Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Buckeye chic

Recently I visited family in northwest Ohio and southern Michigan. While the latter is rightly celebrated in rock 'n' roll music, the subtle charms of the former may be less familiar to those who live in other parts of the country.

The weather this summer has once again been brutally hot. The key to survival outside the AC is simply to move slow. One unintended consequence of all that 100-degree heat is that no one dares to look at you askance if you are drinking a cold beer.

The landscape is flat, dotted with quarries and lakes. Don't be surprised to see the green stalks of an Ohio cornfield stretch for miles in each direction. Often, if a road or lake appears on the horizon, it proves to be but a thin caesura to Ohio's cash crop. On the far shoulder or shore, the corn rows resume their emerald monotony.

In order for people to pass by those miles of cornstalks and get where they're going, the speed limit on Ohio's highways is set at 65 mph or 70 mph. And if you're on a motorcycle you can let your hair fly in the breeze: there is no helmet law in the Buckeye State. That nickname by the way is taken from the state tree, which is characterized by inedible fruits similar in appearance to chestnuts. The buckeye also lends its name as a slang term for a resident of the 17th state. And just so you know, at least according to a trucker traveling along I-80 near Youngstown, and known by the CB handle Paper Bag, the definition of a buckeye is "a worthless nut."

As for angling, that hobby is just as popular on the shores of the Great Lakes as elsewhere around the country. And while freshwater fishing means smaller catches than saltwater angles may be accustomed to, the dietary rewards are not necessarily less toothsome. Lake Erie yellow perch, priced at $10.99/lb. by Toledo-area fishmongers this summer, make the sweetest filets you'll ever taste.

Some may claim Toledo is but a shadow of its former self. While it is still home to Jeep, one of the world's most distinct automobile brands, Toledo was once a more bustling Great Lakes port, often called Hood City — a reference to the impact of organized crime from nearby Detroit. Now the primary nickname that has stuck is The Glass City, after the bottle and glassware manufacturers that were based there. Toledo used to be home to an array of international companies that have since moved away — even Toledo Scale is now based in Columbus. Toledo was also known around the region for its hometown Buckeye beer. "When you're dry," the slogan went, "Drink Buckeye." Perhaps not quite catchy enough--the brewery closed in the 1970s. In recent years, however, the Buckeye label has been reborn by a local craft brewer.

Back in the day, T-town also boasted memorable entertainment venues like the Town Hall, a burlesque palace where Irma the Body was queen, and the Agora nightclub in West Toledo, where a young Bob Seeger gigged on summer weekends before hitting it big. Of course there is still plenty to do in Toledo today. The city has more summer festivals than Klinger had dresses. (He was from the east side.) The university offers sports programs and cultural performances. The world-class art museum has Van Goghs and mummies in its permanent collection.

The famous Toledo Mud Hens baseball team plays its home games at a beautiful stadium downtown. I paid $9 to sit three rows off the field behind first base. The price of admission included dogs catching frisbees in the outfield between innings.

Then there is the Toledo Zoo with a large array of exotic animals, including a juvenile giraffe, yearling tigers, some very buddha-esque ourangs, and a killer elephant. A pair of bald eagles, the very symbol of our free country, provide an incongruous and sad site in their cage.

Hood City even has is own brand new casino, built along the Maumee River. And if all that's not enough for you, in Ohio you can buy wine and booze at the grocery store. Talk about civilized.

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