Cincinnatians of a certain age grew up linking baseball with the center of the city. For those of us raised post-suburbia and post-multiuse stadium, a live baseball game was Of Downtown. You had to get on the interstate. You needed to worry about parking. There were one-way streets, and people in business suits.
Even now, attending a ballgame is a whole thing. Bare minimum, you’re ordering up a stranger on your phone to drop you off at the gate. Rare is the Cincinnatian who can look up from dinner and randomly decide to wander down to the ballpark.
Crosley Field was a neighborhood park, which sealed its doom; the central location of this new Riverfront Stadium removed the parochial nature of how Cincinnati conducted its baseball. It definitively linked East Side and West; although the stadium rested just west of what most of us agree upon as the dividing line (Vine Street, also this whole thing, also located downtown), this was where we presented a united front.
The fact that Great American Ball Park was placed in virtually the same location, albeit at an artsy angle, cements the unspoken agreement that in this town, we baseball in the middle. None of this sticking the stadium well outside of the area code because that’s where the tax credits are.
GPSs understand this. You can see how the rest of the world regards us, geographically, if you zoom out far enough. If you dial the city as though you were simply aiming at it from, say, North Dakota, the pin drops in the general downtown area. The stadium.
Bare latitudes and longitudes obscure the neighborhoods, as well as where whoever decides to measure is measuring: Cincinnati is at 482 feet above sea level. Yes, but which part? Because if you’re measuring at the edge of the river where the Anderson Ferry docks, that’s different from the upper reaches of Clifton. And this is the type of city in which where you are tends to say a great deal about who you are.
That is why, in the great number of moves I have undertaken, the scariest by far was the most recent. In the understanding of out of towners, I picked up my coffee cup and put it back down again two inches to the right. It’s 8.7 miles. It shouldn’t matter, especially in terms of the zip code meandering I’ve already undertaken. In my life I have conducted the following moves:
- Ohio to Florida, alone, knowing absolutely no one at the other end but the guy who gave me the job interview and the other guy who showed me where the employee lounge was
- DC area to Oklahoma, with my husband, into a house shared with two total strangers, no basement, and these disgusting sheets waiting on the bed that I balled up and banished to a closet
- Alabama to Myrtle Beach, again with my husband, from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment, again knowing no one but each other, although the apartment leasing office guy seemed down to party
When I revealed this news to my sister and her husband, they received it with all the equanimity of two people who had watched us shuffle our belongings to four different addresses in the past six years alone.
“It’s the East Side,” I pointed out as we stood in their firmly West Side kitchen.
“Not really,” said my brother-in-law. “Mt. Adams is the demilitarized zone.”
I’m not so sure. The day we found our place in Mt. Adams, we saw a woman driving an Audi and a guy toting a little dog in a front-facing backpack, both activities which, on the West Side, might not get you murdered, necessarily, but definitely demoted from working the beer booth at the parish festival.
I’ve lived everywhere but on the East Side; a whole thing. Consider:
DAY WE BOUGHT THE HOUSE WE’RE LEAVING: showed up in a dress to look nice for the six-figure debt; realtor gave us a wooden sign with our names on it; celebratory lunch at a moderately priced chain restaurant
DAY WE SOLD THE HOUSE WE’RE LEAVING: sobbing in the Kenwood McDonald’s drive-thru line at 10:18 PM with ripped-up fingernails from all the packing and box-lifting and my husband decided that shoving McNuggets in my piehole was the best way to stop the crying
But I will tell you a story that Jimmy Buffett told me (and 20,499 other people, and Marty Brennaman, and everyone else watching last week’s live stream of the Riverbend concert): His inspiration for the first line of the iconic “Fins” came partially from scenes in the Mt. Adams bar cluster, partially from a stay in Daytona Beach. Land sharks by the river. Land sharks by the ocean. No matter where you go, certain elements follow. He left and took the lyric with him. When she came down from Cincinnati, she came down from Mt. Adams.
Now I’ve also lived in Daytona Beach, which is far more sharky than anywhere in this town. But in terms of the song, as far as the rest of the world knows, begins in this city. The whole city, the center of the pin in the center-pin, where you can see the ball park.