Meeting the Moment: How Skaters, Musicians, a Manatee Helped Us Through the Pandemic

Skaters, musicians, a manatee and more who showed their mettle during COVID-19

Columbus Monthly staff
Crunch Ramp Supremes

Crunch Ramp Supremes

Someone asked me recently, “Why roller skating?” It’s a fair question. Since I started skating last August, I’ve broken my ankle, bruised seemingly every soft part of my body, permanently scarred my right knee and picked gravel out of my bleeding hands. And yet, I keep going back. A large part of the reason why is because of the Crunch Ramp Supremes. What started in 2019 as a small group of friends skating together has morphed into a community of 100-plus skaters and bladers of all genders, races and skill levels. The group’s numbers increased with the pandemic, but the sense of camaraderie and support remained strong. We share tips and tricks, swap wipeout stories, attend community events and raise money for local nonprofits. And of course, we skate. 

I often say you will not find a more supportive community than roller skaters. Maybe it’s because we understand that there’s power in numbers. Most quad skaters are women or nonbinary, and we’re used to fighting for space, both at skateparks and in other areas of our lives. Maybe it’s because we understand that this thing we’re doing is really fun but also really hard. My fellow Crunch Ramp Supremes would want me to point out how much I’ve achieved in the past few months. “Look at what YOU can do now!” they would say. And they’re right. I skate for me. But I also skate for them. —Brittany Moseley

Say It Loud Columbus co-founders Paisha Thomas, 46, of Worthington and Joseph Gardina, 37, of Westerville organized the group to add music to social justice protests. The pair was photographed at the Maroon Arts Boxpark in the King-Lincoln/Bronzeville district, where they have previously performed and hosted events.

Say It Loud Columbus 

Central Ohioans who attended protests last summer in response to the death of George Floyd already spoke with loud voices, but local musicians Paisha Thomas and Joey Gardina aimed to amplify them further. Last year, the two launched Say It Loud Columbus, which hires area musicians to bring their gifts to demonstrations against police brutality and other important issues. “We started off with five to seven artists,” Thomas says. “We probably have reached about 20 artists.” The connection between social change and live music is important to Thomas, who says, “I grew up in the Black church, so music, and inspiration from music, has always been part of who I am.” —Peter Tonguette

More:Local musicians add music to protests against police violence, hope to uplift activists

A robot, right, delivers food to diners at Mala HotPot restaurant, 3777 Park Mill Run Drive, on Monday, November 23, 2020. Manager Yvonne Cao demonstrates how customers can take their food from the robot's trays.

Robot waiters, Mala Hot Pot 

They lack the human touch—and that’s what made them perfect for the past year. During a time when in-person contact with other people could prove deadly, Mala Hot Pot in Hilliard began using two cyborg servers to reduce that type of interaction. To be sure, flesh and blood employees still seat guests, take orders and prepare the meals in the kitchen. But the robots deliver the food to the tables, using sensors to avoid bumping into people, booths and other obstacles. The arrangement has worked so well, in fact, that Jay Yang, the owner of the restaurant, is now distributing the $13,000 machines made by the Chinese company Keenon. With COVID-19 vaccines making people more comfortable dining out again, Yang says the robots can also help address ongoing labor shortages in the service industry. —Dave Ghose

More:Columbus Monthly’s Best of Columbus 2021

Ian Graham photographed at the Needle Exchange Records & Tapes

Ian Graham, Needle Exchange Records & Tapes 

When the North Clintonville record store opened in the spring, owner Ian Graham gave his business an additional social mission: promoting harm reduction, a less punitive approach to drug policies and treatment. The store’s name, in other words, was no joke. “I wanted to be able to back it up,” says Graham, who formed a partnership with Harm Reduction Ohio, the state’s largest distributor of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, to share literature from the nonprofit and eventually offer the life-saving drug free of charge at the store. With overdose deaths surging in Franklin County during the pandemic, the Needle Exchange will become a rare small business that doubles as a distribution site for naloxone, also commonly known by the brand name Narcan. “Every box of Narcan has the potential to save a life,” says Mary Loesch, Harm Reduction Ohio’s distribution manager. —Dave Ghose 

More:The Needle Exchange finds its niche in a crowded record store scene

Squirrel, a baby manatee, explores the 300,000-gallon Manatee Coast habitat at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium with Stubby, a longterm resident manatee. Squirrel is one of the smallest calves the zoo has ever cared for, while Stubby is full-grown.

Stubby, Columbus Zoo & Aquarium 

The only permanent resident of the zoo’s Manatee Coast exhibit helped cheer up a pandemic-weary city over the past year. Stubby, the zoo’s beloved 1,500-pound sea cow with a partially amputated tail, developed a special bond with an orphaned manatee named Squirrel. Though Stubby has long been the zoo’s unofficial surrogate manatee mom, her caregivers say she’s never connected so closely with another calf as she has with Squirrel. Since Squirrel arrived in November, the pair have been inseparable, with the youngster happiest when she’s touching her poolmate. Stubby, in turn, welcomes the attention, helping Squirrel find food and get comfortable in her surroundings. All this makes you want to put aside social distancing for a moment, jump in the pool and give Stubby a big, wet hug. —Dave Ghose