend. We then moved on to another bar for more drinks, which was completely forgettable (had nothing to do with the 15 or so beers).
We ended up going back to Megan's place, Robin enticing Tim to come along. I guess Megan didn't realize Robin's intentions; when we got in, she popped Singles in the VCR. I opened another beer and settled in on the couch between Robin and Megan; Tim was on a rocking chair to the right of Robin. The lights went out, Megan munched on potato chips, and when Robin leaned out of the couch toward Tim in a blatant attempt for some kissy-face, I figured I had to make the move out of there. (Being the host, Megan wasn't going to bed first, and Robin and Tim were waiting for us to clear out.) But I didn't want to go to bed with a full beer, either. I wouldn't mind it at home, alone--in fact beer is a favorite bed companion of mine (as far as damp spots go, it's not at all gooey)--but I didn't want to share my pathetic drinking behavior with Megan. I didn't want to be found sitting in her bedroom, drinking in the dark. So I choked it down and retired to Megan's floor. A superb host, Megan soon followed and invited me to actually sleep in the bed, complete with feather tick and air conditioning blowing right on me. Bliss. I could've turned on the ol' Bielavitz charm (chicks dig me) but considering that a moment ago I was sleeping on a straw mat, I couldn't have been much happier in Cleveland.
Saturday morning I mocked Robin for the raw beard burn on her chin; I just don't understand how she uses so much chin-action while sucking face. The weather sucked, so we moped around until 2:00 before hitting the road, first stopping at Max's for Matzoh ball & Salt Soup and chicken tortellini salad. Then I got stuck driving while Robin and Megan slept and relaxed.
We were headed for the shores of Lake Eerie at Put-in-Bay, which for years I thought was actually named "Puddin' Bay," since Robin never bothered to write it out for me when telling a story about the town. It was hot and we regretted wasting a good afternoon hungover and slow. We took the ferry over, forgetting the lunch leftovers to bake, mold, and stink in the truck, along with my wallet and ID.
Walking to board the boat, I made the happy discovery of a Goofy hat hanging on a fence.
Being a bald man, I find nothing embarrassing or uncomfortable about being bald, except having a burnt and peeling head; a hat, any hat, in the ozone-depleted atmosphere of summer sun is a necessity. Megan's sister, Meredith, met us on the Island, and she made a far prettier site than that Fantasy Island Guy. Unfortunately, instead of a comical midget, she greeted us with two 6-foot+ guys; we all crammed into a small Ford.
I took a nap in a guest room, interrupted by two of Meredith's friends, Charlie and Ken (accountants from Chicago) who were going to share my room. We hung at the house until we needed to eat, and I had an amazing bowl of Lobster Bisque at the Boardwalk. Really a pier jutting into the bay, it serves the best food on the island (the best that I ate, anyway; in fact on Sunday night it was so good that I had two dinners, back-to-back, goddamn!) In a festive mood, I suggested a somewhat overpriced $12.00 bottle of champagne to properly ease our heads from the hangover. Of course, we decided to cut it with a $2.50 shot of some kind of brandy, which actually made it taste worse, but not bad enough to not drink. The beer selections were Coors Artic Lite Ice and Red Dog. Brandy Alexanders were also available. I stuck with the Red Dog, never grasping the concept of Lite Ice Beer, nor why they made a conscious decision to spell it wrong.
From The Boardwalk we crossed the street and basically stood outside of a large bar on a concrete slab to drink. There were many ugly drunk people staggering around, drunk enough to be cut off by the bartenders. Our drinking slab provided us with a fine view of the bay where countless white trash Ohioans sat on powerboats with the engines off, drinking Miller Lite. The pastime of sitting on a boat docked in oily, pungent water is very popular in Put-in-Bay, it seems, but is pretty much the equivalent of sitting in city gridlock, drinking, by choice. Now, if I were stuck in gridlock, I'd like to be drinking, but I prefer to avoid gridlock. Therefore, I couldn't comprehend the subtle joys of getting sunburned, drunk, and seasick on a docked boat. Did they forget there's a whole fucking Great Goddamn Lake behind them to float in serenity? Why deal with the hassle of other drunks stepping on your boat, blowing Miller Lite farts in your face, while trying to reach their own docked boat?
Put-in-Bay made it clear: humans, en masse, are simply animals driven by mob mentality. Just like an ape watching another ape getting bugs picked out of his fur, he's got to have some of that action. The damn ape may not even have bugs, but he better have some bitch-ape picking bugs soon, or his ego's going to be hurt. And so it goes, hundreds of people sit on boats in gassy waters, drink crap beer, get sunburned, dehydrated, and wake up thirsty and hungover, insisting how they all had a great fucking time. Perspective, or idiocy?
The most amusing facet of the Ohioan psyche is its inferiority complex. One case in point: the Monument to the War of 1812 on
Put-in-Bay Island was described as the "4th tallest monument in America, actually taller than the Statue of Liberty!" And later that day, Tim justified staying in Cleveland by telling me that "Cleveland is the 13th largest market in the States!" Pal, if you've got to use a ranking of 13th to justify yourself, you're better off admitting the truth: you like Cleveland because your Mom lives there and still does your laundry. I'd have more respect--albeit still very little--for that sort of truth, rather than trumpeting a meager next-to-last status. Christ, I live in Philadelphia, the 4th largest city, and I find nothing to brag about except cheap rent.
So we ended up back at The Boardwalk, where we ran into Ken and Charlie, who were unbelievably drunk for the two hour lead they had on us. Right away, Charlie had to tell me a story. When I told him that I couldn't understand a word from his slurring pie-hole, he shut up. Then I was alone, holding two picnic tables for my scattered friends and acquaintances, when a guy approached looking to share the table with his three friends--another guy and two girls. Seemed like date night. He introduced himself as Gary. We had some small talk. Nice enough guy. Then Megan came back from taking a leak, and Gary leans over, "That your woman?" "Why, no," I replied, completely selling her out. (I'm no liar!) Introducing himself, he reached over, took her hand and licked it, big and gooey all over the backside. I was immediately proud of my decision to sell her out.
Gary communicated stream of consciousness style, punctuated by air guitar riffs and air trumpet solos. Yes, air trumpet, played close enough to my face to kiss him on the cheek. Entertainment!
Gary makes good money: $54,000! He's thinking about being a tattoo artist, because "you could make some good cash doing that." That, and selling weed**. Gary owns a big boat, cost $18,000. Had Megan ever seen a boat like that? Does she want to come on the boat for a moonlight cruise, just Gary and a six-pack? No light beer! Gary needs to gain weight! [standing up] Gary at the beach! [flexing] Gary at home! [slouching] Gary at the beach! [flexing] Gary at home! [slouching] This fat bitch here? She's my sister, not my girlfriend! But I fuck her anyway! Ain't that right sis'? Tell her how good I am! What, Megan doesn't want to go out on the boat? Well, you'll hear Gary when he pulls out. It sounds like ARRRR! AARRGH! AARRRRRR!
Gary was the man. And if it wasn't for his air trumpet, I could've hung with him all night. I really would've dug hanging with him, snorting crank till sunrise, then buzzing water-skiers on that big, loud boat of his.
We went back to the concrete-slab bar to catch The Pat Dailey Show, Put-in-Bay's answer to Jimmy Buffet. All over the Island is Pat Dailey shit. There's Pat Dailey's, The Bar; there's another bar that features the Pat Dailey show each weekend night; and there's even a deli that serves the "Dailey" bagel sandwich. The fucker packs in 2500 chumps every weekend night, 6 months a year in Put-in-Bay. Then he goes down to the Bahamas and packs them in the other 6 months. This fucker has The Life. In fact, there are people that travel from the Bahamas to Put-in-Bay just for the authentic Pat Dailey Experience. I'd be willing to bet they're the same people that like to sit on boats docked in oily water getting sunburned, dehydrated, and drinking crap beer. (I must also add his music sucks--songs about life in Put-in-Bay, some cheese-folk classics, etc. But damn, I'd happily sing "My ding-a-ling" 365 times a year for his cash.)
So, Pat's crooning and playing that damn twangy-tinny electric folk guitar, when we see two idiots getting bounced out for standing on chairs. Five or six big guys were dragging the idiots to the back kitchen; elbows were flying, fists were firmly connecting with faces. Very amusing. I was laughing damned loudly. It turned out to be Ken and Charlie. I laughed louder.
Afterwards we went to Pat Dailey's, The Bar, where the decor was reminiscent of a Jersey mall food court. I ate a gyro, which I burped up, enjoying the pleasant taste of spiced meat hours into the evening, and even for a while before breakfast the next day. We went back to Megan's house for a "late-night" she was hosting. Ken and Charlie came in with wild stories of getting beaten up in the back room and how lucky they were to find their way back to Megan's. We heard the "how lucky we were to find our way back story" at least three times when I told Charlie for the second time that night to shut up. This time, he was somewhat sobered and seemed to have lost patience with me. Looking around the room at the male-female ratio, I decided my best bet would be to pack it in, so I went upstairs with a Yuengling--as I've said, a favorite bed companion--and crawled onto the roof to do a bit of reading. I suppose the light wasn't very good, because all the lines bled together.
The next morning Ken related to us all how he had once been beaten up and kicked in the head so badly he had to be hospitalized; everyone was shocked and surprised. Not me, I had actually been daydreaming just such a scene.
Another simple pleasure of the morning was teasing Robin about her second hook-up, further beard burn, and that if we were to stay another couple days, how she'd get a callus on her chin.
On Sunday night we made the most responsible decision of the weekend, which was to get really high rather than really drunk, therefore avoiding a miserable hangover for the drive home. While walking to another bar for a late-night party, Megan decided a one-hit would've been a good call, but they're a pain in the ass. A pain in the ass yes, but the combination of a one-hit and a safety lighter is a stoner's nightmare, especially in an outdoor, high-wind environment.
We went to the RoundHouse, which was nothing more than a round building with a bar in it. The Screaming Flamingos--they're playing at Tom Arnold's wedding, man!--were playing all the current Alternative Nation hits. The highlight for me was the singalong to Collective Soul's "Yeah!" song. But then I had to leave when all the fat slobs yodeled along to that 4 Non-Blondes song about waking up and getting high. So, for the second night, we went to Pat Dailey's, The Bar, for a late-night.
This time, when I finally got to bed, I simply laid there, full of paranoia, having a 4 a.m. stress attack, strongly desiring to return home to sobriety, familiar faces, and solid bowel movements. The creaking floorboards of Meredith and her cloddish boyfriend fucking in the room next door--they had the slow, steady, endurance common to drunks--added to my insomnia.
In the morning, we packed up, dropped Megan in Cleveland and took dumps; it's wise to exploit the availability of a clean bowl before getting on the road. On the PA Turnpike, we stopped to check some odd sounds the Nissan was making. Turns out that Robin had left the oil cap off, and oil had ejaculated over the entire engine, seeping out onto the fenders. I drove the rest of the way home.
The only point of interest on the return trip was the rest stop outside of State College, where most of the resters were attractive, a truly unusual sight in the middle of PA. Plenty of college students, and even 2 married couples that were downright hot. One woman had such a good rack, I never even had the chance to see her face. Besides that, we headed East, home in time for a straight-eight before work.
*I really didn't have enough contact with Midwestern women to make ignorant generalizations--Megan and her sister, being hot chicks, attract more men than women. But that won't stop me from stereotyping the guys, ok? (back to where you were reading)
**Fucking small-minded, little man--even as a drug dealer he's going to push 1/8ths and dime bags, barely enough to cover his own use. You ever hear of anyone getting rich from selling weed?!? (back up)
Puddin Bay, Ohio