Buses On High

High Street is one of Columbus’ main drags.  It runs north-south through the heart of downtown and connects it to German Village, the Arena District, the Short North, the University District, and Clintonville.  Now city planners and the Central Ohio Transit Authority are wrestling with a thorny question:  Should High Street also be one of Columbus’ main bus routes — or even be a bus route at all?

IMG_5232Currently, High Street is a primary bus artery.  Sixty-six buses an hour — more than one a minute — rumble north to south down High Street during peak hours.  A COTA consultant recommended cutting that number to 46, and after people complained that the plan didn’t go far enough COTA proposed additional modifications that will reduce the number to 26 north-south buses an hour.  The new plan would move much of the bus traffic to Front, Third, and Fourth Streets and is contingent on the city agreeing to convert Front Street from a one-way to a two-way street.

This exercise in urban planning is a tough balancing act.  Many people (like the Bus-Riding Conservative) take the bus to workplaces in downtown Columbus, and COTA would like to encourage even more to do so.  Moving bus stops to places several blocks away wouldn’t exactly encourage more ridership.  At the same time, the buses are loud and contribute greatly to traffic congestion.  In addition, many High Street business owners feel that the transfer stations, where bus riders gather to wait for their rides, may be used as locations for drug dealing, discourage foot traffic by potential customers, and are unsightly, besides. If may just be coincidence, but while downtown generally is bustling with rehabbing and construction, there remain many vacant storefronts and parking lots on High Street.

Earlier this week I walked to a High Street restaurant on a path that took me past the busy transfer station at Broad and High, where pedestrians must follow a gauntlet between the sidewalk structure and groups of people sitting on the wall in front of the Statehouse.  It’s not exactly a pleasant walk, and it doesn’t show off the Statehouse in a great light, either.  Although I recognize that urban planning shouldn’t be all about how I personally am affected, I’ll be happy to see fewer buses, and transfer stations, on High Street.

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Louie, Louie

The man who sang one of the greatest rock ‘n roll songs in history has died.  Jack Ely, the lead singer for The Kingsmen who delivered the definitive vocal rendition of Louie, Louie, died recently at age 71.  His song is an acknowledged classic that is instantly familiar to every rock music fan and was memorably sung by the frat boys in Animal House.

What makes a song great?  The Kingsmen’s version of Louie, Louie is only 2 minutes, 46 seconds long.  It features a cheesy organ intro, a simple beat, crashing drums, and an off-kilter guitar solo, but what makes it unforgettable are vocals that sound like they were recorded at 3 a.m. in a bus station bathroom by a drunken guy who is singing in a rare Martian dialect.  The unique sound occurred because Ely, who was wearing braces at the time, was placed in the middle of the band by the recording engineer to achieve a “live feel” in the recording and had to scream out the lyrics into a microphone located several feet overhead.

The deliciously slurred, garbled result was an immediate hit, in part because you could dance to it and in part because teenage boys across America had heard that the “real” lyrics were “dirty” and bought the record in droves trying to decipher them.  In fact, Louie, Louie, which was written by Richard Berry, is a simple, sweet song about a man thinking about the girl he is going to see when he returns to Jamaica — but good luck figuring that out from Ely’s howling, boozy-sounding vocals.

The rumors of a dirty meaning to the song were so persistent and widespread that the FBI and other law enforcement entities actually looked into the issue to determine whether Louie, Louie violated then-existing obscenity laws. They ultimately concluded that The Kingsmen’s version was “unintelligible at any speed.”  And that’s what made it great.

The Jinx Is Alive And Well

Before this season began, Sports Illustrated apparently picked the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series. Every true fan of the Tribe immediately reacted as if they had been stung by every worker in a colony of colossal poisonous wasps.  There was no need to even read the article, because we knew that disaster lurked dead ahead.

We know what happens when Sports Illustrated picks you.  To be blunt, and somewhat vulgar, it means you’re irretrievably cursed and you’re going to suck.  And that has exactly what has happened with the Tribe this year.  They’ve blown chunks, and in particular they’ve been humiliated and beaten like a rug by their big purported rival the Detroit Tigers.  Some rivalry!  The Tigers beat the snot out of the Indians, and the Indians go home with covered with shame and embarrassment.  Hell, the Indians have even been thumped by the Chicago White Sox.  What could be more embarrassing than that?

Sports Illustrated, thanks a lot!  April isn’t even over, and already the Indians have shown beyond dispute that they aren’t a contender and haven’t a chance.  So what are we supposed to watch between now and football season?  Golf?  Soccer, for God’s sake?

Helping Birds Make It Home

Who doesn’t like birds — at least, birds other than pigeons?  They are pretty and colorful, they add happy chirping and warbling to our world, and they are a pleasure to watch as they soar, dip, and dive and make us wish we could fly, too.

But birds have a big problem.  Every year, millions of them are killed in urban settings for reasons collectively known as fatal light attraction.  They become disoriented by the mirrored surface of an office building, believe the reflection of a tree is the real thing, and are killed by the resulting collision.  Or they think they have a clear flight path to the tree and pond in the glass-walled atrium and fatally crash into the unseen window. If you’ve ever seen a bird strike a window — from inside or outside — and heard the terrible hollow thud the unfortunate bird makes you probably won’t forget it.

Scientists also worry that the bright lights of cities may be altering migration patterns because the lights interfere with the bird’s ability to navigate by starlight.  In addition, bird deaths from fatal light attraction interfere with normal evolutionary processes.  Whereas survival of the fittest is supposed to mean the genes of the strongest, healthiest birds are passed to the next generation, death from a window collision can strike down even the healthiest of our flying friends.

People are trying to do something about the problem of fatal light attraction.  The National Audubon Society sponsors a “lights out” program designed to reduce light confusion, with local chapters across the country.   In Canada, an organization called FLAP — for Fatal Light Awareness Program — is encouraging the construction and lighting of buildings in ways that will help to minimize unnecessary bird deaths.  And authorities are starting to take notice, too.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just announced that non-essential outdoor lights will be turned off in state-run buildings between 11 p.m. and dawn during the peak migratory seasons in the spring and fall.

Right now, there’s a bird outside my window, chirping with pleasure as dawn approaches.  Fewer soulless mirrored buildings, an end to generic office building atriums, and turning off bright lights during the early morning hours — which presumably would be a financial and energy savings, too — so that birds can migrate safely seems like a small price to pay to ensure that we can continue to enjoy their sweet morning song.

Just Call Him Tex

Richard’s last day at the Florida Times-Union was Friday.  He’s left Jacksonville and, as we speak, is driving across the southern rim of the United States, skirting the Gulf of Mexico.  After a stop in New Orleans to visit a friend he’ll make his way to San Antonio, Texas, where he will be starting a job with the San Antonio Express-News.

Richard enjoyed his job at the Times-Union and gained some great experience there — but the opportunity presented at the Express-News was just too good to pass up.  The career of a young journalist tends to be an itinerant one, where moves from one paper to another are common.  Already Richard has worked for four dailies, in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, and San Antonio.  And his move back to San Antonio is a return trip, because he worked there several years ago as an intern.  Richard’s experience shows the value of internships, because the Express-News staff remembered him from his intern days and sought him out for this new position.

So it’s so long to Jacksonville, and hello again to hot and bustling San Antonio, where Richard will be doing special business reporting and investigative reporting.

The Long, Hot Summer

There was rioting in Baltimore Saturday night.  Demonstrators protesting the death of Freddie Gray broke windows, smashed storefronts, threw rocks, and vandalized cars.  Gray died from spinal injuries a week after being arrested by police, and his funeral is today.  The Baltimore protests follow protests last year in Ferguson, Missouri.

Gray’s death, the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police, and other recent incidents involving African-Americans and police have raised tensions in our urban communities.  One incident follows on the heels of another, and the barrage seems to be having a cascading effect.  Many African-Americans feel that they are being racially targeted and, at times, brutally mistreated by the police, and the police in turn feel that they are under siege and unfairly maligned for a handful of incidents out of thousands of uneventful apprehensions and arrests.

Those of us who lived during the ’60s remember summers where rioting and violent clashes with police seemed to be routine and block after block of inner cities in America were looted, vandalized, and left gutted and smoking by arson.  Many neighborhoods that were destroyed never recovered and are still haunted ruins even now, decades later.  The ’60s were an especially turbulent time for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean what happened then could never happen now.  Simple protests can turn into riots when people feel sufficiently desperate and hopeless.

At this point, many of us are holding our breath and hoping that we can avoid another high-profile incident that might prove to be the tipping point.  Having lived through the ’60s, I have no desire to see another long, hot summer.

Cranbrook Open Studios And House-Warming Party

This weekend it was back up to Cranbrook for the Open Studios event, where all of the artists open their studios to the public.  It’s a great chance to see what the students are working on — and it’s also a reason for them to straighten up their cluttered spaces, too.

IMG_5229This is a very busy time for the Cranbrook kids, and particularly so for Russell and some of his fellow graduating students.  They not only are showing their work at the Open Studios and in the Cranbrook Art Museum, but they’ve also decided to stage a group exhibition of their artwork in downtown Detroit.  Called House-Warming Party, the exhibition features pieces from Russell and 11 other Cranbrook artists.  The show, located at 2170 Mack Avenue in Detroit, is open on Saturday and Sundays from 1-6 p.m. and by appointment between now and May 10.

I know Russell has been burning the candle at both ends on this last big push before graduation, and I hope he gets a chance to rest a bit.  But his artwork at Open Studios looked great and seemed to attract a very interested crowd.  And I think the notion of Russell and some of his classmates venturing off the picturesque Cranbrook campus to stage an exhibition and engage with the artistic community in the city is very cool, indeed.  The grit and grime and spunk and comeback spirit of Detroit clearly has  influenced Russell’s art, and having a show is a good way to make a payback of sorts to the Motor City.

Kish and I will be seeing House-Warming Party when we go up for graduation.  If you are in Detroit between now and May 10, I encourage you to visit the Cranbrook Museum and the House-Warming Party to see what some up-and-coming artists are doing.  You can get more information about the latter at housewarmingshow@gmail.com.

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