Living Out Loud: What's Best About Cincinnati?

Taking it to the streets - sort of

When people start to recognize me on the street, that's when I think I've been writing this column too long.

I was standing outside 810 Main St. downtown, smoking a cigarette and taking a break from my part-time consulting job at Elgin Office Equipment. A young girl passed me by on the sidewalk. She stopped, stared at me for a couple seconds and then spoke.

"Aren't you Larry Gross?" she asked.

I nodded my head yes and smiled.

"Why do you always write about how much you hate it here?" she wanted to know.

I assumed she reads CityBeat, since this is the only local paper I write for.

"I write about other things, too," I probably said a little too defensively, "and I don't hate it here."

"You should quit smoking, and I think you should move," she said, finally walking away in a bit of a huff.

I'm guessing she didn't like me much since she didn't ask for my autograph.

This brief encounter got me thinking about all I've written about Cincinnati over the past few years. I know I've been critical and know I've written on occasion how I don't think people here are all that friendly. People want to talk only to people they know — or at least that's my take on the city.

But with this being "Best of" week in Cincinnati and with those young girl's words still ringing in my ear, I thought about trying to prove myself wrong. Maybe people do talk to strangers here. Maybe I'm mistaken.

So I decided to take a positive approach to this week's column.

I talked this over with Katie Busemeyer, who's an intern at Elgin. She suggested I take to the sidewalks of Main Street around the office to ask the question: What's best about Cincinnati? This would prove to me that people here are friendly.

I liked the idea.

I took a test run at Elgin first. Alan Weiss, who runs the place, likes "the potential of downtown." Office Supply Manager Debbie Long thinks what's best about Cincinnati is "Skyline Chili. I love it."

Alright, not bad, but before hitting the sidewalks for real I went over across the street to Sophia's Restaurant for more testing with friendly faces.

Pete Georges, who operates this popular deli on Main Street, thinks "football and the restaurants" are the best things about this town, and then adds, "You gotta put the Reds in there too, of course."

Mother Sophia likes "a nice street and a beautiful restaurant." I think she was referring to her own restaurant, but that's good. Sophia's is damn hard to beat (free plug: 811 Main St., Downtown, 513-723-1055).

Now feeling confident I would get some good answers and that people would talk to me, with pen and paper and tape recorder in hand I started approaching people cold — people I didn't know. I told them who I was, told them I'm a writer for CityBeat and asked them what they thought was best about Cincinnati.

A few people were nice. George Evans said, "The crime ain't bad," and Ruthie Eplew said, "There's a lot going on."

That's all I got.

I wish I had a camera crew with me. I was fairly presentable, decently dressed and didn't have body odor. I think.

I approached more than 80 people — men, women, old, young, black, white, everybody. Outside of those two people, no one wanted to make eye contact. No one could be bothered. One older woman even ran from me.

"They're scared here, that's what I'm thinking," Lou Stragaria said when I met him on the sidewalk. He heads up the Hamilton County Pubic Defenders Office and knows me from Elgin. "I mean, you got the courts here and the courthouse. Maybe you'll find it different on Fountain Square."

I didn't. After approaching about 40 people, I gave up.

Stan Johnson, the only person who would talk to me, did give me an interesting answer to the "What's best about Cincinnati?" question. His reply: Newport on the Levee.

So what did this little exercise mean or prove? I'm not sure. Maybe I picked the wrong areas downtown. Maybe I picked the wrong day. Maybe none of it matters.

I end this column not on the positive note I was hoping for. I'm disappointed.

I think if I could do it over again, when that young girl asked me if I was Larry Gross the other day while standing outside of Elgin smoking, I would have just said, "No."

That way, we wouldn't have had any interaction at all. That way, it wouldn't have gotten me thinking about trying to write something positive.

Next week, I'll be back to my normal, cranky, critical self. Maybe what's best about Cincinnati for me is to start playing it safe.



CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]. Living Out Loud runs every week at citybeat.com and the second and fourth issues of each month in the paper.

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