Sitting at a café on High Street, I gaze back and forth across the smiling, happy people that traverse the streets on an unseasonably warm afternoon. To the recent transplants, we appear as a professional’s paradise. Just a few footsteps in any direction, and you’re standing in front of a new monument to community and commerce, shiny and organized and fresh…
And I have to hold back a little, mischievous sneer.
Don’t get me wrong, our fair city is great, and in the five years since we started this magazine, I’ve seen Columbus achieve great strides. But being a native, I remember my ancestral home’s narrative on a slightly longer spectrum, beginning with a considerably more perilous period. This gritty city in the corn used to have some sharper edges.
There were no luminescent arches.
There were no pedal cabs and bike lanes.
There weren’t picture-window retail establishments, showcasing the wares inside like an art exhibit.
No one strolled the parks at night unless they were searching for something sinister. Every bar was a cloud of smoke with a thick coat of varnish on the counter, now marble in many cases.
It was louder and less tamed, and I’m forced to wonder…what if, for one night, it looked like that again?
Get ready to take a nostalgic journey with me. We’re going back 30 years in time to the Columbus of my birth.
Short North Welcome to the very first Gallery Hop! You’re probably going to want to run, because this area is fairly dangerous at night. Fortunately, there are pay phones, this being the ’80s. Unfortunately, there are drug dealers standing at all of them. If you call a cab, don’t bother telling them you’re in the Short North. The “Short North” doesn’t exist, yet. Tell them you’re on the Near North Side, but they probably won’t stop in that neighborhood. Those of you near The Garden Theater can duck in there. If I’m not mistaken, they’re showing dirty movies tonight. You’ll notice a lot of the store fronts in the area have plywood over the windows. Those of you in Mike’s No Name Bar…you’ll notice no change whatsoever.
Nationwide Arena/Huntington Field I regret to inform you that you are now inmates at the Ohio State Penitentiary. Fortunately it closes this year, so there are only a few terribly violent inmates left at this maximum-security prison. This is, by the way, where they execute people – so there’s that. On the bright side, the conditions are at their most deplorable, making you part of a historically bad time. Those of you who were eating at Buca should be in the yard, and given that the structure is swiftly becoming dilapidated, you might actually be able to escape if no one in the guard towers sees you.
Value City Arena You are in a field. Given some of the alternatives, you’re actually pretty well off there. That beautiful building diagonally across the street is The Horsehoe. A bit smaller, but it is – and I want to emphasize this – the site of probably the best if not the only form of large-scale entertainment in the city. This is why the locals are such die-hard Buckeye fans. No Crew. No Blue Jackets. No LC Pavilion. They literally have almost nothing else to do.
Hollywood Casino Behold 1980s Hilltop, and guess what: it’s actually pretty alright. It’s no Upper Arlington or anything, but it’s generally a quiet neighborhood. That shopping center nearby is Westland Mall – one of four major malls in town, and inside are actual stores with people actually shopping in them, rather than a lightless corridor and a single Footlocker with the security gate half down.
Franklinton Welcome to my birthplace and the childhood home of my mother. It’s called The Bottoms. Don’t move a muscle until morning. That’s not COSI over there, by the way. That’s the abandoned Central High School. It’s like Robocop-era Detroit inside.
Easton You are in the middle of nowhere. Start walking.
Campus You guys are actually in for a treat. Now, it’s not high-class, but there are more bars in this part of town than you can possibly imagine. There are bars on top of bars. Watch out, though. This is 1984, and the drinking age in Ohio is still 18, so there are twice as many students packed into them. At some point, the overwhelming party atmosphere of the area will necessitate that the city erect physical barriers between the sidewalk and the street to keep people from falling into traffic.
And that’s it. Now try to imagine that all happening at the same time. That’s the Columbus I was born in. I lived in German Village, which, like Victorian Village at the time, was still a pretty rough neighborhood. I’ve seen the city improve greatly in the last five years, but that pales in comparison to the improvement I’ve seen in 30 years.
But it’s the same spirit.
People doing what they can with the interesting situations they’ve been presented. Before, our biggest claim to fame – aside from the OSU Buckeyes – was that Wendy’s started here. Now every other day while I’m surfing the Internet, we’ve made a list of why this is such a great place to live. Honestly, 30 years ago, not many people would have put their money on that horse. To the transplants (on behalf of the natives), I thank you all for helping to make Columbus what it is today.
Also from the natives…quit raising property value. The taxes keep going up!
Contributing Editor Mark J. Lucas was born-and-bred in Columbus, and has been an integral part of the (614) Magazine family from day one.