Don't Hate on the Nati

As someone who was born and raised in Cincinnati, I naturally spent my whole life wanting to get the hell out of here.

I hated that there was nothing to do on Friday nights except go to the movies, bake cookies or eat lettuce wraps at PF Changs. I hated the schizo weather (70 and sunny one day, 30 and snowing the next: just another week in Ohio). I hated the predominantly conservative mindset, the maddening monotonity of the suburbs, the city’s aversion to all things new and different. I hated that you only had to drive 10 minutes in any direction to land in a sea of cornfields. And I hated Cincinnati’s dangerous proximity to Kentucky, where odious mullets and high-waisted denim shorts continue their ruthless and tyrannical reign. 

In short, I pretty much spent my entire life blaming my unfortunate geographic placement for all my problems. So when it came time for college applications, it was a no-brainer: I submitted my test scores, sappy personal essays and record of every nap I took in calculus to seven out-of-state schools — and just one in-state school.—-

According to plan, I ended up as far from Cincinnati one could possibly get without crossing the border: Los Angeles, aka La La Land, where the vast majority of the population couldn’t locate Cincinnati (or Ohio, for that matter) on a map if their organic, nonfat latte, dressing-on-the-side, fro-yo loving lives depended on it.

I arrived at the University of Southern California completely intoxicated by the Cali dream, high on the idea of year-round sun, enamored by the ubiquitous sight of Obama bumper stickers (and the noticeable absence of McCain-Palin ones) and delighted by L.A.’s crazy sense of fashion (goodbye, Hollister polos and Old Navy flip-flops, hello metallic American Apparel mini-skirts, funky sunglasses and Marc Jacobs satchels).

Soon, though, I started to feel something peculiar and, frankly, a bit unsettling — something that felt perilously like homesickness. Let me assure you, it was a difficult feeling for me to handle. I mean, how could I, who hated the Nasti Nati more than Bush hated Saddam Hussein, be homesick?

And it wasn’t just for Skyline and Graeter's that I felt pangs of nostalgia (though I would’ve killed for a three-way and some black raspberry chip). I missed wide open fields and shopping strips in the middle of nowhere. I missed unfashionable, Average Joe people who have never heard of Paul Smith and would never dream of buying a $300 clutch. I missed the crisp, clean air that arrives right before winter’s about to wage a plague of SAD on a town of innocent people. For God’s sake, I even missed the Bush-loving, bible-hugging folks — or making fun of them, at least.

Because as much as we love to hate Cincinnati for being unhip and conservative and boring, those are the very reasons it’s such an interesting place to live. Northside and Hyde Park and Clifton are so cool because they’re like secret, hidden pockets of the mode of thought and behavior that other bigger, “cooler” cities possess in mass quantities. We get excited when we meet someone with similar taste in music as us because that kind of hip-ness is hard to come by in Cincinnati. We feel cool supporting gay marriage and eating sushi and wearing American Apparel because here, that kind of stuff makes you unique. We think of creative things to do with our time and scour CityBeat for interesting events to attend because we have to.

We say we hate the Nati for being so lame, but in all earnestness we like being the odd man out. It’s fun to be one step ahead of the trends, to get noticed at the mall for your offbeat sense of fashion, to argue with people about abortion, to be able to test out every Thai restaurant in the city without having to eat pad thai every day for three years straight (and I use “we” because, if you’re reading this on, you’re automatically cool).

Sure, it wouldn’t hurt if Cincinnati had a few more hangout spots. But this city is awesome as it is: dynamic, ironic and full of contradictions and surprises. When Cincinnati voted democratic last November, it was so unexpected and awesome that I almost wept tears of joy — all the way in California, where my friends and their Democratic votes felt rather inefficacious (in other words, utterly worthless).

That’s why when I return to L.A. next week for my second go at California, I’ll go reluctantly. I’ll miss Cincinnati and its cornfields, the occasional hick or two I run into at Target, the intermittent stare-down I get from babies who have never seen a real-life Asian before. And while I rock out at cool concerts at the Wiltern in Hollywood with a bunch of other liberal, Urban Outfitters-loving kids who would sell their souls for tickets to Coachella, a little part of me (depending on the concert) will wish I were back at home reading CityBeat and munching on freshly baked cookies instead.

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