Parma: City of Intrigue

Paris is nice, but it's so darn far away.

Best Place to Get a Mullet: Werner's Barbershop. - Walter  Novak
Best Place to Get a Mullet: Werner's Barbershop.
France is a great place to send a postcard from. But some travelers simply aren't wowed by châteaux and berets.

For an alternative vacation destination, we suggest Parma, a working-class suburb easily accessible from Interstate 71. It's affordable, it's navigable, and it's convenient.

It even has a castle, if you count the Royal Donut shop on State Road, which has a couple of fake turrets and a fancy cornice.

Getting there is best done in luxury. A wood-paneled station wagon would be ideal, but sadly, those are hard to come by. Our No. 2 choice: a used mini-van with cruise control, from Rent-a-Wreck. For a mere $29.95 per day, you can peel out of the lot with a late model that seats seven.

Now that you've got wheels, it's time to eat. Got a hankering for pierogi? St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Church on State Road is your Valhalla. With a little advance notice, the volunteer kitchen staff can whip up 150 dozen or so. They come in potato, sauerkraut, cheese, and -- if you're feeling a bit irregular -- prune.

For emergencies, the parish even has its own pierogi hotline. Proceeds go to St. Josaphat's Elementary School, which has about 200 students. So feel free to slather as much sour cream as you want on those puppies. It's for a good cause.

Scenic Broadview Road, famous for a Citgo gas station with really cheap gas, is also a high point on any Parma tour. The Rally's on the corner of Broadview and Snow might beckon you with its cholesterol cry, but don't while away your whole afternoon there. Stopping at Werner's Barbershop for a trim is de rigueur.

Not only does Werner Voelkel give a nice, even haircut, he also has the mother of all curios displayed on his south wall: a prize fish that's been overhauled at a body shop to look like a hot rod. Painted a crisp Harley-Davidson blue, it now has flames adorning its fin and a head done up in Eldorado pearl. "It's clear-coated, like a regular car," brags Voelkel.

He acquired the fish 20 years ago, from a customer whose wife didn't want it in the house. A few years ago, "I thought I'd give it a facelift. I'm a car enthusiast, so I had it painted with flames."

Bargain hunters, however, may prefer Bill's Barbershop. Bill's has no candy-apple catch of the day, but it is the home of the $5 haircut. What's more, it's right next door to State Road Pizza, home of the $5 pepperoni pizza on Mondays and Tuesdays, so you can really treat yourself.

No visit to Parma would be complete without a stop at Stearns Homestead on Ridge Road. It's one of the few farms around that's squeezed in between a public library, a strip mall, and a Target superstore. Now a historical landmark, it's also conveniently located right across the street from an Outback Steakhouse.

On Saturdays, you might find Historical Society volunteer Judy Habert selling ice-cream cones filled with pig feed for 25 cents. When business is slow, she's happy to lean up against the shed and chat for a spell. Don't forget to ask her about her family's beloved 4-H goat, Stormy, who's gone but definitely not forgotten.

"She was a French Alpine goat," Habert reminisces. One time, she took Stormy for a ride in the back of her pickup truck. "One of my kids had to sit in the back with her. You should have seen us going down Brookpark Road."

Ah, Stormy, we hardly knew ye.

After checking in at the Parma Hotel on Pearl Road, where rooms with color TV and a bathroom range from $35 to $45, it's time for a little shopping. We recommend Kal's Nursery and Garden Supplies on Ridge Road, which offers the latest in lawn ornaments. For around 40 bucks, you can bag a concrete goose.

Not to be outdone by other lawn-ornament stores, Kal's also sells stylin' concrete goose fashions. "We have a lot of cute little things," says owner Irene Kal. "Pumpkin outfits, fall dresses, Santa Claus. This summer, we had bikinis for geese." A goose combat outfit, popularly priced at $19.95, is all the rage right now, she says.

Goose clothing sales have flattened in recent years, says Kal. "You build up a wardrobe" and don't need any more goose clothes, she says. "Some women even have closets for them."

But not all goose clothiers offer the quality that Kal's does. "I hear comments," she says. "Our people do nice work. Everybody says, 'I sew. I can make that myself.' Go ahead and try."

On your way out of Parma, don't forget to say hi to Myron Kaplan at Pearl Road Auto Wrecking, one of the oldest junkyards in the region. Kaplan's grandma bought the place in 1927, "the year Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs."

Kaplan started working there in the 1940s, when he was 10. It's one of the few junkyards left where you can actually pry a hubcap off a wheel yourself. Nowadays, most places fetch the junk for you.

"For the longest time, you could come into this junkyard and find what you needed," says customer Jerry Seidel. "He'd flip you for it, double or nothing. He won't flip with me anymore. But you can still get a good price."

The list of Parma's attractions goes on and on: Parmatown Mall, the Coral Reef Lounge, Zero Zest Ice Cream Stand. And then it stops. It's a place that has so much to offer, yet not so much that it overwhelms. And therein lies its beauty.