Excursion 20, Part 2 (Everybody Hates Kevin)

In which our intrepid hero coasts along a coast…

Lakes, great or not so great, are hard to come by in West Texas, smack in the middle of the Chihuahua Desert.  The first lake I ever saw was Caballo Lake in New Mexico, about a two hour’s drive up the Rio Grande from El Paso.  Caballo is a reservoir lake, created during the Great Depression, and is the smaller cousin to Elephant Butte Reservoir.  The first time I saw the lake, I did not even know that I had seen the lake.  In the 70s, my dad was hunting buddies with a family who owned a convenience store/gas station near the reservoir (and also owned a valuable New Mexico liquor license!).  The first time my family went up there, I craned my neck as we got close, so that I could see the lake, but to my disgust the lake was totally blocked from view by a high light-blue wall that someone had put up.  It was a long time—an embarrassingly long time—before I realized that the “wall” was actually the lake itself.

[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better image]

This is the second and final part of this, my 20th excursion across Ohio for this blog, in which I completed my trip up the Lake Erie shore all the way to the Pennsylvania border, as well as some rural photos as I began to make my way back to Columbus, before I got tired of taking photographs.  In the first part, I showed images from Cleveland and its close suburbs.

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Once you get away from Cleveland, there is more variety to the shoreline, with rural, agricultural areas and small towns and villages, some aimed at tourists and others more industrial.  Case in point, the sunflowers in this photograph, with their huge seedheads (sunflowers are not actually flowers but more like huge flower collectives) drooping downwards, the stalk no longer able to support their weight.  I did not think of it at the time, but I should have used a telephoto lens to zoom all the way in and get a more interesting photograph.

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This is the Perry Nuclear Power Plant, one of Ohio’s two nuclear power plants (the other, the Davis-Besse plant, is also on Lake Erie).   The Fukushima disaster gives me pause about this fact.  Obviously, Ohio is a much safer location than tectonically unstable Japan for a nuclear power plant, but at least with Fukushima the contaminated water runs off into the vast Pacific Ocean, where it will become infinitesimally diffused.  That would not be true for a smaller body of water like Lake Erie.  Just one more thing to worry about.

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You could also worry about Hell’s Angels, too, I suppose.  In the past five or six years I’ve become more interested in the outlaw motorcycle gang subculture, primarily because there are more and more connections between it and the white supremacist scene, which I study professionally.

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I bitched and moaned in the previous blog entry about the inaccessibility of Lake Erie to Ohioans.  Unlike some other states, in Ohio private property owners can actually own the shoreline.  This fact has resulted in the vast majority of Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline being inaccessible to Ohioans.  Here’s a perfect example:  a private beach accessible to club members only, who own nearby property and pay a yearly fee for the privilege.  Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline has these from end to end.

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Because so much of the shoreline is walled off as private property, you can actually do a lot of driving “along” the shoreline and never see Lake Erie itself.  Here you can get a glimpse of the lake.  I include this photograph not for its view of Lake Erie, though, but rather more to set up the next image.  if you click on the above image to get the larger version, you may be able to see a tiny line or blur in the water near the horizon (if you zoom in, you can see it).  When I saw that little blur, I knew it had to be a boat of some sort and I was curious.  That’s the sort of curiosity that superzoom cameras are made to satisfy and the camera I was using on this day was a Canon PowerShot SX50 HS superzoom camera (I would get my first DSLR about a month later) with 50x optical zoom and 100x digital zoom.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is a lot of zoom.

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So I cranked up the zoom to maximum, just to see what I could see, and this is what I did see.  Three guys out on Lake Erie, fishing in a very shallow draft boat, it seems to me.  That’s the sort of watercraft that would kick in my innate fear of drowning (I am a non-swimmer), as people standing up like they are in this photograph can’t make for a very stable boat.  Superzooms are not DSLRs, but they are incredibly handy.

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Even out in the “sticks,” lakeshore mansions are still fairly common, especially near towns or other population centers.  Near Cleveland, they tend to be walled off, but in more rural areas there is not such a pressing need for privacy, I suppose.

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Once upon a time, this house would have been a lakefront mansion, or close to it.  This was clearly a fairly large and impressive house at some point.  It makes you wonder how prime property like this could have fallen into ruin.

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Ashtabula County is Ohio’s northeasternmost county.  The small town of Geneva (population 6,215, salute!) is in the northwest corner of this northeastern county.  Its population has been relatively static for the past 40 years or so, and it has only had minor population decline so far, but it really does project the image of a Rust Belt town that has seen better days.  exc20pt2-10

Here’s a glimpse of its main drag on this rather dreary day (I don’t control the weather; I have to play the hands I am dealt, and this day was definitely a dreary gray day).These buildings, quite old, are actually kept up rather well.  However, the absence of people gives it a rather ominous cast.  Once upon a time, those upper floors would have all been occupied, but I wonder what they are like now.  Some may have been turned into apartments, if the air conditioners are a sign.

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Small towns do love their murals.  I was actually more interested in the aged brickwork than the mural, I confess.

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This is a wonderful old building that has been kept up pretty well.  One feature of turn-of-the-previous-century buildings was that their builders often put their names up at the top of the building itself, which gives you a chance to learn a bit more.  This is a case in point; this is the C. H. Munger building.  C. H. Munger was a Geneva businessman involved in a number of businesses in the early 1900s, including an electric light company and the Geneva Automobile Company.  He was a member of one of Geneva’s wealthiest families and more than one building in town bears the Munger name.

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One of Geneva’s most endearing features is that it sports one of the only “boardwalks” (so to speak) along Lake Erie.  These little shops for tourists—shown here in what is most definitely the off season!—are kitschy and cool at the same time.  I particularly like the backwards facing benches.

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More of the “boardwalk.”  I am not sure I want to know what the “corn hole game” is, much less play it.

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Occasionally dips and curves in the seashore can give you a glimpse of the hidden “back” sides of lakeshore mansions and houses.

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If you have no friends with mansions, you can always stay at the Dian’s Poolside Motel in Geneva.  Hey, it has color television sets, so how can you go wrong?

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The “bargain basement” equivalents of the lakefront homes I displayed in my previous blog entry are the many lakefront trailer parks and cottages that line the less urban shores of Lake Erie.   For much less than a mansion, you can get a spot for a tiny trailer in one of the parks along the lake.  Notice this is still completely private and there is no public beach access.  Some of trailers like these, as well as their cottage equivalents, are available for rental or leasing.  Some of the ones I observed were clearly small permanent residences while others were only used seasonally or as holiday lodging.

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Halfway up the Ashtabula County coastline is the town of Ashtabula, itself (population 19, 124, salute!).  Ashtabula was once a significant port on Lake Erie and grew extremely rapidly in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  However, its population basically plateaued around 1920 and for the past century has hovered in the 18,000-25,000 range.  It has had five straight decades of negative population growth, though only a mild rate of decline.  Essentially, though, it is a Rust Belt town that has seen better days.  It has a per capita income of only $14,000 or so, which is quite low, and about a fifth of the population lies below the poverty line.  Compare the storefronts above with the equivalent photograph from Geneva and you will immediately notice the difference.  Geneva still looks in decent shape, while Ashtabula appears quite unhealthy (and perhaps literally so; its harbor is a superfund site).

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Ashtabula is the sort of town where a building may have its side brickwork simply sheared right off.

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It definitely gives the impression of being a town in the midst of hard times.

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This is the last photograph I am showing here from before I turned around to go back.  This photograph is the result of a mistake.  Ashtabula’s coastline is an example of Lake Erie’s “industrial” shore, and there are various industrial sites along the lake, including some sort of huge gravel enterprise with gargantuan mounds of rock or gravel, lots of train cars, and the like.  I was at one location where I had a view of some of this, and I took several photographs (not displayed here, for various reasons), but while taking one photograph I accidentally had the camera focus on the wrong area—not the industrial site in the background, which is what I had intended, but on a portion of a chain link fence that was between me and the industrial site.  The result was an extreme close up of a chain link fence, which of course was perfectly useless for documenting what I was looking at.  However, this photograph actually began to grow on me as an abstract image—by sheer luck, it is quite balanced, and is just a visually interesting image.  So in the end I actually decided that I liked this photograph, even though it is entirely unintentional.

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When I decided to head back, rather than retrace my steps, I simply cut through the countryside in Ashtabula County, heading inland.  It didn’t take me long before I came across this wonderful building, which surely was some sort of inn or boarding house at some point.  Did you spot the “Uncle Sam” in the window?  With some difficulty, I located this building (4814 Monroe Center Rd. N., Conneaut, OH 44030) and public records describe it as a 4,192 square foot “single family home” with six bedrooms (!).  The building was built in 1824, making it nearly 200 years old.

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As I was driving across the countryside, I happened to witness a flock of geese landing in a field.  I didn’t have time to change the settings (novice photographer that I am, I have to consciously think about what settings I need to change to capture moving targets, which I rarely photograph), but I managed to get a couple of halfway decent shots, at least.

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Definitely the most unusual thing I saw on this trip were the signs on this property, directed at some apparently larcenous soul named Kevin.  Whatever Kevin did or did not actually do, it is clear that he raised the ire of the people on this property, who decided to let him know it in no uncertain terms.

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When I left Ashtabula County and passed into Trumbull County, I stumbled into the tiny unincorporated community of Kinsman, Ohio (there are about 1900 people in Kinsman Township, of which this is a part, so this place could have upwards of 1,000 people in it, salute!).  It seems like a place out of time.  According to Wikipedia, this tiny little place was home to famous attorney Clarence Darrow as well as noted female science fiction writer Leigh Brackett (most well known to most people for having written an early draft of the script of The Empire Strikes Back before she died in 1978, but well known to me for the many short stories and novels of hers that I read in my childhood).

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And as long as we are talking about things out of time, why not end by showing a pristine Model A Ford?  You can get it in any color you want, as long as it’s black.

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