Highway exits downtown keep switching sides.
The exit for Third Street may have been on the left hand side of the highway the last time you headed downtown for a Dayton Dragon’s game, but it’s on the right now, so get used to it. But not too used to it because it will probably be back on the left again soon when the construction that just ended after 20 years starts back up again.
You immediately crave a buckeye malt the second you cross the state line.
That iconic purple, orange and red UDF sign induces involuntary salivation for chocolate peanut-buttery goodness as soon as it comes into view. Nobody elsewhere knows what the heck a buckeye malt is, but you do and that’s all that matters.
People are spelling out “Ohio” to each other from across the parking lot.
Because if you see a fellow buckeye wearing scarlet and grey, it’s plain rude not to return their call of “O-H” with “I-O” no matter where you are or what you’re doing. And don’t ever wear blue and gold to the sports bar on game day unless you want your server to spit in your burger.
No matter what day of the week it is, there promises to be a classic car show in at least one department store or restaurant parking lot.
Of course, “car show” doesn’t mean much more than a gaggle of old men in camping chairs alongside their weekend project with their hoods popped, but they’ll be there none the less, anxious for other old men to wander past and ask about horse power or custom paint jobs.
There’s another new storefront in the Oregon District.
It’s a hat shop right between a tattoo parlor and an antiques store, further cementing the historic block as the most hipster one in Dayton. But for some reason there’s still no coffee shop. Go figure.
Designer labels still haven’t caught on.
In any given Chipotle there will be five diners in camouflage, six in brightly colored trucker hats, three wearing swag from last weekend’s monster truck rally, and one guy in slacks and a button up feeling very out of place.
No one knows how to drive.
Large SUV’s have parked under overpasses and traffic has slowed down to 35 MPH on the highway because a light to moderate rain is falling. And if it happened to snow, as it does every winter, forget about trying to get anywhere. That inch of snow on the ground just makes it too dangerous.
Facial hair is everywhere.
The moustache-less un-groomed beard is still sported with pride on approximately 40% of men under 40 despite the fact that it has decidedly gone out of fashion everywhere but in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country.
The supply and demand for sweet tea is unbalanced.
There will be a pile of empty sugar packets on the table at Bob Evans because, despite the apparent demand, sweet tea isn’t on the menu until you drive through Cincinnati, across the Ohio River, and into Kentucky.
Weekends in the fall mean festivals.
Dress up for the Renaissance Festival, then enjoy a fritter or dumpling at the Apple Festival. Get a cabbage-smothered dog at the Sauerkraut Festival, too many steins of beer at Oktoberfest, and polish off the weekend with wedges or loaded skins at the Potato Festival. Then next weekend, do it all again.
You can’t resist getting whipped and battered at King’s Island.
It may not technically be in Dayton, but no visit home is complete without a trip down to Southern Ohio’s favorite amusement park. Nothing beats a spin on the Scrambler before a go on The Beast to see if you can keep down that slice of LaRosa’s from lunch.
You can’t help but smile as you lace up your skates at Riverscape.
Because nothing beats a couple of hours of turns around the ice, followed by a hot cup of cocoa from the concession stand and a slice of Sicilian from Flying Pizza on Main Street to usher in the holiday spirit.
Your family is re-introducing you to people at church who just want to talk about how they barely recognize you after all these years.
After all, you are back in the Bible Belt, which means not only are you in church every Sunday, but on the way you’ve passed three Baptist churches, two Catholic and Methodists and churches, and one Seventh Day Adventist church.
Inquiries about when you’ll be giving your parents grandkids begin to flow.
After all, you are 20-something (thirty-something?!) and got married at the Ohio-approved age of 22, so how could you not have sired at least three children by now? After all, that is the whole purpose of marriage.
You can’t walk into a storefront in the city without being bombarded with state pride paraphernalia.
Namely, T-shirts that say “home,” where the “O” is the outline of the state, Ohio-shaped window decals with a red dot over Dayton, and hats that boast “Small town girl.”