I'm often amazed by the diversity of Northeastern Ohio. The diversity... and the wierdness.
Take for instance the area to the immediate east of where I live here in Willoughby. Several thousand years ago, the glaciers that covered much of North America stopped roughly a half mile to several miles (depending on where you are) from the shore of Lake Erie. Besides gouging out the massive crater that would eventually fill with water and become the shallowest of the Great Lakes, it left a unique geographic feature on the face of the greater Cleveland area. Where the glaciers stopped, the land swells upward to a higher plain.
This hill transverses Cleveland and the eastern part of the state and is uniformly gouged by the weight of the massive sheets of glacial ice.
This story, however, is not about that. In a round about way, it is though. But I just thought I'd throw in a little geography because I'm a dork.
Anyway, rising onto the higher plain, if you travel eastward, the land rolls with gentle hills and farmland until you reach the Alleghany Mountains some 100 - 150 miles away.
This story is about the farmland east of Cleveland.... and the oddities of humanity that live there.
Anyway... I grew up on the east side of Cleveland and this part of Ohio has a long, storied history of settlement. In fact, Cleveland, and the area to the east of Cleveland where actually not part of Ohio. We were actually, back in the 1700's, part of Connecticut. Yes. Cleveland, and the entire Northeastern part of Ohio where once the Connecticut Western Reserve. That being said, we've seen many a pilgrim and traveler come here in the last 300 or more years.
Besides the Adena, Iroquois, Mohawk, Seneca, and Hopewell indians who once lived and killed each other in savage revelvry and glory... we've had all kinds of non-native settlers who came and... well, killed the indians in savage revelry and glory.
Some of the settlers who've came here have included Joseph Smith and the Mormons after they were run out of New York. Kirtland, which is two miles from my house, still has a thriving LDS community and you can see the house where Joseph Smith lived and took his second wife of many future wives. We also have the occasional FLDS sect, and had some sensational murders a few years back... but I've written about that before.
If you go further east than Kirtland, you start to run into Middlefield, Burton, Chardon, Rock Creek, Orwell, and other communities where people have last names like Yoder and Schnieder. I've always taken for granted the occasional Amish horse and buggy at the Chardon Walmart. OR the sight of Amish children playing in the fields of large farms with white barns and windows with only one curtain pulled to the side.
It's not uncommon to see big Ford E3500 12 passenger vans roll up to the local grocery store or construction site. Disgorging their load of plainly dressed women in bonnets, or men with Abraham Lincoln beards, corded arms, and blue wool shirts; the vans (or Amish taxis, as we call them) drops them off to spend tons of money on commercial, modern sundries - - or build houses in even the poshest and most modern of suburban neighborhoods. Apparently a shunning of modern extravagances only goes so far with today's Amish. This is not your typical Harrison Ford in Witness sort of world anymore!
In fact, you may not know it, but all Amish teens reach an age of adulthood where they are allowed to actually not be Amish.The Amish call it Rumspringa and, for a certain time period, young Amish are allowed to live as Yankees and decide whether they want to actually join the Amish church and lifestyle. It's not uncommon to go into a bar around closing time in Geauga County and find some young, hopelessly drunk Amish men and women pounding Budweiser and singing country music karaoke. I actually have a friend who married an Amish women who decided during her Rumspringa that she couldn't go back to the farm. He now lives with her in Cleveland Heights where they host swinger parties.
But - - and I apologize for my long-windedness - - this story is, sadly, not about the Amish either. But, it's amongst this backdrop of quiet, religious anachronism and conservatism that my story does begin. Imagine this bucolic place that is Northeastern Ohio where the early Mormon Church was founded and is home to Quakers and Amish. The more modern denizens of this geographic area are conservative and, quite truly, solely the reason why Ohio is considered a Republican state - - despite the strongly liberal and Democratic strongholds of Ohio, Toledo, Youngstown, and Columbus.
It is with this understanding of a place where one could just as easily find an Amish buggy hitched up at the Sparkle grocery store next to a Big Ford with gunracks and a 'Redneck' sticker on the windshield and a NRA placard on the rear; that I find it necessary to talk about a gas station that can be found in the vicinity of State route 534 and State Route 422.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into the convenience store/gas station there to pay for some gas and pick up a Vanilla coke and some Beef Jerky. I was on the way back from my parent's trailer at their campground (another oddity of living in Cleveland - most people here have a separate trailer out east somewhere to spend their summer weekends at). Anyway, I walk into this really nice gas station in the middle of nowhere... and walked straight into one of the most surreal experiences in my life.
The place was packed, being the only major source of food and other various sundries for miles around.
As I said, it had a convenience store, a gas station, an attached video store, and a service garage. As I also said, it was really nice considering its relatively remote location. So imagine my surprise when I enter the store and see that every shelf, every cooler, every counter, and even the ATM has a small riser in front of it.
This convenience store/video store/gas station/garage, in the middle of Amish country, in the heart of rural Ohio, is run entirely by a family of midgets.
That's right. I said midgets.
It was like I'd suddenly stepped out of Northeastern Ohio and found myself in some forgotten corner of the Shire. Behind the counter, a hobbit was counting change for some redneck in a Harley Davidson t-shirt and cutoff jeans. There was a pretty looking halfling who was using a long claw like apparatus to stock the shelves with PopTarts and Heinz Ketchup.
I glanced with confusion through a door into the garage to see Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee struggling to remove a transimission from a car sitting atop the world's smallest garage lift. Several midget children ran past my legs, gamboling and laughing as they ran into the video store.
I gasped and fought the stange anomie that insisted I had somehow gone afoul of my normal life and had stumbled into some elfen kingdom where the Hostess Twinkees were buy one, get one free.
I don't know why the idea of midgets carving a life for themselves out of the farming community I found myself in so disturbing; I only know that I paid The Mayor of Munchkinland for my gas and totally forgot to get my Vanilla Coke and Beef Jerky. I staggered back to my Jeep, shaken and disturbed for some unknown reason.
I drove away, fleeing like Gulliver from Lilliput.