Planning That Cleveland Vacation

August 22, 1993|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK

A surprising thing has been happening to me lately -- people have been asking me about Cleveland.

This isn't a complete surprise, since I'm a native Clevelander. But in the past when friends and acquaintances brought up the subject of my home town, it was usually because they'd heard a new Cleveland joke; now it's because they're thinking of Cleveland as a vacation spot.

Yes, it's true. Cleveland, once dubbed "the mistake on the lake," has suddenly turned into a tourist mecca. Ever since Southwest Airlines initiated the war for the lowest airfare to Cleveland, budget-minded Baltimoreans have begun to look favorably on my noble birthplace.

Just a few days ago, a co-worker who is a die-hard Orioles fan told me she has booked a flight to Cleveland so that she can see the Orioles play the Indians.

"What's the best hotel?" she asked. "How far away is Sea World?" (Yes, there is a Sea World in Ohio.) Are there any other sights I would recommend?

Any others? Well, I began, you could hear a concert by one of the world's best orchestras or visit one of the world's best art museums -- and while you're at it, keep tabs on former Baltimorean Robert Bergman, who is the Cleveland Museum of Art's new director.

As for Cleveland cuisine, for lunch you could sample some of the popular ethnic foods such as kielbasa or pierogis, and for dinner you could dine in the Flats, a renovated warehouse district on the shores of the Cuyahoga River. (Yes, that's the river that caught fire, but it was cleaned up years ago, so no more jokes about "steaks broiled directly on the river," thank you).

If you're a movie buff, you can shop in the department store where they filmed part of "A Christmas Story" or pray in the church where they filmed part of "The Deer Hunter."

And, I continued to my colleague, that's just Cleveland proper. Don't get me started on the suburbs. . . .

My co-worker chose not to. Instead, she told me she was surprised to learn that the Indians' last games of the season are already sold-out. I reminded her that these are the final Indians' games that will ever be played in the downtown stadium. But I had to admit that I was also a little surprised since in recent years Clevelanders have seemed to begrudgingly regard the Indians as a very poor summer substitute for the Browns.

However, it occurred to me that perhaps credit for the sell-out doesn't belong to Cleveland. Maybe it belongs to Baltimore. Considering the new low airfares as well as the difficulty and expense of getting tickets to Camden Yards, maybe Baltimoreans are finding it easier to fly to Cleveland to see major league baseball -- even when the Orioles aren't playing.

Sound far-fetched? I mean, how low can Cleveland airfares go? Well, for some time a friend of mine has been talking about accompanying me to visit my mother in Cleveland. Suddenly it looks as if some time is here. I talked to my friend the other day and suggested we make our reservations while this price war is raging.

But my friend, it seems, is a gambler at heart. "Let's wait a little longer," she said. After all, she reminded me, Southwest originally announced an airfare of $39 each way. Then USAir advertised $24.50 each way; Continental lowered its fare to $19 each way, and Southwest matched it.

"In a few weeks," she said, "the airfare may be cheaper than the cab to the airport."

I don't know if she's right or not. But I do know that at least for the time being, I've sworn off my habit of leafing through travel brochures, gazing longingly at pictures of European capitals and exotic island hideaways.

This year when my vacation rolls around I'm going to the trendiest vacation site of all. You'll know me if you see me on the plane. I'll be wearing my vintage Cleveland T-shirt, the red one that reads: "Cleveland, you've got to be tough." On the back, I'm thinking of adding a few lines of my own: "Who needs Paris? Who needs Rome? When it comes to vacations, there's no place like home."

J. Wynn Rousuck is The Baltimore Sun's theater critic.

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