Jerry Davich: ‘A Christmas Story’ fans’ ultimate destination?
JERRY DAVICH December 17, 2013 11:38PM
Updated: January 19, 2014 11:44AM
The Cleveland Browns fan leaned over to make something clear during a break in last Sunday’s game against the Bears.
“Our city has a lot more to offer than outsiders think,” the long-time fan told me as we chatted through frozen lips at frigid FirstEnergy Stadium. “We got a bad reputation for some reason.”
He’s right, of course. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear “Cleveland, Ohio”? Is it negative? Derogatory? Sarcastic? You see his point then.
Last weekend, I drove to Cleveland to watch my beloved Bears rally for a season-saving second half victory, much to the dismay of the disheartened Browns fans who surrounded my party of four.
Yes, I drove six-plus hours through a snowstorm on Saturday to get there and, yes, it was so cold Sunday that I could barely stop shivering, especially during all those (expletive) TV timeouts. But while waiting in icy silence, I realized that Cleveland is nothing like I expected.
Oh sure, I knew it is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which was very entertaining, especially for the ticket price of a song, so to speak. But that’s about all I knew about Ohio’s second-largest city on the southern shore of Lake Erie.
During my whirlwind weekend stay, I also visited the charming Little Italy neighborhood, where we dined at the city’s oldest restaurant, Guarino’s, established almost a century ago. It was fantastic and I think our no-nonsense but endearing server, Suzie, has worked there almost from day one.
“We just started using computers,” she told us with a smirk after serving our appetizer. “I don’t know nothing about computers.”
For those of you who do, there is a ton of information at www.positivelycleveland.com. There, you’ll discover all the cool museums, spacious parks, eclectic eateries, year-round events, cultural happenings and shopping offerings.
While there, I also learned that the city is home to the tourist attraction “A Christmas Story” House and Museum, based on the hilarious holiday chestnut by Hammond native Jean Shepherd.
The cult classic was shot in Cleveland back in the early ’80s and the city hosted a 30th anniversary bash earlier this month. It drew more than 5,000 visitors, I’m told by tourism officials, and the event culminated with a convention, celebration and reunion of its original cast.
In the quaint neighborhood of Tremont, the film’s house has been refurbished to its original movie splendor. There, guests can hide under the kitchen sink like the fearful Randy or shop across the street at the museum for their own Major Award Leg Lamp.
The revamped house and expanded museum are the work of Brian Jones, possibly the movie’s biggest fan. He invested some serious bucks into his dream destination and it has paid off so far, with tens of thousands of visitors converging there to relive the film’s most storied scenes.
For instance, washing their mouths out with Lifebuoy soap, shooting a Red Ryder BB gun, and eating Peking duck at a Chinese restaurant on the property. Brilliant marketing, I say.
The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, based in Hammond, has done a great job of showcasing “A Christmas Story” to local fans and out-of-state tourists alike. But it is well worth the one tank of gas to get to Cleveland if you’re a real fan, especially this time of year. It’s a straight shot down the Indiana Toll Road and Ohio Turnpike.
While there, I suggest checking out the Cleveland Museum of Art, University Circle (a square mile of arts, culture and hipness), the Cleveland-style Polka Hall of Fame (I kid you not), and the “One Hit Wonders” display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Remember “Welcome to the Boomtown” by David & David?)
Getting back to my one tank of gas reference, today’s column will be the first in an occasional series of similar “weekend getaway treks” to drivable destinations from Northwest Indiana.
Top headlines of 2013?
What were the top headlines of 2013 in this region? The proposed Illiana Tollway? The “Miracle at Mt. Baldy” rescue of that trapped young boy? The homicide rate in Gary?
Today, I will be discussing these headline stories while filming an episode of the “Lakeshore Focus” TV show with host Keith Kirkpatrick. Feel free to share with me your top headlines of this past year and I’ll let you know when that show will air.
My recent column on atheists who enjoy Christmas sparked a church full of feedback, mostly from — gasp! — closeted atheists. This totally surprised me, as I was expecting to hear more from out-of-the-closet Christians. It must be the time of year, peace on earth, and such seasonal niceties.
“I have long believed there are more atheists in closets than homosexuals in closets,” one atheist told me. “Someday society will be ready for us. Until then I will continue to avoid talk of others’ religious beliefs.”
Fair enough but, as an agnostic newspaper columnist, I can’t make the same vow.
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.