Thinking about moving got me thinking of Clifton. My son and I moved to the Gaslight District in the summer of 2001. For the next six years I came to know the shops on Ludlow Avenue, a lot of the residents and some of the characters who walk up and down the sidewalks.
I liked most of the shops and people, but after six years it reached the point where I couldn’t even walk to CVS Pharmacy without having to stop and talk with someone. Sometimes I want to reach a destination without engaging in conversation. That was becoming difficult in Clifton.
In 2007 my son got his own place. I tried a roommate for a while and quickly hated it. Thinking it was time to move on, I decided to move downtown.
I wanted to like living downtown but for a variety of reasons didn’t. Trying to decide where to go next, I remembered toward the end of my marriage that my wife and kids and I lived in Westwood. Always liking the area, in 2008 I moved back. I’m still there.
And now so is Lee. Maybe that’s why I was thinking about Clifton. Maybe that’s why I sentimentalized my stay there and considering moving back.
My son now owns a house in the Gaslight District. He recently invited me to dinner and I thought it might be fun to take a bus ride back to Ludlow Avenue and walk up and down those sidewalks again. I considered it a test run to determine if I wanted to return.
Getting off the bus in front of Sitwell’s, almost immediately an old friend approached me. This friend is also a writer who has never forgotten the fact that I turned down a column for this space some years back
We again discussed this on the sidewalk just like we did in 2006 — same exact conversation. Lying, I told this person I was running late. I crossed the street to get to Keller’s IGA.
As I crossed Ludlow, I noticed “Street Dan” putting his supplies away. He’s a sidewalk sketch artist who’s lived in Clifton for years. He didn’t notice me. For whatever reason, I left it that way.
Remembering I needed cash, I walked past Keller’s to an ATM. In front of me at the machine was Erin, a cashier at the CVS on Ludlow. We talked for a while. She’s still at CVS, still a cashier.
During my years in Clifton while walking to Keller’s, I would often encounter a gentlemen I call The Professor. With a look of dignity about him, he would sometimes yell at cars that were moving too quickly.
Always wearing a threadbare suit in the winter months, he would buy Wonder bread at Keller’s and break the bread up, scattering the small pieces on the ground around the trees that line the Ludlow sidewalks. He was feeding the birds.
Making my way back to Keller’s, there he was on the sidewalk. He wasn’t yelling at cars or feeding the birds, but he had on one of his same old suits. He hadn’t changed a bit.
Going into Keller’s, I noticed it had the same dull overhead lighting and the same old tile floor that needs to be replaced. The tonic water I wanted was in the same aisle as it was all those years ago. So was the vodka. The cashier was the same nice guy who used to man the post when I first moved to Clifton in 2001.
Walking past Arlin’s, I saw Toni standing outside smoking a cigarette. We talked for a bit. I haven’t been to Arlin’s since I left Clifton. Toni’s still there, still drinks at Arlin’s.
Passing the firehouse I turned left, crossing the street again to make my way down Clifton Avenue. I saw more familiar faces but pretended like I didn’t. It was time to get to my son’s house.
As I walked, I thought about my 20-minute “Ludlow reunion.” I’m not sure what I was expecting.
I’m not saying time stands still in Clifton’s Gaslight District, but truly it was like I’d never left. It was a bit surreal to basically pick up where I’d left off.
While I’ve been able to return and live in Westwood, I don’t think that could be the case with the Gaslight District. In Westwood, circumstances are totally different. I’m no longer married. I live in a completely different area of that community.
Revisiting my Ludlow Avenue stomping grounds, and not enjoying it that much, proves to me that maybe the old saying is true: One can’t go back. For now, I’ll stay in Westwood and put up with Lee on the bus when I have to. I’ll start visiting other neighborhoods here in Cincinnati and take my time trying to decide when and where my next living adventure will be.
I’ll always like Clifton, but for me it’s probably better to look forward and stop looking back.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org