Curious Developments

It’s been a weird few months in Columbus, and here’s the latest curious development– spiky green objects are thrusting upward from the soil here and there, and occasionally they have bright, colorful objects on top of them.

Has anybody else seen these disturbing items? Local authorities have been alerted!

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Indexers And Thumbers

Have you ever noticed that people send texts in two different ways?  (And I’m not talking about overuse of emoticons, either.)  Some people use their index fingers to tap out their messages, whereas other people use their thumbs.  And people never seems to vary how they do the texting, either.  You’re either a thumber, or an indexer.

stop-texting-with-people-when-youre-not-interestedWhen you think about it, it’s a bit odd that there is no universally accepted method for efficiently and correctly performing what is now a widely used form of modern communication.  It’s like watching someone sit down at a keyboard and then use a totally unknown approach to quickly and accurately typing out a document — say, by positioning their hands at each side of the keyboard or coming in from the top, rather than the bottom.  Or handing someone a cell phone and watching them use the buttons to send a message in Morse code rather than speaking.

Both the thumb approach and the index approach seem to be equally functional — although, being a thumber myself, I firmly believe that the thumb method allows faster messaging.  I wonder if the two methods exist side-by-side because texting is still a relatively new form of communication and we’re in the VHS versus Beta phase, where standardization hasn’t set in.  The fact that there isn’t vocational training on texting — at least, to my knowledge, not yet — probably also contributes to texters having more freedom to develop their own favored method.

One thing is clear, however — thumbing versus indexing definitely has a different look.  The index approach to tapping out a message is far more genteel and elegant, with the three unused fingers of the hand dangling to the side of the phone, giving the same kind of look projected by blue-haired sophisticates who sip their tea from delicate china cups with the pinky extended.  The thumb approach, in contrast, treats the cell phone like a sturdy hand tool that you grip tightly and use to mash out a message without a second thought.

One approach is high society, the other is blue collar.  Me, I’m a blue-collar guy.

Smoky Row

The buses operated by the Central Ohio Transit Authority are equipped with outward-facing electronic signs at the front of the bus, above the driver, that tell people waiting at bus stops where the bus is going.  When I walk to work in the morning, I see buses that are heading to Kenny Road, or East Main, or Hilliard, or West Broad, or Rickenbacker.  These are all familiar street names and locations for Columbus residents.

pride-of-the-smoky-rowMy favorite bus name, however, is “Smoky Row.”  It’s got to be the best “end of the line” name in the COTA arsenal.

Where is Smoky Row, exactly?  I have no idea, even though I’ve lived in Columbus for years.  It could be north, east, west, or south.  And unlike other COTA bus destinations, Smoky Row has a certain lyrical, almost mystical quality to it that sounds like a Hollywood movie from the ’40s starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  You could easily see Smoky Row in big print up on the screen as the movie credits started to roll.

And the fact that Smoky Row is an actual destination in the Columbus, Ohio area adds to the mystery.  You wonder how Smoky Row got its unusual name.  Is it a low-lying area that is frequently obscured by morning mist, or was it once home to lots of smoke-billowing factories?  And what’s there now?   Smoke-filled nightclubs, perhaps?  Hookah joints?  Hipsters puffing away on their smelly vape devices?

I’m sure that, for patrons who take the number 74 bus every day, it’s just another boring bus ride — but for me, boarding the bus to Smoky Row would seem like the ticket to adventure.

Backpack Awareness

Once, backpacks were the exclusive province of hikers, Boy Scouts, and schoolchildren.  Now, thanks in large part to arguments that backpacks are better for your back and your posture than shoulder bags or briefcases, backpacks have made significant inroads into the general population.  You regularly see them being used by businesspeople, travelers, and cyclists.

airline-passengers-who-have-too-much-carry-on-luggage-3-1080x675There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with backpacks, or with trying to help your aching back.  The problem arises because people who wear backpacks often lack the spatial awareness that should accompany donning a bulky, typically overstuffed item that may jut out a foot or more from their normal back and shoulders.  (And that’s not even taking into account items that may be hanging from the rear or sides of backpacks, like Camelbak water bottles, canteens, or food pouches.)  This isn’t a big problem with respect to hikers and Boy Scouts, who are out with their backpacks in the great outdoors with all the room in the world around them, but it can pose problems for those of us who encounter backpack-wearing people in small, enclosed spaces — like airplanes, or restrooms, or elevators.

On recent trips I’ve seen countless instances where backpackers have made a quick turn in the aisle of an airplane during the boarding process and clouted seated fellow passengers in the side of the head.  I’ve witnessed a collision caused by a backpack-wearing guy retreating from a urinal directly into the path of an approaching user, and a backpacker on an elevator invading the space of other passengers and squeezing them back into the rear wall.  And I’ve seen lots of mishaps in the backpack donning and doffing process, where the casual swing of the backpack onto or off of the shoulders causes it to knock into people, books, cellphones, luggage, and even comfort animals.

Backpacks are here to stay, so the most we can hope for is that backpack-wearers develop the necessary spatial awareness and remember that, when they are carrying their backpack, they’ve become human humpback whales with the related, increased space needs.  Perhaps the backpack manufacturers of America can sponsor training to help backpackers navigate among the rest of us safely, without doling out head shots and getting dirty looks from people (like me) who don’t like having their personal space casually invaded.

The GOT Countdown

On April 14, HBO will broadcast the first episode of Season 8, the final season of Game of Thrones.  All dedicated, borderline-obsessed GOT fans will then have the chance to savor six new episodes that will wrap up the TV version of the story of the Targaryens, Lannisters, and Starks.  (Don’t even get me started on when we might get the next installment of George R.R. Martin’s book series that launched the TV show, which has been the subject of almost as much speculation as the Mueller Report.)

jon_snow_and_daenerys_targaryen_got_png_by_nickelbackloverxoxox_dcrioxu-preI’m interested in seeing exactly how the story comes out, of course.  (Hey, I sure hope the living somehow defeat the Night King and his Army of the Dead!)  Mostly, though, I’m just curious about who is going to even survive until the story’s end.  There are so many characters on the show it’s hard to remember and list all of them, as we realized when we were talking about the show with friends over the weekend.  (Don’t forget Grey Worm, or Tormund Giantsbane, or Podrick Payne, or Eddison Tollett of the Night’s Watch!)  And one thing has been clear about Game of Thrones from the beginning, whether you’re talking about the books or the TV show — even leading characters get knocked off with Grim Reaper-like regularity.  And since it’s the last season, I’m guessing we can expect a real bloodbath, and maybe a colossal battle or two in which multiple characters that have gotten a lot of screen time get mowed down.

Because it’s clear that many characters are going to be stabbed, hacked, hung, immolated by dragons, poisoned, or have their throats deftly cut by Arya Stark, I find myself putting the characters into death-related categories.  There are the characters that need to get killed to satisfy the bloodlust of the viewing audience (Cersei Lannister, Euron Greyjoy, the Mountain, and Qyburn, Cersei’s evil wizard/chemist/mad scientist), characters that you know are going to bite it at some point, but at least are likely to die in heroic fashion (Beric Dondarrion, Brienne of Tarth, Ser Jorah Mormont, Varys, Theon Greyjoy, and probably Gendry, King Robert’s hammer-wielding bastard son), and characters that you would be really angry to see get killed but you know deep in your heart that it could happen because the show likes to throw shockers at you (Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark).  There are characters that you don’t want to get killed but, if they must, you hope that they get some richly deserved revenge first (Asha Greyjoy and the Hound).  But what about the Khaleesi?  Jon Snow?  Sansa Stark?  Missandei?  Ser Davos Seaworth, my favorite?  Creepy white-eyed Bran?

One of the great things about Game of Thrones is its utter unpredictability, from the point Ned Stark got beheaded through the Red Wedding to the present.  And we’ve got less than three weeks to go before we start finding out.

On The Hyped-Up Rugrat Express

Yesterday morning Kish and I took an early morning flight, heading south. Of course, it’s March — which means we’re in the midst of the spring break period for local schools. Not surprisingly, the boarding area was overrun with little kids. I’d estimate that a solid third of the passengers of the plane was children — and, because they were leaving early on spring vacation, let’s just say they were a bit . . . excited.

That’s right — we were on the Hyped-Up Rugrat Express.

When you’re not around little kids all the time, you forget what it’s like. Like, how some parents feel the need to talk through every part of the trip. (“Pay attention, Johnny! We’ll be taxiing our to the runway now.”). Or, how much little kids talk, and how loudly. Or, for that matter, how many times a kid can say “Mommy” on a two-hour flight. (The correct answer, based on the little boy sitting in front of us, is 2,435.)

One positive: no back of the seat kicking. As Hyped-Up Rugrat Expresses go, it therefore wasn’t that bad.

Bed Tax

The other day when I checked out of my hotel in Minneapolis I saw that the bill included a “bed tax.”  I think the tax came to $17.98, or some odd number like that.

Bed taxes are just another way for municipalities to raise revenue — I get that.  Minneapolis isn’t alone; you see bed taxes in lots of places.  Sometimes they are levied for specific projects, like building a sports stadium or supporting local arts, and sometimes they just go into the city’s general fund.  Either way, they’re smart taxes from a political standpoint.  You don’t tax the residents who have voting power, all of whom have their own beds; instead, you fleece the business traveler who’s just in town for the night and needs to rent a bed.  And most business travelers aren’t going to get bent out of shape for paying another $17.98, or $22.37, or whatever the “bed tax” is — especially when it’s combined with a “state occupancy tax” and, in some jurisdictions, a “hospitality tax” or other random taxes that are attached to hotel bills.

It’s all an accepted part of doing business for state and local governments, but as I looked at my bill it got me to thinking.  What if the bed tax were calculated on the size and quality of the bed — say, as determined by certified “bed inspectors”?  If I’m going to be taxed for a bed, shouldn’t some government flunky be assessing whether it’s truly tax-worthy?  Shouldn’t a king-sized bed with a nice firm mattress and crisp, clean sheets pay more of a bed tax than an aging queen with a sagging mattress that you sink into and that causes you to wake up with a backache?  And how should the number and utility of pillows that need to be tossed onto the floor enter into the taxation equation?

For that matter, perhaps the “hospitality tax” should be based on how much hospitality the weary traveler actually receives from locals.  If you had a hospitality inspector making judgments on appropriate tax levels, you might encourage some places to up their game in the welcoming department.  New York City, I’m looking at you!