Having grown up and stayed in Akron, Ohio, David Giffels tells in The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt of seeing most of his friends move far away. They were not the only ones to leave, as the city's the population is down to its count from 1910. Once the world center of the rubber and tire industries, Akron is a poster child for the Rust Belt, Midwestern cities that lost their factories to nonunion cities in the South or overseas. Akron also lost many of its company headquarters, many absorbed by foreign corporations. By the 1990s, much of downtown Akron was empty. Giffels witnessed the city's decline as a child, then teen, and later as a journalist.
Giffels can be described as an inside observer. His father was an independent engineer who contracted for most of the big companies at some point - Goodyear, Firestone, Goodrich - and Giffels tagged along. As a teen and young adult, he and his friends often climbed fences to explore abandoned factories. As a journalist, he was granted access to buildings before demolition. In The Hard Way on Purpose, he recounts his city's fall and recent signs of recovery at street level.
In his wide-ranging essays, Giffels also comments frequently on Cleveland, the state of Ohio, and the region. Topics include basketball, bowling, punk rock, and saving architectural pieces from demolition. He begins the collection telling how Akron native LeBron James became a Cleveland Cavalier and nearly lead the team to championships but after several years signed with Miami Heat, becoming the most prominent symbol of flight from the Rust Belt. (In 2014, too late for Giffels' book, James returned to the Cavaliers.)
In The Hard Way on Purpose, Giffels offers readers an intimate look at his beloved city and his own life in it. I enjoyed it and would now like to try All the Way Home, his book about living in and restoring a house that was to be condemned.
Giffels, David. The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt. Scribner, 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781451692747.