The Small-font Towns

Know much about Lakeland or Timberlake?  We didn't either, so we set out for a drive.

Every lake seems to have them. You’ve undoubtedly glimpsed one as your car flew past it, perhaps thrown it a two-second space of time in your stream of consciousness.

They’re the tiny-font towns, the just-barely villages with nary a fast-food joint or a stoplight in sight that rate the smallest print on the map — when they get to be on the map at all. And there are two right under your nose: Lakeline and Timberlake, unassuming blips on the landscape between Willowick and Eastlake.

Almost 1,000 people call these villages home; this microcosm is their everyday existence. The setting was ripe for exploration.

“It’s like the country in the city,” explains Timberlake resident and local real-estate agent Sandy Essick. “It’s so private, at night you could hear a pin drop.”

Cruising east on Lakeshore Boulevard, a simple wooden sign welcomes unsuspecting visitors to sleepy Lakeline, population 162. The most excitement these guys had was back in the mid-’90s, when a young Lakeline police officer illegally repossessed his relative’s car. In the wake of the hubbub, the police chief retired. It cut the police force staff by a third (to two), then halved it to one when the officer in question was fired.

These days, the Eastlake police keep watch over the village, and things are generally quiet on the northeastern front. It leaves Mayor Mike Rayl a little extra time for the thing he loves most about his home: the sunsets.

Every great couple develops a harmonious yin and yang, and, in the case of these two villages, Lakeline plays the straight-man to Timberlake’s wild-child playfulness.

Where Lakeline homes line Lakeshore Boulevard in neat rows with trimmed lawns and conventional addresses, Timberlake is a tangle of languid chaos.

We almost missed the turn-off as we exited Lakeline. The road into Timberlake veers left into a solid thicket of shade trees. It doesn’t look like anything that would ever be at the end of your MapQuest directions. Drive into it and maybe you’ll feel it too: the Alice-in-Wonderland sensation that you’re stepping through the looking glass, into someplace you never thought existed.

We followed roads (more like extra-wide bike paths) that curved around a hodge-podge of homes displaying almost every type of architecture: English Tudors, split-levels, postmodern and neo-modern, and lime green and glass block in concrete. Mayor John Roskos notes that many of the houses share the same original builder, but over the years they’ve taken their own character.

If that’s the case, the houses are a metaphor for the entire place. Forget rolled lawns and manicured shrubbery. Here, trees tumble out of every imaginable space, shading the village and deflecting the view of its neighboring smokestacks. The 756 residents live on streets named after Indian words from the poem “The Song of Hiawatha”: Minnewawa, Shawondassee, Nepahwin, and the addresses start right at “one.”

There were the random oddities. A mailbox resting atop a pole 15 feet in the air, “airmail drop off” painted cheekily on the side. A garage sale thrown by a savvy teenager; the proprietor holding aloft a sign pleading “help me go to prom.” The 15-foot-tall multicolored teepee stoutly carrying out its solitary existence on the vast sweep of beach that Essick believes may be the longest private stretch in Ohio.

Roskos has held his position as mayor of Timberlake for “Oh, 16, 17, 18, going on 19 years now,” he muses. He had some competition back in his third term, maybe a couple other times, and when he had to leave Timberlake for his, ahem, real job, they dissolved the position. He came back, they held an election, and now he’s serving his fifth term. Things happen the way they want to here, and nobody seems to mind much.

Yin or yang: Take your pick. Lakeline and Timberlake will be there, snuggled up to Lake Erie, relishing the secrecy of being nestled between the cities that people can see on the map.

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