Timothy Damon, University Circle Resident, describes his memories of Coventry. His first memories begin in the 1980s and center around the Arabica Coffeehouse. He mentions two other Arabicas in the area and the various stereotypes that went along with each one. He then talks about various restaurants and shops on Coventry. Damon speaks to the uniqueness of Coventry before comparing it to University Circle. He concludes by bringing up a story about the caring people who lived on Coventry.
Damon, Timothy (interviewee)
Rotman, Michael (interviewer)
Michael Rotman [00:00:00] All right, so it is June 18th, 2011, we're at Coventry library. My name is Michael Rotman, and could you please introduce yourself and where and when you were born?
Tim Damon [00:00:10] My name is Tim Damon. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on the 11th of August, 1957.
Michael Rotman [00:00:16] All right, Tim. So what is your earliest memory of Coventry?
Tim Damon [00:00:19] My earliest memory of Coventry would probably been in the early '80s. My family moved to Indiana when I was about 3. I moved back to Cleveland in 1980, and I was on Beersford, which is the street that intersects with Euclid, where the RTA Windermere Rapid is. But the summer of '82, I may have been in Coventry before. That probably was, but the summer of '82 was when I spent quite a bit of time in the Coventry area, and I have spent time from that point on.
Michael Rotman [00:00:52] So what was your... What kind of things did you do at Coventry?
Tim Damon [00:00:54] Well, I hung out a lot here at the library. This was back when they had vinyl and they had a little listening, you know, turntable or whatever, so I listened to a lot of Rush, Neil Perks, a lot of different things. So it was handy to listen, to read stuff and to meet people. The Coventry Arabica was still here where the Grog Shop is now, and I spent a fair amount of time there. It's one of the places that I did a lot of my writing. I started writing songs and poems when I was about 12. And there was... One of my memories there was I was updating one of my journals and there was a woman that was at a table nearby drinking coffee. And she left to go up to go to the bathroom. And in the time that she left and then came back, I'd written a poem, which I ended up giving it to her and talking. And she ended up giving me a ride in her Fiat Spider to where I needed go next, and we kept in touch for a while. So that was... That was a nice memory there, just where you had, you know, an instance of a gestation of a poem that happened within a few minutes and led into a connection.
Michael Rotman [00:02:11] Why do you think that place inspired you in the way that it did?
Tim Damon [00:02:16] I don't know. I mean, coffee shops in general, just that, the general ambience. I mean, there were... There were three, yes, all three of the Arabica coffeehouses have kind of undergone transmutational events. I mean, this one used to be called, like, the Arageeka, no I'm sorry, the Arafreaka because, you know, the strange type, eclectic folk were here that bring me back to the '60s. I'm not sure when the Arabica first opened. And then the Shaker Square Arabica, which is no longer around, was like the Arachica because of the higher class, and then the University Circle was the Arageeka because the university. And now that I guess due to franchise fees and whatever is no longer the University Circle Arabica but now is the Coffeehouse at University Circle. But, I mean, it's coffeehouses in general, and just the atmosphere in the Coventry area I guess... The closest I could come, it doesn't... English doesn't lend itself as well as other languages. But I would say, you know, it was like gemütlich or, you know, it had a certain je ne sais quoi. And so there's that at Arabica. And there was another song that I wrote at Turkey Ridge, which is now, I guess, the Winking Lizard. You know, someone was a singer-songwriter there, and I wrote a song in response to whatever. So just, whether it's the vibes or the atmosphere or whatever, it's just... it's kind of a nexus point for a lot of different artistic type endeavors.
Michael Rotman [00:03:53] What was the... Were there a lot of younger... or how old were you, I guess back in the beginning of the '80s?
Tim Damon [00:03:57] Back in that... When I... I was like in my mid 20s, then.
Michael Rotman [00:04:04] So were there a lot of people around that age? Were they younger?
Tim Damon [00:04:06] Yeah, there were, I mean, there's a pretty good mix. I mean you had a lot of university students from, you know, Case Western Reserve University, maybe not so much from CSU, but... So you had, you know, a lot of those folks, you know, it was kind of a hangout for a lot of high school kids from Cleveland Heights, University Heights, but it was a pretty, pretty broad spectrum of people. And the merchants were, you know, pretty approachable. I mean, I met someone that worked at Lillia's that, you know, I've kept in touch with for a long time, and there's other people that, you know, that you just, you know, connections were made and, you know, they're maintained or not. They're, you know, they're memorable in one way or another.
Michael Rotman [00:04:49] Sounds like there's a pretty good sense of community there.
Tim Damon [00:04:51] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's hard to... I mean, I'm a very outgoing person myself, so you could plunk me anywhere, and I would meet people. So it's perhaps difficult... I'm not very objective on that because just the way that I'm constructed, I'll meet people wherever I am, but...
Michael Rotman [00:05:13] In the beginning of the '80s, was that the... was that still the hippie scene? Cause everybody talks about, you know, the hippies the Height-Ashbury.
Tim Damon [00:05:20] Well, I don't know. I mean, I was... It's funny you should ask. I was brought up in a very conservative environment on the right end of the spectrum, both politically, theologically, whatever. And I remember when I went back for my first, like, my fifth-year high school reunion, I had a pretty full beard, [inaudible]. I could hear... I could actually hear the whispers, going, "Look, Damon's turned into a hippie," which I really hadn't. I just had, you know, I just found it easier to wash my beard in the morning than to shave. But so, I was never really into the, you know, the whole hippie, you know, drugs, sex, rock 'n' roll type thing. So whether that was still around or not, again, I'm not the most objective person. Those are certain... There's certain areas in my youth that I just did not experience. And that's a whole another sphere of interviewing.
Michael Rotman [00:06:23] Okay. So the Turkey Ridge. So were you a musician, too? Did you say that?
Tim Damon [00:06:29] I am a musician. I didn't perform at Turkey Ridge, I took place in some open-mike poetry, of all things, and I did some singing like on campus at CWRU, but up here I did some open-mike poetry, but I didn't do any performing, per say.
Michael Rotman [00:06:49] What were those open-mike nights like at Turkey Ridge?
Tim Damon [00:06:52] If you've been to one open-mike poetry reading, you've, you know?
Michael Rotman [00:06:59] Good point. What other... Were there any other shops or businesses on Coventry that you liked to frequent?
Tim Damon [00:07:04] Well, High Tide Rock Bottom was great. It's kind of interesting, you know, the Mint Cafe is now, now they have one place there called High Thai'd. THI, whether that's a... well, High Tide Rock Bottom was great. You know, they have they're gamblers sale every year, where you get a card and you pick out everything you were going to buy and they'd scratch off and you'd find out whether you got 10, 20 up to, I mean, 50 percent or more off. And they had just great stuff. I got a lot of my greeting cards and I do a lot of correspondence even in the electronic age, and that I probably still have some cards that I snarfed out of their bargain bin. I mean, if I see something that resonates with me, I'll pick it up and hang on to it till I find the person that it belongs to, and High Tide Rock Bottom was great for him, that kind of stuff. Big Fun: similar but not quite the same.
Michael Rotman [00:08:00] Any restaurants?
Tim Damon [00:08:01] Well, Turkey Ridge I was at a fair amount. There are a number of different places that went through. There was a pizza place. One of my... I had a housemate at one time, was Laura Paglin, who's done the film NightOwls on Coventry, and so that references like the kosher chicken place that was here and...
Michael Rotman [00:08:22] Did you ever go in there? Cause I always wondered if there was really a place there.
Tim Damon [00:08:26] Yeah. There really was. I never went in, but... [crosstalk] But, yeah. And Grum's. I still have... I think it was something that I got in a packet when I was at CWRU, and it was a Grum's coupon for whatever off, and it says expires January 1, and there's no other date on it. And back... I don't remember whether it was the Cleveland Free Times or whatever, but they had a coupon that was like two and a half dollars off a whole sub after 5:00, and I gathered up a number of extra ones. I think I still have like a dozen of those coupons I've clipped out their [inaudible]. But they've always taken them when I've gone in. Two and a half dollars isn't worth as much now as it was back in the '80s.
Michael Rotman [00:09:15] So, do you still live in Cleveland Heights now?
Tim Damon [00:09:17] No, I don't. I've... I live in the University Circle area. I've lived in the Heights area, but mostly I've lived within the University Circle area. I'm currently the resident caretaker of the former Williams mansion of the Sherwin-Williams family that was built in 1906.
Michael Rotman [00:09:35] Where's that?
Tim Damon [00:09:36] That's on Magnolia Drive. It's on the north. It's right behind the Western Reserve Historical Society Museum, and on the north end of the CWRU campus. So but... I've, you know, in the thirty years that I've lived in the Cleveland area, apart from a year that I was studying in England and some other European sojourns, I've been a big proponent of public transport. I did own... I've had four Fiats in my automotive background, but those were all before I moved back to Cleveland, and I did buy another X-19 that I had for about a year. But it's easy to get to via walking or RTA, so...
Michael Rotman [00:10:20] How do you think Coventry's changed in the thirty years that you've been here?
Tim Damon [00:10:26] More yuppified. I kind of feel badly; it just, like when the last week or two the Cleveland Food Co-Op went the way of all things and it died, and they had... Perhaps one of the problems was that they opened up a branch here, and just financially, it's just, I mean, it went. But yeah, I see more yuppified. And I guess that's that if I had to grab one phrase, I guess that would that would be it. You know, kind of more of a... more streamlined, less eclectic, you know, like when Vidstar Video went out of business, you know, that was a big loss... you don't see, you know, the Allen Lock and Key. I mean, individual merchants, although they're you know the other thing, I mean, there was a CIA student who for his thesis project had like a clothing exchange type thing where people would come in and leave clothes and take other ones. And I think, you know, one of the stores, I don't recall, but one of the thrift stores or repurposing shops. There's several of them, like across from American Apparel, which again, is your, you know, big name everywhere type thing. But there are still these little pockets of, you know, individually owned places that kind of come and go. Mac's Backs, when I first moved back to Cleveland in '80, I worked with Suzanne, when the store was across the street, on the other side. So that's been a real touchstone for me both because the store's still there, and, you know, thirty-plus years ago, I was helping Suzanne with some stuff there. So that's a real touchstone, that, and Tommy's, you know, there are some small islands that have resisted the tides of change.
Michael Rotman [00:12:22] And so you obviously still come around here...
Tim Damon [00:12:23] Oh yeah.
Michael Rotman [00:12:23] ...and still go to those types of places. How do you think... You say you live in University Circle now? How does that compare, the vibe there, how does that compare to being up here in Coventry?
Tim Damon [00:12:33] Well, the vibe there is, I mean, wow. I'm within a five-minute walk of two of the top 10 museums in the U.S. and the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum. The Cleveland Orchestra is one of the top 3 or 4 in the world. And you've got CWRU, University Hospitals, Lake View Cemetery. It's... There's a larger kaleidoscopic view, I guess. It's a little tonier, maybe. It's a different, slightly different feel. I mean, there's more going on in the University Circle area, but the kind of vibe that you get in Coventry is pretty much distinct from what you get in the University Circle area or elsewhere. I mean, there are some places in University Circle, like, you know, they used to have, you know, Lick's Ice Cream Parlor, which is now the Argentinian restaurant, Sergio's, I guess. Barking Spider, I mean that could transplant in and out pretty well. And of course, you know, the Arabica. But yeah, there's more going on in the University area. I mean, if I had to pick and choose whether I was going to be in the Coventry area and head down to University Circle or vice versa, I know, I like being in University Circle and popping up here. There's more stuff that appeals to me in the University... There's more stuff going on. The Centrum was nice when Morris Zyrl was running that that had a couple of incarnations. I'm really into cinema; I did a lot with CWRU Film Society and with the Cleveland Cinematheque, with John Ewing. And when the Centrum was here, that was really nice. But that came and went through several reincarnations also.
Michael Rotman [00:14:38] Did you ever come here before 1980?
Tim Damon [00:14:42] No, not that I recall. I mean, my... I had a grandmother that lived in Maple Heights and I would come up in the summers. But that was like on Greyhound from South Bend to Maple Heights, and, you know, I don't recall being in Coventry prior to when I moved back in '80. Might have been, I don't know. I know when our family would come back in the winter, you know, we'd drive around Shaker Square and whatever, but I don't think there would have been any reason that I would have hit Coventry before '80. If I did, I'd remember.
Michael Rotman [00:15:20] Okay. Well, is there... Are there any other stories or any of the memories of Coventry that we haven't hit that maybe you'd like to share?
Tim Damon [00:15:27] I guess I'll close with one that kind of ties in with my singer-songwriting and my gregariousness and all the, I don't know, again, the certain je ne sais quoi that can be Coventry. Due to circumstances beyond my control, which is another backstory that we'll leave, I was in... I ended up, what was term "sleeping rough," or I was basically out on the street for a period of time, which was interesting. And it was in the fall before the winter really kicked in. So it wasn't, you know, could've been worse. But I was hanging at the Coventry Arabica and I was nursing a glass of orange juice. And there were two CWRU students at a table nearby that were talking in a conversation. The guy was an Indian student and he was like, "Man, you know, when you move off campus, move out of the dorms, you can't... it's really hard to meet people." And the woman said, "That's crazy. You see that guy with a beard over by the window? All you have to do is say, 'Hi, my name is Laura.'" I said, "Hi, my name is Tim." And so I came over and we started talking and I had my first two journals with me--I'm up to like 17 volumes now but I was at two then--and we got to talking. And then the guy left and Laura and I started talking and she said, well, you know, "What's your story?" And I'd gone over a number of my poems, songs or whatever. So I basically just laid out, well, this is the way it is right now. And she said, well, you know, "This isn't a proposition, but you can come home with me if you want." And so, you know, we're walking back to her place and again, [I] come from a very conservative background. And so, you know, I've asked her, you know, I asked her, "So, what kind of theological background?" You know, come up. And she said, "Oh, I'm an agnostic." And it just kind of cracked me up that, you know, as far as theology goes, if this creation is a reflection of the creator, it wouldn't surprise me if God has a slight affective disorder, because there's just a... It's just a certain strangeness with my being taken care of, with my conservative background by a female of the... an agnostic woman of the opposite gender, you know, puttin' me up off the streets, which was pretty cool. There's a Malayan proverb that says, "You can pay back the loan of gold, but one dies forever in debt to those who are kind," and there are a lot of kind people that have been on Coventry and, and are still.
Michael Rotman [00:18:20] I mean, I got to ask, so what was that like being out, I guess, on the streets of Coventry, I mean where?
Tim Damon [00:18:26] Well, again, you know, it was in the early fall, so it wasn't too bad. There... I had... There was an apartment building on Cornell, 2033 Cornell, which got torn down. It was a nice orange cream-colored building. And I still had a key to like, the basement, you know, which had, you know, storage lockers or something. I crashed there a time or two. I had a friend of mine whose brother worked at the Lake View Cemetery for the Garfield Memorial. And, you know, I had different people in the area that would occasionally put me up. But, you know, you just, you know, find places. But, yeah, they are having, you know, Laura saying, well, you know, not a proposition but you can come home with me. It was, you know, it just was very, very interesting.
Michael Rotman [00:19:15] That's good. Sounds like there were a lot of caring people who come in and treat everybody kind and helped each other out. Okay, great. Well, thanks for talking today.
Tim Damon [00:19:23] All right. Not a problem.
Michael Rotman [00:19:24] Yeah. Great.
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"Timothy Damon interview, 18 June 2011" (2011). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 911069.