It Gets Better — After I Leave

Let’s be honest in the late 70’s, Akron, Ohio was the armpit of the midwest.

Winters were balls deep in snow. The rest of the year, it was sleet or rain. And for the 3 good days in summer, the rubber factories “cleaned” out their smoke stacks with a putrid acidy haze that smelled like burning rubber and made your eyes and lungs run with thick yellow snot.

“It’s the smell of money,” the locals said. It gave me a weird cough for a couple of weeks.

Downtown practically shutdown — only the Civic Theater and the Peanut Shoppe were left. The malls emptied. The roads and schools were falling apart.

Drive the Akron-Penninsula Road and you smelled the sewage plant from 3 miles away in any direction. In a hard rain, they just dumped raw sewage and oil-filled storm water right into the river. A nice little “fuck you” to Cleveland.

The Cuyahoga and the Little Cuyahoga rivers ran either a dirty scum-filled brown, or putrid orange, or sometimes a thick slime-green. On a good day, they only smelled like shit.

Other days they smelled like death mixed with home-made stink bombs.

The Little Cuyahoga just had dead fish — no living ones, and most of the frogs and toads had two-heads, or only 3 legs, or a foot for a tail.

The river valleys were filled with trash — burned out hulks of cars and mountains of old tires.

For a few years, Akron or Youngstown led the United States in the per-capita murder rate. It wasn’t easy beating out Camden, New Jersey, but goddamn it, we did it. We were number 1 with a bullet!

Then I moved away.

In the 80’s, the rubber factories closed. With each rain, the air became fresher and cleaner.

The feds, state and locals poured billions into a Cuyahoga River clean up. They hauled out the dead cars and tires. The sewage plant is a model for “reclaimed water.” The river is a National Park with beavers and shit.

I sat one summer afternoon in 1990-something, near the 6-foot diameter sewer pipe that ran parallel between the river and the road. As a kid we used to walk that pipe and dare each other to go near the water.

“I can’t — I have an open wound,” was the only acceptable excuse for not wading into the stench.

But 20 years later, I watched a blue heron patiently perch over the river and pluck out a healthy bass from the back end of the beaver pond. You can get a license and fish those rivers now.

There’s a scenic, steam-engine train that rides through the valley.

They rebuilt the tow paths along the Ohio Canal.

You can walk in nature just steps from the city.

You can ride a bike on the path all day and end up far away from any city.

They rebuilt every single public school, and got Lebron James to fund one for the kids and families who really need more help and are willing to work for it.

Cedar Point built new faster, bigger, better set of roller coasters. Cleveland landed the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Downtown Akron found a new life when it was swallowed by the University. They built a minor league baseball stadium and there’s shit to do year-round.

Cleveland built all new basketball, football and baseball stadiums downtown. The Indians became a decent baseball team. The Cavs won a championship and played for 2 more. The Browns are still a brown stain on the soul of football — you can’t have every thing, you greedy mother fuckers.

Now when I see people from Akron on TV, they keep their shirts on and seem to have most of their teeth. It’s a fucking miracle.

I’m thinking to fix this country all I have to do is move to New Zealand. When I leave, America could make a turn-around like Akron.

  • The education system would become the best in the world.

  • Health care would be excellent and cost effective.

  • And all Americans would smile and say nice things to each other.

But sorry folks, I checked. New Zealand won’t take me. Akron can keep getting better. But America, while I’m still here, you are all fucked.