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.

Road Breakfast

Normally I don’t eat breakfast, but I make an exception when I’m on the road. This morning we are in the Cincinnati area for a family wedding, so a road breakfast was in order. And when you Google “breakfast near me” you inevitably find a lot of good options if you are looking for a place that opens early, closes up shop by mid-afternoon, and serves all of the traditional breakfast fare.

We decided to go with the Original Pancake House on Montgomery Road. With a cheerful, old-school facade like that, it had to be good—and it was. The menu offered more than a dozen options in the pancake category alone, as well as pages of other breakfast dishes. But pancakes are in the restaurant’s name, and pancakes sounded good, so pancakes it was. Buckwheat pancakes, to be precise, with hot coffee and orange juice on the side.

My position is that there is a right way and a wrong way to eat pancakes. I like to first apply butter to each pancake in the stack so it can melt, then liberally douse the stack with syrup and let the syrup seep in to the pancakes before slicing the pancakes into squares for ready consumption. To its credit, the OPH had excellent syrup, hitting the sweet spot between too-thick syrup that causes the pancakes to break apart during syrup-sopping maneuvers and syrup that is too runny. And the pancakes themselves had a great buckwheat flavor.

Road breakfasts like the one this morning help to make travel time special.

Greek Yogurt — Under There Somewhere

I’m down in Cincinnati today, meeting friends for breakfast at the Maplewood. You order at the counter, sit down, and wait for the food to be delivered. I got the Greek yogurt, figuring it would be a nice, light, nourishing choice. This enormous bowl is what I got.

I’m guessing there’s some Greek yogurt somewhere under the blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, seeds, honey, granola, and kiwi fruit. Kiwi fruit? It’s a new take on an old favorite.

A Practical Test Of The Butterfly Effect

The butterfly effect posits that small changes can eventually be amplified into large differences in an outcome — that the beating of a butterfly’s wings in Africa, for example, can eventually affect the course of a hurricane as it moves across the Atlantic.

I believe in the butterfly effect, and think it is inarguable that small changes can have a significant ultimate impact.  I believe it because I put the butterfly effect to a practical test every time I drive to Cincinnati — as I did this morning.

Let me state for the record that the drive from Columbus to Cincinnati for a 9 a.m. meeting . . . well . . . sucks.  That’s because there’s no good time to leave.  Leave too early, and you sail past the choke points with almost no traffic and arrive in Cincinnati at 7:15, with plenty of time to kill in a sleepy Queen City.  Try to time it so you arrive close to 9 a.m. and you’re bound to run into hellacious traffic jams from King’s Island until you’re in sight of the Procter & Gamble buildings.  And there’s no doubt in my mind that my decision on when to leave influences the traffic conditions that I encounter.  Simply by deciding to roll over and sleep a little later, I inevitably produce the crushing congestion that makes the trip so unpleasant.

And there’s an even more apparent practical confirmation of the butterfly effect when you’re driving, too.  Let’s say you’re mired in a traffic jam in which, contrary to common sense and all that’s holy, your car in the left, “passing” lane is at a dead stop, while the traffic in the middle lane is moving briskly past.  If you change your lane to try to start moving again, traffic in that new lane will immediately come to a halt.  Why?  The butterfly effect, and the fact that every other driver in the stuck lane saw the same traffic flow you did and switched lanes at exactly the same time.

It’s nice to know that the butterfly effect is real, but have you ever noticed that the butterfly effect always produces something bad?  Maybe we should call it the moth effect instead.

Who Are These Guys?

Pretty impressive win tonight for the Cleveland Browns — but equally clearly, a stunningly bad performance for the Cincinnati Bengals . . . and especially QB Andy Dalton.

I’m not saying the Browns are world-beaters, but they beat the Bengals thoroughly and convincingly.  The Bengals lost at home for the first time in years, and the Browns won a division game on the road for the first time in forever.  The Browns D shut down the Bengals and forced a lot of turnovers, and the offense ran the ball when out had to do so — and now the Browns are tied for first in the AFC North.  Great games for Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, the entire Browns defense, the offensive line, the running backs, and Brian Hoyer.  Oh, and the coaching staff did a pretty good job, too.

Hey, am I dreaming?  And is Andy Dalton having a nightmare?

Afternoon At The Ballpark

In Cincinnati on a beautiful day to watch the Reds play the Cubs. Great American Ballpark is a terrific venue, with downtown Cincinnati as the backdrop. The Reds have struggled of late, but they’re drubbing the Cubs today.

Going to an afternoon ballgame on a weekday is like an end-of-summer treat.

The Gods Hate A Gimp

Yesterday I learned a valuable life lesson.

I knew that heelwalking through an airport in my ugly special shoe would not be easy. Airports are among the most wide open interior spaces we encounter in our daily lives. You start at the outer ring, with parking, and then progressively work your way inward, stepping through through the vast check-in lobby, followed by the TSA security lines and fragrant food court and shopping areas, then moving to your concourse, and your gate, and finally strolling down the jetway to your plane.

IMG_20140408_181947In our rush to get to the plane, we tend not to think of the sweep of these vast spaces. At least, I didn’t — until I started walking with a short-stepped, orthopedic shuffle. Yesterday, every rampway and concourse seemed enormous and unending.

I knew it would be that way, and I was mentally prepared. What I wasn’t prepared for was this — in both the Cincinnati and Newark airports, the moving walkways that help to shuttle us along were closed for maintenance. What are the chances of that? And in both airports my planes were at gates that were at the farthest end of the concourse. Seriously? And at Newark, the taxi stand isn’t right next to the exit, but across lanes of traffic and then over past the parking and rental bus stops.

From this experience I can only conclude — the gods, and airport designers, hate a gimp.

Cincinnati’s Empty Airport

TodayIMG_20140408_182713 I have to fly out of the Cincinnati airport tonight. If you’ve never used it, it’s an eerie experience because the airport is largely deserted.

Cincinnati is one of those airports that was a bustling hub once, but is no longer. The facilities therefore are totally outsized for the flights and passengers, and you see huge empty spaces as shown in this picture I took tonight as I was walking in B Concourse, my footsteps echoing in the emptiness.

It’s like a neutron bomb went off, or you’ve suddenly been shoved into one of those post-apocalyptic episodes of The Twilight Zone. You expect to see a tumbleweed rolling down the concourse, or zombies staggering past. It adds an exciting thrill of weirdness to the pleasures of business travel.

The Bell Event Centre

IMG_4028The wedding that Kish and I attended last night was held in the Bell Event Centre in Cincinnati.  It is a stunningly beautiful facility, with an interesting history.  The ceremony was held in the former St. Paul’s Church, which is home to extraordinary stained glass windows, fabulous frescoes, a vaulted ceiling, and stunning tile work — some of which I tried to capture with my camera.  After the ceremony, the guests moved outside briefly for refreshments and hors d’oeuvres, and then returned to find that the church had been converted into a reception hall complete with a wooden dance floor.

What a neat facility!  It’s a shame that the lovely cathedral no longer functions as a church (it was decommissioned during the 1970s) but I am glad it is still being used and is available for the public to enjoy.


The Spring Game

Today the Ohio State Buckeyes play their annual spring game.  The football team has been practicing for weeks, and with the spring game they finally get to strut their stuff in full uniform in front of adoring fans.

IMG_1861The most interesting thing about this year’s game is that it’s not in Ohio Stadium.  Because the old Horseshoe is undergoing maintenance, the game has been moved to Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.  Fitting, because Paul Brown once coached the Buckeyes, before he went on to a legendary NFL career, and also fitting because Ohio State doesn’t dominate the sports conversation in Cincinnati like it does in other parts of the state.

The people of Cincinnati — the southernmost and westernmost of Ohio’s larger cities — have divided loyalties.  Some follow the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, some are fans of the University of Kentucky, and some pledge their allegiance to old Notre Dame.  By playing the spring game along the banks of the Ohio River, Urban Meyer and the Ohio State braintrust hope to increase their toehold and their visibility in one of the prime football cities in the state.  They’ll be giving the Buckeye team a full taste of Cincinnati, too, complete with hometown favorites like Montgomery Inn ribs, Skyline Chili, and Graeter’s ice cream.

As for the game itself?  The rules will make it a pass-happy affair, to try to cut down on the possibility of injury, so it won’t be like a real game.  We’ll get a chance to evaluate QB Braxton Miller’s continuing progress, and see with our own eyes the new players who’ve been dominating the news reports on spring practice — players like defensive linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington.  Every spring game there is one player who has a flashy performance.  Then we will put away the pads and wait until fall practice, when things get real with the Big Ten season looming on the horizon.

Buck Back Gack

We had our annual Buck Back draft the other day, and I think I gagged big time.

Long-time readers may recall that I play in an alternative approach to NCAA pools called the Buck Back.  Rather than trying to forecast the results of every game, eight of us put in eight bucks each, select eight teams in a serpentine draft, and then get $1 — i.e., a buck back — every time one of our teams wins. The Buck Back during March Madness is now a time-honored tradition.

This year the draft was the hardest ever, because it’s impossible to have great confidence that any team is going to do well in the tournament.  Every school has struggled at some point during the season, and every team has weaknesses.

I drafted fourth, and I look at my teams and wonder whether I’ll win even a few games, much less break even.  My first pick was Indiana, which stumbled to the finish line, and my second pick was Michigan, which also struggled in the last half of the season.  Both have talented players, but which teams will show up — the early season world-beaters, or the battered squads that limped home?  My third-round pick was Memphis, which plays in one of the weakest conferences in the country, and my fourth selection was Wichita State, which has to start the Tournament against a tough Pitt team.  My later round picks — San Diego State, Cincinnati, Montana, and Iona — all are question marks.

So I sit, waiting for the Big Dance to start in earnest tomorrow, and I wonder whether my entire Buck Back draft was a choke.  I’ll bet I’m not the only one who feels that way — and I can’t wait for the Tournament to start.

Spring (Training) Fever

IMG_3066I was down in Cincinnati today.  It was a gorgeous day, with bright sunshine streaming through the conference room window, temperatures touching the 60s, the mighty Ohio shimmering in the distance, and far below the covered field of Great American Ballpark, where the Redlegs play.

With such a scene, what red-blooded American wouldn’t think about baseball, and spring training?  Oh, by the way — pitchers and catchers report for the Tribe in three days.

How Are Those Ohio Casinos Doing?

Earlier this month, the Hollywood Casino opened on the outskirts of Columbus.  About 25,000 gamblers showed up for the opening day festivities.

In 2009, Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the construction of four casinos — one each in Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus, and Cincinnati.  When the constitutional amendment was considered in 2009, state officials estimated that the 33 percent tax on gross casino revenues from the four casinos, plus approved video lottery terminals, would produce $470 million annually in tax revenue.  The promise of that kind of tax contribution, plus the jobs the casinos would create, caused Ohio voters to end their long-standing opposition to casino gambling in the state.

The Columbus casino is the third to open, following casinos in Cleveland and Toledo.  It’s early yet, but the trend lines in Cleveland and Toledo aren’t knocking anyone’s socks off.  For both of those casinos, June was the first full month of operation — and also was the high point for revenue, which has declined every month since June.  In Cleveland, revenue has declined from $26.1 million in June to $21.1 million in September; in Toledo, revenue has dropped from $20.4 million in June to $15.9 million in September.  The casino operators and experts say that the novelty of a new casino wears off and it takes a while for standard gambling patterns to get settled, and that the Ohio casinos might not follow the patterns seen in other locations.  The casinos also are tweaking their operations as they learn their markets; in Cleveland, for example, the Horseshoe Casino is now formally welcoming bus tours and providing some slots credits to entice bus visitors.

A few months won’t tell the tale, of course, but you have to wonder if we’ve reached the casino saturation point in this country, and there just isn’t that large of a market for more casino gambling.

Enough, Already!

Walking the streets of downtown Cleveland today, I saw . . . painted electric guitars at various locations on the sidewalks, each with a theme that supposedly celebrates something about Cleveland.  Get it?  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, electric guitars?

Gahhh!  Hasn’t this whole concept been beaten to death, long ago?  I’ve seen painted cows in Chicago, painted pigs in Cincinnati . . . and I’m sure that countless other boring, copycat cities have made their own unimaginative forays into public art, where some local iconic symbol gets painted in different ways by local artists, and we’re supposed to appreciate what it says about the city in question.

C’mon, Cleveland — you’re better than this! Why copy cities like Chicago and Cincinnati, for God’s sake?  Have some self-respect, and buck the derivative trend!  Recognize that Cleveland is a leader, not a follower.  If you want to do some public art, come up with something original and unique, as befits Cleveland’s rich heritage as a trendsetter, not a camp follower.

In the meantime, can somebody do something with these silly painted electric guitars?  They’re cluttering up the sidewalks.