Bowling Green, Ohio used to be in the heart of the Great Black Swamp. Huge ditches drain the surrounding farmland, and brazen mosquitoes snicker as they cough off the fog machines meant to kill them. These mosquitoes are a breed unto themselves—they are the true natives of this swamp now masquerading as a Midwestern city.
I grew up on Byall Avenue, which is located just off the Main Street in my hometown of Bowling Green, Ohio. My hometown has a population of about 35, 000 people, with a good portion of that coming from the university. I don’t know what Bowling Green would’ve been like without Bowling Green State University—less cultured, certainly, but also filled with fewer break-ins, rapes, and vandalism.
For years when I was growing up, around finals week at BGSU, the students would hold what they called “Merry Madness “and “Frazee Frenzy.” These two residential streets would fill up with drunken college students who would dance, play loud music, eventually pass out T-shirts, and—the act that ended the tradition—flip over cars and set them on fire. It was a badge of honor, though, to wear one of these coveted T-shirts around the high school because it showed that you were “cool” enough to party with the college students.
The college defines the small rural town where it sits, dictates the bars downtown (there is no real separation between college bars and townie bars), the clothing colored orange and brown that you can spot all over town, the fact that the mere mention of Freddie Falcon will make most folks smile.
There is the unique marriage of rural, intellectual, and international. This can be evidenced in the fact that Bowling Green hosts the Black Swamp Arts Festival every year—just a few short weeks after the National Tractor Pull and its many RVs, motorcycles, and heavy beer drinkers have abandoned the fairgrounds.
Without the college, Bowling Green would probably just be Toledo’s poor third cousin twice removed, condemned to live in a trailer park and work as a checkout clerk at some downtown specialty store.
But, the college changes that, especially since BGSU tends to have a better standing nationally than the University of Toledo.
Bowling Green, at one time, could boast more pizza places per capita than most other college towns. For such a small town, we had well over eleven, and on a Friday night, the cars would pass each other on side streets.
No other place I’ve visited or lived matches my hometown of Bowling Green, Ohio. It is a small Midwestern town with a thriving cultural life.
I appreciate BG more and more each time I go back for visits. Would I ever want to live there again? No, not at all.
But , on dreary autumn afternoons, do I stare out the window and detect the comforting smell of dough and pizza sauce? Yes, and if I sit quietly enough, I can hear the voices of my parents, elementary school friends I would no longer recognize, the mosquitos whose whines provide the soundtrack of my past.
I am defined by this city.