Oberlin Ohio, Company Town

Yet another blog starts with – “It’s been awhile…”

But there’s a good reason for that. Shortly after my last post, I found I had cancer and my attention was diverted, so to speak. You can read about it here.

So this last weekend found me in Oberlin Ohio, collecting my daughter from college, storing all her stuff, and heading back. Through a misunderstanding of schedules, I arrived Friday, and wasn’t leaving until Monday evening on a different flight than my kid. Reason being, I didn’t want to cough up the extra dough – roughly $200 – for the earlier flight. So I had lots of idle time on my hand to scope the town out and observe the locals in their native habitat.

Oberlin is a funny place. The conservatory that my daughter attends is world renown, apparently. The attached liberal arts college is known as the most politically correct, nutty, left wing campus in the nation. One of the best lines I heard this year was Oberlin was “Where logic and reason go to die”. I’d probably coin it as a Portland or Seattle without the character. I settled on “Company Town” because without the college and conservatory, the town would barely exist.

Let’s start with the flight. Meh..it was American Air. No big deal other than the 1983 vintage aircraft that reminded me of a 1967 Bel Air with missing hub caps. By the way, Cleveland and Hartford are probably the two cities that I dread flying into the most. Not many direct flights, and more often than not expensive. I landed early and scored a slate grey Altima S from Avis and headed for the town. I’ve had quite a few Altimas as rentals, this one was the nicest. Not as eyeball flattening fast as most, but had a more growly, fun sounding engine.

I had my iPhone navigating the short trip to the town from Cleveland. As I entered town, my phone chirped “You have arrived at your destination”. I have? To the left were storefronts, to the right a major construction site. Turns out, the Oberlin Inn is behind the construction. The company (the college) bought the Inn and is rebuilding it. Good thing too. It’s a dump.

It’s real old. And I think the only updates in the last decade were smallish flatscreen TVs and WiFi. And even then, they didn’t update any of the info cards in the rooms. Mine said to check with the front desk for access. So I did, and was told you didn’t have to do that any more. The beds were stiff, the bathroom old and grubby. And it had no exhaust fan – a super bad thing (Not just for the foggy mirrors..ahem…ahem). It’s also expensive. At around $180 a weekend night, it’s a good three times more expensive than any motel in neighboring towns. Closest are motel 6 and Red Roof. Both of which are probably nicer, in my experience. But, it’s the only game in town.

The motel has two restaurants. One of which appears to be the typical hotel full service affair. It was also mostly empty – and  for good reasons. First is there are a handful of decent, cheaper, hipster-foodie places a block away. And on Sunday, there was a fish funk coming from the brunch buffet. Kippers? Who knows. Seemed to be a lot of oldsters and families in there. Mostly though, it stayed empty.
The other was a dive bar. This one appeared to be a hangout for the locals. Definitely an older, rougher, more wizened crowd than found anywhere in town. I can’t really drink any longer, and the place smelled of stale beer. I wanted nothing to do with it.

The first night, there was heavy partying going on. I thought it was from the Bar, but as I sized up the area the next day, it was probably people hanging out in the patio area under the rooms. This went on until 2AM at least. I’ve stayed in dump hotels all over, and heard gun-play and baseball bats on cars. But that’s nowhere near as annoying compared to loud drunken idiots. It’s astonishing the staff didn’t quiet them down. Unless it was the staff, a distinct possibility.

I ran into a woman at the elevator the next day. Typical Oberlin-Mom type. They for the most part fell into two categories – short hair, earnest eastern-liberal type, or old hippy. This one was older hippy with long hair and sporting an Oberlin T-Shirt. I asked whether the commotion kept her up all night like me. She said she figured since exams were over that day it was just students blowing off steam. Sure.

That sound was the sound of drunken barflies, who probably left the dive bar when it closed and sat at the adjacent picnic area to continue drinking. You get voices like that after years of smoking and drinking. Not by having debates in your women’s studies class. I left her at the lobby and headed out to explore.

The town itself is basically a “T”. A few blocks of total Midwest country town. There’s even a Ben Franklin 5-10. When was the last time you’ve seen one of those? It has a handful of foodie quality restaurants that aren’t bad, all things considered. What’s funny is the college kids looming around.

I’ve been to more than a few college campuses. I have kids in college. Our product is big in higher ed. So I can say with some authority that this is the funniest campus ever. My first impression was – “Where the hell is my money going?”. I was told that they are updating everything. OK. Just now?

I don’t think I was there three hours, and looking out from my table into the street, lesbionics was happening. Not that I mind. I’m a guy after all. And I’ve been all over the country, and even in the weirdest places I’ve been, I’ve never seen as muck kookiness in two blocks.

The next day I went to the hippy style coffee shop to score some tea, since there wasn’t a Starbucks within miles. I thought for some reason that I might be able to diddle on my iPad in the shop. Not. It was crowded with the self righteous thinking big thoughts and discussing big things. Whatever. After what seemed a long time, I got to wondering – “Where the fuck is my tea”. So I flagged the counter girl. “Hey, Any idea where my tea might be?” It was “Seeping” in a craft whateverthehellyoucallit pot. You know, it’s 2015. Even Starbucks uses tea bags. They work the same way, doncha know.

Failing to find a seat in the shop, I found a seat on the street to sip my tea and observe the locals.
They fell into two camps, more or less. First was the Conservatory students. They were by and large, normal. That’s what made them stand out. The second were the normal liberal arts crowd. The females for the most part were donned in baggy earth tones, had hair that looked like it was cut with pinking shears. No makeup, frump look. I once saw a show where a Saudi woman explained her hijab as covering all the parts a male would be interested in, thus making them concentrate on her as a person. This is how I came to coin the Oberlin college female attired in this way as “American Burka”. Hate to tell them, but american guys will find something…Almost anything to like on nearly any female. So if that look is a strategy, It’s not working. To wit, some of them had boyfriends in tow. Usually short, but otherwise nebish looking types, walking like rainman, only while staring at their feet the whole time. Also known as muggerbait. I almost felt sorry for them. Guys I know with frumpy wives like that had the frumpiness and sourpuss demeanor happen after a decade of marriage or so. They didn’t start off that way.

Another funny thing was that I was waddling about in my new shiny John Deere hat. That gained me looks like I was some sort of deviant caveman by the Oberlinian crowd. I thought I was imagining things, but when I went out without the hat, the looks stopped.

My first morning there, I was looking for some place to eat breakfast, free of hipsters. I found a McDonald’s just outside of town. What was funny was that in typical hipster doofus style, people had yelp reviews on it. They yelped about a McDonald’s. I had to see it.

What I found was a typical, rural McDonald’s. Staff of mostly white hayseeds, a little slow but OK. And a gaggle of old timers holding court, drinking coffee. Not unlike McD’s anywhere in the country.

Surrounding the town is basically bucolic corn fields straight out of “Harvest Home”. Flat out, middle america. What’s funny is I saw the locals pass through town, no doubt on the way to WalMart or McD’s. None stopped in town while I was there.

Oberlin’s a bubble, surrounded by middle America. I’m sure I could gin up an argument about the evil’s of Walmart with a person in town, that happily shops there since the store in town charges double, and is cash only.

Update here.