Friday, December 31, 2004

Just keep on wishing ... and cares will go

Today's New Albany Tribune reveals what the bright yellow realtor's signs already have presaged: Another downtown New Albany commercial property is about to become vacant, with Smith's Furniture & Appliances soon to relocate from its location on Market Street to the Ceausescuesque Clarksville retail exurb being constructed around Veteran's Parkway.

Smith's defection follows that of M. T. Dearing, a floor coverings firm and a neighbor of Smith's across Market Street. The old drugstore at the corner of Market and Pearl remains moribund, as does at least three other locations on Market in the two city blocks between State and Bank.

With this news, the first year of the James Garner mayoral era grinds sluggishly and unresponsively to a close, his city's web site remaining as tellingly blank as its leader's ongoing inability to express any degree of coherence about downtown New Albany's lingering problems, much less begin to offer anything remotely resembling solutions.

The 'Bune's Kyle Lowry closes her story with a line worth repeating:

"Although the fate of the building is unsure, (store executive Jack) Kabazie said that the Smith's building would make an ideal apartment or business office complex."

Right - along with two dozen other buildings downtown.

While Mayor Garner gazes at the windowless second and third floors of New Albany's criminally under-utilized commercial buildings and sees people living there, the citizens of New Albany are beginning to look back in the Mayor's general direction to see a amateurish politician unable or unwilling to formulate strategy for making these dreams come true.

The 'Bune's article:

For those baffled by "Ceausescuesque":

Randy Smith: The nature of things

With our local bookseller Randy Smith's permission, I'm reprinting the following, which first apepared on his Blog ( on Thursday, December 30, 2004.

It is as succinct an expression as I've found of the first principles of the journey upon which so many of us have embarked.

Take it away, Randy ...

The nature of things

The next time you lament the passing of a tradition or the loss of a historic landmark, the next time you remember a favorite haunt and realize that memory is all you have because the place just ain't there anymore, ponder this: Did you do anything to prevent the passing? to prevent the loss? to preserve the place and not just the memory?

We're living in a society that honors ends rather than means. If a historic building gets torn down or defaced to make way for "progress," it seems we accept that as being for the best. If a faceless corporate entity uses predatory tactics to destroy competition, that seems to be OK. We, as a society, have replaced worship of a deity with a worship of market forces.

Are we willing to trade in what's unique about our town for a one-size-fits-all cultural uniformity? Should New Albany, Indiana be little different from New Albany, Ohio or Albany, New York? Some people would actively say "yes" and promote that end. But far too many of us would instinctively say "no" and then proceed to enable the promoters of monoculture.

In Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle For Workers' Rights at Wal-Mart, by Liza Featherstone, a comment is made that Sam Walton built his mercantile empire by targeting poor people and that his corporate heirs rely on keeping people poor in order to thrive. That came from an activist trying to boost wages, and others have made the case that society as a whole benefits from Wal-Mart's lower prices, even if that means your local clothier, your local hardware store, your local auto parts store, and your local textile factory go out of business while your county's median income plummets.

If you worship markets, that's OK. Those local businesses must have been "inefficient." We must be better off with one store to shop at. It must be a good thing to have the same restaurants available wherever we go.

But the facts show that it's not OK. Civic Economics just released its latest survey of local businesses in comparison to chains. Ironically, their Web site domain name seems to have been bought up (by whom?) in just the last few weeks. Could it be that the study is being repressed?

Their analysis of retailers in Andersonville, Ill., a Chicago suburb, showed that for every $100 spent at a local retailer, an additional $73 is returned to the local economy. Chain retailers returned only an additional $43. The study further showed that when it came to efficiency, local retailers were about 2 percentage points more efficient than the chains.

As you watch your local economy transform, do you like what you see? Do you want more of your money to leave town, thus accelerating a downward economic spiral? Did you know you get to vote on this?

That's right. Every time you make a purchase, you are casting a vote. Vote for monoculture and absentee ownership of your local merchants. Or not.

It all comes down to how you frame the debate. If the "given" is that dominant players are by definition "good," then the means by which the winners win is irrelevant. John Yarmuth, columnist for the Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO at, makes telling comment this week about framing. Josh Marshall does likewise in his blog, Talking Points Memo (

You'd think all this bloviating stemmed from pure self-interest. After all, I'm a new local retailer in competition with corporate behemoths like Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, and Kroger, not to mention the Killer B's of the bookstore business. But that's not where I'm coming from.

I'm afraid we're about to lose an important part of our local culture, just like we lost Hawley-Cooke a few years ago. Last night, I checked out the drop boxes for LEO and its primary competition, Velocity. By 9 p.m., the LEO box was almost empty. Velocity, its much more ubiquitous competitor, had an overflow of copies. You might think that showed LEO to be more successful, more in demand.

Not so, from what I can gather. Could it be that the dominant print medium, owned by the newspaper giant Gannett, is using profits from other publications to subsidize Velocity in order to really put the hurt on the true alternative weekly? There was a time when such predations were considered illegal. Lawmakers and citizens still maintain a de jure ban on same, even including treble damages for such anti-competitive, anti-consumer activities.

Pick up a copy of LEO, if you can find one. It's a FREE publication, after all. We have a few copies here at the store. Patronize its advertisers and be sure to tell them you saw their ads in LEO. I, for one, consider it to be one of the good things about our town. We'll miss it if it goes away. Just like we miss all those good things that are only memories today.

And while you're at it, think again about that decision to take only one newspaper. Does a regional daily have any incentive to truly cover New Albany? Georgetown? Jeffersonville? Would its readers in Bullitt County even care to know what cultural events are going on in Southeast Indiana? The Tribune, The Evening News, and The Democrat, among others, provide us with that sense of community we need desperately. I've chosen to make Southeast Indiana my home and the home for my business. What happens here matters.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Scribner Place about to begin, says C-J - chickens in every pot soon to follow

Today in the Courier-Journal, Ben Zion Hershberg contributes an excellent overview of current progress toward beginning the process of building New Albany's Scribner Place project:

In it, architect Wayne Estopinal discusses the revised money-saving, two-part plan to get Scribner Place off the ground:

It reduces the expected investment by the city by $3 million to about $10 million. The three-story, 53,000-square-foot YMCA is still expected to cost about $8 million ... Estopinal said the new design concentrates on the first phase of the complex — the YMCA, the indoor swimming complex, a 160-space parking lot and the observation tower — leaving the design of buildings to be constructed by private developers for future discussion.

Even scaled back a bit, Estopinal said, Scribner Place "will be a great catalyst for downtown New Albany."

He expressed confidence that the YMCA and the swimming complex will attract thousands of visitors and encourage private developers to invest in the area, bringing downtown New Albany back to life.

"It will be important to get this first step under way," Estopinal said.

The tone of the article is optimistic, and relieved of the burden of extemporaneous thinking that makes his televised appearances so entertaining, Mayor Garner speaks assuredly as quoted by Hershberg.

Score one for the Mayor.

And yet, to return to Estopinal's assurance that private investment will follow the YMCA and revitalize downtown New Albany, is there anyone in the current administration - from the Mayor on down to his most lowly political patronage appointment - who's willing to reveal the apparently top-secret plan for assisting this process of revitalization?

There has to be a plan, right? If a plan is in place, then why doesn't the current administration take time off from mayoral photo ops and articulate it?

Exactly what is the Garner Team waiting for?

While it is encouraging that the project's architect continues to express confidence in the concept and sincerely believes that it will transform downtown into a Pixar-generated Lazerus rising to do syncopated soft shoe ... well, one tends to follow the party line of the fellow who's signing the pay checks.

Someone does have a plan, right?

City's website missing, but Velocity's unfortunately not

At first I thought the entirely blank, white page where New Albany's city website usually appears was intended to be symbolic of the recent snowfall, but upon further reflection, symbolism probably isn't high on the list of City Hall's priorities.

Still, as the curtain closes on the Garner team's first year in office, a bare spot for the city on the information superhighway indeed speaks volumes.

It's a legitimate political strategy to elevate form over substance, but lacking any concept of form, we're left with the immortal words of Billy Preston: "Nothin' from nothin' leaves nothin'."

In other web related media news, I nominate the following for Velocity's weekly "What Rocks ... What Sucks" column:

What Rocks: Visit Velocity's web site the night before the paper's Wednesday release, and the whole issue already is posted.

What Sucks: It's still Velocity, and there's still nothing of importance to read there.

Down three days and counting:

Up for more than a year, and doesn't really matter:

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Creative Class, South Side Inn's wretched mashed potatoes, and NASCAR night at Los Indios

Another posting to the Louisville Restaurant Forum, this time one of mine.

Two weeks ago, Gary threw this out as part of the thread on the demise of Chester’s Tavern:

“ Maybe ... there is a reason why there aren't any good restaurants (other than ethnic eateries) in the southend, or southern Indiana, for that matter. I hesitate to address this subject, as it is sure to result in a heated provincial debate, but if someone dares me to do so, I will offer my two cents worth.”

Robin Garr said a few words, expressed confidence in Gary’s judgment, and then the topic disappeared. Perhaps Gary wasn’t dared.

So, I'm going to take a flying leap into the chasm on this one and throw out a theory. Bear in mind that I’m writing this as a lifelong resident of New Albany, and I’m trying to avoid unfair stereotyping.

I'm reading the much-discussed book by Richard Florida called "Rise of the Creative Class."

In it, the author advances the proposition that the American economy is increasingly dependent not only on the service sector, but on a “creative” sector (design, arts, high tech, software, etc.). Florida is an urban theorist, citing many sociological trends that he sees combing to place the newly ascendant “creative class” in those urban areas where working conditions and lifestyle options exist, both fostering creativity and appealing to the needs of the creative sector.

These urban areas range from Austin, TX to Seattle, WA, to Massachusetts, to some cities in North Carolina. Defying stereotypes, the author finds these preconditions in blue state and red state alike.

Among the preconditions are factors that reflect diversity in terms of race, recreational options, tolerance for divergent sexual preferences, respect for art, and so on.

It's worth noting at this juncture that in terms of these preconditions that foster the creative class, Louisville finishes dead last in his admittedly weighted survey of million-plus metro areas. Obviously, the Highlands would rank near the top of any such list … but we’re talking averages here, and the entire metro area must be factored into the statistical equation.

And this brings me to the point. Why, indeed, does it seem that “good restaurants” (other than ethnic, which may or may not be an exception to the “rule” I’m discussing here – see below) don’t thrive in the South End and Southern Indiana?

Now, eateries must be viewed as part of the service sector, but the type of restaurants generally discussed in this forum represent a crossover into the creative sector as defined by Richard Florida. Food may indeed be food, but these establishments include elements of art and creativity that place them outside the norms of mere sustenance.

Then, is it coincidence that good and creative restaurants generally are located in those parts of the metro area that best represent those qualities of diversity that prefigure creativity?

And not located in the areas that don’t?

I can't and won’t comment on the South End, where I've never lived, but New Albany is a different story. This is my home – and as so many have asked over the years, exactly how did I manage to turn out this way?

Traditionally, New Albany certainly would not be the first locale to spring into any conversation on the topic of diversity, for the very good reason that there's been scarcely any diversity to discuss beyond people having the choice of rooting for one of three area college basketball teams.

It isn’t a stretch to say that over the years, people have lived in places like New Albany precisely because there is very little diversity, and hence no dissonance of the sort that might threaten preconceived notions. It is the same motivation that now compels the great (and inescapably white) flight to the exurbs, as so chillingly documented by David Brooks of the New York Times.

The existence of ethnic eateries may or may not have anything to do with this, for reasons of geographical accident or otherwise.

For instance, two weeks ago I ventured into Los Indios (Charlestown Road) on a Monday night, assuming that like most other restaurants, it would be quiet on a Monday. Instead, people were lined up waiting to get inside. It was sheer bedlam – people screaming, babies throwing food on the floor, half a dozen servers racing back and forth.

Great – a Mexican restaurant packed! Perhaps there’s hope! Then I looked through the window at the sign outside: “98 cent Margaritas on Mondays.”

Which is to say, Tumbleweed and high school cafeteria tacos prepared us for this sort of diversity – as well as the eternal lure of a very cheap drunk. I can’t imagine Mai’s Thai achieving the same result with 50-cent Singhas on a Monday.

As for accidents of geography, if memory serves me, the ethnic neighborhoods in the South End came about not because of clamor for diversity in the form of Asians and Hispanics to move there, but because it’s where certain amenable apartment complexes were located. How many non-Vietnamese patrons of Vietnam Kitchen live in the South End?

Closer to my home, there’s not much of a clamor in New Albany right now for diversity, and consequently downtown remains an under-utilized wasteland. I think Florida’s thesis is right on the mark: The less diversity, the less creativity; and the less creativity, the less economic development.

And, almost necessarily, the less the market for fine dining. First attitudes, and then the economic realities springing from them. I see no reason why these theories can’t work to describe life within the various neighborhoods of a metropolitan area as well as the entire urban areas within a national context.

It doesn’t help that (to paraphrase H.L. Mencken), the horned cattle in the fields have as much recognition of all this as New Albany’s dry cleaner of a somnolent mayor, who last read a book some time during the Clinton years.

But, and here’s the bizarre part, almost imperceptibly, pockets of the creative class are taking root here, primarily because one can buy twice the house for less here than in the Highlands. These people are yearning for something more than Tommy Lancaster’s and South Side – both plywood-lined classics in that starchily carbohydrated late 50’s way, but nothing more.

I don’t want these places to disappear, but speaking as a resident of downtown New Albany, I’d like a decent cup of espresso coffee, a good pint of microbrewed ale, and a Thai or couscous place to go with it.

At present, I feel that someone needs to act as gadfly, spokesman, leader -- encouraging those preconditions that I’m now certain can bring about progress. Heaven knows the tired business-as-usual, defenders of slumlord rental property local bonzo politicos we have now don’t have the ability to do this.

If I can do it by making beer and pizza – and it’s always been more than just food and drink to me – then I’ll give it a shot.

Anyway - I’m done. Have fun with the theory.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Memphis, New Albany, visionary city planning and the Cement Pond

I’m an avid fan of Robin Garr’s Louisville Restaurant Forum, where Louisville’s “foodies” meet on-line to discuss, debate and review the metro area’s abundant dining, drinking and entertainment venues.

Yesterday a thread took up the topic of Memphis, Tennessee, and recent changes at the city’s airport that are incorporating “local flavors” in eateries on the concourses.

The eloquently simple idea is that Memphis’s airport should boost the local identity of the city through indigenous food and drink offerings. This would seem to be a no-brainer, but most often isn’t, given the innate artlessness of airport authorities, the tremendous financial clout wielded by national restaurant and retail chains, and the pathological habit of concessions firms to be receptive to most known forms of bribery.

One reader then added this comment about Memphis:

“Memphis was also miles ahead of us on urban renewal. When I moved to Memphis in 1990, it's downtown was far more desolate than Louisville's. Beale Street had shriveled to a mere block and the Peabody and Rendezvous were the only real tourist attractions. Because of a visionary city planner on the Mayor's staff, Memphis realized that people had to live downtown in order to play downtown. Developers built "Mud Island", a community with several different levels of market-rate housing ranging from studio apartments to spacious homes overlooking the river. These people supported the new eateries shops and galleries that opened. The new entertainment options created a buzz about downtown that begat the development of more downtown housing, including the South Bluffs development where Cybill Shephard built a home and the loft district on South Main. By the time I left Memphis in 1996, the downtown had improved dramatically, and it has continued to grow.”

This is something to consider in the context of New Albany, especially when one of the most indelible images of 2004, at least for me, was the Scribner Place press conference and New Albany’s Mayor James “Jethro” Garner forlornly pointing at the second and third floors of buildings unoccupied for decades and insisting in a confused, bizarre monotone that people would live “there.”

Ironically, a limited amount of residential redevelopment does seem to be occurring, and it is being done by people who are flying quite consciously beneath the radar -- not because they don’t have permits or aren’t doing it in the correct manner, but because they’re absolutely convinced that New Albany’s historical inertia is ingrained in local positions of authority, and to speak above a whisper is to invite some sort of undefined but demonstrably Pavlovian retribution.

Here is yet another instance where mayoral leadership might make a difference. Instead, unable to provide answers for questions that apparently have eluded its limited comprehension, City Hall continues to do what it does best, engaging in endless turf wars over the spoils of political patronage and remaining mute when it comes to even the most mundane of platforms and plans.

Maybe I didn't get the memo, but exactly what is different about any of this?

It’s one year into the Garner term, and three to go. Will there be anything approximating vision during the next 36 long, grueling, months?

Sunday, December 26, 2004

A curriculum that's zoned for Jesus?

Dale Moss’s column in today’s Louisville Courier-Journal is “devotionaled” to the forthcoming merger of separate Christian Academy campuses at Graceland Baptist and Northside Christian.

The soon-to-open Christian Academy system building currently is under construction just west of Grant Line Road on a 60-acre site adjacent to Sam Peden Community Park, and probably less than a mile as the crow flies from the Public House.

Christian Academy is a Louisville-area school system, described thusly in Graceland’s web site:

“Christian Academy educators are state-licensed and they teach to transform lives and thus our culture with a goal of imparting wisdom, knowledge and a biblical worldview that will be evidenced in the lives of students and expressed by a lifestyle of character, leadership, service, stewardship, and worship. Both schools have endeavored to honor Christ in their educational efforts by maintaining the traditions that have been the guiding principles of both schools since they were founded. The mission of Christian Academy is to provide a Christ-centered environment based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, where the Christian Academy family is challenged to strive for personal growth, academic excellence, and spiritual maturity. Students at Christian Academy are encouraged to develop a Heart for God, a Mind for Truth, Friends for Life and to participate in Service for Eternity.”

Graceland started its K-12 school at least two decades ago, while Northside Christian’s K-5 began somewhat more recently. When Graceland first fielded high school sports teams, the church’s reigning minister was the late Elvis Marcum, prompting me to suggest in a letter to the Tribune that the school’s nickname should be the Charging Elvi – which I innocently thought would be replete with acceptable allegorical connections with the Crusades.

Some readers disagreed, and shortly thereafter, an anonymous letter writer consigned me to eternal damnation. It was neither the first, nor will it be the last …

In an oft-told story, Northside Christian was founded in an unfinished garage as the creation of the relentlessly self-promotional Garmon family, one-time founders of Key Communications, and subsidizers of the formidable Phyllis Garmon’s quixotic and occasionally bizarre local political career.

When one considers Northside’s new 50-acre worship complex located in the epicenter of the faceless exurb taking shape north of I-265 on Charlestown Road, Graceland’s sprawling network of older buildings on Kamer-Miller Road (connecting Charlestown Road and Grant Line Road), and the sparkling new Christian Academy campus, it would seem that the entire north side of New Albany has been given over to Protestantism and its historical ancillary, Capitalism.

Fortunately, a degree of ecumenical balance has been provided by the Christian Academy’s contractor, Koetter Construction. Surely the Pope would approve of this reaching across the doctrinal aisle.

At the same time, free thinkers, libertarians and believers in the veracity of church-state separation – all of whom actually do exist here in Greater New Albania – have other reasons for cocking our eyebrows at the ongoing flowering of that old time religion on the city’s north side.

In a previous article this year, Moss noted that Northside Christian (3,500 membership) has been described as a “smaller version” of Louisville’s Southeast Christian (21,000 members and a $78 million church.)

The 800-lb Southeast gorilla phenomenon – for Bible scholars a leviathan, perhaps? – increasingly manifests itself by vocal interference in politics, particularly with regard to anything and everything that the depressingly Falwellian Reverend Bob Russell can conveniently demonize as anti-family or smacking of the so-called homosexual agenda.

Based on the testimony of close friends, I don’t believe that this is a trait shared by New Albany’s growing Northside congregation, and yet Northside’s senior pastor George Ross was quoted in the Moss article as saying that such a comparison to Southeast is a “tremendous honor.”

Southeast Christian’s enthusiastic waving of the religious culture wars banner is not something for New Albanians to emulate. It is, however, a violation of conditions that preface tax-exempt status for churches, and a reminder that we should pay attention.

Further reading:

Dale Moss on Christian Academy: “A hope grounded in faith and backed by undeniable momentum.”

Moss again, on Northside’s growth: “From sewing classes to golf outings to mission trips to Bible-based weight loss guidance, Northside offers something every day.”

Church web sites:

Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and leading Louisville area arch-reactionary, discusses the Kroger Company’s imbroglio with the Southeast Outlook, tabloid purveyor of Bob Russell’s clerical fascism (Father Tiso, where have you gone?):

Saturday, December 25, 2004

The 'Bune and an abacus: Slight fun with big numbers

I’d seen a certain half-page promotional advertisement in the New Albany Tribune so many times that it no longer registered, at least until two nights ago, when the paper was spread out before me as I grabbed a quick snack.

“153 Years and Counting.

“Since 1888, the New Albany Tribune has been the voice of Floyd County. Through good times and bad, celebrations and heartaches, The Tribune has kept residents informed of local, state, national and world affairs. That commitment to covering the things that matter to residents of Floyd County – started two centuries ago – remains the goal of our daily newspaper. We take that responsibility, and that privilege, seriously.

“The Tribune – Your Hometown Newspaper”

A disclaimer: I’ve never been very good with numbers. Throughout school, as various educators, counselors and family members took me to task for my failure to record higher scores in math classes, my efforts to convince then that all numbers beyond the simplest sums blend together before my eyes, and require considerable patience to sort through were ignored. But with the help of my scratch pad, here goes.

Currently it is the year 2004, and 153 years ago, it was 1851.

By its own admission, the ‘Bune was founded in 1888, which was 116 years ago, not 153.

“Two centuries” ago it was 1804, 84 years before the ‘Bune was founded, 15 years before Floyd County was established, and 9 years prior to New Albany coming into existence.

It would seem that the numbers provided in the ad are nonsensical, and contradictory given the serious nature or responsibilities and privileges outlines therein, but there may be an explanation.

The front pages of selected past newspapers are pictured in the ad. From Dec. 8, 1941, the masthead notes “54th Year.” That’s right. So is “57th Year” from the June 6, 1944 issue (presumably allowing for the precise date in 1888 that publishing began).

On December 22, 1961, it’s “73rd Year.” Still on numerical track.

However, the March 18, 1973 issue shows “123rd Year,” which roughly corresponds with 1850 and the claim of “153 years and counting” – again, allowing for the current ad to have run for a year or so with no one bothering to update the numbers.

Why? Almost certainly the answer lies in the previous existence of a long defunct New Albany newspaper called the Ledger (Daily and Weekly Ledgers are listed among the holdings of the Indiana State Library). At some point in the past the Ledger merged with the ‘Bune for the Sunday edition only, taking on the numbering of the Ledger’s presumed founding date of 1850 or 1851. The ‘Bune retained its own founding date for the numbering of editions published Monday through Saturday.

This explains the “153 years old/founded 1888” nonsense, but does not justify laziness and lack of attention to detail on the part of our local newspaper.

However, it does not explain what was “started two centuries ago.”

Anyone venture a guess?

Watching the wheels go 'round ...

... and 'round, and 'round as cars still are getting hung on messy side streets four days into this year's big snow storm.

Consequently, with the Public House shut down for Holiday Break Part I until Monday, I've taken the opportunity afforded by the days off to do some interior painting. Other activities have included a traditional "wet" shopping day on Friday, red wine and pasta at home afterward, and an entertaining evening spent viewing concert DVD's with the Missus.

Today there are two NBA games, and Chinese food for accompaniment. Mellow reflection and periodic mindlessness are the orders for the day, ones to be obeyed and cherished as indicative of restoration and rejuvenation. Soon enough, the daily grind will resume.

My topical writing has been limited and will not resume in earnest until Sunday, when the arrival of the 'Bune almost certainly will stimulate some semblance of bile, and warming temps will restore a degree of ambulatory ambition.

Best wishes to all who have visited and read NA Confidential since its inception a mere two months ago. Life in my tiny sector of New Albanian terrain is good ... now the perimeter must be extended. Cheers!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Saturn says: Public House snowed out Thursday

This is a public service announcement to any of you planning a journey to the Public House today: We have thrown in the towel Thursday and will remain closed until next Monday (closed for X-mas Eve, X-mas Day and the usual Sunday).

I know this will inconvenience some people, and of course it would have been one of the best days of the year in terms of business, but sometimes this isn't the first consideration. Few of us have any business being out today, Christmas or not, so we might as well take a day off.

UPDATE, 11:49 A.M.

In 1994, when we had a huge overnight snowfall (roughly 15", if I recall) that completely shut down Louisville, my ex and I walked to work and opened Rich O's, which promptly recorded the biggest business day we'd had up to that point.

There was a huge snowdrift in front, and friends drove their snowmobiles (usually reserved for duty in Wisconsin) atop it. I didn't have a camera, and missed a once-in-a-lifetime photo op.

Today, with the sun now shining and roads becoming passable, it's obvious that we made the call a bit too hastily, but things are much different now. With the business in some semblance of maturity, it would require a dozen employees to run it today, and many of them live in outlying areas. I don't want them driving.

Today was slated to be one of the biggest business days of the year, and it's disappointing to close. I hope people call first and don't brave the twenty mile trip to become angry when the door's shut.

In any case, thanks to all for understanding.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Snow day!

I'd already planned on a Wednesday off, so with no obligations at the pub, it should be an outstanding opportunity to drink coffee, read and write while simmering a pot of sauerkraut soup. Perhaps there will be the opportunity to brave the elements and drop in on our favorite local bookseller.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Frank Burns, Jethro Bodine and New Albany

Ed has proposed inviting Larry Linville (Frank Burns in "M*A*S*H") to serve as Grand Marshall of the Harvest Homecoming Parade, but unfortunately, Larry's no longer with us. He died in 2000. (might have a pop-up)

But Max Baer, Jr. - Jethro Bodine - is still alive, kicking and providing redemption for shuttered Wal-Marts:

Now there's an idea for Pearl Street ... wonder what the Hazard boys are up to these days?

(Don't even ask, because Sorrell Booke - Boss Hogg - died in 1994).

Dissonance and New Albany's green and gold?

For those who may be curious about the description of the official New Albany flag, as described by Brandon Smith several times previously, here's the way the official ordinance describes it:



A green background, symbolic of our green hills and of the many different kinds of trees native to our area and Indiana, on which the following are emblazoned: white shield edged in gold, symbolic of the character and courage of the varied nationalities of our ancestors, with a gold torch thereon, representing enlightenment and liberty; and the numerals “1813,” the year of the establishment of the City of New Albany, all within a semicircle of 19 gold stars, representing Indiana as the 19th state; and a gold pilot wheel in the lower right-hand corner, symbolic of our historic background as a river city.

(Res. R-62-7, passed 10-1-62)

As noted by Brandon's wife, Angie, all this bears more than a passing resemblance to the color scheme of Floyd Central High School, which is the Floyd County consolidated school and a bitter arch-rival of New Albany (city) High School, which has the colors of red and black.

The blame for this multi-hued anarchy surely must rest with Floyd Central, which came into existence five years after the resolution describing the city flag.

Ideally, none of this should matter one jot when it comes to reproducing the city flag as a symbol of our "Somehow Transform New Albany into Something Quasi-Weird" campaign.

However, we must remember that New Albany's unofficial city ethos (never codified, but tangible) is "Arrested Development," and this implies allegiances to high school that go far beyond the norm, particularly as they reflect high school basketball. Just ask Chris Morris of the New Albany Tribune.

A certain number of New Albanians probably won't accept the flag for this most petty and senseless of reasons. Do we attempt it anyway?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Where have you gone, Larry Linville?

So I’m thinking to myself, hey, why should Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and Samuel Beckett get all the credit when NA Confidential can write plays, too.

Accordingly, here’s an excerpt from my forthcoming theatrical production called “A Different Kind of Mayor (or How I Learned to Love the Bomb).”

It is intended as satire - see Read this first before calling a lawyer, especially if you're a city employee.
Act 2, Scene 4

(Plumbing inspector Steve Broadus is given a hall pass and summoned to come immediately for a visit to the office of New Albany Mayor James Garner. Broadus believes that the Mayor is about to admit to incorrect statements made at a previous City Council meeting, but Garner has other ideas. Broadus knocks at the door.)

GARNER: Come in Steve, and sit down.

BROADUS: But Mayor Garner, there’s no chair.

GARNER: Well, never mind then. Pull up one of those coin-operated washers over there. (Plays with tiny plastic hotel from Monopoly game) Now, Steve, I want you to know that there’ll be a little something extra in your pay packet this Christmas.

BROADUS: (Blushing) An apology, perhaps?

GARNER: Not exactly – actually, you’re fired. (Leaps to his feet) - FIRED. There, now it’s out in the open and it’s much more respectful telling you right to your face. Otherwise, I’d have to sit down and write another letter, and that’s way too hard. Besides, it’s Christmas, and I’m late for a Salvation Army photo op at Wal-Mart, where you always get the lowest price on Chinese-made plastic gadgets.

BROADUS: (Angrily) Did you say fired?

GARNER: (Twiddling a children’s toy) That’s right – but remember that a good old-fashioned don't-let-the-door-under-the-mistletoe-hit-you certainly isn’t to be considered a demotion, which it also obviously wasn’t back earlier this year when I cut you to half time and saved a bundle on benefits because you didn't show the proper respect for that hack political appointee who I appointed to be your boss.

BROADUS: That old fart Eddie Hancock?

GARNER: Right. (Aside: hmmm, wonder if we’re even yet … he’d have been a fine superintendent of weed maintenance … ) Anyway, when people like you and that loudmouth Larry Kochert ran good ol’ Eddie out of town just because the state of Indiana didn’t show us the proper respect, then I had to be your boss by default. You know what that means, don’t you?

BROADUS: (Confused) Not really.

GARNER: It means that those killjoys up in Indianapolis don’t have any business telling us how to mismanage our own building department like we always have – heck, we were playing petty political games here in Nobbany back when Indy was just a bunch of Injuns peeing in the woods.

BROADUS: But what does that have to do with my job?

GARNER: What job? Didn’t you hear me the first time? You’re FIRED! (jumps up with clenched fist, toy falls to the floor, parakeet begins squawking) – YESS!

BROADUS: Aren’t you going to tell me why?

GARNER: Well, for starters, you went and whined to those busybodies on the City Council and the media, but you should have come straight to me, ‘cuz I’m your boss by default and bosses must have RESPECT (straightens his tie).

BROADUS: But how could I do that and expect to get a fair hearing? You started the whole thing! You’re the same one who demot - …

GARNER: WHOA! (his face reddens) Don’t you dare disrespect me with that nasty “D” word! Maybe I WILL have to write a letter to you the way I wrote the letter to the Courier-Urinal and set those Louisville hoity-toities straight, except I wouldn't do that because the Mayor shouldn’t ever have to explain personnel decisions, even the ones that have to do with you. Understand yet?

BROADUS: (Dazed and reeling) I’m afraid not.

GARNER: (Exaggerated rolling of eyes) I’m an elected public official, for chrissakes – you think I’m going to discuss taxpayer-funded personnel decisions with insubordinate plumbing inspectors or America’s media watchdogs from the free press?

BROADUS: You mean the New Albany Tribune?

GARNER: Heavens no, you silly EX-employee. (Caresses Hershey's Kisses in desk drawer) The Tribune’s got enough sense to leave a respectful homeboy like me alone. It’s easy. You just keep telling the city editor that her outfit looks nice, and she won’t ask a question if she had a mouthful. Now, THAT’S something I really can respect.

(Garner faces the audience) Don’t you hate it when a newspaper reporter keeps asking questions? You look the other way, play with your cell phone, pretend to be interested, jangle your change … geez, like anyone reads those things, anyway. If they really were journalists, they'd be on television, wouldn't they?

BROADUS: Well, what about the building department?

GARNER: (Panicked) Well, what about it? Where is it? How can it still be there if all the employees are fired? Didn't I just fire you? Hurry up and give me your wrench so I can break it over my knee like on "Branded" - boy, that Chuck Connors, what an actor.

BROADUS: Mayor Garner, you’re the building commissioner by default, remember? If you’re in charge, then you need to know what’s actually happening

GARNER: (Aside: Building commissioner? Hmm, I wonder if I get paid extra for that? And what about the animal control who keeps getting arrested for deviate stuff … pick up an animal here and there … another couple grand … )

(Turns back) All I know is that all these non-demotions are a heck of a lot more fun than crawling around a bunch of old houses shining flashlights into attics … I mean, if you go and start enforcing codes, then what? Tell me, is any self-respecting slumlord going to make campaign contributions if he has to use the money on floors, roofs and toilets? That’s definitely not showing these absentee community pillars the proper respect. (Brightens) Say, speaking of eyesores, can I fire Larry Kochert, too?

SHANE GIBSON: No, mister mayor, I’m afraid not.

BROADUS: Wait a minute, where’d you come from?

GIBSON: Floyd Central. I played ball for Joe Hinton, so working for the Mayor is like a tiptoe through the tulips.

GARNER: (Gleefully) I love that song! How about this one! (Dancing and clapping) Just a little bit … shake shake shake … just a little bit … oooh, that bootie …

BROADUS: (To audience) This is the part I hate the most. Plumbing? That’s easy. Pipes, joints, faucets … a diagram, a pattern, a right way to do things. But politicians? They’re all the same, now and forever. Their campaign signs talk about "A Different Kind of Fill in the Blank," but it's the same every time. And me? It's time to go, I guess. I hear Home Depot’s hiring (tosses monkey wrench toward Garner's desk; Gibson handles it cleanly, wipes off the fingerprints, drop steps, and effortlessly sinks a ten-footer through the Nerf basket behind the dryer).

GARNER: Yeah baby, R-E-S-P-E-C-T … c’mon, everyone sing along … egg nog all around. WHEEEEEE!! There'll be a hot time at the Grand tonight ...


Stay tuned to NA Confidential for more previews.

Sunday 'Bune editorial fashion

Perhaps out of Web-related confusion, but more likely owing to general apathy and a dash of embarrassment, the on-line version of the New Albany Tribune does not archive staff editorials and commentaries.

Consequently, you’ll have to trust me when I confide that today’s ‘Bune was unprecedented and epochal, because it included an Amany Ali column that was merely inane and not overtly idiotic.

But wait – there’s more!

Specifically, an editorial by Managing Editor Chris Morris was not on the topic of sports, although it did include a passing reference to Converse sneakers.

AIDS, urban renewal, the breakdown of social security, terrorism, environmental degradation, homelessness … the issues of our time fill the pages of publications far and wide, but here in New Albany, an editorialist in search of subject matter need look no further than the Green Tree Mall, where the baggy fashions of today’s wayward youth simply don’t make sense to aging newspapermen.

It would seem that NA Confidential simply can’t catch a break. Finally we manage to get Chris away from the sports page, and what we get instead is droopy trousers and the age-old generational lamentation that’s easier to explain than the laws of gravity.

To wit: What goes up must come down, and kids will do anything do differentiate themselves from their elders.

Once again, with feeling: The sporting world provides an entertaining diversion, and athletics play a part in society, but they're only one aspect of a well-balanced life.

Basketball does not collect the garbage.
Football does not perform open-heart surgery.
Baseball does not manufacture microchips.
Hockey does not even exist.

Chris and countless others in his position sometimes remind me of the proverbial deer staring into the headlights. Rather than scratch their heads over the puzzling behavior of the next poorly groomed generation, they should be determining ways to persuade these kids to (a) read, and (b) read newspapers.

Or else …

It may seem that lifetime job security is afforded those who work for traditional institutions that are as much a part of the community fabric as high school hoops and temporarily rebellious young people, but as the blacksmith in 1900 could tell us, sometimes things aren’t what they seem to be.

More 1515 E. Market information unearthed

In today’s Tribune can be found the legal notice detailing the slate of cases to be considered at the January 4 meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Among them is Docket B-02-05:

“Claudia and Reynaldo Espinosa request a variance to permit a restaurant that will not meet parking requirements at 1515 E. Market Street.”

At the risk of ethnic profiling, appearances would suggest that the restaurant is not destined to be Italian, as previously suggested.

My long sought after neighborhood taqueria? Could it really be?

Friday, December 17, 2004

Nixon in China?

On Thursday evening, we opted for the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association holiday gathering at a neighbor’s home rather than attend the City Council meeting.

The Courier-Journal’s Ben Hershberg’s account of the meeting is here:

The ordinance enforcement position was approved, but not without the usual entertaining theatrics between Mayor Garner and his antagonists on the City Council. A meeting without such exchanges would be akin to a NASCAR race without crashes, and certainly would result in a loss of paying customers.

For New Albanians, the year 2004 will be remembered for Garner’s bungled handling of the city’s Building Department, which makes his response to last night’s council session even more remarkable: "It was a very contentious meeting … I don't know why."

The importance of mirrors in politics simply cannot be overstated.

While at the holiday gathering, I was approached by Tony Toran, director of City Operations, who invited NA Confidential to a sit-down with himself and Mayor Garner for the stated purpose of providing the “right information” on the Scribner Place project. According to Tony, both he and the Mayor Garner had read my most recent letter to the Tribune.

Once home, I was sent scrambling to re-read what I’d written in the letter, yielding only this paragraph in reference to Scribner Place:

The current administration’s sliced ‘n’ diced first phase of the Scribner Place/YMCA project, while attainable by New Albany’s standards of foot-dragging, itself springs from the same ingrained habit of community pillar-led conventional thinking with respect to development that resulted in a previous generation not having “known better” as it joyfully bulldozed the old quarter.

I wonder what portion of this isn’t right?

Or, perhaps it’s more cumulative than any specific reference. In any event, I am happy to oblige Tony’s request, and have asked that the meeting take place next week.

And, if possible, on my turf. If not, then Rocco goes with me.

For now, NA Confidential’s thesis remains unrefuted: Downtown New Albany stands little chance of reclamation if the task is not approached with a spirit of boundary-defying conceptual thinking and explicit activism. The Mayor of New Albany, in his or her administrative capacity, is in the position of guiding this effort through public leadership as well as private persuasion. The inclination and willingness to undertake these responsibilities have yet to be revealed during the current Mayor’s administration.

As for the holiday gathering itself, we were charmed and delighted to meet so many wonderful people. In fact, as the circle widens, it is increasingly revealed that numerous New Albanians are interested in the sort of city espoused here at NA Confidential, and many are working toward worthy goals. It is gratifying to know this. The coming year should provide many more opportunities to improve the quality of life in New Albany - with or without the assistance of the political apparatus.

Sodrel's 100-Yokel-March on D.C. ignominiously cancelled

Congressman-elect Mike Sodrel has cancelled a proposed motorcoach trip to Washington that would have allowed his 9th-district groupies to participate in a questionable ethical junket in gleeful celebration of the politics of reactionary conservatism, with the added bonus of watching Sodrel sworn into office - not in person, but on television.


Dismissing the ethics controversy as a mere blip on his organizational radar screen, the motorcoach magnate Sodrel candidly admitted that it was better to cancel the tour package rather than risk being seen in a bad light at the outset of his career in Congress.

As a reader has noted, there'll be plenty of time for looting once Sodrel's official congresisonal business cards are printed - why waste it now?

The Courier-Journal's story:

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Brief thought on restaurant ratings and metaphors

According to Paul Levy, writing in the New York Times Book Review of November 28 ("Restaurant Rows), there is a pronounced difference in style between Europe and America when it comes to restaurant ratings and reviews:

"Euro-critics want to know what a chef is like at top form; Americans want to know what the average diner's experience is apt to be like."

This strikes me as both true and deeply metaphorical, at least with respect to my personal tastes. On one side, striving for the highest common denominator ("top form"), and on the other, accepting the lower standard when necessary ("average").

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

More on coffee shops in New Albany

Several readers have commented on my mention of the old Street Level coffee house that Ed Needham ran a quarter century ago at 13th and Oak.

It's easy to forget that there still is a coffee shop in downtown New Albany: Main Street Grind, located on Main Street and Bank, which has been in business for more than 10 years.

The problem, of course, is that for many of us it may well not exist at all, as business hours for the entire week total only 30 hours. Only on Thursday and Friday night is the shop open past five p.m., and it's entirely closed on Sunday and Monday.

Compare to Heine Brothers in Louisville, which maintains roughly 100 business hours per week.

And makes good coffee.

I have friends who swear by Main Street Grind, and the owners seem like very nice people. Certainly they've learned when there's traffic and when there isn't. I'd patronize them more often if they were open when I need them to be, which they're not, and unfortunately the quality of the espresso varies widely depending on who makes it, with little uniformity in serving size and seldom anything resembling crema. My home unit makes espresso much better.

I'm told that the owners of Main Street Grind have full-time jobs, and that the business is little more than a hobby, and although this may or may not be true, it seems reasonable given the stunted hours.

One measure of the evolution of a community quite well may be the hours of the day when people drink coffee. In the traditional American working world, coffee was consumed entirely in the morning, but in the creative economy, its use extends throughout the day and into the evening.

Echoing Brandon's thoughts, we need a place to go in the evening for books and coffee. An occasional pint of ale would be nice, and I continue to work on that.

Another tacky day for congressman-elect Sodrel

From this morning's Courier-Journal comes the news that motorcoach magnate and 9th district congressman-elect Mike Sodrel was offering a cool D.C. "swear-in" travel package to supporters prior to someone whispering in his ear that it might not look good to use his company's buses for such a trip.

"Congressman-elect Mike Sodrel said yesterday that he might call off a special travel promotion for his Jan. 4 swearing-in ceremony, using his bus companies, after questions were raised about possible ethical conflicts."

And then, this:

"'If there's even a question in anybody's mind, we'll cancel it,' he said after being told of the questions by a reporter. 'I'm certainly not going to start my career in Congress with anything anybody wants to debate.'"

Aside from the intrinsic tackiness of the proposed journey, there's already something to debate about Sodrel's career in Congress, namely the millions of dollars that poured into the "self-made" businessman's coffers from outside Indiana for the express purpose of slandering his opponent, incumbent Baron Hill.

Nothing much "self-made" about that, is there?

Then there's Sodrel's 4-wheel envy, his theocratic fetishes and the soiled American flag he's prone to wearing to bed.

Here's the full text of the Courier article:

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Activity reported at 1515 E. Market Street

This morning I walked past the old brick building at 1515 E. Market (north side of the street, corner of Market and 16th) and noticed "public hearing" signs denoting a pending commission hearing for a variance.

Apparently there are not enough parking spaces for a restaurant.

An eatery had been rumored, so it would appear there's something to it after all.

The fate of this charming New Albany building is is of more than a passing interest to me. Friends once owned and restored the structure, which dates back at least to the 1880's and originally was a grocery store with attached lodging space. Prior to my divorce, I lived in the rear apartment for a year.

The main part of the building is in good condition, filled with brick, beams and numerous interior design possibilities. The two ground floor apartments could be reconnected with the main area, and the resulting floor space would be enough for a small restaurant (as apparently planned) or a coffee shop.

While I was living in back, a short lived art gallery project, The Seed, came and went. While the failure of the gallery owed more to dissension among the owners (read: money) than the building's inconvenient location, the latter unfortunately remains a factor.

To begin with, the building's on the wrong one-way street. Because Elm and Main carry much of the eastbound traffic, eastbound-only Market gets less. It is a sleepy country lane compared with the traffic flow on westbound Spring, only a block removed from Market but figuratively miles away when it comes to diverting traffic off Spring to surrounding side streets.

Also, 1515 E. Market lies in an inconvenient part of town with respect to retail; not necessarily bad, just strangely located a bit too far from some things and a bit too close to others. The reason for this is that nearby Vincennes Street once was the gateway to traffic going across the Ohio River to Louisville's west end, and when the railroad shut down the auto lanes on its bridge a quarter-century ago, the neighborhood around it began to deteriorate.

Although there are viable businesses, including Tommy Lancaster's Restaurant, Bliss Travel and Bush-Keller Sporting Goods, the area still has a rundown feeling to it.

When I lived there, it seemed to me that if it were possible to move the building to Spring or Main, a more ideal venue for coffee would be difficult to imagine. My second hope was that the nearby Latino community would establish a genuine taqueria - the sort of neighborhood place that wouldn't require traffic from far and wide for success.

Perhaps that's happening. If readers know what's happening, please let me know.


This Courier-Journal story on the Seed Gallery reflects early optimism (and has a photo of the building):

Reality set in, the partnership splintered, and ...

The former Tribune editor who blackballed me was ...

Curt Vincent.

I'd written a letter commending the momentous decision by a court to award ousted Tribune editor Eddie LaDuke a huge monetary settlement on the basis of age discrimination, noting that it was the best of all worlds for the citizens of New Albany because a newspaper chain based far away paid someone else's money to remove LaDuke from a position of authority, sparing long-suffering New Albanians from LaDuke's long-running jihad against human rationality.

Not only did Vincent refuse to print it, but he unleashed a string of epithets, taunts and confrontational statements in e-mails to me, thus revealing himself to be a fairly disagreeable human being. Considering the source, and having many other business-related tasks to keep me occupied, I shrugged and wrote Vincent off as a piece of ... work.

I imagine he still is.

If you're wondering what all this is about, I have written a letter to the Tribune in which I introduce the newspaper's readers to NA Confidential. Here's the relevant excerpt:

"The problem with writing letters to the editor is that most newspapers rightly limit the frequency and length of submissions. Occasionally, as in the case of the former Tribune editor, personal matters improperly come into play and one is unfairly excluded from the forum.

" (Please understand that since the editor in question blackballed me for celebrating the ouster of a previous editor, I can’t risk repeating the process by divulging the name. You'll have to read my Blog to learn his identity)."

Monday, December 13, 2004

History at 13th and Oak in New Albany

The Cardinal Ritter house is on the southwest corner of 13th and Oak, only two short blocks away from where I live on Spring Street.

From the web site documenting the house's history and current renovation:

"The house saw a generation of Ritter children grow up to be three doctors, a nun, a businessman, and, of course, the youngest (and only Hoosier) Cardinal in Catholic church history."

Here's the site:

Interestingly, across the street on the northeast corner of 13th and Oak, once stood the house where a favorite customer of mine ran the Street Level coffee house from 1977 through 1980. Until recently, I didn't know it existed. There's a brief memorial and photos here:

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Why trees cry, Vol. 3: For the Bune's Amany Ali, "Paranoia - Big Destroia"

It helps to remember that it isn't the incessantly yapping dog's fault; it's the dog's owner, who isn't exercising proper control over the animal.

Similarly, it isn't the misbehaving child's fault; it's the parent, who isn't providing structure for proper developmental progress.

And it isn't the dilapidated house's fault; it's the slumlord wannabe who won't make the necessary repairs.

Amany Ali's weekly column in today's Tribune is entitled, "Some people just need to get a life." For the second time in less than five months (roughly 20 Sunday columns in all), Ali surveys the wider world around her, considers the many pressing topics that might yield fruitful discussion, ponders the many manifestations of life that bear implications for all of us ... and, instead of choosing any of those avenues of rumination, writes that gossip is bad and that anyone spreading rumors about Amany Ali (apparently, there are so many New Albanians doing so that one column a year on the topic isn't enough) can expect to be confronted and disabused of their errant notions.

Insipid, irrelevant, jejune ... and at some juncture, with banality not just running rampant, but being repeated over and over again like Yogi's Berra's apocryphal deja vu, we must ask whether there is any such thing as editorial supervision at the Tribune.

Does the concept even exist at 303 Scribner Drive?

Most of us understand that an editor is one who edits, with the act of editing suggesting duties that include correction, modification, consultation and adaptation.

It is inexcusable that the Tribune's weekly Sunday guest columnist, Terry Cummins, writes (and thinks) rings around the newspaper's city editor - not because Terry shouldn't be allowed the forum for expression, but because there should be some discernable semblance of commitment on the part of Ali to improve her performance (it must be hard to concentrate when all those people keep spreading lies about you), and to do so with the active participation of her "managing" editor, Chris Morris.

Many of you are saying, "that's just the way it is at the Tribune."

Others routinely offer the same alibi for the city of New Albany.

I do not accept this excuse in either case. We must demand excellence and not persist in tolerating mediocrity from local institutions and the time servers who inhabit them, whether they be the newspaper or the mayor's office, that are accustomed to measuring a year's progress with the yardstick of a week's real work.

Destinations Booksellers in Tribune cover story

Randy Smith's face beams at us from the front page of the Sunday edition of the Tribune, as the newspaper devotes column inches to Destinations Booksellers.

The article by Lifestyles Editor Roni Montgomery is a competent, albeit by-the-numbers profile of New Albany's new book store in which tiny snippets of the owner's passion and enthusiasm are allowed to shine through alongside recitations of quotes and factoids.

But hey, it works.

I'd provide a link, but with the Tribune's trademark "Random Web Site Posting Generator" not enabled today, the story has yet to appear on the newspaper web site.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Take a look at Third Century's ongoing work

Strictly a rumor: The Redmen Club building on Main Street in New Albany has been sold, with the buyers said to be Carl Holliday and Steve Goodman (Third Century Services). If you're wondering why this is important, visit Third Century's web site and see previous restoration projects that have helped change the face of historic Main Street:

Even if the rumor isn't true, it's worth your time to contemplate how much Carl and Steve have achieved.

Weird history walk and sampling?

Our Thanksgiving weekend experience at New Harmony, Indiana, which held a well-attended candlelight history walk with accompanying wine and beer tasting, has me contemplating something similar in New Albany.

A walk with printed guide, taking in several off-beat historical sites - not the usual recitation of dates and architectural styles, but something a bit more "weird," perhaps the site of the jail where the Reno gang was killed by vigilantes, the house where famed 19th-century baseball star and fireman Jouette Meekin lived, and the like.

Weird history, if you will.

At selected intervals, by arrangement with the owners of licensed establishments and private dwellings, there would be the opportunity to sample libations. Participants would pay a slight fee up front, they'd have ID's checked, the products and labor would be donated, and we'd have a few dollars for those "Make New Albany Weird" bumper stickers.

Letter published, but you read it here first

After a long, rewarding but tiring day working at the pub, I arrived home Friday afternoon to find that all 600+ words in my most recent letter to the editor had been printed by the Tribune.

"Recent," as in sent 15 days ago.

The letter first appeared here on November 25, under the title "Should have known better: Philistines, purse strings and postcards in New Albany." I packed it off to the 'Bune the next day.

There isn't anything else to report on this wet and chilly Saturday. Diana and I are preparing to motor to Indianapolis for a visit with old pal Joe Brower and an NBA contest between the depleted Pacers and the Sacramento Kings. Our tickets were purchased prior to the suspensions that have decimated Indiana, and this is a source of aggravation, but it's still a chance to get away for a day, and a welcomed respite at that.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Check your non-sporting ideas at the door when visiting the Tribune

Today in the New Albany Tribune, Managing Editor Chris Morris offers a piece in the main editorial slot, the place where yesterday an anonymous editorialist enthused about a program to send needy children to Christmas shop at Wal-Mart, expending a half-dozen hankies in the process of an appallingly vapid exercise in schmaltz.

But I digress.

Morris begins today’s editorial:

“I am big fan of old timers. I enjoy talking to people about the past, or the way things used to be.

“That doesn’t mean I am not excited about the future of this area, or this country. It just means I don’t want to forget about where I came from, or where we came from as a community.”

A surprising and intriguing start, prompting so many questions … how is Morris excited about the future? What does the newspaper think the future will hold? Will Morris be steering it to take part in this exciting future? Perhaps comparing notes with the old timers he mentions, collecting their wisdom and benefiting from their experience, and leading the discussion that aims for consensus between old and new?

Could it be … the Tribune in the vanguard as New Albany moves into the future?


It’s yet another editorial on sports, specifically the forthcoming New Albany vs. Floyd Central basketball game, and an occasion for Morris to lament the sagging popularity of Hoosier Hysteria and to ritually celebrate previous generations of New Albanians who had no other entertainment options than basketball, and who consequently lived for the sport that defines Indiana.

Heaven forbid that such leisure time might have been used to read a book, or might still be used by the managing editor of a newspaper to think of something to say that does not have to do with sports.

To be sure, high school basketball remains an important component of Indiana myth and lore, and in fact, I played high school hoops myself. Basketball as a game is a thing of beauty, it is worthy of respect if not outright adulation, and when I have time, watching it can be a pleasant diversion.

But I learned far more about teamwork and real-life coping skills singing in high school choir than I ever did playing basketball for a dysfunctional, self-destructive coach in a program the patriotic importance of which was exaggerated far out of proportion to its proper place in an educational institution. That’s the simple truth.

Earlier this week, in response to my announcement that NA Confidential’s program of slumlord exposure would begin as soon as I had the time, a friend wrote this:

“Schedule permitting, eh? Sounds like NA Confidential needs to bring on more staff reporters, an online content producer, production staff, advertising reps, and a complete circulation department.

"Oh, yeah. Someone in town has already made an investment in those items. Wonder if you could borrow them if they're not using them?”

What a fine idea. Chris Morris, if you’re reading this, how about it?

I’ll just take the newspaper out for a short spin, and have it back to you in time for the start of the game.

Our "Jethro Bodine Era" sputters onward

Other cities enjoy periods of Baroque splendor, or experience Federalist eras. Some even have the privilege of Golden Ages.

We get "Mr. Bodine Goes to the Courthouse."

One month ago in this space, it was written:

"In October, the city’s sanitation department was discovered to be more than $600,000 in the red. Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Ben Hershberg apparently learned that the deficit was being covered by the sewer department, and asked Garner to comment. Until this question was asked, Garner did not know where the money was coming from, and only then, scurrying off to look into it, was he able to verify what the reporter already had determined."

In today's Courier, Hershberg returns to the long-running controversy surrounding Mayor Garner's muddled personnel moves with respect to the city's building inspectors and the still vacant post of Building Commissioner, the portfolio for which has been claimed by Garner since appointee Eddie Hancock rode off into the sunset earler this year.

The full text of Hershberg's article:

Hershberg's solid reporting provides an explanation for a surreal episode at Monday's City Council meeting.

At the meeting, a letter written by demoted building inspector Steve Broadus was read before the council. In the letter, Broadus took issue with several aspects of the situation in the inspections office, including the use of a contract inspector. In short, why insist that Broadus doesn't have sufficient work for full-time status when a contract inspector is working?

Garner conceded that a contract inspector, Ron Hartman, was indeed being used when needed, but insisted that the total amount of inspecting work still didn't add up to full-time. Furthermore, in a heated exchange, the Mayor repeatedly denied that the contract inspector had recently performed a plumbing inspection at Floyd Memorial Hospital.

Publicly, Garner said, "Mr. Broadus does not have access to the facts." The implication was clear, if unspoken: Who are you going to believe, the acting Building Commissioner (Garner) or an embittered, troublemaking inspector?

As it turns out, we should believe the embittered, demoted inspector. In today's article, Hershberg writes:

"Garner acknowledged yesterday that he was mistaken Monday night when he said Hartman didn't conduct the Nov. 23 inspection."

It would seem that Mayor Garner is wearing a few too many hats. First, as sewer chieftain, he didn't know the details of the $600,000 accounting exercise between the sewer and sanitation departments. Then, as acting Building Commissioner, he didn't know who was inspecting what, and when.

In light of this, a note to Shane Gibson (city attorney) and Tony Toran (operations director): Are you really sure your present jobs constitute upward mobility?

In today's New Albany Tribune, city editor Amany Ali contributes analysis similar to Hershberg's, but she does not catch Garner's mistake on the hospital inspection blunder. Hershberg does not confuse schmoozing with reporting, a lesson Ali could stand learning. Then again, it would appear that she has little or no supervision at the Tribune. Read her account here:

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

New Albany will be worth the work

For those who may find it curious that this web site is devoted to life and times in the seemingly inconsequential city of New Albany, let it be understood that NA Confidential is dedicated to the simple proposition that the place where we live is important.

Otherwise, why bother living there?

For many readers, the significance of a place of residence may seem self-evident, but I submit that this reaction is far from universal.

America’s helter-skelter physical and emotional mobility is its greatest blessing – and its most destructive curse. Mobility promotes flexibility, improvisation and growth. And it contributes to a mindset of transience, substituting long-distance anonymity for the intimacies of familiarity and discourse.

To live and work somewhere, to find that place on a map, to plot the route that takes us there – all are mundane compared to the tasks of building and nurturing a community. To so, we must know who we are, why it matters and how we intend to achieve it.

Individuals make up the community, and the community reflects the dreams and aspirations of individuals. Without vision, without a sense of possibility, without a desire to improve, neither individuals nor their communities can be expected to thrive in a world that never has and never will stand still.

The ongoing process of urban reinvention begins with these dreams and aspirations. Public works, feats of engineering, financial prowess – all are absolutely essential, but none suffice as indicators of creativity and imagination because they cannot measure the limitless horizons afforded by an idea.

Without these vital qualities of community self-knowledge, which aid us in knowing who we are, efforts aimed at “renewal” predictably are undertaken in piecemeal fashion, lack unifying direction, and are doomed to mistake the ephemeral attractions of new objects for the lasting benefits of new thinking.

The architectural carnage of the 1960’s and early 1970’s stands as the perfect illustration of the unwillingness or inability (or both) of a clueless generation of political and civic leaders in New Albany to articulate an ideal for the city.

It isn’t that sincere people haven’t worked for decades before and since to make things better. They have.

It is that much of their hard work has been all but nullified by the continuing lack of an overall, unifying community principle in New Albany, primarily because such a principle is erroneously seen as posing a threat to the prevailing political and civic elites for whom the preservation of fiefdoms, however small, represents a principle more to their liking than thinking outside the box for the benefit of others.

Unsurprisingly, genuine political and civic leadership – thinking, challenging, lifting up, providing the plan, organizing the troops, mustering the energy – has all but disappeared from the equation in New Albany.

As embodied by the self-absorbed empty suit currently masquerading as Mayor, local government seems to have abdicated altogether when it comes to any recognizable principle of community leadership.

At a City Council meeting last evening, where citizen representatives of neighborhood associations spoke passionately about the need to create a position of ordinance enforcement officer and thus provide them with some measure of recourse to influence those who do not contribute to the progress of the community, at no time did Mayor Garner avail himself of the bully pulpit to offer encouragement and empathy to the speakers.

Not once.

Mayor Garner may well be in perfect harmony with the citizenry, and after all, the topic at hand involves enforcing existing codes to make the city a better place, to which there is no discernable opposition, and yet presented with an opportunity to lead, Garner could not be bothered.

Our objective, then, is to lead the community-based effort ourselves, to locate the like-minded, the ones for whom life in New Albany need not represent a grudging compromise, one maintained for lack of better options over the long and steadily unfolding period of time that we hope to remain living here.

Rather, we see no reason why New Albany cannot preserve the best remnants of its important historical heritage while providing contemporary elements of the finer things in life, virtually all of which flower from enhanced diversity – culturally, creatively, artistically.

We know who we are. With unity, we’ll see what can be done.

Monday, December 06, 2004

An invigorating City Council meeting at the Palace of the Republik

Tonight’s City Council meeting was a rollicking affair, with ample entertainment seamlessly woven around the serious parts.

Epitomizing the evening was the earnest leadoff testimony of a elderly ex-fireman, who with great emotion described the lamentable state of New Albany’s fire hydrants and implored someone to do something before another family dies. Evidently, he’d witnessed such a tragedy, and still sees ghosts. The old man left the room to applause.

Much later, the attending fire chief was asked whether there was a problem with fire hydrants. He shrugged and smiled in a professionally competent way. Yes, sometimes in winter they freeze, it happens, but you just use the next one, and if we see anything wrong, we check it out and report the problem to the water company. In short, all part of a day’s work, and not to worry. All is in order.

Interesting juxtaposition.

Public testimony then was proffered on behalf of ordinance enforcement, and no one on the Council saw fit to disagree.

Mayor Garner himself had surprisingly coherent thoughts on the matter, to the effect that the enforcement officer should answer to the building commissioner on a regular basis, with contacts maintained to the City Council. All seemed pleased, and the first reading of the ordinance passed unanimously.

I noticed that City Attorney Shane Gibson generally stands close by Garner when the Mayor is required to address the Council. They don’t speak at the same time. Perhaps this is a coincidence.

On a different matter, Councilman Dan Coffey engagingly stirred the pot by asking that a letter from demoted building inspector Steve Broadus be read publicly. This action caused Gibson to bolt to the lectern to denounce Broadus’s unwillingness to bring his concerns directly to the Mayor (who docked Broadus in the first place) rather than air them publicly, which in turn led to an exchange between Councilman Larry Kochert and Garner over how many inspectors with which qualifications were needed to do what and when.

Kochert and Garner’s “who’s on first” routine prompted Councilman Donny Blevins to state that such discussions should take place behind closed doors and not in front of the public, and it is a measure of the comedic decline at this juncture that no one in the room took Blevins to task for his advocacy of secrecy.

To return to tonight’s period of public discussion on the proposed addition of an ordinance enforcement officers, and disregarding the concerns of another elderly gentleman who sought to ensure that his pick-up truck wouldn’t be towed away because it runs fine, it’s just that the tires won’t hold air … he indeed was reassured … the gist of the position held by New Albany’s neighborhood associations is precisely that mentioned yesterday in this space.

Absentee property ownership and the associated mismanagement of rental space are prime culprits in the degradation of neighborhoods. But this is something that has been obvious for such a long period of time that its truth borders on the axiomatic, so then one must ask why it has taken so long for something so simple as ordinance enforcement to be recognized.

Someone help me with this one. Who’s into whom?

Who’s on first?

In the meantime, NA Confidential believes that it would be useful to know who owns properties suffering from chronic neglect. Many “slumlords,” and perhaps even most of them, may well prove to be absentee owners, but some may not. And that would be interesting, wouldn’t it? Why should the ordinance enforcement officer have all the fun? Schedule permitting, I intend to take a trip soon to the City-County Building, not to admire the socialist realist architectural style and breathlessly pine for the halcyon days of Communist East Berlin, but to hit the record books.

I’ll let you know what I learn.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Bicycle licenses only fifty cents, and other highlights of city ordinance non-enforcement

A notice from the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association reminds us that Monday’s New Albany City Council meeting will be the occasion of the first reading of an ordinance to establish an ordinance enforcement department.

Bizarrely, there isn’t a system in place here to ensure that citizens comply with the many ordinances governing city life – matters like the removal of junk cars and adequate property maintenance.

Libertarian readers surely must be cringing at the intrusions embodied by New Albany’s voluminous ordinances, which include this personal favorite:

Drive-In Restaurants
(A) No person shall race the motor of any vehicle, start or stop any vehicle suddenly without cause, squeal the tires, blow the horn or make or cause to be made any other loud or unseemly noise by any means whatsoever, while on or adjacent to the premises of a drive-in restaurant, so as to cause a nuisance. ('71 Code, §110.02)

The Frisch’s Big Boy on Spring Street has been gone a good two decades, but this ordinance remains on the books. Obviously, it is not something requiring immediate attention.

At the same time, and as most readers are familiar, the “broken window theory” astutely holds that if a window is left unrepaired, people will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge, with anarchic implications for the neighborhood.

Although there are exceptions, most people who own the houses they occupy don’t allow windows to remain broken. The phenomenon of absentee property ownership in general, and absentee ownership of rental property in particular, lends itself to neglect and dereliction of the sort that ordinance enforcement is best placed to redress.

This is not to impugn those who rent, as most of us have done at one time or another. It is to suggest that "slumlords" rank high on the causal chain of community problems.

Predictably, already there is controversy over the proposed position of ordinance enforcement officer in New Albany. At least some members of the City Council advocate that control of the job be placed in the Council’s hands, while Mayor Garner – who as mayor, sewer board chairman and de facto building inspector is a business card printer’s dream client – insists that the ordinance enforcement buck stop with him.

NA Confidential remains ignorant of governmental protocol, but would like to suggest that to further the helpful practice of checks and balances (this in spite of the GOP’s current national strategy to castrate them), it might be a good idea to keep the ordinance enforcement officer somewhat autonomous, perhaps answerable to the Prosecutor's office, not the Mayor or the Council.

Why? Apart from public utterances and attendant pieties, it is likely that too many conflicts of interest exist among Council members and even the Mayor himself, with possibilities for “ticket fixing” too numerous and time consuming.

Almost inevitably, and by the very nature of the problem, much of the work of ordinance enforcement will have to do with owners of rental property.

My guess is that more than one member of the current city council owns such property. For the record, it would be helpful to know how many.

New Albany ordinances can be found here:

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Ohio River Greenway and Mike Sodrel's motorized transport fetishes

Previously reader Brandon Smith provided the URL for the Ohio River Greenway (and another link below). The Greenway's web site describes the project thusly:

“The Greenway will create a park like setting along the banks of the Ohio River connecting three municipalities: New Albany, Clarksville, and Jeffersonville. The project area is approximately seven miles in length and includes land access to the Falls of the Ohio National Wildlife and Conservation Area.”

The Greenway is one component in an evolving series of redevelopment efforts on both banks of the Ohio River.

The conversion of Louisville’s formerly decrepit waterfront into landscaped parkland is the most obvious symbol of the welcomed trend toward reconnecting the Falls Cities with the river. So is the River Walk path from downtown Louisville to the city’s west end.

On the Indiana side, Jeffersonville’s decade-old “restaurant row” and the nearby Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville are two prominent examples of the same phenomenon.

While it should come as no surprise to anyone born and raised here that New Albany has lagged behind the other Falls Cities with respect to its riverfront, it remains that the amphitheater (known locally as the Trinkle Dome) and adjoining open space is aesthetically pleasant and ripe with potential.

As described above, the Greenway is slated to connect Jeffersonville’s “restaurant row” and Clarksville’s state park with New Albany’s Trinkle Dome. As such, it would pass through what may be the best-kept secret in metropolitan Louisville, the Loop Island Wetlands.

Where Silver Creek empties into the Ohio, nature has reclaimed approximately fifty historically significant acres upon which corn was grown a mere half-century ago. Al Goodman, an environmental engineer, owns the wetlands as well as the nearby site of the old city dump, and also the Moser Tannery property. If his ambitious plans for these sites come to fruition, yet another recreational option would be developed astride the Greenway’s path.

Certainly the notion of a Greenway, or something broadly similar to it, has existed in the public domain for many years.

However, it’s been only a decade or so ago since the idea moved from the realm of idle conjecture into a position of possibility, with longtime 9th District Congressman Lee Hamilton procuring federal money for feasibility studies and a commission composed of local politicos coming together to collectively dip toes into the swirling waters.

Hamilton’s long congressional tenure eventually gave way to that of fellow Democrat Baron Hill, Seymour High School’s basketball immortal turned public servant. Given his commitment to the Greenway project, it is appropriate that Hill’s photo is one of six that appears on the slide show on the main page of the Greenway web site.

The photo of Hill is one of six that rotates during the slide show. Another shows a majestic view of downtown Louisville from the superior vantage point of the Sunny Side.

Unfortunately, two additional photos provide self-serving glances at the movershaker bureaucrats at Greenway committee meetings, and one photo each shows Regina Overton and Tom Galligan, ex-mayors of New Albany and Jeffersonville, respectively.

Marketing advice, anyone?

Unfortunately, Baron Hill is about to join the ranks of “former” office holders whose faces rather bizarrely continue to adorn the Greenway web site. Barring a recount miracle, he has been narrowly defeated for re-election by Republican Mike Sodrel, whose fealty to all things Bush dominated a thoroughly annoying campaign season.

During a debate preceding the election, candidate Sodrel managed to bring the Greenway back into public view by means of an offhanded comment to the effect that the Greenway is a “feel-good project” that will not create jobs, adding that the money would be better spent on two controversial Ohio River bridges for auto traffic, which if ever actually started, much less completed, will have taken far longer to build than the pyramids of ancient Egypt.

Given that one feature of the $40 million Greenway is a two-lane, strictly speed-controlled park road not intended for through traffic, i.e., something that will be of little use to the self-proclaimed trucking magnate Sodrel, whose multi-wheeled business acumen somehow qualifies him to receive millions in cynical out-of-state contributions for his vapid campaigns …

I digress, but at any rate Sodrel’s off-the-cuff statement angered the local politicians who previously defeated those predecessors still pictured on the outdated Greenway web site.

The new mayors on the block drafted a nasty letter to Sodrel in lieu of egging his company’s building, which is difficult to do without being seen because it stands in full view of the teeming interstate highway.

They let it be known to Sodrel that the Greenway project is indeed important, and Sodrel’s camp quickly issued the usual “comments taken out of context” nonsense, and there we stand, at least for now. New Albany’s Mayor James Garner has included some of the required Greenway improvements in his funding package for Scribner Place, and overall, it is expected that work will soon begin on the Greenway, perhaps to be completed five years from now.

Mike Sodrel’s characteristic “business as usual” harrumph deserves to be placed within the context of those theories of economic growth and well being that to not have as a necessary corollary the ever- faster multiplication of businesses like Sodrel’s trucking firm.

Rather, using Richard Florida’s “creativity index” theory as a starting point, it’s easy to see that the conversion of formerly factory, warehouse and scrap-yard properties into recreational parkland is part of the quality-of-life and diversification process that makes communities more livable and attracts economic growth dependent on creativity.

To dismiss this process as economically invalid because it does not immediately create a 9 – to – 5 job in the sense of Sodrel’s own bricks-and-mortar trucking business is nothing less than doltish, and an unpleasant harbinger of the sort of empty-suited “thinking” that portends from his elevation to Congress.

Let’s hope that his advisors, some of whom have shown more sense in their previous working lives, really do have Sodrel’s ear when it comes to the Greenway.


Plans for the Ohio River Greenway from Jeff to New Albany unveiled:

Loop Island Wetlands:

Ohio River Greenway’s home page:

Falls of the Ohio State Park:

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Thursday police beat - er, blotter ... file?

Today Jeffersonville Evening News staff writer Greg Gapsis provides an overview of the criminal case against ex-teacher Stephen A. Reich, who faces 34 counts of “child seduction,” i.e., sex acts with female students aged 16 and 17 when the acts allegedly occurred.

Gapsis reports that Indiana State Police tests have conclusively linked Reich’s DNA to evidence in the form of bodily fluids found on carpet samples taken from the former teacher’s classroom. The girls had indicated that sex acts occurred there.

Jeffersonville Chief of Detectives Charles Thompson described the importance of the carpet sample, yielding NA Confidential’s quotation of the day:

"It tested positive for bodily fluids and had his DNA all over it. To call it trace evidence would be wrong. It was the biggest sample of fluids I've seen in all my 27 years of police work."

However, Thompson conceded that no traces of the girls’ DNA has been found in any of the places where sex acts are alleged to have occurred.

Can a “serial onanism” defense be far behind?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Louisville's "Mean Streets"

The Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) is described by today’s Louisville Courier-Journal as “a coalition trying to improve the nation's transportation system.”

The STTP is about to release a report entitled “Mean Streets,” in which it will be revealed that Louisville ranks as the 23rd (of 50) most dangerous area in the United States for pedestrians and cyclists.

Factors cited in the report include refrains familiar to anyone who walks or bikes frequently. More than half the roads in Louisville lack sidewalks. There are far too few dedicated bike lanes and paths, and far too many drivers with more attitude than skill.

I can attest to these problems, having cycled close to 3,000 miles the past two years in and around Louisville, New Albany and environs. Actually, it's seemed a bit better lately, as I haven't had garbage thrown at me from passing vehicles for more than two years.

Interestingly, the accompanying list reveals that almost two-thirds of the most dangerous cities are located in the “red” states of the former Confederacy.

Which prompts a thought, though certainly unoriginal: Are they called red states because of red necks?

Anyway, is this because of NASCAR’s deleterious influence on generations of southern exurbians? Or, perhaps there's a meteorological explanation in that the southern weather is more pleasant, so consequently there’s more walking and riding hours, and hence a higher rate of accidents.

One study dismisses the latter (see below for link), so I’m opting for the former, as it fits my prejudices much more comfortably.

On a different but related front, sociologist Richard Florida’s “creativity index,” which takes into account factors like diversity, high tech receptivity, innovation and diversity, ranks the Louisville metropolitan area 45th out of the 49 most populous American cities.

Oddly, many of the cities listed as most dangerous for walking and cycling still rank near the top of the creativity index.

Louisville finishes poorly in both, and this can only mean that it’s way past time for a good, stiff drink as we contemplate how far we must go.

The Courier’s article:

STPP web site:

The more walkers and cyclists, the safer it is?

Richard Florida’s rankings: