Currently en route to Indianapolis. The Cincinnati leg of the journey included two stops in the city itself. One was at the corner of Fourth and Race, and the other was on W. University Ave. on the University of Cincinnati campus. It was quite fascinating to pass through Over the Rhine, the neighborhood just north of downtown Cincinnati, which was an impoverished, crime-ridden ghetto during the late 1980s to mid-1990s, when I was living and working in the Queen City.
Now the word is gentrification. I am all for making the neighborhood safer, and for making it attractive for people who work downtown to want to live there, especially if they can save some fuel money by walking to work. The question remains: Will this come at too high a cost for longtime residents to be able to afford to live there?
Many of the landmarks I recognized during the time I lived in Cincinnati are gone. This means quite a few of the actual buildings are gone, many of them now serve different purposes. As the bus went north on Vine St., I saw the building that housed a dive bar called the Bank Café is now a restaurant. During my many journeys northbound on Vine St., I passed (but never entered) a store named Glossinger's. Its Pepsi sign, hanging over the sidewalk, advertised:
WINE BEER CIGARS
Also gone were many of the storefront churches that clustered, sometimes several to a block, in Over the Rhine. I particularly noticed the absence of one such place, where a wooden folding chair always sat in the front window. Above the chair was a sign that said, "This seat reserved for you!", above an arrow pointing to the sign.
A sad commentary was a little store at Vine and Liberty that had a Realtor's sign in its window, but it was too obvious that the place was closed, and had been for some time. A sign reading THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATRONAGE still hung above the door. When I had lived in Cincinnati, it was a place to buy money orders, cash checks, and send or receive Western Union funds.
For personal reasons, I grieved the loss of the St. Francis Bookshop, across Vine St. from St. Francis Seraph Church. The Saint Anthony Messenger paid me $35 for a poem I mailed them in 1996. It was called "I Want to Live Above the Catholic Bookstore," and I had written it on the spur of the moment, when I walked past the St. Francis Bookshop one day and saw a FOR RENT sign in the window above the store. (Sadly, now there is one in the store window itself.) I took out my small pocket diary and ballpoint pen, and wrote the whole poem in less than five minutes, right there on Vine St., using a newspaper vending box for a desk. It took me another year and a half--by which time I had moved to Columbus--to type up the poem and mail it to The Saint Anthony Messenger.
As the bus reached the top of the hill at Calhoun St., I saw the outline of St. George's Church, and I still need to remind myself that both steeples are gone forever. Above is a video clip from WLWT-TV, Channel 5, showing the 2008 fire that destroyed both steeples.
At this very moment (4:38 a.m.), we are sitting in downtown Indianapolis, discharging and taking on passengers. The only prominent landmark I could see was the headquarters of Eli Lilly and Company. The only businesses that seem to be open are bail bond offices. Haven't seen an all-night diner, or even a convenience store.
There were more nightclubs and late-night restaurants open in downtown Cincinnati than I remembered during the years I lived there. They seemed to be full, and many people were walking from club to club. (I saw two young women in dresses who were carrying what looked like very uncomfortable dress shoes, walking barefoot up W. 4th St. and crossing Race.)
We are now heading out of downtown Indianapolis. Still no sign of life other than the bail bondsmen, many of whose offices are brilliantly lit and staffed. I guess there are enough people being arrested that it is worth staying open 24/7.