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June 19, 2003

Reader Request #7: Ohio

Paula wants to know what I think of Ohio. She writes:

"Although some readers requested specific details relating to Ohio, I'd be interested in a general description of life in the Buckeye State. As a New Yorker, I've always had a romantic view of the place, and I'd like to compare the dream with the reality."

Well, like any place it has its positives and its negatives. I think anyone who has read the Whatever for a while knows that it wouldn't have been my choice to move to Ohio; I'm a southern California native who has spent most of his life in urban or suburban areas: Los Angeles, Chicago, Fresno (which, before you snicker, has a population of about half a million) and Washington DC. However, Krissy's family is in Ohio and she wanted to be close to them, and as a freelance writer I can write from anywhere. Krissy had at one point packed up and moved all the way across the country from everyone she knew because I asked her to; now that she asked me to move I couldn't really say no. So that's how I came to Ohio.

My bit of Ohio is of course rustically bucolic, as you can see from the photo, and as mentioned has its pluses and minuses. Pluses: Dude, I've got a hell of a lot of land and a honkin' big house for the same monthly cost as a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn or San Francisco. I have lots of fresh air, no urban aggravations, and I can go out at night and see the Milky Way from my porch. I've never been able to do that before. Everyone in town waves to everyone else as they drive by, my neighbors will plow my driveway when it snows without us even asking, and my dog runs around without a leash and no one gives a damn. It's cool to watch the Amish roll on by on Saturdays. It's quiet. A traffic jam here is a line of pcikup trucks waiting to pass a tractor on the road.

Minuses: Well, to put it bluntly, I'm kind of a freak around these here parts. Of my immediate neighbors, more than half drive trucks for a living, and most of the others are farmers of some sort or another. My neighbors are excellent people, but I don't have many intellectual points of reference with them. This is not saying they -- or I -- am stupid, merely our interests and our life of the mind are fairly divergent. On the "let's have an intense conversation" level, I pretty much have to commute. Or go online -- I'll be honest enough to note that this online thing is a bit of a release valve for the side of me that wants to have geeky conversations with people. Really, I'm glad y'all come by and talk to me.

Expanding on this a bit, living in the sticks does limit one's cultural pursuits to some extent. This is not as bad as it could be -- as I've noted, the great thing about being in the middle of nowhere in Ohio is that the middle of Ohio is still usually within of hour of somewhere (in my case, Dayton, which is more on the ball with local culture than you might expect), unlike, say, the middle of nowhere, Wyoming, in which you're really in hell and gone. And of course having the 'Net and satellite TV alleviates many of the symptoms of cultural isolation. But the fact remains I'm not able to just pop down the street for Thai food and a night of Celtic tunes down the pub. And if I were out here in the middle of no where and single, well. I'd just shoot myself.

And, as I've noted here before, I live in a very, very, very white little town. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but having lived in urban and suburban areas all my life, I default to expecting to see more shades of skin than I do, and when I don't, it gets me sort of twitchy.

As regards Ohio in a general sense, it's not so bad. It's in many ways an ideal state in that it's large enough in population and diversity to have a critical mass of cultural identity, and in most respects it's a very pleasant place to be. It's sort of like America's Suburb, in that it's a groovy place to grow up in, and then, between the ages of about 18 and 30, it's a fabulous place to get away from while you're off to college and doing that 20-something "I'm Exploring My Life" thing. After about 30, you're married and have the Children Expansion Pack, it begins to look a whole lot more attractive again.

I have a very good friend from college who encapsulates this exactly: At college, she had a not a very high opinion of her home state, and she's spent the last decade and a half in San Francisco. But the last time I saw her there (we had thai food!) she was saying that her and her SO were giving very serious thought to going back. It's that whole "our family is there and it's a good place to raise the kids" thing.

There are specific things that do bother me about Ohio, primarily that there are lot more very thick people here than I've ever seen before. The first time I went to the local grocery store, when we moved out here, I marveled to my wife that I didn't know how these folks could even move. Say what you will about urban America, the fact is that the number of obese people, and more specifically obese people my age and younger, is nothing compared to out here. This says nothing about these obese folks as people -- as I've noted, people here are very pleasant in a personal sense -- but it's just not healthy.

I'm not especially pleased with Ohio politics, either -- but I'll also note it's not as bad as it could be. The state and national representatives in these here parts tend to be Republican, but they also tend to be reasonably moderate Republicans. Now, my own personal US Representative is John Boehner, and the less said about that the better. Be that as it may, in general, if you're going to go GOP, better Ohio GOP than some other, more pointlessly conservative variant.

Also, I could not possibly care less about Ohio State football, which makes me both a rarity and possibly a communist rat bastard in these here parts. But, look: a) football -- who cares. b) Ohio State -- see a). I wasn't born and raised in Ohio, so I didn't get Ohio State-ness pounded into my head.

Given the choice to live anywhere in the US, would I live in Ohio? No. To be totally honest about it, I think the place that was the best fit for me personally was Northern Virginia, where we lived before we came here: It was suburban, it had lots of things to do thanks to the presence of Washington DC, it was diverse, and I had a peer group I had a whole bunch in common with. But having said that, Ohio is all around not a bad place. If you're married and raising a family, there are worse places to be. And my wife and child love it here, and that's a pretty good recommendation for any place. Swing on by sometime, Paula, and I'll show you around.

Posted by john at June 19, 2003 09:53 AM

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jason | June 19, 2003 11:19 AM

A good, honest appraisal, John. Thanks - I always like to hear what it's like to live in other places. I was born and raised in Utah and, the way things are going in my life, I'll probably die here too. I live in the Salt Lake Valley, which used to be much the way you describe Ohio. Salt Lake was the urban center and the outlying areas of the valley (where I grew up) were rural. In the last decade, that composition has changed a lot - pretty much the entire valley is now a big bedroom community with SLC serving as our downtown. I have mixed feelings about that. I feel that the valley in general is a hipper place now, and there's a lot more diversity and diversions - including Thai food, pubs with Celtic music, and even the occasional non-white, non-Mormon person - but I also fear that we've lost something. The quiet, the Milky Way, the fresh air. The usual lament from the suburban frontier, I guess. I'm just sorry that when I get around to having kids I'll have to go somewhere alien to me in order to try and give them the upbringing I had.

Kevin | June 19, 2003 11:32 AM

Being born and raised in Ohio, it's always nice to hear other's points of view of the state. But I would like to point out to your readers that no, everyone in the state is not a farmer. That seems to be a common myth about the Buckeye State. ("Ohio's all cornfields, right?") Ohio has three large cities (Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnatti), a few smaller cities, and a lot of suburbs. Parts of Ohio have as much "culture" as nearly anyplace in America.
Also, you were dead-on regarding Ohio's place in the life-stream. I grew up in Akron, went to school in Columbus, and spent the last year living in New Orleans. I've reached the point in my life where I'm considering purchasing the Children Expansion Pack, and so here I am, back in Ohio. It's a good place to raise a family. Despite the GOPs best attempts to make it otherwise.

John Scalzi | June 19, 2003 11:36 AM

Noted, Kevin. Indeed, Ohio has got a bit of everything -- industrial base, big cities, pleasant suburbs, rural rusticness. I just happen to live in one of the more rural slices of the state.

Maggie | June 19, 2003 11:36 AM

With the exception of a year and a half of high school abroad, I've lived in Ohio all of my life. The only other place I'd willingly live is San Francisco. Seriously.

Of course, up here in Toledo, I'm a little closer to all of the things I love about cities (good restaurants, museums, concerts) and all of the things I love about the country (farm markets. 'nuff said) without really having to go far - I *walk* to the farm market in Temperance (Michigan) and the Toledo Museum of Art is just a ten minute bus ride. This end of Ohio is pretty schizophrenic - walk in one direction, you hit GM, the opposite to hit Jeep, and totally another to hit the apple orchards and corn fields.

Ohio State Football: I don't give a damn either, so I'll save you a seat in Hell. Same for UM Football (being at the border, the month of November is sheer misery.)

Paula | June 19, 2003 12:19 PM

Thanks, John!

I've got a hell of a lot of land and a honkin' big house for the same monthly cost as a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn or San Francisco

This above all else will be the thing that inspires Dave and me to move outta Brooklyn. But, like a bad boyfriend who's a great kisser, NYC is hard to leave.

_Jon | June 19, 2003 01:34 PM

Oh, come Harvest Time, we'll be looking for a addy to punch into MapQuest.....

Bill | June 19, 2003 04:21 PM

We like stopping by to talk....wanna talk about trucks? :)

Rich | June 19, 2003 04:54 PM

I love Ohio. I'm a life long resident and Ohio has always been good to me. From my comfortable little suburban Hamlet east of Cleveland I have access to the big city perks, like theatre, world class hospitals and universities, one of the best metropolitan park systems in the country, and a great nightlife. Hop in my car and drive the other way, twenty minutes later I'm in the countryside, with only a little light pollution it's perfect for stargazing and a bit of amateur astronomy. The only downside, I have to travel to Southern OH or PA to find any really good campsites or backpacking trails. And people around here care way too much about sports, both the local pro teams and, of course, the buckeyes. Oh yeah, the weather can be a pain too. And the politics can be unnerving, my Congressman, Latourrette, is known for his support of the flag-burning amendment and little else. Don't even get me started on Taft. Other than that it's great - so welcome to Ohio John. We're glad to have you here.

Bill Peschel | June 19, 2003 04:57 PM

Grew up in Warren, outside of Youngstown (usually referred to in the second graf as "mob-owned" Youngstown. I have a lot of fine memories of Warren, but after living in the South and now up in Hershey, I don't consider it my hometown. I have no real desire to see the place, although, when my brother went back a few years ago, he found it exactly the same as when he left a few decades ago. The downturn in the steel industry hit the northeast real hard, like Charleston was after the war (civil, that is), and only in places like Cleveland does it seem like there's any growth going on.

But you're right about the rural part. I found that down South: people waving at you, helping each other out. They figure that, even if they don't know you, you're a local because who the hell else would be there? Same about the level of intellectual content, although I found some surprises, like the guy at the Episcopal church who's into modern art and played in a rock band as a teen. You couldn't have know that, judging by his upright demeanor.

Tresho | June 20, 2003 12:07 AM

I picked Ohio to retire in partly because of its low cost of living. What I don't spend to live here, is spent on vacation travel.

Shae | June 21, 2003 05:19 PM

Thanks to Air Force weirdness that put my father at the same base for over twenty years, I grew up in the suburbs of Dayton. During my high school years I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of here.

And I did. At various times I lived in Springfield (MO), Omaha (NE), Valdosta (GA), Aurora (IL), Springfield (VA), Washington (DC), and Framingham (MA). For over a year now I've been back in Dayton.

Like Krissy I came back because of family. My parents are getting older and having health issues. My siblings have kids and I missed being part of it all. I'm still not thrilled with Dayton, I think I'd like Cincinnati or Columbus better, but I'm enjoying it more. There's a big effort to make the downtown area more appealing both as a cultural center and a place to live. With a huge new performing arts center, a pretty decent minor league team (and no bad seats in the park), the Riverscape area, new housing and parks I'm finding more and more things I like about my old hometown.

Frankly, if I could get my entire family to move back to the Boston area we'd go in a heartbeat. As happy as we are now, Ohio can never compare to what we had in Boston where culture, the ocean, mountains, really great ethnic and local restaurants, and an amazing sense of history were never more than two hours away, and most of it much closer. (The town we lived in celebrated its tricentennial last year. Ohio is just celebrating its bicentennial.)

And I really could not care less about OSU football or the freakin' Wright Brothers which really makes me an oddity around here.