The Other Columbus: Even the grass here will fight you
To wrap up his series, the columnist discusses 'that other Columbus, the one that’s seen it all and doesn’t pretend it’s something that it isn’t, and still sticks around'
There is a patch of grass – no bigger than a handful – on the west side of the Downtown riverfront that has been there forever. I don’t want to tell you exactly where it is, but know that it’s close to one of the bridges and not far from the amphitheater that sits behind COSI in Genoa Park.
Well, not forever, but it’s been there a long time. Longer than I’ve been around, which is not a short time. It hasn’t been there since the 1913 flood that swallowed what we now call Franklinton. It probably didn’t come into its final form as a handful of grass until after the construction of the eastern retainer wall in the 1920s. So sometime after that, when the rebuilding began, and the bridges were made whole again.
If you believe in such things, that clump of grass has seen it all. Well, everything from one side of the river. That fistful of grass saw the Avenue of Flags replace the standards of all 50 states with Ohio and Columbus flags in 2002 because of the Confederate iconography on some flags. It saw skyscrapers rise and industries fall. It was there before there was a festival season, before you could buy shrimp and grits in full view of the river. It was there when COSI was still on Broad Street, the only barrier between you and an upgraded school lunch of fresh Wendy's across the street. It remembers when saxman Vince Andrews played under the dome of the then-floating amphitheater during the Jazz & Rib Fest.
The grass was definitely there in 1991 when I took a girl down to the riverfront to check off her “walks in the park” box one night, and happened upon a drum circle under the bridge. They couldn’t play for jack, but they weren’t playing for an audience. They were calling out to the night and the city and the lapping of concrete by the river. I suppose the word is communing, and we were communing with them, and for several beats, everything was connected. You could feel Columbus’ heartbeat, put your hand around it.
Everybody talks about the Scioto Mile, less so Genoa Park, which the grass patch calls a gentrification of where it used to live. It isn’t particularly invested in the argument, of course, as it requires no shelter, nor does it pay taxes. So the patch doesn’t mind that the spotlight shines more often across the river. When Columbus sets its sights on things, they get changed quick, and grass is always the first thing to go after people.
It’s wholly possible that the clump of grass I’m writing about is not nearly as old as I think it is, or want it to be. Most domestic grass dies within five years. This isn’t the prairie we’re talking about here, where unmolested grass can live forever. In Columbus, individual blades die, but the parent plant can keep seeding, essentially cloning itself. So the patch in question could be a generational party of blades. This clump of grass may not be my clump of grass at all. The lawn keepers for the city would probably tell you that they reseed the grass all the time, and that the patch of grass I know from 1991 is not the same patch of grass in 2022. Sure, they’re the experts, but where is your romanticism, groundskeeper? Besides, my plot of grass is very specific. I feel as if the city may never find it, and that it may live forever there. At least until another drum circle shows up.
The people that I see all over town are also my patch of grass, at least the people who can see Columbus with their eyes wide open. We get that the city is beautiful and corrupted, that life here is firmly what you make it and what you tell yourself. We work that struggle because for most of us, there is just enough of it that means us well, and so we deem it worth sticking around for. We watch the buildings come and go, and we stick it out. We read the headlines shaking our heads, and we stick it out. We see the grass next to us pulled out from its roots, and we stick it out.
That is the Columbus I care most about — that other Columbus, the one that’s seen it all and doesn’t pretend it’s something that it isn’t, and still sticks around. It is the Columbus we cast our seeds into, that we try to make beautiful with our fights and struggles, not an ad campaign that says all of the grass here is kept up. There is a patch of grass on the west side of the riverfront that no matter how many times you trim it, it always grows back a little wild. It has seen it all, and yet it still keeps giving. It still sees itself as part of what makes it all work. That is all the grass I need to be. That is all the grass I care about.