Cleveland. Why would anyone go to Cleveland?
I was asked that a thousand times before I boarded that Boeing 737 bound for northeast Ohio.
My excuse was simple. I was photographing a wedding. And being a lover of music, I had to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
To my surprise, the city on the shores of Lake Erie wasn't the dark, cold and dirty place I envisioned. Not surprisingly, the museum was all I envisioned and more.
The museum is packed with artifacts from the roots of rock 'n' roll, including blues, gospel and country. Legends of rock are featured, from Elvis and the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix and the founders of hip hop.
"Rolling Stones: 50 Years of Satisfaction" is a special exhibit that fills two levels of the museum. The exhibit, which runs through March, is a backstage pass to the popular British band. Interactive stations offer insight into the history of the band. Displays showcase the band's instruments, outfits and other memorabilia. If you're a fan, add this to your to-do list.
Why Cleveland for a rock 'n' roll museum? Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed used the term rock 'n' roll in 1951 to describe the up-tempo, black rhythm-and-blues records he was playing on radio station WJW-AM. The rest is music history.
Outside the museum sits the Great Lakes Science Center and the NFL home of the Cleveland Browns. Beyond that lies a downtown of historic buildings and modern skyscrapers. Among them I found The Arcade, completed in 1890 as the city's first skyscraper and one of the country's first shopping malls. It houses a Hyatt Regency hotel, shops and restaurants. I could have spent hours admiring the craftsmanship of the five-story Romanesque Revival-style mall.
The Arcade is a relic of the booming industrial city post-Civil War. Cleveland's population doubled from 43,417 in 1860 to 92,829 in 1870 and continued to grow until it was the fifth largest U.S. city in 1920. Later, Cleveland went through tough times and in 1978 became the first major U.S. city since the Great Depression to default on its financial obligations.
In 1969, the oil and waste on the surface of the city's Cuyahoga River caught fire, causing many to label Cleveland the "mistake on the lake."
In 2009, the city launched the slogan "green city on a blue lake" and started Sustainable Cleveland 2019, a 10-year plan to build a green, economic city by the 50th anniversary of the infamous fire.
While there are still areas of blight, parts of downtown are beginning to transform much the way Denver's LoDo district did after Coors Field was built in the 1990s. West 25th Street near the West Side Market buzzes with new brew pubs and restaurants. Cleveland Heights and Lakewood have lots to offer, too.
I ate at Melt Bar and Grilled, which boasts five locations in the Cleveland area. Natives of the city told me this was the place to go. Melt's serves up an array of great sandwiches, from Monte Cristos to grilled peanut butter and banana. I opted for a Big Popper with fresh jalapeno peppers, cheddar and herb cream cheese, battered and deep fried. Melt's offers a huge selection of beer on tap, including many from Colorado.
I won't need an excuse to visit Cleveland again. I still have things on my list to explore such as the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. And besides, I could spend two more days in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.