Scooter Wars

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.

Spring Snow At Schiller

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.

Springtime At Schiller

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.

Ducks On The Run

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.

The Champion Squirrel Chaser

I’ve written before about the dogs and squirrels at Schiller Park. The neighborhood dogs love to chase the squirrels, and the squirrels seem to enjoy taunting the dogs, which are never quite able to actually catch the squirrels.

With one notable exception: the little white dog above. This dog is the champion squirrel chaser at Schiller Park. She was made to chase squirrels in the same way Lamborghinis are designed to go from zero to 60 m.p.h. in ridiculously short amounts of time. The dog runs like the wind and takes corners and changes direction at top speed — tail wagging furiously all the while. The dog has energy to burn and never stops to take a breather. Squirrels expect the little white dog to be as slow and clumsy as other dogs, and are then surprised when she actually catches them and knocks them down. I’ve watched her send an astonished squirrel tumbling, and it is a sight to behold. (Fortunately, the squirrel was able to immediately regain its feet and dart up a nearby tree.)

Today the dog was at the park and I snapped the photo above — which is about the best picture you’re going to get, because the dog is basically a white furry blur at all times. I talked to her owner and asked if she could share what the dog eats, because I’d consider changing my diet to capture some of the never-ending energy that dog has. The woman laughed and said that the dog just loves to run and chase squirrels. “It’s her nature,” the woman explained.

It certainly is. Watching this little dog chase squirrels would be like watching Michelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or watching Ernest Hemingway write The Sun Also Rises. You can’t help but stop and appreciate an artist working in her true medium.

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.

Overmasked

I noticed them doing some work around the Schiller statue on one of my recent walks around the park, and when I walked past the statue on Saturday I saw that Herr Schiller is now sporting an oversized mask. I suppose somebody in the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department decided we need yet another reminder of the need to wear masks — even though the statue is honoring social distancing dictates by staying more than six feet away from, and above, anyone walking by.

I’m sure whoever came up with the idea of masking the statue thought they were being pretty clever — even though masking up stuff has been done to death already. But the sight of the giant veiled statue provoked a pretty negative reaction from me. Must the authorities take every opportunity to hit us over the head with masks and other reminders of this ongoing pandemic? Can’t they leave at least some things alone, so we can get an occasional taste of the world as it was before “coronavirus” became a household word?

Trust me: we’re not going to forget that there’s a pandemic going on, even if there’s not a mask on every statue.

Broken Circle

Suspensions, the exhibition of sculptures by Jerzy Jotka Kedziora at Schiller Park, was supposed to end in March 2020 — about the time the coronavirus turned our little corner of the world upside down. Whether it is due to COVID-19 issues or because people like me just enjoy them, the exhibition has been extended and the hanging sculptures are still there to be appreciated.

The sculpture above has attracted a lot of attention from passersby who have noticed that the strap on the one ring is unattached and are worried the sculpture needs repair. But that’s actually the whole point of this piece, which is called Broken Circle. The Friends of Schiller Park, which sponsored this exhibition, received so many inquiries about the sculpture they put up a sign with the artist’s explanation of the piece: “With one wheel severed, the gymnast is able to maintain the hard-to-explain position. I want viewers to interact with my sculptures, even if it is simply the viewer’s fear that the sculpture may fall.”

I am struck by Kedziora’s notion of the gymnast being “able to maintain the hard-to-explain position.” That seems like a pretty apt description of what many people have done in trying to keep their lives, and their family’s lives, in order in the face of a pandemic and the other issues that have made 2020 such a surreal year. If you’re one of the Moms, Dads, helping out grandmothers or grandfathers, stay-at-home workers, remote schoolers, masked health care workers, or countless other people who have been able to “maintain the hard-to-explain position” in the face of a broken circle and innumerable daily challenges, I salute you. Like the gymnast, you’ve survived the impossible.

It’s interesting how changes in the world can affect your impression of art, and vice versa.

The Squirrel’s Favorite Holiday

I’m guessing that squirrels prefer Halloween and Thanksgiving over all other holidays. That’s because squirrels have a taste for pumpkin — especially older, softer pumpkin. Over the last few days, the little fellow shown in the photo above and his furry pals have been ravenously devouring the pumpkins that were placed at Schiller Park as decorations. I’m not sure if the squirrels gnaw through the shell to get at the pumpkin seeds, or whether they like the inner flesh, but this guy was stuffing himself to get ready for the winter in that inimitable, hyper-alert, squirrel-like way.

If you’ve got pumpkins and want to be environmentally sensitive about disposing of them, put them out in your back yard where your neighborhood squirrels can get at them. They’ll thank you, and take care of recycling.

The Geese Patrol

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.

Public Exercisers

We’re witnessing a new phenomenon on our walks around Schiller Park these days:  the invasion of the public exerciser.

sumo-squatI’m not talking about joggers, or walkers, or even those comically determined power walkers.  I’m talking about people who have suddenly begun to use the park as their own special fitness facility.  They brace themselves on the park benches to do stiff-backed push-ups and extravagant leg lifts.  They lie down on the asphalt of the basketball court and make cycling motions with their legs, then stand up and perform a kind of fitful twisting dance down the length of the court.  They do a lot of squatting, display butt cracks, and duck walk around.  They wave their arms like helicopter rotors, raise their knees up to chest level, and hop, hop, hop.  They lean against the picnic tables and stretch.  Then they put their hands on the basketball hoop poles and stretch some more.  We’d better hope that they’re not contagious, because they’ve touched pretty much every object and surface in the park aside from the Schiller statue — and they’d probably use that, too, if there wasn’t a fence around it.

These people just came out of the woodwork as the weather finally warmed up.  I recognize that fitness clubs have been closed down for two months, and perhaps that’s where they used to do their preening.  But what I find interesting is that they do all of these highly visible — and probably consciously visible — exercises in public, when they could be doing every one of them in the privacy of their homes or in the privacy of their backyards.  They’re not trying to be discreet.  It’s pretty clear that they’re desperate for attention — and probably desperate, period.

Who’d have thought our pretty neighborhood park would also serve as an outdoor gymnasium for attention-seeking fitness fans?  It’s harmless, I suppose, but kind of annoying nevertheless.

Enforcing Distancing

During the first few weeks of the shutdown, it wasn’t unusual to see people shooting baskets at the Schiller Park basketball courts, or even playing a small pick-up game.  Some people objected to it, and made a big stink about it on social media sites.  Now the authorities have taken steps to make sure that no one can play basketball there — even if they bring their own ball and are shooting hoops by themselves, without anyone else within six feet.

During these extraordinary times, is sending some worker out to put wooden blocks on a basketball goal to prevent people from playing the game or shooting baskets a prudent health care initiative, or a weird government overreach?  Does anyone know how likely you are to contract coronavirus from playing a game of basketball?  How many of the older people with multiple health care conditions, who statistics show are most at risk of serious health consequences if they contract COVID-19, are out at the park shooting hoops and ready to be selected to play in a pick-up game?

Of course, you can argue that the young kids who were shooting hoops and playing in those three-on-three games might bring the virus home, where it might infect at-risk people.  Still, blocking the hoops seems awfully Big Brotherish to me.  What’s next?  Removing the picnic tables and their benches because people might congregate there?

The Leading Scooter Indicator

They’ve put the scooters out around Schiller Park. I’m going to keep a close eye on them, because I think scooter use in the coming weeks may give us a lot of telling information about how things are going to be, post-shutdown.

Here’s my reasoning. Last year, scooters really made inroads. Lots of people, of different ages, were using them to move around town. Then the scooter weather ended, winter came, and then the coronavirus shutdown hit before scooter weather returned. Now we’re on the cusp of scooter weather again, and the scooters are out. Will people use them?

Of course, scooters are a pretty basic example of vehicle sharing. And, in post-shutdown America, the key word there is “sharing.” You can’t ride a scooter without touching the handlebars. Will people be willing to do that? Or will we see scooters standing idle due to fear of COVID-19?

And that’s why scooters are a kind of leading indicator. A big question for the post-shutdown economy is whether people will be too freaked out by the risk of infection to return to the pre-shutdown norm. If the Scooter Brigade — by self-selection risk-takers, since riders are willing to go zipping through vehicular traffic without any protective shielding — is willing to go back to scooting, that will tell us something about people, and the economy, bouncing back.

What if the Scooter Brigade doesn’t ride? Well, that will tell us there’s a lot of work yet to be done in the social confidence category.