A Transplant’s Tale

2015-01-28T11:31:39+00:00 June 11th, 2013|

By Anne Trubek.

Ten years ago, I was living in Oberlin, a college town 30 miles from Cleveland. I was newly divorced, and ready to start dating, but not anyone in my small, company town. So I met Cleveland men. And by meeting them, I got to know the city: the swanky cocktail bar on a deserted residential street, the sports bars where the still-LeBron’ed Cavs playoff games drowned out conversation, the lakeside parks, the always-a-table-free upscale restaurants. I fell in love. Not with any of the men, but with the city.

So I moved, three years later, to Shaker Heights, an inner-ring suburb famous for too many things (planned communities, integration, segregation, anti-Semitism, a large Jewish population) where the school district was both diverse and excellent. There I met other transplants who loved the city, too. It was our secret handshake, our source of bonding: you like it here, too. Who would have guessed living here would be so enjoyable? Most of my new friends were, like me, transplants, not from the area. Some ended up here for a job; others had married Clevelanders who had moved away in their twenties to find a spouse that they could carry back home when it was time to raise kids. We were a bit smug about our contentment with our accidental home. We felt no need to yell it to our friends and family from the coasts who could not understand how we had fallen so far, how we had ended up in Cleveland.

These days, the zeitgeist has changed. If before, you were a happy but passive contrarian, enjoying the “lifestyle” that cost-of-living, accessibility, great culture, and tight-knit neighborhoods afforded — now there is a bit more at stake. The mood in Cleveland (speaking from my white, liberal, professional vantage) is more proactive. No longer can you just sip your wine and chat about how nice it is here. The ethos has shifted to an activist one: you have to help out, pitch in, you have to do something. There is an emergent sense of civic obligation.

Why this shift? Why this pressure to help the city’s economic, educational, political and cultural life? Not because things are worse but because they are better. They are “turning around,” “revitalizing,” whatever term you prefer. The changes are tentative, slow and small-scale. Ohio City is suddenly packed on summer weekends. This odd neighborhood further on the west side, Gordon Square, hosts interesting events and new businesses weekly. Developers are starting new residential properties and restaurants in struggling neighborhoods. Twenty-somethings are snapping up apartments in the cavernous, windswept downtown.

But we have been here before — on the cusp of something interesting and vital — and we have seen it fail. This time, we sense that the stakes are too high, the promises too promising. This time, it cannot fail. So more people, whether individually or institutionally, are helping out those who are trying new things.

In and of themselves, the projects going on around town are not headline-making or striking. The things aren’t new, such as bars, developments or non-profits. But the ethos surrounding them is. It goes something like this: disinvestment, “this place sucks,” gave way to cheerleading, “this place rocks.” Cheerleading, though, is often passive and at its root, sentimental. It does not incite change. The mood of the day is more modal: “I should help out.”

This newfound sense of obligation, civic duty, if you will, is not starry-eyed. It comes out of fear of failure. It is anxious. If these risky acts flounder — well, then, crap. Yes, it is a positive moment; things are happening, but a complex one — we can’t screw this up. We feel compelled to participate.

Last week I was at a family gathering in Vermont. A friend, who lives in Boston, asked me where I live. “Cleveland,” he said upon my response. “I think of Cleveland as a place where you can really accomplish something, get something done.” Ten years ago, when I looked at Cleveland from afar, this was true, too. But not as many people believed it. Plus, the best of Cleveland was kept tucked up, in the inward-facing way of this town, which hugs its natives tight and keeps its transplants to the secret handshake of it’s not so bad now is it?

Today, the city is more relaxed, able to face outward. Those out there trying to make an impact have a bench committed to propping them up should they falter. They are taking risks. And they are risks worth taking. Because, well, imagine the alternative.

This story originally appeared on nextcity.org.


  1. Erica August 22, 2013 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    Great article Anne! As a transplant of nearly 30(!) years ago, from Colorado no less, I got a lot of puzzled looks and questions like: “didn’t you do this backward?” Thinking I was here for one year to study music, I discovered so much more… in addition to weekly Cleveland Orchestra concerts (as an usher), I met great friends, my future husband, and arts, culture, diversity, architecture, community and food that continues to amaze me. In 1984, a friend of mine took me to Miracles in Tremont (where Porcelli’s is now), and when I saw those churches, I was smitten – even back then, when Tremont wasn’t at its best, I could feel something special and historic – you’ll find nothing like that in Colorado! So here I am!

    Wishing you much success with Belt!!

  2. holler August 22, 2013 at 3:19 pm - Reply


  3. Penny August 27, 2013 at 3:00 am - Reply

    I suppose, like you, I”m a transplant too; came to CLE for college (CWRU) and never looked back. So happy to call CLE my home now! Fantastic to have met you, Anne, at the BELT event; even more exciting that you’re in my backyard! Cheers!!

  4. Phyllis Benjamin August 29, 2013 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    I am impressed with your sincere optimism for our future and for your knowledge of needed changes in greater Cleveland.
    My best to you with the creative BELT Magazine. Thanks for speaking with us at the Maltz Museum.

  5. Michael August 30, 2013 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    What a terrific addition to Cleveland’s media. The book was outstanding and I have many talks with people living in “hipper” places, who believe the future lies more in our backyard than theirs. Looking forward to how the magazine progresses and where it goes, the potential is big. I sent your site coat to coast.

  6. […] as a Belt column by Anne Trubek pointed out, Cleveland is a place “where you can get something done.” So my husband and I […]

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