Pittsburgh Rock City?

Cleveland is shut out of Top 10 cities that rock.

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Yngwie Malmsteen, with George Lynch Peabody's Saturday, March 27
One cannot expect a magazine that specializes in stories about wool-blend tweed and sideburn-grooming to have a proper appreciation of rock. This likely explains why Esquire didn't include Cleveland among its ranking of America's 10 hottest rock towns.

The dainty mag's April issue argues that -- gasp! -- Pittsburgh is the nation's rock capital. Denver, Minneapolis, Raleigh, Gainesville, Fresno, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Phoenix, and San Francisco round out its top 10.

"Nothing against Cleveland," says writer Bryan Mealer, between sips of a low-carb wine cooler. "We love that city and sing her praises in the magazine as often as we can. Esquire writer-at-large Scott Raab is a proud son of Cleveland, who ain't afraid to tell you about it."

But the magazine's shaky methodology seemed designed to exclude manly cities, like Cleveland, Detroit, and Buffalo. Conspicuously absent were the true measures of rock, such as per-capita concentration of mullets or the number of times "Train Kept a Rollin'" can be heard on the radio over lunch. So Punch hired guys in lab coats to crunch some real numbers.

The March 24 online listings for Pittsburgh's alt-weekly showed 144 rock events in the city. Phoenix's listed 283. Frisco, 120 (and this includes hip-hop shows). Denver, 114. We tried to get the numbers for Fresno, but no one knew what country it's in.

By contrast, Cleveland had a mighty 335.

The numbers speak clearly: Cleveland rocks 2.3 times harder than Pittsburgh. The rest of these poseur cities don't even come close.

The rural white guy rule
Edward Kramer's three-year effort to prove that insurers discriminate against blacks and Latinos got smacked down by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

Kramer, executive director of Housing Advocates Inc., alleges that insurers screw minorities by charging more for home insurance in Cleveland than they do in the suburbs. "I live on Edgewater Drive in Cleveland, near the border of Lakewood," he says. "If my house were moved two blocks west into Lakewood, the insurance on my house would be anywhere from $70 to $605 lower than it is now. That's discriminatory."

Kramer asked the commission to investigate and subpoena records from insurance companies. But since initiative in government is barred by state law, the commission did neither.

Instead, it noted that because rural whites pay more than Clevelanders, Kramer's claim was "frivolous."

"One of the things we've got to be concerned about here is red herrings," says G. Michael Payton, commission director.

But Kramer isn't impressed by the logic. "People living on farms usually are protected by volunteer fire departments that may be 20 miles away," he says. "They should pay more than people in cities, who usually have good fire protection within a few blocks."

Kramer vows to file another petition soon. "This isn't over."

Can you hear me now?
It may be harder than usual to get in touch with your favorite bum. The Community Voice operated 5,200 voice-mail accounts for homeless people throughout Cuyahoga and Lorain counties, allowing them to stay in touch with friends, family, potential employers, and bookies.

But when the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless discovered that it could no longer cover the $50,000-a-year tab, it asked SBC for a discount. The telephone giant refused, effectively shutting the program down.

Funny thing is, SBC could have seen this as a business opportunity. NEOCH places 70-80 percent of its clients in housing and gainful employment, which translates into a customer base ready and willing to pay exorbitant fees for psychic advice and phone sex. But CEO Edward Whitaker Jr. apparently wasn't hearing us. Calls placed to his Texas office were not returned.

The little guy wins
Nine years ago, John Emerman opened up Stone Oven Bakery/Café in Cleveland Heights, where he dished out breads, pastries, and gossip to the locals. A few weeks ago, Emerman learned that Charter One Bank was eyeing his shop -- and was willing to pay double the rent for the Lee Road storefront. If Emerman couldn't match the price when his lease expired in October, he'd be serving biscotti on the sidewalk.

But when residents learned of the takeover, they flooded Charter One's offices with calls, letters, and petitions. Then a very strange thing happened: The bank actually listened. Last week, Charter One formally withdrew its offer and called Emerman to apologize for the uproar.

Quoting the masters
It's hard to feel sorry for insurance companies. Okay, it's impossible. Still, one couldn't help but applaud the Ohio Supreme Court when it ruled against a much-criticized decision that allowed car-accident victims to file claims against their employer's insurance -- even if they were off work and driving their own cars ("Absurd at Any Speed," March 12, 2003).

But Justice Paul Pfeifer wasn't happy. Some of his colleagues like to bray about "judicial restraint," the notion that judges should strictly follow the letter of the law, rather than interpret it to advance their do-gooder aims. But in this case, he believed that the court ruled on what an insurance policy should have said, rather than what it actually said. It seems that conservative judges turn activist right quick when business interests are at stake.

"As to that restraint, I am reminded of the words of the character Inigo Montoya from the movie The Princess Bride," Pfeifer wrote in his dissenting opinion. "'You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.'"

Tax & spurned
Used-car rogue Avi Stern is in big trouble again ("The Lemon Merchant," January 21). The Ohio Department of Taxation wants to examine sales records for two of his businesses, City Ride and Driver's Auto Mart.

A local attorney, convinced that Stern has been operating without a license, has been lobbying the state to take action. Even if Stern has been paying some of his taxes -- which former co-workers doubt -- it's against the law for an unlicensed dealer to charge sales tax. Though cheating single moms out of their savings never got the state's attention, messing with state revenue apparently has.

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