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.

“Fair Style” As An Adjective

A restaurant located near our firm, OH Pizza + Brew, features this sign about its dessert options in the restaurant’s front window. To some, no doubt, the phrasing seems odd. But to anyone who has been to the Ohio State Fair, and has eaten “fair food” along the midway, a reference to “fair style” desserts conveys a powerful message indeed.

What is a “fair style” dessert, exactly? Typically, it has multiple characteristics. First, of course, it must involve food stuffs that are bad for you, prepared in a way that accentuates their unhealthy impact. That means desserts that are fried, that are high in sugar, and that include components from Dr. Nick’s “neglected food groups” pyramid shown on a classic Simpsons episode.

Second, the dessert must be excessive. That means the portions must be huge—think of a piece of fried dough as big as a dinner plate—and the dessert must features unholy combinations that push the caloric content off the charts. Fried Snickers bars on top of ice cream in fried dough might be one element, for example, but you’re going to want to add, say, pieces of candied bacon dipped in chocolate, whipped cream, drizzled caramel, and then drop M&Ms and Reese’s Pieces on top, just to give the concoction a real fair flair.

And finally, a true “fair style” dessert must be plausibly, if messily, portable, and capable of being consumed by someone walking on a dusty path between ancient rides like the Tilt-a-Wheel. That means handheld options, like red hot elephant ears doused in powdered sugar and the covered with other goodies that will leave your hands gross and sticky for hours, or desserts that can be wedged into a cheap cone or flimsy paper bowl that will immediately begin to dissolve as the dessert quickly melts in the summer sun.

That’s what a “fair style” dessert means to me, at least. I haven’t been into OH Pizza + Brew to see what they offer. Frankly, I’m kind of afraid to check it out.

Messing With The Traffic

The south part of downtown Columbus is like a traffic engineer’s playground. It seems like somebody is always messing with the streets, bridges, and access ramps, throwing unexpected curve balls at motorists and pedestrians alike.

The latest initiative is part of a long-term effort to fundamentally change how people leaving downtown get on I-70 East. For years drivers came down Third Street (one way heading south, throughout downtown) and could turn right onto a ramp onto 70 West or left onto a ramp onto 70 East. The ramps were short for freeway access, and the merging happened in a congested area in which I-71 also intersected with I-70. So some time ago traffic engineers closed the 70 East ramp off Third Street and devised a plan to route people down little-used Fulton Street to access the freeway. Now that plan has reached fruition.

There’s just one problem: the grand plan has changed Fulton Street between Third and Fourth Streets from one way heading west to one way heading east. That isn’t great for those of us in German Village, because it doesn’t allow us to use Fulton to access 70 West, but it has really messed with the heads of downtown drivers and turned the entrance to German Village into an orange cone zone with an extensive and baffling array of signs about signal changes, lane changes, street direction changes, and detours. Because many drivers are on autopilot on their commutes, following the same routes they’ve followed for years, we’ve seen people heading the wrong way on Fulton, accidents, traffic backups and snarls, and lots of confusion.

At some point drivers will work this out, I expect, and the cones and signs will go away as traffic adjusts to its new flow. But then the traffic engineers will run their hands together with evil glee and throw a new wrench into the commuting machine, and the cones and signs—and rampant driver confusion—will reappear. That’s just the way traffic engineers roll.

Putting The “G” In Goodbye

The people of Columbus generally, and German Village specifically, got some bad news this week: G. Michael’s Bistro is closing after more than twenty years of operation. The news of the restaurant’s closing was abrupt and was a shock to those of us who were G. Michael’s “regulars.” Apparently, the end came because the proprietors of the restaurant could not reach agreement with the owner of their building about a new lease. You can read their farewell message here.

We went to G. Michael’s, over and over and over again, because we always knew we could count on it for a fine meal and excellent service. I’ve had so many terrific dishes there, and I’ve written about some of them–like the spectacular duck sausage and white bean cassoulet appetizer featured in this 2017 post and pictured below. (I can still taste its delicate and succulent flavors in my memory.) We loved that the menu changed every so often, always giving us a chance to try something new while preserving a few never-changing standbys, like the shrimp and grits. And we also loved that it was only a block away from our house.

The closing of our favorite restaurant is hard to swallow (bad pun intended), and we’re not alone in that sentiment, as the sign above indicates. That’s because the relationship between “regulars” and their go-to dining option transcends a mere business relationship. The people at G. Michael’s knew us, and we knew them; we were greeted as friends by the always cheerful parking attendant as we approached the door and happily greeted again when we entered and walked to the host’s stand. Since we moved to German Village in 2015, we probably have eaten there more than 100 times–by ourselves, with family members and friends, and hosting large groups. I inevitably took clients who were in town on business to G. Michael’s because I knew that it would impress my guests about the quality of Columbus dining, the excellent fare, and the cool, relaxed German Village setting.

Now I’ve have to find a new favorite restaurant, and that sucks. G. Michael’s will be sorely missed.

Thunderheads On The Horizon

Summer in the Midwest is a time of storms.

I’d forgotten the awesome majesty of a Midwestern summer storm. I’m not talking about a rain cloud or two that brings casual showers. No, I speak of the real golly whoppers, the kind that bring banks of huge, dark, enormous clouds rolling in from the west, piled on top of each of each other until the clouds seem the reach up to the very heavens, turning the sunny skies into an angry canvas streaked with black and charcoal and an ugly yellow. The kind of storms that filter the sunlight into a dim twilight and leave the air feeling heavy and almost electrically charged.

I’ve experienced these storms walking to and from work this week, and it’s brought back some of those Midwestern reflexes. You scan the skies and listen for the low rumble of thunder and try to figure out how far away the real storm and rain really is. You’re especially sensitive to the wind, knowing that an abrupt change in temperature or direction or velocity might be a harbinger of a drenching. You keep an eye out for places where you might seek shelter when the storm really hits, understanding that even the sturdiest umbrella is going to provide no meaningful protection when you are pelted with a blanket of raindrops the size of a baby’s fist, blown sideways by a gale. And above all, you watch for flashes of lightning and count until you hear the crack, knowing that lightning means you’d better seriously pick up the pace.

I’ve been splattered a few times this morning, and yesterday morning I was doused into drowned rat territory when the heavens opened and produced a gullywasher when I was a mere two blocks from the office. Even so, I’ve enjoyed being reintroduced to Midwestern summer storms. They really are quite a spectacle.

New Shoes

I needed some new walking shoes, so I went to the shoe store looking for something suitable. I’ve bought shoes on-line in the past, but I figured that in Columbus—unlike Stonington—actual brick and mortar shoe stores with sweeping selections are close at hand. And, when it comes to footwear, there’s a lot to be said for looking around at different options in person, grabbing a few boxes to make sure of sizing, sitting down on one of those communal padded stools, and trying shoes on. On-line shopping is convenient, but you’re never really sure about shoes until you’ve removed the paper wadding, laced them up, and taken those first few tentative steps.

My feet have taken a beating after 64 years of hard daily use, and I was aiming exclusively for comfort, rather than style. I opted for these Vans Deluxe Comfort Ortholite sneakers. it was an easy call, because when I put them on my feet immediately communicated to my brain: “Hey, these are comfortable. I mean, really comfortable!” So I bought them, and it turns out my feet were right.

A few days of morning walks hasn’t changed that opinion. The shoes have lots of padding on the sole, and it feels like walking on a cloud. I always enjoy my walks, but these new shoes just make the walks that much better.

The Color Of The Court

The basketball court at Schiller Park has been refurbished and painted. The backboards and hoops haven’t been installed yet, but the paint job is done.

I’m struck by the color scheme, and wonder about the reasoning behind the green and pale orange choices. Were the peaceful, pastel colors selected to try to encourage friendlier, less aggressive play? The color choices reminded me of the legendary visitors locker room at the University of Iowa football stadium, which for years was painted pink in hopes that it would sap the manly morale of whatever team was playing the Hawkeyes.

Whatever the reason for the colors, I think the court looks pretty cool.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XLII

Some locations seem like a revolving door for restaurants. A place will open, start offering its wares, and then before you know it a new restaurant has replaced it. The location at 72 Lynn Alley, in the heart of downtown Columbus, is one of those locations where dogged restauranteurs keep trying.

The new eatery at that location is called Aroma, and Dr. Science and I went there yesterday to check it out. Aroma is a Mediterranean venue with an extensive menu of appetizers, entrees, sandwiches, and pizzas made with a cauliflower crust. The Doc and I opted for handheld lunches—no cauliflower for me, thank you very much!—and I got the braised lamb wrap. It was quite good, packed with tender and juicy lamb that was delicately seasoned, and came with a mound of crisp and crunchy fries that were a lot more than I could eat. All in all, it was a considerable lunch at a reasonable price point. The server was pleasant and professional and the seating area is spacious, allowing Dr. Science to gesture freely as he lectured me on the delta variant in authoritative tones.

In short, Aroma looks well-suited to giving it a go, undeterred by the ghosts of Si Senor and other former residents of the space. I’d definitely go back for another one of those lamb wraps.

Rain In The Forecast

The weather apps in our phones not only have changed the ways we check the weather, they also are a source of amusement—and amazement.

In the olden, pre-app days, you’d check the weather by looking out the window, or maybe watching the local news for tomorrow’s forecast. But the weather apps give you seven days of weather at a glance, with icons and scientific-seeming percentages about the chance of rain. And when you live in Columbus, or Stonington, or anywhere but Arizona, there’s always rain somewhere in the forecast.

The entertainment value comes from wondering how they develop those awesomely precise percentages, and then watching them change repeatedly. What distinguishes a 30 percent chance of rain five days from now from a 40, or 50, or 60 percent chance? What factors do the apps consider in assigning those values? And the frequency of change makes you wonder why you pay attention to the long-term forecasts in the first place. In the few hours since the screen shot above was taken, Thursday has gone from 50 percent chance of rain to the unblocked total sun icon. What titanic movement of massive weather fronts caused that abrupt change?

The weather apps, like some of our politicians, are frequently wrong—but never in doubt.

Faith In Signs

People in German Village put a lot of faith in signs. You see them all over the place, in random spots, appealing for opposition to proposed development projects or asking for help in preserving a community initiative or staking out some other position for all to see.

This sign, which has appeared at the Third Street entrance to Schiller Park, is a good example of the phenomenon. Its goal is laudable: speeding, especially on Third Street, is a chronic problem in German Village. Of course, it’s entirely debatable whether speeders are going to notice a sign—even a bright yellow one—or be deterred by it. A policeman stationed at that spot with a radar gun would undoubtedly have more of an impact.

Still, I’m glad I live in a neighborhood where people believe in the power of signs. It shows that people are engaged and believe that an individual’s efforts can make a difference. I’d rather have neighbors who are paying attention and trying to effect change. It’s when the signs disappear that there is cause for concern, because it indicates that people either don’t care anymore, or they have given up hope that their efforts can make a difference.