Yesterday we got hit with our first winter storm of the season. It started as rain, but as the termperature dropped it turned into a wet, heavy snow. After the ground cooled, the snow started to stick, and this morning when I looked outside I found that everything was coated in this cold, slippery, white stuff.
Snow is weird. You can live your entire life in the Midwest, and experience the inevitable snowy periods every winter, but the first snowfall of the winter is always kind of a shock. It’s as if the brain uses the warm months to try to wipe out the memory of snow, and erase all of the snow-related reflexes that people acquire during the snowy months — like the kind of duck-footed walk you develop to try to minimize the risk of slipping on snow-covered sidewalks, or the downcast tilt of your head as you walk into the teeth of a snowstorm, or the best personal layering and bundling techniques to shield yourself against the chill.
And don’t even mention the notion of driving in the snow for the first time after months of a snow-free existence. The fact that people have forgetten everything they learned last winter and drive like idiots when the first flakes fall is a perennial — and accurate — complaint here in the Midwest. The only good thing to say about the coronavirus is that, with more people working from home and therefore commuting less, the number of fender-benders is likely to be dramatically reduced this year.
Of course, the fundamental reality of the first snowfall is that the warm weather days are gone for now, and Old Man Winter is here in earnest. With the calendar page turning to December today, we should have realized that, but the snowfall gives us a tangible, physical reminder that we’re in for three months of cold, frozen slop, and we’d better brace ourselves and get used to the idea.
Yesterday, the Ohio State Buckeyes beat in the Indiana Hoosiers in a matchup of two top ten teams. It was an entertaining game, we learned that Justin Fields is in fact a human being, and the Buckeyes hung on to win, 42-35, and remain undefeated. As is always the case with Ohio State, some fans were dissatisfied that the Buckeyes didn’t win by a larger margin.
After the game, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day — pictured above in masked mode — commented that people don’t understand the sacrifices these college students have made in order to play football games in the midst of a global pandemic. He was not offering the comment as an excuse, but as an observation — one that people should consider the next time they are thinking about criticizing their team.
In the case of Ohio State, virtually everything we associate with the team and the game and the whole Ohio State experience isn’t happening this year. There is no tailgating, no Skull Session, no walk through cheering fans to the Stadium, no ramp entrance, or Script Ohio, or band, or tumbling cheerleaders. Games are being played in an empty Stadium, with piped-in noise. It’s a dramatically different, and decidedly less energetic, environment, and it’s got to have an impact on the players.
But that’s only the gameday tip of the iceberg. For the players, there’s the isolation from the rest of the student body, in hopes of avoiding infection. There’s the monitoring of symptoms and periodic testing. There’s the uncertainty of whether or not the upcoming game will be played or cancelled because the other team has COVID issues — which has already happened once this season. And many, perhaps most, of the players and coaches have family members and friends who may be sick, and perhaps seriously ill, with the coronavirus at any given point in time. It’s not exactly an ideal environment for intense focus on the upcoming athletic contest. And when gameday arrives, and the experience is so utterly different, the point that this is a surreal time has to be driven home, again. The difficulties no doubt help to explain why some traditional powers, like Penn State and Michigan and Michigan State, are struggling this year.
I’m grateful that the Buckeyes are playing football, because we could all use a diversion, and there’s nothing like sports to provide it — even if the games are stripped of the “color and pageantry” we have come to know so well. But I’m also going to try to stay appreciative of the sacrifices of the players and coaches, on both teams, as I watch the games. They are undergoing pressures and difficulties most of us can’t even fathom.
Back in the days when we regularly used hotels, the concierge desk sure could come in handy. If you were in a faraway city and needed directions, recommendations about restaurants or sightseeing opportunities, or reservations, the concierge desk was the place to go. In fact, the good people staffing the concierge desk seemed to know everything you might need to know about the city you were visiting.
We all could use a “COVID Concierge” these days.
We’re at the point in this pandemic, and in the governmental responses to the pandemic, where the rules being applied are becoming a bit overwhelming and hard to process. In Columbus, for example, we’re currently subject to a curfew and regulations imposed by the State of Ohio, plus a stay at home order issued by the county government — and for all I know, the City of Columbus has added an additional layer of regulation. The average person confronts a lot of questions as they go about their lives. How do you know for sure if you’re permitted to walk the dog at 6:23 a.m.? Can you visit your elderly relative at a nursing home, and if so, how? What’s the latest development concerning in-school and stay-at-home learning in your child’s school system?
And if you want to take a trip somewhere — hey, a fellow can dream, can’t he? — you’ll have to figure out the state, county, and local rules and regulations that apply to travelers at your destination, the rules and regulations for any states where you will be spending the night on your journey, and the rules and regulations of your home state and home town that will apply upon your return. Do you need to be tested to enter the state? If so, what documentation must you carry? Has your home state been put on a restricted list by the state of your destination? Will you be required to quarantine for a time period upon your arrival, or upon your return? What are the masking and social distancing requirements at your place of destination? How many gallons of hand sanitizer do your need to bring? And all of these rules can and do change, from day to day, so you need to stay up to the minute on it all.
That’s where the COVID Concierge comes in. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a COVID Concierge to help you navigate through the welter of different regulations and directives, tell you precisely what test you need to take and what documentation will be required, and make the reservation for you? And if you’re looking for a place to vacation because you just can’t stand the thought of being cooped up in your house for another day, the COVID Concierge would be a ready source of information and recommendations about which states would be the most painless to visit right now.
This is a sure-fire business plan in today’s environment. But I am offering it to the public, free of charge, so that anyone can put it into effect and set up their own COVID Concierge service. Just promise to send me the COVID Concierge phone number, will you?
As curfews go, Governor DeWine’s order is pretty tough. Back in high school, I don’t think I ever had to be home before 11, and it might have been midnight. There could have been some super-strict parents (or, more likely, parents who didn’t want to have to stay up waiting for their kid to get home at a later hour) who set a 10 p.m. curfew, but that was the exception. And if you violate Governor DeWine’s order, you aren’t just going to be “grounded” for a week or two — violation of the order is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.
Will this three-week curfew make an appreciable dent in coronovirus cases in the Buckeye State? Since the scientists and public health experts seem to be struggling with figuring out exactly how the virus is transmitted, that’s hard to say. Curfews are notoriously inexact disciplinary measures, because they presume bad things only happen late at night, and any high school kid knows that just isn’t true. We do know one thing for sure: if random drunken encounters at 12:30 a.m. are responsible for the latest spike in cases, the curfew will make a difference. And if that isn’t the reason for the latest surge, we’ve nevertheless shown the coronavirus that we “mean business.”
This will be the easiest governmental order to personally comply with in my lifetime, too. It’s pretty rare for us to be out and about after 10 p.m., and it won’t be a sacrifice to make sure we’re home by the curfew hour. Back in college, of course, we often didn’t even go out until after 10. College students and singles — to say nothing of bar owners who do a lot of business between 10 p.m. and closing time — will be bearing the brunt of this latest public health command.
The Schiller Park pond, like every small body of water in the central Ohio area, has a goose problem. Canadian geese, to be specific: loud, squawking, honking, aggressive, madly crapping creatures that carpet every surface around the pond, including the sidewalk, with rancid goose droppings. You will never hear anyone who lives around any kind of Ohio pond say a good word about the freaking Canadian geese, because inside their noble blck-and-white exterior is utter abomination.
This morning as Betty and I took our walk around the park we noticed this car parked on the street near the pond, and saw a person in a yellow day-glo vest and a border collie patrolling the perimeter of the pond, barking at the geese and scaring the crap out of them (at least, whatever crap remains in view of their standard crapping tendencies). Apparently someone decided it is time to do something about the goose problem at the park and called in Ohio Geese Control, which promises to be “safe, humane, and effective” in resolving geese issues. According to the company’s website, it will “identify the site characteristics most attractive to the geese (e.g., security, food, nesting sites, water)” and then “design a custom management program based on the potential for reducing these characteristics.” I’m guessing that the border collie addresses the “security” element of goose pond selection decision-making.
This is a bit of a NIMBY issue, because the Canadian geese exist in our area and are going to locate somewhere. But maybe Ohio Geese Control can get the geese to leave this little pond in the corner of a busy urban park that is frequented by children and dogs, and take their aggressive ways and mad crapping to a more remote rural location, or one of those corporate park ponds with a fountain in the middle that no one actually walks around. Getting rid of the geese at the Schiller Park pond would make 2020 a little bit better.
The coronavirus continues to rage through Ohio, as it is in other states. The Buckeye State has experienced a significant spike in cases, but it is not alone; cases seem to be on the rise everywhere, causing all kinds of cancellations and maximizing the uncertainty we’ve all been dealing with during 2020. If you were looking forward to watching the Ohio State-Maryland football game on Saturday afternoon, for example, you’d better make new plans: the game has been cancelled due to a spike in positive COVID tests in the Maryland program.
The Governor recognized that people are tired of all of this, and many are discouraged. He urged people who have relaxed their approach to coronavirus prevention to get “back to the basics” of vigorous hand-washing and mask-wearing. (In our little corner of Columbus, I haven’t noticed any slippage in mask-wearing and social distancing among people who are out and about, nor in our Friday night visits to restaurants over the past few weeks.)
Let’s face it: whether we’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or not, we’ve all got a serious case of coronavirus fatigue. The virus won’t go away, we’ve lurched from one “crucial phase” to another, and the efforts we’ve taken haven’t prevented additional spikes in positive tests. There’s a nagging sense that we’re all going to have to live with these conditions for the foreseeable future — and that’s where the possibility of another bar and restaurant closure order becomes so dispiriting. Much as I think our home cooking has improved, and much as we have adhered to social distancing and remote work concepts, it’s nice to have the option of going to a restaurant, experiencing a change of scenery, and eating food that you haven’t cooked yourself as a kind of safety valve to break up the monotonous sameness.
Perhaps we’ll get a vaccine that changes this grim paradigm, or perhaps it will end when so many people get infected that we reach the “herd immunity” point that some public health experts talk about. Until then, the big challenge is to keep going, accept the uncertainty, and recognize that, one way or another, this bleak period is going to end at some unknown point in the future. It’s not a very encouraging message, but sometimes that how the real world works.
Two people I know pretty well were candidates in last Tuesday’s general election. Both were motivated primarily by noble desires to serve the public in the judicial branch of our government. One of them won, and will be a great addition to the state court bench in Ohio. The other, regrettably, did not — but she fought the good fight. She was a great candidate who worked tirelessly and cheerfully and did everything that successful contenders must do.
As the 2020 election recedes into the distance, I’d like to focus for a moment on those candidates who fought the good fight. All of us have tasted the bitter dregs of defeat at some point in our lives, in an athletic contest, a spelling bee, a talent show, or a competition for the heart of another. We all know that losing really hurts. I cannot imagine, however, how it must feel to lose an election, after devoting countless hours to fundraising, campaign events, and — it being 2020 — awkward Zoom calls. Even worse, politics being what it is these days, the losing candidate often has also been the subject of demonization and the most negative advertising you can imagine. It takes a lot of guts and fortitude to run for any office — whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, the Green Party, or the marijuana parties that appeared on some state ballots this year. Most of us, myself included, would never dream of doing so.
We all need to remember that our republic would not work if at least two candidates did not summon up the gumption to run for the office in question. On our ballot this year, there were a handful of uncontested races — and that’s too bad. Campaigns serve a crucial purpose. They help to frame the issues, they give us information about the contenders for the office, and the positions staked out by the candidates often increase public awareness of the issues and the duties performed by the office itself.
So, here’s to those candidates who fought the good fight. We appreciate your personal sacrifice and your commitment to public service. Our system couldn’t do it without you.
After a wait that seems like it has lasted forever, Election Day 2020 is finally here. Of course, we’re all interested in what the result of the presidential election will be — and also when we will know for sure. And of course, there are important Senate, House, state, and local offices to be decided, too.
I’m interested, though, in another result: what the overall turnout will be. According to the United States Election Project data, total U.S. turnout for the 2016 general election was about 60 percent of eligible voters; Ohio voters hit 64.2 percent. (You can see the data and state-by-state results here.) Sixty percent participation by eligible voters is pretty embarrassing. This year, we’ve been regularly reminded of the importance of voting by professional sports leagues, Google, every form of social media, and many companies’ TV commercials. In this election, which has easily been the most contentious election that has been held during my adult lifetime, will we do better at exercising one of our most important rights, and duties, as citizens in a republic?
Of course, this election comes in the midst of a pandemic — but voting absentee, and early voting, has never been easier. Many of our friends and colleagues went the early voting route, and by all accounts the experience was painless. If you’re on Facebook, no doubt you’ve seen pictures of your early-voting friends, wearing their masks and sporting their “I voted” stickers. They are not alone. According to CNN, early voting this year smashed all records. Officials believe the total number of early voting Americans will hit 100 million — which is more than two thirds of the 138 million people who voted in 2016.
We’ll be going the traditional route today, and voting in person on Election Day. It’s an experience that I always find humbling, and rewarding. Normally I vote first thing in the morning, before heading to the office, and usually there are long lines. Since I’m working from home today we’ll probably head over to our voting place later in the morning. I’m hoping to see lots of my fellow voters there, and keeping my fingers crossed that, as a country, we’ll hit much higher voter participation rates in 2020 than we did in 2016.
This election has been almost unbearably bitter and divisive, but if all of the rancor has spurred more people to vote, at least something good will have come from it.
Early voting has started in Ohio, and today I am going to break my vow not to write about the election for a second, and last, time. If you live in Cuyahoga County, I urge you to vote for Lisa Forbes for the Eighth District Court of Appeals, which is the Ohio appellate court covering Cuyahoga County. You can find Lisa’s campaign web page and information about her background and involvement in the community here.
First, the appropriate disclosures: I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of working with Lisa Forbes at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, LLP for decades. Lisa and I have worked together on matters for clients and have served together on firm committees. She is a valued colleague and friend. I like and respect her, and I think she’s got all of the qualities that would make her a terrific court of appeals judge. Living in Columbus, I can’t vote for her — unfortunately! — but I have contributed to her campaign because I think supporting smart, qualified, hard-working people to serve on our courts is good for our judicial system and good for the Buckeye State.
For those of you who aren’t lawyers and therefore aren’t intimately familiar with the Ohio state court system, appellate courts are the courts that review trial court decisions and jury verdicts. If you’re a civil case litigant, or a criminal case defendant, and you think your trial court made a mistake, you go to the court of appeals for a second look and second opinion. After the court of appeals has had its say, you have the opportunity to ask the Ohio Supreme Court to take your case — but the Supreme Court accepts and considers only a small fraction of the cases that go through the Ohio court system. The vast majority of Ohio state-court cases end at the court of appeals level, and the decisions made by the courts of appeals are viewed as important legal precedent by other courts throughout Ohio.
That’s why it is so important to have really good judges on our courts of appeals. Because the Ohio courts of appeals review all cases that are properly submitted to them from the trial courts in their districts, they’ve got a significant workload of both civil and criminal cases. It is essential to have hard-working appellate judges who can review the briefs, thoughtfully analyze the legal issues, question lawyers for the parties at oral arguments, and then reach a decision with the other court of appeals judges assigned to the case and write an opinion explaining the court’s reasoning. If court of appeals judges don’t work hard, the system becomes clogged and appeals can drag on for months or even years, which can be frustrating for everyone involved.
Lisa Forbes has all of the capabilities you would ideally want in a court of appeals judge. She’s one of the most conscientious, hard-working people I know, someone who has deftly juggled family responsibilities and work obligations for years. She won’t drop the ball or disappoint litigants and lawyers who are looking for prompt decisions. She has a keen legal mind, she has lots of experience in wrestling with difficult and novel issues presented in challenging cases and finding the precedent and authorities that are relevant, and she is a gifted writer. Based on her years of experience, no case that might come to the Eighth District Court of Appeals would be beyond the ability of Lisa Forbes to thoughtfully and fairly evaluate and decide, and she would then explain her reasoning in an opinion that would be clear and understandable to everyone who read it — lawyers and non-lawyers alike.
The last point is a crucial one, because an important part of our judicial system is showing even losing parties that they have been heard, their arguments have been respected and fairly considered, and there are solid reasons why those arguments haven’t prevailed. We want our courts to be regarded by all as even-handed bastions of justice and fairness, and it is important to have judges who will always focus on and strive toward that goal.
I know that Lisa Forbes will do that. If you live in Cuyahoga County, in this election I encourage you to vote for Lisa Forbes for the Eighth District Court of Appeals.
We completed our trip back to Ohio yesterday, returning to the Buckeye State after an absence of four and a half months. As we rolled under the curious new Ohio border sign — offering its curt and cryptic instruction to “find it here,” without even a friendly “welcome” or “how do you do?” or the exclamation points and promises of excitement you see in other state border signs — the chords of The Pretenders’ Back to Ohio echoed in my head.
This last four months has easily been the longest continuous Ohio-free period I’ve experienced in at least 35 years, and maybe for my entire lifetime. As we rolled toward German Village, Kish and I wondered if we had been gone from Ohio for four months straight during the years we lived in Washington, D.C. — when we often came back to Ohio for holidays, family gatherings, or birthday, graduation, or anniversary celebrations. If we didn’t hit the four-month mark during our D.C. years, then we’ve just set personal records.
And, it being 2020, the four months we’ve been gone from Columbus has been a pretty momentous period, too. We missed a downtown riot and periods of unrest, the closure of favorite restaurants, the sale of the Golden Hobby building down the block, and continuing struggles to deal with the coronavirus. Stonington, Maine is pretty removed from all of that — that’s kind of the goal when you go to Maine — and I wondered what, exactly, we would find when we got back to Columbus.
When we reached German Village, we found that our normal entrance way was torn up due to the ongoing construction projects at Children’s Hospital, and our street was partially closed thanks to a Columbia Gas rerouting effort. I had to parallel park for the first time in a long while, but we were glad to find our place still standing and were also pleased to see that, pandemic or not, our neighbors in the Village have made some improvements. After we unpacked, made the beds, wiped the dust off the counters, and settled in to watch some TV, I realized that Ohio still felt very much like home to me. Maybe that’s the “it” the sign was telling me to find.
I’ve always wanted a true skillet, which is one of the most versatile cooking devices you can have. Skillets also can become kind of heirloom items that get passed down from generation to generation. So, I want to make sure I treat this skillet with the care and respect it so richly deserves. The key is to make sure that the skillet becomes properly seasoned and develops a natural non-stick surface. The Lockhart Ironworks note says that it has already pre-heated the finished skillet and treated it with a layer of coconut oil for seasoning purposes. It recommends that we apply a thin coat of our “preferred oil” and cook a meat that is rich in fat or oil during the first few uses to help with the seasoning process. And of course the skillet needs to be carefully dried and oiled after each use to prevent rusting.
So, I’m seeking instruction and guidance from my internet friends. What should our “preferred oil” be, and what are some good meats to cook to help establish the desired seasoning and achieve the patina that will move this skillet into heirloom territory? Suggestions would be much appreciated!
Politicians like to designate state symbols. In Ohio, for example, we’ve got a state bird (the cardinal), a state flower (the scarlet carnation), and a state tree (the buckeye). Our state is also, by legislative designation, represented by such things as tomatoes, flint, ladybugs, and the white-tailed deer.
Although state legislators seem to love designating state symbols — it’s pretty much a no-lose proposition, since the losing candidates for state bird or state insect are unlikely to complain — they’ve left some territory unexplored. It’s somewhat surprising, for example, that more states haven’t name a state hat.
Texas has led the way in this regard; some years ago it named the cowboy hat its official state headwear. But other states haven’t followed suit. That’s somewhat surprising, because officially designated hats can tell you a lot about a state. New York, for example, would be well-represented by the kind of pork pie hat that Rocky Balboa wore during his debt collection days in Rocky. Minnesota would probably choose the “mad bomber” fur hat. Florida might go for a sun visor with two beer cans with sip straws on each side. And California could opt for the kind of effete, snobbish beret that the Hollywood types wear.
If Maine ever designated a state hat, it would definitely be a ball cap. Everyone around here, male and female, seems to wear one. But it couldn’t be just any ball cap. No, it needs to be a nondescript, ancient, battered ball cap, preferably with some salt stains on it and a bill that has been repeatedly bent and features a fair amount of fraying. And the cap has to be in neutral shades — blue, gray, or khaki — and bleached of most of its color by repeated outdoor exposure. Once you’ve got the right kind of hat, you’ll never get rid of it. In fact, some ball caps you see have probably been passed down from generation to generation through the family patriarch’s last will and testament.
We’re still working on getting our ball caps into appropriate Maine shape. We’ll know we’ve done it when we wear one to town and one of the locals looks at us, nods, and says: “Ayuh.”
Ohio continued on its deliberate path back to a fully functioning economy over the weekend. Restaurants and bars were permitted to begin serving patrons at their outdoor areas on Friday, and this week indoor service can begin — with appropriate social distancing.
Fortunately for the restaurants and bars that wanted to get back to business, the weather cooperated for the most part, with some warm weather and only a few thunderstorms rolling through. I walked to downtown Columbus over the weekend and passed several venues where people were enjoying the chance to get out. Yesterday Kish and I walked past another popular spot, Lindey’s patio, where you could hear the happy babble of chatting people, just like old times.
There were news reports of some Short North bars that had seemingly overcrowded outdoor areas, but I didn’t see anything like that. What I saw, instead, were businesses that wanted to get going again, and customers who wanted that, too. People seemed to be respecting the social distancing rules for the most part — both at the restaurants and otherwise. But there is no doubt that things are loosening up. Soon we’ll start to get some statistics that will allow us to assess the impact.
Today another German Village business opened its doors to walk-in business after the prolonged coronavirus shutdown. This time, it’s the Hausfrau Haven, a great wine (and beer) shop that has been a German Village mainstay for decades. The HH had been open for carryout business — which we gladly took advantage of — but now you can walk in to make your wine selections. As we spring back from the shutdown period, increased access to adult beverages can only be a good thing.
My guess is that the Hausfrau Haven sign is (no pun intended) a sign of things to come in Columbus and Ohio as other businesses open up. That is, masks will be required, and the requirement will be enforced by the business itself, out of concern for its employees and its other patrons. I think most people will happily comply with that.
Next up for Ohio and German Village — a restaurant or bar open for foot traffic and in-restaurant dining. When G. Michael’s and Lindey’s and Ambrose and Eve and the High-Beck open up to dining and drinking patrons, that will seem like a very big deal.
It’s obviously stupid and pointless to get mad about the weather, because there’s absolutely nothing that can be done about it. We’re human, though, and we just can’t help ourselves, can we?
I try not to let the weather bother me, and appreciate the crispness of a cold morning. But when the cold morning is temperatures in the 30s in May, such that people have to put throw rugs and garbage bags and towels over their planters and window boxes to avoid the untimely demise of their flowers due to freezing temperatures, I admit that it does bug me a little.
Today, though, I celebrate. Today, I will glory in yet another in an interminable series of unseasonably cold, clear spring mornings. I will bundle up and don my oft-used stocking cap and gloves. I will walk with head held high, breathe in deep gulps of frigid air, and note, again, how the chill tends to sharpen the smells as I clean up after Betty on our walk.
Because today is the last of the 30s temperature days. It’s 34 right now, and once the thermometer rises past 40 we won’t see the 30s again for months. In fact, the weather apps suggest that we’re going to pretty much go straight from November weather to mid-June, with temperatures getting up into the 80s by next week.
We know it’s silly to let the weather get to us, but since it’s part of the human condition, why not embrace that fact? If you live in the Midwest, join me! Take this opportunity to celebrate the turn and the final, long-overdue departure of the 30s temperatures. Let’s give them a really good send-off, bid them a happy adieu, and let them know that we want them to stay away for a long, long time.