“Panthers lose, again.”- yesterday
It all started months ago when the 2018 NFL opponents were announced. The Carolina Panthers, my heart and soul, would be playing at the Cleveland Browns, my childhood team, for the first time in ages. Very quickly, my co-worker, pal, and Cleveland native Jim and I devised an ingenious idea (aren’t they all) to turn this into a bona fide event. It would be huge. Everyone would want to come. We’d fill a bus, an RV, a plane even and make it a grand old time.
And then the date was announced: Sunday, December 9. Have you ever been to First Energy Stadium on the shores of Lake Erie on Sunday, December 9? If you recall, my friend Ras and I went last year to Packers at Browns this exact same weekend, and to summarize in one short phrase, “it gets cold.”
Regarding the trip, people dropped like flies. And then more people dropped like flies. And then the Panthers dropped out of contention like flies. And then there was just Jim and me. And we didn’t drop like flies. Because we are nuts.
I couldn’t take the losing anymore. Getting embarrassed in prime time by the Steelers. Looking lost in the Motor City. Letting Russell Wilson run riot. And then letting Tampa Bay, yes Tampa Bay, possibly end our season. I watched all of this on television and felt myself growing quite annoyed. Uncomfortable even. Helpless.
So this past weekend it was do or die. If the door remained slightly cracked at 6-6, we needed to go bust some ass. And I wanted to be a part of it. No more watching on television. No more Section 300. Get on a plane. Enjoy downtown Cleveland. And then Row 2, Visitors Sideline. I needed to talk to the boys.
I, by definition, am not a party animal. Jim, well, he likes to have a good time. So we decided, his town, his rules. We arrived Friday night ravenous after a brief layover in Chicago. Luckily, one of Cleveland’s best restaurants, Urban Farmer, was adjacent to our hotel, and we decided to partake. I splurged, trying wagyu beef, rabbit, and octopus possibly for the first time.
Afterwards, I couldn’t move, but Jim’s rules do not allow for not moving, so off we went to Bar 32 at the top of the Hilton hotel. Being the season, there were Christmas parties everywhere, and the mood was quite lively. And when it was time to change scenes, he took me to Society Lounge on East 4th Street, an underground (literally) Prohibition Era speakeasy kind of place. And that is where Friday ended.
I do have one rule that I insist on implementing everywhere I go. To see a city, we walk. One mile. Three miles. 26 miles. I don’t care. It is the best way to experience a place, especially some of the nooks and crannies off of the beaten path.
So Saturday, we walked. To The Warehouse district, The Flats, Ohio City, and along the Cuyohoga River. To the West Side Market, Soho Chicken+Whiskey, Mitchell’s Ice Cream, and The Harbor Inn, established in 1895.
We stumbled upon Krush, The Nauti Mermaid, and Johnny’s Little Bar, best burger in town for the past 62 years. We hit the Cavs Wizards game at The Q, and then finished the night in the very cool Tremont neighborhood (Uber unfortunately required) for a little late night drink and pizza.
As quickly as people dropped like flies prior to the trip, miraculously, new ones started appearing. We hung with Jim’s friend Amy on Saturday night and Sunday. My friend/ex next door neighbor/travel mate/Cleveland area native Ras showed up with his family and friends. The Wingate University swim coach and family friend Kirk amazingly appeared in my hotel lobby Saturday afternoon, and then obviously a smattering of Panthers fans dotted the town all weekend.
Finally, Sunday. The purpose of the trip. Bringing the positive energy so the Panthers would get that much needed W. Well, so much for that, huh? But for the second year in a row, what a wonderful, wonderful experience. I wore Panthers gear all weekend, and the natives were quite welcoming. It got a little hostile in the 3rd and 4th quarters on Sunday at the stadium, but man did they love poking at me after Cam threw that last interception.
We were scheduled to fly home Sunday evening, but as you may know, NC experienced the great whiteout of 2018 that cancelled all flights back to Charlotte. Have you ever heard me say, “there is a solution to every problem”? Well, my man Ras came through, and we hitched a ride home via his SUV and arrived safely in the wee hours of Monday morning.
Well good. A quite thoughtful, intentional lifestyle is coming together. For those following along, we have NYC Marathon every first Sunday in November. And now, it’s a bona fide thing, we have Cleveland every second weekend in December. It ain’t sexy, but man, it’s a ton of fun! And you just never know who or what you might see.
Have a great week.- Benj
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