The New Public Square Takes Shape

IMG_1091When I was in Cleveland yesterday, I got a bird’s-eye view of the ongoing work on Public Square.  By all accounts, it’s on track to be completed in time for the Republican Convention in Cleveland in July.

The new Public Square is an obvious improvement over old Public Square, which was divided into quadrants by heavily trafficked streets and served as a kind of way station for aggressive panhandlers.  It wasn’t exactly a welcoming venue.  The new Public Square has more green space — although not quite as much as I would have expected — and will have a restaurant in the building at the left corner of the photo above, a fountain area, and a concert venue on the boomerang-shaped grassy area to the right.  There’s still a road smack dab through the middle, but it’s now going to be limited to buses.

It looks like it will be a fine place for the pro-Trump forces and the anti-Trump forces to clash come July.   Hey, they don’t call it Public Square for nothing!  The big test, though, will come when the conventioneers leave.  Will Clevelanders adopt Public Square like Columbusites have adopted the Columbus Commons, or will it once again become a kind of no man’s land where people fear to tread?  Only time will tell.

Blackened Walleye Tacos

IMG_1088Next to, perhaps, pizza, tacos have changed the most since I was a kid.  In those days tacos were a tasty, but extremely limited, food option that inevitably consisted of a somewhat stale hard corn shell that broke into smithereens when you bit into it, ground beef browned to within an inch of its life, a dollop of refried beans, and taco sauce — along with the vegetables of your choice, if you wanted to ruin a good thing.

At some point, however, some culinary visionary realized that taco-ey goodness should not simply be a means of delivering browned ground beef to the digestive tract.  So chicken tacos were introduced, then pork, and the hard corn shells were ditched in favor of flour-based soft tacos . . . and then the food and flavor floodgates opened.

All of which leads us to the blackened walleye tacos that I had for lunch yesterday at a place called Pura Vida, just off Public Square in downtown Cleveland.  These delectable eats could trace their lineage to the tacos of my youth, I suppose, but they bore as little relation to those basic staples as modern humans bear to our pre-mammalian ancestors who crawled the earth during the Cretaceous period.  The walleye, which is one of the best eating fish you can find anywhere, was absolutely fresh, and the blackened preparation gave it a very tasty kick.  Add a light citrus avocado creme sauce, throw in some red cabbage slaw, corn, and tomato bits, and liberally douse with freshly squeezed lime juice that you supply through the grip of your own two hands and you have the perfect, flavorful light summer lunch — as opposed to the gut-busting tacos of days gone by.

Pura Vida allows you to choose a side with your taco treat, and I went for the African peanut stew.  It was a sentimental choice, because I once worked with a guy from Africa who prepared a curry peanut soup that was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve never seen it served anywhere else.  The Pura Vida version, which is made from sweet potato, kale, curry, and peanuts and includes a healthy spoonful of diced peanuts on top, had just the right combination of sweetness and spice and also had a nice, coarse texture.  It was an excellent pairing for the tacos.

Where with the continued evolution of the taco take us?  I can’t wait to find out.

Marine Mammal Deaths At SeaWorld

On Sunday the San Antonio Express News published a terrific, but immensely sad, story by Richard about the deaths of orcas, dolphins, and other mammals at the SeaWorld parks.  What’s Killing the Orcas at SeaWorld? takes a careful look at the statistics of creatures dying at SeaWorld and quotes trainers, SeaWorld employees, research studies, and animal rights activists in an effort to address the care of marine mammals in captivity and whether they are more likely to die than members of their species in the wild.

Infections seem to be a huge problem for marine mammals in captivity.  Richard’s story reviewed reports that SeaWorld filed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and calculated that almost 150 orcas, dolphins, sea lions, and beluga whales have died of infections at SeaWorld since 1986, and five dolphins, whales, and sea lions have died of various infections — such as fungal infections, bacterial infections, and inflammation of the brain — since May 2014.

wild-orca-alaska_siThe big point of contention is whether living in captivity contributes to those deaths, as animal rights advocates contend, or whether the creatures at Sea World are no more prone to infections than members of the species living in the wild.  As Richard’s article reports, that’s tough to assess, because there aren’t many reliable studies of the lives of these mammals in their native habitat.  Animal rights advocates argue that creatures that have evolved over millennia to range widely over large areas of ocean, hunt their own food, and form relationships in the wild simply aren’t suited to captivity.  The advocates believe the orcas become stressed (and show it by breaking their teeth chewing on concrete and metal) and the stress makes them more prone to infection.  Richard’s article quotes some former SeaWorld trainers who talk about the constant medication that some of the mammals have received.  And while we don’t know the prevalence of infection deaths in the wild, we do know this — orcas, dolphins, and sea lions have somehow survived and thrived in our oceans for centuries without have to be heavily medicated by human beings.

I should note that SeaWorld has criticized Richard’s story, saying on its blog:  “The article is unfairly critical of SeaWorld and misleads readers with incomplete sets of facts that are presented in a biased way.”  I respectfully disagree.  I think the piece is a fair treatment of an important issue that employs the tools of great investigative journalism, like review of public records, getting quotes from people on both sides of the story and experts, and then trying to piece things together.  The reality is that the death of the marine mammals in the care of SeaWorld is just an uncomfortable topic for SeaWorld.

I’ve never cared much for zoos or places like SeaWorld.  I feel sorry for the animals that are caged, and I think it reflects poorly on us that we keep creatures that are meant to be in the wild penned up for our entertainment.  It’s particularly appalling that we confine marine mammals that show clear signs of intelligence, like orcas, and then have to dope them up to try to keep them alive.  Richard’s story just heightens that view.

Sad Elvis

In the busy entertainment district of Nashville, you see them.  Large caricatures of Elvis Presley in front of storefronts, just waiting for a boozy tourist to stop and snap a photo and post it on their Facebook page.  The microphone that he apparently was singing into is gone, but Elvis is still there, chained down around his waist so he can’t be taken away.

IMG_1035We’ve had controversies about young Elvis and old Elvis.  Rebel Elvis and Las Vegas Elvis.  Thin, leather-clad Elvis and fat, jumpsuit-wearing and karate-chopping Elvis.

This, I think, is a picture of sad Elvis.

I’ve never been a huge Elvis Presley fan, but anyone who loves rock ‘n roll has got to tip their hat to The King.  There’s no doubt the Elvis Presley changed the world and revolutionized America when he started to sing blues music and swing those hips.  He inspired the Beatles and lots of other acts and left an enormous imprint on American music and culture.  His death was pathetic, but there is no denying his vast and enduring influence.

Now, on the streets of Nashville, the King is reduced to a fiberglass photo opportunity, like Ronald McDonald or a T-Rex or Paul Bunyon.  It’s disturbing, and it’s wrong.  There’s something forlorn and almost despairing about it that a few brightly colored balloons tied to his wrist won’t hide.

Poor Elvis!

Old Brick Beauty

IMG_1081Lit from beneath, the faded paint from a long ago sign on the side of a brick building adjacent to one of the pedestrian bridges in Nashville seemed to almost glow when we walked across last night. The worn and repaired brick, the old wood in the windows and door, the paint — it was an example of how beauty can be found even in the most ordinary settings.  Amazing what a little light can accomplish!

The High-Water Mark


The Cumberland River flows through downtown Nashville.  There’s a little park on the downtown side of the river where you will finds lots of concrete steps, people still shaking off last night’s overindulgence — and a literal high-water mark.  It’s hard to believe the river reaches such heights, but in 2010 the Cumberland topped the high-water mark entirely and crested at 51.86 feet, causing catastrophic flooding that swamped the area.  The river was a lot lower, thankfully, when we visited yesterday morning.

Nashville Dans La Nuit


For a city located smack dab in the midst of middle America, Nashville is pretty damned cool.  In addition to the music scene, which you probably knew about already, Nashville has some great bridges.  The footbridge from the Bridge Building over the Cumberland to downtown not only affords you an excellent view of other bridges, it also is a striking bridge in its own right.

American cities would do well to turn all unused railroad bridges into pedestrian footpaths.  They’re irresistible.