Sunday, April 13, 2014

Going Home

Thomas Wolfe says you can't go home again, but I contend that he simply did it in the wrong order: he wrote first, then went. 

I did the opposite.

To provide context for what is to follow, you should know that I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, at least until the age of nineteen when I enlisted in the U. S. Air Force, at which point I really grew up.  Because I was underweight, not having bulked up like I am now, I had to wait a number of months for the Air Force to decide that being a few pounds too light wasn't that big of a deal so I was actually twenty before I shipped out. That would have been November, 1981, the day before Thanksgiving. Their plan must have been to get me down to San Antonio for a huge Thanksgiving dinner in the chow hall to add the lacking weight.  In any event, that schedule resulted in three extra days in basic training as I was there for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. That may sound burdensome, but when you consider that I got to do all of that marching and running and exercising in the dead of a San Antonio winter rather than the height of a Texas summer, well, I think I got off easy.

My family moved out of Cincy while I was overseas in Korea. I eventually found them in their new home when I returned from the two-year stint in Germany that followed the year in Korea, but with no real reason to ever go back the Queen City, I have only been down there maybe three or four times in the intervening three-plus decades, and then only for weddings and the like. When the co-owner and I somewhat spontaneously decided last week that we were overdue for a getaway, but that we would need to stay somewhat close to home, it seemed that revisiting the old town might prove interesting.

Once the idea was planted, it was a simple matter of consulting TripAdisor.com for a nice place to stay. No reason to start anywhere other than at the top, so the first place I considered was #1 of 48:


The next stop was one of the travel price-shopping exchanges to find a nice price; the #1 most popular hotel was bound to be expensive. That turned out to be true, for the most part, but not for this weekend. Well, it was still expensive,but not nearly as expensive as normal.

Reservations were quickly made.  In case they changed their minds, you know.

We drove down Friday morning and arrived well before check-in time. Not to worry, they said, we have a few rooms ready, but if you would like for us to park your car and store your bags somewhere, you could go get some lunch and we will have a much nicer room available for you a little later.

Good idea.

It was only a few blocks to walk to the very heart of downtown Cincinnati, Fountain Square.  
An Indian mound stood at the present site of Fountain Square when the first white settlers arrived. 
Fountain Square has been the symbolic center of Cincinnati since 1871. The square, which replaced a butcher's market, was a gift from Henry Probasco in memory of Tyler Davidson. Probasco traveled to Munich and commissioned a bronze allegorical fountain from Ferdinand von Miller named The Genius of Water. 
Originally, the square occupied a large island in the middle of Fifth Street with buildings to the north and south, much like nearby Piatt Park. A 1971 renovation of the square included slightly moving and re-orienting the fountain to the west, and enlarging the plaza by removing the original westbound portion of 5th Street and demolishing buildings to the north. It is used for lunch-breaks, rallies, and other gatherings.
In the early 2000s, the square was completely renovated and re-designed to attract more visitors to the city, and to serve as a cultural/recreational hub for the city. In addition to the renovations, many buildings in and around the Fountain Square district are currently being renovated and redesigned. The Fountain itself was completely restored and moved to a more central location in the square.
After the death of his brother-in-law and business partner Tyler Davidson, Cincinnati businessman Henry Probasco went to Munich, Germany in search of a suitable memorial to him. Many years before, artist August von Kreling had collaborated with Ferdinand von Miller at the Royal Bronze Foundry of Bavaria to design a fountain. Probasco requested the addition of four figures with animals that would act as drinking fountains, which Miller's sons designed.
I didn't know any of that until just know when I looked it up, of course, so I thought the 'four figures with animals' were in celebration of Cincinnati's contributions of excellent jockeys to the nearby Bluegrass region of Kentucky. Mind you, I was somewhat curious about the animals that the jockeys are riding, but chalked that up to artistic license.





 I had no answer to why this one was carrying a passenger, but to be honest, I still don't.


Being April, it was quite windy. There wasn't a lot of demand for seating downwind of the fountain.


Upwind was quite nice, though. This was by far the first really nice weather of the year.


Lunch did indeed sound like a good idea, or at least some kind of mid-day snack. The Rock Bottom Brewery and Restaurant was right there on the square, so we grabbed some seats on the patio, which just happened to be upwind of the fountain.

The most enticing thing on the menu turned out to be this:


Neither of us were interested in the dark beer and were somewhat afraid of the unknown Brewmaster's Choice, so we selected the three lighter beers and asked for two of those in the flight.

The KÖLSCH was a hit!


I had to place mine in ascending order of darkness first, but I soon joined the festivities.


For solid wheat, we each had one of these gigantic pretzels.


Lunch finished, we still had some time to kill, and you can do worse that walking around that part of the city. Given that I can barely remember my own phone number, I was surprised to find that I could remember the name of this building. It is the Carew Tower.


 Not surprisingly, it has a history.
Carew Tower was designed by the architectural firm W.W. Ahlschlager & Associates with Delano & Aldrich and developed by John J. Emery. The original concept was a development that would include a department store, a theater, office accommodation and a hotel to rival the Waldorf-Astoria.
The building is widely considered to be an early prototype of an urban mixed-use development, a "city within a city". New York City's Rockefeller Center, built around the same time, is a more famous example of this concept. The Hotel Emery and an office block belonging to Mabley & Carew were demolished to make the site available for construction.
Construction began in September 1929, just one month before the stock market crash on October 24 that triggered the Great Depression. Because of this, construction was continued on a modified plan. One thousand men worked round the clock in an attempt to build the colossus in record time. An iron workers strike in the spring slowed construction for 49 days, but the building was completed on July 7, 1030, setting a new world's record that remains unchallenged [probably because no one builds buildings this way anymore -ed]
The total cost of the building was US$33 million, which at that time was an enormous sum of money. It took crews only 13 months to complete the construction, working 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. 
The Carew Tower has 23 elevators that shuttle visitors and employees up its 574 feet at the amazing rate of only 32 seconds. [which is a span, not a rate - ed]
 There is a Saks Fifth Avenue over that way, so I thought we would walk over and take a look. Mostly on impulse, we went into the lobby of the Carew. It still has the original mail pick-up:


It also has an observation deck. This is something that I did not know.  It gave us a chance to ride those elevators and see what a rate of 17.93 feet per second (or 12.235 miles per hour) would feel like.

It was scary.  Those elevators are old!! They shook and rattled and creaked and groaned, but they were nowhere hear as scary as the observation deck.  The view was terrific, though.








I still wanted to go to Saks so I could pretend to shop for a $1,500 suit.  I have to say, I am sure glad that I no longer have a job that requires me to wear a tie because frankly, I do NOT like where the styles are going.


When we got back to the hotel, we found that they had set aside a nice 8th floor suite for us with a view of.... the place my Dad worked for 30+ years.  He worked in the building to the left, back before they built those two monstrous towers that people immediately took to calling The Dolly Parton Towers. You have to remember that Dolly Parton was big back then, and.... what?

"They're still big today?"

That is not what I meant, and you know it.


We were very impressed with the room. In fact, we were very impressed with the entire hotel and completely agree with its #1 popularity ranking. But back to the room - here's a quick tour:





The main entrance opens out onto E 4th Street, just across from a small park.  At the end of the street is the William Howard Taft Art Museum, of which we will see more of later in this story.


This is the front of the hotel.


As I was looking at the Google map trying to get familiar with the area, I became curious about one of the bridges, mostly because it was named The Purple People Bridge, which seemed an odd name for a bridge indeed.  And here is why it is called that:
The original bridge first opened on April 1, 1872, under the name Newport and Cincinnati Bridge, and was Cincinnati's first railroad bridge spanning the Ohio River. The bridge piers were built with stone from Adams County, Ohio. The present bridge opened in 1896 to streetcar, pedestrian and automobile traffic. 
In 1904, the bridge was renamed the L&N (Louisville and Nashville) Railroad Bridge, and this name remained until the bridge was rehabilitated and re-opened as a pedestrian-only bridge in May 2003. 
The bridge was closed to railroad traffic in 1987, and later closed to automobile traffic in October 2001 after years of neglect and deterioration.
On April 17, 2001, the L&N Railroad Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 
In late 2001, the city of Newport, Kentucky, and Southbank Partners, an economic development group, used $4 million in state funds to restore the bridge. When it was time to decide on what color to paint it, a variety of options were explored. Computer-generated images of the bridge were shown to participants in more than a dozen focus groups, all of whom picked the color purple as a top choice. It was soon coined the "Purple People Bridge" by area residents. 
The bridge remains open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
Now, I thought it was pretty doggone neat that I could walk out onto a bridge over the Ohio River, although it wasn't that much later that I realized that pedestrians can walk across all of the bridges. Still, I had to do it, if only for the pictures that would be in it.

To wit:





Back at the hotel, I had to take another picture. It is a very attractive building.


Kind of makes you wonder if there is a story behind it....
To tell the story of the Phelps Building, you must first start at the Taft Museum (316 Pike St.), once the Taft Mansion. The grand white Federal style clapboard home was originally built around 1820 for Martin Baum, Cincinnati’s first banker and manufacturer. Later, the home became the Belmont, a boarding house for women. In 1830, it was sold to Cincinnati’s first millionaire, Nicholas Longworth.
The Longworths later sold the home to David Stinton, whose daughter Anna married Charles Phelps Taft, William Howard Taft’s half-brother. After the death of Stinton in 1873, the Taft Mansion became the home of Anna and Charles Taft until their respective deaths in 1931 and 1929. In 1908, Charles Phelps Taft’s half-brother, William Howard Taft, was notified of his nomination for President of the United States [Hint: he won. -ed] under the portico of the house.
The Tafts willed their historic home and their private collection of 690 works of art to the people of Cincinnati in 1927. After extensive remodeling, the house opened as the Taft Museum in 1932. The museum today is regarded as one of the country’s finest small art museums.

Charles Phelps Taft was educated at Yale and the University of Heidelberg. Though he followed in the Taft family footsteps of law and public service, he also developed the family’s involvement in journalism and business. He served one term in Congress and then returned to Cincinnati to manage the newspaper business and the family’s vast real estate investments. He joined his father-in-law, David Stinton, in numerous business ventures, including a controlling interest in the Times Star, where he became editor. 
Charles Phelps Taft became concerned that the downtown business associates
were beginning to migrate to the suburbs of the city. To encourage them to
remain living in the city, he built the Phelps Apartment building on 4th street
(506 East 4th St.). 
People of money lived on 4th street, and the style of the apartment building reflected their affluent tastes. The building’s tenants were the families of many of the prominent business people of the city. William Howard Taft visited his Aunt Delia there through the years.
Yeah, whatevs. The most important thing was that drinks were poured as soon as I got back from my walk. Ah, demon rum, how I loves ya!



After choosing our dinner destination for the evening, we headed up to the rooftop bar, where both the drinks and the view were again spectacular.



The drinks were strong, but not strong enough to preclude our three block walk to Shanghai Mama's, a place I knew nothing about other than they served Asian food. The waitress brought a sheet of dinner specials, none of which sounded good either of us, and some souvenir newspapers. We were kind of wondering if we were going to have to look elsewhere when we realized that the souvenir newspapers were actually the menus.


It wasn't a very big place, but it was nicely decorated.


We are both huge lovers of Crab Rangoon, but the closest thing we could find on the menu was Crabmeat Cannoli. We thought it worth a try, and it most certainly was!  Phenomenal!


I went with the Mongolian Steak rice bowl.  My date opted for the Orange Chicken. Both were superb.


Walking back to the hotel, we passed by the P&G building again.



Back when you could still let a 12 year old kid ride a city bus downtown alone, I would ride down every now and then to have lunch with my Dad. We always went to the same place.

It is still there: Skyline Chili.


It's on the same street that we would walk down to go to Cincinnati Reds games. He would borrow a parking pass for the P&G parking garage and we would walk down Sycamore St. to Riverfront Stadium.

It is no longer there.

It has been replaced with an amazing mega-plex.


I grew up in the Big Red Machine era, so it was an honor to meet 2nd baseman Joe Morgan.

He has an iron-hard grip!


I thought this diorama was very, very cool.  Joe Nuxhall was pitching.




It was a game day (Tampa Bay Rays) and we thought briefly about getting a pair of seats, but the fear of sunburn this early in the season dissuaded us. No loss, the Reds went down 2 to 1.

We walked down the riverfront park instead.

This is the Roebling Bridge:


The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge spans the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky. When the first pedestrians crossed on December 1, 1866, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1,057 feet (322 m) main span. Today, many pedestrians use the bridge [See? Told you so. -ed] to get between the arenas in Cincinnati and the hotels, bars, restaurants, and parking lots in Northern Kentucky. The bar and restaurant district at the foot of the bridge on the Kentucky side is known as Roebling Point.  
In the decades before 1856, want and need of a passage over the Ohio River was apparent. Commerce between Ohio and Kentucky could not continue unless some form of transportation was devised that did not bow to the whims of mother nature. Unfortunately, the distance from shore to shore was great and the steamboat traffic highly congested. Up to that point, the only solution that would not constrict traffic on the river even further was a wire cable suspension bridge of the type developed by French engineers. Several American engineers had begun designing and building suspension bridges. One of these men was John A. Roebling of Saxonburg, Pennsylvania.
The park has a few areas set aside to commemorate various heroic aspects of the Civil War, none of which I found to be too somber to preclude use as a rest stop.


Ah, Moerlein! I remember that beer. It was the first American brewed beer that passed the strict German beer purity laws. It would surely be a good choice for dinner!  We stopped in and made reservations.


Proceeding on up the river, I noticed some old estates over on the Kentucky side.



As we completed our river walk, we found ourselves back at the Taft museum and decided to take a peek.





As luck would have it, admission was free that day! I thought that a fair enough price since I was primarily interested in seeing the inside of the house, myself not being all that knowledgeable about art.


I do like old watches, though.


We got scolded for getting within 12 inches of this painting, but it was simply irresistible. The detail is incredible!


See? Now this is art I can understand. That guy is fixin' to whack that great big vulture with a rock.


These are the murals in the entryway. Those doors go out to the front porch, if 'porch' is the correct word for a house this fancy.




The room at the end of the foyer was the largest in the house. It was the Music Room.


It had spectacular furniture. These inlays are gorgeous.


I had to work to ignore the cheap hardware store screws holding the handles on, though.


One thing I did notice about the art was how fond the Taft's were of paintings with livestock in them. See if you detect a trend here...










This is a broader view of the Music Room:


There was a cafe in the museum, so we thought we would check out the menu. It again took a bit of decoding to realize that we were looking at a menu:


 The Chef's story of his personal journey which, if I'm honest, failed to inspire me in the least.


This horseradish-laden Bloody Mary, on the other had, inspired me a great deal!  I swear, those olives could have easily been replaced by chilled shrimp. That drink tasted like cocktail sauce, which is NOT a criticism!


I had the Italian sausage/tomato/Provolone quiche. What with that powerful Bloody Mary and all, I quite frankly didn't care what real men don't eat.


I have always thought that there could not possibly be a less efficient way to learn an extremely difficult language like Chinese than through reading fortune cookies, but I do have to say that I found the proffered word to fit the situation quite well.


The rest of the afternoon remains a blur, but we did eventually make it to our dinner reservation.


Something that you may not know about me (but need to) is that I have a talent for ordering things that restaurants are either out of, or have stopped serving entirely. With that in mind, guess what happened when I ordered a tall Moerlein Seven.


Yep. The apologetic waitress suggested an alternative, but described it as a dark beer. When I lived in Germany, I had enough of a beer tolerance built up that I could drink dark beers, but that capability has withered away over the years right alongside other fun things I used to be able to do but no longer can.


I tried it anyway. We ended up going through two of them since we both liked it.  Oh, and how about that view??


The Co-owner went with the Fish & Chips.


I ordered the Blackened Tilapia. I told the waitress that Grey would do if they were out of black, but I don't think she got the joke.


Yummy food and good, strong beer: don't we look happy!


There's that view again!


After checking out of the hotel, I wanted to stop at the Findlay Market to see if I could find some fresh Goetta. I have talked about Goetta before:
Goetta, a tasty German breakfast meat, is one of those things that are better served without looking too deeply into how they're made. 
Never heard of it? Here's a tantalizing description shamelessly purloined from a web site: 
THIS IS GOETTA. 
The patties begin to sizzle. The pin oats swell and pop. The spices throughout the gloriously married pork and beef infuse the atmosphere. And the corners of your brain turn up to a grin. While the crumbles dance in the hot pan, the rounds color to a golden brown, and your tongue puddles with anticipation. The final patty is flipped unveiling a brilliant batch of toasted treasures. The belly roars.
THIS IS GOETTA.
Your fork breaks the delicate crisp and moves carefully through the creamy middle of the morning circle. Every bite sends you deeper into total sensory engagement, and allows the mind to skip through the collection of stories that decorate your family’s history and your own. In a moment you are at your grandma’s counter enveloped in tales of her grandma’s kitchen. Your heart sings.
THIS IS GOETTA.
The pure enjoyment you draw from each tender-crisp forkful testifies to the power of passion. Your delight drives that passion. And the contribution of your experience makes richer the fabric that forms the heritage and legend. This is the end of boring breakfast. This is the return to what matters. The return to what inspires. The return to what is right and good and real and delicious.
THIS IS GOETTA.
 Nearly poetic, but very telling in its lack of detail as to the precise ingredients.
"What're the German words for lips and testicles?" he asks, apropos of nothing. 
With my luck? Probably "goet" and "ta."

This place looked promising:



And sure enough, they are quite proud of their Goetta expertise.


I bought a pound and a half of it.  I could easily have bought much, much more stuff.


Now, I will gladly eat something as questionable as Goetta, but I have to draw the line at dog meat, smoked or not.


What?  Ohhhh, those are bones that you give to your dog. Wish I had known that sooner. Not only would I have considered one for Cabot, I also wouldn't have reported the place to PETA.

Back to shopping...


They also had an extremely full selection of cheese. I am always on the lookout for horseradish cheese - it is extraordinarily hard  to find.


I was in luck!  There's some Smoked Horseradish Cheddar right there!


But when I told the guy that I like it to have A LOT of horseradish, he went way off into the nether reaches of the cheese selection for the really powerful stuff.  Score!!

I liked this old scale, which if I am understanding it correctly, provided a price calculation back in the days before cheap, ubiquitous electronics.


I didn't want any of the fish, but I liked the presentation.


On to the main market!  The colors, which normally would have been stunning, seemed somewhat muted after looking at the necktie selection at Saks.


The had shrimp that really couldn't be called that anymore - they were as big as catfish!  Not shrimpy at all!


And then.... bacon heaven!!


Again, this stuff just looks good, no matter what it is.


Cincinnati is the home of sausage. I would like to have tried at least one of each.


The bread was also very tempting - I was really regretting selecting the tiny little roadster as the car with which to make this trip.


Fresh made pasta. Most of the flavors (cracked black pepper, especially) were enticing, but beef?? Not so much.



I'm ashamed to admit it, but the only reason I took this picture was.... Butt Rub.  Cracked me up! As did saying that it "cracked" me up just now!

I am so ashamed of myself right now...



Breakfast waffles!! Here's a hint: if the Findlay Market is in your morning plans, do NOT partake of the breakfast provided by the hotel.


Wow!  If I loved tea as much as I love meat, this would have been the store for me!



As it was time to head back north, I planned a route that would take me past some of the landmarks of my youth.

This building was where I had my first real job: I was a delivery boy for Chase Avenue Pharmacy, an independent pharmacy. I started at $1.40 an hour (wholly ignorant that minimum wage was something like $3.35 at the time) and worked my way up to a lofty $1.70 before realizing that I was old enough to cook pizza for real money. It wasn't much, but at the time (of $0.00 living expense) it was enough to support an R/C airplane addiction and to buy my first computer, which was a TRS-80 Model I. Oddly enough, that computer led me to my current career wherein as part of my job I still write software for a 4,600+ strong group of... independent pharmacies.

Now that building is, well, something that looks an awful lot like nothing.


Right up the street is the former Schwab Jr. High.


It isn't that anymore.


Further on up the hill is a brand new building where my old high school used to be. The name has not changed, though.


Driving down to my old neighborhood, we went past what we always called the archbishop's house, for reasons that escape me.  We didn't have Google back then, so I guess we just made stuff up.

Now it's used for weddings and gatherings.


This was the church field that we played on. The church is long gone, and now it appears that "The Field" is gone too, as is the wooded valley ("The Woods") off to the side of it that we played in as if it was our own private jungle.


This is the house I grew up in.  I hated, hated, HATED that long driveway when it was my turn to lug the trash out. Note that trashcans were NOT plastic back then; they were heavy galvanized steel.


After that, it was straight back to the palatial manor I currently inhabit, where the first order of business was to cook up some of that Goetta.


It's the best that I have ever had!!