Good Neighbor

This sign appeared recently on the telephone pole at the corner of Livingston Avenue and Third Street, on my walking route to work.  At first I didn’t notice it, but when I read it I thought about what a nice, neighborly thing it was for a dental office to give up one day of paid work in order to offer a free filling, a tooth extraction, or a cleaning to someone who just couldn’t afford dental care otherwise.  And the people offering this free benefit were serious about letting people know about their effort to give back to the community — Kimberly Parkway, where the dental office is located, is miles to the east of the German Village location of this particular sign.  I imagine that similar signs could be found at many locations in our city.

In the hurly-burly of our lives in modern America, we sometimes tend to forget, or take for granted, the nice things that people do for each other.  We really shouldn’t.  There are still a lot of nice people in the world who are willing to help others and donate some of their time in doing so.

Advertisements

When A Restaurant Goes Downhill

Last night Kish and I went out to dinner with Mr. and Mrs. JV at a Grandview restaurant that, at one time, was among the better restaurants in the Columbus area.  We hadn’t been there in a long time, and boy . . . the years have not been kind.  The meal was mediocre at best, and we came away shaking our heads and thinking that we wouldn’t be surprised to hear in the near future that the place is closing.

crash-996-1499798871This once-hot restaurant is heading downhill faster than a mountain biker who missed a hairpin turn.

The telltale signs were there from the beginning of the meal.  First, the place was almost deserted — in contrast to its glory days, when getting a table was almost impossible.  Initially, we thought it was just a late-arriving crowd, but it turned out to be a never-arriving crowd.  Second, the service was indifferent.  We had a perfectly pleasant young woman take our order, but she ignored us for long stretches of time — even though she didn’t have many tables to worry about.  She also committed the unforgivable sin:  when I specifically asked for something, she promptly forgot about it, and I had to remind her about it when she came around again after I had eaten about half of my dish.  Good restaurants know that attentive service is a key part of the dining experience.  This restaurant, unfortunately, just wasn’t paying attention.

And finally, the food wasn’t very good.  This particular restaurant was once a kind of a foodie place, where you could anticipate getting interesting, fresh, well-prepared food.  Last night, I ordered a pasta dish, and the pasta tasted like it came out of a box, the marinara sauce was bland to the point of total flavorlessness, and the meatballs tasted like they might have been frozen and thawed for the night.  I finished about half of it and then decided that my taste buds had suffered enough.

I’m quite confident I won’t go back to that place, but I found myself wondering about the arc of a restaurant.  What changed?  Has the original restauranteur lost interest, or given up the reins to someone who thinks scrimping on the food and service is the road to profit?  Whatever the reason, this restaurant looks to be in death-spiral mode.  The unpleasant experience also made me appreciate restaurants that have consistently maintained high quality food, service, and ambiance over the years — like two of my favorites, G. Michael’s and Indian Oven.  Fortunately for fans like me, they’ve been able to avoid the downhill arc.

The Day The C-J Died

Our J-School friend Snow recently changed jobs and was cleaning out his office.  As part of the process, he wanted to recycle a literal page of Columbus history — a framed copy of the last front page of the Columbus Citizen-Journal.  Rather than putting it into a box in the basement that never would be seen again, he asked if I wanted it, and I said sure.

img_8229Columbus used to be a two-newspaper town.  There was the Columbus Dispatch, of course, and the Columbus Citizen-Journal.  The Dispatch was the established afternoon newspaper, in the days when many newspapers were delivered around 4 p.m. so people coming home from work could catch up on the news before dinner, and the C-J was the morning option.  The Dispatch, owned by a prominent local family, was a dominant force, and its articles could shake the political foundations in downtown Columbus.  The C-J, a part of the Scripps-Howard chain, tried to be the lighter, spunky competitor.

But reading tastes changed, and when it became clear that afternoon newspapers were going the way of the dodo, the Dispatch decided it needed to become a morning paper to survive.  An agreement under which the Dispatch printed the C-J was due to expire, and after much hand-wringing the agreement was allowed to lapse.  In those pre-internet days, becoming an on-line newspaper was not an option, and with no way to print itself the C-J was inevitably doomed.  The Columbus Citizen-Journal therefore printed its last edition, shown above, on December 31, 1985, and Columbus officially became a one-newspaper town the next day.

At the time, that seemed like a very bad thing.  I marched in the “Save the C-J Brigade” during the 1985 Doo-Dah Parade, and thought that if Columbus wanted to be a big city it needed to have a second newspaper that could provide an alternative perspective.  And, of course, having two newspapers promotes competition and better reporting.  But it turned out that Columbus was just on the leading edge of a trend that has seen many newspapers turn off their presses and many big cities become one-newspaper towns.  In the digital age, newspapers struggle to compete with online news sources that deliver the news instantaneously and around the clock, and the online sources have rushed in to fill the content void that was created by the closure of so many daily newspapers.  Even the Dispatch, once so dominant, has seen its pages and circulation shrink.

Thirty-four years later, how many people in Columbus remember the C-J, or even know that at one time there was a second newspaper in town?  It’s important, of course, to hear alternative viewpoints — particularly in these politically divided days — but maybe daily print newspapers are not the best way, technologically and culturally, to supply those viewpoints.  In reality, for all of the dire predictions, Columbus has done pretty well as a one-newspaper town.

Dog Signage

German Village is dog territory.  It seems like 90 percent of the residents here have dogs, and whenever you go out for a walk, you’re likely to encounter every variety of canine, every form of terrier and shepherd and retriever, from mutt to pure-bred, out strolling our brick-lined streets.

And you’re also likely to encounter signs warning dogs and their owners to avoid answering the call of nature in the yards and flower beds of the non-dog owners among us.  Some signs are more polite than others, some use “please” and some just say “No!,” but the message is ultimately the same.

What, exactly, is the purpose of those signs?  If it is to encourage dog owners to be responsible in performing their poop scoop obligations, the signs seem . . . unnecessary.  Most dog owners accept the need to stoop and scoop as part of the price that must be paid for having a four-legged friend in the house.  And f a dog owner is inclined to ignore his/her general obligations in a civilized society, a mere sign doesn’t seem likely to change their approach.  So I’ve concluded that the signs really are just another example of the prevalent NIMBY phenomenon at work.  The people with signs know the dogs are going to do what dogs do — which is to produce dog doo — and what they really want is for dog owners to yank their canine friends away from the sign owner’s property so that they find their target in the neighbor’s patch of ground instead.

The signers are really saying that their property deserves special treatment.  It’s not a very neighborly thing to do, when you think about it.

Ghosts of High School Past

Some curious news for those of us who graduated from Upper Arlington High School has been reported recently:  the existing school where we went to classes years ago is built on the grounds of a former family cemetery.  (As if going to high school weren’t scary enough already, just on its own!)

pioneer-green-flakeThe back story is really pretty interesting stuff.  In the years before and during the Civil War — long before Upper Arlington became the hoity-toity, McMansion-filled suburb it is now — the land was owned by a former slave named Pleasant Litchford.  He was an leading member of the Perry Township community, a master blacksmith, a founding member of a church, a large property owner, . . . and, notably, a participant in the Underground Railroad that moved escaped slaves from the slaveholding south, through the free states, and north to Canada and freedom.  Mr. Litchford established a school for African-American children on his property — and also a cemetery for his family and descendants.  Mr. Litchford died in 1867, just after the Civil War ended.

Years later, Upper Arlington was founded, and later still, in 1955, the school board was looking for a place to build the new high school.  They bought the Litchford property and discovered that it included the cemetery.  Rather than leave the cemetery be, they exhumed the buried bodies and moved them to Union Cemetery for reinterment, where most of them are listed as “unnamed adults.”  The school then was built on the property and, with the kind of collective amnesia that is all-too-common in American history, people in Upper Arlington promptly forgot about Pleasant Litchford and his family cemetery.  When I started to go to UAHS in the early ’70s, no one told me or my fellow students that we were walking over the ground of a former cemetery.

I don’t think I ever saw a ghost lurking in the halls of UAHS, and the only creepy feeling I got was around the flea-bitten remains of a gigantic standing stuffed bear that was kept in a glass cage near the entrance of the building.  Now the old building is going to be torn down and a new building erected, and the construction crews are going to be mindful, as they dig and build, to keep an eye out for remains that might have been missed in 1955.

And while they’re building a new school, here’s an idea for the school board to consider:  rather than renaming the new building Upper Arlington High School, which is pretty boring, how about celebrating a man whose life epitomized a strong, personal commitment to freedom, family, hard work, and education, and naming the new school Pleasant Litchford High School instead?

Loud And Proud

As the Columbus Blue Jackets have moved forward in the NHL playoffs, there’s been a lot of buzz at the national level about how loud the crowd is during home games at Nationwide Arena.  Between the cannon blasts and the screaming fans, the consensus is that the home crowd gives the CBJ a decided home ice advantage.  My friends who have gone to some of the playoff games — to the extent their ringing ears allow them to understand human speech at all — have confirmed that yes, it’s loud.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Columbus Blue JacketsA story in the local press offered some scientific evidence of just how loud Nationwide Arena has been.  Using a decibel meter to measure the noise level, the article reported that it was 98 decibels — about the noise level of a snowmobile — before the most recent playoff game even started, the noise increased to 111 decibels (chainsaw level) when the teams took the ice, and the pandemonium topped out at 118 decibels (just about the noise of an ambulance siren passing by) when the game ended and the Blue Jackets took home a victory to move into a 2-1 series lead against the Boston Bruins.

It’s pretty impressive, but it’s worth pointing out that the Nationwide Arena fans are still far off the loudest crowd noise ever recorded at a sports event — 142 decibels, during a 2014 NFL playoff game in Kansas City.  That level of deafening noise might be out of reach, but for game 4 of the Boston series, tonight, Blue Jackets fans are aiming to get up to 125 decibels, which is about the level of a jackhammer.

It’s all very interesting to me, because I’m learning something new about my fellow Columbusites.  I wouldn’t say that Columbus sports fans are a sit-on-their-hands group, but I also haven’t thought of them as a raucous mob capable of producing a constant, pulsating ear-splitting din in support of their hometown teams.  Apparently I’ve been wrong all these years — it’s just taken a little NHL playoff run to up the uproar level and bring out the bedlam.

Going to Nationwide Arena for one of these games would be a great experience, but be sure to bring your earplugs.