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How to turn a frat-ridden street into hippy central for a weekend

Katy Witkowski, Staff Reporter

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The crooked, grimy red bricks on Hessler Rd. lead all who wander down its path to lead-paint porches and duplexes that have wasted away into shells of the grandiose homes they once were. It’s the perfect place for rowdy college kids to find a home for their natural beer-soaked shenanigans.

Usually, too-drunk underclassmen and fraternity brothers define weekend (and Wednesdays and Thursdays) living on Hessler. Loud hip hop and pop fills the air at 1 a.m., sending the few lifelong Hessler residents to call the cops for a variety of reasons.

Noise complaints.

Once, some people were screaming their heads off on a neighbor’s porch, because someone had done something. No one who wasn’t on the porch knows what happened though.

Disturbing the peace.

The other night, a homeless man peered through my house’s windows, rang my doorbell, scoured my porch belongings and moved on to the next house. Nothing taken, just a few rattled 22-year olds.

Damaged property.

The morning after a Halloween party, I saw a smashed pumpkin on the ground next to a shattered windshield. The perpetrator must have “forgotten” what happened and continued on his/her way without taking responsibility.

All this makes it seem like I hate living here. The pounding bass speakers, the empty beer cans lining storm drains, the stagnant puddles in the street.

On the very contrary, I revel in it.

I love the nights when I can’t sleep because someone else is having the night of their life. Yeah, it’s annoying, but isn’t college the acceptable time to cause a ruckus?

***

On a Thursday, all this changed. The frat parties continued, but the cars lining the street fearing damage moved to safer spots. At some point that morning, adults wearing tie dyed shirts and paint-covered paints began to sweep the decomposing leaves of last fall off the street. Beer cans and other debris was raised out of the storm drains, recycling bins were brought out of storage and lined with clear bags, benches and wooden slabs were painted with this year’s Hessler Street Fair slogan, “KEEP ON TRUCKIN’.”

Had these signs appeared a week earlier, it would have been my finals week slogan as well. But now that school was out forever, and I was sticking around to walk at commencement, nothing suited the scene better than to watch what was happening.

In preparation for the weekend festivities, salt-and-pepper-haired Mama Midge invited a group of musicians to paint a wooden panel to hang off of her porch during the Fair. Meanwhile, Rainbow, named after the color of her clothing and hair, quietly walked between groups of workers without seeming to do much. Tino, a Mexican dad waiting for his kids to pick him up, smoked not cigarettes before continuing to clean up.

The frat brothers stayed indoors, or at least didn’t bother the workers. Their resounding speakers were replaced by instrumental improvisations and hollers for more.

The creative spirit hung in anticipation of what was to come that weekend.

On Friday, vendors began to come out of the cracks between bricks in the street to set up camp. Artists, cooks, kids at the lemonade stand. All with the same thought in mind: It’s that time of year again, so let’s hope it’s better than the last.

***

Saturday was cold, rainy and dark. My friend, dressed in a blanket, and I walked through all of the vendors. She received a ton of compliments for the yellow and green butterfly blanket. I got none for the purple plaid flannel.

Jewelry, perfumes, purses, coffee, vegetarian and vegan fare, incense, candles, a palm reader, a kids area, Fire Truck Pizza Company, the Love Bus from the Love Circus, hula hoops, paintings, t-shirts, communist books, normal books, activists and pamphlets. These are just samples of the stuff the vendors offered.

Not to mention the music, ranging from drum circles to rastafarian jams.

No matter where you went, no matter who you were, vendors and visitors alike greeted you the same: “Happy Hessler!”

The weather became warmer on Sunday, when recent graduates made their way through the tents and dreadlocks with dressed up families trailing behind them. Carlos Jones, once again, kept the dreadlocks and tie dyed t-shirts on the street for much longer than he was set to play. But no one minded, not even the apartment directly next to the stage. It was the once a year celebration of the easy-going spirit Hessler tends to imprint in the minds of its residents.

***

So far I’ve been avoiding the most obvious fact about the Hessler Street Fair. Openly smoking marijuana is accepted, and possibly even expected, for those two days. As the only time of the year that dreadlocks and tie dyed T-shirts outnumber chino shorts and book bags on the crooked, grimy red brick road, this is an unspoken related outcome. Acknowledging this may not please some, but to let it go by the wayside is to ignore the large smoke cloud that hung over the street that weekend.

Besides, what’s the worst a high person did? Accidentally knock over a vendor’s mannequin while dancing? Sit on a stranger’s porch? Mistake his or her possessions with someone else’s? Surely the street sees far more damage from the drunkards than the stoners.

Despite the groans and moans of the clean cut, Hessler Street Fair is an establishment here to stay. By bringing the people who dwell in basements and art studios into the open, the street reappears in its glory days as a haven for the diverse creativity University Circle boasts through its many institutions. By giving the unheard artistic minorities a space to express themselves, the street became the heart of a cultural center in our region.

A different crowd not often seen shook the perceptions of what should be allowed, causing Hessler Rd. to host a different kind of ruckus.

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How to turn a frat-ridden street into hippy central for a weekend