This summer my wife and I traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, to collect my second leg lamp for humor writing from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists at the annual conference.
The conference itself was outstanding, and it was a privilege to meet Pulitzer Prize-winning columnists Clarence Page, Rochelle Riley and Connie Schultz, who write about important topics like truth in journalism, race in America, and the struggles of underrepresented populations. Disheartening self-comparisons were inevitable, though, considering that most of my columns feature someone not wearing pants — usually me.
We had never been to Cincinnati, and all I knew about it was that it’s located in the Midwest, meaning north of Texarkana and probably east of the Pacific. Our flight landed in a suburb of Cincinnati called Kentucky, and we crammed ourselves into our rental car, a Nissan Versa approximately the same size as a box of Milk Duds.
Before the conference began, we wanted to get a feel for the city by exploring the downtown area. In other words, we were looking for somewhere to eat. I had heard, and been warned, about the famous Cincinnati chili. A Cincy native told me it’s like a plate of pre-teen spaghetti with meat sauce that got carried away with dad’s Old Spice cologne. The whole thing is then covered with a metric ton of grated cheddar cheese – out of embarrassment.
Despite the caution, though, we wanted the full Queen City experience and stopped into Skyline Chili. We were served by a cordial young man who guided us through the menu, brought out a large platter of “Three-Way” Chili, and then ran behind the counter to watch us try to eat it – and keep it down. (I’m pretty sure he was putting us on YouTube.) No, really, he checked on us regularly and even brought us a first-time-visitor gift bag containing some York Peppermint Patties to cleanse the remains of our palates. All joking aside, the chili was actually quite satisfying, and we ate every bite. We’re still hoping to regain our sense of taste someday.
Our next stop was another Cincinnati institution called Graeter’s Ice Cream (founded in 1870 – before correct spelling was invented). When we asked for the most popular flavor, our server gave us each a scoop of raspberry chocolate chip, an odd combination, we thought, but after the silly chili, we were ready for anything. What we weren’t prepared for was that at Graeter’s, “chocolate chip” is code for massive geological deposits of chocolate formed during the Cretaceous period. This unique ice cream is created through the French Pot technique, which involves pouring molten chocolate directly into the cream during the cold mixing process while maintaining a Gallic accent and an attitude that you’re better than everyone else. The chocolate chip ice cream at Graeter’s was so overwhelming that we didn’t feel like going back until the next day – and the next.
About an hour after the ice cream, we were ready to eat again, so we booked an evening dinner cruise with BB Riverboats aboard The Belle of Cincinnati. This majestic paddleboat churns down the Ohio River, half of which is owned by Kentucky in some kind of time-share agreement. (I think the people of Kentucky are somewhat consoled about the river’s name by the fact that Ohio’s residents are named after a poisonous nut.) The boat was truly grand, and the passengers consisted of my wife and me, about a hundred high school kids from an Upward Bound program, and the residents of every retirement village in the Ohio Valley. After dinner, there was even a DJ and dancing on the upper deck. My wife and I were struck by how well-behaved and calm the teenagers were, but we figured they were probably just in shock from watching several of the elderly female passengers twerking to V.I.C.’s “Wobble.”
It was a true privilege visiting Cincinnati and being honored by the NSNC on the night of the awards banquet. I’m guessing the Pulitzer folks probably won’t come knocking anytime soon, but just in case they do, I’d better put on some pants.
Jason (Jase) Graves is a married father of three daughters, a lifelong resident of Longview, Texas, and a Texas A&M Aggie. He writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective for the Cagle Cartoons syndicate and his blog. Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible.