Best Of 2009

While many politicians talk around issues for fear of displeasing someone, North Collinwood's Councilman Mike Polensek calls a spade a spade —and a thug a thug. He became notorious in 2007 for a letter to a young constituent arrested for dealing drugs in which Polensek called him "a crack-dealing piece of trash," a "moron" and a "loser," and told him, "There are only two places you will end up at the rate you are going — that is, prison or the nearest funeral home." He's also known for not pulling punches when talking about city politics, his council colleagues or the problems of a diverse neighborhood in flux. It's a neighborhood he was born in and has served as councilman for nearly 27 years. He's seen it torn apart by urban decay and has been involved in its struggle to get back on its feet. It's not a job for the polite and soft-spoken — and he's neither. (mikepolensek.com) — Pantsios

We're sure that the customers of those "adult" stores on the highways are content with the service and setting. But for better or worse, we aren't all bold enough to find out what's for sale inside a windowless, bunker-style building out in the middle of nowhere. So Ambiance takes an entirely different approach, operating well-lit stores with bold-but-cute signs in suburban strip malls, and staffing them with pleasant folks ("Certified Romance Consultants") who wouldn't snicker or leer at you if you asked them to. It's all very cheery and innocent ... in a skimpy-schoolgirl-costume sort of way. And yes, they sell those, plus all manner of products that vibrate, lubricate and titillate. So go fornicate! (Multiple locations, ambiance.com) — Lewis

As president of her own marketing and advertising company, CATV, Inc., Cleveland Heights' Myra Orenstein has worked with big shots like MasterCard International, HBO, Showtime, the Disney Channel, even the White House. But we love her for what she's done for Northeast Ohio. As consultant to the Coventry Village Special Improvement District, she suggested reviving the old street fairs — which had died off due to rowdy crowds — but with a family-friendly atmosphere. The fairs have grown steadily without losing their neighborhood-block party feel. She also advises Cleveland Independents, the organization for locally owned restaurants whose latest project is the Deck, a playing-card-themed pack of $10 gift certificates to 52 area eateries (order now, they won't last; clevelandindependents.com). And she's just gotten on board with Got City Game (see "Best Idea So Crazy It Just Might Work," page 105). Lots of people talk; Myra does. (216.932.3322) — Lewis

Anyone with an appreciation for history and the power of young imaginations should grok the significance of the Glenville house where Jerry Siegel dreamed up one of the most recognizable characters of the last 100 years, Superman. Last year, decades after local officials first paid lip service to preserving the home, author Brad Meltzer helped get the effort rolling. In a video at his site ordinarypeoplechangetheworld.com, Meltzer explains, "I love the idea that all of us, in our ordinariness, want to do something better, want to be something better." Today the home is occupied by its owners (sorry, no Christmas Story House-like tours and gift shop), but it's marked so that tourists and neighbors alike know something world-changing happened here. (10622 Kimberley). — Lewis

Former Cleveland law director and candidate for state attorney general Subodh Chandra (left) is a really nice guy, but he does not suffer fools gladly. Recently he filed a complaint against fellow attorney Orly Taitz, the most vocal member of the "birther" movement that claims Barack Obama isn't a U.S. citizen. "While lawyers have a wide range of latitude to advocate for their clients," he explains, "they do not have professional license to just make things up." But where Chandra shows true commitment to principles is in taking on other Democrats who find talking easier than walking. In Scene recently he noted that Dem candidate for secretary of state Jennifer Garrison "has had her own issues with gay-baiting, being extremely anti-choice and making racist remarks — not exactly the kind of person you want protecting minority-voting rights. Yet the Ohio Democratic Party seems ready to coronate her." Chandra won't commit to running for office himself again, but we'll keep hoping for a change of mind we can believe in. — Lewis

After a brief stint as a regular journalist, Roldo Bartimole published his own newsletter, Point of View, for 32 years, holding the feet of Cleveland's wealthy and powerful to the fire while the mainstream media held their coats for them. He retired in 2000, but with The Plain Dealer's incessant fawning on the big-business community, he just couldn't keep quiet. While the 76-year-old muckracker is no longer a constant presence at city-council meetings, the Internet has given him new outlets (coolcleveland.com, readroldo.com, realneo.us) to comment on the maneuvering going on among the business community, politicians and media. His perspective and institutional memory about past development panaceas gone sour are needed more than ever. Many of his columns are archived at lakewoodbuzz.com/roldobartimole and clevelandmemory.org/roldo. — Pantsios

Corporate downsizing equals lifestyle downsizing, and many a Clevelander has had to say goodbye to little luxuries. So you had to drop the Netflix subscription and say no to the megaplex. You had to postpone that vacation to China and closed your iTunes account. You can't afford to buy The Economist anymore, much less the Sunday New York Times (no excuses for not picking up Scene). No problem. The Lakewood Public Library (try your local public library, non-west siders) is an oasis of knowledge and free entertainment. Here you'll find DVDs, CDs, magazines, newspapers, and of course, lots and lots of books. It doesn't cost a dime. The Lakewood facility also features movie screenings, music performances and lectures. Plus, it's a nice, spacious building, one that makes you feel like you're improving yourself just by walking through the doors. Get off the couch and learn something while you have the chance. (15425 Detroit Ave., 216.226.8275, lkwdpl.org) Guevara

A decade ago there was no Waterloo Village Arts and Entertainment district. That strip of North Collinwood was a desolate zone of empty storefronts. And the neighborhood of modest working-class homes around it didn't escape the scourge of the foreclosure crisis of the past 10 years (yeah, 10). But some people see defeat; some see opportunity. In 2000, former Free Times editor Cindy Barber and Mark Leddy bought the old Croatian Liberty Home on Waterloo and turned it into the Beachland Ballroom; the name reached back to Euclid Beach amusement park days. The Beachland quickly became a home away from home for Northeast Ohio music fans and touring bands of all stripes. Over time, shops and galleries and new residents followed, and slowly a sleeping neighborhood came back to life. Today, an artist or musician is almost as likely to tell you they live in North Collinwood as in Tremont. Of course it takes more than a name to turn a neighborhood into an artists' colony, and what's really spurred the growth is the rehabbing and aggressive marketing to artists of affordable houses by the Northeast Shores Development Corporation. Barber now serves as president of its board. Could Waterloo become a mini-Brooklyn? Its leaders are working to persuade creative people who could never afford New York real-estate prices to relocate, so who knows? And while Barber would never claim credit, it all started with one woman's bold choice. (northeastshores.org)

Pantsios

Blue Arrow Records and Books opened last year as an expansion of This Way Out, the vintage store underneath the Beachland run by Pete and Debbie Gulyas. It's a repository of pop-culture artifacts, with vinyl at the heart of its mission, but a lot more. Music books, T-shirts, magazines, 45s, posters and weird novelties are among the items in a store much larger than your typical used-records hole in the wall. Digging in the bins and the shelves is a crash course in obsolete cultural manifestations. Among the most obsolete — and therefore, most fascinating — are the lurid '50s and '60s pulp novels which offer a glimpse into a more repressed era when sex was treated as a raging force certain to destroy all in its path. Read about fallen women, corrupted innocents and hot-blooded temptresses leading men to ruin. Then form a band and write lyrics about them — and get a gig at the Beachland. (16001 Waterloo Rd., 216.486.2415, bluearrowrecords.com) — Pantsios

Yes, Derf. It's not just because we work with him (disclosure: We work with him), and it's not just because Pere Ubu is only intermittently active. It's because of his book from last fall, Punk Rock and Trailer Parks. It's a first-person account of the improbably disproportionate influence Northeast Ohio had on the development of the mid-'70s music revolution; Akron was allegedly hailed in total seriousness as "The New Liverpool" by England's Melody Maker magazine. Though the book is written from only one person's perspective and it's in cartoon form, as a chronicle of those times, it's a valuable and eminently enjoyable companion to works like Legs McNeil's Please Kill Me, and it's often funnier. And of course, Derf's regular strip, The City still slays us — and readers in about 50 other cities — every week. (derfcity.com) — Kretsch