Vets End

For decades it squatted on the west bank of the Scioto River, directly across from downtown Columbus — a bland, nondescript, hunched building, instantly forgettable to all who drove past it, noteworthy only for its absolute, unflinching genericness.

The Franklin County Veterans Memorial was home to trade shows and auto shows and generic meetings of groups.  No one really cared much about it, one way or the other.  And when Franklin County Commissioners voted to demolish the building as part of a plan to add some much-needed dash and character to the west bank of the river, no one really cared much one way or the other about that, either — with one striking exception.

For one group, Veterans Memorial was a grotesque living reminder of a horrible few days — a period in their lives that was so terrible that just looking at the building and parking lot brought back soul-crushing recollections of angst and strain, panic and pressure, and the ultimate in testing nightmares.  That is because, for years and years, every new law school graduate who wanted to be licensed to practice law in Ohio had to come to Veterans Memorial in Columbus and sit in its cavernous main room to take the multi-day bar exam.

After three years of law school, your professional and financial future rode entirely on your performance on one test.  It was an all-or-nothing proposition:  pass, and you went on to become a practicing lawyer; fail, and . . . well, failure was unthinkable.  Everyone who has taken the bar exam remembers the sense of suffocating pressure, the grim expressions of their fellow test-takers, and the oppressive atmosphere in that testing room.

Some lawyers who successfully navigated the bar exam make jokes about it now, much like people who’ve been through a painful divorce attempt awkward humor about it.  But the jokes aren’t funny, and every lawyer knows it.  Deep down, every lawyer in Ohio is secretly thrilled that Vets Memorial has been reduced to rubble, and that the ugly physical reminder of their ugly rite of passage is no more.  We are free.

Good riddance!  May the rubble itself burn in hell.

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Planning For Parkland

The Columbus Downtown Development Corp. is hoping to create more parkland in the downtown area.  If it happens, it will be a good thing.

The plan is to put the parkland in the area around COSI and where the Veterans Memorial Auditorium now stands.  Vets is supposed to be torn down and replaced by an amphitheater and a different kind of veterans center.  At the same time, the damming on the Scioto River as it sluggishly moves through downtown is to be changed to allow the river to return to its more natural, narrower, more swiftly flowing state.  The narrowing will create an opportunity for additional parkland.  And, a third part of the plan — a 50,000-foot “indoor adventure” structure operated by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium — will be built just south of COSI.

It’s an ambitious plan, and, in Columbus, ambitious plans often are greeted with skepticism.  The urban landscape is dotted with plan and concepts that have never become reality, and Columbus is no exception.  When a planner says their vision is of Columbus’ version of Central Park — which is a bit of an overstatement in any event — the question of whether the project will get off the ground becomes even more compelling.

Still, the idea of more parkland is a good one.  The future of downtown Columbus is as a residential area, not an industrial center. People like parks and playgrounds in their neighborhoods, and urban dwellers also like things to do within walking distance.  That means parks, theaters, restaurants, bars, and other potential entertainment venues.  A plan that provides parks, an amphitheater, and a downtown aquarium fits those needs.  Putting those sites on the west side of the river in the Franklinton area also makes sense.  In Columbus, as in other cities, the river is a real dividing line, and most downtown workers don’t venture over the bridges.  That needs to stop, and putting some real attractions in Franklinton will help.

Columbus is changing, and most of the changes are for the better.  Adding green space that makes downtown living more attractive will accelerate the positive trend.

The Bar Exam

Later this week hundreds of would-be lawyers will take the Ohio bar exam at the Veterans Memorial building in Columbus.  Our nephew Matt will be among them.

In Ohio, you cannot become a licensed lawyer unless you pass the bar exam (among other requirements).  Twice a year, in February and July, applicants sit in a large common room and take a three-day test that addresses various areas of the law.

Because the bar exam is an all-or-nothing proposition — you either pass, or you are unable to practice law despite the three years of law school you’ve just completed — stress levels are absurdly high.  For many people, the bar exam is the single most stressful thing they’ve ever done.  Those who have passed always remember what it was like to take the exam, to sit in that big room with hundreds of other people, all charged with adrenalin and worry and regret that they didn’t study harder, and then to read the initial questions and hope you knew how to answer them.  At breaks between testing sessions, law school friends frantically discuss how they answered the questions in the prior session, becoming more agitated in the process.  Although my bar exam memories are more than 25 years old, these scenes remain fresh and distinct — and painful.

If anyone taking the exam this week happens to be reading this, my advice is simple:  by now, you’re either prepared or you aren’t.  Knock off your studies the afternoon before the first day of the exam, have a good dinner, go see a movie, and get a good’s night sleep.  Being well-rested is a lot more important than obsessive last-second cramming.  Take a book to read during the breaks; revisiting questions with others isn’t going to do anything except increase your stress level.  And get to Vets Memorial early!  Don’t take a chance on a mechanical breakdown or traffic jam.

Good luck, Matt!  I know you’ll do well.