Wednesday, June 11, 1997
Officer rushes to defend Norwood

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The cop couldn't hold his fire.

So, he drills me point blank with a question as I slide into a booth at Norwood's Quatman Cafe.

''Why doesn't this city get any respect?'' asks John Brown, the man behind Norwood P.D. badge No. 109.

''I can't understand it,'' he says through clenched teeth. ''Let me tell you why.''

Another ''Lunch with Cliff'' - where the high noon meal is on me in exchange for hearing what's on people's minds - is in hot pursuit.

John - a Norwood patrolman for 18 years - is proud of his hometown. He bleeds Norwood blue. And, he's had it with people putting it down. ''Just look at today's paper,'' he mutters.

He's not referring to the story of Gen. Joseph Ralston. An old affair kept the member of Norwood High School's Class of 1961 from becoming the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

John is ticked off about a story ''where they talked to some people who live in Hyde Park. Basically, they said they would not go shopping at Rookwood Pavilion - which is in Norwood - if it was called the Norwood Shopping Center.''

Narrowing his blue-green eyes, he rubs his mustache and shakes his head in disbelief. ''I've lived in Norwood all my life,'' he says. ''It's got teen and drug problems and some violence like other places. But, all in all, it's a great city.''

His heart aches when he hears people say ''Norwood'' as if they had just picked up a wet handkerchief.

''Norwood has great Victorian houses. It's close to everything, five minutes from downtown, five minutes from Kenwood, 12 minutes to Tri-County. Families stay here forever. People look out for each other. Everybody knows everybody.''

Four women walk by the booth. Connie Sutton spies the policeman, waves and calls out, ''See you Wednesday.''

Too polite to say, ''See, I told you so,'' John Brown looks down at his sandwich. He and his wife run into Connie Sutton and her husband almost every Wednesday night over a Quatman's burger.

Connie thinks ''Norwood gets a raw deal. People say we're all hillbillies and nerds.'' She swears she is none of the above.

''We have a blue-collar image,'' John admits. ''Everybody perceives Norwood as being a run-down Little Appalachia.''

He insists Norwood has changed. ''More and more white-collar people are moving in.'' John should know. He sells real estate on the side.

The city's not as feisty as it used to be either. John hasn't seen ''a good-old, knock-down, drag-'em-out bar fight'' since Norwood's GM plant closed and the scummy saloons around it were bulldozed for a well-scrubbed office park.

He defines those fights as airborne disasters. ''A bottle flies over your head when you walk in. When you come out, your shirt's torn, somebody's blood is all over you, someone threw a beer on you, and your tie's ripped off.''

That's the old, bad Norwood, John says, the one that polluted the city's main drag, Montgomery Road. For today's Norwood, he suggests people ''get off the beaten path and look at the city's hidden treasures.''

In the same breath, he asks: ''Want to go for a ride?''

An armed man is tough to refuse.

John slowly cruises the streets of his city. His car passes the Archbishop's House, a massive stone mansion built by architect Samuel Hannaford in 1912.

He stops in front of huge Victorian houses tucked into wooded lots and decorated with turrets, bay windows and intricate wood trim they don't sell at the local hardware superstore. Grand old homes patterned after Swiss chalets and colonial town houses sit on broad, well-tended lawns that roll gently to the street like green welcome mats.

The tour also takes in the newer parts of Norwood, modest ranch-style homes built in the '60s. The streets are quiet. Yards are well-kept. ''There's nothing fancy about these houses,'' John Brown says. They're just the places somebody is proud to call home.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax 768-8340.