Saturday, January 01, 2005


"Like a bow," my mother said. She didn't mean like a Christmas bow; she was talking about the kind that shoots an arrow. What she was getting at is that Akron's two main streets, Market and Exchange, intersect with each other twice, once at each end of downtown.

Every time I go back to Ohio, I rediscover places that were special to me when I was young. You see, I moved away to college before I spent any substantial time in the driver's seat of a car. As a result, my geography at home is atrocious. I have a lot of pictures of places in my head, but no idea how they relate to each other on a map.

December 29, 2004 required me to drive to some places I'd never driven to. For one thing, I'd volunteered to cook a lamb dinner for my grandmother, my stepmother, my sister, her husband, and the s.o. I needed shoulder chops, which can be hard to find. So my mother suggested I go to Acme #1, the chain's flagship store, in west Akron.

Following both my mother's instructions and a rather nebulous MapQuest printout, I guesstimated my way from I-76 into the Quaker Square area and figured out which way I was going. (Market is north of Exchange in downtown, so if you come to Exchange first, then Market, you're headed north, and vice versa.) I crept from block to block, headed westward on West Market with my tires wading in three or four inches of dirty slush. The neighborhood started to look really nice, and I suddenly realized I was near the house of one of my mother's friends. Then the Tangier restaurant appeared on the left. Then I spotted the West Point Market, an upscale specialty grocery my dad used to take me to. And then there was Acme #1. Inexpensive lamb shoulder chops abounded. I also got some really lovely ciabatta bread.

As I drove even further west toward the Montrose intersection, I was startled to see the Skyway Drive-In. So that's where it was! The Skyway was another place my dad took me to when I was young. He'd been a fan of a fizzy grape drink they made, and he'd spent hours of his youth trying to recreate it at home, with no success.

I turned south at Montrose and soon arrived at the house my dad used to live in, an up-and-down duplex on 33 acres that currently houses only my grandmother (AKA Nana). My grandfather is usually there too, but he has been in a care facility recently because of recurring infections. I think both of them are pretty lonely.

A selection of cheeses. Red wine. Greek braised lamb, gravy, crisp-tender green beans, and crusty bread. Nana said she hadn't tasted lamb in years. She really liked it and it made me feel so good.

After dinner, the s.o. and I went out to play pool with my sister and her husband. Since I was absolutely burned out on following other people's cars (thanks to a grueling day of crosstown bumbling in Canton the day before), I got directions so I could meet them in downtown Akron. The bar in question was on East Exchange Street. Following Market all the way there was out of the question; it'd take hours. So once again, I hopped on the interstate and learned anew. Hwy. 8 to Carroll. Right on Spicer. Right on Exchange. I had a flashback to, of all things, preschool. I went to preschool at the University of Akron while my mom was completing her education. This was the neighborhood.

There was E.J. Thomas Hall, with its massive pendulum-like counterweights. There was the building my mom taught English Composition in. I had seen them so many times, but never knew where to find them. And now I could find them once again.