Monday, September 15, 2014

Giant steel dinosaurs that eat your legs

When I was a kid, Dad would occasionally take me down to the Flats (Cleveland's industrial riverfront district) for one reason or another, maybe to go to Samsel Supply or some machine shop that's long since closed. Whatever the purpose of the trip, we'd almost always end up at Fagan's, a grungy riverfront watering hole frequented by longshoremen that eventually turned into a trendy nightspot. Dad would drink his Stroh's while I quietly eyed the dark barroom and blew bubbles in my Shirley Temple.

Dad and me in '73
Whenever the air horn blared, indicating the railroad bridge (nicknamed the Iron Curtain) was about to go up, Dad would say, "Come on, honey. Let's go watch the bridge."

We'd step out into the thick August heat. Another horn would sound and the bridge would silently ascend high enough to let the Edward B. Greene or the Joe S. Morrow or the E. M. Ford pass over to Lake Erie. Dad would explain how the bridge allows trains to go over the river and how it can be raised to let the massive ore boats pass.

"The bridge guys sit in there," Dad said, pointing to a windowed box atop the bridge's span. "You see those stairs?" he asked. I nodded. "Once an old bum climbed up onto that bridge. He got away from the stairs and started crawling around in the steelwork."

"Did he come down okay?" I asked with trepidation.

"An ore boat came along," Dad said, placing a Marlboro 100 between his lips and fishing his Zippo from his front pocket, "and the bridge guy didn't know the bum was up there, so he raises the bridge." As he spoke, the cigarette bobbed up and down on the tip of the lighter's flame.

"Didn't the bridge guy blow the horn?"

"Sure he did: one long blast and one short. But the bum was passed out drunk, didn't hear a thing. Up goes the bridge." He exhaled a plume of smoke and sipped his Stroh's. "Sheared the guy's legs right off."

That's when the bridges became giant steel dinosaurs that ate your legs. In my world, they couldn't have been more real.

I was terrified of the murky water of the Cuyahoga and the bridges, yet fascinated as well. Despite being a strong swimmer my whole life, I have nightmares to this day about being in the river with only the giant pilings and impossibly huge ore boats around me and being so very very small.

Nonetheless, I came to profoundly love the Flats for it's history and infrastructure and authenticity. I love the crazy angles of the bridges, the ancient buildings and the impossible grid of streets.
Hence when they announced the opening of the Scranton Flats Towpath Trail in July, I was beside myself with joy.

Sculling in the Flats, 1988, humble hostess is third from last

Last week, the Goat and I finally took a walk along the new path and beyond. We walked all through this part of town I love so much, yet had really only toured via car, and not very purposefully at that.

I was like a kid at Disney, pointing with mouth agape, swooning and snapping photos.

That said, when we passed by the defunct Eagle Avenue Bridge, a chill ran through me. I yelled at Eric to stay away from the shear drop to the river. The massive counterweight overwhelmed me. I'd never been so close to the works of one of those scary steel dinosaurs.

Eagle Avenue Bridge

I kept my distance and took a couple of photos.

Eagle Avenue Bridge counterweight ... eek!

This was the terminus of the new trail, but we continued walking. We reached the Carter Road Bridge and decided to cross. The bridge was down, but the horn sounded as we approached. I froze and backed away until I was plenty far from the span. The second horn sounded and the bridge began to rise. I clutched the adjacent rail until the Goodtime III passed, the span came back down and the all-clear sounded. Nonetheless, walking across the bridge freaked me out, particularly at the junction where the moving part meets the stationary part. The return trip was a little better, but still pretty dicey for me.

I survived, legs intact.

I'll end with some more photos from our walk and a bidding to my fellow Clevos to go and enjoy this new urban trail. Forty years ago, your parents would never have thought such a thing was possible.

Oh beautiful, beautiful life.

Landscape in the Flats

Streetscape in the Flats

Flowers in the Flats

Underbelly in the Flats

Erection in the Flats

 *  *  *


Vance said...

Very cool.

Elisson said...

The shot captioned "Flowers in the Flats" is fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Nice job, Amiga.

I remember going down there the first few times after punka-rock music showed up. X pretty much nailed the zeitgeist: "No one is united, and all things are untied, perhaps we're blowing up inside..." I don't think there were a dozen electric lights on Old River Road. That was 1979 or 1980.


philbilly said...

MR, remember when The Adults used to tear up the punk bar below Hennessey's on Detroit? My next door neighbors for a while as a kid in the '70's were two guys that met in Vietnam, and after their respective divorces they bought the house next door. They let me sneak a Stroh's when I would help with yard work or cleaning parts on a '48 Dodge with a Touch-Toe Presto-matic transmission. One of 'em talked about seeing Gene Pitney at Hennessey's in the early '60's. A town without pity, man, what a show it must have been.

Don't remember which bridge, but it was rehabbed a few years ago, turns out the cables connected to the massive weights were a scosh too long, and the roadway was below grade when lowered. Big money do-over. Pretty sure Erin's Dad would have known that new wire rope has to take a set the first few times you load it. Some shit is not on the smart phone.

These green spaces being reclaimed in the urban habitats are the right way to go. I walk most mornings a few miles along the lake, saw a grey Heron snag and snarf a garter snake. Then passed a 14-point buck eye-balling me from the thicket. Which brings to mine those sage old adages; "some days you're the Heron..." and of course "If a deer craps in the woods, does anybody smell it?" They eat a lot of berries, apparently.

This burg just keeps getting better. Next, the Huletts.

Anonymous said...



Michael Lawless said...

I had an erection in the flats.

mama lauren said...

The true hero is usually a hero by mistake he dreams of becoming an honest coward just similar to everyone else.

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Anonymous said...

One of my true loves of Cleveland is this part of the flats. The 'erection' at the end is what is left of a tremendous relic from when this was Cleveland's 'Lumber District' Lumber was stacked in sky high piles in every direction. It all burned down many times and finally ceased to exist at all. Some of the historic photos are amazing. Google 'Cleveland Lumber District'