Inching Back To The Norm At The North

Yesterday it was a brisk but bright day in Columbus. The B.A. Jersey Girl and I both had a hankering for some Momo Ghar dumplings and their killer sauce, so we decided to brave the stiff fall breeze and hike up to the North Market for lunch. It’s the first time we’ve been there since some distant time in the P.P. (Pre-Pandemic) Period.

I’m pleased to report that the North Market was bustling when we got there and decked out in its holiday finery. There were lots of shoppers downstairs, and diners like us looking for our lunches, and when we had purchased our dumplings and went upstairs to eat most of the tables in the large dining area were occupied. We grabbed one of the few open tables and proceeded to dig into our dumplings (which were exceptionally delicious, as always) and enjoy our lunch. Even when we left at about 1 p.m., and I snapped the above photo, there were still latecomers upstairs eating and lingering at their tables, and some shoppers downstairs, too.

I wouldn’t say the North Market is back to its normal, P.P. traffic and trade–yet–but I was heartened by the cars in the parking lot and the number of customers in the building. Of course, we wore masks when we were downstairs buying our lunch, in compliance with the order issued by Columbus’ mayor, but it was still great to see so many people out and about–Delta, Omicron, or other COVID-19 variants be damned. The North Market is a civic treasure and its businesses, like other Columbus small businesses, deserve our support. Yesterday’s experience suggests that other people share that feeling.

We’re gradually getting closer to the P.P. normal. And as more people get out and get back to their old habits like going to the North Market for lunch–and rediscover delights like Momo Ghar dumplings–the trend will grow stronger. It has been, and will be, a prolonged process, but we’re definitely getting closer.

When Browns Colors Prevail

It’s a pretty time of year, in central Ohio, with the trees turning into a blaze of colors and lots of dry rustling leaves to shuffle through on the sidewalks. But it’s an especially grand time of year for Cleveland Browns fans like me, because we see a lot of orange and brown wherever we look. It’s as if the trees in Schiller Park are representing for Cleveland and coming out loud and proud as Browns Backers.

Speaking of the Browns, they’ve got a huge game today against the New England Patriots, with lots of playoff implications. Because nothing ever seems to go the Browns’ way, they’ll be playing without their star running back Nick Chubb, who has been ruled out of the game due to COVID protocols.

Once again, the Browns will have to overcome all kinds of obstacles. That’s why I’m glad to see the trees rooting for Cleveland right now. The Browns need all the help they can get!

Pants And Masks

As I’ve mentioned, in Columbus we are still dealing with a mask mandate imposed by our city government. Some places are dealing with the mandate with a welcome dollop of humor. I got a laugh out of this sign on the entrance to Dempsey’s restaurant, across from the Franklin County Courthouse, that equates the discomfort of masks and pants.

It’s true–pants are pretty uncomfortable, especially for those guys hanging around the bar drinking beer.

Into Enemy Territory

German Village is one huge squirrel district, but Schiller Park is ground zero. There the trees and lawns are replete with those cute little rats with bushy tails, ever tantalizing to the dogs being walked around and through the park.

It’s interesting to watch Betty’s reaction to the park. Normally, she is a somewhat desultory fellow walker, taking a sniff here and there as we amble along. But as we approach and then enter the Schiller Park grounds, Betty’s whole attitude changes. Her posture stiffens, she goes nose to the ground for any olfactory clues, she scans the area with laser-like focus, and she is ever ready to charge after any squirrel in the vicinity. Nothing escapes her gaze. It’s as if every sensory organ has been switched on and dialed up and is vibrating to its maximum possible level.

Dogs like Betty in a squirrel-heavy area define the meaning of “alertness.”

The Upside Of Masks

The latest City of Columbus mask mandate lingers on as we approach the two-month mark–so much so that people are wondering when the heck it’s finally going to be lifted. As the article linked above reports, even though the rate of cases in Columbus is dropping steadily, and has decreased by more than half since it hit its high point on September 21, we’re not even close to the likely termination date. The Columbus city administration has indicated that Columbus remains a “red”-designated area by the CDC, and the mask order won’t be lifted until the city’s rate falls enough for the CDC to put the area into the “yellow,” or moderate, transmission category for four consecutive weeks.

So, those of us in Columbus will have to deal with the mask mandate for a while longer–even though many other parts of Ohio, which also fall into the “red” category, are ignoring the CDC’s guidance and cavorting in buildings and bars without a mask to be seen.

But enough with the complaining! It’s time to see the benefits of masks, besides whatever effect they may have on transmission of COVID-19. I thought about this recently when I was in a masked meeting and couldn’t fully stifle a yawn–and then realized that, thanks to the mask, no one could see it and conclude that I was rude or bored, or both. For that one moment, at least, I was grateful for the mask.

I’m sure there are other positive aspects of mask-wearing, besides disguising cavernous yawns. During my pimply-faced, metalmouth adolescent years, I probably would have been relieved to wear a mask that would cover the latest skin eruptions and unsightly braces or the pathetic, wispy moustache I was trying to grow. And, if you think about it, masks also allow you to cover up reactions other than yawns. How may mask-wearers have responded to a colleague by sticking out their tongues, blowing a raspberry, or engaging in some other satisfying mouth-oriented expression behind the safe covering of a mask? And masks also can serve as facial banners that allow you to advertise your allegiance to a sports team, or offer your colleagues an inspiring “we can get through this together!” message. The sale of masks–as a new product that no one bought before–probably have had a positive impact on the economy, too.

Still, I’ll be quite happy when the mask mandate finally ends, and I can walk to the coffee station to get a cup without masking up.

Another Round Of Voting Changes

For years, Ohio voting procedures seemingly did not change. The voting booth was a huge metal machine, where you pulled a lever to close a curtain behind you, used toggles to expose checkmarks that reflected your votes on candidates and ballot issues, and then when you were done pulled the lever in the opposite direction to register your votes with a satisfying thunk and open the curtain again. But those huge machines are long gone, and now it seems like the procedures changes with every election.

Yesterday’s election featured another set of changes. Our polling place was switched, from the Schiller Park Rec Center to the Livingston United Methodist Church, and the procedures were different, too. When you showed your driver’s license and signed in–on a touch pad with a stylus, rather than the big voter roll volumes that used to be used–you were handed a manila folder that contained a slip of paper and a long, thin sheet that fell on the dividing line between paper and cardboard.

One of the polling station volunteers then led you to an electronic voting machine, took the slip of paper from your folder and scanned it at the machine to register your precinct, and then inserted the long rectangular piece into the machine before leaving. It was up to the voter to then activate the machine, go through the ballot and use the push buttons on the screen to indicate your votes, and review the ballot before pushing another button to finally confirm the votes on candidates and issues. At that point the machine printed the votes on the long sheet and spit it back out, and the voter put the sheet into their manila folder, walked to another poll worker, and followed their instructions to insert the sheet into a scanning machine. Only then did the voter get the treasured sticker–also featuring a new design this year, if I recall correctly–indicating that they had voted.

I believe this is the first time I’ve used the new electronic machines, and am confident that I’ve never been given a manila folder before. I’m sure the tweaks to the voting procedures are an attempt to hit that sweet spot that allows voters to use electronic processes to register their decisions quickly but also generates some kind of meaningful paper record that can be used in the event of any recount or claim of voting improprieties. And I suspect that the manila folders were used to permit any worried voters to maintain ballot privacy during the short walk between the voting machine and the scanner. (Somewhere in Franklin County, you can probably buy used manila folders pretty cheaply today.) It’s all part of the process of constant improvement as voting moves from those colossal old metal machines to the modern electronic era.

I’m happy to report, by the way, that Columbus Issue 7, the bogus “green energy” initiative that would have raided the city budget to the tune of $87 million, got crushed at the polls yesterday. The supporters of Issue 7 apparently expected that, because last week they submitted a new petition to the city, this time seeking $107 million. That’s the price of living in a free country, where we get to go to the polls, experience the new voting procedures, cast our ballots, and get that sticker that we can proudly display so everyone we see knows we’ve done our part,

The Lone Arch

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, much of downtown Columbus fell to the wrecking ball in an orgy of “urban renewal.” Many of the old structures that were built around the turn of the century were torn down and replaced by skyscrapers–or, more likely, surface parking lots. By the time my family moved here in 1971, the Neil House, a hotel across from the Statehouse, and Union Station, shown in the photograph below, still remained, but their days were numbered. Both were torn down in the late ’70s.

I wish Union Station had survived. It was an example of Beaux Arts architecture, and featured an arched arcade for its entrance. The arcade, with its series of arches, could have been repurposed into shops and restaurants and brew pubs, but the city planners of that day didn’t really have that kind of foresight. It was easier to remove than preserve, so that it what they did. It makes you appreciate the surviving structures, like the Ohio Theater, the Atlas Building, the Wyandotte Building, and the older buildings on Gay Street and elsewhere in the core downtown area, that also could have been demolished.

All that remains of the colossal Union Station facade is the arch shown above, which stands, alone, at the entrance to a small park in the Arena District. It’s a silent reminder of what once was, and what could still have have been.

A Clean, Well, Quieter Place

One of my favorite short stories is A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, in which Ernest Hemingway tells the story of an old guy drinking in a cafe. A young waiter, impatient to move on with his evening, rips the old guy for hanging around rather than going home so the cafe can close up. The older waiter, made a bit more patient and understanding by years of life, respects the old guy’s need for a clean, well-lighted place where he can enjoy a drink before heading back to his presumably lonely life. It’s a great story, written in the classic, straightforward Hemingway declarative sentence style, that speaks to both the young and old among us.

I suspect that if the old guy were around these days he not only would be looking for a clean, well-lighted place, but also one that is quieter, too. So many modern restaurants seem to be intentionally designed and consciously configured to be as loud as possible, as if a raucous atmosphere will make a place seem really exciting (and, perhaps, compensate for marginal food). It’s annoying for those of us who want to have a nice conversation over our dinner, and find ourselves unable to do so because of the din. I suspect that the old guy in the Hemingway tale would be irritated by the noise, too.

So I am happy to report that the new Sycamore restaurant in German Village has dialed back the noise level to the point where you can actual talk to the people you are eating with, without shouting or asking people to repeat everything. The prior incarnation of the restaurant was so loud that was impossible, and in my view made eating there unpleasant. Last night we took a large group to the Sycamore, had a great meal–the food is uniformly terrific–and enjoyed lots of chat over our dinner. I’m hoping that is a sign that the trend toward ever louder restaurants has ended, and the proprietors are recognizing the value of some effective sound-dampening. efforts

If I want a loud venue, I’ll go to a sports bar where I can drink beer, eat chicken wings, and cheer for my team without worrying about irritating fellow diners. But if a want to good meal, give me a clean, well, quieter place.

Grass Roots And Telephone Poles

We’ve got an election coming up next Tuesday, and recently the notice shown in the photo above has appeared on some of the telephone poles around German Village. The signs encourage people to vote against Issue 7, the dubious so-called “clean energy” initiative that would have the effect of transferring control over millions of dollars of City of Columbus funds to shadowy groups and blowing a hole in the city budget.

I’ve previously noted my opposition to Issue 7, so I agree with the sign’s sentiment. But what’s also interesting to me is the whole idea of using signs on telephone poles as a means of communication in a political campaign. It’s a pretty labor-intensive method, because someone had to go to each of those telephone poles and staple the signs into the wood. In some suburban neighborhoods, where the car culture prevails, that would be wasted effort because motorists rolling by on their way to work or to run errands aren’t going to notice small signs on telephone poles, much less stop to read what they say.

But German Village is different. It’s very much of a walker’s neighborhood, where a pedestrian like me will notice a sign flapping on a telephone pole, become curious, and stop to read it. I’m guessing that I’m not alone in doing so. In this neighborhood, at least, sheets of paper on telephone poles are an effective method of communication, and people who live hear regularly use the telephone poles to communicate about lost cats and dogs, yard sales, and other matters. Whoever took the time to go around our streets and staple-gun their notices understood that aspect of our neighborhood and figured that if they got just a few passersby to stop and read about why Issue 7 should be defeated, it is worth the effort.

We’ve all heard of “grass roots” politics, and seasoned campaigners will tell you that all politics is local and that you need to understand your audience to communicate effectively. This election’s anti-Issue 7 telephone pole campaign in German Village is a good illustration of the merit of that observation.

More Praise For JT’s

I’ve written before about the many accolades being garnered by JT’s Pizza and Pub, my nephew’s bar and restaurant (see, e.g., here and here). So I hope readers will forgive me if I give JT’s another shameless plug by calling your attention to the nice article about JT’s in Columbus Alive, which observes–aptly–that JT’s gives Columbus diners what they want. This article even calls out the “Big Al” pizza, named for my brother-in-law–which makes this shameless plug for JT’s even more of a family affair.

If you haven’t tried JT’s and live in the area, you really should give it a shot. Why not go somewhere that will give you exactly what you want?

Different Places, Different Standards

In Columbus, the city is subject to an executive order issued last month by the Mayor Andrew Ginther that declared a state of emergency and requires masks to be worn in public spaces indoors until further notice. Over the weekend, when we went down to the Cincinnati suburbs for a wedding, reception, and related festivities, we realized through first-hand experience that that isn’t true elsewhere.

On Friday night, when we went to dinner, a comedy club, and a bar, masks were rarely encountered. At the bar, where people were packed in to hear a live band play creditable covers of songs like The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, there was not a mask to be seen as patrons drank beers and shots, shouted at each other to be heard over the music, and generally seemed to be hugely enjoying their Friday night out to start the weekend. The same was true during the rest of the weekend, in restaurants, the hotel lobby, and gas station convenience stores. We saw an occasional mask worn by service personnel, but for the most part we were moving through an unmasked world.

It was definitely different to be back in a place where no one was messing with masks, like Stonington over the summer; one member of our party described it as kind of liberating. Whatever your reaction, the weekend drove home the point that entirely different standards exist in different places, and that driving south for less than a hundred miles can move you from masked up to wide open. It calls into question whether local regulations of conduct, like the Columbus executive order, can be an effective means of limiting exposure.

Were all of the people in the various venues that we visited vaccinated? Given the vaccination percentages I’ve seen, I seriously doubt it, and certainly no one was seeking proof of vaccination upon entry. Ohio, and the rest of the country, may be moving toward herd immunity one community at a time.

Headlamper Season

We’re nearing the end of Daylight Savings Time for 2021, which officially ends at 2 a.m. on November 7. That means that, right now, it is pitch dark at 6 a.m., when I take my morning walk around Schiller Park, and we’ve reached the period I call headlamper season.

You can see one of the headlampers approaching in the above photo, which I took yesterday morning. They are joggers who wear a bright light on their heads as they run, apparently so they can better see the sidewalk as they scurry along. This distinguishes them from the other joggers who carry their own light sources on their arms or torsos and look like characters in the movie Tron.

Unfortunately, the bright light worn by the headlampers, which is right at eye level, has the effect of blinding the luckless walkers, like me, who happen to be heading in the opposite direction. When the headlampers get within a few feet the light is so dazzling against the darkness that I’m left sightless and stumbling forward, hoping that I don’t trip over an uneven part of the pavement or step off the sidewalk into an unbagged pile of dog doo. It should be obvious that the bright light is disturbing others–I always try, unsuccessfully, to shield my eyes with my hands and squint against the light–but the headlampers don’t seem to care. They are lost in their own personal headlamper world, no doubt congratulating themselves as they trot along for being able to afford the wondrous technology that allows them to bring their own light rather than relying on plentiful street lighting like the rest of us.

Evidently it’s the headlampers’ world. The rest of us just live in it.

Vote No On Issue 7

In recent years I’ve tried to avoid discussing politics in this blog, but Issue 7, which will be on the ballot in the City of Columbus in November, will have to be an exception to that rule of thumb. It’s an egregious example of misuse of the referendum process, misleading ballot language, and a crass attempt to divert City of Columbus funds into unknown pockets, all rolled into one ballot proposition. If you’re registered to vote in the City of Columbus on November 2, I urge you to get to the polls and vote “no” on Issue 7.

Issue 7 would require Columbus to create four funds–an Energy Conservation and Energy Efficiency Fund, a Clean Energy Education and Training Fund, a Minority Business Enterprise Clean Energy Development Fund and a Columbus Clean Energy Partnership Fund–and would require the city to redirect $87 million in city general funds to fund them. According to the city, two of the funds, worth $67 million, would be transferred to an unidentified group with no legislative oversight, and the removal of $87 million from the general fund would likely require significant cuts in other important city services. Columbus city leaders have spoken out against this attempt to put public funds into private hands and bypass budget processes–all of which could imperil the city’s overall financial health and its bond rating, at a time when Columbus, like other cities, is trying to deal with the many different consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Columbus Dispatch has also been outspoken about Issue 7, both in reporting on the checkered history of the issue and the lack of transparency about how the millions of dollars in public funds would be used, and by whom, and in editorializing on how the issue attempts to use “green energy” concepts to cover what the Dispatch editorial board calls a “grift.” The editorial describes Issue 7 as “a shameful attempt to confuse well-meaning voters and bilk Columbus out of money that should be used for critical services such as police and fire protection, trash collection, health services, and recreation and parks programs.”

And finally, Issue 7 is an example of an increasing problem in the American system, where standard processes in a representative democracy are being bypassed by ballot issues and referenda that have voters set policy and direct the expenditure of public funds, without the public hearings, scrutiny, and other elements of actions taken by our elected representatives that bring transparency and expertise to decision-making and public spending. And when the ballot issues contain language that obscures rather than enlightens, and seems consciously designed to mislead voters, the problem becomes even greater.

The election on November 2 is an off-year election, when turnout is likely to be small. The group behind Issue 7 no doubt hopes that most voters won’t go to the polls, and those that do will be uninformed about Issue 7 and think that the “green energy” and “clean energy” funds that it would create sound like good ideas, without realizing the true impact of the initiative.

Let’s not be fooled, folks! Let’s get to the polls on November 2 and vote “no” on Issue 7.

Rabbits Underfoot

A few months ago, on one of my morning walks, a rabbit hopped across the sidewalk as I was approaching and disappeared into the shrubbery surrounding a flower garden. “Good morning, Mr. Bun,” I said, drawing upon Calvin and Hobbes terminology. I saw another rabbit, or perhaps the same one, on a walk about a month later, and occasionally spotted Mr. Bun on later walks, too.

But on a recent walk when I saw what appeared to be Mr. Bun, I noticed another Mr. Bun, and another, and another, and another. There were a total of five rabbits in close proximity, and I realized that one of them probably had to be Ms. Bun. A single rabbit might be cute, but when you see five rabbits hopping along together you realize that the rabbits are probably starting to breed . . . well, like rabbits. And when rabbits put their minds to it, they can be pretty prolific.

It’s the kind of concern that caused Australia to build its famous “rabbit-proof fence” to try to keep rabbits that had spread across the eastern part of the country from devastating the farms of western Australia. We’ve got a rabbit-proof fence of sorts, in the form of a sturdy, solid wooden barrier, around our backyard, and I don’t grow any vegetables, anyway. But I’m going to keep my eye on the rabbit population, and tell-tale signs of rabbit munching on the gardens and plants in the neighborhood. With no natural predators in the vicinity, except passing cars, it’s not hard to see the rabbit population growing exponentially, until German Village is hip deep in cute furry creatures.

Tiki Corner

Every morning on my walk I turn the corner past a small commercial space before heading down Third Street to Schiller Park. The space used to be a Starbucks, but a few months ago the Starbucks closed and a local store called Tiki Botanicals moved in. The story of “Tiki corner” is a good example of how neighborhoods are ever-changing. This particular change has affected my walk in two noticeable ways.

The first difference is smell. Normally you don’t smell much of anything along Third Street, and I don’t remember the Starbucks having much of an external ground coffee smell. But the air around Tiki corner is rich with the scent of different soaps and shampoos and other products sold by the store. It’s a heady fragrance that definitely gives the nostrils a wake-up call first thing in the morning, and these days it also serves as a basic COVID indicator. If you can’t smell Tiki corner, it’s clearly time to go get tested.

The second difference is morning traffic. The Starbucks attracted early morning coffee zealots who drove in at high speeds, often flouting traffic laws and parking illegally before rushing in to get their pumpkin spice latte. The traffic required careful defensive walking from pedestrians who were at risk of getting caught between distracted drivers and their morning caffeine fix. That risk is now gone, and the corner has gone back to being a quiet and sleepy—if smelly—part of the neighborhood at 6 a.m.

I’ll definitely take the super-soap smell in exchange for the improvement in traffic.