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Cleveland native takes you beyond the RNC in photos

A cinematographer from Cleveland gives us a tour of his hometown, highlighting the Republican convention's host city and its visitors this week through the eyes of both.

Cinematographer Troy Paff grew up in Cleveland before heading west to make a name for himself working on (and earning Emmy nominations for) shows like "Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe" and "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern."

This week he's been my tour guide to the Cleveland of both past and present as his hometown hosts the Republican National Convention.

Along the way, my friend has also been chronicling his homecoming, Cleveland's big moment in the spotlight and American democracy in action via his Instagram feed.

Here are just a few of his images that show the intersection of those three major journeys.

When the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals several weeks ago, Denise and Jovan Dennovak were among the 1.3 million fans who made the trip downtown for the historic parade. It was the first championship for Cleveland in over 50 years, and for a city whose citizens place so much of their identity in their sports teams, the significance of the event can't be understated. "We drove all the way down from Parma, and it was awesome and amazing," says Jovan, a second generation immigrant. "It was perfect," adds Denise. "Everyone was so happy and excited, and everyone was good to each other. It was like practice for the RNC - On how to behave." Jovan laughs. "We all finally got a break. Hell, we didn't even have to fight for parking." As opposed to most locals who've made the decision to stay away, the Dennovaks' curiosity has gotten the best of them. Claiming loyalty to no particular party, they've simply made another historic trip downtown as ambassadors of a new and improved Cleveland - a town they're proud to call home. I am in my hometown of Cleveland for the RNC, as much to bear witness in this volatile time as to reconnect with what makes Cleveland special to me. #cleveland #rnc #cavs #cavaliers #nbachamps #fans

A photo posted by Troy Paff (@troypaff) on

Meet Ralph Hussey. A Cleveland resident and stable attendant for horse and carriage tours in downtown Cleveland, Ralph was walking across the Carter Street Bridge and minding his own business when I inquired if he'd have the time and inclination to help out a strange cameraman in need. Ralph cheerfully agreed to hold a bounce reflector for a 'stand up' shot I'd set up with @ericcmack in front of the downtown skyline. He performed his job flawlessly and with good humor (Ralph I mean), at which time we tipped the gracious guy ten bucks for his effort. Well. Inspired by the experience of glamorous television production (or maybe the notion of some future work and accordingly, bucks), Ralph scrambled for his cell phone to exchange contact info. In this process said phone took a slow motion, tumble-slide-crash-plummet-plop from his backpack right off the bridge and into the Cuyahoga River some fifty feet below. For a pregnant moment Ralph said nothing. Disbelief was then supplanted by realization, which was in turn choked by the bitter pill of frustration. Now pacing up and down the bridge, Ralph was beside himself. You see, it turns out that Ralph was on his way to his daughter's wedding rehearsal, at which he would now be without a camera, let alone a way to coordinate with his daughter. Because only the heartless would allow the moment to end in such a way, Eric and I produced our wallets and with a concerted effort to not laugh while another man was down, did what was appropriate by peeling off three twenties to replace the phone. Then we put Ralph in our car and drove him to Target for a replacement, making sure all was right, or at least as such could be. As we rode together we entered the next stage of coping: Rationalization. The upside? Obviously, Ralph would have a new phone. But even better? He'd have a funny story to tell (yes, soon he would laugh about this), reminding us yet again that no good deed goes unpunished. I am in my hometown of Cleveland for the RNC, as much to bear witness in this volatile time as to reconnect with what makes Cleveland special to me. #cleveland #rnc #skyline #portrait #cuyahogariver

A photo posted by Troy Paff (@troypaff) on


During the Republican convention this week, Troy and I also made a point to get outside of downtown, with its thousands of police officers, protesters and miles of security fencing, and into Cleveland's neighborhoods. Most locals in the city seemed to be going out of their way to avoid the convention zone, so we opted to go to them.

As a child of the seventies I remember the neighborhood of Slavic Village being white. Central Europe was represented with fierce if not intolerant pride toward the black community and differing European heritages alike. It was the era of racial humor, when black jokes and polak jokes perpetuated stereotypes and biases toward those who looked or sounded different from ourselves. Four decades have not been kind to Slavic Village. The neighborhood was nearly decimated by several recessions, and only with federal and state grants has the community hung on, seemingly by a thread. The black community now occupies much of the neighborhood. Of the old restaurants and corner stores that still manage to exist, black and white now dine and shop with equanimity, and humor is shared as opposed to being directed toward one another. Perhaps it is a mutual expression of survival, but if a visitor on the hunt for pierogies can score a bonus of fresh lemonade, something is going right. Pictured here are Takira, 13; Ty'shawn, 1 (almost 2); Zanya, 9; and Kamoria, 5. Not pictured is Mom, who, just out of frame, is glowing proudly as her four children experience a bit of success and attention with their first family enterprise. I am in my hometown of Cleveland for the RNC, as much to bear witness in this volatile time as to reconnect with what makes Cleveland special to me. #cleveland #rnc #slavicvillage #lemonade #enterprise #family

A photo posted by Troy Paff (@troypaff) on

Strategically located on the Cuyahoga River is the Arcelor Mittal Steel Mill. Comprised of the former Republic Steel and LTV Steel plants, this facility has been more or less operating since 1913. It is known as one of the most efficient mills in the world, producing a ton of steel per man hour. The peak of Cleveland's steel production was after World War II, and by the 60's production fell off and the layoffs began, swinging heavily with the national economy. My late grandfather was a union crane operator at the US Steel plant. During layoffs he would drive taxi cabs and cable cars to make ends meet. US Steel officially shuttered its local operation in 2015 when it laid off 750 workers. A primary producer of oil drilling pipe, the closing was due to the drop in oil prices. I am in my hometown of Cleveland for the RNC, as much to bear witness in this volatile time as to reconnect with what makes Cleveland special to me. #cleveland #rnc #travel #steel #mill #industry

A photo posted by Troy Paff (@troypaff) on


Back in downtown Cleveland in specially designated free speech zones, American democracy in action could be witnessed first-hand in all its loud boisterousness. An army of law enforcement circulated through the crowds, which remained nonviolent.


As of Thursday, most of the arrests we've heard of involved a few attempts to burn the American flag as part of a protest. The US Supreme Court has ruled that flag burning is protected under the first amendment to the constitution, however Cleveland Police noted that all fires have been banned in downtown this week during the convention for public safety reasons.

Law enforcement has been as ubiquitous as demonstrators and counter-demonstrators in Cleveland this week. Patrols of officers from across the country on foot, horseback and bicycle are rarely out of sight downtown.

As host of the Republican National Convention the city of Cleveland was awarded a federal grant of $50 million to spend on security measures alone. In addition to 'boots on the ground' expenditures (additional law enforcement, overtime, body armor, weaponry, surveillance, etc.) many upgrades were made to transportation and the creation of defensive areas. In conjunction with a plethora of tactically closed streets, 2,500 steel barriers stretching some 3.7 linear miles will create a 'secure zone' of 1.7 square miles for official convention business and controlled protests. I am in my hometown of Cleveland for the RNC, as much to bear witness in this volatile time as to reconnect with what makes Cleveland special to me. #cleveland #skyline #rnc #travel #construction #landscape

A photo posted by Troy Paff (@troypaff) on


And finally there are the vendors. It remains to be seen if Republican nominee Donald Trump or someone else will be able to "make America great again," but the convention is helping at least a few people make some money again.

This is Henry S. Twiggs, just arrived from Dothan, Alabama. One of the first street vendors to arrive in Cleveland for the RNC, Henry is ready to hit the ground running. He's having a bit of difficulty with a car full of T-shirts - the hatch of his car keeps closing on him, and he has not only the shirts to carry to the corner but his cash box as well. So I give the man a hand. The shirts are large. Actually very large. Think XXXL, like bed sheets. And they are heavy. We get them all to a set up of picnic tables at 9th and Rockwell. Henry is an Air Force vet and a working truck driver since 1963 and he's here to support Donald Trump as part of the Truckers for Trump community. I ask him what it means to him that he's a black man in support of Mr. Trump. Mr. Twiggs explains that "color is irrelevant. What matters is respect; we all need to get beyond racial issues of entitlement and expectation. This is one of the things that's wrong with our country." I am in my hometown of Cleveland for the RNC, as much to bear witness in this volatile time as to reconnect with what makes Cleveland special to me. #cleveland #rnc #vendor #truckersfortrump #civilrights

A photo posted by Troy Paff (@troypaff) on

This week if you meet a Clevelander downtown odds are they are providing a service or selling something. Queries as to their political leanings usually results in a wry smile, sometimes in an apathetic shrug. Party affiliations mean little when the larger concern is survival, especially when your town is consistently in the top ten unemployed cities in America. Last month Cleveland's jobless rate was at 5.1%, though most would say that's too low. But the gist is this: "When the window of opportunity is open, you better jump through." I am in my hometown of Cleveland for the RNC, as much to bear witness in this volatile time as to reconnect with what makes Cleveland special to me. #cleveland #rnc #vendor #labor #unemployment #bobblehead #trump #hillary

A photo posted by Troy Paff (@troypaff) on