43) Route 315’s grassy knoll

Some cows have all the luck.

A few years back, my wife and I embarked on a road trip whose epicness…. epicity?… epicosity… well, let’s just say it was epic. We started in San Francisco and drove to Seattle, staying on the Pacific coast for the vast majority of the drive.  For a dude who’s lived his entire life a full day’s drive away from the ocean, seeing it from so many vantage points over the course of five days was an astonishing experience — one I’ll never forget.

Some of my preconceived notions about the Northern California coast proved to be false. For one, I expected to see evidence of fishing operations: boats, nets, seafood restaurants. There was none of that. Instead, there were cows. Thousands of cows, grazing on verdant green pastures on cliffsides overlooking the infinite blue yonder.  

Do these cows know how fortunate they are? What percentage of cows spend their lives in cramped pens, escaping only to be led to the slaughterhouse? The most an Ohio cow can hope for in its short life is an open field with a view of a silo or two. But these cows had vistas humans pay millions for.

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Sample — not actual cow’s-eye view.

The brain is funny. Those lucky bovines come to mind every time I drive on state Route 315 in Delaware County. Just north of its intersection with Powell Road, sandwiched between the asphalt and the Olentangy River, there’s a grassy knoll. It’s never overgrown, so someone must own it and take care of it, but it doesn’t seem to be connected to any nearby properties. There are no structures or signs of human encroachment, apart from a patio swing I’ve never seen in use. Just a perfect enclave of green, hanging over the river, with seemingly no purpose but to offer peace to anyone — or even any cow — who stands within.

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It doesn’t look like much, I know. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.

I want to go to there. I want to play catch there. I want to have a picnic there. I want to lie there and listen to some new-age music and watch the river flow by, and stare up at bits of blue sky filtered by rustling leaves.

It’s not possible, of course; even if the spot were public property — which it’s not, hence the Google Streetview photo — it’d be a nightmare to get there, given the lack of parking, sidewalks and shoulders. I doubt even the owners idealize their plot like I do, given the roar of the traffic mere feet away that must detract from its intrinsic value.

But as long as my car and my imagination remain operable, I’ll keep thinking of that grassy knoll as a tiny oval of utopia just off the highway.

And to those California cows: Graze on, my friends. And enjoy the view.

 

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42) North Broadway mural

Building urban interstates is ugly business.

Since President Eisenhower dragged his pen across the piece of paper that authorized the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, tens of thousands of houses have been destroyed in the name of transportation. This website shows how dramatically cities’ landscapes were changed when those concrete ribbons ripped through them — and there’s plenty of evidence to prove poor neighborhoods were targeted by government leaders.

And then you end up with situations like this one near Bexley, where people “lucky” enough not to have their houses confiscated and razed are cut off from their neighbors by eight lanes of roaring traffic.

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Kent Street West rules!  Kent Street East drools!

Some cities are reclaiming the land that interstates took; Boston’s Big Dig, for example, put interstates underground and replaced them with parks. San Francisco removed a double-decker highway that separated the city from the water, and Seattle’s doing the same thing.  

Of course, that’s prohibitively expensive for many cities, so they have to make do and adapt to what they’ve been given. In Columbus, east-west thoroughfare North Broadway had to deal not only with the gash cut by Interstate 71 that permanently separates Clintonville from Linden, but an ugly canyon cut under railroad tracks as well.

So here’s what they did:

The Clintonville mural  is seen on North Broadway Monday, Aug. 27, 2012.

(Photo: Paul Vernon, ThisWeekNEWS.com)

This incredible mural, finished in 2012, is a veritable compendium of the histories of both Linden and Clintonville, featuring colorful renderings of leaders who shaped the areas, favorite businesses and iconic structures, quirks like the Tee Jaye’s sign, and (my favorite) a giant tribute to the Booster, the community newspaper founded in 1933 by Clintonville advocate Rand Hollenback and currently and proudly edited by yours truly.

You’ve seen drive-thru nature preserves? This is a drive-thru history preserve — a skillfully crafted scrapbook of the past. And best of all, it took a bleak section of street and transformed it into an artistic wonder. That’s called making lemonade with lemons — a sweet victory for Clintonville, Linden and the city as a whole.

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(Photo: Paul Vernon, ThisWeekNEWS.com)

41) Lane Avenue Bridge

Why did the guy with the Block O painted on his chest, the scarlet-and-gray wig, and the bottle full of “water” cross the river? To get to Ohio Stadium, of course.

For a few Saturdays every fall, more than 100,000 people pack the Horseshoe. I don’t need to write about what happens inside; countless print, TV, radio and online resources and the guys in your office pretty much have that covered.  

I’m more concerned about how they get there. It’s a slog on gameday, to be sure, but Franklin County made it a lot easier in 2003 when they opened the current version of the Lane Avenue Bridge.  

Back then, Columbus had no signature bridge. Sure, there was the Beach Road Bridge, with its stunning design, but it’s so tucked away in a remote corner of the countryside that I doubt most people know of its existence, let alone rely on it daily. Downtown Columbus has several bridges, but until the Main Street Bridge was rebuilt in 2010, utility was the main concern. Not even the city’s longest bridge is distinguished — it’s an unnamed section of state Route 315 that, weirdly, goes over the Olentangy River but does not cross it. 

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Take that, San Francisco Bay!

So when the Lane Avenue Bridge started crumbling, the county decided Ohio State’s main entryway — in the shadow of the university’s esteemed halls of athletics and academics alike — should be more than a simple span. This is what they came up with.

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It’s just 370 feet long — to compare, the Golden Gate Bridge is nearly 12 times that long — but it packs a wallop in that small space, with two grand towers, 145 feet tall each, holding up the deck via a web of cables. For Buckeye fans trying to get to the game from points west, it doubles the number of lanes from the old bridge from three to six, and offers far more space for the crowds on foot as well. And it even gives drivers something to do if they get stopped on the bridge, with Block O’s hidden here and there on the structure.

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My favorite vantage point, however, is from the bike trail that passes beneath it on its way from Worthington Hills to downtown. A bridge of this scale deserves to be surveyed from all angles, and there are paths leading every which way to accommodate observers in that quest. I commend the county for recognizing the gateway to one of the world’s greatest universities deserves a bridge to match.

And best of all, you know Ann Arbor’s got nothing even close to this. 

lane avenue bridge 3

40) Columbus Square Bowling Palace

A busy newsroom is less like a typical office and more like a movie about the Chicago Stock Exchange directed by David Mamet. There’s a lot of people talking at once, sometimes shouting, reporters and editors running this way and that. The chaos factor is far higher than, say, the billing department of an insurance company (incidentally, the only other office environment in which I’ve worked).

Many journalists thrive on that type of atmosphere, so when the newsroom is barren (as it often is these days, with smaller staffs and writers filing from home or the field more often than not), they like to create drama to fill the void. This comes in the form of pointless arguing.  Is Jeni’s Ice Cream overrated? I recently witnessed a group of dudes nearly come to fisticuffs over that question. What do you think of M. Night Shyamalan? I’ve vehemently defended my love for his films more than once over the scoffs of my peers. Even the one where the guy runs over himself with a lawn mower.

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Rated R for graphic landscaping.

But one unanswerable question reigns supreme in the newsroom, and it comes from the sports department: Is X a sport?

Replace X with any activity that doesn’t involve a ball and/or perspiration, and you’ve got yourself a debate. Cheerleading seems to be the most discussed, with one side insisting that any endeavor that must be “judged” is not a sport, while the other side points out the extreme physical fitness and coordination required. I’ve listened to sports junkies bicker over curling, marching band, board games, figure skating, pool, table tennis… heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was willing to take the side of baseball being a non-sport, just for fun. (Depends on who’s playing, I guess.)

And then there’s bowling, so contentious that a former co-worker wrote a column in 2006 declaring his passionate stance for its status as an activity, not a sport. Said column and its author were declared “gross,” “ignorant” and far worse on professional bowling forums the next week, but he stood his ground, to this day ready to defend his beliefs.

I don’t know if it matters one way or the other. I am sure, though, of one bowling-related fact: There is no better place in town to partake of this… uh, pastime… than Columbus Square Bowling Palace off Dublin-Granville Road.

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Let’s start with this: Sixty-four lanes. Sixty-four! It’s an extraordinary sight, no doubt, to see them all lined up, side by side, like the Pacific Ocean spread out before Lewis and Clark in all its glory.

And here are a few more digits for you: 24/7/365. That’s its operating hours. You wanna go bowling at 4 a.m. on Christmas Day? Go for it. The shoes will be waiting for you, freshly Lysoled.

Here’s one more number: $13. That’s how much it costs to bowl for three hours after 9 p.m. on weekdays. With two people, you can make it $1 a game if you really put some effort into it. Or, if you’re more of a night owl than I am, you can wait until 3 a.m. and get the same deal for $6. Compare that to the cost of any other leisure activity… I mean, sport.

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Do you see some characters when you go bowling? Sure. That’s half the fun. At least a quarter of the fun, anyway. Because bowling is fun. I think people forget how fun it is, now that it’s been mostly relegated to the realm of mockery and ironic detachedness. But I dig it. I’m not afraid to say it. And you will rarely catch me digging it anywhere but the Bowling Palace, the city’s finest sporting arena. Er, activity center.  Er… whatever.

bowling 7

 

 

39) Fresh Market

Close your eyes and think about your last trip to the grocery store.

Are they closed? OK. Now, what are you picturing? Packed aisles? Wailing children? Glaring fluorescent lights? Surly cashiers? Finicky self-checkout machines? Long lines? Huge parking lots? All of the above?

Now, think about the last time you went to the spa. What was that like? Quiet, calming music, subdued lighting, relaxing aromas. You leave feeling refreshed, not harried.

Imagine if you could make grocery shopping as pleasant as spa day.

Well, you can’t… but Fresh Market is about as close as you can get.

fresh market 1

Fresh Market is a national chain, but you’d never know that from Columbus; its location on Henderson Road is the only one anywhere near central Ohio. I’m guessing the multitude of gourmet grocery stores already here in large quantities — Whole Foods, Market District, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Thyme, and local stalwarts Weiland’s and the Hills Market, to name a few — dissuaded the Fresh Market brass from expansion.

Yet, among the glut, Fresh Market stands out in its subtlety. The first thing you notice when you walk in is the lovely fragrances of flowers, coffee and fresh fruit. Then you realize how quiet it is. And… is that classical music? Uninterrupted by jingles or pleas for cashiers on Register 6? Can you envision a world in which you can shop for groceries without hearing Wilson Phillips?

fresh market 5

 

And the lighting — there are no flickering fluorescent tubes here. Instead, small spotlights hang from the ceiling to unobtrusively illuminate displays.

Note, too, how compact it is. The store wraps around a rustic-looking hub that hosts the prepared foods; everything else — baked goods, produce, meat, frozen foods and pantry staples — is within a few steps from the center.

fresh market 4

And it goes without saying that everything here is top-notch quality. My wife swears the freshly squeezed orange juice here is the only OJ she’s tasted that comes close to her grandpa’s version, made in Florida from oranges within lobbing distance of the trees that bore them.

Do I shop weekly at Fresh Market? No. Usually convenience and penny-pinching trump luxury, and I head to Giant Eagle, which has toilet paper and still doubles coupons. But it’s always there for when I need a special treat, served with a side of Mozart.

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38) Cooke Road hills

Ohio has, at times, found itself the butt of jokes, most coming from haughty East and West Coast dwellers who’ve only seen The Heart Of It All from the fogged-up window of Delta Flight 1908. Maybe they drove through once on I-70, back in ‘88, on the way to an old college roommate’s wedding in Peoria, and based on that four-hour experience on a strip of land that comprises an incalculably low percentage of the state’s total land area, they declare Ohio “boring.”

But there’s one area in which Ohio always gets — and deserves — respect: its roller coasters.

Longtime Ohioans may not realize it, but it’s not normal to have two major amusement parks in one state. By my count, at least 32 states don’t even have what I’d consider one.  

diamondback

This one’s fun.

According to RCDB.com, the thrillseeker’s IMDB, there are 37 coasters currently operating in the state. Lamentably, just one of them makes its home in Columbus: Zoombezi Bay’s Sea Dragon, a “starter” coaster that doesn’t pack much wallop to those accustomed to 120mph in 3.8 seconds.

So what does an irritable Columbus coaster enthusiast do when the nearest thriller is too far away? I suggest Cooke Road in Clintonville.

cooke road 3

No, it doesn’t look like much in that photo. But hills are few and far between in our fair city, and the view from behind the wheel, just like the view from the front seat of Millennium Force, makes it look much steeper than it is. In any case, it’s probably the steepest road in town, and certainly the most coasteresque: a big drop, a little bunny hop, and then back up the other side and into flat-as-a-pancake reality again.

The speed limit is 25mph, granted. Probably faster than you’ll get riding Sea Dragon, but you won’t feel that stomach-dropping euphoria that coaster lovers crave. No matter. After 15 years of living near Cooke Road and driving that section at least a couple of times a week, I still look forward to it.

I like looking out for deer. (Five spotted last month.) I like checking out the houses and imagining what it must be like to live in this wooded valley hideaway. In the summer, I like holding my hand out the car window and feeling the dramatic temperature drop.  

But most of all, I just like plunging into that ravine. And I promise, I’ll keep my hands and arms inside the ride vehicle at all times.

cooke road 2

 

37) Channel 21

Drama on TV has never been better than it is right now.  

With shows such as Breaking Bad and The Sopranos setting the mold, networks and streaming services continue to pump out movie-quality shows, from violent fanbase-splitters Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead to gentler but no less compelling programs such as Downton Abbey.  My current favorite, Fargo, might be as good as the Oscar-winning Coen Bros. film that inspired it.

Things are a bit more bleak on the comedy front. Sure, you have standouts like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Veep, but the prime-time comedy landscape still seems to be dominated by dumb-and-dumber garbage that makes even the lightest laugh track sound unconvincing.

two broke

I’m looking at you, 2 Broke Girls.

So next time you’re in the mood for some comedy, just turn to Channel 21. That’s what it is on my cable box, anyway; the guide lists it as “Public, Educational, Government Access.”

This isn’t the public access from Columbus’ days of yore, a pre-YouTube bizzaro-land where characters such as Damon Zex made themselves locally famous through dadaism. No, it’s simply a listing of upcoming events around town — 95% of them from churches — backed by soothing new-age music.

How is that funny?  One word:  typos.

I’m not sure who edits the information once it’s submitted by these organizations, but would it kill them to run spell-check first? I’d estimate one out of every five slides has a major typo or error in grammar or punctuation, and even the clean ones often have ridiculous wording, pretentious titles, strange font choices, peculiar programs or other items worth razzing.

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Don’t forget to check out that Bible sudy.

Please note that I don’t mean to mock anyone, especially not some poor, overworked city employee or volunteer. Typos are just hilarious to me (as long as they’re not mine).

Maybe you don’t find them hilarious. Would it help if I told you some of these typos have remained unfixed for more than a decade? Yes, when I first became aware of Channel 21, it was the early 2000s, and I would get together with friends to watch it and make jokes, Mystery Science Theater-style. (True party animals, we were.) Some of the typos we laughed at back then are still hanging around, apparently unseen by human eyes. Seriously, there’s an organization ostensibly called “Come As Your Are” that’s been touting its typo since Seinfeld was on the air.

Will you find Channel 21 as funny as I do? Probably not. Maybe it’s a writer thing. But give it a chance. You might just discover the best comedy on TV.

channel 21 1

Pastor’s WHAT?

 

36) Field of Corn

Years ago, I was watching a talk show — back in the days when you had to watch talk shows, because all the best bits weren’t posted 47 times on your Facebook feed the next morning — and the guest was a preteen girl from Columbus.  

What she’d done to earn that interview, I don’t recall. I do remember what she said when the host asked where she was from. She said “Cow-lumbus.”

The host wondered why she’d pronounced it that way. “We have a lot of cows there,” she replied.

My face scrunched up in a scowl so tight, it pulled several satellites out of orbit. “What is she talking about?” I raged. “The only cows I’ve ever seen here are at the Ohio State farm.”

The next day, still fuming, I researched outsider opinions about Columbus. I asked friends who had moved to larger cities what impressions their new co-workers had of the state capital. For most, it ended at “the state capital.” One woman told me her deskmate was surprised to learn Columbus had skyscrapers; she had pictured a bucolic village.

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Not Columbus.

So I started banging out a column — I was going to tell the world (or at least a few suburban readers) how great Columbus was! This city would finally get it the respect it deserves!  

But once your mind gets spinning and the words start spilling out onto the paper, you can think more rationally about a topic. By the time I was done, I realized Columbus was probably too young to be a great city in my lifetime. It had no Big Three sports teams, no major water sources, no tourist traps, nothing to make it stand out in the minds of Americans at large.

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Also not Columbus.

And I realized that was OK, because I know how great Columbus is. Why do we have to prove ourselves?  

I told you that story to tell you this one:  I really, really like Dublin’s Field of Corn.

One of the most well-known pieces of public art in central Ohio, Field of Corn is 109 concrete statues, each shaped like an oversized ear of corn, poking up from a flat patch of grass near a busy intersection in a very suburban corner of Dublin.

field of corn 4

 

The view from a moving car is interesting as the rows alternately line up and spread out before your eyes. A walk among them is just as captivating as you start to notice how each ear looks slightly different from the next, and you start to admire the amount of work put into this ersatz  bounty.And then you start to feel a little small among the lifesize members of the agricultural army, so you sit down under the grove of osage orange trees to take it all in.

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Well, that’s what I did, anyway, as I came to appreciate this masterpiece.

Field of Corn is intended to be a wink to the area’s rural past, which wasn’t that long ago. Whether things are better now than they were then is up to you, though the location sandwiched between nondescript office parks seems to imply they aren’t. According to artist Malcolm Cochran, the ears of corn resemble gravestones on purpose: to recognize the death of the agrarian way of life.

Either way, it took me a while to warm up to it, because I only saw it as something snarky talk-show hosts and out-of-town visitors could latch onto to prove Columbus was still just a cowtown, stuck in its pastoral past.

But that’s OK.  I’ve moved beyond it. So snark away, America. The best revenge is living well. And striking public art like Field of Corn is one way we do that.

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35) Tropical Fruit and Nut

Do they even make generic food anymore?  

I remember seeing the white cans with black lettering in stores when I was a kid, but these days, store brands rule the roost. Every grocery store has a full line of products, not only canned and frozen food, but dairy products, eggs, condiments — practically anything you can think of. And they’re good, too — often better than the popular labels at half the cost.

But food that comes in nondescript packaging and plain labels does still exist in the form of bulk-food stores. Oddly popular in Ohio’s Amish country, these stores sell massive bags of “cereal marshmallows” in the familiar “lucky” shapes, and nuts unaffiliated with that monocle-wearing freak.

Bulk food is no stranger to Columbus — and my favorite place to get it is a tiny store tucked away in the corner of Worthington that focuses on treats.

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Because “Temperate Fruit and Nut” just didn’t sound right.

Meet Tropical Fruit and Nut, a tiny outlet store in a small section of an unremarkable brick building on the industrial Huntley Road. Here, you’ll find not only all manner of (dried) fruits and nuts, but also (more importantly) candy and chocolate, all wrapped up in clear plastic bags and sold by the pound. And cheap, too — the massive sack of chopped pecans I buy regularly costs about as much as a small parcel of the same nuts at the grocery store. There are also trail mixes, oats and other grains, and all manner of snacks.

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So next time you’re headed to the movies, stop by Tropical first. You can pick up a bag of Sour Patch Kids big enough to last you through the trailers this time.  

34) The (nonexistent) Morse-Bethel connector

The first schmear of pavement in this country’s interstate system was laid down in 1956, and the system was declared to be complete in 1992 — complete meaning all the roads in the initial plan had been built, and all of the nation’s major population centers were fully connected to each other by asphalt.

The declaration was a bit premature, however; in two places, planned interchanges have never been built because of local opposition.

If you’ve ever driven from Columbus to Baltimore on Interstate 70, you know about one of them.

In Breezewood, Pa., the highway takes an abrupt turn south, and there, standing between you and the open road, is about a half-mile’s worth of retail purgatory.

breezewood

Ooh, Quiznos!  (Photo: Ben Schumin)

Yes, that is technically an interstate highway, despite the traffic lights and Taco Bell.  

You can probably figure out why local leaders fought tooth and nail against the proposed interchange: $$$. There’s not much in the way of services among the mountains of central Pennsylvania, and hungry and/or sleepy drivers forced to creep slowly through the town’s temptations may succumb to Breezewood’s monopoly on restaurants and hotels. Build the interchange, and that revenue stream dries up as cars zip past at full speed.

Well, Columbus sorta has a missing interchange, too — or at least a missing piece. As in Breezewood, the locals have fought it for decades — and they’ve won every time.  But in this case, it’s not about money.

 

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To the left of the above photo is the interchange of state Route 315 and Bethel Road.  Notice that, unlike most interchanges, drivers can turn only west.  Also notice how Bethel Road lines up perfectly with Rathbone Avenue on the other side of the Olentangy River.  And — you’ll have to trust me on this one — Rathbone Avenue lines up perfectly with Morse Road.

The lack of the hypothetical Bethel-Morse connector has stymied drivers since interstates first cut their way through Columbus. Area drivers looking to cross the Olentangy now must journey north to state Route 161 or south to Henderson Road — a task that, during rush hour, can be problematic, to say the least. Those people — and the leaders that represent them — are the ones who have been frothing at the mouth for a connector for generations.

On the other hand, you have the residents of Rathbone, who, according to many of the proposed connector plans over the years, would lose their homes to any sort of street widening, much like hundreds of people did when the interstates were initially built.

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It’s a nice neighborhood, walkable, with great access to the recently revitalized Graceland Shopping Center, and it dead-ends, surprisingly, into one of the city’s most unspoiled patches of nature. Kenney Park is wild and woolly, lacking the paved paths we’re used to; instead, hikers must forge their way through thick foliage on narrow, muddy trails.  It’s a perfect place to escape the city.

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This, too, would be threatened by any connector.

The needs of the driver often win out in situations like this. It’s safe to say no one likes eminent domain, but a solution to a lifelong traffic frustration is tempting.

Columbus, though, has done the right thing, again and again. In 1968, residents approved a referendum that keeps the city from pursuing a Bethel-Morse connector. More recently, in 1998, voters could’ve allowed a plan that would’ve replaced the Rathbone neighborhood with concrete. They didn’t, and overwhelmingly so.

A couple of years later, two new plans emerged: one that would’ve ceded control of the proposals back to the city, another that would’ve plowed a road through the heart of then-struggling Graceland. Neither found their way to the ballot.

Since then, apart from isolated grumbling, it’s been quiet. As quiet as a contemplative walk through Kenney Park. And I’m glad for it. Would my life be easier with that connector in place? Assuredly. But it’s not worth the cost. I’m glad my fellow residents agree.

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If you still think a Morse-Bethel connector is a good idea, sit here until you change your mind.