I love Dayton, Ohio. I also love Toledo, Ohio. As I’ve outlined in previous posts, I have a certain affinity for dying rust-belt cities, captives of their own stubbornness, trying to reinvent themselves.
Dayton, like Toledo, Detroit, Flint, and countless other cities in this part of the country, were for a long time dependent on the auto industry for a large portion of their jobs. That’s partially a failure of their own political failings – local politicians, funded by and elected by auto unions, had to continue to fight for auto jobs, even when it was clear they weren’t coming back (regardless of what Trump says), and struggled to diversify their economy – even in periods where there was great national prosperity.
So now, with the choice of the auto unions gone, they’re trying to get on board with the ‘new economy’ and trying to find ways to make do. And I think they have a lot to offer as people, as cultures isolated from a lot of the trends that have white-washed many of the country’s major cities, as centers of American architecture, and with infrastructure for much bigger populations, but without the soaring real estate bubble that the rest of the country is seeing.
But, most people don’t value these sorts of places the same way that I do. Not even the locals.
Many places we travel, we strike up conversations with locals, tell them that we’re visiting just for fun, and they raise an eye brow. “So you came to…Dayton?” or “Boise?” or “Pittsburgh?” or insert any number of other mid-sized cities. It’s almost like they don’t believe it. That’s sort of the fun of it, though. Today, the man we bought jam from at the market couldn’t make sense of why we were there just for…pleasure.
It can be hard to recognize what you’ve got when you see it every day. But yes, we took a vacation to Dayton. I spent all morning trying to convince Janna that Dayton is a beacon of upper-Midwest tourism, and a city to be treasured. She laughed at me. She literally laughed at me.
I dare you to come here, though, and not leave amazed with this place, which sits within an easy day trip of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus.
Here’s My Sales Pitch for Dayton:
- Dayton has 19 aviation-related museums. 19! The Wright Brothers were from here (the Kitty Hawk flight wasn’t because they lived nearby, but because of the constant wind making for better flying conditions). Most of the early days of aviation centered around Dayton, including the world’s first airport. This still a big Air Force base here, as is the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The museum is the oldest (100 years) and largest military aviation museum in the world. That includes planes such as the Air Force One plane on which President Johnson was sworn into office after the assassination of President Kennedy; the famed Memphis Belle; and Bockscar: the plane that dropped the Fat Boy bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, that effectively ended World War II. It’s a massive museum, and feels like it might be the biggest museum we’ve ever been in. It goes on forever, and that’s just 1 of the 19 museums. Incredible.
- The 2nd Street Market in Dayton is awesome. It’s not corporate dealers painted to look local like many places are, it’s true booths and stalls and real roots dealers, plus a ton of really good food from around the world. The best soup you’ve ever had in your life can be had for $3 (including a couple of slices of bread) in the 2nd Street Market.
- America’s Packard Museum is here. Don’t know Packard? Tune in to a few episodes of American Pickers and you’re bound to hear about them: they’re among the major targets of old car collectors, having been built from 1899 until 1956.
- Dayton Flyers Basketball – Can’t figure out why Dayton so frequently hosts the NCAA tournament? They’re mad about it here. If you’re a college basketball fan, make this a mecca. Their 13,000+ seat arena sells out before the season starts, and even resale tickets on sites like StubHub and Ticketmaster are hard to come by. As I write this, we’re preparing to go to a game – we paid as much for these tickets in the 2nd tier as we did for 1st tier tickets to a Penguins game in Pittsburgh. And this is during winter break, when school isn’t in session. Dayton ranked 23rd in the nation in home attendance last season: 3rd behind only Creighton and BYU among mid-major teams. The Dayton Flyers draw 50% more fans to each game than my alma mater, Texas A&M, which has the largest student base and largest alumni base in the country. Chew on that.
- Black Box Improv Theatre – We’ve seen a lot of improv theatre (shoutout Pittsburgh, shoutout ComedySportz), and some of it has been good, and some of it has been bad. But last night, we saw a brand new format that we’d never seen before, and we loved it. One of the lead improvers here in Dayton is actually an attorney, and so they use a format where they take the high-level details of a real-life (ridiculous) crime, and they have the actors try the case. The attorney plays a judge, and he allows and denies objections based on whether a real judge might or might not. The rest of the actors have no clue what’s going on, and do their best Law & Order impressions, and it’s hysterical. Last night, the case was about a scorned lover who stabbed the house of the woman who stood him up. It got real weird (#housestuff), but we were rolling in the aisles. Dayton does improv.
- Schuster Performing Arts Center – Dayton has its own gorgeous performing arts center with the main theatre seating 2,300. All of the biggest touring shows come through (my guess is because it’s such an easy trip for the tour buses from the surrounding metros), and the tickets are relatively affordable. Chicago, Wicked, Jersey Boys, and every other major touring show stops in Dayton. Rumor has it that Hamilton might make an appearance in the 2019-2020 season. Dayton does arts!
So, chill on your Dayton Hatin’. It’s a great city with a lot to offer. It’s genuine, and if you come here, it will appreciate your presence. Bon voyage!
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