Just inside the door of John’s Diner, the smell of grease, bacon and coffee greets each customer before the seating hostess gets the chance to. If you brought a credit card, you might need to use the ATM at the entrance because they only accept cash payment. Call them old-fashioned.
Behind the traditional diner counter is a circus of servers and cooks rushing to put out the next breakfast order. Here comes a regular; he plops onto a vinyl stool and chats up the waitress as she pours him a hot cup of joe.
I help my grandma into her seat at a blue vinyl booth toward the back of the old boxcar restaurant. In his thick Greek accent, the owner asks us how we are doing, each tired wrinkle on his face lifting to form a sincere smile.
“We’re doing well, thank you,” I say while opening my menu.
For a not-so-glamorous place, the menu boasts a cheap yet diverse array of options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. My mom, grandma and I have our breakfast delivered about eight minutes after ordering. It’s hot, too.
I take a break from digging into my strawberry topping-smothered pancakes to observe the owner and two men who must be of a similar age (in their 70s probably). One of them points to a framed faded photo of the Cleveland Indians baseball team.
“That’s the 1909 World Series,” he says.
“Well… I’ll be damned,” the other man whispers almost breathlessly.
I’ve never felt so connected to my roots in Cleveland as I have throughout the past six months. After breakfast that day, my mom took my grandma and I down Arden Avenue in Lakewood (the city in which John’s Diner is located) to see the house where I was raised as a baby. My mom mentioned how the porch, garage and paint job were still holding up rather well; Dad put a lot of money and elbow grease into those projects 23 years ago. Though I don’t remember my days there, I felt this powerful connection as I gazed at the house. My first home.
Next, we drove on I-90 E to downtown Cleveland to pick up some heartworm medication for our puppy Finley. This was the same route I took for my commute to the Cleveland Magazine office over the summer, so some major déjà-vu was brewing inside me. It was a euphoric sense of nostalgia; I recall switching between KISS-FM and Q104 to catch up on the news and celebrity gossip. Elvis Duran made sitting in rush hour traffic so worth it.
I learned more about Cleveland from my internship this summer than I can put into words, but that never would have happened without actually being out and about. When the Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals, ESPN camped out on East 4th Street and reporters from all over the world roamed the streets. Being at the epicenter of something historic is an indescribable feeling, and I’ll never forget the palpable energy that permeated through the whole city.
I attended several Indians games (no shocker there, since I’m a major fan). I chowed down at a new restaurant almost every Monday with the other Cleveland Magazine interns. I immersed myself in every opportunity possible. I even ran my first 5K at the annual Turkey Trot downtown this past Thanksgiving.
While we are criticized for our poor performance in the world of pro sports (go ahead and rip on Manziel for the millionth time), us Clevelanders are proud of our city as a whole. It’s that loyalty and pride that makes up a large part of who we are as individuals. Yeah, we know deep down the Browns won’t make it to the Super Bowl in the near future, no matter how many times the fans say “There’s always next Sunday’s game” or “There’s always next year.” But in the big picture of things, Cleveland is so much more than sports. We are a city rich in history, loaded with passion and dripping with pride. I wouldn’t trade my Cleveland roots for anything.