Fun in the CLE: 1970 vs. Now with "Hey, You Punks!"

Friday, October 18, 2019

I haven't done much yet with this idea, but in the last year, I've been thinking about writing a blog post featuring books I've enjoyed written by Cleveland-based authors. The list is longer than I'd expected - I hadn't realized I'd even read so many local books! - & I'm going to keep expanding it for a bit before I write that post.

For now, though, I want to highlight one: Hey, You Punks!, a graphic novel set on Cleveland's West Side - including Tremont, the area where I live. The author, Don Billie, grew up in this area in the late 1960s & early '70s, & he's set his coming-of-age antics into comic form with the help of Cleveland Institute of Art grad Gloria Pridemore.

When Don reached out to ask if I'd be interested in his book, I was excited to see what life was like in this area "back in the day." (Sorry, Don!) If you're a millennial-or-younger who's ever wondered what, exactly, kids did for fun in the days before smartphones & video games, this book is an interesting - if, at times, alarming - look at the shenanigans "young punks" got into back then.

The Bucks & The Browns
At the start of the book, Don & his friends are "indoctrinated into the football culture of Cleveland," rooting on their two favorite teams every weekend. The group started to gain a reputation for their rowdy games of touch football in the streets, which left more than a few of the kids scraped up... & plenty of neighborhood cars dinged by bad throws.

I've never been a big football person myself, which is surprising given, well, the football culture of Cleveland. I stilllll don't totally understand the rules of the game?! So sue me, it feels a lot like math - but I do love the atmosphere of a football game, & I'm looking forward to going to a Browns game next month with the folks from JACK Casino! It'll be my first one in a few years.

As for The Ohio State Buckeyes, well, my grandfather was such a die-hard fan that once, after a fire at my grandparents' house, my grandma tried to used a little bit of smoke damage as an excuse to throw out her husband's beloved, tattered Buckeyes flag. He rescued it from near death & continued to hang it outside the house every time football season rolled around. My mom & I recently paid tribute to him in the photo below, taken with a new sculpture at Pinecrest.

The Cleveland Cavaliers
Don says he & his friends got their start as trouble-making "punks" in middle school, when they'd get together to shoot hoops in the schoolyard at St. Boniface. Their basketball-playing inspiration? The brand new Cleveland Cavaliers, the city's first NBA team, formed in 1970.

"Some parents were strict about not letting their kids hang out at the schoolyard," Don writes. "Didn't want 'em becoming punks & getting into trouble! In retrospect, they were right."

If you're like me, you can't imagine a Cleveland without the Cavs. In fact, early this fall, I joined a few friends at a local dive bar, where we were extras in the filming of a Cavs promo commercial. I'm not allowed to say anything about it because we signed an NDA - but when it starts airing, I'll tell you allll about it. Suffice it to say, it was really fun to be a part of this celebration of the home team as it they head into their 60th year in the NBA.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Don & his friends found a hole in the fencing that allowed them "free entry." Once inside, they'd hop aboard the zoo tour shuttle & head to Prairie Dog Village... where they'd jump the ledge & chase the animals!

Prairie dog are pretty adorable, but I can't imagine willingly putting myself into an enclosure with zoo animals. That's just one of many varieties of trouble Don & his friends got into as kids - & in fact, it was one of their less criminal activities.

These days, prairie dogs are no longer among the animals that live at the Zoo - perhaps because their enclosure was too easy to sneak into?! I was just there, actually, for Brew at the Zoo with friends - but  no worries, my friends & I didn't dare try to sneak into any of these animals enclosures.

Winter Fun
To keep themselves from having to walk long distances home across the city, Don & his friends picked up another dangerous activity: "car hopping." In slushy, snowy weather, they waited near stop signs & grabbed onto the bumper of stopped cars. "Gliding down snow-covered streets going 20-30 mph was thrilling - even dangerous!"

My most thrilling winter activity it attending Brite Winter, an outdoor festival... in February. It takes place in The Flats, under a bridge, & it's all outdoors, almost always in the freezing cold. There's a lot of beer, a few bonfires, live music stages, & a much larger crowd than you'd expect for such a chilly event - but I always take a Lyft home, rather than hopping a bumper ride. 

It was fun to read Hey, You Punks!, not only because it's an all-around fun read but because I enjoyed the peek into a Cleveland of the past, seen through the eyes of somewhere who grew up here. 

My life may look totally different these days than Don's did back then - but in both of our stories, I see the city I love so much & the way the city itself has impacted people's lives by acting as a character itself in their stories.

Interested in the book? Author Don Billie will be signing books & talking about his experiences growing up on the Near West Side of Cleveland at Visible Voice Books on Saturday, October 26th at 7:30 p.m. Learn more about this event - & if you stop by, tell him I sent you!

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book in advance for my honest review & opinion. I was not obligated to write a separate post about it - I just wanted to! Learn more about Hey, You Punks! or purchase it here

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