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    by William Least Heat-Moon

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Entries in relationship (2)


Blue Highways: Cincinnati, Ohio

Unfolding the Map

We are rapidly reaching the end of Blue Highways.  As William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) skirts Cincinnati in Ghost Dancing, I recall my first girlfriend who moved to Cincinnati to get a PhD after we broke up and after we graduated from college.  If you want to know where Cincinnati is located and see just how close we are to finishing this journey, please see the map.

Book Quote

"At Cincinnati, I looped the city fast on the interstate and came to Indiana 56, where corn, tobacco, and blue-sailor grew to the knee, and also wild carrot, fleabane, golden Alexander.  Apples were coming into a high green, butterflies stiched across the road, and all the way the whip of mowers filled Ghost Dancing sweetly with the waft of cut grass.  Each town had its feed and grain store, each farm its grain bin and corncrib.  Rolling, rolling, the land, the road, the truck."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 4

Cincinnati Night Skyline, by Kabir Bakie. Photo hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Cincinnati, Ohio

I associate Cincinnati with my first girlfriend.  I would have had no other reason to pay attention to Cincinnati as a place except for the fact that she went into a graduate program in psychology at the University of Cincinnati.  She moved to Cincinnati about a year and a half after we broke up, and I think I still had hopes that we might get back together sometime.  However, I had my own destiny to fulfill, and I moved to Milwaukee around the same time to do volunteer work.

Our relationship had been one that developed over time.  When I look back at my time in college, I realize just how troubled I was.  I came out of a terribly dysfunctional family, and I had a horrible self-esteem problem.  I had never had a girlfriend, and desperately wanted one, but as you may imagine my personal issues kept me from connecting with women on a deeper level.  I was everyone's friend but that was it.  I blamed the world because I didn't understand how I was limiting myself.  I didn't realize how desperate I must have seemed, and how leery that might make people.

Into that world she stepped.  We got know each other slowly.  I actually had a major crush on her roommate (who was unattainable for a variety of reasons) but that developed a lot of time that we were together.  Eventually, by my third year in college, we were in a relationship.  I had a girlfriend!  She was warm and kind, one of the nicest and most caring people I ever met.  We had good times together.  But my demons stepped in again.  I was somewhat possessive, and I made the worst mistake that one can make in a relationship - I put her on a pedestal and convinced myself that I couldn't be happy without her.  When, as in the course of most college relationships, she felt the urge to move on I was crushed.  Unfortunately, this experience didn't teach me much - I would make the same mistake again and again before I started to learn to be less needy.

We kept in touch - she in graduate school in Cincinnati and I in my Milwaukee volunteer work.  We both talked about the connection we still had with each other.  I think that I was convinced that sometime we would get back together.  It was not too long later that she told me of her engagement and invited me to her wedding.

I think I was depressed for a day or so, and then resolved to get on with my life.  Life in Milwaukee as a full-time volunteer was stressful in itself.  I threw myself into my work.  But I couldn't bring myself to commit to attending her wedding.  I went back and forth.  I didn't want to admit that she was getting married.  Finally, in a bit of irony, the woman who eventually became my wife told me to go because otherwise I would always question myself.

That was two days before I was supposed to be there.  I had no car, so I bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Cincinnati.  My wife-to-be-though-we-didn't-know-it borrowed a car to drive me to the bus station.  I knew the name of the hotel where the wedding party was staying and I hoped I'd be able to find it.  I arrived in Cincinnati, took a taxi to the hotel, and was able to contact my ex-girlfriend's parents who very nicely offered me a sofa in their suite.  My ex-girlfriend came back from an errand a little while later and was very suprised to see me.  She seemed gratified that I came, even amidst my excuses.  It was strange staying in the bridal suite, but I made it work.  I think it was important for me to have been there, because I was able to put behind me most of my pretentions.  As I saw her at the front of the chapel in her bridal dress alongside her new husband, I realized that the past was the past and that I could move forward into the rest of my life.

Since that time, we have pursued our own lives.  We remained friends, and she returned the favor by attending my wedding in 1995.  She moved to Connecticut and took a job as a professor of psychology.  For awhile I saw her somewhat regularly because my work took me to the East Coast a few times a year.  However, our contact grew less and less.  Her marriage ended a few years after her wedding, and she eventually remarried.  She became a respected and much-loved professor at her university, where she introduces young women to gender issues and, from what I can tell, really has a talent for empowering them.  I last saw her about ten years ago, when she traveled to New Orleans for a conference when I was living there.  I don't think I've spoken to her since then, although we do the Facebook thing every so often and, like so many people do, say we'll get in touch with each other by phone.  It never happens.

If we do happen to speak to each other again, I'd tell her how thankful I am to have known her.  I would thank her for sharing a relationship with a deeply troubled young adult.  I would apologize for any hurts or misunderstanding that might still linger, and how happy it makes me to see how much of an impact on people's lives she has had.  I would tell her that I don't think that our lives have been too dissimilar in general, though maybe somewhat different in the specifics and details.  I'd tell her I miss talking to her, and that I enjoy the snippets of her life I see on Facebook.  I'd tell her that I believe I'm finally becoming happy after learning a lot of lessons and taking some wrong turns.  And I'd tell her, if she wanted to know, that for the first time in my life I think I'm becoming the person that I'd like to believe that she saw in me so long ago when she let me be a brief part of her life.

Musical Interlude

Here's a song about Cincinnati by Connie Smith called Cincinnati, Ohio.

And another one - Lights of Cincinnati by Scott Walker.

If you want to know more about Cincinnati

Campbell's Scoop (food blog) (news site)
Cincinnati Blog
Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau
Cincinnati Herald (newspaper)
Cincinnati Magazine
Cincinnati USA
City of Cincinnati
CityBeat (alternative newsweekly)
Livin' in the Cin (blog)
Make Cincinnati Weird (blog)
University of Cincinnati
Wikipedia: Cincinnati
Wine Me, Dine Me (food blog)
Xavier University

Next up: New Harmony, Indiana


Blue Highways: Vancouver, Washington

Unfolding the Map

Vancouver, Washington lies across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon.  William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) indicates that, at least in the early 1980s, Vancouver hadn't kept up with Portland.  This leads me to reflect on the plight of unappreciated sister cities that lie near better regarded metropolises.  To see just how close (or far, depending on your perspective) Vancouver lies from Portland, click here for the map.

Book Quote

"I headed for Vancouver, Washington, once the Hudson's Bay Company's major outpost in the Northwest with lines of commerce reaching to Russian Alaska and Spanish California. In spite of a headstart, the old town had not been able to keep up with the new settlement across the river that got named by a coin toss."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 7

Downtown Vancouver, Washington. Photo by Piyo at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Vancouver, Washington

How many cities have little brother or sister cities that get the short end of the stick, like Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington?  How many of them are often positioned to be great cities, and by an accident of fate get relegated to second status?  How many of them were just doomed to be overshadowed regardless?

I hadn't really thought of this phenomena until I lived in Milwaukee and learned a bit about its history.  Milwaukee has been considered to be a little sister to the great city of Chicago to its south.  However, in the early lives of both cities, fate could have reversed making Milwaukee the greater of the two.  A number of factors may have contributed to the preeminence of Chicago over Milwaukee, including the loss of most of Milwaukee's Irish political leaders in the Lady Elgin shipwreck disaster.  However that may have happened, Milwaukee, sitting 90 minutes north of Chicago, is often overshadowed.

The Bay Area, south of where I grew up and where I went to school, has similar dynamics.  There are three large cities on the San Francisco Bay: San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.  In terms of population, San Jose is the biggest of the three.  However, San Francisco has always been considered the preeminent city of the region.  It even overshadows Sacramento, just two hours north and bigger than San Francisco.  Part of this is due to San Francisco's colorful history, culture and traditions.  However, how frustrating it must be for the other cities to have their thunder stolen.  Oakland achieves a level of parity with its own MLB baseball, NBA basketball and NFL football teams, Sacramento has an NBA basketball franchise, and San Jose has an NHL hockey franchise.  But, San Francisco still reigns supreme in the public consciousness.

And so on around the United States.  St. Louis and East St. Louis, New York City and the cities of New Jersey across the river.  I even saw a little bit of this in Canada, when I went to the Kitchener-Waterloo area.  The combined area has almost 500,000 people, but it is overshadowed by Toronto to its east.  Sometimes you'll see a neighbor city achieve some parity, as for instance one goes to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.  But mostly, when such combinations occur, one city takes the more noted position.

I even note this in the state where I currently reside, New MexicoAlbuquerque is the largest city in the state with a population of 450,000 or so people.  It has a number of attractions within it which make for a great and varied lifestyle.  Albuquerque has some great theater including a world class theater festival (Revolutions International Theater Festival) each year, some good music and an amazing yearly global music festival (Globalquerque).  Albuquerque has accomplished artists.  It has good restaurants, and the Sandia Mountain Wilderness bumps up against it.  Yet Albuquerque is frequently overshadowed in public estimation, except by people who live there, by Santa Fe, the state capital, 70 miles north.  Santa Fe is smaller, and has a reputation as an arts city. Santa Fe is also very much more expensive than Albuquerque.  Yet most people, when they come to vacation in New Mexico, fly into Albuquerque, rent a car, and pass through the city on the interstate to get to Santa Fe without staying to see what Albuquerque has to offer.  So, Albuquerque is permanently seen as a lesser place, even though it is not.

So these types of dynamics that lead to a Portland preeminence, Vancouver second-class status are interesting.  I often go to Tampa-St. Petersburg because my wife's parents live in Sarasota.  While Tampa is the flash and glitz of the big city, I think that I prefer St. Petersburg with its quieter streets, interesting bars and restaurants, and more sedate lifestyle.  I love San Francisco, but a visit to the East Bay yields its own rewards.  Milwaukee was a perfect city size to live in, with a lot of wonderful things despite other problems.  People who can't afford or don't want to afford New York live in New Jersey and live fine lives.  So, I imagine that even though, as LHM says, Vancouver hadn't kept up with Portland (and remember, this was 30 years ago...I've seen writing that Vancouver has been revitalized), it has its own attractions and its own enticements.  And, at the very least, such places exist to prop up the preeminent city's ego while giving the lesser cities something to complain about next door.

Oh, one other thing.  LHM mentions the city that was named by a coin toss.  He is speaking of Portland, which was named by a coin toss between two of its founders.  One founder wanted to name it after his home city of Portland, Maine, while the other wanted to name it after his home city of Boston, Massachussetts.  I guess it's obvious who won.  Vancouver, by the way, was named in honor of sea captain George Vancouver (as was Vancouver, British Columbia), and was an early outpost of the Hudson's Bay Company, a British and then Canadian fur trading conglomerate that today is the oldest corporation in North America.

Musical Interlude

When it comes to sisterly relationships, it doesn't matter if they are humans or cities.  One gets all the attention, the other seethes.  One tortures smaller sister, the other plans older sister's demise.  Rarely do they get along famously - but it happens.  This is captured in the love-hate feelings that Juliana Hatfield put into her song My Sister.


If you want to know more about Vancouver

City of Vancouver: All About Vancouver
The Columbian (newspaper)
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
Visit Vancouver USA
Washington State University, Vancouver
Wikipedia: Vancouver

Next up:  Camas, Washington