For a mid-sized city not located terribly close to either coast, Cincinnati has a magnetic quality that is greatly under-estimated by the outside world. Everybody knows, or is supposed to know, that if you don’t live in New York or Los Angeles or Miami or San Francisco or Washington or Seattle or Boston, then you’re not living as exciting a life as you could be. Sure, there are some towns and cities in America’s great vast middle that get props for one reason or another—Austin, Santa Fe, Denver, Atlanta, and Chicago come to mind. But the coasts are generally assumed to be where it’s at. Which is to say, if you’re not from here, you mostly wonder why anyone lives here. Condescending? Of course. But it’s nothing new. Urban one-upmanship has been a part of our history from the start. Scratch the surface of any urban hotspot and you quickly uncover deep-seated esteem issues. Bostonians resent New Yorkers. New Yorkers patronize Los Angelenos, give Chicagoans short shrift, and openly mock Philadelphians. Angelenos snub San Franciscans. Chicagoans look down on Milwaukeeans. Philadelphians bad-mouth Baltimoreans. And everybody defames New Jersey.
But live in (or just visit) enough cities that, at the very least, have established their own peculiar historical and social character, and you quickly realize that every place has its upside and downside. I moved from Cincinnati to New York in 1990 because New York was (and is) the nexus of American media, especially for magazines. I wasn’t one of those people who grew up in Podunkville, totally enamored with the idea of the Emerald City; it was just something I had to do. At that time, New York was still a rough, unruly, somewhat dangerous town—an exalted cultural hub, for sure, but a place where you had to watch your back. Over the nine years I lived there, I watched it metamorphose into a safer, livelier, even happier city, until it tipped completely into a playground that only the rich could afford. I grew to love it, though when I finally moved to Santa Fe, I told myself (condescendingly) that New York was “over.”
Obviously, I was misinformed. But then, if you’re willing to move around, you can never be quite certain where you’ll end up, or why. I didn’t plan to get caught in Cincinnati’s magnetic field again, it just kind of happened. But I’ve been back for nearly six years now, and I’ve come to appreciate the city in ways I never could have or would have had I never left. Katie Laur touches on this in her wonderfully earthy remembrance of Bobbie Corbean, a strong, graceful, worldly Cincinnatian who used to say, “I was born over in the West End, honey. But I had my heart set on Paris.” She made it to Paris, among other cities in Europe and Africa, and learned a lot about life she never could have here. But sometimes the best part of leaving a place is coming back to it. Bobbie Corbean came back. And as Laur makes clear, her presence was a gift to those who knew her and made this city, in a small way, a better place.