1. The ability to tell the difference between Gold Star and Skyline.
This feat seems like nothing to a Cincinnatian. To an outsider, the two Cincinnati chili recipes are identical: sludgy brown meat with a little bit of cinnamon and… Jesus, is that chocolate? Did they put chocolate in this?
The refined Cincinnati palette, however, can tell the two apart by smell alone. Taste is not required.
2. The ability to live very comfortably on a $30,000 salary.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was telling us about her 350 square foot studio in Manhattan. “It’s only about $2400 a month,” she said.
Jesus Christ, I thought, Why does anyone still live on the East Coast? My first apartment in Cincinnati cost me $300 a month, and it was at least twice the size. My second apartment was only $500. I have a friend who lives right in the middle of downtown in a classy one bedroom who pays the same.
Cincinnati is bananas affordable. No one else can figure out how we do it. And we aren’t telling.
3. The ability to see an invisible wall where there is actually a road.
“West Side? There’s no West Side to Cincinnati. You’re thinking of Indiana.”
“No, Matt, there’s an entire half of town beyond I-75 where like, hundreds of thousands of people live.”
“I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT. PLEASE LEAVE, YOU ARE NO LONGER WELCOME HERE.”
If Donald Trump really wanted to separate us from Mexico, he could just relocate Cincinnatians to towns along the border and reroute I-75 over the Rio Grande.
4. The ability to Hulk the fuck out.
In the show How I Met Your Mother, main character Ted Mosby says, “When life gives us pain, we Buckeyes take that pain and we push it down, and if that pain starts to come up again, we push more pain down on top of it.”
This habit of ALWAYS SMILING ALWAYS makes Cincinnati a charming place to visit, but makes any given person a single push away from exploding in a frothy, hulk-like rage. Nowhere does rage simmer so close beneath the surface as in Cincinnati.
5. The ability to turn weird at the drop of a hat.
When I was in my early twenties, Cincinnati was not a “weird” place. If anything, it was the most normal place on the planet. People smiled at you as you walked down the street. Cars would let you merge as a matter of course. Emotion and drama were not part of the social scene.
But since about 2011, I’ve started to notice the slow creep of weirdness in Cincinnati. Suddenly, the Great Paragon of Normal has become a place where strangeness can happen. For example, this weekend at Rhinegeist, a girl approached me and said, apropos of nothing, “I tried breastmilk for the first time today. It was really sweet.”
I had nothing to say to that. That was too much of a non sequitur from my ping pong game to recover from. As I left, hipsters milled about on the sidewalk talking about Kombucha, and I thought, “Did I trip and fall through a wormhole that leads directly to Austin?” Was this weirdness latent in Cincinnati all along? Or has the town been bitten by a radioactive bearcat?
6. The ability to scrounge hope out of a hopeless situation.
Yes, other cities have undergone worse tragedies than the Great Bengals Catastrophe of 1966 to 2016, but most tragedies aren’t decades-long slow boilers of angst, frustration and despair. A hurricane is a traumatic event, yes, but a 50-year-long, logic-defying drought is an existential tragedy. Babies have been born and have grown up and had their own babies in the time it has taken us to not win a Super Bowl.
But Cincinnati fans still fly flags. They still wear hats. They still think, “This is the year,” deep down in their souls, even while they grumble publicly that “They’ll lose in the first round like they always do.” If you want a demonstration of mankind’s resilience, do not look to the Blitz of London. Look to the half-century of despair on the Ohio.
7. The ability to bend time and space (so long as you are within the 275 loop).
I noticed the strangest thing last weekend: everywhere I’ve ever gone in Cincinnati has been a half hour away. A drive from my parents house in Loveland to Newport? Half an hour. Over the Rhine to my buddy’s place in Blue Ash? Half an hour. My sister’s house in Price Hill to my friend’s place downtown? Half an hour.
These places are not similar distances. But Cincinnati highways and traffic have the capability of bending time and space so that literally every place in town is 30 minutes from every other place. It’s a physical paradox that astrophysicists have been puzzling over for years.