Since this is my first Zone column, I think I should introduce myself. My name is Bonnie Hazen, and I am a 32-year-old Trumbull County resident. My career here at the Tribune Chronicle began in late 2010, and although I was sad to see Joshua Flesher leave, I am excited for the opportunity to write this column.
I did not grow up in the Mahoning Valley - I moved here from Virginia Beach, Va., in 1999. Yes, I left Virginia Beach to come here, and no, I am not crazy.
My family - parents, sister, niece, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. - still live in the great tourist attraction that is Virginia Beach, and although I miss them terribly, I love it here in the Valley.
I can nearly feel the incredulous look passing over your face as you read this. You're probably thinking, "What? Here? Why?"
There are many reasons I love it here, but first let me tell you a little bit about the city my father refers to as ''the cesspool.''
First of all, a city with a population of more than 400 thousand people that attracts millions of visitors each year equals pretty crowded.
I used to work on the oceanfront - Pacific Avenue down by the Boardwalk - and what should have been a 10-minute drive home turned into a 45-minute drive because every block or so the huge throng of beach-goers would ignore the flashing red hand at the crosswalk and block the intersection for the duration of several green lights.
If the driver of the vehicle in front didn't know to push into the mob in order to force it apart, you were stuck there until they got fed up - unless the police came by to intercede.
There are always long lines at the checkout, and stores are always crowded (imagine a Black Friday nearly every day of the year). There are loud planes from the air station frequently flying overhead. There also is little sense of community in Virginia Beach. Ironic for a city with that many people, but it's really very impersonal. It's also flat.
I love the rolling hills and dense clusters of trees here - and there's nothing like fall in the Valley.
Not to mention the snow. I know, I complain every time the bottom of my pants get soaked from the short walk to my car before work, leaving me cold for the rest of the day. And I hate the disgusting sludge that accumulates in the parking lots after a heavy snowfall turns to slush. But you can't argue that the first snowfall is always beautiful, and everyone wants a white Christmas.
Snow is something my mom is always wishing for and rarely gets on the East Coast. It is something we have no shortage of here, and something my husband loves - a real winter. I have a feeling if you were without it for a while, you'd come to miss it.
The variety and quality of food in the Valley is another thing I love. I often joke that it was easy to be skinny in Virginia Beach, and when I moved here, it became increasingly difficult because the food here is SO good. I'll tell you one thing, there are nowhere near the amount of family-owned-and-operated restaurants in Virginia Beach.
Wedding soup? Unheard of. Pizza? Papa Johns and Pizza Hut are easy to find, but what about Bellaria, Francesco's, Cocca's, Ianazone's, Pizza Works? How about Italian delicacies by Antinucci's, Antone's and Alberini's, just to name a few that start with 'A'.
If you left, you'd surely miss the taste of Daffin's chocolate, the rich smell of freshly roasted O'Neill's Coffee that permeates West Middlesex, and that mysterious sauce they cover french fries with at the Hot Dog Shoppe, not to mention Jib Jab's delicious dogs (my parents' favorite).
If you go to a wedding somewhere other than the Valley, you may be disappointed at the lack of a cookie table. I know I was at my cousin's wedding this past fall. There was a chocolate fountain, but I'll take a cookie table filled with clothespin cookies and other Valley favorites over a chocolate fountain any day of the week.
Some people say there isn't anything to do here, but there's plenty. Mill Creek MetroPark is one of my favorite places to visit (I was married in the rose garden), and it reminds me of Norfolk's Botanical Garden with its lush landscape of flowers and trees and breathtaking butterflies and wildlife (I once saw a fox), with one exception - it's free.
One thing I've noticed when talking to people here is that they say the same things people in Virginia Beach do. I think many people out there suffer from what I call grass-is-greener-elsewhere syndrome.
Well for me, the grass is greener right here.