Cincinnati Stories

Over-the-Rhine seen from Downtown Cincinnati

Readers, you probably already know that we’re not from these parts. Michael is from Indianapolis, and I’m from Gdynia, Poland by way of Brooklyn. Four years ago, we ended up in the Queen City. Along the way, we’ve learned a thing or two about this fine city; allow me to share a few of my Cincinnati stories with you.

The Hot Dog Stand

A couple of weeks after we arrived in Cincinnati, I saw a man drop something as he was walking down the street. Instinctively, I picked it up. It was a wallet. A stolen wallet, of course. I panicked and asked the nearest security guard what to do with it. He had me look through it and, since it contained a Social Security card, he suggested that I bring it to the Social Security office in the Federal Building. “If you have your gun on you, you can leave it with the lady at the hot dog stand. She holds guns for people all the time,” he advised me. I never actually tried this.

You Live in Over-the-Rhine?!?

When I met my boss at the start of my corporate design stint here in Cincinnati, our first getting-to-know-you chat began thusly, “You live in Over-the-Rhine?!? Has anything bad happened to you?” I still kick myself for not having a snappy comeback to that one. Our work relationship never really recovered after this awkward beginning.

Where Did You Go to High School?

I’ve heard this question asked, but no one has ever asked me directly. Here’s the closest I’ve come: I was chatting with a friend of a friend, who kept peppering her comments with “as a Princeton grad” and “when I was at Princeton.” It seemed a bit self-important, but I can empathize with the embarrassment and wounded pride of having attended a locally irrelevant school. At one point, I said, “I know what you mean; I went to Cornell.” She looked at me quizzically; I looked at her quizzically. Afterward, I mentioned this to our mutual friend, who explained that she was referring to Princeton High School. Oh, of course.


I’ve heard this plenty of times, but here’s my favorite incident: I was on the bus, headed downtown. I rang the bell, and the driver asked, “Is this the stop you want?” “Please,” I said. She repeated louder, “IS THIS THE STOP YOU WANT?”


Heighth. Whath?

Would you like paper or shopping? Yes, life is full of deep questions.

Option A or…? E.g. “Would you like fries with that or…?” Is Option B that difficult or unpleasant to articulate, or are you so rushed that you just can’t take the time to say it? Do I get it or…?

I take umbrage at your pronunciation of “umbrella.”

This needs fixed. Sigh, let’s not forget Hamlet’s eternal words, “To be or not to be fixed, that is the question.”


9 thoughts on “Cincinnati Stories

  1. Great post, Maya!

    Here’s some quotes re: Sin-cinati…..

    Cincinnati is a beautiful city; cheerful, thriving, and animated. I have not often seen a place that commends itself so favorably and pleasantly to a stranger at first glance as this does.
    — American Notes…..Charles Dickens

    Cincinnati presents an odd spectacle. A town which seems to want to get built too quickly to have things done in order.
    — Journey to America, 1831…..Alexis de Tocqueville

    In Cincinnati, baseball has always been less a sport than a kind of psychosis. It is to the natives what bullfighting is to the citizens of Madrid, and is approached with the same passionate enthusiasm and subjected to the same universally expert consideration. There is, I feel sure, a larger percentage of true baseball aficionados in Cincinnati than in any other city in the country.
    — Shine Ball….James A. Maxwell

    Chicago sounds rough to the maker of verse. One comfort we have – Cincinnati sounds worse.
    — Oliver Wendell Holmes

    If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later.
    — Mark Twain

  2. The um-brella thing drives me NUTS. I thought I was crazy, because nobody seems to notice it.

  3. Maria, I notice it. Certain local pronunciations are charming to me, like the way people say “roof” and “creek,” but “umbrella” drives me batty.

    Brian, I never knew that Oliver Wendell Holmes was such a hater! I disagree with him, though — “Chicago” kind of lands with a thud, while “Cincinnati” just dances off your tongue.

    Erica, I need someone to try to leave their gun with the hot dog stand lady. I need to know if this is an actual amenity, or if this guy was messing with my head.

  4. More stories, please.

    I never saw the punchline of the hotdog stand coming. My husband will be very happy to hear that he has ready access to a gun valet; very happy.

    Being a Cincinnati native, though, I actually never noticed “umbrella”. I will have to try to pay closer attention.

  5. Personally, I think the question, “Has anything bad happened to you?” was particularly choice. You mean, other than getting stabbed yesterday? No, other than that, Over-the-Rhine is great.

    This person lives in Anderson, which has its own 8 Mile Rd. Now that is pretty funny.

  6. Best blog post I’ve read in a while. I was born in Cincinnati, but went to primary and high school in another state so I relate to natives *and* transplants. I had several good belly laughs from this post and hope that there will be more in the future!

    My husband will be tickled with this entry as you’ve pointed out several pronunciation bits that he called me on when he and I first met. I’m still not clear about the “umbrella” one, but be certain that my husband cured me of the dreaded “Heighth” misstep not long after he and I met some eight years ago. 😉

  7. Thank you so much for your kind words, and I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I’m sure I’ll have more anecdotes like this in the future [although maybe I’m becoming more assimilated and less sensitive to these quirks?].

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