Hello, Columbus, 1999
Linda really wanted to go to the horse show they were having in Columbus, Ohio, in April. She knew she didn’t want to go down there all by herself, but none of her “horse” friend could go. So I volunteered to come and bring our son, Erik. We would camp two nights right at the Ohio State fairground and Erik and I would see the sights of Columbus while she attended the horse show.
Being April, it rained very hard on Friday morning as we drove Southward through Ohio. We took a wrong turn in Toledo and were headed up I-75 to Detroit, losing about 45 minutes before we got back on track. When we got to Findley, we took the turn off towards Columbus on US-23. I had never been to this section of Ohio, but there was not really much to see. Lots and lots of ponds, some square, some triangular. Lots of farms. Lots of rivers and streams.
As we got near Columbus, I began to get a sense for the size of the city. I had not thought about it much, but it was a big town. Much bigger than Ann Arbor. As we cruised down the freeway towards the fairgrounds, counting off the exit numbers, the farms gave way to subdivisions and other urban development. We got to the fairgrounds about 2 p.m. on Friday.
The Ohio State fairgrounds are really near downtown and not far from the Ohio State campus. You can clearly see the skyscrapers in the distance towards the South. The area is heavily urbanized with lots of old housing packed closely together with little shops and businesses. We pulled into the camping area right across from the exposition area and were underwhelmed by the sight. It was pretty much a grassy, fenced parking area near the railroad tracks with electrical hookups. Although it had stopped raining, there were huge muddy puddles all through the camping area and seas of mud. The place was pretty much full, with hardbody camper units packed in along with empty horse trailers. There were a couple of porta-johns near the entrance.
After a slow loop through the area, I convinced Linda that we should not camp here. We did have a backup campsite located, so we took off to take a look at it. It turned out to be about 20 miles back the way we had come, just outside the State campground on Alum Creek. It didn’t look like anything special, but it had indoor toilets and showers. There was no one around, so we filled out a nighttime registration. It was mostly empty, so we picked a treeless spot near the central facilities and set up or pop-up camper. Once we set up we jumped back in the van and headed back to the horse show.
We dropped Linda off near the pavilion and went to park the van. It was cold and wet. The Shrine Circus had just let out and there were lots of people milling around outside the buildings. And there were horses. There were several outside paddocks, which were being used for demonstrations and for preparing for shows. Erik and I watched a demonstration of custom horseshoe making while he ate an extremely expensive apple dumpling.
After the horseshoe demonstration, we got a rare treat. They had a whole presentation on the mule. The riders showed off the special skills of the mule, including it’s unique sounds. One mule showed how it could jump a five foot fence from a standing start (without the rider). They also had a wagon pulled by a matched pair of miniature mules. It was quite a show.
We had promised to meet Linda at 7 p.m., but I didn’t have a clear idea of where. I had not bought a horse show ticket yet, so they wouldn’t let us into any of the buildings. I kept thinking that I really didn’t want a ticket anyway, but we finally bought tickets for Erik and I and started looking around. We finally found the spot where we were supposed to meet and Linda was already there wondering where we were. We had just missed her outside the building by about 5 minutes by staying for the whole mule show.
What Linda wanted us to see was some cowboy singing some cowboy songs on his guitar. This was right next to the concession area, so we got a couple of hot dogs and sat down to listen. He was really good and I’m sure he could settle down a herd of cattle really well. I recognized a lot of his songs from my songbook of cowboy songs, but I had never heard most of them before. He had CD’s of his songs and I should have bought one. What was really amazing to me was his guitar. It was a really, really old Gibson acoustic guitar. It was very tiny, with an arched top, but a round sound hole. It had the inscription, “The Gibson,” on the headstock. From what I know, this makes this guitar from at least the early 1930’s, probably older.
We walked around some with Linda looking at all of the horse stuff before we took off back to the camper. It was pretty cold that night and our gas heater gives us lots of problems. But we did have an electric heater and extra blankets, so we survived the night.
In the morning Erik and I dropped Linda back at the horse show after breakfast and came back to the camper. The sun had come out, but it was still fairly cool and windy. We just hung around the camper playing games until lunch time and then took off to find my friend Jim McShane, who lives there in Columbus.
Jim and I had gone to school together back in Inkster. He was a bit wilder than me (I think) and probably got into a little more trouble than the average kid. He had finally drifted off to Ohio and gone to Ohio State and was now married and teaching High School in Columbus. I had sent an e-mail warning him that we were coming and he had sent me directions to his house from the fairgrounds.
The trip to his house gives you some sense of the city of Columbus. Although you would think that the town would be pretty orderly, growing out evenly in all directions. Instead, the roadways wind their way across town in a rather chaotic fashion. What appears to be the cause is the rivers. Columbus has two of them, and traveling East to West (as I was doing) requires that you find a bridge across each one.
Jim lives just outside the West end of town in a fairly new suburb (Hilliard). His wife, Eva, works as a nurse and had just gotten off of a fifteen hour shift and was sleeping. So, Jim and his eight year old daughter, Kelsey, offered us a tour of the town. We went down to High Street, right on the edge of the Ohio State campus. This is where Jim worked (at a record store) and lived (upstairs) when he first arrived from Michigan. Later, he rented on the North side of campus, but still within walking distance. High Street is a lively urban area. There are lots of shops there, catering to the campus crowd, but also art shops. We visited the record store where he used to work and said “hi” to his old boss. It looked like a good record store. It even had a better selection of MC5 albums (imports, etc.) than I have ever seen. We cruised around campus and looked at all the colleges and the main open space on central campus. We drove down to his high school where he teaches. He’s been there for eight years and didn’t seem burned out yet. I can’t imagine hard it is, trying to teach teenagers.
The downtown area is very modern and clean. They have a downtown mall and lots of new buildings. Finally we stopped by the local Buster & Dave’s. I had never been to a Buster & Dave’s, but Jim was sure that Erik would like it. It is a place that combines a restaurant and bar with video games. The atmosphere is very family oriented and there were lots of kids. But the real innovation was the completely modern systems for handling the gaming. You get a card with a magnetic strip that you can “charge” up with credits. Then you simply swipe the card at a game when you want to play. The game will automatically deduct the cost from the card. When you run out of credits, you can recharge your card. It is very efficient, and the money flows quickly.
Jim took us back to our van at his house and we left to meet with Linda back at the fairgrounds. She had bought us special tickets to the big show that night. The arena held over 10,000 people and was sold out. It was a great show, with exhibitions of riding and jumping and demonstrations of different horse breeds and their special talents. There was some really great horse riding done, colorful costumes and some really beautiful horses.
The next morning Erik and I dropped Linda back at the fairgrounds for some final sessions and displays. Erik and I went back to the campground and took down the pop-up camper and got ready to leave. We then picked up Linda back at the fairgrounds and headed home. It was a lot of loops from the campsite to the fairgrounds and back, but I really liked the Alum Creek area. The creek is dammed up, forming a large lake and there were lots of people fishing there. We didn’t spend a lot of time there, but I think we would have enjoyed a longer stay. I think the Columbus area is much more interesting than Northern Ohio.