Every so often I wonder if I’m destined to move again, and where it might be. I wonder if I was wrong to leave Columbus, and if I’ll ever go back there on a semi-permanent basis. It’s where my family is, good ol’ Aunt Pam and Uncle Charlie. Uncle Charlie owns a bar, which would seem to be a nice thing to have in the family in your golden years. My mom, who toiled for the Bell System her whole career, got free long distance for life after she retired. I think, when your brother owns a bar, you might get a free beer every week or so.
(I must always remember, however, the story Charlie told at our dad’s wake, which I think I’ve told here before, so I won’t. We call it “Michelob 3-5-7,” and it involves the entrepreneurial spirit, and its moral is: There is no free beer.)
But eventually I consider that even though I was wrong about Columbus being a hick town, and while I now frankly admit it’s a fine place to live and work, it’s no longer for me. There’s not enough nature there.
Central Ohio is a flat place, cleaved by two brown rivers. It has parks, and it tries very hard with what it has, but ultimately: Bleah. I once covered a suicide at a place called Antrim Park, which has a running/biking path that surrounds a charmless, man-made pond about the size and shape of a football field. A man in a wheelchair had turned it 90 degrees on the path, leaned into his chin switch and drove himself down the bank to his death. I looked around at his surroundings and thought, well, you can see why he did it. There are two “yacht clubs” in Columbus; both sail on reservoirs. The area is so desperate for liquid resources that Buckeye Lake, in my day a fetid near-swamp, is now sprouting $600,000 weekend retreats. My friend Cindy was out boating on it once when they ran out of gas. “Do we wait for someone to tow us in?” she asked the skipper. “Actually,” Skip replied, “we could walk from here.”
Fort Wayne has brown rivers, too — three of them, but they have the advantage of being historically signficant. In their day, they were as important to commerce in the area as the Port of Seattle is to the Pacific Rim. Now they’re pretty well ruined — a doctor once warned me not to kayak in the St. Marys without an immune globulin shot — but at the right time of day, in the right light, you can still see the Indians and soldiers on the banks, going at one another with muskets and tomahawks. If you squint. Also, the Fort is just east of the glacier’s stallout, and one county to the west begins Lake Country, dozens of pretty little kettles and potholes where, if you break down, you can’t walk home, but at least it’s safe to swim.
Detroit is in many ways an environmental disaster. I interviewed someone involved with reclaiming the Rouge River, another flaming ditch that caught fire once, like the Cuyahoga. She said she used to live in southwest Detroit, near where the Rouge meets the Detroit River, and sometimes in the middle of the night tanker trucks would roll into her neighborhood, put their outflow pipes down city sewers, and throw the switch. She’d call the police to report these crimes against the environment and be told, “Oh, they do that all the time.”
But Detroit has the big lake, and the big river, and even as fouled as they’ve been in the past, even with the pressure of millions of people flushing their toilets and running their boats and driving their cars close by, they still retain magnificence. Yesterday afternoon I had an interview in a conference room high up in a nondescript building downtown, and afterward one of them invited me to her private office, to show off her Saarinen furniture. She had giant windows overlooking the south and east, and I stepped in and gasped. It was simply breathtaking. The river is blue, not brown, wide and powerful, carrying ore freighters down to Erie and Ontario. The Ambassador Bridge is framed in the south window like a painting; at certain times of year you get great sunsets there, she said. It’s the kind of office that tells its occupant she has arrived, although I’m sure if it were mine, I’d get no work done. I’d be looking out the windows with binoculars all day long, spying on Canada.
OK. The week is limping toward its finale. It’s more exhausting than the holidays, this end-of-school thing. But at least today it’s over. I need to run off to school for the grand finale, yes, an awards ceremony.
You may not be able to get a flying car yet, but someone is once again taking a run at the aqua-car. Click-through recommended, if only for the photoillustration that suggests a freak accident where two Aquadas collide where the water meets the land.
I’m going to print this story and give it to my Korean dry cleaner. He has a sly sense of humor, and would appreciate it.
This afternoon I plan to catch up on e-mail. If I owe you one, you’re in line. Later, folks.