Monday, August 20, 2012

Go (to) Cleveland! A Pittsburgher reconsiders

As a young Pittsburgh Steeler fan, I used to hate Cleveland. As an older Pittsburgh Steeler fan, I hate al-Qaeda and white men with grudges and guns.

I was thinking of this Friday afternoon sitting at an East 4th Street sidewalk cafe in the center of Cleveland, surrounded by Clevelanders and having a ball.

Cleveland isn’t a bucket-list destination for most Pittsburghers. In fact, it’s likely not a bucket-list destination for most Toledoans.

But I’m professional travel writer. And, please, try and stifle the snickers that are bound to erupt any time I couple myself with the word “professional.”

It’s true. I’ve written travel stories for many prestigious magazines and newspapers. Being a professional travel writer, let me tell you what it’s like.

First of all, it’s not what you think. It’s grueling. Long hours. The pay sucks. You are at the mercy of marketing and sales people who are determined to present their destination or resort in the most favorable light.

Why do it?

Free travel!

Being a credentialed travel writer is like being an esteemed member of the Olympic city selection committee minus all the free hookers. It’s the finest hotels, the most sumptuous meals and enough free booze to satisfy even veteran free booze hounds like myself. And that’s a lot.

Sure, there are some hookers, but those usually go to the guys who don’t golf.

I’ve been doing travel writing since a journalism ethics professor lectured that travel writers are offered more ethically questionable freebies than the guys who cover the local municipal authority meetings.

It was explained that hotels and resort p.r. folks need to have a steady stream of media reporting things about them so they will often tempt news people with freebies in exchange for stories.

I think the lesson was supposed to make us more circumspect, but it had the opposite effect with me. I remember leaving class that day and heading straight to a local print shop to have business cards emblazoned with “PALM FEATURES” across the top. I thought it sounded vaguely tropical and evocative for a travel writing venture.

In truth, I called it “PALM FEATURES” because my hand was always out and upright for freebies.

What’s funny about my travel writing is it has undergone the reverse trajectory of many journalists. They start out ethically pure and eventually succumb to cynicism and start gobbling up freebies with abandon.

Me, I started out with the most corrupt of intentions and now only take freebies when I can snag an assignment or when a place I’ve written about thinks it would be mutually beneficial for me to see more of their attractions.

That’s how I wound up in Cleveland for two days with my family.

In 2011, I was writing near weekly travel stories for I did several that involved Cleveland, none of which involved actually going to Cleveland.

Each time local promoters would say, hey, come visit. You’ll really like Cleveland. Lots of great stories here.

It was very flattering. That’s why I was reluctant to share with them another way in which I differ from many travel writers.

I don’t much like excessive travel.

I’d often rather stay home.

But what kind of father and husband would I be if I didn’t share one of the few perks of having me as a “provider,” if I didn’t provide for my family the one thing at which I excel. Now, say it with me . . .

Free travel!

So we did the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, The Cleveland Botanical Gardens, the Cleveland Aquarium and enjoyed a slew of the city’s eateries, foremost being The Greenhouse Tavern, a destination restaurant worth any drive.

I’m glad I no longer feel a kneejerk need to expend so much negative emotion on a city and a people who, in many ways are like Pittsburgh, both gritty, under-appreciated and deserving of fresh looks from one to another.

We shouldn’t let a football rivalry dictate our emotions, especially when can we can gang up and focus our hate on Dallas.

So for the first time I can say without reservation I’m rooting for Cleveland. It’s a lot of fun and I wish the city well.

I’m saying that as a Pittsburgher and a professional travel writer.

Not because some hooker asked me to.

No comments: