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.

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.

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.

The Newest Little Library

I’m a big fan of the “little libraries” that have sprung up in German Village, in Stonington, and in many other communities. Books—especially paperbacks—shouldn’t sit on shelves gathering dust; once they have been read they should be shared with others. The little libraries are a great way to do that, and they also help to keep a house decluttered. We’ve contributed books to the little libraries in German Village and up here as well.

This new little library popped up in our neighborhood within the last week. I appreciate the nautical theme and the craftsmanship, too.

The Great Unmasking (Cont.)

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.

Wine Whine

We have an excellent wine shop only a few blocks from our house. Called Hausfrau Haven, it has an extensive selection of wines of all varieties, from all locations, as well as helpful signs to convey Wine Spectator ratings and thoughts from the proprietor about particular bottles. People who really know wines would love this place.

As for me . . . well, the selection is a bit overwhelming. I really like wines — specifically big bold reds. I like all of them. But how do you expand your horizons and educate your palate? Just try different offerings? Start with a particular region and get to know it well before moving on? Decide you’re going to focus on cabs?

I’m flummoxed.

An Abominable Snow Man

I don’t particularly want to be reminded of the abominable pandemic during a walk around the neighborhood, but I had to applaud the Calvinesque creativity of whoever came up with this googly eyed, mask-wearing, mop-wielding, disinfectant-brandishing snowman. I got a laugh out of it, and the German helmet is a distinctive touch for a German Village snow creation.

Scratch One Starbucks

This Starbucks at the corner of Sycamore and Third Street in German Village has closed. It’s fair to say that opinions are divided about that .

The coffee-obsessed Starbucks addicts are sad, of course. They’ll have to go a bit farther for their triple-spice grande cinnamon lattes and scones — but not too much farther, because Starbucks are ubiquitous in Columbus, and there are two other Starbucks that are only short walks and even shorter drives away. On the other hand, people who live in the immediate surroundings, like us, won’t be sorry to this particular Starbucks go. We might lose the so-called “Starbucks effect” — which associates Starbucks locations with higher home prices — but we’ll also lose litter, constant illegal parking by the coffee-crazed customers of the store, and lots of coffee-fueled traffic rattling through our neighborhood. And we’ve still got a nice homegrown coffee emporium, Stauf’s, that’s less than a block away.

The story around the neighborhood is that this Starbucks store, which seemed to be doing a brisk trade, was closed because Starbucks is transitioning to more of a drive-thru business model, and there is no room (fortunately) for a drive-thru set-up at this location. The drive-thru concept seems weird to me, and contrary to the whole coffee house concept in the first place — which, initially at least, sought to offer comfortable chairs and tables and friendly atmospheres that allowed customers to sit and chat and work on their laptops while sipping their cups of Joe. Now it’s grab and go and slug down your sugary concoction in the car.

This location won’t be vacant for long; a local shop that sells handmade soaps and lotions is moving from another location in our neighborhood into the former Starbucks space. And with the closure of the Starbucks those of us who walk the neighborhood won’t have to dodge the Starbucks zealots zooming around corners, mindlessly parking in no-parking spots rather than legal spots, and then backing up through pedestrian crosswalks without so much as a backward glance because they are just too important and rushed to proceed legally. I’m not sad about that.

The View From Above

I’ve written frequently about how much I enjoy Schiller Park, the great neighborhood park in German Village that has been around since the 1860s and reminds me of the kinds of older, established parks you see in places like New York and Philadelphia.

I’ve walked around and through Schiller so many times I didn’t think anything about the park could surprise me, but then I saw this great overhead image of the park posted on Facebook by VividColumbus. To orient those who use the park, that white square in the circle at the bottom center of the photo is the statue of Herr Schiller.

The photo really gives you a sense of the geometric elements of the design of the park and a different perspective on how the different parts of the park, and its many pathways, fit together. I particularly like the overhead view of formal gardens, walkways, and lines of trees that lead up to the Schiller statue. It makes me think that the designers of the gardens keep an overhead view in mind when they arrange their plantings.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again — I wish more city planners and urban renewal designs included parks as essential elements of their projects. Parks like Schiller Park make a huge contribution to their surrounding communities.

The Gingerbread House

There are lots of nice holiday light displays in German Village this year, but my favorite is the one at the little house within the footprint of Schiller Park. With its roofline limned in lights and the crossed, bright red candy canes in the windows, the house looks just like a gingerbread house when I walk by in the morning and the dark brick structure is framed by the brightening sky to the east. It’s a good example of how light displays don’t need to be elaborate to be effective in creating a festive holiday mood.

Facedown Santa

People are still putting up their Christmas decorations in German Village. Yesterday, while taking Betty for a walk after the Browns’ fine win over Tennessee, we ran across this not yet inflated Santa, and I got a chuckle out of it.

Was Santa was falling down drunk at 4:30 p.m., or just deflated? Either way, it seemed like a fitting scene for 2020.

Tree Time

With Thanksgiving behind us, it’s time to start focusing on the next big holiday on the calendar. And St. Mary Church here in German Village stands ready to satisfy your evergreen needs with a traditional Christmas tree lot. This year the lot has been spread out so the trees can comply with social distancing requirements, and there’s an ample supply of additional trees stacked up and at the ready, too.

We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years, but I do love that fresh, clean pine tree smell. it’s a pleasure walking past the lot in the morning.