friends, marriage, things to love about Ohio

Scenes From An Ohio Road Trip

Moments after dropping Sam and Leo off with Erin’s parents, as we pulled out of the neighborhood and considered that we would now have the next twenty-eight hours without kids, Ben turned to Erin and said, “To quote Dr. Leo Marvin in What About Bob?: Free.”

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LEG 1: CINCINNATI TO YELLOW SPRINGS (VIA KETTERING)

“So how do you pronounce his name?” Erin asked, holding Ben’s copy of Between the World and Me.

“It’s Tah-Nuh-HA-see Coates. The ‘Hi’ sounds like a ‘Ha,'” Ben said. “Wait, are you going to read my book before I do?”

“Sure. You’re driving.”

“But I get to read it tonight when we get to the hotel.”

“No. Because I’ll be reading it.”

“But it’s my book. I just bought it.”

“And I’m reading it.”

“This is the, what — fourth book you’ve stolen from me?”

“Oh, that’s not true. Name them.”

“Meghan Daum’s book.”

“OK, that’s one.”

The Dark Path.”

“Two.”

“Oh, The Lifeboat, last summer.”

“No, you stole that from me.”

We passed the newly reconstructed “Touchdown Jesus” off I-75. It was not looking so touchdowny anymore.

“I can’t remember the last visitation I went to,” Erin said.

“I think mine was my Uncle Bud,” Ben said. “I still remember how he looked in the coffin. It was him, but it wasn’t, you know?”

“Where did our summer go? And why did we each bring four books? By the time we get to the hotel it’ll be at least ten o’clock.”

“And there’ll be HGTV.”

“Right. Who were we kidding?”

There was construction outside Dayton and we missed our exit. When we arrived at the funeral home, our friend Scott was there to greet us. Meghan, his wife, was feeding their five-month-old. Life goes on even in tragedy.

More of our friends arrived, and each new arrival made Meghan smile and then cry. We stood around in a circle, witnesses to a passing.

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“We’re going to get in late, aren’t we?” Erin said back in the car. “Also, I’m so hungry I’m going to start gnawing on the upholstery.”

“It’s all right,” Ben said. “It’s a road trip. We’ll get there before ‘Property Brothers.'”

“But where are we going to eat?”

“Anywhere. You pick.”

“Have you ever been to Yellow Springs?”

“No. Let’s do it. Tell me where to go.”

“Take this exit. It’s twelve miles on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road.”

As we drove, Erin mentioned that her last meal in Yellow Springs had been with an old boyfriend, but that it was a very nice meal.

“So you’re saying I need to prove myself tonight?” Ben responded. “On our anniversary dinner?”

“I’m saying this is a chance for me to redeem my Yellow Springs experience.”

The main drag in Yellow Springs is Xenia Avenue, and assorted hipsters and hippies occupied the streets as we drove through. It seemed as though everyone was walking a dog.

We parked and walked around before stopping in the Winds Cafe. We looked at a sample menu while the maître d’ waited. “Plenty of tables tonight,” he said.

“I get worried when they don’t list the prices,” Erin whispered.

“Oh, let me get you a real menu!” the maÎtre d’ said.

We considered. It was getting late, and a meal there would taken at least an hour, putting us in Mansfield at close to eleven.

“Let’s do it,” Erin finally said.

“Oh good!” The maÎtre d’ snapped to action, getting us two more menus before realizing we already had two. He sat us by the window.

“Are you going to be Whole30 tonight?” Erin asked as we looked over the menu.

Ben hemmed and hawed. It was day twenty-one of a very loose Whole30.

“Maybe. Probably. Maybe.”

“C’mon,” Erin said. “Live a little.” She reminded him of the numerous lapses he had already suffered over the past three weeks. “But if you tempt me when I do mine,” she added, drawing a line across her throat.

The waiter arrived. We ordered the Provençal Whole Branzini. Ben ordered a Rhinegeist on tap.

“Good for you,” Erin said. “Let’s document this.”

She took a picture and, before uploading it to Instagram, pondered a good hashtag before settling on “#Neurohiogetaway.”

When the fish arrived, it was the whole Branzini — head and eyes and all.

“We have to eat the cheek meat,” Erin said. “You know the Amy Tan essay, right? ‘Fish Cheeks’?”

“I do not.”

“The best meat is in the cheeks. Let’s save it for last.”

A man walked by the window and saw our meal. He stopped, pointed at the fish, then at us, grinning like an idiot. We smiled and waved. He kept pointing and grinning.

“Yes, it’s a fish,” Ben said.

He nodded and finally kept walking.

While we celebrated our anniversary meal (a week early), the ladies two tables over were sharing their divorce stories. We were the only ones in the room, so their conversation filtered over to us easily. We talked so we wouldn’t feel like eavesdroppers.

“Does this cleanse the ex palate?” Ben asked. “Have we redeemed Yellow Springs for you?”

“Actually, I think this was the same restaurant,” Erin said. “But it was a different name then.”

“Well, we made the right choice then.”

It was nine when we finished. The Branzini was all spindly bone and head (minus the cheeks) when the waiter took it. We ordered decafs to go. The waiter returned with two decafs in mugs. “We didn’t have any travel cups left, but I figured you still wanted these,” he said.

The coffee was tepid. “We give our kids warmer baths than this,” Erin said.

The waiter returned and offered to brew us a new pot. We declined, and he took it off the check.

We left the restaurant as dusk was settling. “That was the kind of meal that’s really good but still leaves you hungry,” Ben said. We had Whole30-friendly banana chips and cashews in the car; most would be gone over the next two hours. “Mansfield or bust,” Erin said, and we were off.

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LEG 2: YELLOW SPRINGS TO MANSFIELD

We arrived at the hotel at 11:37. A man came out of his room as we tried to get our key to work. “You brought a box fan to a hotel!” he said. “Who brings a box fan to a hotel?”

“Apparently we do,” Erin said. We exchanged looks. Drunk? Serial killer?

He was approaching us as if our arrival was exactly what he’d been waiting for. “Apparently! I can’t get over that. What do you need a fan for?” He was closing on us.

“We like the white noise,” Erin said. The key was still not working. The moment was slowly turning into that movie scene when the good guy fumbles with the car keys as a deranged killer pursues.

“There’s an app for that!” he said. He was ten feet away.

The door opened. We were in. “Oh, really?” Erin said, sliding in and beginning to shut the door.

“Yeah!” he said, finally at our door. It was still open, and he was standing right in front of it. “Like three of them!”

“Well, we’ll have to check that out,” Erin said.

“You do that! Nice rooms, huh?”

“Very nice!” Erin said. “Good night!” She closed the door.

“Mansfield’s … friendly,” she said, recovering herself.

“But not lethal!” Ben said.

We found HGTV. Jonathan was giving Shannon and Darl the bad news that there was asbestos in the walls of their fixer-upper. Soon he would tell them they needed to get rid of a beloved clawfoot bathtub as well. Also that the HVAC needed to be replaced. Neither Shannon nor Darl was thrilled to get this news.

“What’s his name?” Erin asked. “Darr?”

“I think it’s ‘Darl,'” Ben said. “Like in Faulkner.”

“Darl,” Erin said. “That’s unfortunate.”

“They’re so weird-looking.”

“Shannon and Darl?”

“No, what’s-their-faces.”

“Jonathan and Drew.”

“Yes, they are.”

After the show, Erin took out A Farewell To Arms.

“You’re going to start your summer reading now, at midnight, in Mansfield, Ohio?” Ben asked.

“Yeah, who am I kidding,” Erin said, throwing the book on the floor.

“Show the kids the clip where Bradley Cooper throws the book out the window,” Ben said. “That’ll be their favorite part of class discussion.”

“Noted,” Erin said. She turned off the lights. We slept terribly.

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LEG 3: MANSFIELD TO CLEVELAND

Erin punched in the address for the Cleveland Clinic as soon as we get in our car. Siri chirped back, “Starting route to Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis,” as we pulled back onto I-71 North.

“Thanks, Siri,” Erin said. She mimicked Siri’s voice. “Starting route to Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis, an auto-immune disease which occasionally causes you to go blind in your left eye.”

Ben chimed in. “Starting route to Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis, which you still have and can only get worse by the time you arrive.”

“Starting route to Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis,” Erin said, “which just all around really sucks for you.”

We arrived at the Cleveland Clinic an hour before our appointment. The waiting room had a clean, sleek, professional appearance, its inhabitants the usual snapshot of humanity caught in medical limbo. Two boys who did not appear to have parents were sitting side-by-side playing on iPads. The only magazines available for browsing were Fortune and Bloomberg Businessweek, two of the least browsable magazines ever printed.

They ran a tight ship at the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis. A nurse, Georgia, ran vitals on Erin and logged her medications, then asked her to complete a timed test that involved moving pegs in and out of a square wood block. She then took us back to the waiting room, but it was less than five minutes before Dr. Cohen himself came out to greet us. He was polite, efficient, calm and reassuring. He agreed with the diagnosis, and talked about the growing number of MS medications. “Overall, I think you’re doing incredibly well given everything I’ve seen today,” he said — which was worth the drive itself, just to hear those words.

In the waiting room, we scheduled our follow-up appointment for February. Because of concerns for privacy, each scheduler is separated by a partition, and the next in line must wait outside behind a glass door. Nevertheless, we could still hear the woman on the other side of the partition very clearly when she said, upon being asked how her day was going, “Fine, except for the open sore on my butt.”

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LEG 4: CLEVELAND TO MANSFIELD

We stopped for lunch at the Chipotle in Middleburg Heights. The line was out the door. We watched as two parents tried desperately to corral their kids into finishing their meals. Eventually the father simply picked up the younger boy, who looked to be Leo’s age, and carried him out like a sack of mulch, if the sack was also squirming and screaming bloody murder.

Despite this scene, we both commented that we really missed our boys.

Back on I-71, Ben asked, “Have you ever been to the Ohio State Reformatory before?”

“Are you asking if I’ve done prison time?” Erin responded.

“It’s where they shot Shawshank Redemption. Should we stop?”

“Sure. It’s a road trip.”

We pulled up to the now-defunct prison, the music from that famous tracking shot playing in our heads. “Will they have a bathroom?” Erin asked. “Oh, I think those are still in operation,” Ben replied. Inside we took the Shawshank tour. Red was our tour guide.

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LEG 5: MANSFIELD TO CINCINNATI

“Funny how you can drive seven hours to Missouri but you need a break from Cleveland to Cincinnati,” Erin said. We had traded places after gassing up outside Grove City.

“What are you implying, exactly?”

“That you don’t want me to finish my book,” Erin said, gesturing toward Between the World and Me.

My book, thank you,” Ben replied.

“This has been a strange trip,” Erin said. “We bookended an anniversary getaway with a visitation and a neurology appointment.”

“Then went to a prison,” Ben added.

It was raining when we made it back to Cincinnati. Everyone — Sam, Leo, Nana, Papa — were sitting peacefully on the couch when we arrived to pick them up. Either the scene had been staged for us to suggest the last twenty-eight hours had been an idyllic time on the homefront, or it was just another instance of grandparenting magic. “They were great,” Erin’s parents said. We found that hard to believe, but we were grateful.

The trip marked the end of summer for us. The beginning of the school year is like reaching the peak of a roller coaster, right before it makes its first stomach-twisting drop. Once the ride starts, there’s no getting off until June. In six months, we’ll make the trek back up I-71, by which point, hopefully, Erin will be stabilized on Copaxone, with no additional relapses; both of us will be settled into new teaching gigs at new schools; Sam will be, in small but significant ways, on his way to being more mature and ready for kindergarten next fall; and Leo will be doing what Leo does, which is generally regarding everything around him with the two-year-old amazement of seeing it all for the first time. Until then, we await the start of another school year with both excitement and unease, anticipation and anxiety. And, of course, the hope none of us come down with open sores on our butt.

movies, things to love about Ohio

Things To Love About Ohio: The Ides Of March

Are you a Bearcat, Ryan?

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The Ides of March, the political thriller directed by George Clooney and starring both the beautiful (Ryan Gosling) and the bedraggled (Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman), captures the media frenzy and political machinations surrounding the Ohio Democratic primary, which has come down to a contest between a distinctly Obama-like governor (Clooney) and his otherwise faceless rival. The rival remains largely absent because the drama is not so much between the campaigns as within them. There is posturing, cheating, backstabbing, lobbying, lying, leaking and copulating.

None of this is the best part of the movie, though. The best part, hands down, is that it’s SET IN CINCINNATI.

This film stirred in Erin a deep hometown pride. “I feel intense Cincinnati pride,” is how she put it during the end credits. “Do you?” she asked Ben. “I do,” he replied. “Well you can’t,” she responded. “You weren’t born here.”

What were some of the Cincinnati highlights in The Ides Of March? Well, here’s Gosling walking down Fourth Street!

Ryan Gosling walking! In Cincinnati!

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Then there were the scenes set at Erin’s alma maters, Miami and Xavier. Here’s George Clooney wearing a Xavier Musketeers cap!

George Clooney! Go XU!

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And somebody who’s not George Clooney at Miami University’s Hall Auditorium, site of the first debate!

Ohio! We have great auditoriums!

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Here’s Clooney with Gosling and Evan Rachel Wood at The Stand in Mt. Lookout!

We are all beautiful people in a beautiful city.

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And here’s Ryan Gosling using one of our excellent public pay phones!

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Wait a minute. Can that be right? Is Ryan Gosling using a Cincinnati Bell telephone? Did he just pull a Jeremy Piven on us?

Who cares? He’s just so hot!

Ryan Gosling at a Cincinnati Ren Faire!

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Ryan Gosling doing his Ben Roethlisberger impression!

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Ryan bowls a perfect game even with a pink ball!

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Remember the Titans!

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TyRYANasaurus Gosling!

things to love about Ohio

Things To Love About Ohio: Barking Criminals

Yes, you read that right:

MASON, Ohio — Police say an Ohio man accused of barking at a police dog has been charged with a misdemeanor.

A Mason police report says 25-year-old Ryan James Stephens, of Mason, was charged with teasing a police dog in the Cincinnati suburb.

Officer Bradley Walker wrote that he heard the dog barking uncontrollably while Walker was investigating a car crash at a pub early Sunday morning. The report says Stephens was making barking noises and hissing at the K9 dog that was inside the police car.

Walker reported that Stephens said “the dog started it” when asked why he was harassing the animal. The officer said Stephens appeared highly intoxicated.

The flipside to this would be: Things Not To Love About Ohio: Really Mean Dogs. But as we are a pro-Ohio blog, we’re electing to put the focus on the creative malefactor, not the canine instigator.

I mean, just look at that heartless bully.

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It’s disgusting.

sports, things to love about Ohio

Things To Love About Ohio: Dueling Mascots (A Reprise)

Earlier this year we noted that the Ohio University mascot (“Rufus Bobcat”) and Ohio State mascot (“Brutus the Buckeye”) had a tiff before the OU-OSU football game. In most states, one mascot controversy would be enough for the year.

But not Ohio!

Today Cincinnati police detained and cited the University of Cincinnati mascot (simply, “Bearcat”) for … wait for it … throwing snowballs. (Like so.)

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Would law enforcement have been a bit more lax if not for the episode in Columbus earlier this season? Certainly there has been a chilling statewide effect on a mascot’s right to engage in typical mascot shenanigans and tomfoolery. But did anyone see this coming? For Ohio sports mascots, the bleak, slate-gray sky this time of year must resemble East Germany before the Wall came down.

Ohio: We Really Miss LeBron James.

books, Friday Recommends, things to love about Ohio

Friday Recommends: James Thurber

Women dig the funny guys.

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David Sedaris was in Cincinnati this past Sunday to read from his new book Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk and to make off-color jokes about Willie Nelson. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is a departure from Sedaris’s prior works; it is a sort of twisted Aesop’s Fables. In “Hello Kitty,” for example, a sardonic cat (a preposterous caricature, to be sure) endures prison-mandated Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. That sort of thing.

If this strikes your fancy, we highly recommend you get your hands on a copy of Fables For Our Time by James Thurber. Thurber — born in Columbus, Ohio, and a student at Ohio State University¹, thus making him a Thing To Love About Ohio — is best known for his short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” one of the greatest, saddest short stories ever written (Thurber, twice married, could be quite bleak writing about battles between the sexes), as well as his work on The New Yorker.

Fables is one of his most playful and subversive works. Each fable ended with a moral; some were punchlines played for easy laughs while others cut surprisingly deep. Our personal favorite is “The Little Girl and the Wolf,” a two paragraph reimagining of “Little Red Riding Hood.” The first paragraph follows the fairy tale closely. The wolf sees a girl carrying a basket of food to her grandmother, then stakes out the grandmother’s house and awaits the girl’s arrival. Thurber’s feminine hero is a bit sharper than her traditional counterpart, however: “She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed,” he writes, “when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.”

Thurber’s moral: “It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.”

You can also treat yourself to The Thurber Carnival, a collection of Thurber’s work which includes selections from Fables as well as his best-known short stories and cartoons. In the preface, “My Fifty Years with James Thurber,” Thurber himself writes a typically self-deprecating sketch of his humble beginnings:

James Thurber was born on a night of wild portent and high wind in the year 1894, at 147 Parsons Avenue, Columbus, Ohio. The house, which is still standing, bears no tablet or plaque of any description, and is never pointed out to visitors. Once Thurber’s mother, walking past the place with an old lady from Fostoria, Ohio, said to her, “My son James was born in that house,” to which the old lady, who was extremely deaf, replied, “Why, on the Tuesday morning train, unless my sister is worse.” Mrs. Thurber let it go at that.

Sedaris won The Thurber Prize for American Humor in 2001 for Me Talk Pretty One Day (still his best work). Other luminaries from The Onion editorial staff to Jon Stewart to Christopher Buckley have also taken home the prize. If you think any of these people are remotely funny, treat yourself to Thurber. You’ll see a little bit of all of them in him.

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1. Thurber never graduated from OSU due to his poor eyesight. He was blind as a bat. The university awarded him a posthumous degree in 1995.
things to love about Ohio

Things To Love About Ohio: Carrot Vending Machines

Dang nabbit, why did all these baby carrots expire in 2008?

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As featured on NPR today, Ohio is at the forefront of today’s most innovative marketing for … baby carrots?

The carrot campaign has a strategy to get bags of baby carrots into teenagers’ hands easily via school vending machines. Mason High School [north of Cincinnati] is one of the first schools in the nation to try one out.

“Right now, it is a fad,” says student Caleb Warwick. He says suddenly carrots seem very popular. “It’s like: Oh my gosh, look carrots.”

It’s not as if kids have never seen baby carrots. But the combination of the new packaging, the branding and the ads seem to be making them more appealing.

“I think they’re cute,” student Ellen Thieken says.

And they even seem to taste better, she says. “I think they’re, like, more moist almost.”

Ugh. They’re “like” more moist, Ellen? Or are they just more moist?

A group dubbing itself “A Bunch of Carrot Farmers” (led by Bolthouse Farms in Bakersfield, California) has put together a $25 million marketing campaign promoting carrots as “extreme.” Think vapid Mountain Dew commercials but replace the Mountain Dew with carrots.

Actually, no need to think at all. Just watch.

(See also this and this.)

Why Cincinnati? Cindy Kranz of the Cincinnati Enquirer asked just that of Jeff Dunn, CEO of Bolthouse Farms.

“We wanted an average market so we could project to the rest of the United States,” said Jeff Dunn, CEO of Bolthouse Farms. “Cincinnati and Syracuse [the other test market] have average carrot consumption.”

Why does that sound like a thinly veiled insult?

So how have Mason students reacted to the carrot machine so far?

“They responded right away,” said George Coates, assistant principal at the 3,200-student Mason High School. “I don’t think the carrots had been in there a full hour before students started buying some of them.”

A full hour!

Added Darlene Hicks, supervisor of food service management at Mason,

“We’ve been selling baby carrots in our cafeteria for years, but this machine is a way we can offer them 24 hours,” said Hicks. That’s unlike the other vending machines, which are turned off before students arrive and remain off until after school.

Hicks does not say why a Mason student would need (or want) a carrot fix at three in the morning, or what said student would do upon finding the school locked at such an hour, cruelly depriving him or her of much needed beta carotene, not to mention a rich supply of antioxidants and dietary fiber.

Ohio: We have carrot vending machines and forty-eight other states don’t!