5/3/20: Streetsboro, Just Passing Through

I “grew up” in Aurora, but’ve spent almost as much time, now, in Streetsboro, the neighboring town. Streetsboro and Aurora make an interesting comparison, because for all their superficial differences the same poison flows underneath them both. If you wanted to be facile about it you could say that Aurora is the ‘nice’ town and Streetsboro the ‘bad’ one, but in the tepid spectrum of suburban banality neither of these words have any meaningful texture.

(Considering again the weird, striving hierarchies of American towns and cities, too: lots of worse places want to be Streetsboro; Streetsboro wants to be Aurora; Aurora wants to be Hudson; Kent wants to be Columbus; Columbus wants to be Cleveland; and Cleveland wants to be a better city, somewhere else; you can tell this because it never talks about anything other than itself and its environs with the violent enthusiasm of complete despair.)

The freeway and the turnpike feed into Streetsboro. This connection gives the entire town a strange bustling quality as trucks and commuters come on and off the road; the traffic in Streetsboro is always too bad for how small it is. If you’re coming in from 480, it feeds directly into Route 14 and the main commercial drag: look at the Wal-Mart on its hill, surrounded by serfs: three strip malls in miniature with the stores you know and love: a GameStop, a Chipotle, a Verizon; over here, a Starbucks, a Jimmy John’s, an AT&T.

Across the street are the first hotels, the same brands of hotels that gather at the foot of any interstate. Then past these the road is flanked by car dealerships, with their populous lots that bake and glare furiously in the summer sun, and turn inert and indecorously subdued in the long winter and slow hesitant thaw of spring. Past these, on the right, you’ll find a Home Depot with immense spacious parking lot, and an NTB just beyond; across the street there was, for a short while in the 70s and early 80s, an amusement park called Shady Lake; after it closed the arch that stood over its entrance remained for decades – now it’s gone too, but the name is memorialized in an apartment complex with adjacent Fifth Third Bank.

Keep going, though: they just put in this Panda Express not so long ago, up on the left; and then on the right the BMV relocated here to this little strip mall a couple – five, six, ten? – years ago. Then past that more hotels, and across from those a patch of random green just in front of the big parking lot where the Wal-Mart used to be (before they moved locations and made it bigger; it was temporarily the second largest Wal-Mart in the world, they say); now that big square building is for Big Dee’s Tack and Vet Supply, which in all my years around here I’ve never been into; out in front of that, nearer to the road, there’s another strip mall; you can go to the UPS store and drop off a package, or get something for dinner from the Honey Baked Ham Co.

That’s all on the left, for now. There are more restaurants on the right side of the road: a Denny’s with grease-shiny vinyl booths, McDonald’s, and then a Circle K gas station and, beyond that, the Fun Buffet (there’s another, smaller buffet down in the strip mall where the BMV is; you could easily and quickly walk between the two of them).

But to go back for a minute: across from the McDonald’s there’s the Happy Moose Grill, which has a big islandic bar and lots of lunch/dinner seating. Okay, now keep going, past the Cleveland Clinic-owned outpost (an optometrist), the Quality Inn, the Rockne’s with its low green awnings. Then there’s a Staples, if you can believe it, which is (or was, before the pandemic, anyway) open everyday, mostly empty except for a few eccentric browsers and lonely old people, directionlessly needful in the way lonely old people can be, chatting at length with decent but disinterested employees about their printer’s latest quirk; and if you cross the road again you’ll find a Motel 6, directly adjacent to the Bob Evans, which (before the pandemic, anyway) had a full house for a hot couple hours every week after church on Sunday.

Then, then: further back from the road but still visible is the big multi-tiered shopping center, with a Target, a Lowe’s, and a Giant Eagle being the main attractions – and of course other stores besides. There’s a Great Clips next to a Pet Supplies Plus., you can go breath in the weird scents of dog toy rubber while you wait for your name to be called for your haircut.

There’s more, here, but you’re getting near the big intersection, where 14 crosses over 43; and you can follow 43 south to Kent, or north to Aurora; and before you hit Aurora you’ll pass through some of the residential areas of Streetsboro, before crossing Frost Rd. and hitting the industrial wastes that technically belong to Aurora but feel like more thematically and philosophically in line with Streetsboro’s all-pervading grunge.

Or you can keep on 14, and pass by another strip mall (with gun store) on the right, the Brown Derby steakhouse on the left; and also on that side you can see another, older, more desiccated shopping center down an incline; that’s where the post office, and Save-a-Lot, and the big flea market are; and on the right you’ll come up to the Taco Bell, which is busy at arcane hours of the night (or was, before the pandemic), and then El Campesino’s (the best Mexican restaurant in town), and China Chef (best Chinese), the Streets Bar and Grill, then Dairy Queen; then there’s the mysterious Jim’s Open Kitchen Too on the left, which is only open for breakfast and only takes cash, and then a Strickland’s Custard, and after that you’ll see Buffalo Wild Wings, and the Fabulous Finds Thriftstore next door, which has smelled the same weird way for more than ten years; and across the street there’s the old K-Mart building, bleaching in the sun like an elephant skeleton.

Past here, things become a little uncertain, because you don’t come out this far that often; going out this way means you’ve either got some specialized business or are leaving Streetsboro, which I recommend. You can follow 14 up and out of it pretty quickly, passing back into the random wildernesses that stitch together town to town around here; stick to it and you’ll find the big roads again, and can head to Youngstown or anywhere else; and leave Streetsboro behind, a featureless town in the humid twilight, unwondering as to what it was before it became what it is.

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