Scott Woods: Campus is Trash. The Debate is Over

Remembering when Ohio State’s High Street strip was capable of surprise

Scott Woods
Columbus Monthly
The rock group Fulbone performs at Bernies in 1998. Photo by James D. DeCamp

Just so we’re clear, your campus is garbage.

Every generation of OSU students or denizens thinks their generation’s version of the High Street corridor was better than whatever version currently exists. I want the record to reflect that this is a debate that’s officially and empirically dead. The fact that you can call it a corridor and not catch any side-eye is almost all that needs to be said, since back in the day that used to be a “strip.”

The debate was arguably dead once Campus Partners rolled in and started buying and razing properties around the early 2000s. Yet, as long as certain staples were still around, you could at least pretend some of the old stomping ground still had dirt on it. 

You could buy food for a dollar at several locations, which was necessary, since so many of the businesses that lined the strip were open late, which is a thing that’s also gone the way of Catfish Biff’s. High Street has lots of food places so long as the sun is up. By midnight, you may as well go home. Campus still wants to get you drunk, but that’s pretty much all it wants to do. So not only does your campus suck now; it’s irresponsible.

Perhaps the greatest crime of campus these days is that it’s boring. No buying nunchucks at random head shops, no comic book vault, no record stores, no place to buy a guitar and live a pauper’s life playing for beer during your college years. All High Street consists of now is eating and drinking, maybe an early movie at Gateway if you have any money left over.

Old people always make the horrible and dangerous conditions under which they lived sound like a golden era. I get that I am perilously close to doing the same here. But at least I’m right. Every campus before the one we got now was at least capable of surprise. 

The coffin nail for me was Bernie’s Bagels and Deli. When the literal underground eatery and garage band bar was sold and ripped out of the ground to build a Target, that was the end of the campus I knew or really wanted to be a part of. My older brother was in a band that played up and down High Street before I was old enough to attend anything, so in my mind campus was always this wild and heady mix of live psychedelic music and neon hedonism. He would mention playing at Bernie’s and what the venue was like. I remember he even took me there once or twice when my mother saddled him with babysitter duty. This would have been during the day, when the band was setting up for a show later or whatever. I was freaked out about walking the stairs down into the belly of High Street, then into a bohemian riff on a bomb shelter that sold sandwiches. Years later, when I was making hip-hop beats and later as a DJ, I made it my goal to get booked in Bernie’s. It was kind of a Game of Thrones legacy situation: There must always be a Woods playing Bernie’s. I don’t need to tell you those were good nights, even when I only had five people in the room. 

Does any of the current crop of campus ne’er-do-wells have a place where they can go cosplay as a musician for a couple of years in front of their drunk friends and then stumble into a late night restaurant? Or a music shop where you might bump into music legend Willie Phoenix before a gig, or try to get your album placed on consignment? What am I even talking about; music is free now.

When I became a teenager and had friends who drove, campus was an early conquest. Whenever I could get to the High Street strip I’d hit up Greek Village for the best gyro in town, pop next door to the Silver Ball arcade and jam out for a while, and if I got hungry again I’d step one door over again and hit Subway. This was back when Subway wasn’t everywhere, and the place smelled heavily of olive oil. It smelled like a sub place should: meaty. You have nothing like any of this now. Even your retro arcade is too sterile, and it should be the grossest thing on the street.

Scott Woods

My God, we lived like kings. And like kings, we thought we’d reign forever. Campus Partners had to kill our campus—the last of the great campus strips—because we’d have swallowed that strip mall you call the Short North whole. At least we still have Buckeye Donuts. Once that’s gone, you may as well just turn out the lights.

Hope you enjoy your Raising Cane’s and Starbucks. I know I sound old and bitter. It’s because I am on both counts. But I warm my bones with the burning knowledge that my campus was empirically and without question better than yours.

Scott Woods is a poet, cultural critic, essayist and founder of the arts nonprofit Streetlight Guild.