By Derrick McKee
Four and a half years ago, I packed up my apartment on National Road in Wheeling and moved to Fairlawn, Ohio – an upscale suburb jammed between Akron and Cleveland. I knew my then girlfriend (now my wife), her dog, a few of her family members, and my soon-to-be-boss, but that was pretty much it.
Between then and now, we lived it up. We went to Cleveland’s Playhouse Square for live productions; we hit up restored speakeasies for hand-crafted 1920s style cocktails, wineries for picnics, or wine bars for flights and pairings. We became foodies (oh, the food, especially the curry…) during which time I learned how to cook foodie-food like a champ. We went to concerts, ballgames, and comedy clubs. In short, we had ourselves a blast.
But that was it: the key word is ourselves.
For whatever reason, assimilation into Fairlawn, Akron, or Cleveland, wasn’t easy. We made a bit of progress, but we found it too big, too anonymous, too “surface” to make deep, long-lasting relationships. Aside from a handful of great co-workers I genuinely liked (all of whom unfortunately lived an hour away in Youngstown), we really only had one couple to hang out with on the regular, and even they were 25-minutes away on the other side of Akron.
After three years, it became pretty clear that Fairlawn, while a great place to live, wasn’t a place that felt like home. At that point, I was fortunate enough to be offered a sales job with a territory adjacent to Wheeling, covering all of southwestern Pennsylvania as far as Johnstown. We talked it over and decided if I could get through a year-and-a-half of living out of a suitcase and traveling, we could use the job as an anchor to get us back to Wheeling as soon as my wife graduated from Akron University’s School of Law.
Those 18 months were exhausting. I was away from my wife, Morgan, and two dogs, Simon and Jasper, more than I was with them. Routines were thrown into an uproar, sacrifices were made, and communication skills got tested, but we made it work, because the light we saw at the end of the eighteen-month tunnel was Wheeling, and we knew that was the place for us.
We knew Wheeling offered what we needed: good friends, plenty of family, a sense of community not overshadowed by the sheer numbers of the place, and plenty to do.
Huh? Plenty to do?! Bah! Humbug!
You heard me right. Plenty. To. Do. Sometimes too much to do.
And that’s what I want to write about on Weelunk. I want to make sure everyone knows exactly what is possible when you’re living in a city like Wheeling, because it isn’t a small, boring town to grow old in. It is a friggin’ base camp! It just doesn’t always hit you over the head with what’s going on.
As Morgan and I re-assimilate into Wheeling with a new-found sense of appreciation that can only be obtained by moving away, I want to highlight, preview, and recap all of the great things going on, both big and small, that we end up getting into, not because I want to say, “Hey, look what WE did!” Rather, I want to say, “Hey, look what YOU can do!”
I want to promote this town, its events, and all of the great people working hard to turn this place around and are succeeding at their ventures. I want to change a few attitudes and inspire people to get involved as part of the reinvention.
After all, we aren’t just a hollowed-out steel town anymore; we’re one of the greatest small cities in America catching our second wind.
See Derrick’s Previous Weelunk Articles:
Editors note: My wife and I have eclectic tastes and love trying new things. If you have ideas for me, please let me know about it by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and maybe I’ll write about it!