Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Along the road to Detroit--Toledo, OH

(At the end of the post you can click on a link to see all the photos.)

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments

--John Lennon, lyrics, In My Life

Toledo was never about Toledo, for me. It was more of a direction, more of a trip, more about things to see and do along the way rather than things to see and do at the destination. As a place, it was where I went to shop for school clothes, compete in high school sports or to celebrate a special occasion with a steakhouse dinner. It was also a place I went through during Greyhound Bus journeys to my grandmother’s home in West Virginia. It was a place we always called “up the river” when, in fact, it was down the river, beyond Napoleon, beyond Grand Rapids, beyond Waterville and Maumee.

I had an early opinion or impression of the place, my idea of what I thought Toledo represented in the sixties and early seventies. Most of my impressions were created internally, below the sooty look and unkempt physical appearance and I will tell you some events, not out of a cathartic need or horrible recall but because they are what push to the forefront. My opinions began to form in the spring of 1966, as I was walking home from school, with the honk of a car horn. The vehicle slowed and the driver rolled the window down and asked if I would like a ride, because, “Boy, oh, boy, look at that gray sky! Rain is sure on the way. Might be lightning or hail.” Those were innocent times and I accepted the lift. He talked, told me he was a salesman from Toledo, then drove past where I told him to I needed to get out. A little farther I told him again and he turned around, took me back. We sat in the parked car for maybe ten minutes and talked about me and school and girls my age, then he asked me if I played with myself. I said no. He laughed and said every boy did and he would lay a twenty dollar bill on the dash for me, if I would get in the back seat, unzip my pants and do what he asked. As I grabbed the door knob there came a pounding on the window and a screaming voice, “Get the hell out of that car!” My mom may have saved my life.

In summer of 1967 I got on a Greyhound Bus in Defiance and about an hour later got off at the Toledo bus station, for a two hour stop and bus change. I took my suitcase, a blue Samsonite with ivory trim, and went outside to scout around. At the corner a man began talking to me. I told him I was going to buy some lunch. He told me he owned a restaurant and pointed to it, the Pink Pussycat. I went for the “free hamburger.” Bob fixed me a great burger and fries, gave me a cherry Coke and talked to me while I ate. As I was finishing he ask me if I played with myself. I told him no. He asked me how big my dick was. I didn’t answer. He placed a magazine, with photos of naked men, on the counter and asked me if  mine was as big as any of the ones in the pictures. I grabbed my Samsonite and left the Pink Pussycat.

Finally, in spring of 1973, I was working a few hours a week at a gas station, during freshman year at Defiance College. It was late afternoon when a car pulled up near the station’s door, only a woman driver inside. I figured she was a typical drive-up, wanting to buy a snack or pack of cigarettes. The passenger window was down and what was a woman’s hair and woman-primped face dropped to a man’s body, wearing absolutely nothing but a cut-off tee shirt and a pair of beige panty hose. He/she asked the directions to the road to Toledo, because he/she was lost and wanted to get home before dark. He/she fluffed his/her hair and smiled and the obvious excitement that was being generated within him/her. I was rough cut in those days and he/she came a touch on my arm away from receiving great bodily harm.

I became more worldly during my two Defiance College years, even more so when I transferred to Bowling Green State University. My insulated, small town coating was scrubbed and drained away. Rightfully so. Toledo lost its luster, in my mind, of a place of perps and pervs, of murders and crime. It became just another city with no more or no less of the same issues that other cities faced—other than its rust belt, automotive industry decay. But, like Ft. Wayne, it has also seen a revival of the downtown, and I was pleased with what I saw during my recent visit.

It still holds nothing special for me, as a place. But I will always love that drive along the river, on the road that carried me in my grandparents’ cars, my own cars, in Greyhound and school busses. The winding way that bends and hooks and shoots past farms and orchards and forests and runs just above the late afternoon water of the Maumee River at Turkey Foot, where my cousin and I revved the 100 horsepower Johnson outboard on the Katherine Anne to its limit, as we slalomed over a glycerin-smooth surface, during high school summers. Where, across the river was the lot my aunt and uncle’s summer trailer was parked and Jimmy and I learned to drink too much stolen beer, then puke and sleep off heavy thoughts of northwest Ohio girls in bikinis lounging on docks. It is the road that stretched to Bowling Green with its opportunity to learn and, ultimately, allow me to travel other roads, leaving the road to Toledo to those who would use it more often and for their own reasons. 

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