Category Midwest

Spotted on the Roadside: The World’s Largest Gavel in Columbus, OH


I honestly don’t have a whole bunch to say about this 17,0000 pound stainless steel gavel save for the fact that I want a giant stainless steel Judge Judy to wield it and smash injustice throughout the world. Predatory financial centers whose sole purpose is to grind every cent out of the poor? SMASHED. People who get into public service to enrich themselves and their friends at the expense of everyone else? SMASHED. The dude who cuts the cake and distributes the pieces and he clearly saved the best one for himself even though it wasn’t his cake? SMASHED. Cancer “charities” who seem to exist to put their name on everything and use donated funds to aggressively sue other charities who dare to use the word “cure” anywhere in their branding and do fuckall for people with cancer? SMASHED. People who complain about other people posting spoilers but then post spoilers themselves the second after they’ve seen the thing in question? SMASHED. People who CLEARLY know the lane they’re driving in is going to turn into a right turn only lane and wait until the last second to cut in because they’re too good to wait in line like everyone else, now blocking TWO lanes of traffic and making loads more people wait? SMASOK, smashing is a little harsh and would only block the roads further, but you are on notice, buddy. Stainless Steel Judge Judy has her steely gaze on you.

Spotted on S Front St in Columbus, OH

Officially Too Old For This Shit: Cedar Point

OK, so I don’t *actually* know that I’m too old to enjoy the world’s largest rollercoasters. What I do know is that in the lead-up to going to the park, I did something stupid in the hopes of achieving something good. I was thinking about what a dumpster fire 2017 has been, and pondering a way for myself to take an action that was concrete good and landed on blood donation as a truly positive thing I could do to help the sick and vulnerable in my community. Unfortunately, this idea was coupled with some self delusion about my overall robustness and ability to regenerate blood cells, and my appointment was foolishly made very shortly before my trip to Ohio. I then proceeded to drag ass for the next week. On the morning I went to Cedar Point, I woke up with a scratchy throat and swollen lymph nodes. DAMN IT, BALTHAZAR! I will NOT get sick, I will NOT get sick, I will NOT get sick, I have been waiting and hoping for years for a chance to go to Cedar Point and I will NOT let this lack of blood and impending illness ruin my trip to Roller Coaster Nirvana.

So of course it fucking did. Because 2017.

I already felt cruddy when we arrived at the park: tired, achy, sweating and low energy, slightly nauseated and dizzy, which is just a spectacular combination of physical health characteristics when you’re looking to ride the most extreme roller coasters in the world. In addition to all those things, I was really angry with myself for doing this TO myself. Because this was ostensibly my one opportunity, and I screwed it up with my poor schedule management. Oh yeah, and I was also fraught with nerves about how I was actually going to get home as my flight routed through Houston which at the time was being slammed by Hurricane Harvey. Even though the airport was closed, my airline had yet to cancel the flight and I didn’t quite know what my options were. By the end of the day on that score, we’d decided that if an alternate flight wasn’t available, we’d cut the Ohio trip a day short and shoot for a one way car rental and drive home.  It would have been a hassle but I consoled myself with the idea that we could swing through my hometown and grab a sandwich from that baller italian deli, and maybe even see some some new sights along the way, since my last drive from Wisconsin to Seattle was done in one shot* which meant a lot of driving in the dead of night. That whole plan was later rendered moot because we were able to get on a new flight, but I wanted to paint the entire picture of what my day at Cedar Point looked like: exhausted, borderline sick, and anxiety sapping the last of my reserves. I’d look at some of those giant screaming coasters and think “Nope. That might kill me.” which was SO FRUSTRATING because I wanted to want to ride the rides. All of them. I guess at least I didn’t splurge on the rollercoaster fast pass or I might have blown a vessel fighting with myself about whether it was worth risking actual death in order to get my money’s worth. (The answer is: maybe, which Jason finds frustrating, as he’s firmly on team “waste ALL the money rather than risk death”.)

But that’s really all OK, because as it turns out, in addition to the world’s most insane rollercoasters, Cedar Point has a lot of things that the other amusement parks I’ve visited haven’t. Things like fine china shops.



I’m not sure what it is about about being hydraulically launched from zero to 120mph in seconds with all the corresponding g-force that entails which encourages the immediate acquisition of fine crockery which you’ll then need to pay to store in a locker for the rest of the day, but I can tell you for a fact that this shop makes money or it wouldn’t be there. 

Cedar Point also has a petting/feeding zoo where a variety of adorable fuzzy-faced animals will beg and plead and stretch out their fuzzy little lips for whatever nominal-additional-charge food you might have to feed them. The food is sold packed into a plastic cup, and there ended up being a bunch of tiny bits in the bottom that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable feeding bare-handed (I need these hands, they are my livelihoodthey are important to me, OK?), but the sheep felt very comfortable “drinking” them out of a tipped cup. And bonus, seeing them eating out of that tipped cup was also adorable.

They also had dippin’ dots, the ice cream of the future. While that is not unique (dippin’ dots maintaining its long term reign as the ubiquitous ice cream of the theme park present), the opportunity to consume said dippin’ dots in stocks is.

They also had animatronic dinosaurs and signs made that seemed to have had me specifically in mind.  

Oh, and some rides, I guess. Which I did ride! ..some of them, anyway. About a third of the roller coasters, which is pretty good considering that whole “nauseated, feel like I’m gonna die” thing. While waiting for one of the non-coaster rides, a kid who was ~9 years old joined the line by herself and started chatting with us, telling me matter-of-factly that she’s riding this ride by herself because her mom got sick and threw up on the last one. She was also very specific about which color she wanted to ride on, so I let her go in front of us in line so she could get the one she wanted because I was so glad she had shared that barf story with me, as it made me feel a lot better, having ridden that exact coaster and NOT thrown up. 

At one point, I got scolded by the teenage operator of a ride to put away my phone (my pockets are not large enough to accommodate it, friend! My hands can barely do the job!), and after the ride I was going to apologize to him for making his job harder but as I walked up, I saw he was picking his nose and decided it would be better if I just walked away lest the apology end with a hearty handshake. 

We didn’t quite make it the whole day from park open til close–if we were going to have to get an early driving start the next day, I wanted to get back at a decent hour and have an opportunity to rest up and maybe shake off the threat of looming illness, but we still managed to get in a full day of fun even if it wasn’t the rip-roaring rollercoaster experience I had dreamed about. And I still don’t know if I’m officially too old for extreme thrills, but what I do know is that whether I’m old and feeble or acting like an infant because I’m feeling old and feeble, it’s time for a nap.


*I used to have blog posts about this trip, but evidently at some point I thought they sucked enough to delete them, otherwise I’d link you back to those sucky, sucky posts. It’s probably for the best for everyone that they’re gone.

The Topiary Park in Columbus, OH

Have you ever wished you could step inside a piece of artwork? To move about the people portrayed, smell the luscious ripe fruit gently warmed by the sun on a rich wooden table, see the horses’s muscles ripple under their shining coats? Well, you can’t go quite that far, but you can walk among the topiary version of Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

Located in the downtown of Columbus, Ohio, the Topiary Park (also known as Old Deaf School Park) was dedicated in 1992 and contains some 67 yew topiaries: 54 humans, 8 boats, three dogs, a monkey, and a cat. I didn’t count them all, but I trust none have scurried away in the night since its inception. It’s a “landscape of a painting of a landscape”, a work of art that references and celebrates art, a living painting. What’s especially striking about recreating this particular art style in topiary is that needles of the yew tree perform a similar function: disparate points of greenery, they come together en masse and provide shape and depth in the same way the distinct dots of color create a pointillist scene.

The rest of the park is no slouch, either, with its careful landscaping, cicadas buzzing from the branches. I was excited to see my first ever cicada exoskeleton here (although the live ones still eluded me), and I got all up in its business. It’s impressive how tightly this discarded casing clings to the bark of a tree, even with no visible leverage. I’m sure I’d feel a little differently about it if I lived in one of those places that sees massive swarms every thirteen years, no one likes a “swarm” unless it’s a “swarm of the world’s cutest puppies” or a “swarm of pizza delivery people each with a pizza more delicious than the last” or a “swarm of money being pumped into your house through the mail slot, turning your living room into a giant cash cage”. Sadly, that kind of swarm has yet to materialize.

Spotted on the Roadside: The Dancing Hares of Dublin, OH

Commissioned by Peter Edwards, “Dancing Hares” was created by London artist Sophie Ryder in 2001; she was inspired by the courtship rituals of hares, in which they stand erect and “box” one another. Originally exhibited at The Hague, the rabbits were later shipped to Dublin and installed in a park for the public to admire as they frolic similarly in the dancing waters of the fountain below. On closer inspection, all of the hares are embedded with dozens (hundreds?) of ordinary objects–coins, toys, tools, and a number of things I couldn’t begin to identify.

Pro tip: After you’re done admiring the art, roll down the grassy hill upon which these hares eternally battle…because why not?

Spotted on Woerner Temple Road in Dublin, OH

Melt Bar & Grilled in Dayton, OH

Melt was one of those places that was on my radar long before I decided to take a trip to Ohio. I first stumbled across them on instagram, where they’d post these insane grilled cheeses loaded with all kinds of things you might not necessarily expect to find on a grilled cheese: kimchi, mozzarella sticks, waffles, ribs, jalapeno poppers, wedges of deep fried mac and cheese…Basically, take a chain restaurant’s entire appetizer menu and shove it inside a grilled cheese. I WILL HAVE THIS GRILLED CHEESE AND I WILL HAVE IT NOW AT A CONVENIENT TIME WHEN I AM PHYSICALLY LOCATED IN THE AREA. Months of anticipation built up, watching specials come and go on the ‘gram, waiting.

As it just so happened, I was near (enough) to a Melt when while my 3D print job was still going over at Proto BuildBar, so we headed over. And promptly had to wait some more. Luckily, this location was right outside a mall, so I was able to cross something else off my list: renting one of those ride-around-the-mall animal shaped scooters in a place where no one in the position of offering me a line of credit might see me. Verdict? FUN. SUPER FUN. Finally, I’m one of those cool older kids at the mall.

“I assure you that is my credit card, sir.”

Mischief managed, it was back to Melt for what I expected to be a life-altering grilled cheese. They were out of the special (damn it!). In its stead, we ordered a number of sandwiches so we could try more of the menu since it was possible we’ll never eat there again. We ordered: The Dude Abides (homemade meatballs, fried mozzarella wedges, basil marinara, roasted garlic, provolone & romano), Cuban War Pig (honey ham, mojo glazed pulled pork, fried pickle spears, honey mustard, swiss), Big Popper (fresh jalapeño peppers, cheddar & herb cream cheese, crispy battered & deep fried, powdered sugar, berry preserves for dipping), and Chicken & Waffles (crispy battered chicken, belgian waffle, sriracha butter, pepper-jack cheese & maple syrup for dipping). Bon choix! 

Honestly, none of them were that great. I’ve been thinking about it, wondering if the anticipation of eating here raised my expectations too high, because I want to be fair. And having thought about it, I think it’s fully fair to say that the food at Melt is not great.

I get pumped about eating a lot of things before I actually try them. Fully half of my trip planning is devoted to where we might like to eat if we found ourselves hungry in X neighborhood, I won’t lie. So it’s not like the case of the 40 Year Old Virgin when I saw it a year after it came out and literally everyone said “You have to see this movie, it’s the funniest movie I’ve ever seen, I wet myself eight times and would’ve gone back to see it again but I got banned from that movie theater  and all the other ones in a thirty mile radius owing to my refusal to pay to replace their seats. YOU HAVE TO SEE IT.” Literally everyone said exactly that. And then when I finally saw it, I thought it was just OK, probably because I’d heard all the references for a year and the gushing (ewww) recommendations and it would take a movie funny enough to make me black out laughing to live up to those expectations and the 40 Year Old Virgin wasn’t that movie.

This restaurant was nothing like the 40 Year Old Virgin, being only a Six Month Anticipated Dinner: I expected a delicious sandwich and they served me a merely OK sandwich. The sandwiches at Melt are consistently too tall to fit an entire bite in your mouth, top to bottom, which means you’re not getting all the components in every bite. That kind of sandwich height also makes it hard on the jaw because of having to open so wide–we’re not snakes, Melt, don’t make us unhinge.  The bread is too thick and crusty, so it competes too much with the insides while it abrades your mouth.

But all that is still not my main criticism: a grilled cheese should be first and foremost cheesy. Equal parts grill and cheese.  Everything else that you add to it should be in a supporting role to the main character, the star, the cheese. Otherwise, it’s just a sandwich, not a cheese sandwich.

There’s not nearly enough cheese in the sandwiches I had at Melt to qualify them as cheese sandwiches, with the exception of the Big Popper, which was straight up disgusting: fried outside surrounding mushy bread filled with jalapeno and a mound of slippery cheese. It’s like someone took a bite out of a brick of cream cheese, chewed it up into a paste with a little bread and jalapeno and then spit that paste in blobs directly into a deep fryer. But in case it wasn’t wet enough, it’s got raspberry dipping sauce so it slides right down your gullet like an alien baby going to nest. Ahem.

In all the other sandwiches, the cheese consistently got lost against the other components. And I guess that would be one thing if it was just a regular cuban sandwich or meatball sandwich or, uh, chicken & waffle sandwich, but they’re supposed to be grilled cheese sandwiches. And because they’re making a “grilled cheese”, they also apply sauce with a very restrained hand, which meant that overall, each sandwich was much too dry for a sandwich that size. Without enough cheese or sauce to lube up the works, it’s less pleasant to eat, especially when you take into account the aforementioned height of the sandwich. And then when you add fried items to the sandwich, it adds yet another layer of breading and the overall effect is just…dry. Slap a waffle in between two dry pieces of bread and a piece of dry breaded chicken and you might as well be biting straight into a loaf of bread. Maple syrup on the side isn’t enough to make this sandwich work. Don’t get me wrong: I was hungry, and the sandwiches were decent (the flavors were fine), they just weren’t mindblowing grilled cheese. Not great.

None of us finished anything. None of us brought home leftovers. I guess Instagram beauty is only skin deep.

Proto Build Bar in Dayton, OH

I was lured into Proto Build Bar by the promise of the world’s largest claw machine, almost as if I had been grabbed by a larger, invisible claw through the internet that took a month or so to reel me in. I wasn’t quite sure what else to expect as the details I saw were sparse, and I assumed that it was something relegated to the back of a dim dive bar, much in the same way the glory of the midwest’s largest urinal was forgotten. If I had done even a little bit of my own research beforehand, I would have seen that was not the case, but I generally prefer to look upon a place with fresh eyes. At least that’s my excuse.

Regardless, Proto Build Bar was nothing like I expected: it was much better. They’re proud of their giant claw machine, they make a killer cup of coffee, and with enough time there, they could probably help you make anything else you can conceive with their array of 3d printers and electrical tools. 

I need more torchwork in my home barista-ry.

We made haste to the claw machine, which was as gargantuan as promised. I especially appreciated that the controller was also huge, which made it feel like I was playing a machine for giants that humans had acquired somehow. Each of us played once and each of us won once, and then we promptly gave our winnings away as a large bouncy ball isn’t the most convenient thing to try and take on a plane–or ship, for that matter. The point of the visit was to play, not necessarily to win.

The game I did want to win was their custom built Edison vs Tesla: War of Currents arcade game, and this, friends, is not because I’m overly competitive (though I am, ask me about the time I almost gave myself frostbite because I wanted to win something more than common sense would allow) but because the loser gets shocked. Electrically. Talk about a punishing learning curve! Until the first shock happened, I still didn’t really believe that the game would zap you. After it happened, I really, really didn’t want to lose.

All in all, Proto Build Bar is super cool, and if I lived in the area, I’d be in there all the time. Far, far away from the arcade game. 

Spotted on the Roadside: Giant Corn in Dublin, OH


“So what kind of stuff did you want to do while you guys are here?”
“Well, I read about this giant field of fake corn cobs that’s not far from you–“
“Oh, that’s weird, Melissa. You’ll see it, it’s weird.”

I mean, a giant field of fake corn cobs is weird. Completed in 1994, these 109 concrete ears almost immediately became a town joke, because if I have learned one thing from years of traveling from public art site to public art site, it’s that the public hates public art. It’s all fine until someone finds that a fraction of a penny of their personal tax dollars went into creating it, and then all of a sudden, you’ve got dudes with usernames like FuckTheCorn53 on local papers’ comment sections. ANYWAY, “Field of Corn with Osage Orange Trees” was created on a plot of land that originally was used to develop hybridized corn. This land was later donated to the city, and they went looking for a piece of public art that could be placed on the site, eventually going with Malcolm Cochran’s proposal for the concrete cobs, a happy coincidence because evidently they did not know at the time of the land’s history

Standing at 6’3″, I’d have to stand on a sizable box in order to be top in my field. Ugh, what a corny joke, I’m sure you didn’t want to ear it. Shuck it, what’s done is done.

Spotted on Rings Road in Dublin, OH


Jungle Jim’s International Market

The Jungle Jim’s experience starts in the parking lot, with a monorail station entwined by a snake large enough to be given its own six movie series by the SyFy channel. Jungle Jim purchased the monorail cars inside from nearby King’s Island for the, uh, kingly sum of $1 when they closed down their wild animal safari ride in the early ’90s.

Originally, Jim intended to have the monorail track run all around the greater property, but as it turns out, even if you get the cars for cheap, installing monorail track is really expensive, so the track runs from the monorail station in the back parking lot to the storefront. The track runs. The monorail itself, to the best of my research abilities, only runs for special occasions, and my arrival sadly did not constitute one of those occasions, so we trudged from the back lot all the way to the front of the store, noting that many of the other businesses tucked into the complex have gotten into the statuary spirit. All except for “AVAIL Vapor”, which my mind insisted on turning into ANAL VAPOR, because of course it did.

If I can’t ride it, then what’s the point?

My father in law didn’t quite understand why I’d flown halfway across the country and driven halfway across the state to visit a grocery store, and that was because he had yet to behold the wonder that is Jungle Jim’s. Once we entered the store, I believe those questions ceased.

This is a grocery store so grand, it requires maps to find your way from the cheese counter to the frozen foods section. It’s a grocery store so grand that giant talking statuary in each section feels like a small, natural touch. It’s a grocery store so grand that you can find pretty much anything you’re looking for inside. It’s a grocery store so grand that if I lived anywhere in the state of Ohio, I wouldn’t be able to grocery shop anywhere else. What’s a three hour round trip drive when I can find all the international treats my greedy little heart desires?

I bought one of these gummy pickles and I can tell you for a fact that if real pickles tasted like its “real pickle taste”, I would never again eat another pickle in my life. Not even to make sure they still tasted terrible. NEVER IN LIFE.

To be honest, I’m not sure if Jungle Jim is a wizard who lives in the jungle or if this is is his cousin, Wizard Jim, but either way, I appreciate the man’s dedication to dress up.

As you might expect, this area plays Michael Jackson music on a nigh-constant loop.

IMO, store brand products never looked better.

The British foods section had its own Sherwood forest, complete with Robin Hood, Maid Marion, and pilfered booty jammed up in the tree trunk.

A grocery store so mighty it dwarfs King Kong!

And somehow, after all that, it’s the toilet that’s famous.

I can’t even really convey just how massive this grocery store was, the multitudes of products it contains. An entire walls of hot sauces. An aisle of nothing but single bottles of craft sodas. A cheese section large enough to live in. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of goods hailing from everywhere around the globe. All I can tell you is that I bought so much stuff that it necessitated shipping two boxes home, one of which USPS lost for three weeks, the box containing the above pictured gummy pickle. I was so happy when that prodigal pickle returned to me, at least until I tried it, at which point I cast it away and told it I wished it had never come back if all it was going to do was make me gag. JUNGLE WIZARD JIM, I TRUSTED YOU.

Cincinnati Eats: Famous Chili and the Best Pie in Ohio

Of course I was not going to take a day trip to Cincinnati and not eat the style of chili for which they are famous (or infamous, depending on one’s perspective on chili). I will tell you that I have never, never been to a city where chili is so heavily advertised and consumed. Chili restaurants in Cincinnati are the equivalent of Starbucks in Seattle: there’s one on every corner, and if you miss that one, there’s one less than a block away. Who is eating all this chili?! And pretty much all of their chili chain stores have drive throughs, which I also find a little mind boggling if only because chili doesn’t strike me as the consummate eat-on-the-go food. Like maybe, maybe I would concede this point if it was of the “frito pie/walking taco” variety where you dump chili and some fixings into an individual corn chip bag (there’s plenty of room in there, after all, given that each of them contains, on average, five to seven chips maximum) and eat it out of the bag with a fork. Or turn around and redump the contents of your bag into your mouth, I’m not the etiquette police. I can barely spell etiquette on the first try, much less put on pants and enforce a system of rigid and complex rules that seem archaic in modern society. Just, for the love of god, as you’re pouring chili and chips into your maw, please try not to burp at the same time.

Regardless, Cincinnati chili is a different beast altogether. Cincinnati chili is a spiced meat and tomato sauce melange that is used as a topping for two things: spaghetti, and hot dogs. It is NOT intended to be eaten by the bowl like chili con carne, and the people of Texas would probably rather blow Ohio off the map than refer to Cincinnati’s signature sauce as chili. If you decide on spaghetti, you can order your Cincinnati chili a number of ways. As in, literally, you tell the server whether you want your chili two way, three way, five way, etc. The least you can order your chili is two way, which is the chili plus the spaghetti. Three way: chili and spaghetti and cheese. To add to the confusion, not all of the ways are the same at all of the restaurants, but they all involve chili, spaghetti, cheese, beans, and onions. Oyster crackers are commonly given on the side as a garnish, but for some reason, they do not count as an additional way, forming the ultimate Six Way Chili. 

I did some polling at the American Sign Museum and they all agreed that Camp Washington Chili was the place to go for the best Cincinnati chili, and in my later research, discovered that it had won a James Beard Foundation American Classics award in 2000, so I feel confident that the Cincinnati chili I ordered and ate was its best possible iteration. The verdict? It’s tasty but I think you have to grow up on it to get it in your blood enough to crave it.

O Pie O was a late addition to the rounds. When we arrived in Ohio, my mother in law had stacks and stacks of every magazine and brochure that had anything to do with Ohio tourism (she knows me pretty well on that score). I flipped through all of them, and a glossy page calling the Honey Vinegar Pie at O Pie O Ohio’s best dessert stopped me dead in my tracks. Ohio’s best dessert? Within striking distance? Obviously we were going to go. Obviously

The verdict on this one was…not so good. I don’t know if I caught them on an off day in the kitchen or what, but the crusts on all of the pies were tough and leathery, not flaky in the least and not nearly tender enough to cut with a fork. Without a good pastry, you really cannot have a good pie aaaaaand it’s especially hard if the insides aren’t all that great, either. I can appreciate the tangy silkiness of the honey vinegar, but it felt like it needed something. The blackberries in the blackberry buttermilk pie were unpleasantly sour.  On the eternal battle that is cake v pie, I’ve switched to team pie, but I’m finding it difficult to go to bat for this particular pie. Now this pie that I made for my Game of Thrones birthday that disappeared before I got a slice and so many people came out of my kitchen moaning about its deliciousness that I had to make it again like a week later, THAT is a pie that I’m willing to ride or die on team pie for. Go eat that pie and know that because of something some magazine said once, that you’re eating a dessert that’s better than any in Ohio.


Spotted on the Roadside: Murals in Cincinnati

Cincinnati is FULL of murals celebrating the neighborhoods and notable residents they’ve had throughout the years–a public arts campaign began in 2007 and has continued through 2017, culminating in more than 100 murals that place art into residents’ daily lives.  Obviously my favorite was the toy mural, which could have easily been called “80s child nostalgia”.  I can almost smell those barely lightbulb warmed treats now.


Campy Washington spotted on Colerain Ave

Martha, The Last Passenger Pigeon spotted on Vine St

Armstrong spotted on Walnut St 

Swing Around Rosie spotted on W Liberty St

Cincinnati Toy Heritage spotted on W Court St