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In Ohio, it's home alone

I went up to Ohio last week, but they wouldn't let me in.

A crabby old guy in a police uniform stopped me at the back door.

"The state is closed," he said.

"But I used to live here!" Righteous indignation filled my voice. "I've got a right to come back any time I want."

"Not in February," he said. "Not in March, either. Everybody has clumb into their Buicks and drove down to Florida."

I knew that, of course. It was why I had made the long journey and reached the Ohio River and crossed a bridge and knocked on Cincinnati, historically known as the back door of Ohio.

I was worried about what was left back in the old country _ I mean the old state _ with so much of the population gone for the winter, disappeared lock, stock and Doris Day albums.

"If you'll let me in," I said to the crabby cop, "I'll buy you lunch."

"You can't bribe me," he declared angrily before locking up his little guardhouse and climbing into my car.

"Direct me to your finest restaurant," I said.

He did. It was good to be back in a Howard Johnson again.

"Where do we stand in line for a table?" I asked the waitress.

"You don't _ you just pick out an empty table and sit down," she said.

"That's not how we do things in Florida," I answered with quiet dignity. "This time of year we stand in line or sit in a row of chairs and stare blankly straight ahead.

"Waiting is an acquired taste," I continued. "After awhile, you get to like it, especially the blank staring part."

I ordered Cincinnati ribs, tasted them, chewed thoughtfully.

"Too bland," I told the cop. "This isn't how we make ribs back in Florida."

"Shut up," he commented.

We parted. I drove slowly down the streets of Cincinnati. Traffic was sparse. There was nobody to tailgate, nobody to tailgate me.

No one made a left turn from the right lane.

I looked in vain for that beloved stock figure of the new South: an elderly man in baggy shorts, street shoes and dark brown socks with little clocks embroidered on them.

After a while I passed Riverfront Stadium, stopped, rolled down the window. "How's Pete Rose?" I asked an old fellow loitering by the box office.

"Gone to Florida," he said glumly.

"Whatever became of Sam Wyche?" I asked, smiling meanly.

The old fellow threw a rock at the car.

I left Cincinnati and drove up to Columbus. Passed the Ohio State campus. Deserted. Closed since the Hall of Fame Bowl. There would be no more purpose in life until spring football practice.

Goodbye, Columbus. I headed down the highway toward Dayton and the Wright-Patterson Air Force complex. A sign, already turning shabby, said, "Closed due to peace."

Soon afterward I was in Springfield, where it all began for me, where I haven't lived since I left as an eager-eyed youth, 40 years ago. There, standing near the remains of the Tecumseh Building, was my old friend Lavonia Curtis.

"Hello, Lavonia," I said happily.

"Oh, it's you," she said. "Back already?"

By now nostalgia was raising its rheumy head, and I was looking for familiar faces _ and not finding any. By and by I understood.

If I wanted to see old friends from the Middle West, I'd have to turn around and head right back to Florida.

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