Because, Just Because

After a few hours of sleep, I arose bright and early Saturday morning with the intention of squeezing in a visit to the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame in Euclid before my 1:50 p.m. flight back to JFK (the airport, not the man). The Hall of Fame's website said it opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday, so it seemed doable, particularly because it seemed that the Hall of Fame could not possibly occupy more than three rooms in Euclid's old City Hall. Polka even had to share the space with the Softball Hall of Fame, or, to use the museum's complete name, the Greater Cleveland Slo Pitch Softball Museum and Hall of Fame. Think of that niche and imagine how exciting such a landmark would be. I passed on that.

But the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame--now there's something that'll get me out of bed at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. Just to make sure that the website wasn't lying (as websites sometimes do), I placed a call to the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame at 9 a.m. I got a recording that confirmed the 10 a.m. opening, but, most excitedly, the recording ended with a sincere wish for me to have a "polkarrific" day. Indeed, I would.

I would like to go on record that Yellow Zone Cabs get the Tinsel and Rot Seal of Approval for Best Cleveland Taxi Service. I tried another one on the way back from the Beachland, and they overcharged me, plus the driver kinda yelled at me for not having a plan to get out of Iraq. He was actually a good guy, but the political talk got kind of awkward toward the end of the ride, particularly when we pulled up to the hotel and the conversation didn't end. I was kinda tired, dude.

But Tom, the Yellow Zone driver who drove me to and fro the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame, was aces. He stunningly knew nothing about the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame, but he knew Euclid well, having lived there 40 years ago. So he found it just fine and gave me his card to call him for a ride back. And then he apologized for being late and gave me a discounted ride straight to the airport. He's the man. I've got his cell number if you want it. He works weekends.

Anyway, after Tom dropped me off around 9:45, I took a walk around Euclid and took in the many exciting things it offers on a Saturday morning. There was a funeral going on at the church and a bakery was open. Rather than barge into the funeral, I went to the bakery (Wojtila's) and picked up a disappointing chocolate custard doughnut and a far superior Polish-type pastry that I never got the name of. Tasty, though. I tried learning the names of Polish pastries once, but just when I thought I had the pronunciation of "paczka" down, I asked for one at a bakery in Greenpoint and the woman looked at me as if I were insane. So now I just point at things in bakeries. (The pronunciation, by the way, is "POONCH-kah." Clearly, I'm an idiot for not getting that one right.)

Where was I? Right, the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame. Much like the Greater Cleveland Slo Pitch Softball Museum and Hall of Fame is not quite the actual Softball Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame must distinguish itself from the International Polka Hall of Fame, which I'm not sure is an actual building. The facility in Cleveland honors the style of polka where the accordion is up front, rather than the brass-heavy styles of bands like the one led by 16-time Grammy-winning Jimmy Sturr, whose only appearance in the Euclid HOF is a picture in a hallway and a few CDs in the gift shop. I doubt he takes it personally.

The Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame is built around the legacy of the all-time polka king, Frankie Yankovic (no relation, jerko). Yankovic played the biggest role in popularizing the Cleveland style of polka and is responsible for two of the most revered polka recordings, "Just Because" (one of the all-time great songs) and "Blue Skirt Waltz." He brought polka out of the suburbs of Cleveland and into the public eye, and his name is clearly still spoken in hushed tones among the polka aficionados of Cleveland, if not the world. Memorabilia from his career fills the main room of the Hall, and he is the centerpiece of the 15-minute video that the woman in the gift shop was nice enough to play for me. I'm sure she was stunned to see a 30-year-old man in the Hall of Fame at 10:15 in the morning. Yes, surprisingly, I had the Hall of Fame all to myself. People don't respect the past like they used to. They've got Frankie's jacket on display. What are you waiting for, America?

In addition to the plaques honoring the Hall of Fame inductees and the classic polka recordings that defined the genre, there is also a section of the main room devoted to the Trustees Honor Roll, which salutes those who contributed to the longevity and popularity of Cleveland-style polka. First of all, regardless of the achievements of these people, it's a collection of some of the best names ever, such as Jack "Porky" Ponikvar, Heinie Martin Antoncic, and Rudy Kershishnik. But it's also an interesting look into not just polka, but also the working-class people who lived lives in service to polka. Here are my two favorites from the bunch:

After my tour through the Hall, I did some damage at the gift shop, picking up a Johnny Vadnal CD, because his music sounded cool in the 15-minute documentary and he was an important guy in the early days of Cleveland-style polka, and a Casuals CD, because the cover had a bowling theme and one of the songs on the disc was titled "Grab Your Balls, We're Goin' Bowling." I don't think a CD has demanded me to purchase it quite as strongly as that one. And then I threw in a mug, a t-shirt, a pin, a postcard, a sticker, and, yeah, I think that's it.

If you're ever in Euclid, I think you know where you oughta go.


After Tom dropped me off at the airport, I had about 45 minutes to spare, so I searched around for some souvenirs and some food for the trip. As I decided whether I should buy a Cleveland Rocks t-shirt (eventual answer: yes), I came across the oddest looking, allegedly edible thing ever. Clearly, I had to buy it. And since my camera actually has a "Cuisine" mode for photographs, preserving it for the ages seemed like the right thing to do.

Pig heart or doughnut-like foodstuff? You make the call. (For the record, I think it was an apple fritter. There were apples involved.)

As I tucked my ginormous sugar-coated thing into my pocket, I headed onto the plane back home with warm memories of a seeing a truly memorable, life-affirming concert, hearing the crunch of snow under my feet for the first time in a long time, and experiencing a slice of polka heaven in Euclid.

Thanks, Cleveland. You rock.

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