Commuting on Foot

Since our relocation, I've been meaning to do a more in-depth post about my new commute to work. Then today, UrbanCincy posted this: Metro to award free bus passes for best transit story submissions. My transit story is about walking, not busing, but this is as good an excuse as any to write it up.

First, you have to understand that prior to moving to Over-the-Rhine, I lived in the suburb of Eastgate. There were sidewalks within subdivisions, but there were few, if any, opportunities to walk to any establishment. In most cases, housing was separated from businesses by a busy thoroughfare such as SR 74 or US 32-- even if you were gutsy, crossing five lanes of traffic would probably give you pause.

Now I'm in Over-the-Rhine, and the difference could hardly be more stark. We've shed one car completely, and our second car spends most of its time in the lot. We're within walking distance to groceries and dining, we've hoofed it to Cyclones games and Fountain Square events, and-- my favorite shift of all-- we walk to work.

The difference between walking and driving to work is incredible. A few of my favorite distinctions:
  1. The exercise. My walk is 1 mile; Dan walks 1.6. Double that over the course of the day, and you have quite a bit more physical exertion than I usually manage.

  2. The lack of stress/frustration. When you're driving, you're combating other drivers, stop lights, traffic, and more-- all while maneuvering a two-ton vehicle. The stress can be high, even when your drive is routine. Walking, however, eases most of that. You'll still hit the DO NOT WALKs from time to time, but for the most part, the walk is calming and casual. There's less to process at slower speeds, so you're safer and more alert.

  3. The city as art. Speaking of "less to process," you're able to use all that extra synaptic energy to process the beautiful city around you. For instance, I walk by the old Enquirer building every morning, with its original features and intricate gilding. I take in the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the U.S. as well as some gorgeous examples of Art Deco style.

  4. Less gasoline. And thus, less carbon footprint. And less cashola, of course.
The trek to work has been a blessing in disguise. I run into people I know from the neighborhood, and I spend time in the honest-to-goodness sunshine (which is precious if you have an office job as I do). I've become much more aware of the businesses in the area and that there actually are eateries open past 5pm.

The commute-by-foot can be tricky, such as when we experience torrential rain or, more recently, early morning temperatures in the high 70s. I've already learned which shoes give me blisters and I've purchased a stronger deodorant. But I wouldn't trade any of it for my beautiful, relaxing walk to work every morning, and the help that it has given me in exploring my new downtown neighborhood.

OTR Summer Celebration

One of the gigantic selling points for Dan and my move to OTR was that we'd be part of a bustlin' community where there are concerts and festivals and half a dozen theaters within walking distance.

This was our first real OTR event: Summer Celebration! And to give you an idea of how close to our backyard this gathering was, check out Dan's shot of the goings-on from our balcony:

Sorry if you've already seen everyone else's identical crowd shots, but it's an obligation.

We had lunch at the @SenorRoys taco truck, which somehow I'd never managed to run into before. I really enjoyed my lunch and they seemed to be printing their own money-- so did @BurgerBGood and @DojoGelato. Great to see our local deliciousness turn out!

(Hello @Kate_the_Great! Fab to meet you and take an awkward shot of your hand on your tush!)

Annnnd there's the @5chw4r7z, naturally. We are starting to run into more and more people that we recognize at these events! IT HAS BEGUN!

And here's the bandstand. I can't tell you how incredible it was to wake up, open our balcony door and hear live music flooding up to our new home. This is what we wanted-- I'm so glad we're moved in just in time for summer!

Thank you to everyone (merchants, food carts, organizers, musicians, you name it!) who made Summer Celebration possible!

3CDC Washington Park Public Hearing

Thursday night, Erica and I attended the public hearing for the upcoming 3CDC renovations to Washington Park. With our move to OTR, this was our first public hearing with this community, although for this particular project they're in the final stretch of planning.

This event was a real eye-opener for us and it left us a bit conflicted.

First, the project itself is impressive and 3CDC and the park board have put a lot of work into it. The overall plan is exciting and when completed it will be a real benefit to the community and its residents, and a real centerpiece in OTR. Their timeframe is aggressive to say the least, and if all goes according to plan they're looking for a completion sometime fall of 2011. It does mean the park will be closed completely at some point, but Steve Leeper committed over and over again that they would do everything they could to leave at least some part of the park open during construction for as long as possible.

The new park has a laundry list of features and attractions - a two-deck parking structure under the north section of the park, an absolutely awesome playground, a top-notch dog park, fountains, water features and state-of-the-art facilities to allow endless outdoor concerts and events.

Does it have everything everyone wanted? No, and that became a rather heated topic at the hearing. The two biggest points of contention were the lack of basketball courts and deep water pool.

Now, to put this post in context, there have been multiple hearings prior to Thursday's and I am assuming lots of community input throughout that helped build the current blueprints. This is an assumption on my part, because there was not a lot of thanks for what WAS included, only gripes about what wasn't.

In terms of the pool, this is a much wider subject than the park itself. This gets into problems with budget cuts at the recreation commission and city hall itself and the closures and cut-backs in every corner of the city. Some closures were new information as of last night and I think it's unfair to try and pin that on 3CDC. If people are angry they need to direct that at those who are actually responsible for our public pools and their closures. To their credit, 3CDC did offer to be an advocate on this topic and talk to the decision makers responsible for the pool closures in OTR.

Now, while I'm unable to put any blame on 3CDC for the pool, I think they did make a rather large mistake by not including new basketball courts in this park. They said the compromise is that the new courts at the SCPA will be open to the public when school is not in session. I find that a rather weak fix and with everything they did in this park I feel like leaving basketball courts out of this plan (courts which currently exist at the park) was a major mistake and added fuel to the fire. The basketball courts are an important part of the community and leaving them out is a mistake-- depending on the SCPA courts is tenuous at best.

It seemed like everyone had a representative at this hearing. Whether it was residents, the schools, the police, homeless advocates or any other foundation in town, someone was there. This is a big project and it will affect the entire city, and the turnout last night was evidence of that.

The ugly side of last night was how clearly divided people are on these issues, and more specifically, how divided OTR felt. There was a lot of criticism directed at 3CDC and new residents and at one point a new resident was even heckled when he stood up to speak and ask a question. He was later apologized to, but as new residents ourselves it was uncomfortable and made us wonder about our own impact in this community.

We ended up ducking out early (well, almost an hour later than it was scheduled to have ended) because things seemed to just keep stewing. Homeless advocates were going on the offensive against 3CDC and for whatever reason one guy was there railing on them about Fountain Square's parking garage and everything else they had done. There were a lot of valid questions and answers throughout the night, but they had definitely lost focus by the time we left.

In the end I think the park will play an important role in this community, in whatever form it ends up taking. It will be completed and I'm sure 3CDC will do a nice job of it. Not everyone will be happy with it, but I don't believe there's any solution that would have made everyone happy last night.

OTR is changing in drastic ways and it's doing it very quickly. There are also some very obvious divisions here, some new, some not so new. It ran the full spectrum last night. I talked to some people who were long-time residents that left us feeling good and welcomed, and then there were things said that made us feel not so good.

When it all gets boiled down, I think the issue of most concern is that long time residents are losing their community. I'm not talking about homeless advocates or the other half dozen groups who were there throwing stones last night. I'm talking about individuals and the residents of OTR. When they spoke you could tell it was genuine and that they're concerned about being pushed out and want to be part of the changes going on. OTR was an endangered neighborhood, and it still is, but perhaps for different reasons right now.

OTR and redlining

With our recent move to Over the Rhine and the Gateway Quarter our lives have been full of adjustments. Getting unpacked and settled is a lot of work and it will take time. Other adjustments, like where you're eating for dinner are more immediate needs.

The usual fallback is pizza and you'd think living in the middle of downtown that would be an easy thing to handle with a rather large number of pizza joins operating a mere handful of blocks from here.

Not so much.

The day we moved in ordered pizza from Larosa's with little issue. We had no internet access so we just phoned it in and they didn't give us too much trouble. The driver arrived and began to tell us some wild story about drivers not being allowed to leave their car in certain areas because of some previous incidents like hold ups and carjackings. OK, good to know. I think.

The second time we ordered we decided to try online and failed miserably at updating our address on the Larosa's website (which is awful to begin with). It refused to accept our address, so again, we phoned it in and they said if we just placed a phone order it would allow us to add it online and gave us some speech about re-drawing store districts, etc, etc.

Same delivery guy and same deal about not getting out of his car.

OK, so at this point I'm thinking Larosa's is just a pain in the ass. Crappy site, stupid computer system and strange or just lazy drivers. After our second phone order I tried again to update our address and I am still currently dealing with them on figuring out why we can phone in an order but can't do it online (also, our neighbor can do this fine, go figure). UPDATE: we can finally add our address to their website after emailing their customer service people.

Given the headache with Larosa's online I decide I'll try Papa Johns - I go online, update my address, no problems, I place my order, pay online, order goes through, success. Right? Wrong. 10 minutes later my phone rings and it's someone at the store - tells me they don't deliver to my street. Huh?

In the two weeks or so since we've moved in we've basically learned that pizza places are either 1) full of drivers who are terrified to deliver here or 2) flat out WILL NOT deliver here. Now, I realize Over the Rhine has a fairly bad rep with a lot of Cincinnatians - mainly from people who haven't been here in 20 years; but this redlining crap from businesses is flat out ridiculous. I can somewhat understand not delivering to known bad spots, but to deny service to the Gateway Quarter, which is full of brand new condos and full of residents is a real stupid business move.

So here's a tip to downtown businesses who refuse to deliver to downtown residents - tread lightly because from here on out I'm not ordering from you. Instead I'll be supporting the businesses who WANT to be here, like Cafe de Wheels who park mere meters from an address you refuse to come anywhere near. If you're going to redline an entire section of town, at least do it based on current information, because your policies right now (I'm looking at you Papa Johns) are 5 years out of date.

Watch This - Raiders of the Lost Ark

Watch This is a project started by Alex and Allison with the goal of watching the American Film Institute’s 100 Top Movies in order, in a single year. It started off as a small gathering of people at various locations around town, but in recent months has turned into quite the event. The one we attended was at Take the Cake and it was a lot of fun.

Recently Alex and Allison have secured a couple bigger venues for showings and we're passing it along as these will be must-attend events. Dates and info are below along with the official Watch This press release for those not familiar with the project or wanting more information. Please pass on the info as it's a great way to spend an evening and its totally free. Food and drink is available for purchase if you're so inclined.

Upcoming Screenings

July 31st - King Kong at Fountain Square

Captain Comics

Hm. So.

Captain Comics was one of the first comic book stores I'd ever visited, back in the day. Dan, Bradley and I are always on the hunt for a different comic venue, so we decided to revisit Captain Comics one day when we were out in the Mt. Washington area.

Captain Comics is-- how can I put this?-- not a comfortable store. Yeah yeah, these stores are rarely warm and inviting to your average Joe, but c'mon. We're seasoned comic book store veterans here.

When we first walked in, I thought the door was locked, then stumbled into the store and nearly landed on top of the proprietor's desk. Even at that close proximity, dude hardly acknowledged that we were there.

The comics-- though a huge collection-- are awkward to sort through. There were items of clothing laying on top of open boxes, stacks of unboxed comics laying in a seemingly random order, unmarked boxes that may have been backstock or gawd knows what else, and tons and tons of memorabilia and trade publications that seemed wildly out of order. Besides your very basic lines of comics, if you wanted to find something specific, you'd better bring a divining rod.

When I finally overcame the silence and asked the proprietor to help me locate some Fray comics, he was able to. I'd been hunting for these issues for a while, and it's a miniseries that dates back quite a few years, so I was thrilled and surprised to see that he had them in stock. But otherwise, we were not bowled over with love for this store.

Guestblog: The Pressure of Being Palmer (or Bratkowski)

Guestblog! I was tempted to tag this one "Bradleyblog," as he is becoming more and more of a regular contributor thanks to his passion for local sports (which, outside of love for the Cyclones, I have a hard time brimming over with). Thank you Bradley!

I saw this juicy little piece of graph show up in my feed reader the other day, and couldn't help but share.

Now, it goes without saying that anything a sports writer says is based on the assumption that big players stay healthy, that nobody dies unexpectedly, or nobody gets arrested outside of a night club. No matter how much hype is put into a team, they can always fall apart worse than the Blues Brothers' car.

So with all the excitement of the draft picking up several key players, and having filled any major holes with the free agency, the Bengals-- like all teams-- move on to "phase two" of the off-season: cutting the fat. Off-season workouts and minicamps will start springing up like wildflowers, which means evaluating who's put in the starting position, and who gets a less-fortunate, uh... re-adventure.

So why the graph is so interesting, is that we're hearing from some two thousand people what their concerns are for who's been put under the microscope. This is a big deal, people, because football teams work like clocks, and if one gear doesn't work, well, we're off by another year.

So I'd like to just take a look at the two most important parts of the chart: Carson Palmer and Bob Bratkowski (our starting quarterback and offensive coordinator, respectively). Both have come under fire the past few years for their inability to perform at a level that the fans and the team expect. Palmer, however, faces the challenges of injuries and an equally struggling offensive line to keep him safe from sacks throughout the season. With the lack of a solid tight-end as well, he fought hard to make plays with this receivers under enormous pressure from the opposing pass-rush.

Basically, being a quarterback.

So when you cross-reference a few facts, you start to realize why Palmer is under the kind of pressure he is. First of all, he gets paid a lot. A lot. And for the kind of stats he's put up the last few seasons, the fans are expecting one hell of a bounce-back. As well, Palmer is injury prone: fighting off multiple kinds of injuries with varying severity. That kind of thing can jar a QB mentally, forcing him to get rid of the ball prematurely out of fear of being tackled-- and breaking a very important role of the quarterback: staying cool in the pocket.

Thirdly, Carson's not getting any younger. And even if he was-- which would be strangely unsettling-- I'm not sure it could launch him into the "elite" status he should have. We have to face that Palmer will soon be starting to wrap up his career as injuries take hold and age sets in. So, pressure? This guy could cook a pot-roast with the pressure he's facing.

However, has put himself in a stranger place than ever in terms of pressure. For the first time since I started enjoying football, Carson is starting a season without coming off of a major surgery, a playoff run that resulted in the Bengals shattering expectations. He's got a Ukrainian arms deal worth of weapons at his disposal, an established running game to rely on, Chad Ochocinco catching everything in his zip code, and a young group of players eager to win. With this kind of team, Palmer is facing the pressure of having to have an amazing season.

As for that little bratwurst.

Now current football theory goes something along the lines that a football team should have an established run game that can provide sufficient yardage, and a viable threat to the opposing team throughout the whole game. Once you can prove your running game is a threat, that provides the option to hit your opposing D with a multidimensional offensive plan, including a passing game. From there, "fake runs" that are actually passes, or "play action" plays can be used as the defense is still trying to cover against the run.

Or, if you're Bob Bratkowski, ignore your QB and receiving corp, don't even acknowledge the tight-end, and run the ball on every play. Establish your running game several times, and don't let up on ground attack.

Okay, so maybe I'm taking a few unfair shots at Brat, because of how bad our offense was last year-- putting up a pretty awful passing game, placing the bulk of the weight on our running back Cedric Benson. But my exaggeration comes from a place of truth. We ran the ball a lot last year,* but it never seemed to materialize into a better passing game.

*We had the second-highest running play average, behind the New York Jets.

I can't imagine how much trouble we would have been in if Benson had a more severe injury in the '09 season. Or if we would have lost key run-blockers. My point is, Bratkowski put us in a great offensive position to win several years go. We were starting to conquer our opponents with a two-headed beast of passes and runs: one complementing the other. But the past few seasons, Kowasaki has run our plans into the ground. Literally?

He's put himself in the hot seat-- one I feel is hotter than Palmer's-- for the pressure he's taking. Bengals fans hate him for not opening up our offensive to at least what it was. And more importantly, for coming under fire about play-calling. What makes it worse is that with Mike Zimmer (our defensive coordinator) as a shining example of perfection, it's hard not to notice where the Bengals are starting to falter.

But where I draw the biggest difference between 'Kowski and Palmer, is that Palmer has the Bengals Nation behind him. Coaches and players don't stay with teams in the same way, in that coaches have a much smaller room for error in terms of performance and production. With Palmer-- before putting any fault on him-- you first have to look at the strength of the offensive line, the strength of the opposing defense, and the overall climate of the game.

You see my point? Palmer has more room for error, while Bratkowski has to see immediate results in order to keep his position wearing black and orange. When you've spent as much money on Palmer as we have, and when half of Cincinnati is wearing his jersey, and when his name is synonymous with the Queen city, it's much easier to fire somebody everyone already hates, than to cut to a crowd favorite.

Crawling out from the rubble

Sorry, loves. We're on what we'll call a "hiatus" until we get all moved into the new place (which is a dream come true, by the way). We don't even have an internet hookup there yet.

For now, if you're interested, read this quick Tumblr post about my new walk to work.