Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On Ohio Living

"I hate Cleveland," said my co-worker with unequivocal conviction. Born and raised in the city there was nothing there for her in location, culture, sports and certainly not weather. How did she wind up in Columbus, I wondered. This was only my second visit to the "Apple" of America, having last been in Ohio in September of the previous year. Then the weather was agreeable and I found Columbus to be a livable enough city with a decent skyline and the apparent means to care for its citizens. What may not be available along the Ohio Turnpike or in the farming and mining belt along the Ohio River seemed to be available in Columbus for those with drive, education and ambition.

"I went to OU," she sing-songed in a light sorority sweetheart drawl. "OU" to me, a Texan, means the Univeristy of Oklahoma while Athens means the Georgia Bulldogs. I was in unfamiliar country indeed. This Athens sits in the middle of nowhere which led me, a geography buff, to instantly conclude the southeast corner of the state, not too far from the river and West Virginia and at least an economically challenged part of the state. Far removed from the relative stability of Cincinnati, Columbus or even Pittsburgh, the closest metropolitan area of any size to the south is Greensboro/Highpoint/Winston-Salem, North Carolina. On the surface this part of the country has farming, steel and coal mining, making the 22,000 strong city of Athens and Ohio University "ground zero" of the local universe.

My colleague couldn't even recall two years later exactly how she wound up in Columbus and not, say, Cincinnati if she hated Cleveland that much with Athens clearly a place to learn but leave as soon as possible. "There are 49 other states to choose from," I laughed but upon further reflection it made sense. In Columbus I saw evidence of homegrown "cradle-to-the-grave" industry in the parking lots, offices and clothing of the locals who were perhaps born in Pickerington, went to school in Reynoldsburg, attended "THE" Ohio State University, joined corporate America with some internationally powerful names and now live in Easton, Gahanna, Worthington and Westerville, all only a few minutes' drive around I-270.

To my co-worker it evidently never occurred to her to seek a career and life outside of Ohio, as foreign a concept to my own nomadic upbringing thanks to the military as can be imagined. Migrating for work, food, family or a simple change of scenery is the theme of life from the lowest animal to the Bedouins of North Africa and the Middle East. My colleague's journey around Ohio fits that description even if contained within the microcosm of one state and reminded me that similar experiences are probably more often the norm within California, Texas, New England, the Midwest, the Carolinas and Florida.

Is my own experience an example of the extreme, encompassing as it does several states and two continents? From my perspective mine is not the most far ranging example by any measure. The common denominator is acceptance of and almost an expectation that one can be raised in one or more places, move away from home for higher education and either settle in that location or move at least once again before finding a comfortable environment in which to put down roots, start a family, etc.

My Cleveland hating colleague pretty much proved that contrary to national opinion, Ohio is quite capable of providing all of that to her people and more.

Gotta go.

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