Yesterday, as apparently people across the country were getting ready for another round of anti-Trump protests in major Cities, I drove out West to Oberlin Ohio. For what I suddenly realize are almost two decades, I have gone there on my own. One could argue that it was my ‘air raid shelter’, a place geographically removed from everyone and everything I knew so I can breathe a little bit easier. Also, back in my twenties, I could have the illusion in my head that I was going to this college town and look around; especially since in reality my parents could never have been able to afford it.
There, swinging on a swing from a tree next to Finney Chapel, this blogger looked up at the blue sky and for a few moments not only forget the sciatic nerve flare I have been experiencing but the nagging pain in the neck knowing what happened this week. However, across the park was a sight that kept bringing me back to, believe it or not, the Presidential election and the “Two Americas” that raised its’ ugly head again.
One of the highlights of a day trip to this college town was the Oberlin Inn. It looked like an overgrown 1950’s brick motor lodge with lawn and gardens in the font facing the square. In the spring, snow crocuses dotted the beds, in the fall purple asters bloomed and it all could be seen from the Garden restaurant. Located at the front of the Inn to the left of the lobby, the restaurant was one of those standard places that you would receive coupons in those Entertainment books people got as Christmas gifts. It wasn’t special like Chez Francois or Pier W, but it was good and the staff was friendly. At Christmas, the Inn looked quite festive, especially with the fireplace in the restaurant lit up and the poinsettias decorating the lobby. The place had charm, and was something special in a very ordinary way.
As a matter of fact, they had a very nice brunch on Sundays that drew people from all over Lorain County it seems. Certainly more than once I saw a local chapter of the Red Hat Society getting a big table for lunch which I would kid the host about. The host, nickname ET was an African-American man in his 70’s who was retired but still active not just there but his band which he kept telling me about. I just couldn’t tell him that I wasn’t about drive home from say a gig in Wellington Ohio in the middle of the night if I went to hear them play. However, ET and many of his colleagues I’ve gotten to know casually over the years. I also know that they weren’t too keen on what was being built next door; the inn’s replacement. In an effort to ‘go green’ the College took of the City of Oberlin’s call to be more sustainable and, having the need for more conference space and updating amenities, they decided to build a brand new hotel; and bring in new management to boot. Most of the men and women who worked there weren’t going to be hired for the new facility.
After over a year’s worth of construction, the replacement for the old Oberlin Inn opened around May. I did manage to go there a couple of Sundays since it opened and each time, it left me cold. Yes, it is a modern green ‘machine for living’, to borrow a phrase the architect Le Corbusier called his buildings, and has all the charm of a townhouse in University Circle’s Uptown District. As a matter of fact, the Inn at Oberlin looks like the kind of place fitting for a Hillary Clinton for President fundraiser.
I went there two times since it opened. The service was excellent, the men and women who they hired to work there were friendly and attentive (one, I overheard telling a couple that she was a student at Lorain Community College). The breakfast I had, free-range eggs, homemade bread, and ham, was good. They even served coffee in a its own little steel percolator. However, the menu was very limited, rather expensive, and both times the place left me feeling cold.
After contemplating, and taking another photo, of the new inn, I wound up on the other side of town at a place called Sterk’s. I admit I drove past it once or twice before but never went in there. In the final months leading up to the closing of the old inn, one of the servers name Peggy told me that the owner wanted her to work there. So, at least four months since she told me to stop over there to say hi, I went. It was nothing special inside, kind of me reminded me of Muldoon’s, a pub in my neighbhorhood. Howevet I was early, already saw the menu on their website, and the service was good. There was a strip steak for that day’s special and that’s what I got. It was nothing fancy, but cooked the way I wanted it, nice portions, good price, and I’d go back again if I’m around there.
I also chatted with my server and asked how the new Oberlin Inn is doing. As it turns out, she used to work there years ago and knew many of the people I did. It turns out the Rotary and City Clubs now meet at Sterk’s since the new management at the inn didn’t want them there. They, referring to the Inn’s management, don’t want anything to do with the people in Oberlin; it’s seems just for the college. She went on to say that Oberlin is a historic town with old buildings and the Inn looked out-of-place, “It looks like something dropped out of nowhere”. When she went in there just to look, she thought it look sterile. She had a feeling that it probably wouldn’t do too well in the long run and I made a joke about how, in a year, the managers would go to the college administration and see if they can renegotiate their contract. When, I left a little after four o’clock, I noticed that the parking lot was starting to fill up.
As I drove home, I was thought about something that started going in my head as I sat on the swing. The complete mental separation between the new Oberlin Inn, and the college itself, from the rest of the town to me serves as a metaphor for the way many people think about our ruling class; a situation one man in particular managed to take advantage of all the way to the White House this January.
Photographs by James Valentino