We’ve got little kids in our neighborhood, and every once in a while they do something that reminds me of how much fun it was to be a kid. I came across this little bit of sidewalk graffiti that combines counting up to 100, using different colors, and the utter joy of using chalk on concrete, and it really brought back memories. I liked the feel of the gritty chalk bumping along the coarse, uneven surface of the sidewalk as we made a drawing or left a message or created a hopscotch outline, and then clapping my hands and smearing my trousers in a futile attempt to get rid of the chalk dust.
I bet I’ve stumbled on an uneven sidewalk hundreds of times — more likely, thousands of times — in my lifetime. So why do I feel a special humiliation whenever this commonplace blunder occurs?
The scenario is always the same. I’m shuffling along, mind wandering as I check out the scenery, and the next thing I know my toes catch on an uneven section of sidewalk and I’m pitching forward, herky jerky, looking like a bad vaudeville entertainer attempting some crude form of physical comedy. Oh, and there’s almost always someone getting ready to pass by, usually an elegant, graceful person striding purposefully ahead, who can smirk and chuckle inwardly at my ineptitude.
Whenever this happens, my cheeks and ears inevitably burn with shame. Why? No one wants to look like a clumsy fool, of course, but I do clumsy things all the time — whether it’s stubbing my toe on the bed frame or toppling a soda can or taking a bite of a sandwich and getting mustard on my tie. I also don’t think it’s the public aspect of it, either. I’ve knocked over bottles and glasses in restaurants without feeling that deep sense of mortification that I experience when one of those all-too-common sidewalk stumbles occurs.
I think the real reason is that walking is so very basic. It’s one of the first things we learn to do as infants, the building block for all of the higher motor skills like trotting, or skipping, or jumping. I was a late walker, so the embarrassment factor may go back to the fact that it took me a ridiculously long time to get the knack of balancing on my feet and putting one in front of the other without falling. Inwardly, I know that if you can’t walk down the sidewalk without almost going face first onto the pavement, you are showing that you lack the most fundamental form of coordination. You might as well go back to crawling.
If you’ve been to downtown Columbus, you know that Gay Street is a place to go for lunch, dinner, or a drink. Will Columbus city workers allow it to stay that way?
From Third Street to High Street, Gay Street is filled with restaurants. Most of them have outdoor eating areas defined by wrought-iron fencing and decorated with bright umbrellas and flower pots or hangings. Stop by on a reasonably warm day and you’ll likely find those outdoor areas filled with patrons.
Lately, city code inspectors apparently have been hassling restaurant owners about the patio areas, saying that umbrellas block city airspace and flowerpots violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, and apparently threatening to revoke permits. Owners say they are trying to be compliant and just want a dialogue. One problem is that the Columbus sidewalk code was written in the 1950s, decades before statutes like the ADA were enacted and patio areas became popular.
I’ve eaten outdoors at the Plantain Cafe, the Tip Top, Due Amici, and J. Gumbo’s. All of those outdoor areas are well-defined, well-maintained spaces. They don’t seem to block anything, and they help to make Gay Street one of Columbus’ most successful streets, with a true urban feel. I’m hoping that the city inspectors, code writers, and restaurant owners can resolve these issues without interfering with the bustling spirit of Gay Street. Columbus shouldn’t mess with a good thing.