A construction crew has been working on one of the access ramps to the underground garage under the Ohio Statehouse. I’m not sure exactly what they are doing, but it sure looks cool.
First they put down what looked exactly like yellow Legos, then they placed bright red wires over the yellow blocks. The combination was striking when I walked past yesterday morning, and produced what really looked like a modern art installation. It seems like a shame to cover it up with concrete.
I’m a born and bred Midwesterner, and the hardy survivor of dozens and dozens of Ohio summers. And yet, it didn’t take many COVID-caused summer days in Maine for me to forget just how that brutal combination of heat and moisture made the Midwestern air feel—until I came back to Columbus a few days ago and was smacked in the face by July.
In a Stonington summer, the temperature rarely exceeds 70 degrees, and if it touches 80 it’s a heat wave for the ages. It’s always cool at night, and a gentle, crisp breeze is usually blowing. It makes a walk on a summer morning a pleasant and invigorating experience.
But in the Midwest the steamy summer air descends on you as soon as you leave your air-conditioned space and clings to you like a living thing. It makes even a predawn walk a sweaty, sapping experience, and there’s really nothing you can do about it. Even a severe thunderstorm won’t cool off the air for more than a few moments.
Some refined Midwesterners say things like “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” when complaining about this kind of broiling summer weather. I always thought the word “muggy” was more apt, though, because the weather is akin to a mugging, where combination of heat and moisture are like a physical assault and rob you of your cool and calm demeanor, leaving you damp and bedraggled.
Midwestern summers are the reason air conditioning was invented.
What do you do if you haven’t had a chance to have your favorite meal for weeks?
Me? I get my favorite meal—lamb korma, medium-plus on the spice scale, served by the friendly folks at Indian Oven—three days in a row.
It’s tough to do without your favorite meal for weeks at a time—that’s how you know they’re your favorite—and when I came back to Columbus I wanted to be sure to scratch that itch. So I scheduled lunches at IO for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Each lunch was at IO as part of a separate tradition involving summer clerk meals, thank-you recognitions, or mentoring catch-ups, so by going to IO I not only was getting my lamb korma fix, I was furthering the important role of tradition in our culture and supporting a great Columbus restaurant. Admittedly, though, the main reason to go three days in a row was to thoroughly reacquaint myself with the delectable combination of lamb, curry sauce, chopped egg and nuts, and basmati rice, all carefully mixed to make sure every grain of rice has been coated before lifting forkfuls to my mouth and relishing every bite.
I like trying different dishes and experimenting with new venues, but it’s important to stay in touch with those tried-and-true classics that always deliver a great meal. Is three straight days enough to serve that function? We’ll see, because today I’m having lunch somewhere else.
But I’ll be back at IO on Friday for lamb korma, round four.
It was a hot, sunny weekend in Columbus, and lots of German Village residents and visitors were out and about. I did a lot of walking around the Village and around Schiller Park. With the temperature touching the 90s, it’s not surprising that nobody was masked up; wearing any kind of mask in that heat would have been unbearable. And one other change in behavior was readily apparent, too: people were sharing the sidewalks and walking past each other, shoulder to shoulder, without veering.
It was incredibly refreshing to walk the pretty streets of German Village without having to veer around parked cars or use the roadway to achieve at least six feet of social distancing. No one was consciously trying to maintain the buffer zone, and no one seemed to mind being in close proximity with other people, either. It struck me as another good sign of returning normalcy.
We’ll all carry our own memories of what it was like for us, personally, during the COVID shutdown period. One of my memories will be dodging traffic and other pedestrians and getting annoyed with people who hogged the sidewalk without yielding or moving over to help achieve social distancing recommendations. I’m glad they are just memories now.
The people of Columbus must really like riding scooters. Or, at least, that must be true of people hanging out in German Village. Schiller Park, in particular, is a magnet for scooters. Every morning on my walk around the park I see scooters at every point of the compass—some neatly arranged in appealing groups, like the ones above, some scattered willy-nilly, and some casually discarded and lying on their sides , like scooter litter.
By my count, there are at least four companies vying for the business of Cbus scooter users. And it must be a rule that scooter companies have four letters in their names—no more, no less—because that’s true of every Columbus competitor. We’ve got Bird, Link, Spin, and Lime.
What’s next? Sync, maybe? Given the ‘tude of the scooter riders, I’m surprised that Cool and Pose haven’t been used already.
Much as I hate the idea of snow on the ground on April 21–and more snow falling, even now–I have to admit that the snow gave a pretty new look to Schiller Park during my walk this morning. You could still see some of the color of the flowering trees beneath the layer of snow, and the heavy, wet snow on the leaves brought many of the limbs of the trees over the sidewalks down low, requiring you to duck and steer between low-hanging branches as you walked. And snow bombs, with clumps of snow being shaken off the trees and falling on we pedestrians below, were a constant hazard.
As I walked, I thought the park looked different in this snowfall than it does during the winter months. It took me a while to figure it out, until the bright green, grassy circles that surrounded every leafed-out tree clued me in. The canopies of leaves were shielding the grass from the snow and holding it above. Unlike their skeletal look after a winter snowfall, the trees looked full and bright, almost as if the snow were flowering buds. That thought almost made the falling snow and the cold tolerable.
The temperature started to plummet last night, the clouds rolled in, and this morning we woke up to a fresh—and utterly unwelcome—springtime snowfall, as shown in this picture from our screened porch taken a few minutes ago.. The temperature is right at 32 degrees Fahrenheit now and is supposed to rise gradually, but it’s not going to get above the low 40s today.
In short, it’s not exactly an ideal spring day.
That’s Midwestern weather for you. It defines unpredictability. April 20 and 21 is pretty late for snow, but the folk wisdom in these parts tells us that late snows and freezing temperatures at the end of April or even early May aren’t unprecedented. The prevailing view is that you shouldn’t plant flowers until Mother’s Day, in order to avoid a belated hard freeze that kills or cripples your new plantings. That little nugget of local gardening doctrine, which Mom repeated on an annual basis, obviously is based on years of harsh experience.
And this year, the folk wisdom has been affirmed once again. I’m glad I haven’t done anything in the planting arena before now. I’ll also be glad when the snow melts and we get back to a reasonable approximation of spring.
You normally don’t associate squirrels with a calm demeanor. To the contrary, squirrels seem to be some of the most skittish, hyper alert members of the animal kingdom. They are always nervously chewing up a nut while on the lookout for a dog and ready to run like crazy.
So this squirrel, perched on one of the concrete stanchions along the St. Mary fence line, was displaying decidedly unsquirrelly behavior. It gazed into the far distance with a placid expression and attitude, oblivious to the world around him, perhaps thinking deep squirrel thoughts. It was only when I approached that the squirrel ended its reverie, turned my way as if wondering why I was disturbing his solitude, and scampered off into the shrubbery where it undoubtedly resumed its zen like meditation..
During the week we were out in Arizona, spring arrived in central Ohio in a big way. Trees are beginning to leaf out, flowers are showing their colors, the grass is a bright green, the flowering trees are in their glory, and there is a gentle, floral scent of spring on the freshening breeze.
It is a beautiful time of year, and there is no better place to enjoy the delights of spring than Schiller Park. The garden club has been busy, and the grounds of the park look marvelous. This morning, conditions were perfect for a stroll through and around the park, with cool temperatures and bright sunshine. I wasn’t the only person who thought this was a good idea, either; the park was packed with people, and dogs, all enjoying a romp outside in the beautiful surroundings. We’ve all got spring fever, and a great park like Schiller is an ideal place to let the fever take hold.
Upper Arlington High School, my alma mater, was dedicated in 1956. By the time I started attending in the fall of 1972, the school has been pretty well broken in and was bursting at the seams with students, and the standing golden bear in the glass case near the gym had seen more than his fair share of proms, pranks, and shenanigans.
Now, 46 years after my graduation, my old school is being torn down. (And, because I went to high school during the early years of Steely Dan, I think of the song “My Old School” as I write those words.) The Upper Arlington Alumni Association has come up with a novel way to commemorate that fact. As the notice above indicates, it’s giving UAHS grads a chance to go to the school, walk through the halls one more time, and leave their handprint somewhere within those hallowed halls. On your last visit, you could check out the student center, where we used to play euchre on off periods, visit the library where masked students once “streaked,” and marvel at the fact that for students of my generation there used to be a student smoking area, too.
Based on the notice above, there will be one big difference between my student days and a last visit: social distancing. My graduating class was the largest class in history, with more than 800 grads. When the bells rang for class changes, the hallways were so crammed with kids clutching notebooks and textbooks rushing to their next class or their locker that you could scarcely breathe. I guess I prefer to leave those unmasked memories undisturbed.
Yesterday was another ideal day for a hike in central Ohio, with clear skies and temperatures that started in the 50s and eventually touched 70. We decided to stay a little closer to home this time, and ventured just a few miles north of I-270, to the very conveniently located Highbanks Metro Park, to try out the Dripping Rock Trail. The Dripping Rock Trail is one of a series of interconnected trails in the park, which also features a designated dog trail, picnic areas, and open meadows where kids can run around and work off some of that inexhaustible kid energy.
The Dripping Rock Trail is so named, I suspect, because part of the trail follows a small stream that has cut through rock, as shown in the two photographs above, and groundwater leaks from the rock formations into the stream. The trail follows a loop that is a little over two miles, but if you want a longer hike you can link to adjoining trails that will take you to an Adena Mound, some ancient earthworks, and an overlook area The flexibility offered by the intersecting trails is a nice feature, because you can design your hike to suit your interest in exactly how much exercise you want to get.
The trails are natural earth and well-marked, and wide enough to allow for comfortable social distancing from passing hikers if everyone move to the edge and goes single file. Because the Highbanks park is so close to Columbus, the Dripping Rock Trail and other trails are very popular–or at least they were on our visit. Yesterday we got there at about 10:30 and had no problem finding a parking space next to the nature center, but when we left in early afternoon the parking lots were full and people were waiting for departures to find a parking space. If it’s a pretty day you’ll want to get there early if you want to be sure of getting a spot.
One section of the Dripping Rock Trail will give you a glimpse of a sluggish and muddy segment of the Olentangy River through the trees, but for the most part the trail is just your basic walk in the Ohio woods, winding through and around the trees with the small creek for company. There are some easy inclines and declines, but most of the trail is level. So long as you stay away from gangs of chatty hikers, it is blissfully quiet and makes for a very pleasant stroll. And if you are a big forestry fan, the Metroparks people have labeled some of the different kinds of trees that you will see along the hike.
We liked the Dripping Rock Trail, and think it would be worth visiting again in the fall when the leaves start to turn.
This is the time of year when the ducks in Schiller Park are out and about. Instead of hanging out at the pond, as they typically do, at this time of year they clearly feel a certain wanderlust and could be anywhere–crossing the street, emerging from underneath bushes, or strolling across the lawns.
It can be a bit unnerving as you walk in the pre-dawn darkness. You’ll suddenly detect movement near your feet in the gloom and feel a surge of adrenalin in response to the unknown, and the next thing you know there are a pair of ducks waddling past, murmuring in apparent indignation at your presence. With the DuckShock over, you breathe a sigh of relief and continue on your way.
The roaming ducks always seem to be in female and male pairs, which makes me think the wandering is intended to secure a little privacy, away from the rest of the flock at the pond, for some springtime mating. I always feel a little bad for interrupting the roving of my waterfowl chums–whatever they are doing.
And here’s a key question: how comfortable will people be about being in a crowd, even if they are vaccinated and/or masked up?
On Gay Street, in downtown Columbus, we’ll begin to get a sense of the appetite for the pre-pandemic activities next month. The Gay Street District will hold its first “moonlight market” on April 10, from 6-11 p.m., and its first “sunlight market” on April 18, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The markets give visitors a chance to do some shopping from street vendors who will set up along Gay Street and grab some food from the restaurants lining Gay Street. Part of the fun of the events is being in a bustling crowd while moving up and down the street. This year, organizers no doubt are wondering how many people — vendors and visitors alike — will show up.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit everyone hard, but small businesses, street vendors, and street festivals have been particularly devastated. As we work on making our way back to “normal,” keep an eye on events like the Gay Street District markets. They are the kind of leading indicators that will tell you whether there is a pent-up demand on the part of cooped-up people to get out into the sunlight, and moonlight, or whether people are holding back because of lingering concerns that the coronavirus is still lurking out there, and that maybe it is wiser to just stay home — again.
As we inch closer to reopening America and trying to get back to the way things were before the Great Shutdown, here’s a thought for hopeful business owners, bar proprietors, and restauranteurs: remember the “broken windows” theory.
As long-time readers of this blog know, “broken windows” theory holds that the physical surroundings communicate important messages to people about social order. If you see a broken window in your neighborhood, and after a few weeks it becomes apparent that no one is going to fix that window, you get the message that your neighborhood isn’t as orderly as it once was, and it causes concern about personal safety and appropriate behavior. The same message is conveyed by the appearance of graffiti on buildings, and increased litter on the streets. All suggest a breakdown in the established social compact that will make people jittery.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented broken windows theory on a national scale. Everything changed abruptly about a year ago. Many businesses closed during the initial shutdown, and some of them never reopened. There were fewer people on the streets, and many of those who were out were obviously fearful. Neighborhoods started to look more trashy because people who might otherwise pick things up and throw them away were afraid that loose trash and debris might be vectors for transmission of the disease. And all of those bleak visual cues have a compounding, reinforcing effect.
I was in downtown Columbus yesterday, and I thought about “broken windows” theory as I passed yet another gross, discarded facial mask in a gutter in front of a business. I think those gutter masks send a pretty unmistakable message that things still aren’t back to normal or even close to normal — because if they were, the business owner or a cleaning crew obviously would pick up that mask, and any other litter on the sidewalk. If I were a business owner trying to get the wheels of commerce to really turn again, I would go on mask patrol and make sure that the area around my establishment was free of dirty masks and other negative visual cues that might cause people to refrain from entering.
There are still a lot of nervous people out there. Many of them want the world to get back to normal, but they’ve been cautioned and conditioned to avoid risk. Filthy facemasks in the gutter subconsciously communicate that the risk is still out there.