After more than a decade of procrastination, I finally took my baseball road trip through middle America. Four cities, north to south, four stadiums, four long Greyhound bus rides, and eight baseball games in two weeks.
The first stop was Detroit, Mich., followed by a three hour bus ride to Cleveland, Ohio, then another three hour trip to Pittsburgh, Pa. and ending with a seven hour ride to Cincinnati, Ohio. I had a great time, albeit a bit burned out on $5 Subway sandwiches and screaming children in buses, and learned a few things along the way.
Of the cities I visited, Cleveland surprised me with its character, almost a Chicago in miniature. There is a cultural presence in the city and a sprouting ethnic awareness. Driving past Cleveland’s City Hall, a tour guide pointed out a statute of an ox, as in Year of the Ox, on its front steps in recognition of a growing, although still very minor, Asian presence in the area. It was a nice touch and a reminder of home.
In Detroit, I, as a geographically challenged Los Angeleno, was told my riverfront hotel was across the river from Canada. Really? Wasn’t Michigan next to Kansas, right above Texas?
A victim of the automotive industry implosion, downtown Detroit was depressing. The numerous closed businesses and underutilized or vacant buildings reminded me of the pre-redevelopment downtown Los Angeles from only a decade ago.
I was told that downtown vehicular and pedestrian traffic was much lighter than usual. Instead of the typical two week shutdown to retool their manufacturing plants for the new automobile models, Ford was in the middle of a seven week shutdown due to poor sales. Ironically, Detroit, with its economic problems, had the best baseball stadium of the four I visited.
Did you know that Cincinnati is adjacent to Kentucky? Planning my trip, I hadn’t noticed Ohio bordered the South until I heard the soft, signature Southern drawl in the voices around me at the Cincinnati baseball stadium. Later, I walked across a bridge spanning the small river separating the two states and wandered around a Kentucky neighborhood and mall that was undergoing redevelopment. Very nice, with an AMC movie theater complex, just like Pasadena.
While in Cincinnati, I also came across an activity known in the South, but which I had never seen before. Complete with food and live music, I dropped by a cornholing festival taking place in a public courtyard across the street from my hotel.
Cornholing is a game where competitors attempt to throw a beanbag through a hole in slightly elevated wooden plank thirty feet away. If you can imagine a hybrid of the arcade favorite, skeeball, and horseshoes, you get the general idea. It was sort of odd to see adults throwing beanbags competitively, but I guess the concept of grown men hitting a ball with a wood stick isn’t too much different.
The most unexpected experience of my trip was seeing firsthand the racial composition of the cities I visited. Los Angeles is a melting pot of race, religion, and ethnicity. While Southern California is exceptional in its diversity, I was unprepared to see how different we really are from other parts of the country, even as we are led by an African American President.
In the downtown areas of all four cities, the population consisted nearly completely of either black and white. I saw virtually no Asians or Hispanics until I reached Cincinnati, and even then, just a few. Much of the service oriented positions were filled by African Americans, employment that Southern Californians might associate with Hispanic workers. As I like to walk and take public transportation in cities that I visit, I saw this to be the case wherever I ventured at each location.
Another surprise awaited me at the baseball stadium. As a lifelong baseball fan, I go to about a dozen Los Angeles Dodger games a year and see that the fan base is a reflection of the Southern California demographic, in other words, a mix of races and ethnicities. From distances ranging from across the street to across the county, fans will come to see their favorite team play.
In several cities I visited, I was told that there were more minorities living in suburban locations outside the city. If this is true, I guess none of them liked baseball because they weren’t at the stadium. At every baseball game in every city I traveled to, the attendees were more than 95 percent Caucasian.
At a few of the games, I looked around and did not see a single non-caucasian face among the many hundreds surrounding me. It was a strange feeling, and I wondered what they thought of me. Conversely, what would they think of Los Angeles?
Of the vacations I consider to be the most memorable, I’ve enjoyed myself and, as an added benefit, learned something new. This trip fit into that category. When I’m traveling in a foreign non-Asian country, I know I won’t look like everyone else. They’ll speak a different language and observe different customs.
It’s different when you’re traveling domestically. The stores are the same, the language is the same and the food is the same. So you expect everything else to be familiar. However, even in some familiar places, you might find that the only thing different is you.
(To see video of the Detroit baseball stadium and cornholing, go to youtube.com and search for “Cornhole competition in Cincinnati” and “Detroit baseball stadium”)
Joe Soong writes from Alhambra and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.