The outside world

I was writing to my friend Drea last night and I got to talking about how I’m not a big fan of winter because I can’t sit outside and watch the world go by. Well, I could, but I do prefer staying where it’s warm. I’m paying for the heat, I might just as well take advantage!

In my previous Ohio life my first wife and I owned a small house on the south side of Toledo. It was in a typical lower to middle class area, nice and close to the school in a neighborhood that had been there for generations (my house was built in 1925.) One of my favorite pastimes was to sit outside on a nice summer night and simply watch the world pass by. Sometimes I’d be joined by my wife, sometimes I’d be joined by my stepdaughter, and sometimes by her and a host of her friends. But most times I could sit and ponder the world as it was.

Still, I would wave at the neighbors if I saw them and sometimes walk over and have a conversation with them about whatever was going on. One of my favorite neighbor couples were the Grohnkes, who lived a few houses down. They were an older couple, and both of them had lived in the neighborhood for decades – he was a lifer as I recall. Talking to them, I could imagine how the neighborhood was like in the forties and fifties when they were young. He worked at the old hospital that literally sat around the corner and she was the typical housewife. I could imagine her out in the backyard hanging her wash and talking to the next door neighbor or the lady back across the alley.

Back then, there were a couple small grocery stores in the neighborhood, one right on our corner. A drugstore was 4-5 blocks over. There was a small business center of a handful of commercial buildings at the closest main corner with a filling station. The largest feature in our area was the state hospital for the insane across from the old hospital. It was literally the edge of town – the city limits were at Detroit Avenue then.

I think in some ways I would have liked that time, at least as far as being neighborly goes.

But the area evolved. The hospital closed in the mid-1960’s, later becoming part of the new Medical College, then sitting abandoned for most of the time we lived in our house. Just before I moved, they renovated the old building into senior apartments, and did a nice job. Most of the land that was the insane asylum now belongs to the Medical College and some is being developed into a business park.

More importantly, the people who used to own the houses moved away. Some houses remained as owner-occupied, but a number became rentals. And as more houses became rentals, the quality of the neighborhood began to decline. Crime, once unheard of, became an occasional occurrence but one that was still too common. Garages in particular became fair game for burglaries as most were oriented toward the alley.

I moved into the area in 1991, when most people still considered it a desirable and well-kept area. I don’t want to say it’s become a slum by any means, but along with the increase in absentee landlords, the heart of the area is now slated to be ripped out. The old school which was built about the same time as my house is to be replaced by a newer building in another location. While the school will remain after its replacement is completed (originally scheduled for the summer of 2007), it’s fate is unknown. There’s talk that it should be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, to wit:

“Arlington Elementary School is an excellent example of Collegiate Gothic architecture that has experienced a minimum of insensitive renovation. It is one of the few Toledo schools that has experienced neither major additions or renovations. The richness of detail and fine execution of the style define Arlington as perhaps the finest example of Collegiate Gothic executed by the…Toledo Public Schools Architecture Department…we believe on architectural merits alone, Arlington Elementary School appears to meet the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.” (Historical survey by Mannik & Smith, 2002.)

But even if it stays, who will care for it? As the neighborhood becomes less and less owner-occupied, fewer people will want to get out and meet their neighbors – why bother when the place is just a way station on the path of life? And the houses will become solely cash cows for their owners, who will likely just do the minimum of upkeep on them. They start to deteriorate and rents start to go down. That attracts a lower element of people who care even less, and the death spiral begins.

It’s happened already in one neighborhood, where Toledo’s race riots occurred. A once-proud neighborhood gone to hell because no one really cared there anymore. I want the Grohnkes to live out their few remaining years in a nice neighborhood.

So why did I move out? Well, it wasn’t a matter of necessarily disliking the old house or the neighborhood. But wife #2 and I wanted a little bit more space and we found it out in the hinterlands of Wood County. However, we didn’t find marital bliss there nor did we find as many good neighbors. They all sat on their back porches as their main communal spaces faced inward instead of outward. Instead of walking down the street to see neighbors, I generally just talked to the two I had next door on either side. Kinda sucked.

I may not sit outside on these cold winter nights, but I do say hi to my neighbors when they pass. I live in an apartment complex now, but sometime I want a place to call home, and I want a good neighborhood to live in. Each of us should do no less than be good neighbors. It’s not just a State Farm slogan, it should be a way of life.

Sometimes capitalism sucks

Tonight I went bowling and I heard some sad news. The rumor I heard is that the bowling house where I bowled my summer league recently is meeting its wrecking ball demise soon. It’s a real shame, apparently the place is only 10 years old or so. Not only that, I just bowled a pro-am there for a PBA Wild Turkey East regional event in October.

It’s got to be hard on all those who signed up for a league over the last few months only to find their league’s being pulled out from under them. There’s not really enough vacancies at my current house, Seaford Lanes, to cover all these bowlers.

A sad story in some respects. Yes, Seaford will get its Home Depot or Lowe’s or whatever they’re putting up there. I know that it’s probably considered the “highest and best use” for the site, which sits on a relatively busy road but not right on U.S. 13 (that road sort of bypasses the main part of Seaford to the east.) And it’s not unheard of in this country to see a bowling alley go away. Where I lived before in Toledo, both of the former bowling centers that were situated close to the Westfield Shoppingtown were razed for retail establishments.

Now I come from a bowling family. I’m a proud card-carrying member of the United States Bowling Congress and Lower Delaware Bowling Association. My mom and dad were both league bowlers for years and years, they finally stopped just recently because they’re moving to Florida. Both of my brothers bowl, my brother LJ is the proud owner of rings for 298, 299, and 300 games. He, my other brother Tom, and my dad have all even participated in the ABC (now USBC) national tournament. I’m sure someday I will too, my game is starting to improve to that kind of level. Just tonight I got my awards for a set I bowled recently – 75 pins over average game and 140 pins over average series patches, a 200 game key chain, and 600 series card deck. Threw a 658 series (“triple deuce” – all 3 games over 200) with a 159 average. No, I’m not a sandbagger, I suck at converting spares sometimes. Much easier for me to throw a good game when I don’t have to worry about them.

(Note to USBC: Baltimore or Philadelphia would be nice places for your national tournament.)

However, these days there’s fewer and fewer league bowlers out there. Personally, I like having the opportunity to go out and bowl every Friday night. For a lot of folks though, it’s hard to have that kind of commitment in a 24 hour world, and I can understand that. Many houses have abandoned weekend leagues in favor of “glow bowling” where they create more of a party atmosphere. And, since the rolls of league participation and regular bowlers continue to shrink, a lot of houses find themselves sitting on land that’s far less profitable as a bowling center and coveted by retailers who like the idea of a property that already has all of the necessary services there and more than likely sits on a major thoroughfare.

There was a book out a few years back called Bowling Alone. It used that metaphor as an explanation of why Americans aren’t as social as they used to be, prefering to stay inside their houses and entertain themselves. I know how it is…I was married with a child (not once, but twice!) and there were a lot of nights where we ran ourselves ragged keeping up with what we wanted our (step)daughter to do in order to “keep her out of trouble.” Particularly with my first ex-spouse, we tried to do our part in our neighborhood – PTA, helping out with the young’un’s sports teams, Block Watch, etc., etc.

As it turned out, doing for others ruined us in a lot of respects (which is why we’re ex-spouses.) However, I think if the world were run a different way things would be a lot easier. A lot of couples are running themselves ragged because of one major factor: the wife has to work in order to maintain a lifestyle, yet also play mom to a child who ends up being a latchkey kid. I happen to think that moms are more nurturing and really want to be a mom, not necessarily attorney or real estate agent. (Now you can cite my track record as a married guy to know that my advice is worth the cost of this blog.)

It would not bother me a whole lot if people started to take the time and really consider the costs of “having it all.” I’m particularly annoyed by these places like Quicken Loans, who encourage people to take the one tangible asset they have equity in (their home) and borrow against it for yet more “stuff.” Let’s face it – is a big screen TV going to make you closer as a family when it sits silently because Mom’s working, Dad’s online, Johnny sits in his room listening to his iPod, and Sally is out at cheerleading practice?

Maybe if we focused less on “stuff” and more on quality time Mom and Dad can go join the ma and pa league at the local bowling house, grab dinner, and have a nice mini-date every other Saturday night. Or, even better, find an adult-child league and make a family outing from it.

It’s too late to save Strikemaster Lanes. But it’s not too late to reestablish family by cutting back on stuff and adding to quality time by letting Mom be Mom.

Welcome to monoblogue!

On my old site I somewhat confined myself to the political realm. But now it’s more about my passions on a lot of subjects.

I was actually trying to think of some serious weighty subject to do the “first” blog post on, but then a package arrived in the mail today. I’ve only waited 38 years for this shirt!

And there is a parallel in the shirt’s arrival to the purpose of monoblogue. On my old site I somewhat confined myself to the political realm. But now it’s more about my passions on a lot of subjects. (If you go to the “About” tab you’ll see something about my thoughts while creating monoblogue.) If you want to see my archives from the old website, I did place links to almost every one of my 100+ posts in the “ttrwc” section of the site. You’ll see that a lot of them are politically related. Politics is something I follow closely and will frequently comment on.

The post that may tell you a little bit about the 38 year wait for my shirt is the one called Joy in Mudhenville, part 2.

But tonight I’m just getting my feet wet here and making sure it all looks good. Tomorrow I’m going to catch up on my reading and start getting out the red meat. Actually, I’m watching the MAC championship and it’s tough to work back and forth while keeping focus. How’s that for honesty?