De rien

I’ve lived in Cleveland for near­ly 15 years now, & in all of that time, the city & its peo­ple have been, through ex­is­ten­tial tri­al & er­ror, try­ing to tax­on­o­mize what it means to be Cleveland. All of them should have vis­it­ed Steve’s Lunch be­fore it burned.

There are a few who have me beat, but, for the most part, I’ve been to more places in more neigh­bor­hoods than peo­ple who’ve lived here their whole lives. The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor, when you wipe away all the brand­ing & in­ter­net-era pos­tur­ing to re­veal the rust­ed heart at our core, is a mod­er­ate­ly ex­as­per­at­ed po­litesse. Clevelanders are busy, we’re in a hur­ry, we know what we’re do­ing, we don’t have time for your shit, but we aren’t gonna be jerks about it.

We’ll hold the door just long enough for it to not close in your face; we’ll throw up our hands at a se­nior cit­i­zen who prob­a­bly shouldn’t be on the road, and im­pa­tient­ly give them the right of way. We’ll serve up a com­plete­ly un­pre­ten­tious hot dog, on a cheap plas­tic plate that’s been cur­so­ri­ly washed 10,000 times in 15 years, that changes your life when the sta­di­um mus­tard smears across your tongue.

Steve’s Lunch is where I went when I had $20 to spend on a night out & could buy a hot dog with my last two dol­lars at 3AM. It burned be­fore I could in­tro­duce my son to the place, but we’re reg­u­lar enough at Steve’s Diner that the staff knows us on sight & the Pepsi is wait­ing for us when we sit down. We grouse with the staff about weath­er & home­work & bills & split a plate of fries. Steve’s is where I go when I’m lone­ly or in need of com­fort, & where I head when all I have time for is a hot dog.

That hot dog could be dim sum; or piero­gi; or ribs bar­be­cued in a con­vert­ed 50-gal­lon drum & served up with­out a per­mit at an aban­doned gas sta­tion. The core of Cleveland, that no amount of lux­u­ry con­dos or new coats of paint can ob­scure, is a lack of pre­ten­sion. Dandelions like Steve’s are in every neigh­bor­hood; lift­ing their yel­low heads & growl­ing at what­ev­er Cleveland sup­pos­ed­ly is this week.

We’ve seen so many grand ges­tures & prophets of pros­per­i­ty de­scend from the clouds to save Cleveland, us­ing mon­ey & in­flu­ence to change en­tire swathes of our neigh­bor­hoods. The loud­est sto­ry is that we need to be saved. We do our best to ob­scure the fact that we serve up lit­tle bits of sal­va­tion every day.

You want an­oth­er hot dog?