Sunday, June 21, 2009

Just another adventure tale to tell

The last couple of days I've seen Bernie Kosar in the news - not for anything great, apparently he is filing bankruptcy. And apparently that's news. Be that as it may, it brought back memories of my time in Cleveland.

I lived in Cleveland for about three and a half years, in the early to mid 1990s. Seems like I lived there longer than that... but I guess not. I'm pretty good with remembering landmark years. Anyway, I loved it. It was completely and totally different than the west coast. Things were older, more established. People talked about century homes. They had funny accents. And they looked at me and my then-fiance as some sort of crazy novelties. Of course, I dug that.

Why Cleveland from sunny Southern California, you ask? Well, Bernie Kosar, of course.

So my ex Gus was just this gigantic Cleveland Browns fan. Raised in Orange County, at the time he could have been a Rams fan, or even a Raiders fan (thank God he wasn't one of those, though). But he always liked Bernie and so the Browns it was. Gus and I worked together at a captive auto finance company in Costa Mesa. On the top of his computer were Browns action figures; he had a couple of Browns neckties he wore to work; his car had a Browns novelty plate on the front of it. He was totally down with them. It fascinated me, so when we first started dating I guess I jumped on his bandwagon (this was in the late 80s, when the Browns were actually winning games here and there).

When we moved in together and wallpapered the spare bedroom in Cleveland Browns wallpaper, I thought I might try to plant a seed. I've always been a big fan of sending away to various chambers of commerce for the newcomers' packets - I've always had itchy feet, wanting to move here or there to see what it's like. If you don't make a ton of money, newcomers' packets are a good way to while away the hours, imagining yourself in this strange new city (this was pre-internet, so I still had an imagination). I called the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce and found out they wanted $10 for the packet. $10! That was like $75 back then, and I thought there was no way I was going to convince Gus to go for it. So I opted for subliminal messages in the middle of the night. Seriously. When he was deep asleep (and snoring crazily, I might add), I'd whisper in his ear "Cleveland. You want to move to Cleveland." I was kind of tired of Southern California and the traffic and the not being able to wear sweaters that often, not the big bulky wool ones I love, and my job was getting boring and I wanted an adventure. Why not try to move somewhere new?

Apparently it worked. After about a week of waking up in the middle of the night and using my system, I asked him one morning if we could send off the $10 to Cleveland's chamber. He agreed (seriously, this was no small task. I was quite proud of myself), so I did. I remember when it came and how exciting it was to go over all the maps and brochures and demographics and other fun stuff included. We spent most evenings looking at neighborhoods and apartment complexes and wondering where, if we did move, we would find ourselves.

A few months later, a woman came in from Progressive Insurance to give a seminar to the collection staff about their skip-tracing unit. I did not attend - I wasn't a collector, though I was in the department as a supervisor of the repo, bankruptcy and customer service units. Turns out, Progressive is located in a suburb of Cleveland and this pretty much made Gus the happiest guy on the planet. After the seminar, he chewed this woman's ear about how much of a fan he was and how he was interested in relocating if he had a job. Was she hiring? She said no, but she knew a bank that was. He raced down the hall to tell me.

So here's how it works in my life: earlier that morning while on the way to work, I heard an ad on the radio that airlines were having a fare war - airfare deals to everywhere were very low. I remember hearing LA to Cleveland was in the neighborhood of $69 each way (sick low, and none of the ridiculous taxes you see on them these days). When he excitedly told me this woman could get us interviews at the bank, and I told him about the fare war, he was even more excited.

At lunch we had Chinese. My fortune cookie told me something along the lines of You are about to embark on a great adventure. Seriously. We got back to work and called our SCBBA president (Southern California Browns Backers Association) (duh) (he was from Cleveland) for some advice (I guess kind of like some people would call their priest for advice...) and Jeff told us that Bernie Kosar, his good friend, by the way, was hosting a golf tournament, and one particular Friday evening (wait. I'm just thinking back, and it could very well have been THIS VERY WEEKEND) (but 17 years ago. Wow. Is that weird? That's kind of weird.) was a benefit dinner where all manner of local celebrities and Browns would be in attendance. Jeff himself was going to be there. He could get us in for free at Bernie's table.

After I picked Gus off the floor (seriously, this was like the greatest day of his life, ever), I called a travel agent and booked the fare. The next day, a woman from National City Bank phoned us about interviews and we scheduled them. Isn't it funny how the universe sort of aligns everything for you? I mean everything was just in place. It was trippy and kind of scary but crazy exciting (and it was 1992 and I was 25 years old, not yet as bitter and jaded as I have since become). We booked a hotel on the west side and packed bags.

The interviews went well and the benefit dinner was an absolute blast. If Gus didn't recognize someone but thought he could be one person or another, he'd send me up to talk to them and then join me moments later once I had established who he was. I remember pissing off Ozzie Newsome by calling him someone else, but I was giddy and stupid and white so I didn't care, and neither did Gus, because we got to engage Ozzie in conversation (I was charming then, too). We met Bernie and his wife, and the whole evening was just a great night. After that we hit The Flats and more merriment ensued. The next day we walked all over the dang place, and found an apartment, in Strongsville, that we thought we would like to rent. We put in an application, and were told that a lot of Browns players lived there in season. Bliss. We also got tickets for an Indians game at Municipal Stadium, for free, from Steve Olin, who I went to high school with, and got to meet up with him after the game. It was a fantastic weekend.

A couple of days back in California, National City called and offered us jobs. We gave a month's notice and went about tying up loose ends and packing up house. It was fun and adventurous and God I miss that kind of stuff (wow this is getting really long).

The drive across country was just the beginning of a very fun time in my life. But I'm not going to tell you about that now. But I'm thinking that there is a reason for remembering and writing all this out, 17 years later. A lesson? Some sort of sign? I don't know. I'll keep you posted.


At 4:23 PM, June 24, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't leave us hanging ... what happened next?



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