Merrimar Circle N

This actually isn’t meant to be a predominantly personal blog. Nothing less than the entire history of Columbus Ohio will be attempted in these pages. Still, personal anecdotes provide the perfect entry point for attacking this stuff, so here goes.

I actually don’t remember the specific address for this apartment (I can find it in about five seconds on Google Maps, but they have it mislabeled as Governour’s Square, which is across the street), yet there are a ton of fondly recalled and very specific memories stemming from here. This is the residence which immediately followed 1990 1/2 Summit Street and while losing one roommate as a tradeoff – theoretically gaining a little suburban respectability in the process – Alan and I have plenty of adventures with the same old cast of characters. This is also the space I will eventually share with Jill, my first live-in girlfriend of the city and mother of my child.

The very night we move in, Alan and I and a friend of his nicknamed Snoop stumble upon a pair of attractive females skinny dipping in the pool. Somehow, Snoop knows one of the girls and somehow, incredibly enough, nobody else shows up outside the five of us, at least not that I can recall. These girls even wind up coming back to our apartment to change back into their clothes. We think we have our meal ticket punched with this episode, but, sadly enough, none of us ever see these chicks again and nothing  this sensational happens at the pool for the remainder of our residence here.

Still, colorful episodes abound, even as we are quote unquote growing up a little bit by moving away from campus. One of these involves a night where my microwave stops working, and somehow we get it into our heads that we will super glue it to the front door of our neighbor across the way, Nicole. As the only two apartments up here on this wing of the second floor, it kind of feels like we are hurtling through space and time together, Nicole and us. I mean, we are friendly enough up to this point and she hangs out at our place quite a bit. But yeah, she will wind up calling the cops this particular night and we never speak to her again:

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So okay, the first problem is that the microwave won’t stick to her door. I mean, the four of us – there are four guys actually involved with this prank, although only two show up in the photographic evidence – even leave to go get a bunch more super glue at Kroger at one point, and still it won’t hold. So we give up on that concept, and prop it up on something instead, as you can see in the picture above.

Feeling a bit miffed in this regard, we then get the bright idea to torch her Christmas wreath. The sunglasses Big Paul is wearing at like 1:30am are a nice touch:

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Okay, so this is turning out to be not such a hot idea. We eventually throw the entire project aside – quite literally, as you can see below – and medicate ourselves with some late night pizza at Hound Dog’s. The next morning, our downstairs neighbor Yu asks me in passing what I think might have caused such mayhem, and speculates that it could have been a stray dog.

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High Street

Newport Music Hall in Columbus, OH

Columbus Ohio’s Newport Music Hall, the longest continually running rock club in the US

At the time, it seemed kind of weird and cheesy to be lurking around snapping these pictures. I mean, who walked around in the late 90s taking pictures of buildings, with a camera that used actual film? But now, I definitely wish I had taken a whole lot more of them. As it stands, I only have a couple. Here’s the exterior of the Newport Music Hall circa I think 1999. And then below is the building which housed our treasured Maxwell’s Bar, and the original location for Magnolia Thunderpussy, before Campus Partners came along and completely demolished this entire district:

demolished building which once housed Maxwell's & Magnolia's

Shaffer building on High Street, home to Maxwell’s Bar and the original location for Magnolia Thunderpussy

Magnolia used to offer two dollar discounts on Tuesdays. The help was often the expected hipster class who’d ignore you at the counter and loathe to answer questions or show interest in anything even remotely mainstream – yet in some weird way, you kind of liked this. Now they are located in posher digs down the road, at 1155 N High Street, and have Taylor Swift at the top of their home page. It’s difficult to argue this is better.

Skully’s is another fascinating beast which has evolved to survive the Campus Partners wrecking ball. They too have transplanted to the Short North, landing at 1151 N High Street – right next door to Magnolia’s! Though there was an interim café location way up at Morse and High, they actually began life as an underground dive bar (literally, a subterranean location accessed from the sidewalk) on the OSU campus. In those days it was pretty much just a dank pool hall with four or five couches and an all-German Metallica tribute album on the jukebox. Now of course Skully’s represents an amazing and spacious music hall featuring live acts as well as themed dance parties.

Then there was The Edge. Another underground establishment along the bustling south fringe of campus, The Edge was OSU’s nighttime mecca, the spot to be in a locale chock full of them. During this era, the sidewalks along campus are lined with taut, waist high ropes and everywhere you look there are cops in riot gear hanging out by their paddy wagons, waiting for the next drunken fight, the next public intox. More often than not, the springboard for all this action is The Edge.

Standing in line the first time for that bar, I eye the cops, with their polished helmets reflecting shafts of overhead streetlight, their equally shiny badges, their perfectly pressed uniforms, their holsters, their guns. Rather than acting as some sort of deterrent, the menace they imply and the general atmosphere of mayhem lends an air of static electricity to the scene. That you are in the midst of something heavy, that this is the place to be.

Coeds also had its charms. That first trip to The Edge, actually, we grew tired of freezing our nuts off in the cold, and never made it inside on that particular occasion. We spy a plain, unadorned club right next door, a place called Coeds. And aside from the Swiss villa wooden decor of its front facade, its tucked away status lends it a feel of best kept secret, forcing our hand.

Curiosity piqued, we step inside. A swarm of bodies, and flashing lights of a thousand hues punctuate the dark. Two stories tall, there’s a dance floor upon each level, each teeming with a mob of females gyrating to Prince’s Pussy Control. Within their midst, we’re still treated as slime, pond scum or worse, but to see all of these girls in one place, from cute secretarial types, to sluts in tight black pants or miniskirts, punk rock chicks with spiky hair and eyeliner, you name it, seeing them all here offers some measure of encouragement. Music so loud conversation’s a technical impracticality, faces visible only as passing blurs – recognizable within a tight circle of maybe ten feet, but beyond that a rippling, anonymous ocean.

Upstairs, in the attic loft, there are mirror lined walls and a brass rail surrounding this packed dance floor. Swirling pinspot lights of every color throb along with the ferocious, ass shaking beats stemming from the DJ booth. Rising heat from the floor below, oblivious to that frozen tundra outside, warms the limbs and throat even while standing still, leaning against the railing as we drink beer and ogle females. Paul even gave this place his stamp of approval, an uncommon seal in those days.

We do eventually make it to The Edge, too, however, about a week later. Like most south campus clubs, The Edge is open only from Thursday to Sunday, yet this limited window of opportunity hasn’t damaged its appeal. On the contrary, interest in this hotspot is at an all time high, its cache bordering on the fanatical. The line’s halfway up the block again and on this occasion, as we’re standing in wait, it occurs to me that with all these bodies trapped in a basement bar with just one exit, if a fire breaks out we’re all seriously fucked. They’d be sorting out charred remains for days.

Pool tables were found just to the left of the entrance, offering one potential refuge. Meanwhile the standard sea of mirrors and strobe lighting take up the entire northern half of this trendy cavern.

Sadly, if my research is correct, it appears that the No. 1 Chinese restaurant at 2036 N. High Street is now gone also. ‘Tis a shame in many respects. Though only dining here for one solid year and a half of my life, that stretch in all likelihood means that I’ve eaten there more than any other restaurant in the city. During my heyday I’d walk in and the counter girl would laugh, say, “General Tso chicken?” To which I would respond in the affirmative.

It was decent, and it was cheap, which were about the only two qualities that mattered at the time. Although one night shortly after this period of my life ended, my girlfriend Jill and I were watching the news and they rated this the worst restaurant in Columbus. She started cracking up and asked, “isn’t that the place where you guys ate all time?”

Yes indeed. And poor rating or not, I can’t say a bad word about No. 1 Chinese. Whenever a former haunt goes out of business, however, it’s hard to avoid feeling a little guilty, like if you’d patronized it more, they might still be around. So sorry, guys – hopefully there are no hard feelings. But we can’t all live on campus forever.

 

 

Panini’s Bar & Grill

Panini’s Bar & Grill was another warmly recalled haunt, formerly located at the corner of High Street and West 10th Avenue on campus.  We loved them because they not only served sandwiches late into the night, but didn’t even card at the door most nights. Sometimes you did have to endure a little smarminess from the help, but hey, that’s true almost anywhere in this town, particularly around campus.

“Why don’t you get a haircut consistent with the century you live in?” one clean cut, bespectacled wiseass of a bartender once challenged a friend of mine, during our first ever visit to the place, as soon as we sat down at the bar.

Still, Panini’s does grow on us. A moderately upscale joint near the southern tip of campus, it almost has the feel of a New York City deli – at least during the week. When the weekend comes all those tables in the center will find themselves jostled against the wall and a DJ’s bound to arrive, as this joint magically morphs into a dance club. One with pisspoor ventilation and even worse music, maybe, and yet this place works its way into our regular rotation just the same, regardless of the day.

Ruby Tuesday

Not to be confused with the (overpriced) (semi-nasty) national restaurant chain, the Ruby Tuesday at 1978 Summit Street is an OSU campus institution. A mellow dive, Ruby’s is basically your proper English pub, outfitted almost entirely with wood and a dark, smoky atmosphere that grows incrementally warmer the foggier it becomes. A creaky wooden beer stained floor and matching bar, matching tables and chairs and stage further accentuate this idyll, not to mention the mostly killer jukebox. Above it a chalkboard calendar charts the musical acts due up this month, horrendous though most of them are. Two pool tables near the front door and real darts, an elaborately stained glass window on the other half of the bar and the kind of chattering hippie clientele that unites the thread of conversation, on quiet nights like these, from one end of the building to the other.

When we first become aware of the joint, we’re living within stumbling distance at 1990 1/2 Summit Street, and are regular patrons soon enough. We walk two doors down to Ruby’s, where the rustic ambience blasts away our cabin fever. Here the sun slants through the stained glass of their elaborate front window, in warm shades reminiscent of a roaring campfire. More than anything, Ruby’s is a western saloon from the end of the 19th century, and if they’d only replace the jukebox with a beer soaked piano, the illusion would stand complete. Sometimes I imagine that I’ll glance through a pane of that multicolored window and feast my eyes upon a rutted dirt road with horse drawn carriages, a few stray tumbleweeds.

Were this the case, then our favorite Ruby’s regular would assuredly hold the post of town marshal. Unfailingly attired in cowboy boots and faded jeans, a thick salt and pepper mustache and button down shirt, he occasionally adopts a brown leather vest and ten gallon hat as well. Roaring down Summit Street in his enormous yellow 1970s auto, its muffler painfully ineffective, he parks in front of Ruby’s, breezes through the door arm in arm with his gloriously middle aged wife. Smiling in benign abstraction at everyone she encounters, the lady I peg as our mining boomtown’s lone seamstress, or perhaps the proprietor of its thriving whorehouse. A coy flapper girl perhaps, should she dress the part, were she twenty years younger.

As the sun sinks into purple twilight, this bluesy hillbilly outfit takes the stage. Pitchers of beer abound, and the air is alive with a dozen disparate conversations, audible alongside the band without drowning it out. On this side of the bar, they dim the lights down to accommodate a flickering candle atop each table, and we’re reclined here absorbing the group’s twangy wares. Though quite competent at what they do, this isn’t exactly our cup of tea, and we await the moment our quarters come up on one of the two pool tables.

The band finishes its first set, yet this ungodly feedback fills the air, leaving the guitarist onstage to investigate its source YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE and as Alan descends a flight of stairs to the basement restroom, the guitarist inspects his axe EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE he inspects his amplifier. He stands there literally scratching his head, but this voluminous, continuous squeal divides the atmosphere like a bandsaw EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE and the din grinds down to absolute standstill, pin drop quiet if not for the banshee shriek. Miffed by this mysterious malfunction, the guitarist begins unplugging their equipment, walking off with a shrug.

It is only when our mustachioed town marshal spins around from his bar stool to face the crowd do we divine the genesis of this marathon wail. Drawing deep within his powerhouse lungs for one last triumphant hurrah, he concludes this raucous endorsement HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWW!  and grins with obvious delight, knocking off the dregs of his beer mug. He stands and grabs a pool stick as the bar explodes with laughter, and the conversation eventually swells back to life.

“What the fuck was that?”  Alan asks, returning from below.

“It was him!” I cheer, pointing at our friend.

Christ that was loud,” Alan declares.

His wife showering smiles from her own barstool, our hillbilly friend rustles up a redneck partner and in tandem, they own the table. Our quarters come up and we meet them head on, but they eat up an hour draining our pockets, reigning triumphant. And yet within this window of fierce struggle, while the first band wraps up its show and a second nearly identical group begins, we manage just three games.

In shooting the breeze with his fellow patrons, pausing for giant gulps of draft beer, the average time elapsed between the arrival of his turn and that which he actually shoots approaches five minutes.  With every female entering the saloon, regardless of age or appearance, our goodwill ambassador slings an eardrum puncturing whistle in her direction. He lines up to take a shot, then straightens, turns to somebody at the bar behind him in resurrecting a prior conversation.

“Anyway, as I was saying……”

Maddening, if not so hysterical.

1990 1/2 Summit Street

 

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The three of us move into 1990 ½ Summit in January of 1997, and are the last people to call this address home. Examining the evidence, one might reasonably conclude that this was probably a good idea.

The dingy green and white tile of our kitchen floor is crudded over with black, ditto the bathroom. Whoever rented the place immediately before us – a bunch of skate punks, judging from the scuffed up hardwood floors and various stickers plastered all over the refrigerator – seriously ran 1990 ½ Summit Street to seed. Inexplicably, they left a dozen bags of kitty litter behind, too, but also this intricately carved wooden floor lamp that I swiftly claim as my own.

Mushrooms are growing in the light sockets; our bathroom window is nothing but a taped up sheet of plywood, and raccoon tracks are discernible along its eastern wall, between the sink and commode. Wiring proves a joke – we blow light bulbs at a record clip as days go by – and in the master bedroom, a leak is soon discovered so severe that Alan nearly kills himself one afternoon climbing all over the roof trying to remedy it.

A sad setup we’ve willed ourselves into, though typical of the campus area. By chopping up this once beautiful, spacious house, that faceless someone from decades past has rendered these four bizarrely construed apartments. In our case this means Alan, who owns a large bed and really nice stereo and more stuff than Damon and I combined, is to be given the master second floor bedroom. In actuality, with an ornamental marble fireplace and all, this should be the living room, but we’re not concerned with such trivialities.

Along the long hall which leads from the stair landing and the filthy bathroom, filthy kitchen, in between these and Alan’s room, my own tidy corner of the galaxy lays. A snug little twelve by twelve alcove, hardwood floors but more or less warm, tucked, as it is, in the middle of our apartment. Drifting further, up a second flight of stairs which begins across the hall from my room, a third bedroom looms above, and a fourth beyond it. In the summer months this upper floor will turn unbearably hot, but for now this third floor’s a source of much welcome warmth.

Hack musicians all, the three of us compile our assorted equipment in the first of these rooms and dub it our jamming facility. Damon claims the other, in the deepest reaches of the third floor and directly above Alan’s quarters. His window, like the two in Alan’s room, looks down upon the steady roaring traffic of Summit Street, US 23, as it tears its way through campus en route to downtown.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the view of a dumpster pushed up against the back wall of a house, so that its residents might theoretically launch trash straight down rather than carry it out:

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If such a thing were to theoretically happen, that is. This is what the scene might look like. On a similar note, here’s what a kitchen at, say, 1990 1/2 Summit Street of a city called Columbus, Ohio could resemble if your roommate bought a store mannequin and you decided to attack it with duct tape and spaghetti:

Meanwhile, this is what the bottom of our stairs looked like, just inside the front door, following a night where we decided to launch potatoes and other food items from the landing above. Incidentally, this is not how the smoke detector ended up here. I don’t remember this, but Paul tells me I came home from the bar and was cooking some late night grub for us on the stove. The smoke detector started going off, which was on the wall just above, and while continuing to stir with my left hand, apparently I smacked it off the wall with my right hand without really missing a beat. It skittered around and somehow landed down on that first step. What can I say, that was a long time ago. I might not remember it, but that sounds about right.

 

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Damon does replace a number of electrical outlets that aren’t working, and mounts a fluorescent light on our kitchen wall in lieu of a bum overhead one, but our attempts at home improvement really extend no further. Unless, that is, you count the Bob Marley poster Damon stole from some hall at OSU, hanging in our kitchen with a bogus signature:

Thanks boys for the memories. Bob.

 

 

The Judas Cow

The Judas Cow began life in the early 2000s as a live trio hitting some of the more prominent rock clubs around Columbus. Their style, a distinctly Midwestern, mid-tempo blend that falls somewhere between Americana and Tom Petty, seems to lend itself just as much to quiet listening sessions around the house, however, and many of us eagerly await some official recorded output.

Led by singer-guitarist-songwriter Kevin Spain, formerly of beloved local group Silo The Huskie, they would at long last release an EP in 2006, Last Summer. Prior to this, the band had circulated some demos by hand, passing Sharpie labeled discs out around town, and it’s impressive to hear how polished these songs became in the finished product. Of course, playing out constantly does help with that process. But bass player Ryan Haye had only just picked up the instrument shortly before joining the group, and you would never guess that in listening to this EP.

 

Augmented by a fourth member, Chris Bair (also a Silo alumni), they would reconvene to crank out another self-titled disc in 2008.

Some Spirits With Your Meal

Though always a guy who kind of believed that ghosts exist, I’ve also been one who certainly never wished to encounter any. And thus far I haven’t. But I would eventually find myself in the middle of exactly one good ghost story, which stemmed from working at the former DaVinci’s Ristorante, located on the corner of Henderson and Reed Roads.

Desperate for cash one year near the holidays, I took a second, part time job waiting tables at the restaurant, an experience I found enjoyable enough. The owners were pretty chill for an upscale Italian place, my coworkers were cool, the pay decent and we even got to eat whatever leftovers were to be had at the end of every shift. There were a couple of weird features to the building itself, however, including a massive upstairs that wasn’t used for much of anything that I could see, a really deep elevator in the kitchen, and an insistence that the bread makers for some reason plied their wares in the basement.

But I never really thought much about these features, nor the constantly flickering lights. There was this hall area in between the dining room and kitchen where we servers would hang out during lulls in the action, because it allowed us to keep an eye on things while remaining out of the way. The light globes in this hall would often either brighten or dim for no discernible reason, usually a handful of times a day. I just chalked this phenomenon up to bad wiring and never commented on it to anyone, or asked if they’d noticed this, until one day when a few of us were hanging out in the hall and it happened.

“What’s the deal with these lights?”

“Didn’t you know?” one of my coworkers replied with an amused smirk, “this used to be a funeral home.”

And as it turns out, this is true. The DaVinci’s Ristorante name first surfaced in 1974, diagonally across the intersection from here, and moved to this corner in 1982. In so doing, it displaced a funeral home. This would explain the wide, recessed elevators, which needed the extra space for moving coffins. Also, I am told, the basement bread making room used to be where they embalmed people, which adds a whole other layer of creepiness to that space.

Still, though now hearing for the first time that this place is allegedly haunted, I can’t see any proof of that apart from maybe the lights. Until, that is, the day of the 26 top.

The numbers associated with this party are forever etched on my mind. By this point, I’d been working here a few months, well into the new year, and most afternoons I was saddled in the smoking section with Karen, the two of us, who could handle the somewhat smaller room in tandem, even though it was routinely packed. This was mostly due to the popularity of our buffet, which made serving here a breeze, even if it did cut into to the tip making aspect substantially.

Despite being packed, what we didn’t experience very much of at all were large parties arriving out of the blue. Typically these were scheduled well in advance and were slotted into one of the banquet rooms, which a couple of old ladies almost always handled. On this particular day, however, in the middle of our lunch rush, we got a phone call requesting 26 seats in our smoking section.

Karen and I scramble around moving some things, securing a couple of extra tables, and while we’re able to assemble a large enough surface in the middle of the room, it seems that, with every other chair in our section accounted for, currently in use, we can only come up with 17 seats. This prompts a question I haven’t had to ask before, namely, where do we keep spare chairs around here, anyway?

She explains that I have to take the elevator up to the attic, a space hinted at but never seen. Once there, I will need to cross this spacious room, and that I will find the spare chairs stacked up in neat rows along the far wall. Okay, simple enough, no problem. I duck into the kitchen and climb inside the elevator, shut its massive door. Press the up button and wait…but nothing is happening. I keep mashing this button, with similar results, and eventually give up, attempt to reopen the door instead. Except this also appears to be stuck, malfunctioning, refusing to budge. As it so happens, amusingly enough, there’s a tiny window in the door, and at this juncture I begin rapping on it with my knuckles, pounding on the door, waving in the window, attempting to get the attention of the cooks I can see from here, or anybody else who happens to drift past. All to no avail.

By my watch a good five minutes have now gone by. I’m laughing in disbelief of this situation, but figure that if nothing else, Karen will come looking for me when the party arrives. And yet with nothing else to lose, in a desperation move, I press the up arrow again, and now for some reason it’s magically working.

So up to the attic we go. Now the door’s functioning freely too, another miracle, although any potential good cheer drains from my face the instant I swing it open. For right outside the door, inches in front of me, legions removed from the far wall where the remainder of our spares are stacked, there’s a single column of exactly nine chairs. Spooked beyond belief, particularly in consideration of the dingy space behind them, I pull these chairs toward me and get the hell out of there without ever stepping off of the elevator.

This little episode demonstrates to me that ghosts can have a sense of humor, and might even be helpful. That they were detaining me on that elevator long enough to perpetrate this prank. And a few years after working there, in 2006, when hearing that this location would close and that they were opening a smaller café up on Tremont, my first thought was wondering: will the spirits follow them there? Either way, I came away from this experience believing that ghosts do indeed exist, and all the more convinced I hope to never lay eyes on any.

Starliner Diner: It’s All About Potato Crispiness

While we’re on the subject of Hilliard, the beloved Starliner Diner recently reopened in a new spot, basically around the corner in this quaint suburb’s “old downtown” area. I haven’t had a chance to check out the latest digs just yet, though I certainly intend to. They turned this process around with admirable haste, when you consider the establishment only closed its doors at 5240 Cemetery Road on May 8, and patrons were left jonesing for their fabled huevos rancheros not even a month before the downtown spot – at 4121 Main Street, the site of Hilliard’s post office many a decade ago – was fully operational.

I’m sure they will import the menu and most of the fanbase, but its legendary charm is a dicier topic. “Is it me, or is this one of these fucked up places that only seem to exist in Columbus?” a friend once remarked, when I brought him to Starliner for the first time, and you would be hard pressed to summarize it better. Where to even begin describing this establishment, at least as it existed until May 2016? The fare is considered mostly Cuban, yet the décor is outer space themed kitsch with, like, a scoop of Elvis and then some other bizarre relics thrown into the blender. Some would call it Americana, but that’s just plain laziness – if anything, it reminds me of someone’s house you’d see in a British movie from the 60s, except with a bunch of crazy American and Mexican decorations thrown in, from the space exploration mural with the free floating astronaut painted along the top half of one wall, a paper machier (I’m guessing?) spaceship dangling from the ceiling, lime green, with a bunch of other futuristic designs painted on it in purple. Hanging elsewhere from the rafters, in a line from the front, plate glass window wall back to a small counter with a refrigerator behind it, there’s lamps, disco balls, and giant Xmas decorations of varying sizes and styles; on one wall, an enormous assortment of clocks, except not a normal looking timepiece in the bunch – we’re talking ten and twenty point stars, or branching off other weird shaped tentacles. With, quite naturally, an Elvis painting smack dab in the middle, as if to break up the monotony. One huge, thin, striped rug covers the entire floor on this half of the room, mostly a dull grey cover, and my favorite artifact of all might be this demented portrait of a dad and two kids seated at this dinner table while mom serves these ingrates with a crazed smile. Walls colored the most incongruous colors imaginable, visibly abutting and clashing with one another, weird furniture, and a window where you can watch the chefs in action further dot this landscape. These surreal touches extend even down to the presentation of your check, which is quite naturally brought to you on a Las Vegas tray depicting that city’s famous strip skyline at night, poker chips superimposed upon one of the corners.

But of course, nobody would really care about any of this if the food wasn’t awesome, and as would befit a restaurant that has been named “best breakfast in Columbus” on countless occasions, the Starliner never disappoints. Still, having been here enough times to notice a few key differences and catalog the patterns, I must say you would be slightly better off in choosing your spots wisely, attempting to drop in when this always popular landmark is maybe not quite so busy. Because it all comes down to potato crispiness.

Our last two visits, I must admit, while leaving satisfied overall with the experience – even the lengthy wait by now is an expected part and parcel of every meal here – something nagged at me after the fact, a disquiet I couldn’t initially identify. Eventually, I realized that what was slightly off about these recent Starliner excursions was that the potatoes were not quite as crispy as I’d grown to expect. And as the potatoes were a treasured centerpiece of many a breakfast on the menu, this was a central failing which might possibly serve to undermine the entire operation. Don’t get me wrong, these potatoes were not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it was only that the texture didn’t pop like it should. Furthermore, I concluded that the reason for this, most likely, was that the cooks were rushing the tickets slightly to accommodate these masses, who’d flooded the place in large part specifically for these potatoes.

History will someday document whether this shift in location proves beneficial to the Starliner or otherwise. But for now, I would like to go on record urging you to choose less busy hours for reasons that have nothing to do with wait time – and the cooks to slow down a little bit, because we’re not in that big of a hurry, and another thirty seconds for these potatoes might mean the world.

 

 

Ruminations On Trueman Boulevard

Bummed out as I’m sitting at the Starbucks inside this newly constructed Target, on Trueman Boulevard in Hilliard. Just watching the traffic zip up and down this fairly inconsequential street is enough to give me a bad case of the blues, thinking how it was deserted just a handful of months ago, and that the relentless march of progress cannot be stopped.

Before wrongly accused of hypocrisy – I’m guilty of biting the hand from which my food is delivered, sure, but not hypocrisy – let me state for the record that I work here. I sit at one of these tables every morning that I’m scheduled, for breaks and lunch, at these windows facing the street. And while watching interiors of cities as they are transformed and repurposed can be a thing of beauty, a marvel to hold up to the light and admire, something about plowing that which was formerly frontier will always bring out the inner treehugger, somehow, even when one wasn’t entirely sure such an inner voice existed.

Since the Target went up, they’ve built another strip mall on this road already, in between the Home Depot and Cheeseburgers In Paradise. A Radio Shack sits there, who knows what else. And of course this line of concrete shopping options will likely extend north clear up to Davidson Road, soon enough, where Trueman truly ends. In time, who knows, I can see Trueman being expanded until at least Hayden Run. As will Britton someday, too, Trueman’s vaguely parallel counterpart on the other side of the I-270 outerbelt.

Such developments are tolerable when population and lack of space demands it. But sometimes you can’t escape feeling certain acres are bulldozed specifically because they are new, because formerly occupied plots are considered passe. Such as, one other restaurant sitting across the outerbelt, one of those carbon copy “western” steakhouses (I can’t keep them straight, can’t remember which franchises I’ve frequented and which I haven’t as they all look exactly the same), sits deserted, it has been for a couple of years now. Texas Roadhouse was lined out the building when I was dating a girl in this neck of the woods eight years ago, but at present there’s nary a soul dining there. And a Chili’s just closed at this exit as well, demolished and replaced by another goddamn CVS – a development which would otherwise be deplorable, except that I happen to kind of respect that they at least used an existing retail space rather than dropping a bomb in some field on the edge of town. All of these establishments existed along a busy corridor, Cemetery Road, which is itself an exit off of I-270, yet none of those could survive. And even so, they’re still building a bunch of new restaurants along this stretch? I guess the failure of past tenants explains why movers and shakers involved with some of these newer companies declined to take over shuttered locations, but I wonder what makes them feel so confident about their own demographic studies and carefully razed coordinates.

Cooper Stadium

The place had no personality, not even after they yanked out the artificial rug, and yet you tended to admire that it was placed in that neighborhood at all – in the rundown, semi-residential district of Franklinton, just west of downtown proper. Built in 1931 to house a St. Louis Cardinals farm team, it once served (and presumably continues to serve) a litany of teams, sports, and events, and yet it will most likely always be known as the home of the Columbus Clippers minor league squad for over 30 years.

They used to send me free tickets 3-4 times per season, although I never figured out why. Was this a normal occurrence for anyone else? Then again, these were usually accompanied by coupons for additional cut-rate seats, so perhaps it was all some zany marketing ploy. At any rate, I attended my first game in 1988, the last in 2006, one of their final summers in the stadium before moving uptown to the much more opulent digs found in Huntington Park. The ’88 affair was a treat our little league coach sprung on the whole team, at a time when the big stars on the roster – Columbus’s, that is, not our own basement dwelling club – were Turner Ward and Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens, a night where I was considered a tremendous dork by pretty much everyone for scoring the game in my program.

Not much had changed by opening day 2006. Though still the kind of dork who will score the game in his program, and prone to attending games alone if nothing else is going on, this time around I do manage to rope in a couple of friends, Kyle and Jim. Another contest for which they had mailed me free tickets, and found the club giving out small, inferior cowbells at the gate, along with fridge magnets with the team schedule, Sean Henn was considered their ace and would take the hill. The only players on the roster I’ve heard of before, aside from Henn, are Eric Duncan and Melky Cabrera, although in recently completed seasons we were all treated to the likes of future breakout stars Chien-Ming Wang and Robinson Cano on a regular basis.

We down hot dogs and cheap beer before the game even starts, then settle into our seats. I had forgotten all about my previous visit, however, a night where I drank just two draft Michelob Amber Bocks here at the game, yet somehow ended up barfing my brains out – and an identical dosage of the same toxic potion nearly has the same effect on me this otherwise fine night. Maybe they are being sent leftover dregs from the Budweiser plant across town, or maybe they suffer storage issues at this site. Maybe I am the only person drinking Amber Bock (well, no, Jim also partakes, and voices no complaints) and as a result it is spoiling. But something funky is certainly going on with this draft – and only here, for I don’t have any problems downing it at, say, Studio 35. As a result, I’m bolted to my seat like a seasick landlubber for what turns into a 13-1 blowout in the Clippers’ favor, against the Scranton Red Barons.

As far as routs are concerned, it’s interesting enough, for the offense is scattered liberally throughout the frames. But really, the most compelling aspect of this particular outing might have been the hot dog race, or at least that and its attendant juvenile humor. A familiar sight at many a baseball field, this race featured three characters dressed up as wieners, although in a somewhat inspired twist, two nice looking females, attired as ketchup and mustard bottles, respectively, are holding the finish line tape.

“If I was one of those hot dogs, I’d be working on either ketchup or mustard, one of the two,” Kyle notes.

“Both!” I say, “I’d have ketchup on one side, mustard on the other!”

“You have to leave your costumes on, though,” Jim elaborates with a laugh, “that’s my fetish.”

“You can take your spouts off, that’s it,” I suggest.