You can go home again: Revisiting my early childhood in Cleveland

10356504_mThe distance between New York City and Cleveland, Ohio is a mere 405 miles, as the crow flies. But when I journeyed between those two cities last month, I traversed more than the space between them on the map. I also went back in time.

In July 1973, when I was three years old, my family moved from Champaign, Illinois to University Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. There we remained for approximately two and one-half years. In January 1976, about two months shy of my sixth birthday, we relocated to New Jersey. I would grow up in the New Jersey town of West Orange (graduating from West Orange High School), and would attend university and law school in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, DC, respectively. Then I would settle in New York City, where I’ve resided ever since. For over 38 and one-half years after my family left Cleveland, I didn’t return there.

On a weekend in August 2014, I finally made it back to “the Cleve.” Before that weekend was out, not only would I have a fun time exploring the city; but I would make it to my childhood home in University Heights! Needless to say, karaoke would be involved in the festivities as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

Downtown Cleveland: a city reborn

In the days when my family was resident in its greater metropolitan area, Cleveland really wasn’t a pleasant place to hang out. Emblematic of its struggles during this era was that the Cuyahoga River actually caught on fire in 1969 as a result of being heavily polluted. The flaming river symbolized the general malaise that afflicted the city. Like many other American urban areas in the mid-1970s, Cleveland was financially blighted and wracked by crime. Clevelanders developed an inferiority complex and heard their city maligned as the “Mistake on the Lake” (a reference to its location on the north shore of Lake Erie, one of the U.S.’s five Great Lakes).

That was then, this is now. Touring Cleveland last month, I witnessed a revitalized, newly self-confident city. Amenities that signal Cleveland’s ascendancy include a new convention center; a proliferation of hotels, restaurants and luxury housing complexes; a light rail system; and two state-of-the-art sports stadiums (Progressive Field, home ballpark of Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians; and FirstEnergy Stadium, where the National Football League’s Cleveland Browns play).

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

The centerpiece of Cleveland’s renaissance, and by far the most iconic part of its skyline, is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (RRHFM). Designed by celebrated architect I.M. Pei and dramatically situated on the lakefront, the RRHFM opened in 1995. Its pyramidal shape is reminiscent of Pei’s best-known project, the entrance to the Louvre in Paris.

The exterior of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum.

The exterior of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, as seen from the harbour. The round section on the right of the building that juts out over the water is the Hall of Fame Gallery.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, as seen from the harbour. The round section on the right of the building that juts out over the water is the Hall of Fame Gallery.

Inside the atrium of the museum.

Inside the atrium of the museum.

Stepping inside brings you into a first-rate museum facility. I spent five hours soaking up knowledge in the RRHFM’s various halls and galleries, and could easily have whiled away an entire day. Its exhibits supply a comprehensive overview of the history of rock and roll music (including an explanation of how it developed from other musical genres), and are chockful of information about the most legendary performers. The museum’s extensive collection of artifacts brings the presentation to life with such items as performers’ apparel and musical instruments; original handwritten song lyrics; and even a Porsche convertible that belonged to Janis Joplin. You can also listen to original recordings by the rock stars about whom you’re learning.

Inside the museum.

Inside one of the museum’s galleries.

Of course, as the name of the institution indicates, the RRFHM isn’t just a museum, but also includes a Hall of Fame. (The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was actually established in 1983, well before the opening of the building that now houses it.) Enshrined are performers who demonstrated musical excellence and had a significant impact, as well as certain other categories of inductees such as songwriters, producers, journalists, and backup musicians. One thing that surprised me is that unlike with most other Halls of Fame, the honorees in this one don’t get plaques. Instead, the Hall of Fame Gallery consists of a curving series of glass panels inscribed with the signatures of the Hall’s members.

(If you’re curious as to why the RRHFM is located in Cleveland of all places, it’s because the city won a competition, beating out a number of other cities for the honour. But it’s also true that the person generally credited with having coined the term “rock & roll” is Alan Freed, who was a DJ for a Cleveland radio station; he first uttered the phrase during a 1951 broadcast.)

Popping in to the Great Lakes Science Center to see a vintage space vehicle

After immersing myself in that rock & roll music in the RRHFM, I ambled next door to the Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC), where the Skylab 3 command module from the Apollo space program is on display. (You’ll find it in the GLSC’s NASA Glenn Visitor Center, which is named after John Glenn, a former astronaut and United States Senator. Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth, achieving that distinction in 1962; and in 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest person to travel into space.) Space program geek that I am, how could I resist the opportunity to view a relic from NASA’s golden age?

The Skylab 3 command module in the Great Lakes Science Center.

The Skylab 3 command module in the NASA Glenn Visitor Center within the Great Lakes Science Center.

The Skylab 3 mission ferried a trio of astronauts to the Skylab space station in July 1973 — the same month in which my family moved to University Heights, Ohio. Seeing the command module from that mission was therefore another way in which my visit to Cleveland hearkened back to the mid-1970s. Oh, and bonus: Because I entered the GLSC at about 4:45 p.m. (15 minutes prior to closing time), the ticket windows were unattended and I was able to walk right in without being charged the usual admission fee. So I got to see this vintage space vehicle for free!

A lake and river cruise: good times

My other principal daytime activity in Cleveland was a lunch cruise on Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. Observing a city from the water is always a favourite pastime for me while traveling. The vessel on which I set sail was christened the Goodtime III; and with a name like that, how could I not have a fantastic afternoon? ๐Ÿ™‚

Cruising Cleveland’s waterways on a gorgeous late summer’s day, it was hard to imagine that the river had once been so squalid as to be flammable. Here are a couple of photos taken during my voyage aboard the Goodtime III:

Looking out from the Goodtime III while cruising down the Cuyahoga River.

Looking out from the Goodtime III while cruising down the Cuyahoga River.

The downtown Cleveland skyline, as seen from Lake Erie.

The downtown Cleveland skyline, as seen from Lake Erie during my lunchtime cruise.

While taking in those views, I was also treated to a narration that summarized Cleveland’s history and pointed out objects of interest. Well, to be accurate, the narration filled roughly the first half of the two-hour cruise. Then the voice-over ceased and the ship turned around. We spent the remainder of the voyage circling around a relatively small portion of Lake Erie. To be honest, things got kind of boring at that point. Admittedly, it was nice to just chill while afloat on such a perfect day weatherwise. At the same time, the cruise felt kind of drawn-out, and I would have been happy to return ashore a little earlier. Overall, though, the Goodtime III delivered on the promise of her name. (Incidentally, the Goodtime III is one of two competing vessels that offer public cruises on the lake and river. Her rival is the Nautica Queen.)

Other local attractions

During my brief interlude in town, I was only able to scratch the surface of the activities that Cleveland offers. Additional highly-regarded attractions, which I would love to check out in the future, include:

โ€ข The Cleveland Museum of Art. One of the premier art museums in the country, it’s particularly renowned for its holdings in the fields of Egyptian and Asian art. Highlights of its formidable collection also include important works by the likes of Botticelli, Monet, Matisse, Van Gogh, Gauguin, El Greco, and Dali.

โ€ข The West Side Market. Dating back to 1840, this market currently consists of an indoor space with stalls for 100 vendors under a 44-foot high vaulted ceiling, as well an outdoor arcade that accommodates an additional 85 vendors. It’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The surrounding area, known as the Market District, abounds with trendy restaurants.

โ€ข Lake View Cemetery. This burial ground features the final resting places of many prominent persons with Cleveland connections, such as oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, law enforcement agent Elliot Ness, and Western Union founder Jeptha Wade. It also contains an elaborate memorial to James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States.

โ€ข The house from “A Christmas Story.” This is the actual home that appeared in the classic 1982 holiday film. Memorabilia from the movie (such as the Red Ryder BB gun) is on display, and you can take an informative tour of the premises.

Stock photo of the West Side Market.

Stock photo of the West Side Market.

A night of karaoke: Cleveland rocks!

In 1970, the year in which I was born, a man named Daisuke Inoue invented karaoke in Japan. When I was a wee lad living in the Cleveland area, I knew nothing of Mr. Inoue’s then-recent invention; karaoke wouldn’t reach the United States until 1982, and wouldn’t reach critical mass here until much later still. But as you know, the adult version of me has wholeheartedly embraced Mr. Inoue’s gift to the world. ๐Ÿ™‚ It was only natural that when I visited Cleveland last month, that city would get added to my World Karaoke Tour.

On a Saturday night, accompanied by my friend Robert and his girlfriend Fei, I went to Mr. Peabody’s Pub & Grille, in a neighborhood called Old Brooklyn. At Mr. Peabody’s, I made my Ohio singing debut with a classic tune by The Ramones, “I Wanna Be Sedated.” You can watch me singing it here:


And you can also watch me belting out my second song of the evening, “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits:


On that night, Ohio became the 19th U.S. state in which I’ve done karaoke. (I’ve also sung in 35 countries as of this writing.)

Firing up the time machine

Karaoke was the initial impetus for my little jaunt to Cleveland; the trip was conceived as a way for me to sing in the great state of Ohio for the first time. But as I started planning this latest adventure, I realized that University Heights, the location of my aforementioned childhood home, is only about 9 miles from Cleveland. So a crazy idea popped into my head and refused to go away. I decided that my weekend would culminate in an excursion to that childhood home. (Despite the passage of nearly four decades, the street address of that house was permanently etched into my memory banks.)

And this vision was realized! Much has changed since 1976, both in my life and in the world. But all those years melted away when my taxi drove me into University Heights. I was transported to a time when I was unimaginably young and I really did have my whole life ahead of me.

I returned to the town of University Heights for the first time in over 38 and a half years.

I stepped foot within the township limits of University Heights for the first time in over 38 and one-half years!

University Heights is not a large metropolis; it’s a bedroom community that covers just 1.82 square miles, and its population as of the 2010 census was barely above 13,500. Thus, once I passed the sign welcoming me to the “City of Beautiful Homes,” it didn’t take long to reach The House.

I lived in this house a long, long time ago.

I lived in this house a long, long time ago.

I remember nothing of the ranch-style dwelling in Champaign, Illinois that my family occupied during the first chapter of my life. My first memories of any residence are of the one in University Heights. And some of those recollections came flooding back as I actually stood in front of that domicile.

I wondered whether the current occupants would be present when I stopped by. It turned out that at least one of them was. Mrs. M. (whose surname I will abbreviate for privacy reasons) greeted me, and revealed that she and her husband had purchased the house from my parents back in ’76 (and she even remembered my family). Mr. and Mrs. M. still live there today! Mrs. M. told me that she and her husband raised six children in that house, but now those kids are grown and have long since fled the nest. A lot happens in 38 1/2 years.

The house wasn’t in exactly the same form in which my family had left it. Gone was the ivy that had once festooned its brick faรงade. Moreover, in order to accommodate their large brood, Mr. and Mrs. M. had built a large addition at the rear of the house. The new wing was constructed in 1983, during the same year in which I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah in New Jersey. The added section — the construction of which was over seven years in the future when the house belonged to my family — is now over 30 years old. Its presence serves as a reminder that time really does march on.

This addition to the house was constructed in 1983.

This addition to the house was constructed in 1983.

In case you’re wondering, Mrs. M. didn’t invite me inside the house. Perhaps it was because in 2014, Americans are more cautious towards strangers than they were in the 1970s. After all, I was just some random guy who’d shown up on Mrs. M.’s doorstep out of the blue, even if she did sort of remember me. So I can’t say I blame her. Still, I was disappointed; it would have been nice to be reminded of what the interior of the house looked like. Walking through its rooms might have brought back even more memories from the dim mists of my youth.

At least I got to see the backyard . . .

At least I got to see the backyard . . .

My nostalgic tour of University Heights wasn’t restricted to the house itself. I also stopped by the Canterbury Elementary School, where I attended kindergarten for half a year! It makes me feel really old to reflect that 39 subsequent kindergarten classes have passed through its hallowed halls after I skipped town in the middle of the 1975-76 school year.

My trip down memory lane continued at the school where I attended kindergarten for half a year.

My trip down memory lane continued at the school where I attended kindergarten for half a year.

I was really enjoying coming face to face with these landmarks from my childhood. But my all-too-brief time travel experience had to come to an end. Reluctantly, I departed from University Heights and headed to the airport. I was catching a flight back to New York — and back to the future world of 2014.

Just as I did in January 1976, I had to bid adieu to University Heights.

Just as I did in January 1976, I had to bid adieu to University Heights.

It’s not every day that you can visit a former home of yours that you haven’t gazed upon for over 38 years. My travels will continue to take me to amazing locales all over the world; but few of those destinations will be as meaningful to me as Cleveland and University Heights were. The magical weekend that I spent in those places gave me a window into my own past.

Have you ever visited a home from your childhood?

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Categories: North America, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

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54 thoughts on “You can go home again: Revisiting my early childhood in Cleveland

  1. I’ve never been but it sounds like theres a lot to do!

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    • @Christine: There really is. I wasn’t expecting so many great choices of things to do there! Cleveland deserves a lot more attention.

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  2. I have never been to the states but Cleveland looks like a great place to head when I do go. Thanks for sharing.

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    • @aholeinmyshoe: I mean, it’s not a place to go before New York or California, for example, but if you find yourself in the Midwestern United States (Chicago, St. Louis, etc.), Cleveland would be worthy of inclusion. It really is a pleasant place to go, with some top-notch museums and other attractions.

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  3. What a trip down memory lane that must have been for you! It is always amazing to visit old homes that you’ve lived in, and the memories come flooding back. I’ve been to Cleveland a few times before, and the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame is really fun!

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    • @Lauren: the rock & roll museum / hall of fame was great fun. I enjoyed just sitting at the kiosks listening to old songs. The exhibit on the history of sound recording technology (from Edison’s cylinder to mp3s) was pretty fascinating too. And those were just some of the highlights. As you know from having been there, the setting of the museum on the water is also really spectacular. And yeah, reliving the memories by visiting my old house was amazing.

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  4. I haven’t been back home for about five years now but looking forward to go soon. Great choice of song with I Wanna Be Sedated, although you sounded too cheery lol Were the Ramones mentioned in the RRHFM?

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    • @Sandra: Well, they’re in the Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2002. And at one point when I was in the building I heard “I Wanna Be Sedated” being played as one of the songs in the background soundtrack you hear when you’re in the atrium. That made me want to sing it that night. I don’t remember whether there was also memorabilia from The Ramones in the museum.

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  5. A karaoke travel blog – what a novel idea! Unfortunately I’m somebody who usually leaves quickly once somebody who can’t hold a tune grabs a microphone, so I’m seldomly part of the audience.

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    • @webbeetle: In my experience, a large percentage of people you see at karaoke bars these days are pretty good in terms of singing ability, especially in the larger cities like New York. I don’t like having to hear atrocious singers any more than you do. ๐Ÿ™‚ (The big problems are when you have somebody who’s really drunk.) On the other hand, it’s enjoyable to me to watch someone else doing a good job at the mic.

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  6. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum sounds like an amazing museum. I love rock and roll ๐Ÿ™‚ If I ever go to Cleveland I have to visit it.

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    • @Jowita: It is an amazing museum, and a rock and roll aficionado like you will definitely appreciate it. And there are lots of other fun things to do in Cleveland too!

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  7. This reminded me of Cleveland Show.. although not so relevant ๐Ÿ™‚ Good to see the city has developed. I certainly hope to visit it one day!

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    • @Veronika: Yeah, the Cleveland Show has nothing to do with Cleveland the city. ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, the city has certainly come a long way and was enjoyable to visit.

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  8. Pretty cool that karaoke was invented the same year you were born! Looks like a fun city to visit!

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    • @Heather: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that karaoke was born the same year that I was. It was destiny. ๐Ÿ™‚ And yes, Cleveland was a fun place to spend some time.

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  9. Being a tourist in your own hometown (or childhood hometown) has got to be a great experience. I head home every now and then so it doesn’t seem that new to me but I have made it a mission to explore (next time) from a newbies perspective. And LOVE the Karaoke. Keep it UP!

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    • @Adrian: Being a tourist in my childhood hometown (and seeing it from an older person’s perspective) was a very special experience, for sure.

      Thanks for the support regarding my World Karaoke Tour!

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  10. Wow, I never knew Cleveland had so much to offer! I would love to see the West Side Market and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fameโ€ฆ. Keep Rockin!

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    • @Words of a Wanderer: I didn’t realize Cleveland had so much to offer until I went there! The West Side Market looks pretty cool, doesn’t it? And the rock & roll hall of fame / museum is a great place to visit for anyone who loves rock music!

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  11. I’ve never been but I imagine it was great returning after such a long time since you did… would love to see that Porsche! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • @aluxurytravel blog: Returning after such a long time away made for a really special experience. Anyway, here’s what Janis Joplin’s Porsche looks like:

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  12. Never been but Had a friend who lived and worked there! And she never told me that the city has so much to offer…:)

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  13. sammiegan

    Wow, I’ve never been. Didn’t know anything about Cleveland before I read this post. I recently went to my place of birth, having *never* visited before, it was different for sure!

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    • @Sammi: Cleveland is definitely under the radar in terms of not being very well known.

      It’s pretty cool that you visited your place of birth! Where was that?

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  14. I would so go to the Great Lakes Science Center too, that looks amazing! And for free too – even better to my stingy ears. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Nice post, it’s always fun to revisit your childhood haunts from a different perspective. Plus, like other commenters, I had no idea there was so much to do in Cleveland.

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    • @Jessica: To be honest, the reviews I read of the Great Lakes Science Center were mixed. The NASA section is totally worth it, but the rest of the place seems like kind of a generic science museum of the type that you can find in a lot of American cities. No need to spend valuable time in this one that would take away from some of Cleveland’s more unique attractions. (Although, given the proximity of the GLSC to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it’s certainly worthwhile to pop over just to see the NASA stuff.)

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  15. Adrienne Veglia Mazeau

    I love visiting my hometown (parents still live there) and exploring with fresh eyes with my kids. I think you learn to really appreciate parts of your childhood!

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  16. Wow! You are so brave for putting your kareoke up on here! Haha. I would never have the guts to do that. Awesome. Cleveland sounds cool! Also, love the Peru shirt. I have the same one.

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    • @Jules and Christine: To be honest, since I usually make videos of my performances, I often get more nervous about the fact that people will be watching the videos on my website, than about the fact that I’m singing in a room full of strangers. But singing is something that I really enjoy doing, especially when I get to sing one of my favourite songs.

      I really like my Peru shirt!

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  17. That river cruise looks really fun! I didn’t know there was so much to do in Cleveland

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  18. Claudia

    Well, first of all can I say I really like your Peru t-shirt? I bought an identical one for my father when I was in Peru. Anyhow… back to business. What you really did not say is what prompted you to go back to Cleveland. Were you there for work reasons, or just visiting? Was it a conscious choice or just a chance?

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    • @Claudia: It’s an awesome shirt! I enjoy wearing it!

      The post does kind of mention that I went to Cleveland because I wanted to add Ohio to my World Karaoke Tour. Plus, I had long been curious about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. And Cleveland is close enough to NYC that it was easy to just go there for a weekend.

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  19. Always nice to go back in time! Cleveland looks like a pretty awesome place!

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  20. It’s always strange to revisit a place you knew well a long time ago. Places change so much that they often feel quite unreal when you go back.

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    • @Karen: Yes. On the one hand, certain aspects of the place are exactly as you left them. At the same time, there are signs of the passage of time, and there have been changes, and many of those changes are subtle.

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  21. Haven’t been there but looks like so much to do there

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  22. Thank you for this beautiful tour of Cleveland. I’ve never been there, but I bookmarked your article for future reference. There seems to be a lot to do there. The the atrium of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum looks a lot like Dallas airport. If you didn’t add the photo caption I could bet I was in Dallas…

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    • @Anda: Thank you for your kind words. Interesting about the Dallas airport (I haven’t flown through DFW in a long time, so I don’t really remember what the terminals there look like).

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  23. I visited Cleveland years ago and was surprised at how much the city had to offer

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    • @Brianna: You would probably be even more impressed if you came back now. Many of the improvements seem to be relatively recent.

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  24. I’ve never been to Cleveland or even thought about going really, but it looks like it could be fun. Maybe I’ll visit one day ๐Ÿ™‚

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  25. Oh it’s so cool to read about things in the USA! We left almost ten years ago and it’s so funny to to think of all the things we now need to see in the US. My son has the rock and roll hall of fame at the top of his list! Thanks for sharing

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    • @Baskets Life Travel: The U.S. is so vast and has so many amazing places to visit. Cleveland is one of them! And your son would love the rock and roll hall of fame / museum.

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  26. WCBFF

    Interesting write-up! University Heights looks like a nice place to live. When you visited your former home, did memories arise that you hadn’t thought about or remembered since their original inception? It had to be kind of a surreal experience.

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    • @WCBFF: As you may know, I’m not a big fan of living in the suburbs. ๐Ÿ™‚ With that said, as a young kid, University Heights was a pleasant, idyllic place to reside. My father told me that when we lived there, the homeowners’ association had a number of restrictive rules (such as no signs in your yard, and not being able to leave your trash in front of the house) that did improve both the appearance of the neighborhood and the quality of life.

      When I visited, memories did arise that I hadn’t thought of for many, many years — like decades, in some cases.

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  27. Love those walks down memory lane. Thank you Harvey for showing us all the things you can do in Cleveland. Will keep that in mind for the future. Looks like you had a blast. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • @NOMADasaurus: I did have a blast! The walk down memory lane was a big part of that, but also, Cleveland proved a fun place to spend time.

      Like

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