While I, even odder, was in Cleveland.
As the old gunny used to remark in that folksy, homespun way of his, "Sometimes you eat the bear, Mister Brady, and sometimes the bear eats you."
It was one of those spring days when you don't really want to fly out of La Guardia, among the world's worst airports, for anywhere, with a weather report promising thunder, lightning and rain and hinting, slyly, of tornados and possibly even wind shear. To make matters even less cheering, I was flying Continental.
Apparently you can fly to Cleveland by grownup airlines but they get there via West Palm. So off I went aboard the 7 a.m. Continental, which to my surprise not only left on time but sailed smoothly through the turbulence to land me safely near rainy Lake Erie.
And from there on, Cleveland turned out swell.
You always feel good about a town when the guy who comes to pick you up at the airport is driving a 10-year-old Jag, which is what Jeff Weber did. Weber is the incoming president of the Cleveland Advertising Club, for whom I was due to deliver a little luncheon talk, and exec VP for Griswold-Eshelman. And he and his Jaguar not only delivered me into downtown Cleveland in no time but detoured to show me the new baseball yard.
If there is one thing that distinguishes cities (besides having 10-year-old Jags whisking one about) it may be the ballfield. Jacobs Field (which I guess is named after a Mister Jacobs) is absolutely splendid and is the only stadium I have ever seen anywhere that you can actually stand outside on the sidewalk and look through a sort of grillwork fence to see a game in progress.
This is marvelous stuff. Up at Yankee Stadium across the street there is a rickety elevated platform from where (for a buck twentyfive token) you can stand and see a bit of playing field and follow the flight of pop flies but you can't see much more. At Mister Jacobs' excellent yard several hundred people at a time have room to watch the game without spending a dollar.
But the city's joys only begin with Jacobs Field.
There was a grand piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer all about a chap named Winsor French who had for 40 years written a column for the rival Cleveland Press. Mr. French passed from us back in 1973 but now they'd finally gotten around to naming a bar (and a restaurant) in the local Hotel Wyndham after Mr. French!
Now there, by God! is a touch of class of which Manhattan itself might be proud.
The story went on to say that as far as was known, Winsor French was the only newspaper columnist anywhere who arrived each day at the newspaper in a chauffeured Rolls.
The adclub lunch (by now the sun had come out) was in Windows on the River down in a district they call The Flats in an old powerhouse where they used to generate steam or something but now they have restaurants. Mr. Weber and Rick Squire, who is executive director of the Cleveland Ad Club, introduced me to a lot of people and they were all swell and then after lunch they gave out awards and illuminated scrolls and such and then I told stories for a while and answered some questions and they awarded me a fine trophy. I think in all candor the best story I told was about Mr. French, the newspaper columnist in the Rolls after whom they name bars, and I stole that one right out of that morning's Plain Dealer.
But I also learned many other things and saw great wonders while I was in Cleveland, including the brand new Rock & Roll Hall of Fame which is being built by the lake and has one of those I.M. Pei signature transparent pyramids. It is still not certain all the great artists of rock will be there when they dedicate the place around Labor Day but Cleveland is hopeful.
And why not. They have a dandy mayor named Mike White who is a black guy with a beard and everyone says he is doing a great job and when you look around and see the new ball field and Gund Arena (where the Cavaliers play) and all those marvelous indoor malls (the one in the Tower City Center having a fantastic water ballet which delights kids-and me) and tunnels that connect all the major buildings (a great idea in January with a wind coming off the lake) and the way businesses have taken over the Warehouse District and spruced it up, you know that Cleveland is a city that's pulling itself out of the slough of despond and has its foot on the doorstep of tomorrow.
Is everything great? Of course not, no more than it is in New York. For one thing Art Modell is threatening not to move the Browns but to sell the Browns to someone who might move them if they don't do something about that vast but moldy old Municipal Stadium on the Lakeside. Kent State is still a hot button and following the recent anniversary of the shootings, the letters columns were full of anger and disputation. A Youth Forum on Violence stimulated a Mary Anne Sharkey column in the Plain Dealer where one child, asked if it would help to have the president come to Cleveland, responded, "Nah, he'd just get shot."
I did get over to City Hall which has a huge ground floor public space sporting the original Alexander Willard painting "The Spirit of '76"; you know, the one with guys with the fife and drums limping along with bloody rags on their heads. Paintings like that just kill me and I stayed there maybe 10 minutes enjoying it.
Cleveland, I also learned, was founded by Moses Cleaveland (he couldn't spell too well and included that "a") in 1796 and so next year there are going to be some big 200th anniversary doings, you can be sure. I might even come back, if they ask me.
But only if there are no thunderheads and wind shear.