Thursday, June 30, 2005

The case for re-opening Locust Street.

Frequent reader and New Albany resident Jerry Steuerwald contributed the following comment, which argues in favor of the city of New Albany re-opening Locust Street to traffic.

This consideration was the main agenda item at Wednesday's Board of Public Works and Safety meeting. The board postponed a final decision until its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, July 12.

In essence, the school system's position is that as the campuses of New Albany High School and Hazelwood Middle School have been augmented and enlarged, the potential threat to the safety of students from intemperate drivers on a reopened Locust Street has grown to the point that the street must remain shut.

At the most recent Public Works hearing, several speakers proposed compromise solutions to help regulate traffic during the more crowded afternoon hours when school lets out.

Viewpoints, anyone?

See also Residents sound off on Locust Street reopening, by Amany Ali, Tribune City Editor. Jerry's column also was posted in today's Volunteer Hoosier.

Liberate Locust Street

By J.R. Steuerwald.

During the past few years, since Locust Street has been closed due to construction at Hazelwood Middle School, residents residing around Locust Street have seen traffic on our residential streets escalate.

Locust Street was designed by city planners to handle traffic wishing to travel between Vincennes and Silver Streets. Locust Street consists of two schools, two parking areas, tennis courts and the football stadium, none of which are occupied continually throughout the day.

Residents living around Locust Street live at and use their properties 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They should be able to have safe access to their homes and be able to allow their children to play on their property without having to be concerned about increased traffic flow and excessive speeds from drivers using their streets in the attempt to connect between Vincennes and Silver Streets.

Representatives of the school system at the June 29th Board of Public Works and Safety meeting for the City of New Albany would have you believe that their insistence on closing Locust Street is for the “sake of the children” and their safety.

I personally couldn’t agree more, but whose children are we talking about anyway? Many of the kids they claim to be interested in protecting come from the very same streets whose residents (131 of whom signed a petition) seek to have Locust Street re-opened.

The issue of whether or not Locust Street should be re-opened is more complex than our school children’s safety. No one on either side wants anybody put in an unsafe position, whether they reside on Locust Street or any other street in the area. No! This issue is bigger than that. Both the school system and the surrounding neighborhoods can peacefully co-exist if the traffic is managed during peak school hours.

I’ve lived in larger cities that change the traffic flow of major streets daily depending on the traffic needs. Locust Street doesn’t need to be closed to city residents who pay taxes to support New Albany schools, just because our city’s “leaders” can’t find a reasonable solution to this problem —manage the traffic during peak school hours and open the street to city residents!

I wait with anticipation to see how the Board of Public Works and Safety decides on July 12.

3rd District's Price AWOL as Board of Public Works & Safety and ESSNA come together at the Calumet Club.

In testimony before the Board of Public Works and Safety, which gathered Wednesday in a special evening session at the Calumet Club, numerous citizens spoke to the board, and the following was established beyond reasonable doubt:

They foul the streets and alleys with refuse.
They let their pets run rampant.
They drive too fast/recklessly/loudly/badly.
They don’t control their teenagers.
They refuse to maintain their property properly.
They sell, use and advocate drugs.
They are slumlords and just don’t care.

Perhaps Pogo was right, after all.

So, Tony, Steve and Chas -- you thought it would be easy serving on the Board of Public Works and Safety?

It was known well in advance that the most pressing issue on the agenda would be the future status of a section of Locust Street by New Albany High School and Hazelwood Middle School.

This part of Locust has remained closed during long years of seemingly endless school construction, and residents of Depauw Avenue and surrounding streets have grown correspondingly weary of heavy traffic through their neighborhoods.

The New Albany-Floyd County Schools insisted that having been given approval to extend their campuses in, around and over Locust, a resumption of traffic would pose a safety threat to the students, primarily during the afternoon when classes let out.

Faced with a crowd eager for a decision, and a Gordian street problem fairly begging for some variety of compromise, the three-member board chose the most rational solution – tabling the measure until July 12, and hopefully allowing time for the tripartite crystal ball to conjure a suggestion or three.

As is customary during the board’s regular Tuesday morning meetings, a wide range of issues were raised and discussed, with the city’s department heads present to take notes and be consulted about those questions falling within their jurisdiction.

A sampling:

Q. When will a bridge on Jolissant and a guardrail on Old Ford be prepared?
A. After it is determined whether the drivers who damaged them have insurance. If not, work proceeds and the driver(s) will be sued.

Q. Is it fair to issue citations for blocking the street sweeper when the streets aren’t being cleaned according to the regular schedule owing to equipment shortages?
A. The law is the law, irrespective.

Q. Should you get a busy signal when calling 9-1-1?
A. No, absolutely not. Police Chief Harl will investigate.

Q. Will the road up Spring Street hill be reopened?
A. Yes, if we can find the money necessary to make repairs the right way.

In addition to the department heads, four of the city’s nine city council representatives attended the public works meeting: Councilmen Blevins, Messer, Kochert and Schmidt.

Councilman Schmidt, who is a regular visitor to works board meetings, seized the occasion of reporting tall weeds at a site in his district to publicly “clear up something I’ve been blamed for,” which was erroneous information “in the paper and so forth” to the effect that he alone stood in the way of he council finalizing ordinance enforcement.

“The Mayor said ‘hold it,’ not us,” said Schmidt, who attributed the delay to waiting for financial signals from the state, then firmly added “I’m not the problem,” although he declined to identify the source of the report to which he referred, leaving most listeners confused but respectful.

3rd District Councilman Steve Price was unavailable for comment, having concluded that the first special night public works board meeting in recent memory, if ever, did not merit his attention and attendance in spite of it being held in his own district and hosted by the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association, one of the city’s most active proponents of community betterment .
Anyone noticing a pattern here?

Perhaps the absent Councilman Price can provide New Albany Confidential with a concert review of the Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson show, held tonight at Louisville Slugger Field, which CM Price also might wish to contemplate as municipal infrastructure investment carried forward by future-thinking visionaries despite the potential threats of nuclear holocaust, shark attack and gangsta rap.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

More work session thoughts from Tuesday night, June 28.

Random notes from last evening’s City Council work session:

It was encouraging to see representation from the Floyd County Council and Board of Commissioners.

Here's one conceivable scenario: At the July 7 City Council meeting, the chosen Scribner Place bonding/financing proposal (the third, sans property tax back-up?) is passed on a first reading. On Tuesday, July 12, the County Council confirms the indication of support from the Commissioners, permitting the second and third readings at the City Council meetings on Thursday, July 21.

The vote for the second and third readings is 6-3, with Councilmen Dan Coffey, Bill Schmidt and Steve Price nay-saying, and shedding the confederacy of Larry Kochert, who is honor-bound to support Scribner Place if the county comes on board.

Or not; who knows? And, what's the county's price for co-operation?

The Coffey Plan?


It was discouraging to hear Councilmen Coffey and Kochert ask questions of the YMCA’s ever dignified Joe LaRocca in somewhat dismissive tones of voice, as though to suggest that Mr. LaRocca hasn’t done his homework on matters like projected membership fees, and is somehow intent on foisting a YMCA on New Albany that none except the culturally suspect will ever use.


Funny how the Scribner Place project’s most persistent critics occupy and abandon "principled" positions with remarkable dexterity, yet always return to unsubtle and occasionally downright bizarre hints that the YMCA’s clientele will not be representative of New Albany's populace.

Nothing whatsoever is said about the potential position of social services in general, and LifeSpan Resources in particular, in the plan for the YMCA facility.


To the vast majority of human observers, the world is a dauntingly complex place. Fortunately, New Albany has 1st District Councilman Coffey to publicly elucidate the principles of benign simplicity.

Thus, while many of us look to towns of similar size and history like Columbus and Madison to serve as models for progress, the Wizard of Westside sets his gaze on simpler and better examples of cleanliness and organization.

“New Albany can be like Birdseye,” he said last evening, as an astonished crowd listened and asked, just exactly where is Birdseye?

And why would a council member compare Birdseye to a city of 40,000 residents?


Speaking of off-kilter relationships, if you can somehow picture Bo or Luke Duke as councilperson for Brookline, Massachusetts or Boulder, Colorado, then it’s easier to come to grips with the growing disconnect between incumbent Steve Price and the 3rd District, which he purports to represent.

Councilman Price, who remains the only council member to go on record as opposing Scribner Place under any circumstances (see UPDATED: Scribner Place: Who's for it, who's against it, and who hasn't decided) in spite of widespread support for the project within his council district, expended precious few breaths during the council’s work session, but the comments he did make were devoted to further shaping his emerging No Price for Any Progress Doctrine.

The future’s coming, twanged Councilman Price last night. Health care costs are going to keep rising, and costs will go up, and lightning might strike, so who are we to try and do anything now, when hunkering down might save us from ourselves 10, 15 or even 50 years down the road?

He's an embarrassment -- but he's our embarrassment.


Councilman Price is said to be a rabid fan of Seventies rock and roll, and his unfortunate constituents hopefully “Won’t Get Fooled Again” come election time in 2007.

Meanwhile, I prefer newer tunes, like “Move On,” by the Australian rock band Jet:

Well, I’ve been thinking about the future
I’m too young to pretend
It’s such a waste to always look behind you

You should be looking straight ahead

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

UPDATED: Councilman Dan Coffey on Scribner Place: “It’s gonna happen. It has to happen.”

Tuesday evening’s City Council work session, a gathering designed to share information with no votes proposed or taken, wasn’t two minutes old when 1st District Councilman Dan Coffey stepped to the plate, waving his bat menacingly, spitting on his hands, and pointing to the exact spot in deepest right center field (i.e., the water fountain in the corridor) where he proposed to plant the fat pitch coming his way.

But what followed could hardly be termed a mighty cut.

In fact, it was more like a tentative checked swing, producing a weak little dribbler to the mound – and when Coffey’s time at bat was mercifully concluded, and he returned to the dugout to punch the water cooler, the fans in the stand sighed and said yes, he deserved his chance to bat – now maybe we’ll score some runs.

Just as the sum of a half dozen zeroes is still zero, so the impact of the Coffey Plan, as presented by the councilman to an audience precluded by accepted protocol from speaking, and illustrated with poster board, magic marker and hastily assembled snapshots of dilapidated houses and potholed streets, was no more than that of a balefully muted fart at a rock and roll show.

Of course, the primary consideration of the Coffey Plan is that the proper name “Coffey” is affixed right where the councilman thinks it should be, in front of that other part, but the curious motif of Councilman Coffey’s typically egocentric performance on Tuesday night was an almost desperate appeal to arcane legalism – not the breathtaking, soaring flights of sheer semi-literate nonsense that so often characterizes his pseudo-professorial pronouncements on matters ranging from advanced hydroponics to the sexual habits of equatorial hedgehogs.

Amid the clutter of unrelated clauses, Councilman Coffey seemed to emphasize three main points.

1. The YMCA should remove the burden of Scribner Place from New Albany, since the city is far too factionalized by the Gang of Four’s obstructionist tactics to know how to use it, and then the city should take the money it saves by privatizing Scribner Place and use it to repair streets, sewers and other things that have remained stubbornly broken throughout Councilman Coffey’s long tenure on the City Council.

2. It is vitally important to realize that there might be any number of financing plans yet to be conceived over cigarettes and Captain Crunch, and we mustn’t forget this potential plethora of plans, even if it means a plan other than the Coffey Plan is adopted as the plan of record.

3. Just as Bill Clinton before him, Councilman Coffey will have you know that he has read the fine print of the Caesar’s Foundation grant agreement, and two years and forty pages later, it is crystal clear about the meaning of “is,” although “it doesn’t say ‘and,’ it says ‘or.’” This is crucial, and means that the city is free to sell its piece of the action to anyone foolish enough to accept the offer.

As a tactical rearguard action, the Coffey Plan remains a confused muddle of disparate components that cynically tosses a sliver of red meat to the clamoring “concern” yokels in the form of the aforementioned string of nulls, but has all the weight of a flea’s handkerchief when it comes to his chances of influencing the decision-making process with respect to Scribner Place, the lumbering machinery of which already is well removed from Councilman Coffey’s sweaty and perpetually conniving palms.

This leaves a modicum of obligatory strategic posturing for the next election, and a few stickpins in the household bulletin board for saying “I told you so” if alien spaceships elect to vaporize the YMCA a quarter-century from now.

That’s about it. It wasn’t at all clear whether he believed any of it himself.

By the work session’s end, Councilman Coffey was reduced to complaining about the condition of city streets, noting “I’ve still got a broken front end of my truck because of a hole in the road,” and smiling wanly as City Hall looked in his direction and thanked the council for helping them work things out.

By then, almost no one was listening.


In Wednesday morning coverage, the Courier-Journal correctly focuses attention on signals that county support for Scribner Place is on the way, relegating Councilman Coffey's tiresome bid to be seen as the contemporary Henry Clay to a paragraph near the bottom.

Floyd warming to Scribner Place; County officials join city meeting on plan, by Ben Zion Hershberg of the Courier-Journal (short shelf life for C-J links).

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Tribune wants to know what you think about Scribner Place.

In Friday’s Tribune, Managing Editor Chris Morris asks the newspaper’s readers to let him know what they think about the Scribner Place project.

He promises to anthologize responses on the editorial page, and closes with a commendably sly fait accompli: “Scribner Place is a huge part of our downtown’s future, and we want to know what you think.”

As a regular reader of NA Confidential, you really should drop Chris a line and provide him with your viewpoint on the issues surrounding the Scribner Place project.

You should do so even if your stance differs from mine.

Whether you agree or disagree, I’m confident that NAC’s regular readership will approach this hotly debated topic with confidence, literacy, style and a good command of the material.

Most of you embrace a progressive, future-oriented perspective, and the very existence of such a readership in a city so often denigrated as backward even by its own obstructionist citizenry helps to illustrate the point that there is hope for New Albany if only we learn to live and work more intelligently.

Emphatically, the word “intelligently” in this sense is not meant to imply heightened IQ, excessive book learning, incessant pointy-headedness or any other of the populist’s bugaboos.

Rather, the word refers to what we trust will be a new beginning in the life and times of New Albany, one that looks forward, not behind.

The Scribner Place project itself symbolizes a willingness, albeit sometimes tentative and uncertain, to harness the resources of New Albany as intelligently as possible so as to provide a destination that will spur investment in the city’s moribund downtown district, and accordingly, to provide benefits to all the city’s residents, not just the few.

That’s why we support Scribner Place.

Either way, please write Chris and let him know what you think. His e-mail address is

Get organized: ESSNA in the morning C-J; prime time Public Works meeting on Wednesday night.

“Welcome to the camp – I guess you all know why we’re here.”
Pete Townshend, from “Tommy”

NA Confidential is dedicated to the proposition that our place of residence matters, and contrary to the traditional prejudice inexplicably accepted by so many nay-saying city residents, that we are in fact capable of great things in this place.

In Monday’s Courier-Journal, Christopher Hall joins the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association as its volunteers devote a steamy Sunday to distributing information and brochures to area residents: New Albany group pushes improvements (short shelf life on most C-J links).

The urgency of forthcoming City Council votes on funding for the Scribner Place project inevitably has shifted focus away from the imperative of ordinance enforcement, which has been dangling in the pathless limbo of the council’s “awaiting action” box for some months.

See What does Bill Schmidt have against ordinance enforcement at Volunteer Hoosier, and Amany Ali's Tribune article last week that will be linked here when at long last it appears on the newspaper's web site).

As ESSNA president Greg Roberts makes very clear in Hall’s report, ordinance enforcement may have been deferred, but it has not been forgotten, and remains perhaps the one topic that united New Albanians of differing political, cultural and social milieus, with the possible exceptions of the parasitic slumlord class, whose properties would be the immediate targets of vigorous ordinance enforcement.

Don’t forget that on Wednesday night, June 29, the ESSNA will host an evening meeting for the Board of Public Works and Safety.

The meeting will take place at the Calumet Club, 1614 East Spring Street, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

This special prime-time meeting, which is open to the public, is the place to bring concerns, problems and complaints that run the gamut from stray dogs to crack houses, and the board couldn’t have chosen a more comfortable forum.

Previously in NA Confidential:

To Ms. Oates: You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.

Regular readers will recall NA Confidential’s running dialogue with fellow New Albanian citizen Laura Oates, who recently was appointed to the J. Goebbels Chair of Public Policy Debate at Bazooka Joe University in Oz.

Touchingly concerned that differing opinions might disturb the bucolic equilibrium of the civic-minded “squeeze cooperation out of my cold, dead hands, pointy head” denizens frequenting her blog -- a forum laughably purporting to espouse free speech so long as it doesn’t nudge past the Tribune’s editorial standards in reading comprehension or embrace a viewpoint that doesn’t jibe with the gospel according to anonymous “little people” (their choice of identity, not ours) -- Ms. Oates also recently banned NA Confidential and “Bluegill” from sullying the corridors of her daily exercise in anti-intellectual mob empowerment.

Consequently, when she and her bedazzled fans make preposterous claims and subject the reading community to the tender crayon mercies of Luddite logic (2 + 2 = whatever I feel like -- today), there is no way to respond or to further the discussion without expending precious bandwidth here at NAC.

And this we’re prepared to do yet again, at least until the “little people” decide to take the unprecedented step of reading an American history book and considering the inconvenient topic of censorship – something apparently not broached in Sociology 101.

Today at Speak Out, Lout (NA), Ms. Oates asks:

Infrastructure or swimming pools? The City Council has planned another “workshop” session on the Scribner Place project that will be held Tuesday night, June 28th, at 6:30PM on the 3rd floor. However, no public comments or questions will be allowed. Great way to get some support back under this thing, don’t let anybody ask questions and don’t listen to anybody’s opinion.

Currently there are more opinions about Scribner Place than there were cicadas last summer.

It has been at least three years since Regina Overton introduced the plan. How much time is necessary for the “little people” to become familiar with it and to formulate an opinion? Haven’t most done so already? Ms. Oates’ blog is all agog with the graffiti of anti-Scribner Place “concern taxpayers” and “new albany residents,” many of which have attended city council meetings regularly for years.

Did they not catch occasional references to Scribner Place in all that time? Haven’t they spoken against it during the public communications segment? Aren’t they taking turns frightening their “little” friends by creating vast conspiracies, and then fawning over knights in aluminum armor like Dan Coffey, who will deliver them from the future?

But, why should we be surprised? This thing is going to happen one way or another, and those who don’t like it better just shut up and keep their opinions to themselves. Most are just plain too stupid to know what’s good for them anyway. Right Baylor?

On several occasions lately, Ms. Oates actually has reminded her readers that Scribner Place is inevitable, with only the manner of funding remaining to be shaped by public participation, which she obviously hopes to influence, or would not be blogging in the manner she has. So, it’s fairly obvious that no one is asking the community’s troglodytes to shut up.

Rather, we’re asking them to make sense. With respect to opinions, NA Confidential has advocated a consistent policy throughout its existence:

You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts. *

Laura consistently has confused the two – opinion and fact -- during her stewardship of the “little people’s” blog, often indulging in the ham-fisted and non-discerning censorship of facts and factual discussions, while promoting flatulence as fact, and maintaining in a yet-to-be-determined fashion that the more downtrodden one is, the less that rules of civilized discourse and etiquette apply.

They’ll turn on you, Ms. Oates. Anyone seen our old chum Robespierre lately?

By the way, you’ll notice that consistently throughout the history of our debates, NA Confidential has referred to Laura Oates as “Laura” or “Ms. Oates,” opting for the more formal usage today because of her increasingly strident and intemperate treatment of my own given name.

Real smarts would tell you that since it's the ONLY plan, well then it must be a good plan.

After much deliberation, we choose to regard this sentence as intended in the satirical sense. Since it fails satirically, might it be regarded as a miscarriage of rhetoric?

Might this handy designation be extended to the whole of Speak Out, Lout (NA)?

We have all been witness to the rantings of the insolents who support the proposed city investment into the YMCA-Scribner Place project, and we are all well aware of the nasty, rude remarks they have hurled at those who do not support their point of view. Rather than discussing the issue with some measure of decorum, they resort to name calling, insults on intelligence, and accusations of political agendas.

Insolent? Who’s telling whom to shut up?

Time and time again, the “little people” have used Ms. Oates’ forum to vociferously demand the “agenda” of NA Confidential, Volunteer Hoosier and other progressive advocates in the city, and these entities have responded in essence that their agenda is progress, plain and simple.

Some of you are aware that when our friend Bluegill carefully and methodically responded to the opinions on Ms. Oates’ blog, and did so factually and utterly without “nasty” or “rude” hyperbole, his reward for doing so was being asked to leave, as his thoughts were deemed just too long-winded for the opinionated “little people” to be expected to digest.

It’d be like a person stepping into the cockpit of a plane and demanding to fly it, not because he has any factual proof that he knows how to fly an airplane (license, documentation, training), but because he “believes” he can do it (his opinion), and when you offer to teach him, he won’t listen because that’d take too long – and he’s in a great rush to go nowhere in particular.

The folks who do not agree with the city’s involvement in the project have been accused of an attitude of “no progress at any price”. I assert it is quite the contrary. The pro-spending crowd doesn’t seem to hear the pleas to invest in improvements and repairs to the inner city rather than plunking down huge amounts of money and resources into a venture that could potentially fail. Now, before anybody starts jumping up and down on that statement let me clarify. I personally would love to see a development such as the YMCA come to town, and I truly hope it will be successful. I am not against the YMCA development.

Advocates of progress take the view that public financing should be utilized in order to do as much as possible with the resources we have at hand, whether by low-risk expenditures in infrastructure development that will help broaden the tax base and revitalize downtown, bringing needed jobs to the city and priming the pump for further growth, or by continuing the work of repairing and improving the existing infrastructure. There is no reason why these two strategies cannot be pursued at the same time – other than a lack of will and the inherent defeatism of a minority of the city’s citizenry.

However, I do not believe that New Albany city government is in any position to be involved in the commercial end of this endeavor. Particularly when there are so many problems with our infrastructure, and a desperate need for code enforcement, along with many other issues that affect quality of life here. Speaking of code enforcement, since the Council passed the approval of the position and salary, we have made no apparent progress towards implementing the job. Are we still getting one? Or are we being told there’s no money?

There is no disagreement with respect to ordinance enforcement, although NA Confidential would like to see its scope broadened beyond the bare minimum proposed earlier this year.

LO: As for the Coffey Plan, I’m not so sure his plan would back this thing up all the way to zero’s. The city has already purchased land, and is in process of clearance and environmental cleanup. I believe that is a $1.5 million cost that has already been undertaken. The city plans to lease the cleared and cleaned land to the YMCA for $1 per year. One hell of a deal that would help any business get off to a good start (any hint of how to spawn more businesses?).

Entrepreneurs spawn businesses. They do so by taking stock of the requirements necessary for their chosen field of expertise, and then seeking to utilize those factors in a business plan. Cities everywhere attempt to influence entrepreneurs by establishing favorable conditions for business operation, which today involves more than tax abatements and giveaways. It involves making a city a place where the workers of the future want to live, and if the workers of the future live in a city, the jobs created by entrepreneurs will in part come to the city because the workers' skills and outlook are the valued commodities in today’s economy.

Quite simply, the YMCA’s target demographic is roundly and loudly detested by the people who seek to kill Scribner Place – and they make no effort to hide this fact.

But more significantly, the YMCA’s target demographic is precisely the one of most immediate appeal to the entrepreneurs Ms. Oates seeks, and with a more crucial long-term applicability to what we need to expand this zone into more residents downtown, which she also says she wants. One cannot simultaneously decry the lack of entrepreneurs, and attack the means of attracting them. We suggest that Ms. Oates take a long, hard look at Richard Florida’s body of work, among others. It’s obvious that she hasn’t thus far.

Now, the Redevelopment Commission has received its first $1 million payment from Caesar’s, and I’m not sure if those funds were used towards this aspect of the project or not. If so, that would mean our current investment is nominal. I suggest we leave it that way.

A new and exciting motto (i.e., pathetic excuse) now emerges: “No investment at any price.” It has a nice ring to it. Give Councilman Coffey two more years, and he’ll even find it in a dictionary.

But he doesn’t read. Too bad for his constituents, and for the remainder of the city, which he’ll willingly hold hostage to his own excessive vanity ... if we permit it.

One question that is nagging at me is… if there is going to be a bond issue, how can the City Council vote on issuing bonds that will be tied to a Grant designated to the Redevelopment Commission and the YMCA, but not to the City? I'm still digging for more on the original plans, and will hopefully have more details later this week.

It might be because the Redevelopment Commission is the city, but perhaps this is too simple a concept to build another conspiracy theory around.

A final thought: This may come as a surprise to many, but there is no doubting Ms. Oates’ sincerity. It is her methodology that is suspect, and her willingness to foment cultural warfare that is regrettable.


* Thanks to the Courier-Journal for reminding me of that one.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

A jazzy afternoon with friends.

Today was the occasion for an intimate gathering at the lovely Westport, Kentucky riverside home of my friends Burkhard and Kay Masuhr.

Through their company, Masuhr International Marketing (MIM), Burkhard and Kay dip their toes into a variety of interesting events and concepts, and during the past weekend, they were kept busy introducing virtuoso jazz bassist and composer Morrie Louden to Louisville.

Along with his regular pianist Mike Eckroth, and supported by sax and drums, Morrie performed on Friday night at the Chapman Friedman Gallery in downtown Louisville.

New Albanian Brewing Company helped sponsor the event and provided the beer (Community Dark), and I worked the cold plate alongside the wine dispensing station manned by Barry and Leslie, the good people from River Bend Winery, which operates on 10th Street, between Main and Market, in the shadow of the 9th Street interstate ramp.

It was a good crowd of perhaps one hundred people on Saturday, and excellent jazz all evening long.

This afternoon, Morrie and Mike played in the Masuhr living room for a small group of friends and patrons, while Burkhard grilled genuine Nurnberger sausages and Kay directed the festivities.

It’s truly remarkable to watch a musician like Morrie up close and personal, and then enjoy the added bonus of having a craft-brewed beer with him afterwards, and Diana and I are grateful to Burkhard for the opportunity to participate.

We returned home around eight p.m., and discovered the alley behind our house filled with neighbors impatiently awaiting the arrival of the police, who’d been called to do something about a noisy domestic dispute in an historically bad rental property that faces Elm Street.

A beating with a broomstick in broad daylight, suspects fleeing, crazed occupant screaming obscenities, probable drug use … in every respect, a grudging return to the real world following an idyllic afternoon of musical fermentation and stress relief.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Changing New Albany ... one troglodyte at a time.

When the Ohio Valley weather gets hot and sticky, many people retreat indoors to the comfort of their air conditioning units.

Others of a less contemporary bent simply move deeper into their naturally climate-controlled hillside caves.

Burrowed safely underground, New Albany’s native species of troglodyte takes shelter from the heat and the blindingly harsh light of the 21st century, but unfortunately for the future of the city, its electrical grid remains operational, permitting our cave dwelling reactionary to log on and merrily embarrass the community with fascistic blather ineptly disguised as heroic rhetoric in defense of the downtrodden common man.

As fictional detective Nero Wolfe is enduringly fond of saying: “Pfui.”

To cite an example, consider this characteristic snippet gleaned from Daffy, a proud supporter of Speak Out, Lout (NA), where the “little people” tinkle supreme and the perpetually enabling moderator somehow manages to maintain a straight face while claiming to abhor personal attacks and rudeness – unless, of course, these vicious assaults are launched by the anonymous character assassins she so loves to protect, in which case such cowardly abuse is transformed through the magic of selective interpretation into good points made by nice people who are misunderstood.

Readers, let's give it up for Daffy (June 24 posting):

“On the subject of Baylor and Freedom of Speech. We have came up with a New Label for Baylor: (Code Blue) DNR."

Note: Try to forget the botched grammar; they’re quite touchy about that.

Now, for those unfamiliar with the nomenclature of reality police shows, “DNR” means “Do Not Resuscitate.”

The fact that “DNR” might easily be applied to the inherent philosophy of the concentration camp or the Guantanamo disgrace, and in this instance suffices as Daffy’s irony-free expression of unqualified disdain for the supposedly shared American precepts of free speech and open expression -- well, yet again, it tells you all you need to know with regard to the values held by the “no progress at any price” sect in New Albany.

NA Confidential responds by doffing a chapeau to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in 1936, during his first of three re-election campaigns, stepped back to take stock of his critics, and pegged the situation with deadly accuracy.

''They are unanimous in their hate for me,'' Roosevelt concluded, “and I welcome their hatred.''*

Man, this is fun.

*See Alan Ehrenhalt’s June 12 New York Times book review of “Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House,” by John F. Harris.

County Commisioners tug on Kochert's policy rug; "concern taxpayer" spotted sticking pins in Garner doll

Loyal readers will recall New Albany's 4th district councilman Larry Kochert stating publicly during more than one city council meeting that he could not possibly support the downtown Scribner Place project without the participation of the county, a solemn utterance generally followed by the piercing, Duke Boys rebel yell of assent emanating from the direction of the 3rd District's ceremonial quisling, Steve Price.

Today we’ve learned that Floyd leaders get behind Scribner; Commissioners back New Albany project, courtesy of Ben Zion Hershberg of the Courier-Journal (limited shelf life for C-J links).

Next up is the County Council, where Larry McAllister already is tapping on the brakes of his late model used sedan, warning listeners like reporter Hershberg that unless there's a way to include realtor buddy Don McCartin in the transaction, it’s no dice for any council-supported venture.

Meanwhile, Councilman Kochert is said to be loading a picnic basket and embarking on a horse ‘n’ buggy excursion to the heart of local darkness, Speak Out, Lout (NA), to press the flesh with the unreconstructed Brambleberries and accept their semi-literate murmurings and thus contrive a new flagship objection to progress in the city.

Now that’s constituent service.

See also:

The Kochert Dilemma and News Reported, Commentary Deferred at Volunteer Hoosier, and have a fine muggy summer weekend.

Friday, June 24, 2005

State commerce agency to New Albany: It's dirty work, and we're happy you're doing it, not us

Statistics released this morning by the Indiana Department of Commerce show that the city of New Albany now leads the entire state in the production of unverifiable rumors and the fabrication of ambiguous statistics, with both these non-remunerative activities overtaking traditional retail and manufacturing as a source of amusement during waking hours, especially among a grayer demographic.

According to Indiana state economist N. B. Forrest, “New Albany traditionally has done wonders with spouting breathtaking ignorance and misinterpreting funky numbers,” but the percentage increase during the past three months has caught analysts completely by surprise.

“Quite frankly, we don’t know where all that mongering and factoid creation is coming from,” noted Forrest, who added, “New Albany currently is producing unmitigated nonsense at a pace far beyond that sustained by Indianapolis, a city many twenty times New Albany’s size.”

Unfortunately, New Albany’s recent success comes in a sector of the economy that many Indiana cities have abandoned in favor of more balanced, rational growth.

“The problem here is that the more people you have engaged in perpetuating irresponsible imbecility and conjuring phantom numbers, the fewer you get actually working and contributing to the tax base,” said Forrest, who in conclusion adds, “malice spreading and numerical mayhem keep a less skilled portion of the population busy, but many of us worry that’s it’s simply no way to run a railroad, much less a modern city.”

South Side Inn files bankruptcy, but owners are optimistic and will keep working

Enduring New Albany diner files bankruptcy South Side owners expect to recover, by Ben Zion Hershberg of the Courier-Journal (limited shelf life for C-J links).

This story carries more than a passing interest for NA Confidential, who is in the same business as Mark Troub and Jeannie Burchfield, the South Side Inn’s owners, albeit with a radically different philosophical intent and target market.

The “bankruptcy” headline actually produced somewhat of a shock over my morning espresso, as I’ve become so accustomed to thinking of South Side strictly in a metaphorical sense (see the masthead above) that the restaurant’s actual physical existence on Main Street is an afterthought.

Truthfully, I haven’t eaten at South Side since well before the current owners bought the business seven years ago, so it’s beyond me to comment on whether the restaurant’s bill of fare is prepared any better or worse than before, the point being that irrespective of location, it’s not the sort of food I typically seek.

Others do, and that’s fine with me. Symbolism aside, I'll be pulling for the owners make it back from their financial problems. According to the C-J’s Hershberg, Troub sees hope ahead for his South Side Inn:

“He said he also thinks the traffic he expects to be generated by the Scribner Place development, which is to include a YMCA and a municipal swimming complex in the next block, will help the restaurant enormously when it opens in two years or so.”

I wonder how many of his customers agree with that sentiment?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Councilman Cappuccino declares city administration null and void, invites YMCA to form provisional government with himself as regent

Councilman Cappuccino shifted uneasily in his venerable Lazy-Boy, the flickering images of an infomercial about amazingly inexpensive industrial-strength cleaning products bouncing off his tall, fat tea glass, the ice long since having melted during his period of contemplation.

He reached for a book … then remembered he didn’t read.

It was getting late in the game, and if Cappuccino didn’t do something soon, his city’s vital issue of the day might slip forward into reality, but there was a big problem with the project, and he simply must find the answer – and soon.

A trained expert in many fields of human endeavor, his cherished Bazooka Joe diplomas in civil engineering, mink ranching, cold fusion and underwater Peruvian basket weaving placed carefully alongside mortgage and insurance papers in the lockbox buried out back by the grill, Cappuccino jammed his eyeballs shut and flipped through the ancient yellowed file cards gathering dust in the nether regions of his buzz-cut cranium.

What was the nagging concern about the forthcoming project that kept him awake at night?

Fondling the public toilet keys that a grateful constituent had fashioned into a commemorative “thank you” bracelet, Cappuccino furiously inventoried.

Was it drainage this time? No, that didn’t sound right, and neither did sewer seepage, although both might be used to trump various other development proposals somewhere down the line.

Cappuccino’s gearbox hummed and moaned. Was the hillside too steep? Traffic too heavy? Reclamation costs too high? Bonding options offensive? Would the planned development result in the wrong type of snobby people crossing the boundaries of his district to inflict undesired modernity on his simple but utterly devoted tribe?

Yes and no; all these objections seemed relevant in one way or another, and to be sure, the very notion of progress symbolized by the development project violated his sworn oath to the creed of the Luddite civic forefathers, the Cappuccinos of old who watched, whittled and wailed as the city was built around their non-compliant selves, but none of these matters caused him indigestion.

What was nagging him?

Glancing out at the photos of his life arranged in meticulous chronological order on the dust-free mantel shelf, Cappuccino saw himself as a rosy-cheeked young man, fresh out of junior high, with a hall pass in his pocket and his whole life ahead of him.

The brittle image now stared back at the aging public servant, who felt his eyes moisten as a surge of conviction gathered force and struck him across the forehead with all the finality of a turbo-charged vintage Mustang tearing down I-64 toward Holiday World.

Why hadn’t it occurred to him before this?

The development proposal that so plagued Cappuccino surely was missing its single most important ingredient, the key fundamental element, the one crucial aspect without which there could be no hope for his approval, no chance for the project’s ultimate success, and no progress at any price.

Why, Cappuccino himself.

The councilman’s indelible stamp was nowhere to be found. Neither had he giddily appeared on television, nor had the public seen his stern and statesmanlike visage displayed in the local newspapers.

Kept infernally busy interfering daily with affairs in council districts other than his own, Cappuccino had thus far played a negligible role as the development project was debated and inched forward, and now, with the clock ticking, how could he yet manage to claim credit for moving the project forward – or, as the case may be, for tossing the decisive spanner into the works to have the project stopped or altered, thus discrediting his major political enemy?

Not that politics should enter into it, mind you, Cappuccino giggled to himself.

The councilman needed a plan, and he needed it fast. He knew that mundane considerations like environment concerns, even if conjured from thin air with the assistance of embittered and opportunistic local office seekers, would put the voters to sleep faster than pointy-headed classical music or those boring, word-filled screeds on economic development in the 20th century, so he needed to go straight for the jugular, just the way he’d been taught so long ago while taking the correspondence course from the fine folks at the George C. Wallace Academy of Populist Demagoguery.

As a last resort, hit ‘em in their wallets, blind ‘em with finances – and don’t stop until they squeal.

Cappuccino would interject himself into the debate by creating a tragic financial logjam where none existed before, then rush like the 7th cavalry to the rescue, with a grand compromise to save the city from ruin, and restore the Cappuccino luster in the run-up to maintaining his place on the public payroll during elections two years hence.

Finally, it all made sense.

Heart pounding and head spinning, Cappuccino quickly jogged into the kitchen, reached into the crock pot, and transferred a considerable glob of slowly simmered barbecued bologna into his waiting mouth.

Rewards like this made public service worthwhile.

But there was more to come. The councilman's last-minute compromise had to have a name.

Why not the Cappuccino Plan!

Abruptly pausing in mid-chew, Cappuccino’s face suddenly turned crimson. There was one small problem with the solution to the problem he’d created. He needed numbers – any numbers would do, so long as they looked imposing on paper, and added together, were ambiguous and capable of being molded like waiting clay – not unlike his loyal acolyte in the 3rd district – into whatever form was needed at the time of presentation.

Numbers weren't Cappuccino's strong point, but fortunately, he knew where to reach out for help, fondling his rotary dial phone and inserting a stubby, sauce-smeared finger.

“Anna? Hi, how are you? They’re fine, thanks. Listen, Anna, I need some numbers … ”

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Two classics at Volunteer Hoosier are required reading in progressive New Albania

Let’s give credit where credit is due.

Today at Volunteer Hoosier, a tour de force is in progress.

Our friend and fellow blogger Randy Smith has issued not one, but two magisterial analyses of issues pertaining to our city’s future, each focusing on a city council member who exemplifies the discredited attitudes of the past.

Here are the links, with excerpts:

Coffey Brake, or, If I Could Save Time in a Bottle

I'm here to tell Mr. (Dan) Coffey, quality of life doesn't just happen. As an elected official, it is his responsibility to use the resources of this community to build. It is not his prerogative to sit on his ass and rely on "someone else" to do it. He must be accountable to the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh generations.

William's Rules of Order, or, It Don't Matter to Me

Which brings us to Exhibit A: William Schmidt, member of council and a key to the unity of the do-nothings on the New Albany City Council.After watching this man over the last six months and after seeking the counsel of dozens of New Albanians, I have come to the conclusion that the Hon. Mr. Schmidt is one of the irredeemable members of that council.

Randy summarizes thusly:

It is time for those who want to see New Albany thrive to make their voices heard, and loudly. We're more than two years from the next election, but the progressive faction in this town must speak up now, on Scribner Place next month, on vigorous code enforcement in the coming months, and on each and every issue that arises during the next two years. Do not yield your city to the know-nothings, the luddites, the "no progress at any price" faction.

NA Confidential has little to add to Randy’s impressive work today, other than to agree and thank him for his eloquence.

The question remains: Progress or regress?

Randy has presented the case for progress, and done so in factual, unyielding prose, using the English language as it is meant to be used, as a means of conveying subtlety of context, nuances of meaning and shading of expression.

To present the case for regress, we’ve chosen an unedited Trog Blog posting that appeared yesterday:

Seniors Against Scribner Place said ...
Let the YMCA PAY FOR IT! Yes we have been lied too. No wonder the City Council can't figure out the money sisution. This Adminstration is not giving all the facts. When you really think about it. It could be alot more than $20 MILLION. Not with my damn taxes.

That says it all, folks. Which writer best represents the sort of place you wish to raise your children?

The C-J's Bozich provides a devastating sports metaphor for New Albany's semi-literate Brambleberries to contemplate

As we resume the generally fruitless daily search for a solitary scrap of honor among the city council’s Gang of (Obstructionist) Four, their weekly attacks on the very notion of New Albany's future tense long having passed from amusingly undereducated blather to pathetically non-civic minded hooliganism, and as Dan Coffey unfurls his next plan to gut economic development in his own district, pausing only to gulp barbecued bologna while his Siamese Councilman cohort Li’l Stevie strums 70’s tunes amidst the ruins of Scribner Place … Louisville is having its own debate on the merits of progress vs. regress, in this instance with respect to the construction of a downtown arena.

Courier-Journal sports columnist Rick Bozich plunges straight to the heart of the matter with his column of Tuesday, June 21.

Here’s an excerpt designed to strike metaphorical chords among close observers of the life and times of New Albany:

“This is an opportunity to do something for a younger generation of Louisvillians who are hungry to look beyond the tenacious proponents of the status quo. This isn't simply about what is best for the University of Louisville. It is about what we want the sports landscape to look like in 10, 20, 30 years.”

And this:

“Robert Smith is from a different generation … he is 68 and retired from General Electric. But he understands what the younger generation is thinking.

“How could that be?

“Because he and his wife have raised six daughters. Not one has remained in Louisville. Not one.

“Four have left for other states because of better opportunities and lifestyles. More things to do.”

Young people have their day in arena debate, by Rick Bozich (limited shelf life on C-J links, so read it now).

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Rog's rant: On the very nature of nay-saying

(Promise I won't do it again for a while - RAB)

We spent the weekend in Chicago, and as is the case every time I return home from a trip, it takes a few days to adjust to the state of mind.

The culture shock stands to be a bit greater this time.

Our hotel in Chicago, chosen because it was the cheapest in close proximity to downtown, was located in the heart of Chinatown, one hundred yards from the subway stop and several thousand miles away from just another place to stay.

By this I mean that Chicago’s Chinatown is just that – touristy to an expected degree, but filled to the brim with, well, people from China (and some from Vietnam, Malaysia and other Asian locales). Sometimes none of the voices to be heard are speaking English. It’s easy to catch yourself thinking that you’re somewhere else, not Illinois.

Stand at the right spot, and the aromas of cooking fill the street, emanating from ubiquitous restaurants with dining rooms often tucked away on upper floors, eateries relieving tourists like us of our cash while pulling extra duty as community centers.

Early Sunday morning we entered a bakery and were shooed into the almost hidden rear section, where the satellite television was entirely in Chinese. The staff spoke English, but the customers in the crowded room paid little heed to it. I checked off breakfast choices, including dim sum and doughy pastries, on a card and handed it to the waitress, who returned with tea and hot sauce.

What were the men talking about? I’ll never know what the men smoking by the no smoking sign were talking about, but their conversation was animated and filled with laughter.


We returned home today, and after checking e-mail, I perused the local blogs and other usual daily sites, thinking all the while that while it’s a clear case of apples and oranges to compare the range of options and attractions in an immense metropolitan area like Chicago to those in and around Louisville, at the same time, why must we perpetually insist that superstition and backwardness are our best friends?

I’m not speaking here about Scribner Place, Cannon Acres, the City Council, the Mayor, or any of the specific local political topics that have been discussed at NA Confidential since its inception last year.

Rather, with the memory of Chicago’s vibrant neighborhoods and can-do spirit fresh in my mind, I’m referring to the recurring phenomenon hereabouts that currently enjoys its most prominent, and saddest, manifestation in apoplectic opposition to progress in the city of New Albany, an opposition that unfortunately doesn’t confine itself to screaming that present circumstances stand in the way of progress, but that taken together, all past mistakes by any and all politicians and community leaders indicate that we simply can’t do anything right, and should never, ever try.

I am utterly sickened by this cancerous attitude.

Why, if not stemming from unadulterated envy, is it that people who lack the ability to understand insist that their incomprehension is sufficient reason to deny others the opportunity to learn?

Why, if not from simple self-loathing, is it that people take pride in their ignorance, rather than take the steps necessary to gain knowledge?

Why, if not from our own timidity and a respect for fair play that goes far beyond that accorded us in return, should people like these be allowed to use their own lack of imagination and creativity as veto power over varieties of progress that will benefit the remainder of the community?

Of course, these shrieking cyber-punks are not the truly downtrodden, genuinely poverty-stricken, disenfranchised "little people" they so fancifully imagine themselves to be, and since no one else will say it, I will: These "Concern Taxpayers" and "New Albany Residents" don't care one jot for those in this town who really do have it badly.

It's all about tearing down ideas and people that they wrongly perceive to be "above them," not lifting up those they're comfortably sure are below, and even though this is nonsensical at best and repugnant at worst, it's the way it is.

In defense of people like these, it was recently stated elsewhere that they:

“Are not stupid, ignorant, recessive thinking globs of people. (They) are people who happen to have a different opinion, or aren't quite convinced that this (progress) is a good idea.”


Readers, if you haven't already done so, go to the pink spitwad blogyard and feel the hatred oozing between the angry words. Consider the anonymity that cloaks it. Remember that its readers support all-American concepts like censorship. Now, ask yourself: What is it that would make these people happy beyond the confines of their own four walls, and the knowledge that not one cent of their taxes went to fund a better community?

It isn't pretty, is it?

In fact, it's often vicious, and goes far beyond reasoned debate and benign disagreement.

Stupid? Ignorant? Recessive (spregressive, Laura)?

Their words. Not mine. And if the shoes fit ... then wear them to exit New Albany, like our best and brightest young people continually do, because always standing between them and the remaking of a city in the future tense are the nay-saying Brambleberries, prepared for no sacrifice or gainful efforts of their own beyond that necessary to brutally kneecap progress in any form and preserve their own fiefdoms of futility.

Or, as I've done, you can stay right here and join me in fighting the Luddites every step of the way. To those who have no plan of their own, and want to make sure that progressivism is not allowed to have one, either, because they hate the future just as much as they hate the capable and talented, I've got this to say: you cannot win. You cannot stop the globe from spinning, or the pages of the calendar from turning.

We'd prefer their cooperation in making this city a better place to live, but we're quite prepared to do it without them.

Heh heh. I feel much better now.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Oye Como Va

It was a mistake to get a Santana greatest hits cd. With it blaring over my computer speakers, nothing else seems very important.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Polar Pop and a loaf of bread / Retailitis going through my head

aka .. the travails of purchasing a Sunday 'Bune. Cruising into Big Foot to get a newspaper, I was confronted by an annoying queue. Three ahead of me in line to pay was a stringy-haired young man in a ball cap. He was buying a polar pop and a loaf of bread, and he was using a credit card. Sigh.

Between him and myself was an undecided duo, who were gesturing in an "after you, my dear Alphonse" manner to each other, until it got settled that the man would go first, and the chubby girl with a bare midriff demurred. The man's purchase was a pack of cigarettes, which meant that the befuddled geezer at the cash register had to shuffle around to locate the exact brand request; and, naturally, the man wanted to add a scratch-off ticket to his final tab. Grrrrr.

I admit Ms. Chunk was a surprise. She had no purse to play in and out and out and in money games with; and she summarily dropped her dark brown wrapped Hershey's candy on the counter, and brandishing a 20-dollar bill, she efficiently announced that she also needed 10 dollars worth of gas on pump 2. Brilliant.

If I hadn't had a 'Bune under my arm, I probably would not have noticed all this, a delay line not being phenomenal in nature. But I had it in my head that I wasn't going to start reading the 'Bune until I could spread it on my desk, at home. Moreover it is uncomfortable for me to read standing up.

The 'Bune is now placed in position, but I have to see whether the Braves or Reds win today's tight one first. Anything to delay the torture. And gee, maybe the cats are hungry by now. And does the grass in the back yard need cut again?

pre-mature senile dementia notwithstanding

I temporarily forgot how to make a posting. Anyway, in the words of my ol' buddy John Bierly... "Hey, corndogs."

Which is another way of saying the store is now open for bidness (sic).

Meanwile, I have to vamoose the den to go do some real labor; upon return the Sunday 'Bune will be under my arm, and we shall see what delights it holds.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Historical Preservation Commission philosophical over the loss of the Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Depot

Sad but not entirely unexpected news comes to us from Ted Fulmore, chairman of the Historical Preservation Commission, who read "First Schmitt warehouse disappears from Scribner Place project zone" earlier this week in NA Confidential.

Obviously, we’ve lost in our effort to save the Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Depot.

The team that was working on the proposal to save the building consisted of representatives from the Commission, Historic Landmarks, and DNA. Their efforts should be commended. However, the work done was not in vain, as it has served as a learning experience for all involved.

Ultimately, the City decided to remove the building. The Commission supports the decision. We lament the loss of this structure but acknowledge the extreme importance of the Scribner Place project to New Albany.

This loss stands in contrast to the incredible success we saw during the month of May. The dedication of three historical markers, walking tours of Downtown and Mansion Row, preservation workshops, public forums – events that brought hundreds of people to New Albany. This was a celebration of the assets we have as well as way to raise awareness.

The Commission will continue its mission to preserve the historic character and fabric of New Albany. The remaining challenges facing the Commission, and all who support progress in New Albany, will be to continue the momentum we now have – working as advocates for New Albany, learning from our experiences, and proactively looking for new ways to advance our cause.

Ted, thanks so much for the update. We all appreciate the work performed by the commission, and look forward to a continuing expansion of its mission and influence locally.

Monday morning (June 20) meeting to discuss the effects of privatizing social security

NA Confidential was forwarded this information by a friend, and although we'll be out of town and unable to attend, some readers may be interested.

On Monday, June 20th at 10:00 a.m. at the New Albany Public Library there will me a meeting to discuss Social Security and the impact privatizing it will have on rural communities (Indiana's 9th district is considered rural).

The main speakers with be US Representatives Bob Ethridge (D-NC) and Marrion Berry (D-AR).

I know it may be difficult for some of you to be there, but please spread the word to anyone who may be interested in coming out and joining in the conversation.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Examine Scribner Place financing options at Volunteer Hoosier

Over at Volunteer Hoosier, Randy Smith has posted his notes and analysis of the three Scribner Place financing options that were discussed during the work session that preceded Thursday night’s city council meeting.

You Tell Me Which is Best

It is possible that this posting brings to close a very busy news day for the city of New Albany. Prompted by the council meeting and Scribner Place news, the Courier-Journal ran two stories today, and the Tribune one, along with an editorial. Volunteer Hoosier with four, and NA Confidential's three, rounded out coverage on the city's blogs.

That comes to eleven articles in one day, each filled with information and perspectives on local political issues, Scribner Place, and the life and times of the city.

To provide another viewpoint, and to offer prove for the axiom about leading a horse to water, here's a sample anonymous posting from Speak Out Loud NA, unaltered and unedited, so as to retain its characteristic eloquence.

Concern Taxpayer said...

James Garner is not going to get a dime outta the county council! And it has been in the making for at least 3 years to move the first floor office to the new location. So why do you and others keep complaining about people who do not agree with you all? Build Scribner place without property tax backup! Between the YMCA and the boat. And private donation build it. But leave the City of New Albany out of it. So because you do not agree with us. "IT MAKES YOU RIGHT AND US WRONG." If you all think your going to be able to convince the people of New Albany that this whole deal has no risk. Why do you wonder why our Council Members are getting so many calls against Scribner Place? And like Susan Johnson said if there is no sewer credits. Nothing will be built.. Can you one of the Band of Brothers see we know what your doing! Susan has been working with Sewers for along time. And she does have sewer in her yard and home. Even behind The Hampton Inn there is raw sewage. You need to stop trying to spin this to Benfit this Adminstration. Because people are not buying it. So like I said build it without property tax backing!!!!There is not enough Votes on The City Council to attach Property taxes for the Bond..From what Susan told me today. Between Roanoke And Mc Donald Lane Another block of force main needs replaced. And if it is not done. It will end up costing Additional millions more. The sewers are not completed!!!

'Nuff said.

Meet Joe, my guest host, who'll be gigging this weekend

Perceptive readers will notice the name of a new contributor appearing on the top right of this page.

Lifelong west ender Joe Kerstiens and I go way back, much further than I’m sure he cares to acknowledge. After an early stab at a player-coach relationship, we settled for friendship on a more equal footing, beginning in the early 1980’s and continuing to the present day.

Joe has graciously agreed to serve as NA Confidential’s guest host of sorts, and as I’ll be out of town this weekend, it seems an ideal time to make the introduction.

Thanks, and welcome aboard.

This is merely a test

were it an actual emergency, you would be instructed where to go.

As it is, you can just go ....

Tribune: “Scribner Place should not be a scare tactic”

Today’s Tribune editorial on the political games being played by Scribner Place’s city council opponents is the newspaper’s clearest and most scathingly accurate statement on the topic to date.

Previously, the Tribune has settled for stating its support for the Scribner Place project, but with today’s powerful expression of principle, it is evident that the growing sense of exasperation with hackneyed political demagoguery felt in the city’s emerging progressive corners has not passed unnoticed by the newspaper’s staff.

Because the Tribune’s editorials and columns are not archived on-line, we’ve copied the text for your reading pleasure.


Scribner Place should not be a scare tactic

As debate continues and some insist on finding flaws with funding proposals for the Scribner Place project, the city is losing more time that could be spent building the proposed downtown development.

Next month, Mayor James Garner will present the City Council with a $16.8 million bond proposal that will be used to help fund the city’s portion of the project, which includes a YMCA, aquatic center and private development.

The bond is in jeopardy of being voted down. Some council members say they are concerned about one of three proposals that would use property taxes to back up the bond and save the city about $1.7 million.

The financial consultants – those who actually know – say the plan will not increase taxes on local residents. Instead, using property taxes only helps the city’s credit in securing the bond.

It appears that some council members are using the property tax backup as a scare tactic with constituents, yet another method of playing politics. At least one wants to remove the city from the project and hand it over to the YMCA. Again, those who know say that the YMCA would face the same financial hoops as the city. However, the city actually has more avenues of obtaining dollars.

Money to fund Scribner Place will not be used from the city’s general fund. They received $20 million from the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County. The city would be foolish to jeopardize that generous gift.

Downtown New Albany is not often given $20 million to help a dying area. Rather than politic that away, the council members who seem to invent new barriers need to realize the scope of what Scribner Place could mean for the future of downtown New Albany – including the west end, which could use a boost.

Price to citizenry: I'm scared, and you should be, too

It’s a wonder that 3rd District Councilman Steve Price ever leaves his house.

Just think of all the problems out there in the real world, and how at any moment, without warning, things might go tragically wrong.

As he noted last evening, “lightning can strike.”

So can earthquakes, cyclones and droughts, and if the wrong mosquito bites you, it’s all over.

Food? Think of all the additives and chemicals, the undiagnosed allergies, the chicken bones down the throat, and that whole disgusting Wendy’s chili story.

What about traffic? You’re lucky to make it across the street alive. Any minute, some moron using a cell phone might swerve across the center lane … and then what?

As he approaches the threshold each morning, does CM Price question the efficacy of stepping outside into a world filled with inherent risks?

Does he pause, quavering at the prospect of the unthinkable, then crawl back into a warm bed to “look at the bigger picture?”

Such a reaction seems plausible, given that he has taken to regular expressions of fearful and apocalyptic caution at each and every city council meeting, usually at the precise moment that the words “Scribner Place” are mentioned.

We’ll leave the Pavlovian implications of Price’s jerking knee and ticklish larynx to those trained in the fields of psychology, sociology and Wal-Mart shopping.

Credit my unrepresentative representative for having completed a difficult mid-term transition, from clinging Coffeyite toady to cynically calculating practitioner of the political art of the scare tactic, which is designed to arouse groundless fears in the minds of voters, and then to cite these fears as evidence of the claim he is making.

Accordingly, New Albany’s “no progress at any Price” sect is happy to have Li’l Stevie as its council spokesman. Although council allies of the unreconstructed Brambleberries, apart from Price, remain on board the Luddite bandwagon, their public rhetoric has become increasingly muted, leaving him as the Ken Doll rallying point for the retrograde movement to 1948.

But what’s a rally without a flag?

From this point forward, any problem we face as a community will be hurriedly hoisted up the anti-Scribner Place flagpole to observe the reactions of the troglodyte populace. Here's their pitch:

Cataclysmic, once in a lifetime rainstorm … proliferating meth labs … sewer repairs …pot holes … teenage pregnancy … the alarming fact that we can’t find a really good Reuben sandwich at any of our downtown lunch spots?

Scary, huh? With problems like these, how can we afford Scribner Place, especially since they’re going to use your property taxes to pay for it?

See, look – the people are scared! Circle the wagons! Like that great Democrat FDR said, “we have nothing to fear but ourselves!

Of course, when the attention span of terrified residents begins to wane, yet another reason to be afraid will be substituted for the previous one, it will be linked directly to Scribner Place, up the flagpole it will go, and the process of disinformation will be repeated.

Set against this incessant refrain of negativity, there is the patient voice of City Hall, which does not explore the depths of our degradation, and does not conclude that we can’t, but instead, proposes to illustrate how we can.

That’s progressive.

Media Coverage of last night’s meeting:

Louisville Courier-Journal
New Albany rejects proposed subdivision on Kenzig Road, by Ben Zion Hershberg (short shelf life on Courier-Journal links).

New Albany Tribune
Plan proposes using property taxes to back up Scribner Place bond, by Amany Ali, Tribune City Editor.

An excerpt from the Tribune article:

Randy Smith isn't being fooled by anyone. And neither is Rick Carmickle. Both understand the meaning and purpose of a proposal for the city to use property taxes to back up a bond to fund a downtown development project.

Volunteer Hoosier (that'd be ... Randy Smith, who isn't being fooled)
Open Letter to Some Friends
Public Purposes

Coffey to Redevelopment Commission: I'm clueless, and you should be, too

Consultant to help with Scribner Place; City seeks advice on development, by Ben Zion Hershberg of the Courier-Journal (limited shelf life on C-J links).

Here are excerpts from Hershberg’s article:

The New Albany Redevelopment Commission has chosen Browning Investments Inc. of Indianapolis to advise the city on attracting private development in the second phase of the Scribner Place project downtown.

Jack Messer, a member of both the city council and redevelopment commission, said he is pleased the commission is proceeding with the planning of the project's second phase.

He said he hopes plans for the private construction are ready by the time the YMCA and swimming complex are completed in 2007 …

(Messer) said Scribner Place, including the private development he expects it to attract, should have a major impact on downtown New Albany.

… Dan Coffey, who also is a member of the City Council and redevelopment commission, said he doubts Scribner Place will attract the kinds of private development Messer, Garner and some others expect.

He said he doesn't think the market exists in downtown New Albany for such private development at this time.

For the record, Dan Coffey represents the 1st council district, which arguably stands to benefit the most from both Scribner Place and any future redevelopment in the project's immediate vicinity.

Meanwhile, the market that currently exists for "such private development" extends well into the 3rd District, represented by Steve Price, who also is opposed to the Scribner Place project.

Naturally, the potential market ranges far beyond the blade-thin perspectives of Coffey and Price, who seem to be echoing the traditional New Albany refrain of "we can't."

Hershberg's last sentence would have been far more accurate had it read like this: “Coffey said he doesn’t think the vision exists in his own mind for such private development at this time.”

Not now ... not ever.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

City council tonight, but first, a few words about the nature of progress

As it is stated in formal legalese:


Tonight's agenda is posted here.

Here is Amany Ali's Tribune article today (thanks Rick C.): City Council to take on Scribner Place tonight

Expect the city's "no progress at any price" sect to continue its rear-guard action against Scribner Place at tonight's meeting, with speakers warning us that the slimmest possibility of higher taxes a decade or more down the road is reason enough to abandon all efforts to maintain a civil society in New Albany.

I beg to differ.

From here on, when the words "not with my property taxes" are spoken, I will instead hear, "not with my participation," and I will ask: "Why don't you want to participate in making a better community?"

"Are you opting out from the benefits, as well?"


At the June 6 city council meeting, a citizen speaker asked a rhetorical question:

What makes a progressive community?

The speaker proceeded to suggest three components of a progressive community.

It seeks solutions where none exist.

It is collaborative.

It builds, not divides.

Unfortunately, the speaker’s conclusion did not logically follow from his premises, which is a significant and common flaw in argumentation, but this should not prevent us from acknowledging their merits.

By definition, to be progressive is to move forward and advance. Progress need not be feared, as it is by some in this city, as a process that inevitably destroys, uproots and assaults traditional values.

Rather, to be progressive is to see our surroundings as they are, recognizing that the world around us will continue to change and evolve without our approval, our co-operation, or even our consultation, and in the end, see that our best hope is to advance with it, free to learn from changing circumstances, adapt to them, and create our own solutions.

Receptivity to new ideas and new methods is a central facet of a progressive worldview, and when applied toward the imperative of improving the quality of life in New Albany, such an attitude of openness must characterize our economic development strategies as well as the view we hold of ourselves as members of a community and possessors both of rights and responsibilities.

At this crucial juncture in the history of New Albany, we see elements of a progressive ideal struggle to take root and grow. These efforts are manifested by the actions of citizens both within and outside of governing circles, ranging from small businessmen downtown to the members of neighborhood associations, and from earnest bids to advance the cause of historical preservation to worthwhile and justifiable governmental projects to provide impetus to revitalization.


Scribner Place is one such project, and as might be expected given a community experiencing abrupt transitions in political and cultural realms, it has been transformed from its fundamental nature as a legitimate investment in the overall public good, into a symbolic representation of all that is feared and misunderstood about a changing world – and, accordingly, something to be attacked as the cause of problems rather than a likely source of relief.

The June 6 speaker’s premises are correct, but his conclusion – that Scribner Place must be abandoned by the city of New Albany and handed off like an unwanted puppy to elements of the private sector that would never have become involved in the project without the city’s participation – is entirely mistaken.

In fact, Scribner Place embodies the notion of seeking solutions where none exist. Prime but under-utilized downtown real estate is to be developed, attracting further investment in a struggling downtown area and a rising tax base that will benefit each and every New Albany citizen.

In fact, Scribner Place is collaborative, bringing together the YMCA, the Caesar’s Foundation and LifeSpan Resources, in a plan conceived by Republicans and brought to fruition by Democrats.

In fact, for these reasons and many others, Scribner Place stands to assist in the building of a better community, not dividing it, but only if the project is seen for what it is and what it is intended to achieve, and not as a convenient repository for all the anxieties and uncertainties felt by normal people who sense change in the offing, and are frightened by it.

As exemplified by the June 6 speaker, there are those amongst us who continue to willfully misrepresent New Albany’s bright opportunities for progress in the context of projects such as Scribner Place and the Cannon Acres sports park, some who do so for politically motivated reasons, others from the dictates of bizarre pathologies that defy both description and reason.

It is at best untrue, and in at worst profoundly harmful, for those who fear progress to insist that money, in the form of that most virulent of contemporary bugaboos, taxation, is the sole determining factor when it comes to planning today for life’s realities tomorrow.

The tired adage about death and taxes still applies, and money is a fact of life, without which options are limited, but it isn’t the yardstick that human beings use to measure vision, character or commitment to ideals, which are critical intangibles that define the aspirations and achievements of the human spirit.

When the day comes that we regard money – or the lack of it – as the only means by which to measure our hopes and dreams as a people and as a community, we will have forfeited completely the lessons taught to us by our forbearers, people who did not come to New Albany riding wagons filled with gold ingots, but instead arrived here with ideas and the muscles, sweat and determination to build a city.


It should suffice to state that the next two or three city council meetings are very important for the future prospects of New Albany.

Those among us who seek progressive ways of dealing with our problems, who understand the urgency of revitalizing the city’s moribund downtown district, who grasp that there can be no such condition as status quo when it comes to the ebb and flow of human events, and who are the people willing to stand up and proudly say that we can do, not that we can’t, must be active and visible in the coming weeks.

It's our time, because we support progress, and progress is synonymous with the future of New Albany.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

First Schmitt warehouse disappears from Scribner Place project zone

This morning my bicycle route took me down Main Street, past the future Scribner Place site, and up Corydon Pike to Georgetown.

At 9:00 a.m., the larger of two condemned former Schmitt Furniture warehouses was intact, with a piece of heavy machinery idling in front of it.

By 1:00 p.m., after errands and lunch with my mom, I was riding past the same spot and in four short hours the building seemingly had imploded, the debris piled in heaps waiting to be carted off.

As noted here previously, the smaller of the two Schmitt warehouses, located where State Street meets the floodwall, is the former Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Depot.

We may have an update soon as to its fate.

Beer Basics considers pubs, restaurants and downtown revitalization

A search through old bookmarks yields this treatment of two vitally important topics, beer and downtown revitalization, combined in one article, as culled from the archives of BEER BASICS.COM (Vol. 04 No. 24 --- 18 June 2003).

Readers possessing large sums of money and an immediate need to invest it are advised to give me a call. I can help.



The changing style of drinking places is changing the face of downtowns across the country and, at the same time, changing the way local governments look at on-premise alcohol sales.

In many communities pubs, brewpubs and restaurants that serve alcohol but have more of a family atmosphere, are replacing traditional taverns.

According to Bill Ryan, a specialist for the Center for Community Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin, it's a matter of business owners staying competitive in today's market.

“There has been a trend in the Midwest away from small taverns simply because of changes in consumer behavior coupled with the fact that these businesses are not very profitable," Ryan said.

In many cases pubs and restaurants opening have been key to the revitalization of downtown areas.

"Certainly, one of the trends in downtown revitalization is to focus on food and entertainment -- brew pubs, ethnic restaurants, street cafes, etc.," he said. "Downtown retail has moved away from general merchandise of 30 years ago to specialty retail that, combined with food and entertainment, create a "sense of place" downtown.

Both large cities and smaller communities benefit from this shift in drinking culture.

The Lower Downtown, or LoDo, area of Denver was more of an an urban frontier known more for winos than trendy lofts before John Hickenlooper, recently elected Danver’s next mayor, opened Wynkoop Brewing Co., there. Wynkoop is now a city landmark in a revitalized LoDo.

When Old Oar House Brewery co-owner Brian Tomlin purchased a liquor license in downtown Millville, a community of 27,000 people in southern New Jersey, he originally planned to resell it.

"I was looking at the liquor license as an investment," said Tomlin. "I had no intention of opening up a business."

Tomlin's mind changed when he found a building that he felt could work as a pub in the downtown. At the time, there were no existing establishments of its kind.

“We were the first," Tomlin said, looking back to when the business opened on North High Street in December 1999. "We opened the pub to see if it would work in Millville. We didn't know if it would work or not, but obviously it did."

The Old Oar House represents the pioneering spirit that contributed to the growth of the downtown arts district. Now, two other eating establishments with liquor licenses -- BoJo's Ale House and Winfield's -- are feeding off this success. Instead of one destination of its kind for food and drink, there are three. And behind each new business is a liquor license that had to be obtained through the purchase of another existing business, usually a traditional tavern.

In addition to economic advantages of this shift, Millville Police Chief Ronald J. Harvey said the change will impact the culture of alcohol consumption.

"These are not strictly your 'bars' that are opening up," he said. "They
have a more family-type atmosphere."

Harvey doesn't anticipate a dramatic change on police enforcement, but said that this change in culture does have potential to cut back on police calls.

"It doesn't have a dramatic change on our line of work," he said, noting that police presence is concentrated near bars at closing time to prevent problems from breaking out. "But it does cut down on the number of service calls, because you don't have people going into a restaurant for the purpose of consuming alcohol for four or five hours."

Gladis McGraw, chairperson of the Millville’s Third Ward Neighborhood Group, said the effects on the neighborhood often depend on the establishment and what effort the bar owner makes to limit trouble spilling out of the bar late at night. She added that losing corner bars to more full-scale restaurants in less populated areas can have positive results, but said that certain establishments with conscientious owners do not currently pose a threat.

Local artist and bar patron Carl Johnson, who works as a bartender at BoJo's, likes this diversification. "I think we have plenty of room for both types of establishments," Johnson said. "And I think each will attract a different clientele.

"When I want to go out for a few quiet drinks, I will end up at a neighborhood 'old man' bar where one can sit down and solve the world's problems. When I am in the mood to party, then I seek one of the ones with a club atmosphere. For good food, I still don't think one can beat some of the local neighborhood bars that serve excellent cheesesteaks or cheeseburgers."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

It was twenty years ago today ... and one fine day in the Italian countryside

(These accounts of my 1985 trip to Europe will continue through the summer of 2005)

The heavily perfumed, immaculately groomed bus line conductor, albeit with a noticeable five o’clock shadow, glared at me with exaggerated anguish, his chest heaving as he looked first at the wad of Lira in my hand, then skyward to the ceiling, and back again.

His arms slowly unfurled and after some time became outstretched, palms up, as he stared toward the silent heavens, imploringly.

Why me? Why must I be the one to correct the ignorant American monoglot? And on this perfectly gorgeous summer’s day, when I might be tending my garden plot or enjoying a Chianti on the terrace?

Not unexpectedly, the conductor’s torrential output of hurriedly enunciated words was offered entirely in Italian, and as my eyes searched for help, fellow passengers remained resolutely still, speaking no known languages – even their own – as they awaited the outcome of something that appeared to be escalating into a full-blown dispute.

Might a conflagration still be avoided? After all, this silly, inconsequential matter of my not possessing a valid ticket for the bus ride into the Piedmontese countryside wasn’t even my fault.

Well, to be truthful, maybe it wasn’t.

Back in Torino, or Turin, city of the fabled burial shroud and crooner Paulo Conte, where unbeknownst to me, the city’s beloved Juventus soccer team had just returned home after the notorious match in Belgium, during which English hooligans initiated a riot that led to 30 deaths, most of them Juventus supporters – sometimes, though not often, it’s good to be speaking American-accented English and not British while overseas – a young, helpful, raven-haired beauty at the tourist information office had examined the postal address I handed to her and announced that I was completely mistaken.

Pecetto was not a street in Torino, as I’d assumed, and consequently it was not readily accessible by foot, municipal bus or taxi. Rather, it was a village nestled somewhere in the expanse of the rural area nearby.

Wherever it was, I had to find it. My cousin and travel mentor Donald Barry was staying in Pecetto with his friend and former student, Scott Bennett, who at the time was a teacher at Torino’s international school.

The young lady assured me that getting to Pecetto would be very easy. She gestured across the square to a row of Torino’s regional buses, and said that one of them would be departing within the hour for Pecetto. Advance tickets were not required; I would be able to pay on the bus.

“It is not a problem,” she smiled, and I trundled across the street, my mind finally at ease.

In retrospect … perhaps her instructions were mistaken, or I misunderstood them, or more than one bus line was represented, or I boarded the wrong bus, but whatever the case, the gesticulating conductor was breathing heavily down upon my sweaty brow, chewing the scenery as his oral rebukes became increasingly florid, and the situation grew more and more uncomfortable.

Then, suddenly, he audibly belched indignation, shrugged, straightened his tie, and made for the front of the bus, muttering to himself all the while.

Only when the conductor was safely out of earshot did an elderly man seated directly in front of me turn around and whisper, “okay, don’t worry about him – but please, you are on the wrong bus.”

At the precise moment these word were spoken, I caught a glimpse of two road signs, one pointing the way to Pecetto -- which the bus driver duly ignored -- and the second heralding our imminent arrival in Chieri – obviously, not the place where I wanted to be.

Before long the bus came to a halt, and as inconspicuously as possible for someone who has been the non-compliant center of attention, I followed the crowd to the front, brushed past the conductor, and hustled quickly off the bus.

Gravely, the old man nodded assent from a rear window, and gestured in the direction from which we had come.

Staring at the central plaza, I saw what appeared to be several hundred unshaven, sullen, 22-year-old, unemployed Italian men seated in the shadows of the commercial buildings, some napping, other smoking, and many seemingly focused on intently watching me. It could have been guilt on my part, having taken the bus without paying. At any rate, without pausing for more detailed instructions, I immediately retraced the bus route back to the “Pecetto 7 km” marker.

No more buses for me, at least on this day. It was time to walk, and then locate my cousin.


The previous two weeks had been a frenetic blur of trains, buses and boats, beginning in filthy and beguiling Istanbul, where the Sultan Tourist Hostel graciously provided intangible bonuses beyond the $2.50 nightly price – namely, my two Japanese architectural student roommates.

Their broken but priceless English-language commentaries on the construction techniques and design features of the Blue Mosque, Topkapi palace and Hagia Sophia, all three just down the street from the hostel, enlivened our daily visits to these shrines.

While in the former Byzantium, one gloriously temperate afternoon was spent on the local ferryboat, zigzagging back and forth through the straits from Europe to Asia, and halting finally at a hillside town with the adjacent Black Sea as an eastern horizon, cheap skewers of grilled lamb and peppers, stuffed tomatoes, and a chaotic bazaar where finally, after two weeks on the road, I paused long enough to half-heartedly bargain with a merchant over the price of a gaudy yellow bath towel.

Having learned my lesson during the inbound segment of the Istanbul excursion, and now trusting the posted train schedules with all my heart, the rail trip back to Athens proved idiotically simple, with two memorable stopovers along the way.

The first was Kalambaka, itself a nondescript town, but the functional gateway to the spectacular, otherworldly monasteries of Meteora, which are man-made complexes of Orthodox holiness and isolation perched like Technicolor mushrooms atop tall shafts of sheer volcanic rock – accessible by local bus thanks to the wonders of 20th-century roadway engineering, but previously reached exclusively by rope and basket conveyances, pulleys and profuse prayers.

Next came mountaintop Delphi and earnest considerations of the famous hallucinogenic oracle, whose cryptic riddles were puzzling highlights of antiquity.

From Delphi, the serene view southwest over the Gulf of Corinth closed each evening alongside beers, moussaka and a group of entertaining Kiwis, all crowded together on the veranda of a small taverna, enraptured by the intensity of the sunset. More than one of us had perused Henry Miller’s seminal “The Colossus of Maroussi” before arriving in Greece, and the book came to life as we discussed Miller’s late-thirties experiences and compared them with our own.

On the day I’d chosen to leave Delphi, an uneventful local bus ride to a nearby town, where the railhead was located, provided no advance warning of the scene at the station, where swarms of excited people were streaming aboard the train bound for Athens.

I’d forgotten that it was Election Day. It was fast becoming post-election afternoon, and the celebration was beginning in earnest. Andreas Papandreou’s green-coded Socialists, scourge of the Reagan administration, were about to triumph over the conservative, blue-colored New Democrats and the ominous, red-cloaked Communists.

Previously, in Patras and Kalambaka, I’d experienced late-night campaign rallies for both major parties, but not like this. Bottles of wine and Ouzo were everywhere. Trays of food were passed up and down the slowly moving train cars. Tickets were not even being checked, which hardly mattered, as train seats were non-existent, even in first class, and rail workers partied just as unreservedly as the passengers.

The festive atmosphere more than made up for the discomfort, and I enjoyed hearing the observations of a few Greek passengers who spoke English, as well as the dryly humorous comments of my fellow traveler for the day, a Swiss woman my age who I’d met while at staying at the hostel in Delphi.

Once in Athens, she intended to take a boat from Piraeus to the Greek Islands, while my plan was to move south onto the Peloponnese region. Belatedly arriving in Athens, I accepted her invitation to share a bottle of wine, and we passed time during the afternoon hours.

That night, I caught the last southbound train, eventually catching a few hours of sleep atop a bench in the providentially warm Argos train station before catching the first morning bus to the scenic and historical town of Nafplion on the Aegean coast.

Nafpion’s craggy, sprawling 16th-century hilltop Venetian fortress merited a day’s exploration, powered by fresh baked raisin bread from the bakery around the corner from my inexpensive guesthouse. One day each was devoted to the museums and archeological sites of Epidavros and Mycenae, both reached by bus from Nafplion’s depot, where chalkboards chronicled departures and arrivals.

Epidavros, home to one of the best-preserved ancient amphitheaters in Greece, and Mycenae, replete with Trojan War imagery and a much-noted tomb, finally sated a desire dating from childhood for insight into the lives of the ancient Greeks.

The visits to Epidavros and Mycenae, coupled with two Athenian afternoons exploring the Acropolis and the time with the oracle in Delphi, brought these adolescent dreams to life, and provided ample opportunities to muse on the differences between our often romanticized views of the past and the helter-skelter reality of modern Greece.

My epiphanies largely complete, Greek time began to run out. Much to my consternation, I’ve not returned there since.

Soon I was back in Patras for the boat to Brindisi, and once arrived in port, a steaming plate of linguine with garlic-laden red clam sauce and cold, draft Peroni welcomed me to Italia. An overnight train ride up the boot to Rome, with an unexpected bonus of dawn breaking at the rebuilt Monte Cassino, deposited me utterly bewildered into the world capital of schizophrenia, Catholicism and bad driving – not necessarily in that order.

There followed magical, astounding days, one after the other, with neither cable news nor the Internet to dare suggest any connection between my daily experience in Rome with the larger world outside (although I confess to sneaking an occasional peak at headlines from the newspaper kiosks).

There was Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s, with Pope John Paul II in attendance, and the nuns from many countries standing on one another’s shoulders snapping flash pictures of His Holiness while I cursed my prim decision to avoid offending the faithful by similar behavior.

There was a long walk along the Appian Way, nimbly dodging screaming sports, motorcycles and picnicking families while examining the formless remains of the tombs of important, and forgotten, Roman patricians, politicians and magnates.

There was laundry fluttering in the breeze from the windows of post-WW II housing blocks, a descent into the catacombs, roast pork sandwiches from the little closet down the block, big 2/3 liter bottles of beer for 50 cents, a subway ride to Benito Mussolini’s planned suburban community, pizza and bread galore, more architectural styles, churches and domes than anyone could remember, and in short, a sensory overload unlike anything for which the life and times of Southern Indiana might provide adequate preparation.

As in Greece, and during the remainder of the journey that summer of 1985, the bulk of my days were spent wandering the streets, profoundly dazed, desperately trying to absorb as much as possible on a trip that I had sadly accepted as my first and surely only chance to see Europe before returning home and acquiring some form of a life – and, of course, not until later realizing that such an acquisition was purely optional, and could be framed in the manner suited to the individual.

Six strenuous days in Rome were enough. Accompanied by a shopping bag filled with sandwiches and bottles of Italian-brewed Carslberg and my luggage (two pieces now, with a cheap, ugly, black and white checkered gym bag having been purchased during market day somewhere in Greece), I boarded the northbound train at Termini Station, with a final destination of Torino.


The narrow road to Pecetto rose to the top of a gentle rise, and at the crest, the destination village came into sight for the first time. A dense jumble of tile-roofed houses was arranged atop small hills, with the highest among them not unexpectedly reserved for town’s church. Vineyards were everywhere, extending from the back yards of houses and out into the surrounding agricultural areas.

My cousin Don was somewhere under one of Pecetto’s tiled roofs, and wherever he was, I wanted to be there, too, if for no other reason than to prove I was capable of following a plan to fruition.

Earlier in the year, he’d provided me with his itinerary, which itself proved to be educational for me; as an organized, veteran traveler, he actually had an itinerary. I’d ventured a guess that Italy would be the best place for us to meet, and was instructed to phone Scott Bennett from Rome and let them know about the arrival time and date.

This seemingly simple task I first neglected, then unceremoniously botched. One Roman pay phone after another spit out my Lira coins, and when I learned that the phones would accept only tokens, or gettones, I couldn’t find any, even though my landlady instructed me that the news stand on the street below sold them.

Consequently, with all that had occurred getting to Pecetto, my hosts were unaware of my presence in their vicinity.

Would they even be home?

I tried not to think about this during the walk from Chieri, which had proven to be a virtually unparalleled joy, and almost like being home – rolling landscapes, greens, blues and browns, barking dogs, cows and horses -- with the added sensory stimulants of grape vines and tiny cars racing past me way too fast.

Descending the slope into Pecetto, I entered the very first bar encountered along the town’s abbreviated main street, ordered a bottle of Coke, unfolded my battered piece of paper with Scott’s address written on it, and was answered in perfect colloquial English by a middle-aged woman who explained that she’d lived in California during the first five years of her marriage.

“Go up the hill,” she said, pointing across the street, “ and you’ll see this street at the top. Go to the right, and watch the street numbers.”

“Good luck!”

As directed, I trudged away and soon found the small stucco apartment house, which was set back off the street and surrounded in typical European fashion by a fence, with a numbered buzzer to press and alert the inhabitants to unlatch the gate and allow entry.

I buzzed Scott’s number, and nothing happened.

The gate was unlatched, so I walked to the entryway and knocked.

Nothing happened.

The drill was repeated, with the same results.

It was almost six in the afternoon, which was slowly yielding to evening, with shadows dancing and the brilliant sun steadily lessening in intensity.

Hiding my hideous Greek bag behind a wall (the other had been checked at Torino’s train station), I explored some of the side streets. At one point, I saw a woman leave the target house, but I was too far away to yell – and too embarrassed to run.

By seven, I’d returned to wall-top vantage point directly across the street from Scott’s place, and began to plot a fall-back plan, when I saw an unfamiliar male emerge from the building, followed by a worldly Hoosier-born educator with a prominent proboscis and a soon-to-be-familiar blue jacket.

It was, of course, Don.

I walked across the street and met them at the gate.

“Doc Barry, I presume?”

It just may be that Don was as stunned by the twenty pounds I’d lost as he was by my mere presence, standing entirely unexpectedly in front of him as he and Scott prepared to walk to a evening cocktail reception at a colleague’s nearby home.

Be that as it may, he was as close to speechlessness as we’re ever likely to witness.

“Goddamn,” Don said.

He looked at Scott before adding, this time for posterity’s sake.