High Street

Walking down High Street is something I shall miss about Columbus. I have gone up and down it like a yo-yo, walking in all weathers–save the very cold–reading, looking around, having thoughts sometimes, in sun, wind, rain and whatever else there is.

I live at a part called Graceland, which is a series of strip mall shopping centers. Graceland is graced with three has-been bars (one of which calls itself on the awning the cultural hub of the Midwest), which makes it a gathering place for the aged, but not for the rowdy young, and bums. Also there is an Applebee’s and a Buffalo Wild Wings, so nothing fancy. Bob Evans is there, and the down-market version of Bob Evans called TJ’s Country Place: which I love. We have Subway, Qdoba, Arby’s, Wendy’s, more recently Cane’s, as well as various places of pizza persuasion, Noodles, a hole in the wall middle eastern place where the drunks eat when the has-been bars don’t bring in a food truck to supplement their debatable fare called Pita Hut, a bakery, as well as a Target and the more plebeian of the two great grocery stores, Kroger. Krogerz, as the folk like to say. Did I mention Taco Bell? It stands guard over the deteriorating neighborhoods, along with UDF, usually (United Dairy Farmers, though this one signals the conclusion Taco Bell opens). There are more, but I won’t go on: we are ideally located, and it has been great.

I start out crossing Morse Road heading south, past the ugly monument of Walgreens, past a mostly idle Faslube, past the Verizon store, past Mozart’s precious bakery, on through an area known as Clintonville where the houses are somewhat more than less interesting and the long streets linking High Street to the preposterously named Indianola Ave. have elaborate speed bumps and traffic slowing roundabouts and people that fiddle with their lawns all the time.

White people can be seen eating enthusiastically at the Northstar Cafe, a place the attractions of which remain elusive to me. They don’t do real french fries, but fake sweet potato ones, have a limited, overpriced menu, and they have a peculiar label on the ketchup that proclaims it organic. Organic ketchup! and people go there–I shake my head if I notice it, because it is usually crowded.

There are many interesting trees which at various stages of the year can be poignant: there are some wondrous maples at Whetstone library, some marvelous elms around where two coffee shops have crashed and burned and where the fire station is, and this or that pine or grove or clump or thicket. I shall not mention them more, but I should say the honey locusts are particularly friendly, and the walnuts often stately. As far as businesses go, it remains relatively uninteresting until you approach North Broadway.

There is some caring save-the-planet coffee shop I’ve never tried, then Karen Wycliffe’s wondrous book store, and various precious places of interior decoration before you reach Donato’s Pizza–which has come down in the world from its former glory–then the peculiar pen place decked with an excess of signage, and then Krogerz again. North Broadway splits into W and E at the High Street intersection, so you know it is a momentous intersection.

One usually has to wait because there are too many things going on at the intersection, but crossing one enters a more desolate region with a school, a church, Nancy’s glorious greasy spoon Diner, tattoo places with cutesy death-eater names, and on to the more expensive grocery alternative in these regions, Giant Eagle, where people can often be seen entering carrying their own bags. And Lucky’s, which is another grocery store of more modest proportions and environmental piety that I suppose is the hipster alternative. My wife likes it and I scorn it for pandering to every whim of spoiled people with a thousand fastidious preferences, allergies, food intolerances and what not in vogue today which tomorrow’s scientific research I expect will overthrow besides global warming. Lucky Dragon Chinese is there, and I recommend it warmly.

Somewhere in this region there is a new billboard that reads: Syphilis Explosion. Then it has a website. Apparently because of all the apps there are for casual encounters, there has been an impressive increase in STDs in the USA. People ask me how I live without a cellular telephone. I wonder how they continue.

With that we have come to the Old North, which has some grand old buildings and from the look of things, a lively nightlife and probably the beginnings of a lot of the transmission of disease mentioned in the billboard slightly north. There’s also a good but unfortunately popular breakfast joint called Ben and Jerry’s or something like that around there, and then the good times are abruptly brought to an end by the presence of a Taco Bell. If you want a sign that things are about to become down market, look for a Taco Bell. There is, across the street, a Rally’s, and that’s a cheerful thing, but it means essentially the same. We now come into the regions of campus you see, with littered pavements, squalid and frequent ATMs, failing restaurants, raucous bars and college students schlepping around in various stages of habiliment or a peculiarly conceived final stage thereof. What one can say about the OSU campus is that it is frequently busy. You can always find mendicants there, disproportionate building projects, flashy cars, small moving mobs and jerks on bicycles.

One of the odd things that happens right now is that the burly construction workers in hard hats often cross the High Street from the high rise modern tenements they’re building on the north edge of campus. A cop actually stands in the middle of the street and stops traffic for them, I’ve seen it more than once, as if were an elementary school. There’s a McDonald’s a little farther south, and that’s where the construction workers apparently safely end up.

Among the recent improvements there is a new Wendy’s where they serve breakfast. It is always empty. I walk past and stare at the manager and he stares back at me, idle. What is full is Buckeye Donuts right across the alley, which is an eighth the size of Wendy’s and often has people lined up out the door like a Tim Horton’s in Toronto. They crowd in there and chow down under cramped circumstances, which speaks to the quality of the grub. Speaking of quality grub, they just shut down the infamous No. 1 Chinese. I guess there’s too many Chinese students at OSU telling the truth about that place nowadays.

The east side of High Street on campus is a variety of commercial endeavors, banks, bars, more bars, more ATMs, as many ATMs as there are bars, mendicants, every single kind of burrito and sandwich joint ever, no Burger King, oddly, UDF, and–you were waiting for it, weren’t you–Taco Bell. Actually Taco Bell comes once the preposterous overlarge and often ugly buildings of the Ohio State University cease and desist on the west side, and it signals the coming of an abandoned building or two, laundromats, a public library, and then a Krogerz that acknowledges the toughness and proximity of campus by having a separate store for the liquor.

Things are grim for a block or two, stares are often received, and then you come to the Short North, which is first signaled by a beer brewery, and continues upmarket from there. White people like the Short North and generally crowd it on weekends.

Mostly upmarket. There’s the oddly built from scratch so-called Gay Thrift Store and Pharmacy. A thrift store in a building built new for that purpose . . . what is the economy of this? Is this where the lesbians financially underwrite the lifestyle of homosexual men? That’s my guess, but I admit I’m not at all informed. Still, who builds a new thrift store from scratch rather than sticking it in an abandoned K-Mart? Next, predictably, come a few shops where persons who find the idea of plain sex not entirely stimulating may purchase stimulating aids and props. The rest is uplifting: cigar shops, costumer shops, laundromats, banks, interior decorating ventures, a UDF where they’re always playing loud classical music to repel the natives of Columbus from congregating, there is such a thing as a White Castle, in the midst of better restaurants but probably explained by the bars. They have galleries down here, allegedly, and actually relatively busy sidewalks, for the USA.

You can get tremendous portions at some of the places down that way, and see what they’re like through the windows as you walk by. It is a bit upscale (fake, I mean) but there’s an interesting Cajun place, besides all the Thai, Italian, all the present varieties catering to all the whims, though nothing Peruvian. The hipster moment is passing in the culture at large, I gather, so you will find hipsters firmly entrenched going on with business as usual in Columbus, their high, tight jeans, their beards, their goofy glasses, the hats and bikes, their whimsical tattoos. You can see them at the Northstar Cafe in the Short North, mobbing cramped tables, eating environmentally pious food, not upsetting their many food issues too much.

There are a lot of expensive stores of used stuff with the euphemistical designation antiques among the attractions of the Short North, and even in the Old North a little south of Krogerz at N Broadway. Some of those stores are quite old actually, and the floor moves disconcertingly, loaded as it is with detritus from the 20th century.

Eventually you come over the overpass with expensive restaurants on it, past the monstrous convention center, near the North Market which has lost for us its old charm, and to the downtown proper. I went on, but I doubt you’re with me still, so I’ll leave it at that.

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