We Went to Cleveland Heights and Didn't Get Shot

But threat may still loom in embattled east side suburb

I’ve returned, panting, to the safety and fluorescent buzz of Scene’s downtown HQ, and I am — praise God — alive. If not psychologically, I am at the very least physically without wound or blemish after my perilous outing to the Cedar Lee.

Per the recommendation of my attorney, my last will and testament was in order before I departed, and I report with great relief that I’d managed to bid my fiance, mother and dearest friends adieu. I understood, as we all do when we enter Cleveland Heights, that my survival prospects were 50/50ish at best. And I don’t mind saying publicly that being forced to put my life on the line week in and week out for the likes of, e.g., Whiplash, strikes me as gross and litigable mistreatment. (I did, however, really get a kick out of Whiplash).

It’s appropriate, at any rate, that I visited Cleveland’s nearest east side suburb on Veterans Day, because right now I feel like nothing so much as a survivor, a man who has traversed Bosnian minefields and scampered back to virgin soil, solemn and shit-stained.

Like more than 2,000 other Clevelanders, I filled out a NEOMG survey in June regarding the safety of Cleveland Heights. And along with 26 percent of respondents, I indicated that I was “very concerned” by the robbery and shooting of Jim Brennan and wouldn’t be visiting Lee Road “any time soon!” (Cedar Lee movie-review excursions notwithstanding). 

Never mind that the survey was posed to cleveland.com readers mere hours after the shooting itself, as Jim Brennan lay dying in a hospital bed. Discount, also, those readers who considered the survey a new low for the click-crazed execs at the NEOMG and Advance Publications. Moments after the event, the newsroom’s digital curators were planting the seeds of what some had the audacity to characterize as an insidious narrative, a narrative of crime laying waste to this particular suburb, one known to be racially and ethnically diverse.

But I’m here to submit that if the NEOMG isn’t going to keep Clevelanders abreast of the terrorism, urban warfare and mass pillaging in Cleveland Heights — pillaging not seen since Abraham Blauvelt and the 17th century Dutch corsairs — who will!?!?

“If anything, there are roving gangs of nerds loose on Lee Road, heading toward the library,” said Cleveland Heights Vice Mayor Cheryl Stevens, when pressed about roving gangs. “You want to see a full parking lot? Go to the library.”

Library schmibary. The Vice Mayor would thus deflect my inquiries (and what exactly is a Vice Mayor anyhow?) I was hounding her for intel regarding casualties — Where are the bodies, Stephens! The bodies! — but she and Mayor Dennis Wilcox seemed absolutely hellbent on portraying their battlefield city of 45,000 residents as a destination for quote unquote “dining and shopping.”

Good luck sneaking that stat-juking campaign rhetoric past the crackerjack reporting team at the Northeast Ohio Media Group. VP of Digital Content Chris Quinn managed to hunt down 50 stories (or at least 50 posts) after the Jim Brennan tragedy — “engagement posts, perspectives, updates” — and commandeered the rapt attention (=half-a-million page views) from a regional readership who had no choice but to conclude that the crime was representative of a deeper, darker epidemic.

Indeed, I’ve seen these “roving nerds” of which Stephens spake. I have seen the artsy intellectuals and precocious hipsters at the Cedar Lee huddled in smoky, conspiratorial congress. I have seen the hippy-dippy seniors at Cain Park buying arts and crafts supplies (and who knows what all artillery and illegal drugs), while listening to subversive folk music. I have seen the beards on display out there, and they are of the length and shear favored by personages in a certain part of the globe that I’d rather not mention explicitly (the Middle East). I have seen forward-thinking women in sarongs. I have seen aspirant poets in confusing headwear. I have seen “high school students” emerging from the Cleveland Heights campus, alive with a troubling and overcaffeinated pep, many of them riding bicycles!

Strictly speaking, I have not seen any firearms or what you'd call "criminal activity" with my own two personal eyes. But that's mostly because I've been instructed, when I'm out there, to keep my eyes on the prize — the Cedar Lee. To cast glances too far port or starboard is to invite trouble.  

Suffice it to say: This is no country for old (or for that matter, young) men.

About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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