155 Cleveland, OH: Play House

The theaters in downtown's Playhouse Square Center looked like those in Hopper's paintings. The Hanna Theater was outlined with tiny light bulbs set in the gold trim. The Allen Theater had a metal overhang fanning out over the front door. The ticket kiosks out front had brass sides and marble fronts. The Palace lobby had plaster terra cotta ornamentation, hanging chandeliers, marble columns, red carpeting, tile floors, and brass doors with handsome transoms. The State Theater fa├žade had been ruined by neon lighting and modern sconces on the wall. The Ohio, State, and Palace were all on a block half of whose storefronts were vacant.

I stopped in a coffeehouse that filled one of them. Behind the counter slouched a short Asian woman with black hair pulled back along her round face. Her workmate next to her was an African American woman with a shaved head and oval black-framed glasses. Both wore black-collared shirts and green aprons. Both had nose rings.

"I don't know who Hopper is," the Asian woman confessed. "I'm really sorry to tell you that." I described Nighthawks, but she shook her head.

"I think people [here] are isolated," the African American chimed in. "East and West Siders freak out about going to the opposite side of town. You ask them for directions and they say, 'Well, I'm not familiar with that area.' And you say, 'You've lived in Cleveland your whole life. How can you not know that area?' I grew up in inner-city Cleveland over on the East Side. I could get anywhere in Cleveland."

The Asian woman added, "East Side, it's almost the arrogance of like New Yorkers, and not so rightfully so. New Yorkers don't want to leave their boroughs. And it's almost the same thing here, where the East Siders and the West Siders just tend to stay within their own neighborhoods. And I do think that they are quite isolated in that way."

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