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Archive for the ‘Ohio’ Category

Image from Thurbersthoughts.blogspot.com.

It’s good news that Ohio Secretary of State John Husted has to accept the petition seeking a referendum on the Republicans’ new map of Ohio congressional districts. That’s not the kind of thing that usually makes it into this blog, but I can’t let it go.

My issue isn’t about partisanship. It’s about water.

There are very few people in Ohio, I think, who do not believe that our waterways—in particular Lake Erie—are significant assets.

Whether you are a business person who believes anyone ought to be able to suck out millions of gallons of water for packaging and resale in little plastic bottles, or whether your business is charter fishing, or whether your conviction is that the lake needs to be defended against polluters and invasive species, our fresh water is an asset.

It deserves significant representation. It deserves a congressional delegation broad enough to stand up for the interests of the people who depend on it.

But the re-drawn map doesn’t just solidify some Republican districts and isolate some Democratic ones. It means just a tiny number of congressional representatives have constituents who live in communities located on our Great Lake and our biggest waterways. In fact, the way this new map is drawn, those assets gets just about as little representation as possible. That’s not in the state’s best interest. It’s certainly not in the best interest of our waterways—particularly our Lake.

We need more districts touching Lake Erie, more representatives of communities on its shores, a bigger delegation directly affected by and concerned for our biggest asset. We’ve got the Asian Carp knocking at our door. We’ve got communities in the Southwestern US running out of water and trying to figure out how to get ours. Lake Erie needs defense. And in the interest of shoring up partisan political control, this map gives our lake and our state short shrift.

The sparsely populated southeastern Ohio district 6 has been this way for a while. It’s easy to say that what all those people, stretching hundreds of miles from Mahoning County to Scioto County have in common is the river.

But the more significant truth is that those hundreds of miles of Ohio River frontage are represented by just one congressperson. Just one representative will have constituents who live in communities directly affected by the river—by the water quality, by the wildlife, by the recreational opportunities.

Likewise, the stretch from Cleveland all the way to Toledo—all that lake frontage and water will be represented by just one congressperson. Defined by the direct interests of the constituent voters, that whole stretch of the lake becomes a priority for just one congressional representative.

Doesn’t Lake Erie deserve better?

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One "High End" Peugeot from the '70s.

I walked up the wooden set of steps to get into Blazing Saddles Cyclery on a Saturday morning.   James Rychak and co-owner Travis Peebles run their used bike shop out of an old laundry building on the West side of Cleveland. I was there because I’d seen a Craigslist ad for “two high-end Peugeot frame from the ’70s.”

“We take old bikes and put them back into use so that they’re not what they were originally, but something tailored to the way the buyer rides,”  Rychak says.

Old bikes are more popular than ever right now, and Blazing Saddles is building a business on that market.

The appeal of old bicycles is difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t have it.  They are durable. They’re recycled. In an industry driven by a steady stream of shiny,  new, must-have products, they have endured.

My love of bicycles was born while I was in high school, at  the peak of the ‘70s bicycle boom.  At that time the finest bicycles in the world were still made of steel—hand crafted, chrome molybdenum or chrome manganese tubes braised together with curvaceous lugs. Craftsmen built the best of these frames one by one, and master frame builders put their names on them. These days the fastest bikes are made of carbon fiber, and new, hand made steel frames occupy a niche market, fed by folks like Cleveland’s Dan Polito, and Joe Bringheli. But that’s another story.

Circa 1982

I’ve owned a couple of fine steel bikes, and pedaled them tens of thousands of miles. My first serious racing bike was a Peugeot with a Reynolds 531 steel Frame and sew-up tires.

I bought it from Heinze Linke’s shop, the Madison Cycle Center, on Madison Avenue in Lakewood. Heinze worked at NASA by day and opened his bike shop in the evening. He was a godfather of bicycle racing on Cleveland’s west side. His shop had posters of Eddy Merckx and Bernard Thevenet, the biggest names in cycling at the time. Its racks were filled with fine racing machines. Anyone who has put in more than a few hundred miles on a bike like that knows this is true: It’s one thing simply  to own  a beautiful, hand crafted object, but it’s quite another to ride it, feeling the way it transmits the road to your muscles, the way it responds when you jump.

That's me in the middle, sporting the burgundy jersey, because the Cleveland Wheelmen had signed on to the notion that "Cleveland's A Plum."

I joined a racing team, the Cleveland Wheelmen. There were races in Detroit, Windsor, Akron, Canton, Dayton, Buffalo, and more. One year I got some black alphabet decals and put CLEVELAND on the front of each of my fork blades. My training logs show I rode that bike more than 30,000 miles.  It would have been about 1985 when I sold it.

Fast forward to 2011. I’ve been commuting to work for almost a decade, but lately I started riding fast again. I’m out of shape, but having a ball, and it makes me miss that bike.  So a few years ago I took up the habit of prowling Craigslist to find old bikes that awaken the joy that old Peugeot and a few other bikes had kindled in me. That’s what brought me to Blazing Saddles.

Rychak put the frames up on the counter.  One was too big. No sense looking at that. But  the other one, well, there was no way to deny that it happened to be the same make, model, year, size, and color as my old Peugeot.

Rychak told me the bike I was looking at came to Blazing Saddles from a guy who got it from his father.  There were chips in the paint, and specks of rust, but only cosmetic damage. I almost immediately noticed some flaking decals on the front of the fork blades, and I knew what they meant. But it didn’t sink in until I turned the frame toward me, so I could make sure everything was still straight and true. Those flaking decals on the front of each fork blade were the remains of of what I had put there almost 30 years earlier:  black helvetica letters spelling out  CLEVELAND.

Represent.

This was my bicycle. Not just the same make, model,year, size, and color but the very same bike I had pedaled all those miles. Those Cleveland decals were proof as good as a notary stamp.

Since I sold this bike, Ronald Reagan completed his presidency. So did George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Now  Barack Obama is in the White House, and nearly thirty years after the last time I saw my bike–I had the chance to buy it back.  I paid the asking price, without even an attempt to bargain down.

Now my old Peugeot –the frame, at least–is hanging in my basement, waiting for me to scrape together cash and make good on my commitment to restore it.   It feels like I’m on a mission, to track down the rest of the components that once made it such a beautiful machine.   This could take years. I’m not in a hurry. Anyone know where I can get a set of Maillard 700, high flange hubs?

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Ingenuity grooved on re-invention this year. That’s heartening for a city with so much in the way of abandoned and obsolete raw material.

Figuring out new ways to use our old stuff is a kind of ingenuity Clevelanders get, deep in our souls. We garbage pick. We shop thrift. We rig stuff up.

Not to short change  cutting edge technology. Cleveland has that, and so did Ingenuity, 2011. How could you not love Kasumi’s mind blowing video, projected on the white gloss of a glazed tile subway platform? The Guggenheim Award-winning artist-and Cleveland-Institute-of Art-prof’s use of video is a psychedelic exploration of the medium as raw paint. It’s also cultural documentary, twisted with humor, a disturbingly fun look at where we’ve been and what we’re becoming.

Her collages combine video sources, from her own original material to public domain footage, and re-mix them. We’re accustomed to the rhythmic, satiric, irresistible effects made possible in sound by hip hop artists. Kasumi does that with video. Can we pause for a moment, just to marvel at the bandwidth?

 Remarkable as the tech installations may have been, the festival itself has re-invented the forgotten basement of a half-mile long bridge. Ingenuity gives big, new life to an obsolete structure in a city plagued by thousands of “obsolete” homes. Maybe we should  consider those houses a resource? This kind of ingenuity speaks to us on a completely different level.

What other city holds an art and music festival  along a half mile span that soars more than 100 feet above a river valley, while thousands of cars a day still roll overhead? Is there any cooler festival venue in the United States? Drip some of that mojo on our abandoned factories, would you please?

Beyond the venue, re-invention –or, as the developers would say, “adaptive re-use” –made its way into the festival’s programming this year in a big way.

Consider Chair and Tell, an exhibit of seating put together by artists using supplies from  industrial resale shop, HGR.

Dana Depew made a chair out of old conveyor rollers.

For the unfamiliar, HGR sells old machines, shop fixtures, and other used supplies from Cleveland’s manufacturing plants.  Sometimes the equipment is just old. Sometimes the company that once owned it went out of business. You want to buy an old fork lift? This is the place. You want a metal lathe, or an arbor press, or a drill bit to bore big holes in concrete? Come browse the aisles.

For Chair and Tell, artists including Kevin Busta, Dana DePew, Stephen Yusko, and Grant Smrekar took parts from old industrial equipment, cut, welded, and re-arranged it into chairs.  DePew made one out of rollers from an old conveyer system.  Busta’s used drive shafts with universal joints as legs. Yusko cut up, re-arranged, and re-welded a pallet jack.

On the other side of the bridge, Zygote Press brought a new kind of fun to the medieval technology that is relief printing—by adding a rocking horse. The

The Print Pony

printing plates were carved plywood. They’d ink it up with a hand roller, lay over it a sheet of paper and some felt blankets, then lay it all on the floor beneath the rocking horse. Then a kid would climb on board and rock on the horsey’s one, wide rocking panel. A few times back and forth, and they had rocked out a woodcut print.

Sunday afternoon, about 3 p.m.

Loads of local, original bands kept the place kicking. Even Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. the place was full of people and energy.

Ingenuity’s  leadership has gone through some re-invention this year: With founder James Levin no longer at the helm, the festival is at a critical point in its evolution.  For organizations run by their founders, the transition to a new director is always a tough time. And whether Ingenuity will continue to thrive remains to be seen. But this festival–including the bridge as its venue–deserves to outlive the tenure of the person who had the idea.

If this year’s event was any indication,  executive director Paula Grooms and director of programming James Krouse  have it off to a good start.

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Blue sky and lightening over Lakewood, Ohio, August 18, 2011, rendered in ones and zeroes

 Blue skies and lightening, thunder clouds and bright white ones mingled in the sky over Cuyahoga County last night.

 Eliot and I ran across the street to the park with our cameras to capture the light show in ones and zeroes: digital pictures, you know. Eliot was hoping to snap a shot of the lightening on his I-pod Touch. But there was a problem. If he’d been trying to take a picture of the thunder, he could have used the lightening as a cue. But lightening strikes first, and without warning.

 It was a violently beautiful welcome back to the city we call home. And you know how it is when you come back from vacation: you jump back into the whirlwind. For me that meant three things: A meeting about historic preservation in Lakewood, which anyone who cares about the city should pay attention to; a book that a whole lot of people in Lakewood are reading; and the non-stop task of completing old house repairs.

 Nudged by McDonalds’ plan to demolish the Detroit Theatre, Lakewood Mayor Mike Summers and Planning Director Dru Siley hosted the meeting to begin discussion of how the city might play a role in preserving the historic buildings that give the city its physical character. Maybe 75 people came to Lakewood Public Library Wednesday night to take part in the conversation.

While parking my bicycle I noted that someone has decorated the bike rack in front of the library with a colorfully crocheted cozy. Or perhaps this is just a bike rack modeling a sweater for an anaconda.

 The meeting seems to have been designed to do two things: 1) to begin the conversation; and 2) to make the point that even among people interested in historic preservation, Lakewood has a huge diversity of opinion about what is worth preserving and what the criteria should be.  Using the Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board’s report of a few years ago that surveyed and graded commercial architecture in town, Siley showed the crowd pictures of 47 buildings the report rated 1-A, for their architecture, condition, and other factors speaking to significance. He divided the crowd into groups, asking them to choose ten buildings they would save from the wrecking ball today. The choices included several significant churches—none of which were onion-domed, orthodox churches of Birdtown); several school buildings; some mixed use buildings, and a couple of apartments.

 Siley reported on results of a survey which showed, among other things, that a significant majority of respondents believe it’s not one sensational building that the city should be concerned about, but the whole effect created by having intact streetcar-era architecture: Our attraction is not  just the timeless landmarks, like St. James church, or the Masonic Temple, but feel of the city, with its collection of two- and three-story mixed use buildings characteristic of the streetcar age.

 The elephant in the middle of the room—the unacknowledged, critical part of the discussion—was what the city can do (and is willing to do) to balance the interests of private property owners against the interests of residents who like the city’s character. All that, of course, has to be weighed against the city’s need for tax revenue. At the moment there is no answer.

 Mayor Summers did, however, note that several people identified the old Westwood / Hilliard Theater as important to save. He said that was the most urgent case in the city because of the building’s deteriorated condition. The building has long been mothballed and losing its fight against time, what with the leaky roof and all. Its challenges include not only its physical condition, but the lack of parking.

 An architectural firm with plenty of experience dealing with theaters looked at the situation about 10 years ago, taking into consideration the whole triangle of property bounded by Hilliard, Madison, and Woodward. The Mayor plans to look at it with a fresh set of eyes. He was met immediately with an opinion that the Westwood / Hilliard theater might be an overly expensive, losing battle, and therefore might make a poor choice as a venture into city-driven historic preservation. But we can only wish him the best of luck. It is a remarkable building. And once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.

 THE BIG READ

 Here’s something quite a bit less challenging: teachers at Lakewood High School have asked the entire community to join students in a bit of summer reading, by inviting everyone in town to read the same book. Lakewood’s first ever “Big Read” is built around Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. Told from the perspective of an autistic boy trying to solve the murder of a neighbor’s dog, it’s really a story about understanding autism and the challenges that go with looking after its victims.

The boy in the story is no victim: He is a stew of autistic hallmarks—from his need for order and routine to his prodigious math skills, the strain he puts on his parents. But what drives the story is the way he takes on uncertainty. He wants to learn something new, something highly emotional and mind-boggling: to find out who was responsible for the horrific murder of a dog, apparently by means of a pitchfork. And once he solves the mystery, at great peril, he decides to escape his situation (Don’t look here for any spoiler of the mystery) by leaving his orderly routine behind and setting off by himself for far-off London. He has an address. He has no idea how to get there. It’s a gripping tale.

Mayor Summers read it after copies of the book were distributed during a city council meeting, and told me afterward that he was “compelled by the story to read it through to the end.”

Has your councilman read it yet? Have you? And have you talked to a local high school student about the story?

Here I have to note that in terms of reading and other things, vacation was very, very good to me. Not only did I finish The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, but I also read Steve Martin’s tale of the New York art market, An Object of Beauty, and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s musings on cities and bicycle transportation, The Bicycle Diaries. Someone who cares about art and the economy will enjoy Steve Martin’s book for its intriguing characters, and its portrait of the art market’s ups and downs during the booming ‘nineties, followed by the shakeup that followed  the September 11 terrorist attacks, then the crushing blow dealt by the housing crisis and subsequent recession.

Someone who cares about bicycles and cities will find Byrne’s book just OK. It’s rambling, and not in a good way. I give Byrne enormous credit for touring cities on a bicycle long before it was fashionable, and his observations about getting around that way are plenty accurate. But even by 2009, when this was published, the ideas were well worn. Maybe it takes a rock star to bring bike commuting and the care of central cities into the mainstream. But there’s no way someone other than a rock star would ever have found a publisher for this.

The ongoing reconstruction

Vacation also meant that just two days after the Green Mountains of Vermont defeated me and my bicycle, my 47 year-old corpus came storming back and defeated the mountains. So there.

 And finally, back home in Lakewood, I found my summer project –the reconstruction of my back porch–still waiting for me. But what else is new?

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