I moved to Northeast Ohio 14 years ago, only dimly aware of how the Cuyahoga River cleaved the Cleveland brain. Why did I rent in Lakewood? my new co-workers quizzed me. What did I mean by doing that? Someone asked if I was a typical West Side type of person, probing for a deep reveal, aiming me at a pigeonhole.
I had no idea what she meant. Clevelanders explained the signifiers: East Side meant cultured, or not racist. West Side meant sporty, unless Lakewood meant gay.
Today, after living west and east and west again, watching the Browns in Coventry and indie films in Gordon Square, I can say it's all crap. Dwelling on the East-West divide is Cleveland's most outmoded quirk — like Pittsburgh's sandwiches with french fries inside, only less healthy.
Rather than venture past downtown, some Clevelanders still stay close to home, follow worn paths, act out the civic cliche, embrace only half of the city. But ever since Cleveland annexed Ohio City in 1854, it's had a dual yin-yang character. East and West, black and white, great sports town and great arts town.
So buy a house out east, or buy it out west, but don't be a half-Clevelander. Embrace all sides. Our modern metaphor isn't a river, but a bridge.