The Curse Of Overconfidence

On September 7, the much-anticipated 2015 version of the Ohio State University Buckeyes will take the field for the first time — in Blacksburg, Virginia, against Virginia Tech.  The Hokies handed the Buckeyes their only loss last year, beating the Men of the Scarlet and Gray soundly here in Columbus.  Of course, the Buckeyes rebounded and went on to have a legendary season that ended with a glorious and dominating three-game run that produced a National Championship.

Buckeyes fans are eager for the new season, but the hyperbole surrounding the team is making me queasy.  You regularly see articles asking whether Ohio State will have the greatest offense in the history of college football, or have one of the best teams ever.  The overwhelming self-confidence — hubris, really — among many members of Buckeye Nation and even some members of the news media is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Fortunately for Ohio State diehards, fans and reporters don’t play the games.  Perhaps the biggest challenge for head coach Urban Meyer and his assistants this year — aside from figuring out who will be the starting quarterback — is to keep the players from reading their own press clippings and getting swelled heads.  Of course, you want players who are hungry, highly motivated, and working as hard as they possibly can for themselves and their teammates; those who are convinced that they are already among the greatest probably aren’t going to give the necessary extra effort to get the most out of every drill.

Urban Meyer, who got his bachelor’s degree in psychology, is a master motivator who seems to have an almost intuitive grasp of how young athletes think and a deep sense of how to appeal to their competitive instincts.  If anyone can keep Ohio State’s talented players on task and on point, it’s Coach Meyer — and the fact that the Buckeye roster seems very deep, with lots of gifted athletes competing relentlessly for starting positions, has to help.  Even if you’ve read article after article about your own greatness, it’s not easy to slack off when you know firsthand that the guy behind you also has enormous skills and would be perfectly happy to step in and take your place while you revel in the hype.

Brick Work

They’ve been working on a number of roads here in German Village lately.  When you are talking about working with German Village streets, that means you are talking about bricks — lots and lots of bricks.

IMG_6488What labor-intensive work this is!  Someone must individually remove each existing brick and pile them somewhere, then perform the patching work for the surface underneath the bricks, then replace the bricks, one by one.  And it’s a job that can’t really be done by a machine, either.  Although someone in Australia has invented a robotic machine that creates 3D prints of brick and then lays them, in German Village authenticity is crucial, which means that the original brick must be reused.  Only a human bricklayer will do.

When you see the piles created by even one of the smaller brick repair jobs, you’re amazed at how many bricks there are — and then you realize with a start how many people must have been needed to lay the brick streets of German Village, and for that matter, most of downtown Columbus and the areas surrounding German Village, too.  It must have been a staggering job that kept squadrons of workers busy for months.  No wonder the employment statistics of those days were better than they are now.

If we want to nudge back toward full employment, maybe the answer is to get rid of asphalt and concrete and go back to brick-laying our streets — without the assistance of 3D-printing, brick-laying Australian robots.

Feet Off The Dash, Already

Some time ago I wrote about seeing a car where the driver, inexplicably and implausibly, was tooling down the road with her left foot hanging out the driver’s side window.  That’s pretty darned weird.  The most common example of vehicular foot shenanigans, of course, is to see people in the passenger seat with their feet up on the dashboard, pressed against the windshield.  In fact, I know one of those people rather well.

Any time you’re not using a device as it is designed to be used, you’re running a risk, and that’s as true with cars as it is for lawn mowers, power boats, or any other mechanism that comes with multi-page instruction manuals that feature lots of cautionary language and warnings in bold-faced black capital letters.  Cars are designed for drivers and passengers to keep their feet on the floor, and not have them on the dash or hanging out the window.

I ran across this piece about the risks you run when you keep your feet on the dash.  If you’re in that position when your car is in an accident, the car’s airbags will inflate in a split-second with explosive force, as they are designed to do, and drive your legs and knees back into your jaw, face and head with tremendous power just as your head and torso are being carried forward by the car’s motion.  You can imagine the terrible damage that can be done in that scenario — and that’s just one of the many appalling injury possibilities.  If you want to see some truly horrific images of bodily trauma, Google “feet on the dash” and see what you find.  It might just give you nightmares.

Maybe it’s more relaxing to ride with your feet on the dash, and maybe it’s just a bit more fun in a break-the-minor-rules-of-conduct kind of way.  Do yourself a favor, though, and resist the temptation.


Worst Of The Worst

Recently we were at a cocktail party when a group of us got into a discussion about a taboo cocktail party subject:  politics.  The debate was about one of those topics that just about every adult American, from the beginning of the Republic to now, has chatted about at some point — namely, who was the worst President in their lifetime.

Our friend The Activist staked out a bold position; she says it was George W. Bush, hands down, and she later sent me a link to a New York Times piece that made the argument that he was even worse than Richard Nixon.  It’s a somewhat familiar argument — sure, Nixon was a duplicitous crook, but he was a foreign policy wizard who has some “historic achievements” like opening relations with China, whereas in the writer’s view (and The Activist’s as well) Bush was a colossal disaster from beginning to end.  I’m a bit skeptical of the argument, and not just because I think no one could be worse than a President who lied, covered up, broke the law, abused his office in countless ways, and ultimately resigned in disgrace.  I also note that the article was written in 2007, while Bush was still in office, and I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to have any kind of perspective on a President until years, and more likely decades, after his term has ended and the long-term consequences of his actions become clear.

I think it’s still too soon for anyone to objectively assess George W. Bush.  It’s interesting that, almost eight years later, he still provokes such disdain that intelligent, well-meaning people would passionately argue that he was worse than Dick Nixon.  I suspect that, some years from now, historians will treat him more kindly., whereas Nixon will remain at the rancid bottom of the barrel

I also wonder:  if we’re talking about awful Presidents, where does Jimmy Carter rank?  I would never argue that he was worse than Richard Nixon, of course, but anyone who lived through Carter’s one term will recall the terrible and pervasive feeling that the country was lost, somehow, and there really wasn’t a captain at the helm.  The economy was stagnant and wracked by ever-growing inflation and high interest rates and high unemployment, on the international front the Iranian hostage crisis made it seem like the United States was a powerless colossus, and Carter’s decision to retreat to Camp David to ruminate about the national soul rather than show leadership in the face of adversity left the country baffled.

At the end of Carter’s presidency, the United States seemed pretty hopeless.  Even at the worst moments of George W. Bush’s presidency, I never caught the same whiff of desperation that existed in the last year Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office.

Waiting For The Sun

IMG_6549In my opinion one of the coolest buildings in downtown Columbus is the former Central Presbyterian Church, located at the corner of Chapel Street and Third.  It’s built in the Norman architectural style, with clean lines, turrets, and a bright exterior that looks more like a fort than a church.  I’ve never been inside, but apparently the interior is just as interesting as the exterior.

I walk past this building every day, to and from work.  I’ve been waiting for a day when, on my walk home, the afternoon sunlight strikes the church at just the right angle, illuminating the facade of the church while leaving it surrounded by deep shadow.  Today it happened.

The Republican Hair Club For Men

Say what you will about the Republican candidates for President, but you have to concede one thing:  they are displaying a fantastically diverse set of hairstyles.  With 16 men ranging from 40s to nearly 70 in the field and not a chrome domer in the bunch, the GOP guys have beaten the odds.  In fact, it’s so statistically improbable that you have to wonder if it isn’t random chance and instead was the a plan of a shadowy, secret organization . . . .

Chairman TRUMP:  OK, I’m calling this meeting of the Republican Hair Club for Men to order.  Gentlemen, congratulations on a good first debate.  Governor Bush, do you have a report for us?

Gov. BUSH:  Yes, Mr. Chairman.  As you all know, our plan was to subconsciously appeal to the deep-seated hair fantasies and vanities of the American male by presenting candidates who cover the broadest possible range of different coiffures short of outright baldness  And I’m pleased to say it has worked beyond our wildest dreams.  Our studies show that not only did that first Fox debate achieve record ratings, but the vast majority of men who tuned in really were just checking out our different stylings.

Sen. CRUZ:  And I’m betting a number of those viewers saw the benefits of Brylcreem, didn’t they?  The success of Mad Men made American men recognize that “a little dab’ll do ya” is a darn good look.  In fact, you might even say it’s slick.  Get it?

Chairman TRUMP (sighing):  Senator — we get it, we just don’t want it.  I’m from the “wet head is dead” school myself.  And I know Governor Bush prefers his distracted professor look, Governor Walker has the “boyish front, bald spot in back” ‘do covered, Dr. Carson’s strongly representing the short hair contingent, Senator Rubio and Governor Huckabee are displaying the benefits of a razor cut at both ends of the age spectrum . . . .

Sen. PAUL (interrupting):  And don’t forget us Kentuckians who want a haircut that reminds everyone of Davy Crockett and his coonskin cap!

Chairman TRUMP:  Still having a bad day, eh?  Yes, Governor Kasich?

Gov. KASICH:  To add to Governor Bush’s report, I wanted to note that the polling data is showing that my little surge in New Hampshire is almost entirely attributable to my coiffure.  I was going for a rumpled, devil-may-care look, but in the North Country where they hibernate for most of the winter, it’s been interpreted as “bed head.”  It just shows the political value of an ambiguous, multi-purpose styling that covers a number of bases.

Sen. RUBIO:  That’s an excellent point, Governor.  And it reminds me:  the barbers, hair stylists, and product manufacturers that have been of our strongest supporters have identified a gaping hole in our coverage of the spectrum of men’s hairstyles.

Dr. CARSON:  It’s the mullet, isn’t it?

Sen. RUBIO:  Precisely.  How about it, Governor Christie?  As the representative of the Garden State, you’re the logical choice, aren’t you?  Of course, you’d have to get a tattoo and maybe a piercing, too.

Gov. CHRISTIE:  I think you’re confused there, Senator.  I could see it if you were asking me to adopt a greasy or spiky Jersey Shore-type cut, but a mullet really is more of an Appalachian look, so I’ll have to defer to Senator Paul to take his tousled ‘do to the obvious next level.

Gov. WALKER:  Speaking of the next level, Mr. Chairman, when are you going to share with us your secret about how you hold that extravagant mane of yours — whatever it is — in place?  Is it a gel or cream?  Is it some kind of top-secret spray?  Lacquer?

Chairman TRUMP:  Sorry, boys — but that information is more classified than the email found on Hillary Clinton’s private server.

Gov. HUCKABEE:  It’s about time that someone talked about the opposition!  I suggest that each of you stop this orgy of self-congratulation and think for a minute about the Democratic front-runner.  Let’s face it:  Secretary Clinton, alone, has covered more hairdos than our entire group.  She’s had short cuts, long looks, hair flipped up at the end, hair curled under — I’m sure if I did enough internet research I could find an ’80s big hair coiff and maybe even a beehive in her past, too.  It’s incredibly impressive.  She’s just one woman, yet she’s managed to span virtually the entire spectrum of women’s hairstyles!

Chairman TRUMP (suddenly somber):  He’s right, men — we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us.  This meeting is now adjourned.  Senator Cruz, could you clean off the back of your chair before you go?

Get Up Early, Or Go The Night Before?

I’ve been on the road a fair amount lately, and I’ve been facing the classic business traveler’s dilemma:  I’ve got to be in another city for a meeting that begins at 10 a.m.  Should I get up early and take the first flight of the day that will get me there just in time, or should I give up a night at home and head to the location of the meeting the night before?

IMG_6548My position on this unenviable choice has changed.  I used to be all in favor of staying home and spending as much time with my family as possible, and then getting up before the crack of dawn, hitting the airport, and trusting in the benevolence of the Travel Gods.  Then I had one instance where the Travel Gods weren’t kind, my flight was delayed and then rerouted, and I ended up missing an important meeting.  The people involved were gracious about it, but I vowed that I would never let that happen again.

One other thing changed that also altered my perspective:  I realized that I simply never got a good night’s sleep the night before, no matter what the circumstances.  My subconscious brain was so worried about oversleeping that I was tossing and turning all night, waking up every 15 minutes to look bleary-eyed at the clock radio before finally, wearily, giving up on trying to get some shuteye and getting up even earlier than I really needed to to make the flight.

So now I always — always — go in the night before.  If the Travel Gods are unkind, as they frequently are, I’ll just get in even later than planned.  But I’ll still be there in time for the meeting, and in the meantime I just might get some sleep, too.

Refilling The Empties

Refilling empties is a long-recognized recycling method.  That same concept applies to our downtown areas, too — except instead of refilling bottles and cans you’re reusing parcels of property where buildings once stood, but that have long since become parking lots.

IMG_6365Of course, downtown areas need some parking, but block after block of parking lots is unsightly and depressing.  They’re like the scarred urban equivalent of strip-mined land.  It’s a big issue in Columbus, where in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s the core downtown area became a checkerboard of parking lots.  One big lot is found at the corner of Gay and High, only one block from the Statehouse at the center of the city.  Once it was a bustling five-and-dime store, now it’s just a sad asphalt surface.

The redevelopment boom in downtown Columbus started with refurbishing empty buildings and turning them into apartments and condos, but now it’s turning to refilling those empty parking lots.  And, finally, the lot at the corner of Gay and High looks like it will get its turn, as a local developer has submitted a plan that would turn a parking lot into a mixed use structure that would include more than 150 apartments, retail spaces — and parking.  At the same time, companies are working on renovating some of the other buildings in the neighborhood that have been either vacant or underused for years, and city planners are attributing at least part of the impetus for the work to the success of the Gay Street corridor of restaurants, which have helped to make downtown more hip and attractive.

I’ll look forward to the day when there aren’t many parking lots in downtown Columbus anymore; buildings tend to be a lot more interesting and attractive than parked cars.  I also think, though, that it’s time to stop the ever-outward-radiating development of suburban sprawl that has turned what used to be rolling farmland surrounding Columbus into countless look-alike suburban communities, and focus instead on the central city.  The infrastructure is here and now the people are returning, too.  Let’s let our remaining farmland be and start to refill some of these empty spaces.

Downtown Dog

IMG_6541When I took Kasey for a walk to the office today I figured that downtown wouldn’t be a very interesting place for a dog, but of course I was wrong.  There are a number of people who live in downtown Columbus, and many of them enjoy the company of Man’s Best Friend.  We encountered a number of these downtown dogs on our walk today — and there is only one thing more interesting to dogs than other dogs.

That one thing, of course, is food — and there too Kasey hit a home run on today’s little adventure, because the Columbus Food Truck Festival is still going on.  That meant there were lots of interesting little splots and spills on the sidewalks that required close and thorough olfactory inspection and a random nibble or two.

Interestingly, Kasey really liked frolicking on the Ohio Statehouse grounds.  Maybe she just likes the smell of politicians.

Office Dog

IMG_6533Today I did something I’ve never done before:  walk Kasey down to the office to keep me company while I got some work done.  I think she enjoyed herself, after first giving my office a thorough sniff test around the perimeter, and later finding just the right-sized patch of sunlight where she could stretch out and nap.  Her snores and snorts provided some funny background noise as I worked.

I think it’s also safe to say that Kasey thought the elevator was weird, magical, and a bit frightening.  She was glad when the doors slid open and she could get out.


A Little Edsel Love

IMG_6499Its name is right up there with the Titanic:  a proper noun that, as a result of unfortunate circumstance, has morphed into popular language as a shorthand reference for disaster.  In this case, it is a corporate disaster — a highly marketed, ridiculously expensive roll-out of a new product that utterly fails to appeal to the masses.  It has endured for almost 60 years as the ultimate business failure, has survived challenges by New Coke and Betamax VCRs and countless other duds, and still tops the lists of absolute flops.

IMG_6500So when I saw a vintage, perfectly preserved 1958 Edsel — the year the car was first introduced to the American public — parked on the street yesterday, I just had to stop, give it a close, 360-degree inspection, and take these photos.  It was a big, gleaming, two-toned, orange-and-cream-colored beauty, with plenty of chrome that caught the sunlight just right — a classic example of a ’50s-era American car.

The reality is, the Edsel is a beautiful vehicle, and its allure is made all the more intriguing by the scent of failure and catastrophe that lingers around it.  I wasn’t the only passerby to stop, give a low whistle, and check it out.

IMG_6503The back story of the Edsel is a familiar one.  Named for the son of Henry Ford, the Edsel was an effort by the Ford Motor Company to introduce an entirely new car brand that featured new approaches to standard car features. Ford and GM were in their glory days, and GM had a family of car brands that would allow car-hungry, upwardly mobile Americans to progress from the cheaper ones all the way up to Cadillac.  Ford, on the other hand, had only three brands — Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln.  Ford’s “dream big” solution was to create an entirely new brand.

The Edsel was heavily promoted in advance, in one of the first huge, post-World War II marketing campaigns, with ads that featured tantalizing pictures of shrouded models and suggested that America was on the cusp of an entirely new driving experience.  Then the Edsel was finally rolled out, with great fanfare, on one day in September 1957.

And the Edsel bombed, completely.  It was such a colossal failure that, despite sinking huge amounts of money into the effort, only a few years later Ford recognized the inevitable, production on the Edsel ceased forever, and its name entered the lexicon as synonymous with corporate catastrophe.

IMG_6504Why did the Edsel fail?  Countless people have weighed in on that core question, and no doubt the Edsel is still and will always be a case study in MBA and Marketing programs across the country.  And people have identified lots of potential reasons.  The economy was just moving into recession as the Edsel was introduced.  The marketing campaign had raised public expectations so high that no product, no matter how great, could possibly match them.  The Edsel was too technologically advanced, with a push-button transmission set-up in the middle of the steering wheel and other novel features.  Ford tried to do too much by creating an entirely new car brand, with 18 new models and more than 1000 brand-new dealerships.

IMG_6502And some of the reasons even target the American car-buying psyche.  Some people argue that the top-of-the-world Americans of the ’50s were looking for huge, overpowered, rolling phallic symbols that would serve as tributes to their masculinity.  The Edsel’s distinctive front grille, they say, not only did not have the phallic element that Americans instinctively craved, but in fact suggested the exact opposite.

Why did the Edsel fail?  I’m glad to leave that question to the academics and armchair psychologists and marketing gurus and corporate planning executives.  All I know is that when I see an Edsel on the street, I’ll gladly give that low whistle and take a good look at what remains a very cool car.


St. Mary’s Homecoming Festival

IMG_6517Last night and tonight our neighbor, St. Mary Catholic Church, is hosting its annual Homecoming Festival.  It’s got the vibe of county fair, community get-together, neighborhood talent show, and church potluck dinner, all rolled into one.  It’s got live music, small carnival rides, games of chance, and lots of food.  This year, the Festival is extra-special, because St. Mary is celebrating its 150th year, having been founded the same year that the Civil War ended.

Last night I was reading in our backyard as the sounds of the Festival announcements — some of them made by kids — drifted over the sultry air to reach me a half-block away.  It was a warm, friendly sound from a church that is a good neighbor.