Coming for the Coneys – Gettin’ My 52 On in South Cumminsville

Mr Gene’s Hot Dogs was the only reference point noted as I searched for South Cumminsville in Google Maps.

“Ok then,” I said to myself. “That’s where I’ll start my walk. For sure, I’ll be hungry if nothing else.”

South Cumminsville used to be part of the larger Cumminsville. But the northern half was assimilated into Northside, while the southern portion remained on its own.

I took the Viaduct (is that really a name?) to Beekman Street and continued north until I found the coveted hot dog stand. From there, I parked down a side street and began my walk at St. Pius Church and school, erected in 1925 and now existing as an Episcopal Retirement Community-sponsored apartment.

I walked north on Beekman, struck by the murals below the walkway which connects the east and west sidewalks of Beekman, allowing one to traverse Beekman to get to school, or what once was called a school and is now apartments.

At the base of the parkway was a set of colorful murals depicting life in this little community that ran along the Mill Creek. From atop of the pedestrian overpass, I gazed around the small neighborhood bounded by I-74, Mill Creek, and West Fork offshoot of the creek which circles around the western border of the neighborhood.

Before long, I had found Elmore Café, which I plan to frequent because I KNOW they will card this 51-year-old that could, technically, pass for a thirty-year-old. They also have a newer looking outdoor space that could be a great place to meet some new patrons. Their last FB post was in August, 2016, but I believe they are still operating and I want to, you know, flaunt my ID.

I circled through the hushed neighborhood and found an interesting church denomination of Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo. For the record, Eritrea is an African nation in the horn and is currently rejecting any international aid to eliminate the famine happening there.

Returning to Mr. Gene’s as my touchstone, I proceeded south on Beekman but landed in Millvale, so I quietly stepped back out, knowing I would revisit that patch of sidewalk again.

Along my route, I encountered several affordable housing tracts developed through CMHA, Millvale Apartments, and to get in my steps, I turned up a residential hill and found a breath-taking, albeit distant view of Christ Hospital, Cincinnati State, and of course, the trains. Nothing ever seemed far away from South Cumminsville, unless one has to consider crossing the criss-cross of interstates to get there.

I headed back north and “found the funny” in a restaurant on the Mill Creek West Fork, Ocean Breeze. There wasn’t much water running through the creek now to create a breeze, but I like the images evoked.

As I stood to take a photo, a man walked past. “Hey, how are you?” I asked.

“Good, honey, how you be?”

“I’m great today and how ‘bout you?”(I sounded a bit like a former cheerleader, “Yes, yes, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ‘bout you?”).

“Honey. I’m good and I’m glad you asked.”

I was prepared for a lengthier conversation, but he skidaddled away and left me with a smile on my face, as I anticipated lunch.

For 50 years, Mr. Gene’s had sold chili dogs and coneys to passersby and anyone washing their car next door. I searched my wallet and only found $2.40, so I was happy to see the credit card sign welcoming my plastic. I was hungry, had covered about four miles, and the time was long past noon. I stepped up to order a coney and Sierra Mist.

The clerk attempted several times to run my credit card. “Oh, honey, its not you, its our system.” She located the manager. The manager couldn’t run the card through either. Finally, an employee handed me my coney and drink.

“But I haven’t paid yet, did I?” I wasn’t certain the card had gone through. “But what about paying?”

“Oh, we’ll figure it out.”

I was happy to walk away with what might be a bonus dog and sat on a nearby step in front of an empty building, eating my dog in the sun, thinking this was how coneys should have been eaten for the last 50 years.

Working in Neighborhoods and the Cincinnati Reds teamed together a few years ago to renovate a playground and ballfields. I know well the attraction to wanting only the basics – safety and something for kids to do. After all, that’s what I remember my parents wanting for us.

The neighborhood has an active community council, an updated Facebook page and community garden produce offered at various events. Even the Cincinnati Enquirer recently covered the neighborhood and its resilient residents.

I wish I would have met just one of the residents in this ever-evolving community, but the temperatures kept most inside.

There is a tight-knit, quiet resolve about this neighborhood unmatched in others I have walked. On these walks, I ask myself, Would I, could I live here? What part of me would do so? There is the writer-me that says, “No, you would always be misspelling or abbreviating the name of the neighborhood.” And there is an inner-me, the part that likes simplicity accompanied by coneys, that answers,”Yes.”

(Read more here about the Artworks murals)

This is the ninth in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to walk Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to the city’s 2017 election, to find what has made Cincinnati relevant to me. Sometimes, I’ll coerce my husband to join me.


Gettin’ My Fill – Gettin’ My 52 On in Sedamsville

I found more than lizards in Sedamsville.

My husband and I woke early on a sunny Sunday morning. “Can we do one of my neighborhood walks today? I’m kind of behind,” I asked.

“Sure. Where we going?”

“Umm…” I stuttered while I checked out a map. “How about…Sedamsville.”

It’s pronounced Suh-DAMS-ville,” said the Cincinnatian who often can’t find his car in a parking garage.

“Oh, I didn’t know that.”

“Do you know where that’s at?” He quizzed me.

“Kind of.”

We drove about seven minutes – though I’m sure I could have walked – straight out Eighth Street, just past State Street, and arrived in Sedamsville in minutes.

I parked the car near the historic center, along Steiner Ave, and we proceeded to walk back towards the city, on the northern sidewalk which skirts the river. The river view was heart-soaring that morning. Most of our walk to the end of the neighborhood centered around The View.

Why was it, a place like Sedamsville, separated from the city center by mere miles, and possibly linked by bike and walking paths, had suffered in the morning shadow of the city? How did we allow, in the 1940’s for a widening of a road and razing of 91 homes?

Although Sedamsville might seem isolated and remote, residents could take the streetcar into the city and the Bromsley-Sedamsville Ferry took people across the river to Kentucky. The city also had a Train station. – Sedamsville Rectory website.

We traversed up and down hills, taking in a few of the historic homes until we encountered Brent, a resident walking his two dogs. Brent had lived there since 2008, purchasing some property, inheriting one other. He and his wife had made this their home, with partial views of the river.

Brent informed us Ray Brown Properties had purchased plenty of the vacant land and homes (ten acres) along the stretch below us, to develop into a Towne Properties type of East End Adam’s Landing stretch of homes. Of course, the view would be perfect at just the right bend in the road.

However, according to some, Ray Brown has not been kind to the neighborhood. (Read the backstory here). His track record, as of 2010 and 2012, including a restaurant that did materialize, does not bode well. Now that our city is in preservation mode AND understands the value of our city’s history, our preservation codes need to be looked at and upheld at EVERY juncture. Otherwise, we have valuable vacant land, with no historic homes, sitting blank. The city looks foolish in allowing this to sit for so long.

Brent also pointed us towards the community gardens where a run of chickens were kept on a hillside, reminding me of ancient European towns.

There was little commerce to speak of in the neighborhood, but we kept on trekking down to the Boldface Park, which resembled many of Cincinnati’s other more grand parks built about the same time.

It was at this time, my walking partner became distracted by the lizards, basking in the warming sun. Unfocused as he was, we circled back through the center of the neighborhood, now anchored by Santa Maria services, and a few old schools and churches that had since closed.

The Santa Maria Center (which I will write more about in a later post about Lower Price Hill and because the center has its origins in Italians) expanded to a location here to serve families, residents and revitalization efforts. Their work is worth the look.

The famed Haunted Rectory was featured on a Ghost Hunters episode and is currently being restored through the Midwest Preservation Association, according to its website. There is a former church and also two other properties which you can read more about.

In 2003, an urban revitalization plan was prepared by UC. Here was a snapshot of the neigbhorhood’s historical significance. “Sedamsville also encompasses a cohesive array of mid-19th and early 20th century residential and institutional buildings, including many fine examples of building types and styles common in the city’s oldest neighborhoods. The neighborhood’s remarkable collection of institutional buildings includes an excellent Gothic Revival parish church, one of Cincinnati’s few surviving Romanesque Revival public schools, and Fire Company No. 26, one of the city’s oldest firehouses.”  We have this amazing resource for Urban Planning at UC’s DAAP, yet continued to ignore any of its proposals. It’s not always money that is lacking, its political will.

The community sits just below two major greenspaces, Mt. Echo Park, which is accessed from Elberon, and Embshoff Nature Preserve which is part of the Riverside neighborhood. Sedamsville could benefit from access to and from these areas, as only a few ancient steps and odd pathways lead near to those locations.

While compact, Sedamsville (.346 square miles) was once mighty, boasting of the birthplace of Pete Rose, and will return again someday, when city leadership realizes the importance of connecting our communities.

What I loved most about this community was its accessibility to everything the city has to offer. View. River. Access. One really could get one’s fill of amenities considered most important to a successful, thriving neighborhood.

I found Sedamsville to be one small dot that shouldn’t be taking this long to connect back into the center.

This is the eighth in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to walk Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to the city’s 2017 election, in search of what has made Cincinnati relevant to me.

Holding It Together – Gettin’ My 52 On in the West End

img_9220At the near center of West End stood Bard Alley. But the dramatic tension did not end there. Walking the West End over the course of two days, I experienced the neighborhood as a divided one. Liberty Street and Interstate 75 act to define and divide.

As I started just past City Hall, mediating upon the neighborhood itself, I was struck by the fact, south of Liberty feels “residential”. There were many developments and rows of townhomes that gave this side of the West End its distinct feel. Of course, most would not have been possible without the destruction of the neighborhood itself.

In the 1950’s, the interstate tore through what was a diverse, on its own terms, neighborhood. Second, the demolition of failing public housing produced a more mixed income population at City West, the largest housing build that had happened in Cincinnati since WWII.

There remains, in this part of the West End, the first Jewish cemetery as many Jewish settlers started their life here, before migrating to up the hills. Central Ave, once known as the “Barbary Coast,” contained a multitude of saloons and brass rails. Along 12th and Central sat the city’s first hospital (and lunatic asylym).

The Wesley College for Women once sat where Hays Porter Elementary is today.  And Taft Information Technology High School is just up the street, with its occasionally bright Friday lights of football.

Mound Street was once an actual mound and the Cincinnati History Museum wing, in an obscure corner, houses a tablet excavated on this site. On my walk, I found no such evidence of mounds, but I will be looking the topography with a different set of eyes. I find it fascinating we sit on so much history and plow it over.

img_9210Messer Construction is currently building their headquarters here. Unfortunately there were a few historic buildings torn down to make way. (I’m not sure what condition they were in). And with more traffic will come more concerns. But I suspect Messer will plan to be a good corporate neighbor.

Note: There have been past skirmishes over where downtown begins and the West End ends. As early at 1940’s, Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighborhoods, still referred to areas encompassing City Hall as the West End. The writers claim George Street, between 7 and 6th (think Cincinnati Bell) was the city’s tenderloin district. At the turn of the century, the War Department ordered the doxies closed. (No fun, right?)

But another history to this part of the West End, is not steeped in brothels or bars, but in what was established as firsts.

img_9202Ironically, the book I’ve been reading made no reference to the 1886 first African American high school established here in the West End, Gaines High School. But the guide does reference the founder Deacon Gaines, who fought for the passage of the law to give African-Americans rights to public schools, as the person who gave land to form Westwood. The guide also does not mention Saint Ann’s, which was the first African-American Catholic congregation to exist here in the city.

Along the walk, I strolled past the Lincoln Rec Center with its Olympic-sized pool to swim laps, and the West End Y with some of the best staff, where kids run in and out all day reminding me of why I live here, and why I want more for them.

img_9218Just up the street is the Qkidz building. The movie, The Fits, was based on this dance group, discovered via Youtube. Hundreds of young African American girls come through these doors for the sisterhood and the dance.

I turned back up Liberty past the Fire Station training tower. I’ve yet to see a real fire here, but seriously, I’m ok with that.

fullsizerender_3I landed past my center, Bard Alley, and walked up and down the space. The alleys are the best parts of my journey here in the West End. There are numerous alleys to peruse, some strewn with garbage, others just overgrown. But Corn Alley, Bard Alley, Pink Alley. The names alone cause me to smile.img_9299

fullsizerenderAnd finally, what gives me rise when I stroll these streets is the connection to shoes. The old David Shoe Company.

Day Two

I began my walk down Liberty, passed the Stanley Rowe apartment towers, and headed towards one of my favorite, little-seen stretches of homes along Livingston Street. As I rounded Freeman Street, and wound my way around this part of West End, I stopped to mourn many beauties whose time had come and gone.

The First German Reformer Church had a brief stint as the site of a Foxy Shazam video (not my style) and future arts center, but the church, owned by a former band member, appears more decrepit by the day.

Enter a caption

Across the street, an older gentleman sat perched on a black milk crate, squinting into the sun. His name was Carl. He’s lived there for 25 years.

“Trying to hold the neighborhood together,” he told me. He lamented the vacancies that hurt his eyes each morning.

“Wish we could do more for the kids right there. I always seen them kids yanking at the vines that grow over the that wall, to terrorize the dog on the other side.”

We both laughed, yet I knew what he meant.fullsizerender

I continued making more turns in, out and around some areas I hadn’t trekked I before. Citylink is located here, despite initial protests. Citylink offers multiple social services in one setting. They even have a new partnership with Findlay Market. Little known fact. I was once locked inside Citylink’s lot. I had been enticed by their garden, and the presence of figs, so I entered the lot without realizing it was a open locked gate. Preparing to leave, I couldn’t get out. Finally, I made my way inside the building, thanks to the generosity of a client, who found my escapade humorous. What an Italian will go through to see a fig.img_7991

Over more protests, St. Vincent de Paul will be expanding operations on Winchell. I once read there were 23 social service groups for 6,000 residents in the West End. And we must find a way to spread this out, not for land value sake, but for the sake of all citizens. Read more about the controversy.

View from Union Terminal looking out to the driveway.

Turning back around and heading for home, Union Terminal caught my eye from the street. Lincoln Park once stood where the drive to the museum center is now. What a loss of greenspace and splendor.

There were many gems in the West End, those along Dayton Street and others yet to be realized. Sam Adams and and the Kaiser Pickle company to boot.

There is plenty more for me to explore in the West End, The Sands school turned senior housing, for instance. Perhaps in 2018. The neighborhood will hold my frustration, curiosity, and imagination for many walks to come.

The bard once said, “And as imagination bodies forth / The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen / Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name.”

John Harshaw wrote the definitive”Cincinnati’s West End” about the African-American experience in the 40’s and 50’s. The read is a great walk through history. Perhaps if I write more about the West End, this neighborhood, “holding it together” through the dedication of community councils and businesses, will rise beyond imagination.

This is the seventh in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to walk Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to the city’s 2017 election, in search of what has made Cincinnati relevant to me.

Read Casey Coston’s intense overview of the West End in Soapbox Media.

The Hames of Linwood – Gettin’ My 52 On

fullsizerender-64Linwood? Was that really a neighborhood, I asked myself, as I studied my map of Cincinnati’s 52? I had been to the area plenty of times, but always thought it was connected to Mt. Lookout or the like. On the map, the neighborhood was nearly contained within a single, narrow band. One could not really circle (or square) around that kind of neighborhood.

The temperatures were still in the teens when I had left home to walk Linwood. Sunrise occurred at 7:48 a.m., and as I parked my car near Lunken Airport, the sun peeked over Cincinnati’s eastern hills.

Rare for me, I wasn’t dressed particularly warm, but I was emboldened by other pedestrians, the Bob Roncker’s runners. If they were running in the frigid air, surely I could too.

My first steps past the airport, along Wilmer Road, led me to the Linwood Cemetery, now signed Columbia. While I wandered past the Soldier’s monument amidst other headstones, my eye was drawn downhill. There, I found a gravestone with a large tree growing out of its side. Insert your own metaphor here.

img_9111I continued to my hike along the western edge of the airport property and waited impatiently for someone to board a private flight (was Emilio in town? Again?). When no one appeared, I worked my way past Everything But the House and Sweaty Bands, to the convoluted intersection at Beechmont Ave, Wilmer, Wooster, and Beechmont Circle.

Trying to locate the Rosa Area Equine Center, I found Wooster Road. Alas, no horses were out yet, but found myself smiling at the notion of a horse arena, so close within the city. Just beyond Otto M. Armleder Park, I spotted a familiar sign. Prus Construction.

Joe Prus and family operate this company as part of the fourth generation. It’s not often tears come on these walks, but they trickled as I meditated on Joe and his wife, Thelma, my next-door neighbors in Loveland. Ten years my senior, Joe and Thelma saved me from myself for many, many months. And they loved Davis like a grandson. I’ll never forget Joe, and especially Thelma, playing baseball on the driveway with my kid.

fullsizerender_1Circling back to the confusing intersection, I chose to walk the railroad tracks to get to where I wanted to go. As I teetered on the rails, I understood how the neighborhood had grown up on either side of the tracks. But I would see later, the area grew in different ways on the north and south end too, and then was divided by Columbia Parkway.

I found a Main Street section of Linwood. A few old municipal buildings and churches had been repurposed. Linwood’s independent town hall, which was now Ark by the River church, had been the subject of a lawsuit with a former Ohio politician.

Along Eastern, the Linwood Baptist church still stood. The Linwood public school had been closed in 2005 and sold at auction.

fullsizerender_2A few new businesses looked to be taking shape. Bloodline Merchants furnishings and antiques, and an artist studio with a familiar name. Polly Hart had drawn the Going Green magazine feature after Mark and I had moved.

fullsizerender_3I traversed the soaring railroad pedestrian overpass to get to the other side, circled a little neighborhood within the neighborhood with well-tended homes, and traversed it once more so that I didn’t get lost. Ever one to “find the steps”, I located a short route up to the school parking lot and a few homes, garages, and swings hidden from the street.

The rest of my route took me back down Eastern (parallel to Wilmer), past Terry’s Turf Club and the now closed Bella Luna. The last time I visited Bella Luna, we had celebrated my parents’ eightieth birthdays. Harry was gone. Dad was gone, and Mom too in way. But the strains of Italian music and the stains of Italian sauce lived on in photos.

fullsizerender_5Feet now frozen, I scurried past homes in less than pristine condition. Yards were littered with rubbish, debris, and old children’s bikes. Here, I saw the contrast of our two America’s. Two sides of the same neighborhood, struggling to find a foothold less they fall into the abyss. There was a certain futility palpable that day in that section of town. I suspect there is some transition about to happen here, though that’s presently not within my realm to investigate other than a quick auditor search which produced several results under “Prospect Hill Properties 2014” as vacant land on the western hillside.

The two major roads through Linwood somewhat bisect if you take a quick turn onto Airport Road. You’ll find yourself by the Blank Slate brewery eventually back at the airport.

I contemplated an omelet at the Sky Galley, but honestly I wanted to be home. I was cold. I had a manuscript that needed tending and all day dedicated to writing it.

I am still working my fingers around the map of 52, trying to understand why Norwood is not in the city. Or why Linwood’s boundaries were drawn in so tightly, as if the townspeople said, Let’s just zip it up and call it a day. I trace old properties now on the site of Columbia Parkway that further tore the area in two.

Linwood represented so many divisions. Those who tended to the properties, those who chose not. Those who would rise up in a private airplane, run around a golf course, and those who could not. Those who rode horses, those who walked dogs. Those in the industry and those without.

Researching after my return home, I learned that Linwood was once home to J.A. DeArmond Hame Factory (formerly Ferris Hame).

What the heck was a hame? Well, it turns out you need two of them to get your horse to pull. Two curved pieces of iron or wood forming or attached to the collar of a draft horse, to which the traces are attached. This forms the collar which allows the horse to pull with full strength.

Courtesy of LCC

“Due to many separations,” according the Linwood Community Council, “it is suggested Linwood’s unique identity is slowly disappearing. Hopefully, with hard work and great people like our Community Council, we can work together to preserve our community.”

I love a good word like hame. One I didn’t know. One with a history. And I like the idea of community that once made hames for horse collars has the strength to pull its weight once more.

This is the sixth in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to walk Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to the city’s 2017 election, in search of what has made Cincinnati relevant to me.

Of Folding Clothes and Rockin’ Democracy

fullsizerender-63Today, I woke up in shame. Petitions for my candidate, Yvette Simpson for Mayor, were coming due. My email said so. My petition was blank, devoid of 25 of the 500 names Yvette needed (as did each mayoral candidate) to be certified for the ballot.

I emailed a volunteer to admit my failings, informing her I would still drop off Mark’s petition that day.

I drove off to visit my mom and found her fast asleep. I cranked up Sinatra, Time After Time, cleaned her closets, and folded the clothes in her drawer. The task wasn’t pointless but it wasn’t exactly fruitful either. Living in the moment with Mom also means the moments in which she sleeps.

On my return home, I stopped by Yvette’s office to deliver Mark’s petition (and my empty one). Yvette answered the door. Darn it. I admitted to my candidate that I had failed.

With grace, she accepted the petitions, one blank and one full. However, Yvette appeased me by informing me petitions were not due to the Board of Elections until February 16th. I could still collect a few signatures over the coming weekend and make an impact in a small way. Together, the blank petition and I crept out of the office.

I drove down Gilbert. My stomach sank. Is this what you marched for, Annette? Is this what you want to remember, when Yvette wins? Is this what democracy looks like, just because you have had a sick mother, a sick dog, a sick husband and a sick manuscript?

Those thoughts occupied my brain as I rolled down Liberty St. At the Race St. intersection, I had a choice. I could turn left and go home. See if I could work out the kinks in a novel in places that just weren’t working. Or, I could head to Findlay Market.

Minutes later, I stood at Findlay Market with my petition and clipboard in hand, near Pho Lang Thang, where the crowd and the sun were both in proximity.
My first thought was, I’ll just gather a few signatures, so I feel better about my contribution. My second thought was, I’ll get halfway down the page. By the time lunch hour was over, I had two signatures left to go. My final signee said, “Oh, I love Yvette. And thanks for standing up for democracy.”

I ordered a Mimi’s eggroll as my reward, hopped back in the car, and drove to Yvette’s office. The door to the office in Walnut Hills was locked from the outside, so I knocked and the windows rattled. When Yvette spotted me, I danced outside the door, waving a full petition in her sight.

Yvette was overjoyed, probably because of the quick turnaround. And I, ecstatic, marched out with a million women who had my back.

Re-membering – Gettin’ My 52 on in Paddock Hills

I wound up in Paddock Hills because of my ignorance.

A few weeks ago, I had set up a date to meet with Cincinnati’s Poet Laureate, Pauletta Hansel. Pauletta offered to meet at her home. I knew the general part of town where she lived, around the Norwood Lateral.

Pauletta with her red accents.

Casually, I responded, “Perfect. I think I will make my way to your house. You’re in Bond Hill, right? I may make that one of my 52 walks that day, weather depending! (This was before I wrote about Bond Hill).

Diplomatic as a laureate should be, Pauletta kindly wrote back. “That’s great. Annette. It is 1266 Avon Drive. My neighborhood is Paddock Hills—can’t wait to see what you write about it!

So many walks have been a test of my ignorance. And patience.

The past few times I had set out, rain and cold descended upon me. The day I met with Pauletta, I was wearing proper clothing, but my body didn’t feel up for challenge. I was fighting off a cold, one that I did not want to impede upon my participation in the Women’s March on Washington later in the week.

Pauletta and I were discussing a workshop we were co-facilitating for the Alzheimer’s Association. After two hours, and coverage of countless other topics, I left her charming Tudor-style home, its interior dripping in red accents, armed with some information on the neighborhood.

As a pre-eminent Google stalker, I have to hold myself back and not research too much about an area prior to walking it. I always want my perspective to be fresh, seeing it for the first time.

fullsizerender_1However, I allowed Pauletta to point me in the direction of the Avon Woods Preserve, a small pristine parcel of woods, with a few meandering paths. My shoes were muddied that day because many times, I couldn’t see where I was going and stepped off the path. The park, in summer, boasts of popular nature camps for kids. In winter, the park breeds fantastic fungus forms.

I walked a ways back to my car. My toes were cold. My legs ached. A sure sign I was coming down with something. I decided to eat at the one and only Sugar n’ Spice. I love breakfast and pride myself in exploring all the nook and cranny restaurants of Cincinnati, but I had never eaten at Sugar n’ Spice.

If ever I was in need of comfort, not just comfort food, I found it in the servers here. They gladly helped with my coat, led me to the bathroom, and promptly sat me in what can only be called a student desk/table for a single.

fullsizerenderI swallowed their famous wispy pancakes while preparing to make a phone call. But the restaurant was busy. I didn’t bother. Instead, I studied the art on the walls. That’s when I discovered the largest collection of ducks outside of Eugene, Oregon, where our son attended the University of Oregon whose mascot was the Duck.

I sat back and smiled. Sometimes, the universe sends messages of rubber ducks as a reminder of love.

I drove home that afternoon, dismayed I hadn’t completed my walk. The next two days were filled with tasks prior to my weekend, and I did not return to Paddock Hills until the next week.

Photo credit.

That Monday, I parked at Sugar n’ Spice and walked up Reading Rd. to Tennessee Ave. At the southeast corner of the intersection, the St. Joseph’s Infant Asylum, later changed to St. Joseph’s Infant Home and Maternity Hospital once stood, founded in 1873. According to archives, in the first 100 years, they had cared for 15,000 babies and 10,000 young women. After several iterations, the St. Joseph Home is now located in Sharonville and provides support to individuals with complex disability needs.

fullsizerender_4I continued along Tennessee Ave. in the rain, and stopped outside to watch the young kiddies in this preschool/daycare. Just coming off The March, I asked myself, had I done any good? What would I do, in this my 51st year, to help those little ones achieve their goals. Already, I was tutoring young children in the city that don’t think they need math to succeed. I don’t think they need it either, but they need to know it to move forward in their life.

I rounded the corner and headed south on Paddock Ave., meandering up and down streets, in and out of woods and gullies, and found an old PC, reminding me of my first years working in Cincinnati at Star Bank. I trekked up staircases that led to nowhere or the Avon Fields Golf Course, then circled back around to Reading Road.img_9041

That day, Avon Fields Golf Course was closed. But the course was one of Cincinnati’s oldest, complete with a rooftop garden (that’s how its referenced in the history books), so I climbed the steps, despite wondering if someone was going to come out and yell at me, to get a look at the foggy view. The view would be more stunning on a clear day. According to the 1943 Guide to Queen City, greens fees were 52¢ in the daytime and 78¢ on the weekend. That’s still a steal as a public course, but the fees now are $19 and $22, for 18 holes of walking.

fullsizerender_1On the stroll back to the car, I followed behind young African American male who was talking to himself, talking to someone on his phone, or repeating lyrics to a song. I decided he was talking to himself. And I laughed, thinking of how I used to come home and find my mom talking to herself while making beds, and now that most of my work is from home, I too talk to myself, and the dog. But the dog doesn’t listen. And so there I stood, in the middle of Paddock Hills, laughing to myself.

My final stop was near a plaque for Oscar Armstrong III. Oscar was a local fireman who died in the line of duty. A father to two children and one on the way, Oscar was twenty-five years old when he died fighting a fire in Bond Hill.

Finished with my walking work, I checked my miles. Close to three, in comparison to my walk around the CUF, and other neighborhood walks. For big, long walkers like myself, the mileage was disappointing, but the points of entry into other neighborhoods, such as Bond Hill and North Avondale, were numerous and if I lived here, I could find plenty of miles to go.

A Tudor-style home in Paddock Hills.

In 1903, the city annexed Paddock Hills, whose name honors Judge Paddack (note the spelling). The community here, living along mostly six to eight streets, is tight-knit and diverse. The community council website offers many options to get involved and shares comments from residents who are welcomers or thank the community for support. There was also a blurb about a lemonade and ball stand, where clever residents gather errant golf balls and clean them to resell. Reading through the newsletter, I felt transported to time of decency in our world.

It would be so easy to know all your neighbors in this enclave, and meet for coffee and eggs at Sugar n’ Spice. And then, head up to Pauletta’s home for a writing circle, surrounded by Depression era glass, red tea mugs, a new cat, and artwork of the moon.

I was grateful to be in Pauletta’s company, having found my way back to her through time, words, and our mothers who are both experiencing dementia.

In researching work for our workshop with Pauletta, I ran across my original proposal to the Alois Alzheimer Center to offer a writing circle for individuals experiencing dementia. That was long before the disease had taken hold of Mom.

I wrote: To help those “re-member” their lives through words, to think again about events, emotions, people, whether from a recent or distant past. “Re-member” – to again become part of a whole, as a member would be.

My words keep me rooted to this city, and this act of remembering my links to img_8955these neighborhoods leads me past ignorance, yearning for more (pancakes, too).

This is the fifth in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to walk Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to the city’s 2017 election, in search of what makes Cincinnati relevant to me.

Women’s March at Wash Park – One Local’s Guide on Where to Stand

fullsizerender-57Today, I found a sliver of sun, as I stood across Washington Park’s dry spray fountains, shut down for winter.  I turned and turned and turned, trying to imagine a park filled with (mostly) women who will march for human rights this Saturday .

Hundreds of women and supporters of women’s and human rights will travel to Cincinnati, and in particular, this neighborhood called Over-the-Rhine. Over-the-Rhine has been a lightening rod for civility and civil rights for centuries and continues today. I wondered what the marchers would actually see in the neighborhood. As a writer and local, what did I want these marchers to know?

I felt compelled to share some points of light and darkness, for consideration as women and men from all walks of life peruse the neighborhood before, during, and after the march.

The event is based around Washington Park, a park built on the site of several former cemeteries. Washington Park, along with Music Hall, once played host to the World’s Exposition. In 1870, thousands of travelers came to see the finest our world had to offer.

fullsizerender-56While Music Hall is under construction, now is a time to reflect on the centuries of change Music Hall has endured, what a newly opened up Music Hall will mean to those on the outside looking in, and how this icon has stood the test of time. Through private and preservation funds, Music Hall will reopen this fall as a reminder to the skills and ingenuity of our ancestors and the importance of arts in our communities. As a fact, the hall was built for both industrial and German choral fest purposes.  Read more here on about its preservation and tours.

South of Music Hall on Elm, Memorial Hall has also recently undergone renovation, though less obvious from the outside. Tile has been polished, air conditioning installed and a kitchen added. Memorial Hall is now operated by 3CDC, in conjunction with events coordinated by the Cincinnati Memorial Hall Society, which can be credited for its preservation for many years before a new deal was struck with the county, city and 3CDC. The Magic Flute will be playing on Saturday, but the hope is this space will continue its use as an intersection of civility and the arts. Watch this video to learn more about the perseverance of small group of individuals committed to Memorial Hall.

Continuing to the south, Wash Park Art offers a small gallery amidst plenty of change, open Saturday from 2-5 p.m. And the Transcept, another church renovation, has opened and offers a less finished interior for events and cocktails.

At the corner of 12th and Elm, the Drop Inn Center was located where the Cincinnati Shakespeare is now being built. The Cincinnati Shakespeare Theatre was the first of five theaters to have performed the entire canon of the Bard’s work. Around since 1993, their current headquarters are at Ninth and Race and this new building will be nothing but stunning. Every seat in the house will be no more than 20 feet from the stage.

That being said, its important to take in what was once there. The Drop Inn Center has been relocated to Queensgate at the old Butternut Bread site. Many residents saw this as a loss. But many also believed that a greater number of men and women experiencing homelessness would have greater access to program and case management, and upgraded facilities through a new Shelterhouse.  For its size, Cincinnati has been on the forefront of seeking solutions for homelessness, whether temporary or permanent. You can read more here about the group Strategies to End Homelessness.

The SCPA, School for Performing Arts, was located in the Pendleton area of OTR until a recent move in 1977 and boasts of Sarah Jessica Parker, Nick and Drew Lachey (98 Degress), and countless others who have moved on to star or dance on Broadway or come back and make Cincinnati theatre their own. They too have their own schedule of events one should peruse.

The Ensemble Theatre, a block over on Vine, has undergone its own magical physical and company transformation, under the leadership of D. Lynne Meyers, a Cincinnati icon in the theatre scene, as the little theatre that has grown mightily and become a stabilizing force in the neighborhood, working with nearby social services agencies to offer shows to their clientele, or create a job or position for them.  The Know Theatre, one more block over from Vine, is known for its more experimental work and its famous FRINGE fest.

There is and will be so much creative energy in the space where you are standing. Its hard not to act on behalf of the betterment of our city (not just on the stage) when you are presented with this kind of force. But I would encourage everyone to not look past the past. Take note of the changes and ask yourself if the city has benefited from these changes and how.

img_8383Washington Park was once home to canals and gondolas. Many citizens slept in the open air, to escape summer heat. Over time, as vacancy rates climbed in the neighborhood, this park became know as an area of crime, while also a respite for those experiencing homelessness. As an avid walker and devoted fan of this park, I can say some of its use is mourned (the pool, the basketball court), but other aspects are utilized to the max. I have found more simple conversations happen in this park, over the dogs, the flora, the mix of folks just seated on the bench. I have learned more in this living room, than in any other indoor living room in the city.

Beyond the southwest corner of the park, the newly renovated Central Parkway YMCA stands. The Y was finished in partnership with Model Group and Episcopal Homes who completed the living spaces above for 65 affordable housing units for seniors. One of my favorite neighbors recently moved in here, and I get a kick out of seeing him when I go work out. The club and housing are quite the pairing, and certainly how the original Y was intended for use.

Several churches line Race Street, along the eastside of the park. First Lutheran Church was a site of support for many of the streetcar proponents. This sanctuary housed many first time advocates (like me) who shared their voice in a safe space, with thanks to host Pastor Brian. They also play host to Future Leaders OTR, an organization dedicated to serving the youth of this neighborhood and helping them realize successful gains.

Hyde Park Community Church (OTR) was formerly the Nast Trinity Methodist Church. While the congregation is mostly a white, younger crowd, I have witnessed the many good deeds of the congregants, acting on behalf of and for residents of the neighborhood, including the reinstall of a nearby pocket park.

I can speak of Prince of Peace, at 15th and Race, through personal connections. They too recently completed a series of renovations. Containing more sparse decor than many other churches, the interior is beautiful nonetheless. They have a dedicated leader, Pastor John, who supports local children through a tutoring program, run by the inimitable Lisa Burns. Pastor John, through Building Hope in the City, works with individuals experiencing homelessness to renovate old buildings in exchange for their service. Prince of Peace also operates a Winter Shelter during the months of January and February.

The above three also serve meals to individuals experiencing homelessness at various times throughout the week. The Downtown Council has put together a small leaflet with that information and is available at the Visitor’s Center on Fountain Square. One will note individuals have access to a free meal at any time of day throughout the week.

photoOn the north corner of 14th and Race, sits the Earl of Race. You can read more about him here. But Earl is happy to chat and engage. He is a favorite of my dog’s, and will tell you what you want to know (and what you don’t) about the neighborhood.

At the north end, near the Anchor restaurant, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing has been serving the community of OTR for decades, through Buddy Gray and RESTOC, and now as OTRCH. They continuously put efforts to maintain the diversity and eclectic nature of Over-the-Rhine behind all their projects. They have a dedicated staff and work hard in conjunction with many state and federal housing programs, as well as 3CDC, to preserve and protect properties for all those who wish to remain living here.

If you walk north on the west side of Race, between 14th and 15th, one will note a Poetry-to-Go mailbox. That’s mine. I installed the box when we moved. I fill the box with poems I have penned about the city, its culture, about celebrations and defeat. Stop by, I try to keep an ample supply of poems in the box.

Of course, there are other streets and point of interests to note of when you walk.

fullsizerender-54Near the northeast corner of Liberty and Race, the St. Anthony Center (not the Messenger) will soon house a mix of social service agencies who have committed to working together under one roof. The Center for Respite Care is for individuals experiencing homelessness needing medical recovery. Also, Haircuts for the Heart, Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank, St Francis Dinner Club, Mary Magdalene House, and other agencies will find their way in. This is groundbreaking for Cincinnati and social services to step up and share resources, such a one building, in this fashion.

Down Liberty Street is the distribution center for the Freestore Foodbank, which also operates Cincinnati Cooks! from a center along Central Parkway. I have known several women who have served in various capacities at Freestore, and I am assured this is the best run social service, where 94% of donations go towards programs and services.

fullsizerender-55Further north on Race, Findlay Market has been Cincinnati’s kitchen and grocery for many years. The vendors today are many who have been around for decades, some second, third, and fourth generations. While there are new vendors all the time, some of my favorites are Dean’s Mediterranean, Madison’s, and Macke Meats. (The M’s are coincidental). Take the time to visit them all in, chat with the owners, then make a note to return again.

Across from Findlay Market is Our Daily Bread, serving breakfast and fellowship, lunch programs and kids clubs. The hours are posted on the website, where one can read about its founder, “Cookie” Vogelpohl. Cookie recently passed away but all who work or volunteer here are witness to the passion of one woman. One Woman – with the help of many others.

A few other places to note: Tuckers on Vine, recently reopened after a neighborhood effort to help fund their renovation following a kitchen fire. They are an institution. There is also another Tuckers on 13th, though one should not confuse it with the original. This one too boasts of diner fare and a gregarious owner that my husband and I have often chatted with on our Saturday morning walks.

Along Republic and 13th, there is a little lending library and pocket park. This is the site where Timothy Thomas was killed. His death led to the riots of 2001, which led to another downfall of a once thriving neighborhood. Whether you believe in supporting the police or supporting the young black male who was killed, we can do better with each other and for each other.

Most visitors to Over-the-Rhine know either one of two things about this neighborhood. First, they know OTR was once named a most dangerous neighborhood in the U. S., together with the fact that crime does still happen here, while also housing some of the most passionate, committed social service agencies in the country.  Or, they know Over-the-Rhine as a tourist destination for its many art venues, historic sites and tours, as well as a culinary stop for those visiting the city.

fullsizerender-53I live in that intersection. You can too. Stand in the middle of Washington Park to feel the energy and tension and history that have combined to make this neighborhood a place for protest – and for peace. I try to stand in that place everyday. It’s the only location from which I can see the other side.

Bonding over Garbage Cans – Gettin’ My 52 On in Bond Hill

fullsizerender_4I was three-quarters into my route through Bond Hill. Amidst the cold, blurry feeling inside of me, a particular sign warmed my heart.

For citizens in and outside of the city, Graeter’s Ice Cream stood for more than just delectable ice cream and chocolate chips. Graeter’s also meant family, home. Whenever our kids were shopping in other state’s stores, they always looked for Graeter’s.

Until spotting the $11 million production plant of Graeter’s, my walk through Bond Hill had been filled with trepidation. I was strolling through a neighborhood I didn’t know, one I had only driven through twice. Once for a wedding at Maketewah Country Club, and once as a facilitator at Woodward High School for WWfaC’s after school writing program.

“Maketewah was the original Native American name for the Mill Creek prior to the 1790’s. The word is actually a corruption of the Shawnee word “Mkateewa” and meant “it is black” because of the dark rich soil that made up the bed of the creek that at the time was rich in wildlife.”

I had driven north on the freeway and exited at Reading Road and the Norwood Lateral, where Norwood Cinemas used to be. Cavalier in my directions, I parked on Bella Vista, a side street near Maketewah.

img_8835Leaving my car, I looked up stunned. The street was filled with an entertaining variety of Tudor-styles homes. Later, I would learn about each of the homes’ occupants.

I locked the car door and turned north on Reading Road, surprised by the cold. The wind had picked up early afternoon. I was underdressed. And, my phone was dying in the frigid temperatures. I had mentally mapped out my route, but with battery power waning, and the sun (was it even out?) dissipating in the wind, I was a bit concerned I would have no GPS backup. I had left no note at home. My only crumb trail was a quick search on my laptop to confirm I knew where Bond Hill was, exactly.

The Hamilton County Community Action Agency was my first snap. The HCCAA is a conglomerate of city, county, federal services, United Way and, surprise, a Starbucks. Citizens can apply for jobs, head start programs, and a wide variety of housing services all within the HCCAA.

fullsizerenderI retrieved my iPhone from a warm pocket. The battery had already started to fizzle. Intrepid, I pushed on and chugged up the hill where I spotted Woodward Career Technical high School in the distance. The original high school was founded in OTR in 1828 as one Cincinnati’s first public schools by William Woodward and his wife Abigail Cutter. They provided free education for poor children who could not afford private schooling. The high school moved in 1953, where it boasted of many illustrious alumni including NFL players. But the writer in me wanted to give a shout out to Karen Mindy Ackerman, a children’s book award winner.

I continued along Section Road and turned south down Paddock, with the interstate in my distant view. My head was on swivel, per usual on my walks, looking for the unusual. And that’s when I spotted the Graeter’s sign. I was no longer lost.

Except, I had 10 % battery power left.

Continuing down Paddock, I turned up Elm Park Place and found a second collection of smaller Tudor-style homes. Sadly, each street in the subdivision ended at the interstate. Listening to the buzz of traffic, I sighed at how a concrete form of connectivity had subjugated a human form.

Battery power was now down to 5 %. I wasn’t exactly sure which road would lead me back to Reading – and my car. Keeping Maketewah in sight, I spied a familiar road sign, or at least name. Oberlin. Oberlin College. Oberlin High School that used to always beat my high school’s teams in, well, everything. I took that as a sign, and followed Oberlin. Much to my delight, I discovered a third neighborhood of Tudor homes, some much more colorful than the others.img_8850

Finally, Bella Vista was back in my sight. I was on the opposite site of the street from my car when I crossed paths with Jeff.

Jeff had exited one of the Tudor homes and rolled his garbage cans down the driveway in front of me.


Short in stature, he looked up, confused and pulled his hood up over his head.

I had startled him. “Love your neighborhood. Do you live here?” I stuttered and continued. “I’m walking all 52 neighborhoods of Cincinnati, haven’t been here yet.”

“You’d better be careful young lady (I loved this man already).” I assured him I had stuck close to circling the course.

He leaned over top of his garbage can. “But yep, this has been my home, since I was 13. Got it after my mom died from my brother.”

The Tudor home was trimmed in mossy green. “Who painted the green?” I asked.

“She did, and afterwards, she called me and said, I really f— up. My mother was kind of a bear. When she wanted something done, she just did it without asking for anybody else’s input.” Hmmm…

By way of nodding his head, Jeff introduced me to the rest of his neighbors. A retired nurse. The dentist (I still call him “Doc”). One older couple lived there ever since he had. Across the street, a young couple, though he wasn’t sure about the blue (trim on the Tudor).

“Me and my family were one of the only non-Jews at the time we moved into Bond Hill. Played as QB on a championship team,” he proudly shared.

“But now, we got a mix. But it’s a good place. Its good people.” He stopped to consider me again. “So you say you’re just out walking?”

My walk had been welcomed with curiosity and warnings. He wanted me to know about where he lived, but he also didn’t want me to know. “You just gotta be safe. Don’t go down California,” he warned. Later, I would.

contentBond Hill has a fascinating history in Bond Hill: The Origin and Transformation of A 19th Century Cincinnati Suburb. How five men plotted out lands, with the intent to create a temperance community with communalism as its core value. Bond Hill grew beyond that hope. And in the 1950’s, the neighborhood fell to the fate of redlining and white flight. Last check on Zillow produced vacant homes in the multiples that were up for auction.

But where Jeff saw and warned of danger, I saw potential. Purples and oranges. School and children. Tudors and more tudors.

img_8857I trekked back down Reading near the Lateral. A former orphanage. St Aloysius, now operated as a center for social and educational services in the community. The chapel was used for weddings and events. I walked the perimeter of the grounds, looking out over the hills children used to farm. There were so many hills I had climbed and descended. Bond Hill itself was probably once a hill that folks walked to get to Bond’s Mill, but there’s controversy about the name’s origins anyhow.

Heading to the car once more, I passed the original 5-mile stop at Avonlea and Reading, where a long ago resident once noted it was a 30-minute commute by horse to the city. When I-75 is stopped up, the commute is still the same.

One final note was of Bond Hill’s connection to Cincinnati’s fine arts in the 1870’s.

Henry Watkins, a founder of Bond Hill, married Laura Ann Fry. She was the daughter of Henry Fry who would go on to establish Cincinnati Woodcarving Arts movement. Henry Watkins owned a commercial printing shop and bookstore on Richmond Street and later on Walnut St. Laura Ann Fry was also an accomplished wood carver and teacher of that art. Much about their life was documented thanks to another well-known Cincinnati writer. Lafcadio Hearn wrote extensively on Watkins and also on Japanese culture. Ironically, our art museum carries over 3000 pieces of Japanese art, some collected as early at 1800’s when Cincinnati had a thriving relationship with Japan. My research had fast become six degrees of separation from Bond Hill.

I returned home to thaw out.

After stumbling upon Jeff (or he stumbling upon me), I am now mentally drawing a picture of each person I chatted with on my route to “52”. I had once considered taking photographs, but didn’t want to impose on anyone’s privacy.

In rereading the history of Bond Hill, one particular segment stood out:

In the basin of the city, an eight-mile journey by train down the Mill Creek Valley to the southwest, thousands of working families lived in overcrowded and unsanitary tenements, exposed to alcoholism, and other seemingly intractable social ills. For “men of moderate means,” the cooperative aimed to provide a new beginning – an affordable home in a temperance community in the undeveloped countryside, just a 30-minute commute to the city’s center. Bond Hill was intended to “establish a species of brotherhood, that is like advantageous in developing the finer feelings of humanity. (R. Nelson, 1874, 25).

The finer feelings of humanity. Feeling lost – and found by a neighbor rolling out his garbage cans. No one knows if Bond Hill was named after a farmer or not. But one could also argue the premise upon which the neighborhood was actually founded – a cooperative aimed to provide a new beginning – might have also played a role.  Certainly, we only bond through cultivating our finer feelings of humanity and trusting in unfamiliar paths.


Huffing Up the Bluffs – Gettin’ My 52 On with the CUF

fullsizerender_1I love old steps.

Long before my move downtown, I was charmed or tripped up by steps in the ancient cittadinas of Italy. Stairs that crumbled with every tread, spilled over into the hillsides, yet had stood solid for hundreds of years.

Since that time, the steps of Cincinnati have held my imagination captive and my lungs in check. One can read the most comprehensive guide to Cincinnati’s steps here. But nothing compares to toes tapping on the limestone and your feet feeling the foundation of the ancestors – the market shoppers, the brewers, the laborers and those seeking refuge from the basin and its “balmy” temperatures in summer – experiencing the sensation of stealing away into another world.

I had wanted to walk before the chaos of Christmas descended on the household. To be clear, the chaos had already arrived. The day was crisp, though the skies not blue. I cheated once more, and chose a neighborhood close to me, again within walking distance of my own. I promised to venture further to complete my “52” quest when the weather warmed or my days were less busy running a holiday B&B.

cuf-jpegThat morning, I turned out my front door and walked north on Race Street. When I arrived at the Ohio Street steps, I knew I would walk the CUF.

What is the CUF? The communities of Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairview.  I like calling this neighborhood the CUF. Not only do I love acronyms but the neighborhood also encircles a portion of University of Cincinnati, as with a cuff.

The Ohio Street steps at Race’s end.

Where Race Street ends, past the roundhouse of the Cincinnati Bell Connector, a passageway of steps rises to Ohio Street, a street with a few interruptions in the lower basin and plentiful Victorians in the direction of the University.

A meanderer, I had never made my way across Clifton Avenue to walk the shortened version of Ohio Street. I pushed my way up the hill, past what appeared to be campsite, and was granted access to another set of steps. This one joined with one from Vine located along Charlie’s ¾ House. Finally, I was up the bluffs of the CUF.

Most of this combined neighborhood is residential, and boasts of more students and food for students than anything else, other than the views from Bellevue Park, site of a former incline. (Note: Fairview Park runs along the western edge of the neighborhood, where the view is painted with a broad brush of industrial complexes and railroad tracks.)

The view from Fairview Park

The views are stunning, and often provide insight into the landscape that one cannot see from ground level in the basin of the city.

From up here, I catch my breath. I love what the steps represent. The passage of a simple, ordinary time. The original inhabitants were seeking fresh air, better housing and access to work or the University.

img_8688Several homes in each pocket of the neighborhood’s fabric are stunning and qualify as B&B’s (see Elysian Place).  I happened upon John, a resident who was so excited to move back into the city from Oakley (no lie, this is what he told me). He greeted me, anxious to connect with people that might be neighbors. At first, I corrected him. “Well, I live in OTR, so technically, we’re not neighbors.” But the longer we talked and I explained to him my quest, I remembered that’s why I was walking. So I agreed, “Yep. You’re right. We’re all neighbors.”

“Well then, I’ll see you again,” he promised, and I’d bet he will.

Cincinnati Police Patrol Station #7. 1895. S. Hannaford.

I continued my walk up the other portion of Ohio Street, the more thriving portion which connects to campus, then turned down McMillan, reminded of the many times I had rambled through the CUF neighborhood during FC Cincinnati games. The summer brought out many fans, during a time in the neighborhood when traffic was probably light or non-existent. I hope more people on the streets added to a greater sense of safety for all. Oftentimes, despite the heat and dark, we tramped back down Clifton Ave, along a somewhat suspect road most people might have driven once and decided never to again.

As part of a biweekly writing group at Roh’s Café, in some sense, this was my neighborhood too. And I felt some ownership for Fortune Noodles where I could watch the chef pull the noodles and pan fry them for me.

fullsizerender_5Instead of continuing back down, I wove my way around University Heights along Straight Street, though I needed to get home at a reasonable hour, meaning before the coffee ran out.

Climbing back up Straight Street, I closed in on Riddle Road in Clifton Heights (so many heights). I once couch surfed at my older sister’s apartment at Mont Michel during my first year in Cincinnati, before couch surfing was cool. Laura and I spent many lazy days poolside on the weekends, before my apartment was vacated and I could move in. The road remains a riddle to me because of the relationship it still represents. The woman who brought me here still beguiles me with her remembered charm.

By now, I bounded down the Fairview steps, walked along McMicken and passed the Charles Dickens Cooperative. I’d read that Dickens had visited Cincinnati in 1840’s but I had no idea why this house was so named, and neither did the Internet (if anyone knows, please inform me). For the record, it’s easy to confuse McMicken and McMillan as they cross each other. I’m not sure whose idea it was to give those streets such similar names, but in my “younger” days, that was where I often got lost.

According to a 2014 CUF neighborhood newsletter, Loss of public stairways in CUF has persisted since the 1980s, when the steps leading from Fairview Park to the top of Warner at Fairview were closed and removed. Other stairway removals include Klotter Avenue (1996), Devotie Avenue (2003), Coon Street (unknown year), and Hopple Street [2] (2014). The CUF community once had 24 public stairways paths within its boundaries. From that total, 9 stairways have been either closed, removed, or abandoned. Several other stairways may resemble conditions of abandonment but remain open. Causes for closure or abandonment have ranged from community petition from residents to unsafe structural conditions.

I’m not sure I tread on or had eyed with envy all 24. Some stairways reminded me of climbing a mountain in Malaysia, some reminded me of my youth, and the fact that I was waaay past prime and had to huff and puff my way to the top.

Heading home down the Fairview Park steps.

Perhaps the steps are simply a metaphor for anyone living in the city. Never let a stairway, falling down or broken, stop you from the progress to be made towards a better view. Or returning to what might be dreaded, in this case, an absence of coffee, at the base.

This is the third in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to visit all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to Cincinnati’s 2017 election, in search of what makes Cincinnati relevant to me.


A Heart Connection at Mile 472.1 – Gettin’ My 52 On with Queensgate

img_8501The wind chill was eight degrees. I was the only human on the sidewalk. It seemed appropriate then, that I walk Queensgate that day to pay homage to the work behind the work.

Queensgate once belonged to the West End before the West End was carved up by highways. The neighborhood was home to some of the first hog slaughtering businesses and now stands as one of Cincinnati’s light and heavy industrial centers, originating from a Metropolitan Master Plan developed in 1948.

The area nearest the Ohio River is now riven with gravel companies and train tracks. The area closer to Union Terminal is occupied by smaller warehouse businesses. They are nondescript businesses, with names we may or may not know, but if you have ever walked around this area, you will always see a George Fern truck of some sort, passing by. The George Fern event and exposition company has been in existence img_8507for 100 years and now serves 1,000-plus events across the country and Canada. Their parking lot looks like a semi-trucker convention they might already be serving.

Whimping out because of the cold, I walked Queensgate  because I wanted a neighborhood in proximity to my own. So, I simply rolled down Central Ave (not Central Parkway), turned right at the UPS and there was Queensgate in all her iron glory.img_8503

But I also came to Queensgate for inspiration. I was tired. The dog and I were not at our peak of our relationship, his whimpering waking me at 5 a.m. I had a lot to process that week with a mother battling shingles, and sisters in need of love and care. It might seem odd then that I was drawn here, to a space with its rust and dust floating through the air, and homeless encampments situated beneath towering overpasses. With its lost art behind Longworth Hall or the Cincinnati Police Federal Credit Union, and the conveyor belts that ride high into the sky, Queensgate is a peek behind curtain of a city reported on in newspapers or lauded by industry magazines.

img_8508On that day of frigid temperatures, I strolled along what is considered the Port of Cincinnati past an open warehouse where a man, wearing a lesser amount of clothes than myself, was loading rebar onto pallets for the duration of the day. Soon, I stopped for several minutes to watch a front loader (truck name learned from raising the boy) dumping heaps of stone into a rail car for destinations unknown.

According to the Port: Cincinnati, Ohio is strategically located as a transfer point for various bulk, breakbulk, and general cargo. Being located just west of downtown Cincinnati, Cincinnati Bulk Terminals LLC (CBT) is well positioned to handle a variety of products and get these products moving to markets throughout the Midwest. Cincinnati Bulk Terminals operates two modern facilities (Cincinnati Bulk Terminals and Port of Cincinnati) with four (4) docks and over a mile of riverfront on the Ohio River. The terminal’s close location to major interstates I-75, I-71, and I-74 aids in the delivery time to end users.

img_8511The work in Queensgate called to mind a certain someone whose work ethic still resonates deep inside. My father. While Dad was not a blue-collar laborer, he labored tirelessly at everything he attempted in his life. A hustler when he was younger, picking apples at orchards, driving before his time, joining the Army, he eventually wound up in the family shoe business. He spent late nights, running the numbers on his adding machine, and early mornings at the UPS facility, picking up shipments for the day’s special orders. And in between those times, he perfected the art of Christmas lights and providing for his family.

img_8506Every Christmas, he dutifully gathered his train collection from the crawl space, and spent hours in the basement above and beneath the ping pong table, setting up his bevy of trains. I suspect the time was meditative for him, in the same way writing is for me. But I can’t always share my words in the same way he delighted many youngsters including my kids with his love of trains.

So, I came to Queensgate and walked along tracks that abruptly ended, stood beneath other tracks that don’t, to feel inside of me that desire, that pulse to race to work, to work hard. When the tracks rattled, my heart rattled awake.

And I found just little bit of my father. My father lived in Cincinnati for only the last nine months of his life, and here I could pay homage to him.

Had my father been well, had he not had the added care of my mother, I would have brought him to Queensgate. We would have watched the unloading of barges, the crating and packaging of freight, the movement of goods and wondered where those goods were headed next. We would have marveled together at the work behind the work. I could have marveled at the man behind the work.

img_8518Ironically, from this vantage point, I stood only one mile away from the city center of Fountain Square. (For reference, Fountain Square is also one mile from my home in Over-the-Rhine).

There was an actual Fifth Street, with a partially begun road and a sightline leading right into the city. However, my path was stymied by old walls and railroad tracks. I gazed out across the one mile of missing connection, lost over time to railroad and concrete. One mile to connect to the heart of city. One mile to connect to my own.

img_8523* Special thanks to my husband, who accompanied me on Day Two of my walk through Queensgate to capture a few images. My iPhone had died in the cold the day before.

This is the second in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to visit all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to Cincinnati’s 2017 election, in search of what makes Cincinnati relevant to me.