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?