The woman from New Jersey slipped into the seat across from me at the antique oak table. After arranging a napkin on her lap, she looked around the dining room of the Pittsburgh bed and breakfast.
Finishing her visual tour, she turned and asked, "So, where are you from?"
Her question was a harmless inquiry, part of the morning ritual at such places where strangers meet on vacation.
So, I told her, "Cincinnati," and dug into my corn flakes.
"Ah Cincinnati!" she exclaimed. Snapping her fingers in recognition, she immediately added: "The crazy old lady who runs the baseball team!"
Yep. That's us. We're not the Queen City of the West anymore. Or, the Most Livable City in North America.
We're the place with "the crazy old lady who runs the baseball team."
Leave town for a week's vacation and you hear this a lot. Say the secret word, "Cincinnati," and out pops Marge Schott.
"You're from Cincinnati? That's where Marge What's-Her-Name is from. She's the crazy old lady. . . ."
Who runs the baseball team. But not the town.
We are not Marge
Marge Schott is the president, chief executive officer, principal owner and resident blabbermouth of the Cincinnati Reds. She does not speak for the city. Or its people. She does not own Cincinnati's space in the national spotlight.
Remember that the next time - and there will be a next time - she says something so stupid the city cringes.
Truth be told, the rest of the world doesn't care about Marge for more than the nanosecond of a TV sound bite.
Here in Cincinnati, we care too much.
Marge is an embarrassment. But to herself and herself alone. Whatever incredibly lame-brained ideas spew from her mouth, they fall in her lap. Not ours.
I issue this reminder in light of Marge's latest outbreak of hoof-in-mouth disease, her ESPN interview in which - for the second time in her blighted reign as ruler of the Reds - she praised Hitler.
"Everyone knew he was good at the beginning," Marge said of old Adolf. "But he just went too far."
Yeah, and the Black Plague was sort of an overblown allergy thing.
What Marge said was stupid, ignorant and wrong. Hitler started off bad and got worse. Students of history know this stuff.
Students of Marge - which we all are by now - should be able to put her mindless remarks into perspective. Acknowledge they are horrible. Condemn the woman. Then, move on.
Yet, in what has become an almost predictable routine, Marge's statements caused another round of hand-wringing throughout the region, including City Hall - headquarters for Cincinnati's fine-tuned sense of insecurity.
Vice Mayor Tyrone Yates said Marge's comments would cause "people in more progressive areas . . . to think twice about moving to Cincinnati."
I don't think so.
People pull up stakes for better jobs, good schools, strong neighborhoods, maybe even great ribs. One goofball team owner won't keep them away.
Mike Rozow, president of the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau, travels coast to coast and abroad to bring companies and tourists to the area. He has "never heard anyone say they won't visit us because of what she has said."
He doesn't see Marge as Cincinnati's PR Godzilla, laying waste to the region's future. "We care a lot more about her than the guy on the outside."
Cincinnati must stop gauging its reputation by its ingrown inferiority complex and start looking at the big picture.
"At the end of the day, you have to look past some things," says Phil Cox, president of Cox Financial Corp. and a major player in Cincinnati's development. "There are more dangerous topics that must be addressed than what Mrs. Schott said about a guy who lived 50 years ago."
"Look past the individual," urges Dan Staton, CEO of the Cincinnati Development Group, builders of Fountain Place, and another certified mover and shaker who knows about regional identity.
"The future of Cincinnati depends on building two new stadiums and developing a vibrant downtown. That's superior to what any one person has to say."
So, the next time Marge mouths off on national TV, just find the remote control. And, press: Mute.
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.