15 signs you’re back home in Dayton, Ohio

Highway exits downtown keep switching sides.

The exit for Third Street may have been on the left hand side of the highway the last time you headed downtown for a Dayton Dragon’s game, but it’s on the right now, so get used to it. But not too used to it because it will probably be back on the left again soon when the construction that just ended after 20 years starts back up again.

You immediately crave a buckeye malt the second you cross the state line.

That iconic purple, orange and red UDF sign induces involuntary salivation for chocolate peanut-buttery goodness as soon as it comes into view. Nobody elsewhere knows what the heck a buckeye malt is, but you do and that’s all that matters.

People are spelling out “Ohio” to each other from across the parking lot.

Because if you see a fellow buckeye wearing scarlet and grey, it’s plain rude not to return their call of “O-H” with “I-O” no matter where you are or what you’re doing. And don’t ever wear blue and gold to the sports bar on game day unless you want your server to spit in your burger.

No matter what day of the week it is, there promises to be a classic car show in at least one department store or restaurant parking lot.

Of course, “car show” doesn’t mean much more than a gaggle of old men in camping chairs alongside their weekend project with their hoods popped, but they’ll be there none the less, anxious for other old men to wander past and ask about horse power or custom paint jobs.

There’s another new storefront in the Oregon District.

It’s a hat shop right between a tattoo parlor and an antiques store, further cementing the historic block as the most hipster one in Dayton. But for some reason there’s still no coffee shop. Go figure.

Designer labels still haven’t caught on.

In any given Chipotle there will be five diners in camouflage, six in brightly colored trucker hats, three wearing swag from last weekend’s monster truck rally, and one guy in slacks and a button up feeling very out of place.

No one knows how to drive.

Large SUV’s have parked under overpasses and traffic has slowed down to 35 MPH on the highway because a light to moderate rain is falling. And if it happened to snow, as it does every winter, forget about trying to get anywhere. That inch of snow on the ground just makes it too dangerous.

Facial hair is everywhere.

The moustache-less un-groomed beard is still sported with pride on approximately 40% of men under 40 despite the fact that it has decidedly gone out of fashion everywhere but in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country.

The supply and demand for sweet tea is unbalanced.

There will be a pile of empty sugar packets on the table at Bob Evans because, despite the apparent demand, sweet tea isn’t on the menu until you drive through Cincinnati, across the Ohio River, and into Kentucky.

Weekends in the fall mean festivals.

Dress up for the Renaissance Festival, then enjoy a fritter or dumpling at the Apple Festival. Get a cabbage-smothered dog at the Sauerkraut Festival, too many steins of beer at Oktoberfest, and polish off the weekend with wedges or loaded skins at the Potato Festival. Then next weekend, do it all again.

You can’t resist getting whipped and battered at King’s Island.

It may not technically be in Dayton, but no visit home is complete without a trip down to Southern Ohio’s favorite amusement park. Nothing beats a spin on the Scrambler before a go on The Beast to see if you can keep down that slice of LaRosa’s from lunch.

You can’t help but smile as you lace up your skates at Riverscape.

Because nothing beats a couple of hours of turns around the ice, followed by a hot cup of cocoa from the concession stand and a slice of Sicilian from Flying Pizza on Main Street to usher in the holiday spirit.

Your family is re-introducing you to people at church who just want to talk about how they barely recognize you after all these years.

After all, you are back in the Bible Belt, which means not only are you in church every Sunday, but on the way you’ve passed three Baptist churches, two Catholic and Methodists and churches, and one Seventh Day Adventist church.

Inquiries about when you’ll be giving your parents grandkids begin to flow.

After all, you are 20-something (thirty-something?!) and got married at the Ohio-approved age of 22, so how could you not have sired at least three children by now? After all, that is the whole purpose of marriage.

You can’t walk into a storefront in the city without being bombarded with state pride paraphernalia.

Namely, T-shirts that say “home,” where the “O” is the outline of the state, Ohio-shaped window decals with a red dot over Dayton, and hats that boast “Small town girl.”

Early Warning Signs For Dayton Shooter

Early Warning Signs For Dayton Shooter

Following the shooting in Dayton this weekend, the focus is on whether school officials and police could have done more to prevent the tragedy.

When President Trump travels to Dayton, Ohio, this morning, he's likely to hear from residents who are still wondering how this could have happened. Many are asking whether school officials and police could have done more to prevent the tragedy.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Years before he opened fire on a crowded street in Dayton on Sunday, Connor Betts was already well-known in the quiet wooded suburb of Bellbrook. Daniel Mendez was on the school bus the day in 2012 when a uniformed police officer got on board and asked for Betts.

DANIEL MENDEZ: The officer walked on, called for him by name. He didn't fight, just walked up and went with the officer.

ROSE: Word soon got around that Betts was suspended from school for drawing up lists of students he wanted to kill and rape. The story made the local paper when hundreds of students stayed home because they were afraid of him. Daniel Mendez says Betts had been obsessed with violent music and videos.

MENDEZ: I knew just aesthetic things that he was into a lot of times had to do with death and violence. He just seemed to really enjoy those sort of things.

ROSE: Seven years later, Betts killed nine people during a shooting rampage in downtown Dayton before the 24-year-old was shot and killed by police. And the community is asking questions about red flags in his past. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine pointed to those red flags yesterday in proposing new legislation on guns and mental health.


MIKE DEWINE: The assailant, while in high school, clearly exhibited anti-social behaviors that should have alerted anyone who knew about them that there was a problem, a serious problem, with this high school student.

ROSE: Betts was allowed back into school, but it's not clear why. The police with jurisdiction over Betts' high school aren't answering questions. School officials aren't talking either - not the superintendent, nor the school board president, who declined to comment on the advice of a lawyer. Former students say the adults back then should have taken the threat more seriously.

SHAY STOUT: We all - you know, we're not surprised. Like, whenever we found out that it was him, it was just terrible because it seemed like it just could have been prevented.

ROBERT LJUNGREN: To allow him to be back around those same students that he had the intention to harm, I think it's foolish.

BRYCE HENRY: It's not like we even, like, thought this guy might be messed up. Like, we kind of knew he was, but just nothing was ever done.

ROSE: That's Shay Stout, Robert Ljungren and Bryce Henry. They all attended Bellbrook High School with Betts. Education experts see similarities to another recent mass shooting.

MAX EDEN: There are pretty striking parallels between what we're starting to see emerge in Dayton and what we saw in Parkland.

ROSE: Max Eden is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He says there were lots of missed warning signs in the troubled life of Nikolas Cruz, who confessed to last year's shooting in Parkland, Fla.

EDEN: In both cases, students came forward immediately after the shooting to say that we weren't surprised by this. Everybody knew that he could do it because in both cases, the student had said that he would.

ROSE: In Dayton, some parents, like Robyn Laird, defended school officials and police. Laird says teenagers make mistakes.

ROBYN LAIRD: I think not until you're in their shoes can you judge them because you don't know what was going on or why they said that then, if they were trying to get attention.

ROSE: Other parents, like Kacey Cox, whose children attend Bellbrook High, believe the school could have done more.

KACEY COX: Sometimes they are a little lax - lackadaisical about how to handle situations. But I hope, moving forward, they have a better plan because my kids go to school here, and so I'm just so nervous about everything now.

ROSE: Students here head back to school next week. And the investigation into the mass shooting continues. Yesterday, the FBI said it's looking into Betts' interest in, quote, "violent ideologies."

Joel Rose, NPR News, Dayton, Ohio.


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