Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Goodbye, Oakley

- The normal commute home through Oakley Square.

Departing a neighborhood and home.

- King Arthur's Court Toy Store on Madison.

I was angry about the trains. To this day, I’m still not sure if the building management was genuinely, blissfully unaware or purposefully less than forthright. According to them, the nearby rail line wasn’t active. To be fair, during normal office hours, it usually wasn’t. But almost every weeknight, without fail and fifty feet from our balcony—the Indiana and Ohio Railroad came to life. Freight trains would slam into each other as cars were connected. Then diesel locomotives would roar forward after idling, pulling tons of screeching cargo behind them. The process comically started around 9 p.m. and ironically ended around 7 a.m.

Laura handled it and we moved units just days after signing a lease nights of no sleep. Our new spot still had a view of the trains in both the audible and visual sense, but it was tolerable and the picture frames no longer shook on the walls. Eventually, I got used to the sultry sounds of the railroad and stopped hating the trains. When I’d finish running, I liked to sit on this bench by the mailboxes and watch the vehicles crawl by. It’s wasn’t so much a childlike fascination, nor did I wonder where they were going or what they were carrying, I just liked the juxtaposition—these three-story blocks of modern in appearance (but woefully cheap in construction) apartments flanked by a massive diesel locomotive that’s rumbling through. It was odd, but it gave the place some character. It made our corner of the neighborhood unique (although aggravatingly loud).

I lived on the border of the older parts of the neighborhood and the newer area. The train tracks separated the historic section from suburban style development that was a far cry from the place’s  normal, charming appearance. You can probably guess which side I preferred and spent more time in. A walk to the neighborhood square was infinitely more enjoyable that a saunter around the vast collection of fast-casual restaurants and asphalt. I never much cared for most of the bars on either side of the divide, though. They were decent places, more or less, but a different crowd than I usually sought out. I preferred the watering hole back among the houses, the one that looks more like a house itself (because it once was). But by the time I started getting familiar with the place, it was time to go. I did get to know the local Skyline Chili, the old time ice cream parlor, the closest coffee shop, the modern clothing store, the record shop, and even the chain pizza place with its pinball machine, though. I loved those spots. I enjoyed every run through this part of the city and through the neighboring hamlets of Hyde Park and Madisonville as well. I liked the bus service and caught the 11 and 12X too many times to count. And the days that I didn’t, this had been a great (by Cincinnati standards) area to commute via bike.

But we moved.

We had good rationale and changing priorities, but it still felt sad every time I lifted a box and slowly emptied the apartment. There are times when I think that I never truly got to know this place as well as I could’ve or should've. I liked Oakley. A lot. In a way, it was like a small encapsulation of Cincinnati with little elements from the surrounding city scattered within. It wasn’t a dense district with brownstones and row houses, but it was far from a suburb. Maybe I’ll live there again someday. Maybe I won’t. I won’t be in my 20s anymore when I return and don’t see in myself what I see in a lot of the people tending to yards and sharing beers with college friends at the local bars. Who knows? I did enjoy the past two years, though, and there are all these little details that I’ll miss.

  • The Chinese restaurant that was once clearly an Arby’s.
  • The coffee shop across from my building with its wonderful owner and staff.
  • The smell of the Indian restaurant when I’d run by.
  • The local bookstore where I bought gifts for my friend’s kids. 
  • The classic toy store with its Lego-lined windows that I never got around to visiting.
  • The restaurant that was consistently disappointing, but always seemed to have the potential to be great.
  • The restaurant that was always great. 
  • The random shopping carts I’d come across in the strangest places.
  • The pseudo-abandoned factory, one of the last vestiges of the neighborhood’s industrial past.
  • The few alleyways with character.
  • Living so close to my friend, Matt (thanks to you and C for always being wonderful people).
  • The guy regularly towing a lawn mower with his rascal scooter who was always down to discuss junk food at the local UDF.

This was the most “neighborhood-ish” neighborhood I’ve yet to live in. I came from the suburbs, then lived close to Downtown (but in a secluded cross-river/State apartment building), went back to the suburbs, and then found myself in the City of Cincinnati's Oakley neighborhood. I could leave my car parked for weeks and never need it. Walking and biking met most needs. There were people to pass and talk to. I loved running here. I got back into the physical activity thanks to the fact that there were so many areas to jog off to and explore.

Oakley and the surrounding neighborhoods are filled with Little Free Libraries—small bookcases built onto trees and posts in people’s front yards. You can take books and leave books. I’m not sure how often people use these or if they’re merely ornaments expressing nice sentiment, but I wanted to contribute to one when I left. So, I picked the first one I had ever noticed and dropped in one of my books (not because I’m vain, but because I have a million copies of it and wasn’t going to give up any of the books I’m actually reading/supposedly plan to read). And… maybe someone would like reading about Cincinnati history in paperback form.

On one of my last days, I took one last walk and deposited the book.

Then we moved.

I told myself I’d come back to my usual coffee shop with regularity and stop into my preferred bar for a beer, but it’s been a month and I can’t say I’ve had the time yet to even consider those notions. I wonder if I ever will.

Either way, Oakley was a great home. I’ll miss it and I appreciated it for being something special to me.

Thanks, Oakley.

And goodbye.

Some favorite photographs made in the neighborhood over the past two years:

- Red Tree Art Gallery and Coffee Shop.

- Mural on Madison Rd.

- Remains of the pet store where we bought our fish (RIP Edmund FISHgerald).

- Buddhist Temple (technically in neighboring Norwood, but a welcoming and familiar sight on runs).

- Santa and Rudolph in a Cushman.

- Psuedo-abandoned factory.

- Hillside public steps hidden between Oakley and Hyde Park.

- The apartment complex after a rainstorm.

- Walking path to Hyde Park/the best auto shop I've ever dealt with.

- New construction, old underpass.

- Nearby trains.

- 20th Century Theatre.

- Food from Mazunte in Madisonville enjoyed near the channels that separate the two neighborhoods.

- Technically in Norwood, but just a quick bike ride away—delicious soft serve.

- Beneath the tracks.

- The apartment decorated for the holidays.

- Street stickers.

- Hospital near the highway. Years ago, this was the sight of an abandoned Gold Star Chili that I photographed.

- UDF.

- Morning view from the balcony.

- Shopping carts in the suburban development/Chicken Finger district.

- Don, the man I often caught the bus and chatted with.

- The abandoned home with the secret garden.

- Screen of the abandoned Oakley Drive-In theatre (technically in Madisonville) that I photographed about ten years before I ended up in the area.

Last, but not least: this photograph of an art piece by Cindy Briggs on the side of Brazee Street Studios. Constructed of paper and exposed to the elements, this piece encapsulated exactly the word it formed: it was temporary, lasting for a short time. I almost forgot about this photograph when I went back to dig it up and add it to this post. Not to sound overly nostalgic, sentimental, hokey, or cliche, but it felt fitting to not just be a photograph from the neighborhood, but as something to close out this post. When I first moved to Oakley, life was very different than it is today. I didn't think we'd be there and gone so soon, but life changes (in a good way). My time in that neighborhood and that time in my life (as with all time and eras, I guess) was in fact, ephemeral. 


  1. Another fine read and images to add to the story, Ronny. I LOVE the photo of Don. In this narcissistic world of the SELFIES (I hate fake smiles AT a camera..any camera) my favorite photos of humans are when they are not looking at the lens...and/or appear to be unaware that a photo is being taken...or even when they are walking from the camera..but I digress...I always feel I've visited a place with your writings...will be curious about your new 'hood and stories. C

    1. Thank you, Sophia! Glad you get a sense of something when you check out QC/D. Appreciate you following!

    2. Agreed. Eager to learn about a new area of the city from your future photos and writing.

    3. Thank you, Elissa! Lots of cool local restaurants out this way. I'm excited to get into some tacos.

  2. Beautiful post! I recently moved TO Oakley from OTR (life changes) and totally understand the nostalgia that comes with leaving a place you know so well. I'm still learning Oakley (for some reason I seem to be slower about exploring places in my 30's than I was in my 20's...), but am sure I'll reference this post in the future for ideas.

    PS: Crazy to me that leasing agent thought the railroad was inactive...

    1. Ha, well, that leasing office was a little less than forthright on multiple occasions, but overall a decent building to be in. Hope you enjoy Oakley (and thanks for checking out this post)! It's a great neighborhood. I do wish StreetPops had stuck around, but if you ever need a coffee fix I highly recommend RedTree.