Blogging From a Position of Power

Except for the scatter of strewn limbs still visible in almost every neighborhood, Columbus seems to be back to normal.  To me, the official milestone ending the blackout and all the insanity it caused came tonight: I ate dinner at the Blue Danube Restaurant.  It sat locked and dark beginning late Friday afternoon (along with many other businesses on that part of N. High St.).  I am not friends personally with any of the owners or wait staff, but I felt for the people who didn’t collect a paycheck all week, and I shudder at the thought of how much food they had to throw out.

The other simultaneous crisis in Columbus was the COTA bus strike.  It began at 3 a.m. on Monday, July 2. I was all ready for it.  I set my alarm considerably earlier than I usually do.  When it went off, I jumped out of bed like a shot, and damn near strangled myself on the hose of my CPAP machine.  Usually I ride in total oblivion of the time, so I wasn’t sure how much time to allow myself for the ride downtown.  I can walk from downtown to Baja Clintonville in about 90 minutes, so I allocated two hours for the bike ride.

My work day starts at 8 a.m., and it was a little after 6 when I left the house.  According to the U.S. Naval Observatory‘s Website, the sun rose at 6:08 on Monday morning.  I didn’t think to glance at my watch before my departure, but I do know it was light enough to see things without the aid of street lights.  (After Friday night, the street lights being off weren’t a good enough indication.)  I dodged and weaved around debris and fallen branches (and fallen trees!) as I headed south on Indianola.  That morning, I saw a huge tree still blocked E. Norwich Ave.  (Two young women who lived near the Indianola Church of Christ–which is at the corner of Indianola and Norwich–had written TREE BLOCKING STREET!! with chalk in big letters in the intersection, but I’m not sure whether anyone could see it.)  At Lane, I turned west and then went down High St. the rest of the way.  There was no way to tell who was affected by the lack of power and who wasn’t, although I remember seeing no delivery trucks anywhere on the route, and if you’re on High St. early on a weekday morning, there are usually trucks making deliveries to the restaurants, convenience stores, and bars.)

Once I arrived at the William Green Building, I saw that I had been overly cautious.  It took me only 38 minutes to get from Olde North to downtown, which meant I had an hour before work officially began.  Fortunately, I was able to find a berth for the trike in the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation garage, in a storeroom with a bike rack.  I ate a leisurely breakfast in the Nationwide cafeteria, and read until 7:55, and then headed into work.

After some false hopes that management and labor had settled the strike, I learned that there would be no bus service on Tuesday.  This time, I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping a little later, and leaving a little after 7.  I would still arrive early, but not as ridiculously early as I had on Monday.  And it was the ride home that I was dreading.

The worst part of COTA’s strike was that there would be no bus service for Red, White, and Boom.  I had no plans to attend it.  (I am the same way about patriotic holidays, especially the Fourth of July, that Ebeneezer Scrooge was about Christmas.)  My first thought was this would mean fewer people downtown for the fireworks, and thus less of a madhouse of an exodus once the festivities ended.  But I also worried that many people would come down anyway, and count on their skills to navigate their way home drunk.

On the Fourth itself, I rode around, occasionally stopping in fast food restaurants to use their Wi-Fi service.  Several times since Friday night, I had tried in vain to get online, or turn on the TV.  I didn’t realize how ridiculous the Wi-Fi situation was until I realized I had to call Steph in Florida, ask her to get on Channel 10’s  Website, and find out whether COTA was still on strike.  (She left me a voice mail message later that evening, telling me they had settled, and the buses would be rolling come morning.)

This news brought about mixed emotions in me.  I was glad to be riding the bus again, especially if it was air conditioned, but the two trips to and from downtown by bike had been fun.  A sign that you’re getting older is that sloth becomes your favorite of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Sloth won out: If I took the bus, that meant I could sleep an additional hour.  So, on Thursday the fifth, I was at the bus stop looking up Summit St. waiting for the bus to come.

The whole area from Adams Ave. to High St. was still blacked out on Thursday evening, but this was an evening for paradoxes and contradiction.  As I was walking home, I saw a procession of seven or eight AEP trucks going north on Indianola.  Then, I walked past the Maynard Ave. United Methodist Church, and the sign on its door puzzled me:

Paradoxically, the next evening, with most of Columbus’ lights restored, the church was completely without power.

The sign reminded me of a neighbor in Marietta who said that he had once seen pouring rain on one side of a house, and sunshine on the other.  I thought this was a tall tale about how massive the house was, but I have seen rain on one side of a street and not the other, so I now believe he was telling the truth.

I live only a block or so from Maynard Ave. UMC, so I wondered whether I’d still have lights.  I was pleasantly surprised to see my porch light burning, and I was further surprised when I came in and saw that the green light on my cable box was no longer blinking, as it had been since the derecho first happened.  I grabbed the remote control and clicked it, and sure enough there was sound and a picture, rather than the black screen that I was used to seeing.  I clicked on the laptop and, while it was a little balky, soon enough I had access.

On Thursday, I came back from the Independence Day holiday and found that my workload was on the “famine” end, so I left at 11:30, and went to the OSU Library.  This was where I had one of those “face-palm” revelations.  (When I learned this, I almost reenacted the old “Wow!  I coulda had a V8!” ads from the 1980s.)  For years, I had debated whether or not to become a Friend of the Ohio State University Libraries, mainly so I could borrow.  As it turns out, as an employee of the State of Ohio, and the proud holder of a library card from the State Library of Ohio, I have been able–since 2004!–to borrow from the OSU Library!

I spent Friday evening with my Marietta High School classmate Robin, her husband Doug, and their son, as they were visiting Robin’s mother in Columbus.  We all ate dinner downtown, and then went to a double feature at the Ohio Theater, part of the CAPA Summer Series.  It was the first time in the last year or two I’d gone to the Summer Series–the last had been when I took Susie and her friend Sydney to “Cartoon Capers.”  (I first went to the Ohio Theater in the spring of 1980, when I took a young woman to see Vincent Price narrate King David.)

Even if I had been alone, there is no way I would have missed last night at the Ohio Theater.  Fritz the Nite Owl was hosting a double feature–two movies for $4, not bad!–of Dracula’s Daughter (1936) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943).  I missed the sarcastic comments and movie trivia that sandwiched the commercial breaks (there were no commercial breaks, unlike his shows at Studio 35 and The Grandview), but I enjoyed both pictures.  I had never seen Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and had not seen Dracula’s Daughter since I was 12 or 13.

So, life seems to have returned to normal.  Olympic Swim Club was open, which was a godsend as the day got hotter.  I biked up there in the early evening.  I can’t swim a stroke, but I luxuriated in the water, immersed myself several times, and tried all the while not to think of Altered States (1980).

I got dried off and dressed, and then headed to the Blue Danube.  It was good to see lights on and people sitting at the booths and bar.  I said to my waitress, “This is good to see!”  She felt the same way, undoubtedly because she lost wages during the time there was no electricity.

The Card Catalog: Privileged Information?

After coming home from church, and before dinner, I walked over to The Oval, the nucleus of the Ohio State campus.  The temperature was in the upper 70s (my Weather Channel icon currently says 82 degrees), so the sunbathers, Hacky Sack players, and dog-walkers staked out every square inch of terrain.  I walked through them, wishing I hadn’t worn a long-sleeved shirt, and headed into the William Oxley Thompson library.  (I wasn’t planning to be virtuous, burying myself in books while everyone else relaxed and enjoyed spring’s true debut; I left the house with the library as my destination.)

I’ve sung the praises of the library’s renovation in emails, diary entries, and letters, but I’ve found something about it that bothers me.  This may not be so much a result of the rebuilding, but of a policy change.

If you are not an Ohio State student, you cannot log onto the computerized card catalog without a guest pass.  I used the guest pass plenty of times when I had no home Internet.  After church, or on Saturday afternoon, I’d spend hours in Sullivant Hall blogging, reading email, or surfing.  When I arrived, the person at the front desk would give me a guest pass, good for 24 hours.

Since Thompson Library reopened, the restrictions have become more severe.  When a user gets a guest pass, he or she can only use a row of computers near the circulation desk, which means sitting on barstool-high benches that are very bad for someone with spinal issues.

Restriction to these few computers causes other issues, too.  There are computer terminals strategically located in the book stacks (many floors), but a guest cannot log into the card catalog.  The upper floor computers are not Internet-connected; they only display the card catalog.  But this doesn’t matter.  If you’re looking for a book, the only way to do it is to use one of the few guest computers, access the card catalog there, and then log off and go searching for your book.  God help you if you don’t have everything you need, and have to come back.  The registration process begins all over again.

Ohio State is a public university.  Many non-students and -staff use its facilities.  I debate every year whether to join the Friends of The Ohio State University Libraries.  I first visited Thompson Library in 1985, and spent many nights–the ones I did not spend on barstools–reading or writing in the stacks.  Unable to borrow books from there, I felt like the diabetic kid with his nose pressed against the candy store window.  It is wrong for them to make searching for books so difficult for a non-student.  I don’t know whether this was an oversight, or whether this subtle we-they situation is deliberate.  In the earlier years of my visits to the library, searching was simple.  There were computer terminals (green characters against a black screen, a boxy computer sitting on a lazy susan), and you did not need a staff person to help you use them.

Ohio University never made it difficult for non-O.U. people to use Alden Library.  At the time I lived in Athens, Alden was a much better library than the Athens County Public Libraries.  (The Athens branch was in a small storefront wedged between two nightclubs.  I lived in Athens over a year before I learned of its existence.)

I understand that OSU libraries should have restrictions on who can borrow.  If/when I become a Friend, I’m sure it’ll be well worth the $50 in dues.  There is, however, no reason why searching for a book that will be for in-house use should be so difficult.  Paradoxically, the catalog is available to someone searching from outside the library.  During my on-again, off-again cataloging project for my own scattered and disparate personal library, I keep three tabs open at all times when I search for call numbers: OhioLINK, the Library of Congress, and the OSU Libraries.  (I cannot take the laptop with me to the library, because–once again–only students will get Wi-Fi codes.)

This especially angered me when I walked into the Buckeye Reading Room.  Despite the beautiful weather and the sun’s first real appearance, the room was packed.  I searched in vain for the books which were old friends to me in the pre-renovation reading room, especially Garland Publishing’s massive green volumes of facsimiles of James Joyce’s original Ulysses manuscript, or the University of California at Berkeley’s exhaustive, definitive edition of Samuel Pepys’ diary.  None of these were available, and I could not just walk to the nearest computer and find where they now are.  I would have had to go downstairs, ask for a guest pass, log in, write the call numbers down, and then end my session and go find them.

Two pictures I took of the Buckeye Reading Room this afternoon.

Libraries are truly “the people’s university.”  Ohio taxpayers contribute to the operation of all public universities, and thus it is galling that they should have to undergo such aggravation when engaged in the simple task of finding a book.  “My treasures are within,” reads the inscription on the façade of the main library downtown.  Thompson Library holds many treasures as well, and many non-students value them more than the students.

By contrast, here is the scene on the OSU campus on The Oval: