I don’t know if it’s like this everywhere, but I love how one’s experience of Cleveland can boil down to one street. I spent the majority of my adolescent years on East 116th Street. I was born on Hamlen Avenue, and when I was thirteen years old we moved to Dove Avenue.
I grew up in the 1990s, a time before the internet and cell phones. We had a TV, but we didn’t have cable till I was well into my teens. My mom couldn’t afford that. We had the radio, a record player, and a VCR for entertainment; that’s it. If we wanted some other kind of stimulation, we had to come up with it ourselves. So in the summers my brother and I played outside with all the other kids that lived on our street. We also climbed the trees in our backyard, made clubhouses out of sticks and rocks, rode bikes, chased bees, patronized the ice cream man twice a day, and walked a few blocks to Drug World on Larchmere Boulevard for twenty-five-cent chips and juices. If we really felt like the hike, we could walk to Kussuth Park on Shaker Boulevard—the closest park to us. Every kid on the street went in the house the moment the streetlights came on.
It wasn’t until we moved to Dove that I got to explore East 116th Street fully. However, I grew up walking the streets and meeting new friends. I was a latchkey kid, which meant that while my mom went to work right after school I looked after myself. In the mornings I had to wake up and get ready, then I had to lock the doors before I left the house, walk to the bus stop at the end of my VERY LONG street at 6:30 a.m., then after school I had to walk from Hamlen to Parkview Avenue to get to our sitter. I saw my mother really early in the mornings as we all hurried around the bathroom, really late at night after she was done for the day, and on weekends (though she’d usually just be sleeping then).
So much of my childhood was shaped by the experiences I had on East 116th. On those LONG walks to Parkview after school everyday, I would often wander the streets and therefore was picked up by the police on a regular basis. I learned every tree and landmark and sound to help me find my way around. I was rescued by my brother from two separate sexual assaults on Hamlen. I spent a lot of time looking through books I wanted to read at Rice Branch Library. I’ve been jumped by groups of my peers on Browning Avenue and on East 115th and Woodland Avenue. I got my hair done regularly at the beauty parlor on East 116th and Buckeye, across from the Finast shopping center. I used to stare in awe as neighbors engaged in knife fights in the streets after dark; those from Morris Black would wander onto our street, and people would come out to defend us. I attended Harvey Rice for kindergarten, then Cleveland School of the Arts from 1990 to when I graduated in 1999; fourth through twelfth grade.
My mom wasn’t a cook, so East 116th Street was a paradise of food for us. Our closest food Mecca was Buckeye and East 116th, where across from Harvey Rice was Snapps and Wendy’s. Down towards MLK Boulevard was McDonald’s. That was our favorite place to eat. Closer to our street there was KFC off 125th and Buckeye, and Geppetto’s Pizzeria on Turney Road next to Blockbuster Video, where we went twice a month on Saturday nights.
One other thing I loved about East 116th Street was how the entire street felt like one small town. Family was important when I was growing up, but so were those you lived near. There wasn’t one street along East 116th where I didn’t know at least one face. Everyone’s kids played together; we all went to the same schools; we all rode the same school buses; we all rode the #50 bus up and down those twisty East 116th bumps and turns. We all watched the Rapids race up and down Shaker Boulevard; we all shopped at the same stores; we all ate the same foods. We had pride in each little corner of East 116th we inhabited, but we didn’t gate keep others from those experiences. I like the people on Cromwell better than those on Browning; Forest residents were mysterious while Shaker Boulevard was like a second home. East 116th Street was truly my whole world.
I can talk about so many more landmarks and what they meant to me growing up. East 116th Street shaped who I am today. East 116th showed me the nostalgic, the fun, the traumatic, and the uglies of life. As attached as I am to my roots, I wanted different experiences in the world. I didn’t want East 116th Street to be the only lens I saw life through. It is my fundamental; my baseline; but not my destination.
Kimberly Steele (pseudonym Kim The B-word Poet) is a Poet, Short Story Writer, and Journalist from the East Side of Cleveland, Ohio. She has published clips in the The OdysessyOnline, Gay People’s Chronicle, TheLetterOnline, The Fence Magazine, and Cuyahoga Community College’s “The Voice”. She also has poetry in Youngstown State University’s Penguin Review, Cuyahoga Community College’s BreakWall Literary Journal, and 2003, 2005, and 2006 Hessler Street Fair Competition booklets. In addition to these credits, she sporadically publishes clips in Cleveland State University's The Vindicator and BiWomen Newsletter.
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