I took a trip to Cleveland a couple of weeks back, and though it sounds like I travelled to Burma or someplace equally distant, Cleveland, Ohio is only about 30 miles from my house. This trip was a reconnaissance mission.
I don’t do Cleveland unless I have no other alternative. That is to say, I don’t drive in the city itself. Oh, I have on occasion, but I avoid it whenever possible as I would avoid a case of Norovirus. The one-way streets, the heavier than Akron traffic, and traffic patterns that don’t always make sense – my knuckles turn white at the thought of it.
About three weeks ago, Bill said it would help him out if I drove him to Cleveland because he had work to do in three different places, two of which were sorely lacking available parking spots near his destination. And there was no guarantee an empty space in a lot or on the street could be found at the time of his appointments. It was supposed to rain that day, too, making the whole thing more time-consuming and difficult. I, the loving, dutiful, helpful wife of long-standing said yes, I’d help out.
But it was a qualified yes. I wanted a dry run to Cleveland in the middle of a Sunday morning when traffic, and the problems they cause, would be at a minimum. Bill drove so I could take notes. The GPS in the car is great but it doesn’t know everything, like what streets are temporarily blocked off, etc., and I wanted to see the layout for myself instead of watching an arrow or a miniscule car on a map of lines where not every street is identified – and inconvenient detours are definitely not.
Sunday came and I dressed casually, but nicely, though it wasn’t a matter of where I was going. After all, I wouldn’t be getting out of the car once I got there. But you never know when you might be pulled over and told to “Exit the vehicle ma’am,” so what I wore took on some significance in the event something unforeseen occurred.
I imagined detours here, no left turns there, and one-way streets always going in the wrong direction. That might be one paper bag I couldn’t punch my way out of, and poor Bill would cut a sorry figure standing on a corner in the rain, on hold, while I tried to find my way back.
Various scenarios came to mind should I be pulled over for something, say, driving too slowly, though city streets are 25 mph at best. It was conceivable I might be accused of…
- Loitering – lingering, seemingly aimlessly, in or about a place. Would an officer of the law believe the story I had to tell about how I happened to be, in his words, loitering. That tale, ridiculous on the face of it, would surely sound like I was lying. Hiding something more evil than even he could imagine. Wearing nice clothes, appearing well-groomed, and wearing an innocent, genial face would aid his belief in the veracity of the tale I was telling.
- Suspicious Activity – suspecting I was up to no good and possessed of criminal intent because he’d seen the same car driving around the same area in the same pattern a number of times. Checking for easy places to commit a robbery or, worse, looking for a place to perpetrate an act of terrorism. It’s not as if I’m sitting behind the wheel wearing a mask to obviate identification or obscuring telltale fingerprints with gloves. More than ever, I could see that clothes, and demeanor, matter.
- Having a wary look – one that signals I’m hiding something or engaged in illegal activity or its prelude, and trying not to show it. When all the while, the fear that grips me is making a turn that irrevocably changes my route, sending me down some street I have not rehearsed.
It’s all about blending into your surroundings, so I’m making an effort to look normal and respectable and driving Bill’s Acura, a subdued but respectable sort of car. Not a rent-a-wreck but not a flashy, statement-making Bentley either. If you don’t make an effort to become one with the tapestry, you could easily end up like the man from the United Arab Emirates who came to the Cleveland Clinic because he’d had a stroke and found himself wrestled to the ground and cuffed, whereupon he suffered a second stroke. And it happened because he didn’t think about what he was wearing, choosing on that day the traditional long Arab robe and headdress. The result was a fearful hotel receptionist calling a relative to express her fear and her relative calling authorities.
Welcome to America and the new world we live in – and they say we don’t profile here.
Yes, I could be pulled over. I could be detained, too, should something unplanned happen. Therefore, I don’t want to look suspicious. I don’t want to look slovenly. I don’t want to look like I don’t care what others think. And I don’t want to look nervous, even when I am. Dress and attitude count, and they count big time, whether that’s politically correct to say or not.
Here’s what I discovered in my practice runs. The next street after 9th Street in downtown Cleveland is 12th Street, and I can’t make a left between them. If we hadn’t come for a dry-run (that turned into three), I might still be searching for 10th and 11th. In addition, I learned that while the Courthouse run would be relatively easy, the location on Prospect would not. I’d have to be super-vigilant in that area.
D-Day. A last-minute addition, the Cuyahoga County Administrative Office on E. 9th Street. was now our first destination. Easy-peasy. An empty parking space opened up on the street less than a block from the building, and we surfed right on in. Twenty minutes later, we were on our way again. After dropping Bill at his second stop, the courthouse, I only drove my designated route once before I found a parallel parking space, a nice roomy one, in front of the DoubleTree Hotel on Lakeside Drive. I put in several quarters and waited for my summons, Bill’s call, relieved I didn’t have to drive the path he’d outlined on Sunday an undetermined number of times.
Feeling more comfortable and, dare I say, braver, I later parallel parked the car on Prospect when a space, considerably less facile in which to maneuver, opened up after my second go-round. But once I put some change in the meter, I got out to investigate my surroundings, venturing into Tower City (a shadow of its former self) before wandering by the Hard Rock Café, the J.A.C.K. Casino, the Hyde Park Grill, and Morton’s Steakhouse. I know their proximity signals they’re all in one tiny corner of the city. So what? How many of you knew that before I told you? I take solace in already knowing how to get to Playhouse Square, to Channel 8’s Studios (unless they’ve moved since way back then), and the Cleveland Art Museum. Now I can add these places to that list, though knowing is not exactly doing.
I can get there by myself – but only if I have to.