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Crawling With Buckeyes

I arrived in Ukiah a long time ago, back when stegosauruses roamed Laytonville, the Dead Sea was merely ill, and no one in Mendocino County had ever heard of marijuana.

You might think these were the Good Old Days, and maybe they were, but about 15 minutes after I got here everyone else from Ohio also came to town. The invasion changed things, but no one has called the changes an improvement over the good old days.

This introduction leads us to an update, and finds me half a century older and 3000 miles east, but still surrounded by former Buckeyes who were smart enough not to take the scenic route to North Carolina by first pausing in Ukiah. I think it’s a little spooky, though my wife prefers the word “creepy.”

Not that Ohioans aren’t swell, because they most certainly are, but there are just so stinkin’ many of them all crowded around this small Carolina town that ought to be no more lure for ex-Clevelanders or Toledoans than Ukiah was. But here they are. We are.

All my neighbors, except the people who have lived here since their ancestors fought mine at Gettysburg, are from Ohio and dozens more will be climbing off the next Greyhound.

Chipmunks are cute, but do you want 40,000 of them in your attic? Wife Trophy has had enough. She forbids me engaging in conversations with strangers because one of us will eventually say “Really? I had an uncle lived in Bucyrus. When did you get here?” The conversation will go on and on into high school memories, college rivalries, James A. Rhodes, weather updates and promises to stay in touch.

Out of nowhere a nice lady we know let it slip she left Cleveland (where I lived) to take night classes at Bowling Green University (where I went) and that she’s going with her daughter to vacation with her son who lives on Lake Erie and works in the salt mines beneath it.

Salt mines? Under Lake Erie?! Ten more minutes of conversation are required. Trophy sags to the floor.

I know more people here who lived in Shaker Heights than I ever knew when I grew up in Seven Hills. 

In Scotland we met a herd of women, all from Ohio, who were accompanying a youngster there to run a marathon. The girl goes to the same high school I did. So did the other four.

Maybe the state of Ohio is all emptied out, with Northern California and North Carolina the lucky beneficiaries.

We’re in the south among southerners and southerners are relentlessly polite and well-mannered. But they have their limits no matter how much they love chipmunks.

My brother emigrated from Ohio to South Carolina when he was a tender lad of 25, and thinks natives are getting a wee bit taxed. A wee bit annoyed. A wee bit like grabbing pitchforks and torches and chasing the invaders out.

Carolinians are weary of new arrivals who are shocked, stunned and semi-outraged at the absence of Stroh’s beer, kielbasa sausages and Browns games on TV. Being midwesterners, and thus not quite so polite and well-mannered as their new neighbors, they make their complaints known.

The Charleston Riverdogs baseball team sponsors an annual “Go Back Home!” night. A radio station lets local listeners vote on which state is most deserving of having its immigrants shipped back. Three years in a row Ohio has swept the polls.

“Go Back to Ohio!” it is. Again. We’re Number One! Or maybe Number 50.

At the ballgame game fans vote for the best-dressed former Buckeye; the Grand Prize is a one-way bus ticket back to the land of milk, honey and unemployment.

Big draw. Lotsa laughs. Few shootings.

Think how different Ukiah might be today if locals had watched the steady stream of newcomers rolling into town back around 1975. They’d scratch their heads, look at one another and somebody might say something like this:

“Y’know, VW buses are cute, but do we want 400 of them parked up and down State Street? Now Elmer, tell us more about this Greenfield Ranch thing.”

Mighta kept Ukiah a nice town. Wouldn’t have saved the Dead Sea, but there’d be no dinosaurs and pot growers.

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