ON THE AVENUES: Sniffles, gratitude and mental exhaustion. Apparently vacation is over.


ON THE AVENUES: Sniffles, gratitude and mental exhaustion. Apparently vacation is over.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

All things considered, I’d have preferred to return from vacation not suffering from a cold, although perhaps it was a tolerable price to pay for the sheer joy of returning to Europe.

That said, the overall tone of our travels was slightly different this time around. I’ll come back to these feelings in a moment, but before this, allow me to describe the first morning back home.

It was Monday, and with the fridge purposefully denuded of groceries, a bit of foraging in the pantry produced my last tin of kippers and enough stale crackers to soak up the oil. The espresso machine purred nicely back from enforced dormancy and produced three savory shots.

I carried breakfast to my customary upholstered seat in the living room, powered up the laptop in preparation for the daily regimen of recreational polemics, and watched contentedly as headlights reflected in the front window, traveling eastbound on Spring Street.

The last time we returned home from Europe, this hadn’t yet occurred. Now, rationality finally has been allowed to prevail, and a full month into the Downtown Grid Modernization Project’s phased inception — and with my snarky notation of “rumor” no longer necessary for qualification — downtown New Albany lacks only laggardly Elm Street’s compliance to conclude the long overdue reversion.

Did I mention long overdue?

It appears that our two-way street grid changeover has been implemented with a bare minimum of problems – no multi-car pileups, head-on collisions or sheer panic attacks.

It’s a good thing, too, or else social media pundits with the attention spans of gnats wouldn’t have had enough time to endlessly pontificate about taking the knee or demanding to know when the Dunkin’ Donuts will open.

14 years later, at long last, we’ve arrived at the end of the beginning – and as such, if you think local street sanity advocates are finished bitching, you haven’t been paying attention … at all.

In the coming weeks, months (yes, and years), there’ll continue to be necessary questions, because Jeff Gahan has gifted us with the bare minimum of two-way grids. I hope we haven’t forgotten the manifest possibilities Jeff Speck showed us.

  • Are the “enhanced” yellow-blinking crosswalk lights designed to assist pedestrians or to maim them?
  • When commercial vehicles block bicycle lanes, will they be held accountable?
  • How does the city plan to ensure the safety of sharrows?
  • When will pedestrian connectivity extend between the north and south sides of Main Street?
  • What does City Hall intend to do with those portions of the downtown street grid nearest the interstate ramps, which in 2017 were sacrificed to the same old political cowardice and kept primitive?

There are dozens more questions just like these, and make no absolutely mistake: if someone doesn’t continue asking them and expecting coherent answers, the same old civic time-servers can be expected to shift into absentee coasting, because it’s a simple fact that if we hadn’t kept pushing, prodding and provoking them these past 14 years, the current round of grid reforms likely would not have taken place.

May the revolution of rising expectations live long and prosper. Without it, we’re doomed to the same frustrating mediocrity from the C students.

If you look in the dictionary for “multi-modal transportation options,” there should be a map of the Netherlands.

Last Friday afternoon we were seated at a table attached to a café in Haarlem. The table was located across the street from the café, by the river. As our server passed back and forth, she was watching for persons, bicycles and automobiles.

She was impeccable. Drivers and cyclists seemed attentive, and there were no issues.

Try imagining the chaos in New Albany.

Boats sailed past on the river, and a bus stop was around the corner. Had we boarded one of the buses, we could have been at the train station in ten minutes, or Schiphol Airport in 35.

In America, it was ordained long ago that we subsidize cars to the exclusion of other options. In the Netherlands, other options are prioritized, and while cars are not excluded, they’re contextualized.

Gasoline costs $7 (or more) a gallon. People are walking at all hours of the day. In central Haarlem, there’s an underground parking garage used strictly for bicycles.

I’m compelled to fall back on my Theory of Stunted Imagination. It seems to me that for many folks hereabouts, it isn’t only that they can’t grasp multi-modal transportation options in the real world. It’s that they can’t even imagine them, and what can’t be imagined obviously cannot exist.

But at least we’ll always have college basketball to keep us safe and warm at night. On second thought, if it’s okay with you, I’ll read a book. After all, reading helps with the ol’ imagination.

You’ll enjoy the next section, because I’m about to contradict myself. Get used to it. I’m getting old, you know.

2016 brought the opportunity to visit both Estonia and Sicily. There were plenty of space/time ghosts inhabiting these locales, but because Tallinn and Catania were almost entirely new to us, these spectral yardsticks were mere calibration models.

Haarlem and Poperinge (Belgium) are different. They’re places previously visited over a period of years, where the passing of time (and sadly, people) is much more in evidence. It’s harder to keep familiar eyes fresh, and yet there are rewards from familiarity.

Consequently, there was an elegiac quality to them, although in fairness, “elegiac” is a property I’ve associated with Europe since the first time I traveled there 32 years ago. History is everywhere, whether your own variety or the stories of previous generations. It’s hard for me not to be introspective about something so intense.

As Americans, we tend to focus on the Europeans who left their homelands and came across the water. However, the vast majority stayed right where they were. Conversely, it’s not exactly a secret that for most of my adult life, I’ve felt misplaced in my own country.

I haven’t done anything about it because of a problem that outweighs even that of a drunken, errant stork: a vein of stubborn contrarianism compelling me to stick around and try to change (some might say eviscerate) my surroundings rather than run away from them.

Earlier this month, while enjoying the hop parade in Poperinge, a Moroccan feast in Mechelen and most importantly, the reclaiming of lapsed friendships in Haarlem, I was keenly aware of all these intersecting lines: where I’ve been, what I’ve learned, the state of my own consciousness, the absence of those who’ve left the room, and the sands in that damned cliché of an hourglass.

I thought a lot about the 14 years it took us just to make that street in front of the house run both directions … and how I’m not sure I want to devote another decade and a half to the next incremental, delayed and imperfectly understood example of what I just saw with my own two eyes in the Netherlands.

And so, frankly, here I am.

Where “here” is remains unclear, as it has since 1985. The short term pub comeback plan hasn’t altered; if anything, observing time-honored methodology in the Low Countries made for High Times in what passes for my soul, and I’m aching to get back to what I know best.

Assuming it all works out, the focus of my immersion almost surely must change, and I suppose the point is that since the conclusion of this month’s trip to Europe, the tipping point may have been reached.

Another 14 years just trying to convince Jeff Gahan and a motley collection of “Let’s Pretend We’re Democrats” that 2 + 2 really does equal 4?

That’s not civic engagement.

Rather, it’s masochism, and I may be getting too old for this.

Recent columns:

September 21: ON THE AVENUES with THE BEER BEAT: Getting in tune with the straight and narrow.

September 14: ON THE AVENUES with THE BEER BEAT: Beef Steak and Porter always made good belly mortar, but did America’s “top” steakhouses get the memo?

September 7: ON THE AVENUES with THE BEER BEAT: We are dispirited in the post-factual beer world.

August 31: ON THE AVENUES: On a wig and a prayer, or where’s the infidel gardening column?