Welcome to I-75 Exit 29, Monroe/Lebanon, Ohio
Viewed from Interstate 75 in Warren County, Exit 29 is the welcome mat of Monroe, Ohio to the east, and Lebanon, Ohio to the west. It is also a delightful snapshot of what happens when farmland meets advancing upscale suburbs. Situated 20-plus miles north of Cincinnati proper, Monroe is a small way-station between the big city to the south, and Dayton, Ohio just a dozen or so miles north. Interstate travelers once saw fields of corn stubble and soy beans at this time of year, but now are treated to different sowing grounds described here. Lebanon’s scenic, charming downtown, farther to the east on State Route 63, is a sleepy whistlestop town that still features train rides, antiques shops, and The Golden Lamb, a restaurant/hotel visited by twelve U.S. Presidents going back into the infancy of the 19th century, most recently including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
God. And Tube Socks, Of Course
At night, approaching from the north, the first thing you’ll see to the east beyond the northbound traffic is a collection of blue neon arches that mark the entrances to the Solid Rock Church (SRC). Be careful. Don’t look too long. The persistent, brightly flashing messages of “Jesus Saves” and announcements of upcoming musical acts blind many a passing driver. SRC is, of course, also the former home of Big Butter Jesus, a remarkable depiction of Himself rising from the ground at the edge of a reflecting (baptismal) pond with arms upraised, which is why the construction was also known as Touchdown Jesus.
I say “was” rather than “is” because Big Butter/Touchdown Jesus no longer exists, having been rapidly consumed by a flash fire which lightning sparked late one summer night. I’ll avoid wisecracks about God perhaps not appreciating the tribute.
Immediately south of SRC two enormous flea markets bracket the highway, covering several acres to each side. Any given Saturday, thousands of people from near and far line up to pay parking/admission into Traders World or Treasure Aisles (formerly known as Turtle Creek). Inside the sprawling buildings, you can buy cheap gold jewelry, low-priced decorative items, or nachos with yellow-orange liquid cheese from vendors who rent permanent spaces in the climate-controlled interior. The real bargains, however, are to be found in the parking lot between the RV’s and pickup trucks of merchants, seeming itinerants who bring assorted merchandise to sell from folding tables out in the elements, baking on pavement. Surveyed from above, I can only imagine it looks like a bowling alley for tornadoes, but hey, ten pairs of white tube socks for $2 is a steal. And there are so many crafts, which my children mispronounced as ”craps” while toddler-tongued. We have since decided to keep the pronunciation. Still, you should go. Someone’ll punch holes in a leather belt for you if you ask.
Don’t Forget Sex, Because Ohio Apparently Has That, Too
Just south of Traders World is a large truck stop, complete with food, showers, diesel, and most probably, companionship. I have no current basis for that last suspicion, but at one time in to my recollection, activities conducted in the parking lot of the Stoney Ridge Saloon generated many “arrested for solicitation” line items in the “Police Reports” listing in the local community newspaper, and rumors abounded of women “cab-crawling” from truck to truck, collecting cash along the way in return for their favors. I wonder if that land somehow took on a permanent character of dissipation and despair after having absorbed the sad tears of so many local girls gone bad and lonely truckers led astray by wayward women. On second thought, I’d rather not know.
Up on the hill to the west just off the exit is a very tall, bright, red-outlined neon sign for the 7000-square-foot Hustler Store. At the time of the store’s opening in 2001, Citizens for Community Values picketed its establishment in the form of prayer vigils — prayer vigils with cameras which were used, for a time, to photograph license plates of patrons. CCV objects rather strongly to pornography and obscenity as they’ve defined it, and are still around, “Protecting The Family Since 1983.” Apparently local families don’t particularly care to be protected, as the store has reportedly done a booming business in its ten years, and quietly exists without much fuss. I’ve been by the store dozens of times, and have never seen the lot empty. I’ve been inside twice (none of your damned business), and each time, the only male in the building has been a sales clerk. Go figure.
The Real American Mecca
Let’s not forget the most recent addition to Exit 29. Drumroll, please…. Cincinnati Premium Outlets, another sprawling facility, but this time boasting another sort of ecstatic experience: buying Coach purses or other upscale merchandise at prices juuuust below retail. Why such places are so popular is beyond me, since I have yet to find the price differential impressive, but the entire interchange area was clogged with shoppers when my family attempted merely to pass it on the way to a Christmas tree farm last December, and has been that way every Saturday and Sunday since the outlet opened. I’ve been onsite once, at which time the Crocs store was mobbed with grandmas and moms buying child-sized rubbery shoes and Jibbitz to decorate the holes. (No wisecracks about Crocs from the peanut gallery. Crocs maryjanes are very comfortable and if I were all that fashion-conscious, I wouldn’t live in OHIO.)
Meet Red America
This land belongs to Republicans, nearly invariably. True, Ohio as a whole turned purple in 2008′s elections, through some miracle of factors not least of which could be the spectacular failure of George W. Bush to hold true to any semblance of fiscal conservatism. I credit the rest to sheer Republican fatigue. But here the vote often results in a 3:1 rout in favor of the GOP candidate, and the cognitive dissonance reflected by the establishments to be found within a mile of Exit 29 never fails to render me reflective. Evangelism, furtive parking-lot sex, pornography greeted by fervent protest, and the driving need to be carrying a Coach purse even if it’s last fall’s edition… it just doesn’t add up for me.
Why Am I Telling You This?
Obviously, I feel alienated living in this state, this community, this district. However, I am probably more useful here, in this environment, than I would be elsewhere. Undoubtedly, I’d have more fun in a solid blue district where acquaintances and I could merrily, gleefully quip about hypocrisy evidenced by “Teabaggers” and “right-wing nutjobs” in local restaurants without much fear of offense or confrontation. But it wouldn’t do much to effect any change.
On Twitter and within this blog, I’ve stressed the importance of working to get out the vote, or contributing in some way to increasing numbers of left-leaning elected representatives at local, state, and federal levels. But thanks to research on the communities branching from Exit 29, I’ve come to believe that “getting out the vote” simply will not be enough.
Next time… soon… I’ll tell you why, and what more needs to be done.