Touring City Hall

ccht01Cincinnati’s City Hall is a building of a different color. It can’t be easily ignored but, although I’ve driven and walked by it countless times, I, like almost all of the participants in Thursday’s tour, had never before been inside. The building’s architect was Samuel Hannaford, who also designed Cincinnati’s Music Hall and many other buildings of note. Construction started in February of 1888. The completed building was dedicated May 13, 1893. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. It has been damaged by fire, insulted by, among other things, having marble wainscoting covered by wood paneling, and, like all too many not-so-new structures, threatened with demolition. I sure do appreciate it sticking around until I could finally find time for a visit.

ccht02What I actually found time for was the inaugural Cincinnati Museum Center Heritage Programs Cincinnati City Hall Tour. Unbeknownst to me, tours of the building have long been available and can be arranged directly as described here. CMC Heritage Programs adds a nice presentation on the building’s and the city’s history plus arranging access to a few places not always included in the other tours.

ccht05ccht04ccht03Stone from six different states (Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Tennessee, & Vermont) and Italy are used in the building. Inside, beautiful marble staircases connect the four floors with equally beautiful stained glass windows at each landing.

ccht06ccht07ccht08Cincinnati’s mayor and nine member council meet weekly in this chamber. The current arrangement is a recent one. For most of the building’s existence, council met at a circular table in the middle of the room. After people protesting a 2001 police shooting completely filled the space, things were changed so that the officials sit facing the room. At one point, the ceiling was covered with acoustic which has now been removed to reveal four paintings and other details. The massive chandelier was once painted black.

ccht11ccht10ccht09For many, most definitely including me, the highlight of the day was the tower. The clock room was near the midpoint of the climb of 109 steps.

ccht12ccht13The climb continued to the open level containing the huge bell. The cube at lower right in the first picture houses the clock mechanism. A cable can be seen rising from it to control the bell’s clapper.

ccht16ccht15ccht14The wonderful views from the bell level include the spire of Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral, completed in 1845, backed by the recently relocated headquarters of Pure Romance. The downtown relocation of the nation’s largest seller of “relationship and intimacy aids” was not without controversy.

ccht18ccht17The view in the first picture is one that the guides alerted us to before the climb. Those with a significant fear of heights can find the sight of the street far below quite unnerving. On the way up, we had paused at this level while the bell rang out 11:00 o’clock. A close look at the second picture reveals the cable running upward from the clock mechanism and the shafts connecting the mechanism to the clock faces.

ccht20ccht19As we were for most of the tour, we divided into two groups for the tower climb. One group hung out in council chambers while the other climbed. I was part of the first set of climbers and now had the opportunity to check out the view from the gallery and make a brief power grab.

ccht21ccht22The current building replaced a much smaller one, built in 1852, on the same site. The large metal seal, mounted high in the courtyard of the current building is all that remains from the older one. Terrible riots, in which the courthouse was destroyed, had shaken Cincinnati in 1884. With that in mind, City Hall was built with something of a fortress flavor that can be seen in elements like a “watch room” in the tower and the heavy steel doors on the courtyard.

Must Be the Season of the Fish

Back in 2011, while traveling in northern Ohio during the month of March, it occurred to me that checking out a Lenten fish fry might be a nice break from eating at establishments practicing commercialism full time. It was and I’ve made a habit of patronizing such operations ever since. This year, for what I believe is the first time, I managed to eat at a Friday Fish Fry during every week of Lent and here they are.

Woodlawn Firefighters Association Fish FryWoodlawn Firefighters Association Fish FryThe first Friday of Lent coincided with the start of Bockfest. I’m thinking that might not be a coincidence but don’t really know. Since the Bockfest Parade was firmly on my schedule, I opted for one of the few fish fries serving in the afternoon. As it turned out, a downtown church operated their fish fry more or less in conjunction with the festival and I could have combined the two but didn’t realize that until it was too late. While I ate my dinner at the Woodlawn Firefighters Association Fish Fry, a large ambulance and a smaller fire truck sitting next the truck in the picture went speeding off to answer a call.

St. John the Evangelist Fish FrySt. John the Evangelist Fish FryThe second week I left home for something some distance away but changed my mind as soon as I pulled into traffic. Congestion prompted me to head for the reasonably near St. John the Evangelist Church in West Chester. I chose the sampler which got me some fried shrimp, a crab cake, and baked fish. I could have had fried fish with my sampler or I could have had just fish, baked or fried. I also could have had pizza. For crying out loud! Pizza? I suppose you could claim that things started down the slippery slope when they started offering non-fried (i.e., baked, grilled, broiled) fish at functions called “Fish Fries” but, to me, at least, that seems to be much more in keeping with the spirit of things than pizza. At least it was cheese pizza which is in line with the “meatless Fridays” concept on which this whole fish fry business is built.

Saint Colman of Cloyne Fish FrySaint Colman of Cloyne Fish FOn week three I drove to Wilmington to meet my friend John with intentions of taking in a fish fry in Lebanon on the way home. When the conversation turned to my fish fry plans, mention was made of very popular one in Washington Court House. Wilmington is roughly midway between my home and Washington Court House which meant that, while it was still several miles away, I was the closest I was likely to be during serving time. I made it to the Saint Colman of Cloyne church with about fifteen minutes to spare. John thought the fry’s fame and popularity came from an abundance of walleye parishioners brought back from the Great Lakes. While that may have once been the case, the big draw currently, in addition to it being an all-you-can-eat affair, is pollock. Apparently it is such a big part of the attraction that they preempt  confrontations when they run out by posting the news on the main entry door. The “Sorry, we’re out of pollock” sign was displayed when I arrived and apparently had been for awhile. The cashier reiterated the absence of pollock and suggested I check out remaining offerings before paying then charged me $5 rather than the advertised $8. All that and a cupcake, too.

St Francis of Assisi Fish FrySt Francis of Assisi Fish FryI would be spending week four’s Friday in Ann Arbor, MI, which meant a little extra research but it sure worked out well. I picked a fish fry within walking distance of my motel for its convenience and lucked into an excellent meal. That salad is from a salad bar. At $2, the add-on clam chowder was a real bargain. There is baked tilapia, mac & cheese, new potatoes, and green beans on the big plate and it was all delicious. And that includes the beans which, unlike the overcooked mush that is all too common, actually had a nice snap. St Francis of Assisi has the best fish fry in the entire state of Michigan AFAIK.

St Columbkille Fish FrySt Columbkille Fish FryWeek five found me back in Wilmington for birthday eve drinks with buddy John which led to this year’s only repeat, St Columbkille. Baked tilapia was on the menu but was at least temporarily in short supply and its consumption was ever so slightly being discouraged. I didn’t mind a bit and enjoyed a more traditional fish fry meal of cod that was actually fried. Cherry pie included.

St Veronica Fish FrySt Veronica Fish FryThis is where I was headed on week number two when the traffic caused me to reconsider. St Veronica is just down the road from Mt Carmel Brewery where I had intended to stop after dinner. Since then, I learned that the taproom now opens at noon on Fridays so I left home earlier, avoided the traffic, and visited the taproom before dinner. This was a good meal and I’m happy that clam chowder is starting to show up more and more. Also showing up more and more are non-fish items like pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches. I believe I actually saw grilled ham & cheese on the menu here but I’ve got no proof so maybe I imagined it. I’d like to think that’t the case.

Knights of Columbus 3908 Fish FryKnights of Columbus 3908 Fish FryPlans with friends meant I couldn’t make a Good Friday fish fry for dinner but I found one that fit my schedule. Lunch at the Knights of Columbus in Erlanger was my only fish fry outing in Kentucky this year although I’ve gone to other locations in the state in the past. Their dinner menu is pretty complete with baked and fried fish along with shrimp, chicken!, and hamburgers!!. The only thing on the lunch menu is the sandwich in the picture but it’s a pretty good sandwich that comes with french fries and hush-puppies for a mere $5. I asked about those Lenten hamburgers and was told they don’t sell many. Maybe one a week to some youngster. Chicken nuggets, however, move rather well. But fish fries aren’t restricted to Lent for this particular K of C council. In addition to being held every Friday during Lent, they hold a fish fry on the first Friday of every month during the rest of the year. Non-Lenten hamburgers sell really well.

Trip Peek #17
Trip #81
US 62’s West End

Cherokee Christmas greetingThis picture is from the my 2009 US 62’s West End road trip. This was my first Christmas Escape Run after retiring and only my second road trip without a schedule dictated by a need to get back to the job. Completing my coverage of US 62 by following it to El Paso Texas had been high on my to-do list for so long that it was almost an automatic pick once time permitted. My typical Christmas break had been nine days; A five day work week bracketed by two weekends. This trip consumed fifteen days including a one day “snow delay” in Altus, Oklahoma. Throwing an extra day into the middle of a trip might have been a real calamity in the past but was hardly an issue for a man no longer employed. Highlights of the trip included visits to Carlsbad Caverns and to the graves of both Buddy Holly and Geronimo. The picture was taken in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Tahlequah is the capital of the Cherokee Nation and the picture is of the words “Merry Christmas” in Cherokee.

Trip Pic Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the trip journal it is from.

Book Review
Adventures Around Cincinnati
Hoevener & Weeks

Adventures Around Cincinnati coverTwo really big things have happened since I reviewed Terri Weeks ebook, How to Visit All 50 States in 12 Trips, in February.  One is that we one day had lunch together so I can no longer joke about never having met this fellow traveler in the “neighborhood”.  OK, so maybe that’s not all that big a deal, but the second thing, the release of the second edition of the book Terri co-wrote with Laura Hoevener, certainly is. I mentioned the book, Adventures Around Cincinnati: A Parent’s Guide to Unique and Memorable Places to Explore with your Kids, in that earlier review and pointed to the “Kids” in the subtitle as the reason I was not familiar with it. There is no question that the book is aimed at people with kids but a scan of the list of attractions in the first edition revealed that, just like the list in How to Visit…, most things on it can be enjoyed by us old folks, too. In fact, the majority were attractions that I had visited myself and enjoyed despite being an “adult of long standing”.

The new edition has the same basic structure as the first. The difference is pretty much described by the phrase “More to explore” in a red circle on the new cover so, if you are familiar with the 2011 version, you can stop reading right now and just go ahead and order your copy of the new improved 2014 model.

The bulk of the book — 266 of 336 pages — is devoted to describing more than 120 attractions which is a considerable increase from the “Over 80…” of the first edition. Since the authors report that there are “about 50 new Adventures” this time around, I’m guessing that ten or so have been removed for one reason or another. Of course, in addition to adding a bunch and removing a few, Hoevener and Weeks updated entries as needed. For each attraction, a fixed list of key features is followed by a paragraph or two of descriptive text. Although, as the math shows, the average entry fills a couple of pages, this entry for a railroad museum is otherwise typical.

Adventures Around Cincinnati interior

Attractions are listed alphabetically in four geographic groups. The first, “Central Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky” is centered around downtown Cincinnati. “Greater Cincinnati” includes Cincinnati suburbs and slightly less northern bits of Kentucky. There is a section for “Dayton” and “A Hop, Skip, and a Jump” replaces a section called “Columbus, Lexington, Louisville, and Indianapolis” in the first edition presumably because some of the hops and jumps went beyond those four cities. But even the most remote of the attractions are within a two hour drive of Cincinnati and those are two mini-van hours not two Ferrari hours. Each section begins with a map showing the locations of listed attractions and every listed attraction has been visited by at least one and usually both of the authors.

“Attraction Listings” is the middle of the book’s three major parts. The first part, “Creating Memories with Your Family”, tells how the two authors and mothers hatched the idea of regularly scheduled “adventures” for their families and how they have used it to great advantage for some ten years. Two words struck me as I read this section: “deliberate” and “intentional”. Every one has experienced ad hoc versions of what Terri and Laura call adventures but diving into them deliberately and intentionally on some sort of regular schedule is what has provided real value as a parenting tool. Beyond telling how they have done it, the authors give tips on how others, in different situations, might implement their own system of adventuring. The usefulness of these tips isn’t limited to the Cincinnati area and what is basically this portion of Adventures Around Cincinnati has been made available as a standalone ebook titled Adventures Around You.

The book’s third part, “Planning Help”, makes good on its name by providing help for using the other two parts in planning your own adventures. There are a couple of sample itineraries and some suggestions involving attractions not detailed in the book but the most help, in my opinion, comes from a table of all the attractions that are detailed in the book. It’s something of an index on steroids. The attractions are listed alphabetically along with the page numbers of the full entries then other columns in the table give general locations, identify the attraction type, etc. One column marks free attraction and there really are quite a few of them.

I’ve lived around here long enough and done enough poking that, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve visited the majority of listed attractions. But not all. There are several, like the Rumpke Landfill Tour and the Anthony-Thomas Chocolate Factory Tour, that even this old poker didn’t know about and which will likely be part of my own adventure someday. But the ideal audience for this book is the young Cincinnati area family with one or more curious young ‘uns ready for adventure. Hey, that sounds like my daughter’s family. I’m thinking gift list win.

In addition to being available through Amazon and some area bookstores, signed copies can be purchased directly from the authors.

Adventures Around Cincinnati: A Parent’s Guide to Unique and Memorable Places to Explore with your Kids, Laura Hoevener and Terri Weeks, Hourglass Press; Second edition (March 15, 2014), paperback, 8.5 x 5.6 inches, 336 pages, ISBN 978-0991085408


Arnold'sHappy Birth Week to Me. A week that ends on Saturday has to start on Sunday but not much happened Sunday. Monday, however, was a different story. It was Opening Day. With temperatures climbing into the sixties, it was a fine day to start the Reds’ season and really get my birth week rolling. I often visit Arnold’s after the Opening Day Parade but this year decided to start my day there when I learned that Cincinnati’s oldest bar would be tapping several unusual beers at 9:00 and serving breakfast from 9:00 to 11:00. I passed on the early morning beer but did enjoy breakfast in what I believe is Arnold’s only window seat.

Arnold's Opening Day Menuodp2014eArnold’s normally opens at 11:00 with lunch as the first meal of the day. The special breakfast menu was short. Kids under five could have scrambled eggs. Adults had three choices none of which appear on the menu at IHOP. There were hot dogs, for those wanting to get an early start on the ball park diet plus Sausage Gravy Bread Pudding and Geotta Hot Brown. I decided that the Geotta Hot Brown was the most “Cincinnati” of the choices plus, as you can see by the picture, it’s just the thing if you’re planning on running the bases several times later in the day. As I was leaving, sometime after 10:00, I heard a waitress telling new arrivals that the goetta supply had been depleted and that ham was now being substituted. Bummer but technically not a violation of Porkopolis guidelines.

odp201404odp201403odp201402I reached the parade’s Findlay Market starting point well before the noon step-off and was working my way back along the parade route when things began to roll. I was not at a very good vantage point when Grand Marshall Dave Concepción came by but managed an only partially obscured picture. The scene in the last picture is an unusual one. Because of street car construction, the parade, which usually runs straight down Race Street, detoured over to Elm for several blocks which took it right by Music Hall. It is expected to be back on Race next year.

I am aware of a campaign to make opening day a national holiday (or maybe — it is organized by Budweiser — it’s a campaign to sell beer) but I don’t see that happening. The fact that not all teams open the same day is just one of the details bedeviling the idea. It is really immaterial to Cincinnatians since opening day has been a de facto holiday here for decades. Sometimes Reds opening day and my birthday actually do coincide as they did in 2012 when I wrote a little more about opening day history.

The PrecinctSteak Collinsworth at the PrecinctTuesday was nice but windy. As I ate lunch on the patio of a local pizzeria, a strong gust lifted the large umbrella standing unopened in the center of the table and tried to drop it on my head. It missed. Rain arrived Wednesday afternoon but I got in about a 6K walk before it hit. Six kilometers isn’t all that much when there is a bar and a meal at the turnaround point. On Thursday, I bought myself a birthday present and ate it. I finally made it to the Precinct where I devoured what might have been the best steak I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. The only possible exception is a filet I ate at the Pine Club in Dayton but it is only a possibility. More research is needed.

Good times continued on Friday with a few drinks with buddy John in Wilmington and a continuation of this year’s fish fry streak at Saint Columbkille.

On Saturday, my actual birthday, I had to work. Well, maybe not exactly work. OK, not even remotely work. It did, however, involve just about the only thing I do on a regular schedule, live trivia. The team once again qualified for the semi-finals which took place at noon. I really intended to get a picture to include in this post but completely forgot in the heat of competition. The top five teams move on to the finals. We tied for sixth.

Flipdaddy'sGraeter'sSkyline ChiliMy plans for the rest of the day centered around doing nothing. It was a beautiful day, however, with temperature in the fifties so, as soon as I got home, I headed out for a walk. Within a few steps, I came to the realization that I could continue the celebration and not leave the neighborhood. Not only did I personally stay close to home, there’s hope that some of the money I spent will stay nearby as well. I made three stops and all were at regional chains based in Cincinnati. I started with a 4-way at Skyline, had Chocolate Coconut Almond Chocolate Chip for dessert at Graeter’s, then washed it all down with Mount Carmel Amber Ale at Flipdaddy’s. A birthday that was good to the last drop.

Book Review
Outside the Wire
Jim Ross

Outside the Wire coverThis book is different. It’s different from what I typically read and it’s different from what Jim Ross typically writes. It is also different from other Vietnam memoirs; at least I think it is. I’ve not read a ton of Vietnam memoirs so I can’t speak to that last point with any authority but I can try to explain why I believe it. In the more than forty years between the events told of in the book and the book’s completion, Ross wrote or co-wrote several other books and developed some formidable writing skills. That’s hardly all he learned, of course, but he somehow manages to keep most of those other things out of this book. In Outside the Wire: Riding with the “Triple Deuce in Vietnam, 1970, Jim Ross tells the story of a twenty year old kid, including the words and thoughts of that kid, with the skill of an accomplished writer and my sense is that that is a rare combination.

Not different is the basic story being told. Thousands of kids got drafted, trained, and sent off to Vietnam to shoot and be shot at. The details vary, of course. In Ross’ case, the shooting started with an M16 then he eventually became the man behind the 50 caliber machine gun mounted atop the armored personnel carrier to which he was assigned. Being shot at started with misdirected cluster bombs fired by US artillery then went on to include grenades, mortars, machine gun fire and other assorted projectiles from the other side. Even when the enemy wasn’t actively sending harmful things their way, the men had plenty to fear from the booby traps and land mines that were left behind.

I recall briefly questioning, early on in my read, how anyone could remember such detail through all those years but I soon realized that these are the sort of details that it is impossible to forget. Ross did some truly heroic things in Vietnam and he tells about them quite matter-of-factly. He also did some rather dumb things and tells about them just as matter-of-factly. That is not to say that the book is only a catalog of facts. Ross is as adept at describing his younger self’s emotions — plenty of fear and anger — as he is at describing the actions of a firefight.

Both friend and foe figure into that fear and anger. Being afraid of and angry at someone who is trying to kill you is pretty easy to understand but the soldiers on the ground also feared that the higher-ups would do something stupid and were justifiably angry when they did. From a four decade distance, it might be tempting to write about anger being directed at the safe-at-home politicians responsible for the war’s existence but that was rarely the case. For the most part, an enlisted grunt was concerned only with the decisions that affected his odds of staying alive for the next hour or day. Blame was rarely directed higher than the platoon leader. It only happened when it seemed that some big shot was padding his resume at their expense. After a particularly costly battle in tight quarters, Ross comments that:

Once again they had proven that mechanized infantry was always good for a sucker punch when shackled by terrain. It was as if we had brought a gun to a knife fight and still lost. Even though they had likely sustained greater loses, the psychological edge was theirs.

Several pages of color photographs help illustrate Ross’ words. These are not the artful photographs Ross fans are used to seeing in books like Route 66 Sightings. These are snapshots of soldiers taken by other soldiers. They no doubt help in visualizing what the words describe but the words need little help. The words paint vivid pictures. They are profane. They are the words soldiers use in profane situations and there is no more profane situation than war.

Ross draws no conclusion and does no preaching. What he does do is bring veteran skills to the telling of a rookie’s story. Well done.

Outside the Wire: Riding with the “Triple Deuce in Vietnam, 1970, Jim Ross, Stackpole Books, February 2013, 9.1 x 6.1 inches, 320 pages, ISBN 978-0811712224