Thursday, July 12, 2001

We're no joke

Getting a serious reputation

        People sometimes ask if I grew up in Cincinnati. And I usually reply that I did not, that I have lived here only 30 years. So by Cincinnati standards, I say, “I am still a carpetbagger.” Those who know Cincinnati get the joke, which is twofold.

        One fold is Cincinnati's reserve. We are polite, but we don't really fling our arms around somebody until we know them. The other fold is that we are very, very far south of, say, Cleveland. Or even Columbus. And the distinction is not merely geographic.

        Another joke, made by corporate recruiters: “One of the hardest things is getting people to come to Cincinnati. Once they move here, it's even harder to get them to leave.” The message, of course, is that our very attractive city suffers from a lack of image. Or, worse, an image we didn't want.

        Marge. The meter-feeding granny. WKRP. Cher's navel. Larry Flynt. The Bengals. Oh! Calcutta! Mapplethorpe. Jerry Springer.

Complex, admirable

        We had a reputation for being bluenosed and backward at best. Racist and intolerant at worst. And people who live here know this city is more complicated and more admirable than that.

        We have chili, and we have the Maisonette. We are home to Paul Brown Stadium and Music Hall.

        Marge Schott? Well, honey, she hasn't spent all her time shooting off her mouth. Some of the time she was helping fund the cardiac unit at our incomparable Children's Hospital. We are the city that gave the world Pete Rose and Albert Sabin.

        We told ourselves we were a "best-kept secret” and leaped on the chance to agree with the 1996 Places Rated Almanac saying we were North America's Most Livable City. We will pay hundreds of millions for stadiums that will allow us the privilege of calling ourselves a “big league city.”

        We wanted to be taken seriously, but nobody was listening. Then just when we thought our best chance for national exposure was being a punch line for Jay Leno, we got an image.

        Jet magazine lumped Cincinnati with the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Texas and the shooting of Amadou Diallo in New York in a story entitled "What can cities do to ease racial tension?”

        The Indianapolis Star carried a story headlined “Standing by while racial chaos reigns” with the line “Cincinnati is burning.”        

Casual link

        The United Kingdom warned its citizens visiting Cincinnati to “stay off the streets.”

        We have become a casual link with violence. In the Washington Post, a letter begins “In every riot, such as the recent one in Cincinnati... ”

        The St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggested, “Top cops and pols should pay close attention to the riots that have left Cincinnati in a state of emergency... ”

        The Los Angeles Times reported that charges against Officer Stephen Roach “triggered immediate but largely peaceful protests... ”

        On a recent trip out of town, I spoke with a man who told me his daughter had planned to go to the University of Cincinnati. But he worried she might not be safe here. So she'll be headed to Ohio State instead.

        A woman asked me if she should let her son travel to Cincinnati for a concert. “I don't want him to get shot,” she said.

        Outsiders still really don't know us.

        But they're not laughing anymore.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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