SAMARA BENZA, Features Editor —
“We’re not Detroit” is the closing line from the 2009 video “Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video: 2nd Attempt” and a phrase that nearly every Clevelander knows.
Cleveland is often the butt of the joke in movies and in social life; but, Cleveland is my home and is much more than Lebron James, dying industry, and jokes. While Cleveland does have its downfalls–as does every city–Cleveland is a city of strong willed and passionate people.
Chagrin Falls is a small town outside of Cleveland, similar to Granville. Both are the quintessential “small towns” with strong communities, a popcorn shop and ice cream store, and are 40 minutes from the city.
The normally crowded town center, filled with dog walkers, high schoolers grabbing an after school coffee, and grandmas picking up a new outfit, is deserted. The popcorn shop scarcely sees a customer and the restaurants are carry-out only.
In the town center there lies the best bookstore to have ever existed–Fireside Book Shop. Traditionally it is so packed it is hard to walk around but Fireside now lays empty. The books inside are waiting for the day when customers return to wander through the stacks and begin buying stories old and new again.
The community seems lost, a town that vanished too quickly, forgotten, and deserted. But that is not the case. Turning on a computer and looking in the right places will show a community trying to stay together. The bagel shop on weekends has customers rotating in and out, grabbing their favorites to go, wearing masks and gloves to try to keep everyone safe.
The Facebook groups and Nextdoor apps are full of comments and conversations about how to stay connected and have fun during this time.
Driving through a neighborhood will showcase children and pets playing in their yards, shouting across the street to their friends they can’t hug. The laughter is abundant, and the kids are getting creative again. While technology runs the school day, chalk runs the fun. Murals are seen on sidewalks that brighten up the cloudy sky and dark atmosphere.
The everlasting “little free libraries” are filled with books but also notes of encouragement and canned food people in need can take.
Though you won’t see any kids hanging out in local parks, group chats are filled with remembering memories and making plans for the future. The golf dome lacks golfers but backyards are set up with tees for hitting balls.
The community in the town has become hidden–locked inside houses waiting for the day when we can go to Jeni’s to get an ice cream cone or take a stroll down to the falls, but the community holds strong.
It takes constant reminding why we are staying inside. Why we are not hanging out with friends we miss so dearly and celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. Why we were pulled away from our college campuses and jobs. We are doing this not for us but for our parents, our grandparents, our aunts and uncles, our baby nieces and nephews, for those who don’t have the immune system to fight this virus. We are doing this so we all can grab a coffee at local cafes again. We are doing this to protect and to continue life.
But this is not the Chagrin Falls I saw when I went to take photos for this article. I judged my community by what I saw on the news and what I thought everyone would be doing. But I was wrong.
As I drove around, trying to take photos from the safety of my car, I had to pass more bikers, walkers, and runners than I ever had to in my life.
I saw people standing outside eating ice cream like it was the hottest day of summer — and it was only 60 degrees outside. I saw families and couples passing others on the sidewalk, ignoring the 6 feet rule, not wearing anything to protect themselves or others. I saw groups of friends, of all ages, clustering in the park. A new friend parked their car and joined them as I passed and hugs were shared. I saw a park parking lot more full than when I had a cross country meet there with hundreds of kids running. I saw couples dressed up for dates and friends hanging out.
This is a community I am not proud to say I am from. Social media provides evidence of people social distancing and doing their part; but, there is a large portion of the population ignoring everything going on.
I am happy to say there are many people and places that are doing the right thing. A local neighborhood has posted signs on all doors reminding people to stay inside and distance yourself. Friends have held surprise birthday celebrations online instead of getting together. Couples have held virtual dates. Many businesses have closed or have severely reduced hours and no dine-in services.
But the few who are ignoring all of the warnings are the ones who stand out.
We are not doing this for the soccer moms and young families who have strong immune systems and great access to medical care. We are not doing this for the teenagers and kids who have strong immune systems. We are not doing this for the people who have the ability to work from home. We are not doing this for most of us.
We are doing this for the people who lost their jobs and aren’t able to earn any income. We are doing this for the people with weaker immune systems who may die if they get the virus. For the people who need to go out for groceries but are too scared because the virus is rampant. For the people who may die because you needed a new mug from Target but they needed food.
We are doing this so we can get back to normal, people can get their jobs back, and people can live.