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Friday, August 31, 2012

EXPLAINING THE "QUEEN CITY"

BRYCE ON OUR CHANGING WORLD

- On the banks of the Ohio River: Cincinnati, the "Queen."

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Prior to moving to the Tampa Bay area of Florida, I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio for 17 years. During this period, I went to high school, graduated from college, and we started our business which we subsequently moved to Florida. Quite often I am asked to describe what life is like in the "Queen City," representing the city's nickname ("Queen City to the West" to be precise). I have lived in quite a few locations throughout the country, not to mention visiting many more, but Cincinnati was a unique experience that is difficult to describe; instead, you have an intuitive feeling that is difficult to articulate. Such is Cincinnati. There is just something "different" about it. It is certainly not like Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Akron, or any other city in Ohio. It is unique. For example, most cities have their airport near the downtown area; Cincinnati's is across the river in Kentucky, not Ohio. The airport designation "CVG" doesn't mean "Cincinnati Vicinity G???", but "Covington" instead (Kentucky) thereby representing an interesting political chapter in Cincinnati's history.

The city rests on the northern shores of the Ohio River in the Southwest corner of Ohio, adjoining Kentucky and Indiana making up the "Tri-State" area. It was settled in the late 1700's, and it was a frontier town that made good. So good, it quickly became the crossroads of America, where settlers traveled through on their way to the western frontier. The city prospered so much in the early days, the federal government seriously considered moving the capitol there after the British burned Washington during the War of 1812, thereby eliminating the potential of attack by the sea. This, of course, never transpired but Cincinnati continued to grow nevertheless. By 1870 it represented the mean center of U.S. population. Today, the Queen City is strategically located within a 700 mile radius of two-thirds of the industrial wealth of Canada and the United States, making it an ideal locale for conducting business.

The city has a strong German heritage based on immigrants settling there and setting up shop. Breweries grew, shipping and manufacturing proliferated, and for a long time was called "Porkopolis" because of the pork processing plants there. Even to this day, Cincinnati's strong work ethic, food, and general attitudes can be attributed to its German roots.

Seven hills surround the city making up a valley that traps pollutants and humidity, and explains why it has evolved into a "Sinus Gulch" where the inhabitants suffer from an annoying nasal "Sniff" heard throughout the day. During the summer, the weather can be stifling; in the winter, the valley can retain the cold. Spring and Autumn are perhaps the two most scenic and enjoyable seasons.

Cincinnati has a unique sight, sound, smell, and even taste to it. From an architecture perspective, the city has everything from massive mansions made of brick and hidden away in country settings, to simple turn-of-the century wooden structures with steep roofs and front porches that dominate the neighborhoods. Television is rather unique, or at least was a few years ago. Considerable television innovations originated from the Queen City and, for a long time, local talent dominated the channels with homespun humor and a blend of bluegrass and midwest music. Natives fondly remember people like Bob Braun, Paul Dixon, Bob Shreve, Glenn Ryle, and "The Cool Ghoul." However, celebrities such as Steven Spielberg, Jerry Springer, Doris Day, Roy Rogers, and the Clooney family all started here as well. Alas, the locals eventually gave way to national programming and the Cincinnati character faded from television screens. Fortunately, local radio stations still feature homegrown personalities.

Over the years Cincinnati has had many breweries due to its German heritage. One by one, they were all pushed aside by national brewers. Names like Burger, Hudepohl, Schoenling, and Wiedemannn slowly faded away. In terms of food, Cincinnatians enjoy their restaurants. Since there are no real glamor places to relax locally, particularly in winter, there isn't much to do but tuck away the groceries. In addition to having some of the finest restaurants in the country, the fare is based on its "Porkopolis" past, featuring a variety of sausages, ribs, and a breakfast meat called "Goetta" which is similar to Philadelphia Scrapple, but made with pinhead oats instead. Cincinnati chili is also unique. Do not expect a bowl of hot spicy meat. Instead, it is served on a bed of spaghetti, with a layer of onions, a layer of kidney beans, and topped with a bed of grated American cheese.

Even driving around town is strangely different in Cincinnati. Instead of a cut-throat rush hour in the morning, Cincinnatians seem to just quietly go about their business in the morning and possess an intuitive understanding of every twist, turn, and back alley to be navigated in the city. It is also common to see motorists stop to give aid to other motorists in trouble.

What this all adds up to is a strong sense of neighborhood in Cincinnati which took me a long time to figure out. At first it seems elitist in nature. The citizens genuinely love their hometown, particularly their sports teams (e.g, the Reds and Bengals), local celebrities, and hometown boys and girls that make good on the national stage. It's no small wonder many people grow up and never leave Cincinnati, nor understand why people want to leave. It's very introverted in this regard. Should you move to the area, as we did many years ago, you must adapt to the culture for it will certainly not adapt to you.

Not surprising, Cincinnati is conservative in both its thinking and politics. They simply do not like to change. This has hurt them on more than one occasion, particularly the downtown area which has lost considerable business over the years to Northern Kentucky. When I return to my old neighborhood there, it is like time has stood still; nothing of substance has changed. I know where everything is and all of the names of the families. Although I've been gone for over a quarter of a century now, it is like I never left. Although it may take an act of God to implement a change to Cincinnati, such as a new building, road or restaurant, the citizens remarkably embrace it. On the one hand, Cincinnatians give the appearance of being "stick in the muds," but on the other they are some rather creative innovators and inventors. In addition to television and radio, Cincinnati is home to massive jet engines, consumer products, machine tools, banks and insurance companies, and some rather impressive computer technology. Their strong and determined work ethic, coupled with a competitive imagination, and strategic location in the country to conduct business, makes Cincinnati a stable work environment.

As an aside, it is relatively easy to recognize a person from the Queen City. They will say "Please?" instead of "I beg your pardon?" or "Huh?" I haven't heard this specific idiom used anywhere else in this context. Also, true native Cincinnatians tend to say "CincinnatAH" as opposed to "CincinnatEE." It's a dead giveaway as to their roots. "Sniff".

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.