154 Cleveland, OH: Time Changes

Cleveland was famed for its ethnic melange, particularly Slavs. It once had more Czechs than any other city besides Prague. But Slavic Village had shrunk, leaving Sterle's Slovenian Restaurant isolated. A banner painted on their wall welcomed me with the Slavic toast, "Nos Drawie." A billboard blared "Attention: Time Change." I remembered pilots joking: "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have arrived in Cleveland so please set your watch back… twenty years." But no, this sign merely announced that the Czech Voice of Cleveland radio program was changing broadcast hours. Another sign on the wall said that, in the 1970s, "the neighborhood was still a lively mix of Southern Slavs."

Now, down the street at the heart of Slavic Village, hulking factories were abandoned or burned out, but the storefront shops seemed to be surviving, though they now ranged from H&R Block through the Deli Kosher-Style Restaurant to Hubcap Heaven. A few lawns sprouted derelict refrigerators. A local told me even the cops in Slavic Village grew up there. Many business owners only spoke Polish.

I stopped in a Polish deli and got a mushroom blintz that was one of the best I have ever had. I asked the woman behind the counter whether people in this neighborhood were isolated. She called out her young daughter from the back, who emerged in a stained white apron much too big for her. The daughter spoke only a little English, but that was a little more than her mother. In a way, I got my answer.

I entered a resale shop, dim, misty, and cluttered. The old woman behind the counter had white hair and a sagging exhausted face. Her bones probed through her sagging skin mottled with dark moles. She said, "It's a okay neighborhood. It used to be Polish but it's getting blacker. We have trouble with teenagers coming in and stealing things. That's part of why we have trouble getting people in. Well," she ended with a shrug, "some Polish moves here."

No comments: