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Cleveland Just Might Be the Best “Starter City” in the United States

·932 words·5 mins

Fall 2010

“I have to ask,” she said. “Why Cleveland? Couldn’t you pick a better city to move to?”

Everyone around us exploded in laughter. Because we were having this conversation in Cleveland. A suburb of it anyway. A barbecue at a mutual friend’s house.

I smiled. “Well,” I said. “I’m from Bangor, Maine. Compared to Bangor, Cleveland is a big step up, towards Big City Fancy. You have to do these things in stages, you see, otherwise it’s just too much. Cleveland is an _excellent _starter city for someone who’s never lived in one.”

The other guests laughed again. I felt good about my answer. Because it went over well, sure, but also because it was true.

Other Cities Felt So Unapproachable

I’d visited other cities in the past — Boston, San Francisco. But I’d always found them really unapproachable. Distant. And frankly, snooty.

People in fancy clothes who are walking really fast. Who will turn their noses up at a girl who is dressed so plainly. At a girl who stops and gawks at the large buildings she passes. And who doesn’t know where to look when she passes strangers on the sidewalks. At the pavement? In their faces? Do you wave? Smile? Say hi?

It was clear when I’d visited other cities in the past that everyone there knew something I didn’t. And that I’d just be an outsider. A country bumpkin who was laughable. Lesser.

But Cleveland had been a completely different experience from the get go. Was I unpolished? Rural? Sure.

But people here didn’t seem to mind. And instead, they were excited to show me the ropes.

“Bitch, You’re From Cleveland”

Early on, a new friend had regaled me with one of Cleveland’s many unofficial mottos: “Bitch, you’re from Cleveland.”

It’s what you said when someone started acting snooty, to remind them that it’s absurd to be obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses here. In a rust belt city that’s frequently a punch line.

Clevelanders openly sneered at pretentiousness. They drank and swore in a way that I’d never seen, growing up in New England. Living in Cleveland was a little bit like being a pirate. And I loved it.

And shockingly, Cleveland had a ton of amazing features. One of the best theater districts in the country. A ton of culture, excellent restaurants.

Was Cleveland the butt of a lot of jokes? Sure. But it was also a full-fledged city. An amazingly down to earth one.

Mysteriously Becoming Big City Fancy

Cleveland never made demands on me that I become fancy. Or be anything other than what I really was.

Strangely, however, as I spent time here, I began to change. I wore more fashionable clothes. With access to so many different kinds of food, I started to have opinions about restaurants that would have seemed utterly ridiculous to my past self.

And I started to walk so fast in public. Places that had once seemed crowded and utterly un-navigable became like second nature. I instinctively moved my way through packed stores and streets like it was no big deal.

When I went back for a visit to Maine, I stuck out in a way I wasn’t prepared for. My partner and I were eyed suspiciously. Dressed in fancy clothes, walking too fast. We were Out-of-Staters (pronounced “outta-statahs”). Too big for our britches. Probably up to no good.

We did not blend in.

Somehow, I had become Big City Fancy while messing around in Cleveland.

How was this even possible?

Finding I Now Had No Problem with Previously Unapproachable Cities

I’d go on shortly after to start to visit other cities for work and for play: Chicago, Denver, San Diego, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Atlanta.

And a curious thing happened: I didn’t feel like an outsider there anymore. I fit right in. Even in these cities that were a great deal more pretentious than Cleveland, I was fine.


Even though I joked about Cleveland being a starter city, if you’d asked me back when I moved here if I had any plans to go somewhere else later, I probably would have laughed at you. It was such a big change to come here.

The first year or two were completely overwhelming.

I felt dizzy all the time because the streets were so wide, the suburbs were so noisy between all the lawn-care machines and cars, there was so much to do and see that I could hardly process it.

When I got here, I felt like I was in over my head. The idea of diving deeper would certainly have sounded ludicrous.

Thank You, Cleveland

And yet, here I am now, eight years later, preparing to move to Dallas-Fort Worth, an area I have zero personal experience with. But from what I understand, it’s a place with a lot to offer. And since the legend goes that everything’s bigger in Texas, it’s possible that the egos will be, too.

Really, there’s no way to tell.

But I do know one thing: If it weren’t for Cleveland and everything this wonderful city has taught me, I’d be scared shitless right about now.

Thank you, Cleveland. Part of what makes you wonderful is that people don’t know how great you are. Part of that is you don’t even realize it yourself.

And that’s what makes you so damn beautiful.


My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).


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