I visited the far-off land of “Ohio” last week, and it made an impression.
Years ago I watched a documentary about former NFL player Ray Lewis. It started with him giving a guest lecture at Harvard and I remember he started the lecture like “Growing up in Miami, you heard stories about places like Harvard… But you never dreamed you’d ever see it” and it was touching really, this guy who had come from an impoverished background and had managed, through skill and intuition, to become one of the greatest ever at his craft. Anyway my stupid brain took that and ran with it so whenever I go somewhere new I hear in my head Ray Lewis saying “Growing up you heard stories of places like…” and then it inserts the name of the place I’m going. In this case it was Ohio. Also the doc really glossed over whether he killed that guy or not.
Anyway, growing up I heard stories about places like Ohio. Ohio was the mythical state where their votes for president actually mattered and astronauts were born. I also watched that YouTube video of the Ohio State football game where guys were peeing in the stairwells, there was that also. Growing up, I heard stories about Columbus in specific – They had their hockey team, the Blue Jackets, which was the worst team in the one NHL game I had on Gamecube so I always played against them and still lost because I never figured the game out. They had that highlighter yellow team that I saw in the first professional soccer match I ever watched in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. There was a whole-ass day named after the city, presumably, I don’t know and I’ll never check specifically.
So when I finally got to visit Columbus, which Wikipedia tells me has seven nicknames, the best of which is “Cowtown” and the worst of which is “The Biggest Small Town in America”, which I think is also Reno anyway, I went with few specific expectations. Because, growing up, I heard stories about places like Columbus, and they were all either very vague, absolute non-sequiturs, or referenced drunk Ohio State fans peeing in the stairwells. The Buckeyes were playing a Friday night game in Evanston, Illinois when I was there, so I missed the urine. A blessing and a curse. It would’ve made this essay more interesting had I been urinated on, but I also would’ve had to endure the sort of gross, stale non-sexual urinary experience that I’d generally like to avoid.
Anyway, my main final verdict having gone through Columbus once now, staying in the downtown Hyatt and having exclusively experienced it via famished walks through the downtown Arts and Arena Districts, is that it’s a very good city. It’s a bizarre one, just in the way its lain out, as it combines the college town, metropolitan center of commerce, and the state governmental hub; so the big NHL arena’s within walking distance of the state legislature and the denizens of that walk are all decked out in Ezekiel Elliot jerseys direct from DHGate. The only similar cities I think would be Austin, Texas or maybe Raleigh, North Carolina, though I doubt the Wolfpack have as much control over that state’s culture as the Buckeyes do in Columbus.
My experience in Columbus was limited to what was probably a highly gentrified area, plus I’m too dumb to come up with something that accurately depicts a city’s heart and soul anyway so if you came to me expecting that, it’s kind of on you. You’re getting surface-level analyses and you’re gonna like it. The things I noticed were these:
1. People still like surely give a shit about the Crew
I’m hyper-aware of any even-vague references to soccer when I’m in an MLS city. I also only spend a slight amount of time in MLS cities. Actually, over the past four years, I’ve spent at least an hour or so in Minneapolis, Denver, and Los Angeles, the third of which I spent time in because I was attending an LAFC match, and only in the third of those did I see a significant MLS presence, a by-product of the fact that I was attending an LAFC match. I was only in Denver for a night, but the Rapids were sadly underrepresented, and the few times I’ve been in the Twin Cities were limited to the airport.
But in Columbus, there were people in Crew t-shirts on the plane, and there were busses that said “GO CREW!” despite the fact that the season ended two weeks ago and they missed the playoff race back in August. There’s a guy in a Crew hat maybe five rows ahead of me on the plane I’m in right now as I write this. I’m like a shark to blood with this shit, I can recognize that even in a bad season (and it’s a hella bad period right now) Crew pride runs high in C-Bus (which is the second best of the seven Wikipedia nicknames)
2. Tim Hortons has a presence
Tim Horton was a hockey player who died in a car accident, if I’m not mistaken, which makes his restaurant chain the only major restaurant chain named after a dead athlete, though I haven’t done research into who Jersey Mike was so I could be wrong. Anyway, Tim Horton’s is a big deal in Canada, and by that I mean that there are many of them. It’s like the Circle K to Phoenix, or the Dunkin Donuts to New England, or the Publix to whichever part of the south that’s important to.
I’ve spent precisely like ten dollars ever at Tim Hortons, once in the Toronto airport and once at a mall in Quebec City where the lady working the counter taught me that I could order a “Moyen” in lieu of “L’un entre le grand et le petit, desolé, je viens des êtats-unis et j’ai pensé que j’avais connu le mot juste mais c’est pas le cas je pense, desolé” while flailing my hands up and down to signify that I wanted the middle one. Anyway, they have it in Ohio! The one closest to me was embedded within the Blue Jackets’ arena, which is a little on-the-nose, but who am I to look a honey dip donut in the teeth?
My verdict? It’s fine. It’s a fast food coffee place, not dissimilar from the other fast-food coffee places I visit.
3. Columbus has a Beer Culture
Columbus seems to have a high population of breweries. This lines up with the bizarre triplicate definition I gave of Columbus a few paragraphs up in this ever-lengthening piece. Most big cities have their big brewery – Boulevard, Lonestar, Founders’, et cetera, so there’s that. Then you’ve got the college town aspect, as college students are fond of drinking and many people who graduate college would like to continue drinking but also would not like to continue drinking Keystone Light. Then you have the state legislature bit, where the connection falls apart, but I think those first two work well enough.
Craft Beer is a great way to inject culture into two spaces that traditionally do not have it, which are midwestern cities and groups of heterosexual men, the two of which work hand in hand very well. My theory is that proper men started brewing craft beer because they wanted what the wine snobs had without feeling gay, and the denizens of midwestern cities started brewing craft beer because they got sick of drinking Miller Lite all the time, and the two of them combine very well in Columbus, where drinking seems to be a sport in and of itself outside of Buckeye Stadium on Saturdays (I gleaned that fact from the video where the people urinate in the stairwells, something you do when you have little inhibition and a full bladder, which you probably lost and gained in that order in the parking lot at some tailgate). Anyway I didn’t have any.
4. I have found a professional and pedagogical community of which I’m grateful to be a part and I sincerely hope that I can continue this career path through the next chapter of my life
Yeah the writing center is great and the community of consultants and staff with whom I worked over the course of the conference is an enriching group to be a part of. So many people are doing such great work with writing labs across not only the country, but internationally as well. I think there’s a lot of genuine good done here and I hope I can continue to contribute to that in the future.
I’ve struggled with listlessness over the bulk of the past two years due to the latent anxiety of an unknown future. I’m 24, and I don’t pretend to know what my path in life from here to the grave looks like, but it’s been frustrating over the past two years not knowing specifically what even my next step looked like. Last year I was introduced to the idea of “Literacy Sponsorship”, a concept named by writing studies scholar Deborah Brandt, where one uses their own resources to support others’ navigation through different spaces and understandings of literacy, and the Writing Center at SDSU more or less found me and helped put me into a role I’ve really engaged with. There’s a lot of value in peer tutorial, and I hope that I’ll be able to have a valuable role as I keep going here.
I am naturally hesitant to count chickens. But I feel that I have a purpose in Writing Center studies.
Anyway, also –
5. “Blue Jackets” remains one of the weirder names in modern professional sports
When I was a kid, I was on a soccer team named the Yellow Jackets and the first time that I heard the Blue Jackets name, I assumed it was like a blue hornet?
But no, actually, upon some research (one look at the wikipedia page for the Columbus Blue Jackets), it refers to Union generals in the Civil War. That’s fine and all, but it’s kind of bizarre that this is the one example of a professional sports team drawing upon Civil War history and it’s both a team founded in the 2000s, and a team from Ohio. Generally, team names that draw upon regional history that old (San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers) were founded like right in the middle of the 20th century, and also generally the region that really likes to highlight its Civil War laurels wore the Grey Jackets, so it feels like an anomaly. The expansion teams founded around the Blue Jackets in NHL history were named “Predators”, “Thrashers”, and “Wild”, three vaguely threatening but ultimately kind of meaningless names, kind of perfect for the late-nineties NHL.
Then you’ve got Columbus, whose name draws upon the bloodiest war in American history. It’s just strange, nothing that weird, it’s not like the NHL team in Anaheim named after a children’s movie for a period of time, but still bizarre given the context.
Anyway, that was my whole trip. If the powers that be in the other big Ohio cities (Cincinnati, Dayton, the other ones) want me to give my take on their city, uh, I guess, host the IWCA/NCPTW conference sometime and I’ll try to stop by.