My friend Charlie texted me this morning to ask if I had baseball pants and a jersey (a wooden bat would be great too, he said). Assuming he was throwing together a Halloween costume, I replied: "Of course i do. u can get it tonite. :)"
Charlie said thanks and that he'd come by during the evening. And then he said this: "Write something good about Cincinnati today!"
I laughed to myself because that's not really my thing. I talk mass shit about Cincinnati all the time. I am nearly impossible to hang out with at a Reds game because I spend the entire time I'm not in the $7 beer line complaining about advertisements, stadium architecture, Fort Washington Way, The Banks Project, Cincinnati's misguided re-urbanization techniques, the weather, the Reds' front office and my dad. I'm no fun.
But then I started wondering, "Why does Charlie have such a good attitude? What does that fucker have going on these days that's making him feel content enough to appreciate Cincinnati?"
Charlie and I have known each other since high school, when our JV soccer team kicked the asses of most surrounding schools' young backup players. We've spent a lot of time at college parties and local bars, with recreational sporting events mixed in on the weekends. We were both injured during the past year because we're starting to become old and frail. One time we were going to kiss each other for $40, and Charlie said he'd have done it for $20.
Some time during the day (I think it was right after Jason Gargano, Kevin Osborne and I cornered Maija Zummo just to make her feel uncomfortable), I began to realize why Charlie has such a good attitude: He just spent half a year in South Korea. And this isn't to knock the "Land of the Morning Calm," it's more of a recognition that when people leave Cincinnati they totally miss it.
I've been back in Cincinnati for two years after spending two years in Oregon (where the micro brews flow like the Willamette River). Oregon is great, and people there are intrigued by people from weird places like Cincinnati. But when I returned home after finishing graduate school - broke with no job and twice the student loan debt I left with - I was happy. All the jackasses that I grew up with and met during college were here doing the same stuff we did before I left. They had new jobs and had finished their degrees and changed their facial hair, but they were here and we enjoyed things just like we always had.
Many of us feel stuck here at times, and if our financial or professional situations don't allow us to get the hell out for a minute and observe a better functioning society, we start to hate Cincinnati and ourselves for setting up shop here. There will never be bike lanes throughout the city or functional public transit or efficient recycling or expanded social services. At least not until the Baby Boomer population thins out and our children grow up and help us change things.
But until then Cincinnati is what it is, and leaving for a while allows you to see only the good, and in some ways you even start to forgive the bad. Charlie was in South Korea, presumably drinking on the streets, singing karaoke, dressing funny and enjoying the intricacies of another culture. And in doing so he was also taking the Cincinnati show on the road, offering a glimpse into the persona of someone who grew up in a strange place but knew there was more out there than what his parents had or his hometown offered.
But until Charlie or you or I break into or rise up through a creative industry (or the stock market goes back to relying on goods being sold rather than how likely goods are to be sold), we're going to be living in Cincinnati, and it's not really that bad. It's actually kind of good.