Monday, May 10, 2010

The Brussels of America

It was a big weekend for Boston pro sports rivalries. In basketball, the Celtics beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 97-87, to even their playoff series at two games apiece. In baseball, the New York Yankees won two of three against the Red Sox. The question underlying each rivalry is the same: Who's better? Not which team is better ... but which city. The rivalries aren't ending anytime soon, but we may have a surprise winner in the "which-city-is-best" category. Cleveland.
This may surprise some readers. Boston has history and an intellectual tradition, and merits the title "The Athens of America." New York, with its Wall Street power, has drawn comparisons to Sparta. Next to these East Coast metropolises, Cleveland is "The Brussels of America." (Brussels, the Belgian capital, was voted the most boring city in Europe.)
Last week, Boston Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy made a case for Cleveland over Boston, but his reasoning had little to do with what daily life was actually like in either city. (A sample point in Cleveland's favor: "It’s where Eliot Ness served as city safety director.") Worse, many of his Cleveland anecdotes worked against the Mistake By the Lake, such as the infamous 10-cent beer night at a Cleveland Indians game in 1974, "when fans rioted after consuming too many eight-ounce Stroh’s." Based on such logic, Bostonians and New Yorkers might dismiss pro-Cleveland sentiment.
It was the Cleveland Plain Dealer, however, that made a plainer, more effective case. City residents enjoy day-to-day advantages over Bostonians (and, by extension, New Yorkers). The cost of living is cheaper, housing is less expensive, museums are free. And oh yes, there is the traffic issue.
Twenty-minute commutes in Cleveland put you home, in your driveway and walking in the front door. You want to run an errand in Cleveland, you just run it. You don't have to plan it out like a trip to Europe, trying to figure out the few times when the roads won't be so clogged that you lose an entire day just to buy some laundry detergent.
Those statements would make Cleveland the envy of anyone who has idled in traffic on the Tobin Bridge in Boston or the George Washington Bridge in New York.
And how often do East Coasters like me go to all the museums and monuments and stadiums, anyway? What's more important -- having civic ornaments we rarely visit, or having less stress when we go to work, look for housing, or balance a budget? Ironically, the most effective line in Shaughnessy's column was one he took to be a point against Cleveland: "It’s got clean, wide streets that are (unfortunately) never crowded with traffic nor people." No, Dan, the word is "fortunately."
Cavaliers superstar LeBron James has a chance to leave Cleveland after the season as a free agent. Don't do it, LeBron. The Cavs may never win a championship, but like everyone else in Cleveland, your day-to-day happiness will continue to sprout in the Brussels of America.

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