Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

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In My Block

I have struggled to keep shooting. For a myriad of reasons, my inner critic is particularly ruthless with any visual artistic work. So, with every design, illustration and photo comes abuse; no human has ever been as cruel to me as my inner critic. The difference between what I intend to capture vs what actually turns out is vast, and I am continually disgusted with myself. My inner critic uses lots of phrases that start with “I should…”.

I have grace with myself in writing. I know I am still learning, and I accept my poor editing abilities. I have grace with myself in playing guitar. When I make a mess of a tune my first thought is what steps I will take to improve, rather than “I should be able to play this.” That self talk with “I should”, it’s not useful. Who cares what should be? What “is” is all that matters.

I’m working to shush my inner critic. As part of that I decided to walk around my block and shoot. Sure, while taking and editing these pictures I was shouting down my inner critic with, “RESPECT THE JOURNEY!!!!”, more often than not. Here’s the results.

I am a crazy cat lady. You will suffer my furry friends.

I am a crazy cat lady. You will suffer my furry friends. Also, look at him. He’s adorable.

The letters ALLRIGHT stained on concrete


Urban Scenes

Paint rusting off

Everything changes.

A picture of a no trespassing sign on the ground

No man shall pass

Black and white photo of old granite foundation.

Beauty in all things.

Ghost sign on McFarland Street.

Ghost sign on McFarland Street.

The side of a brick building with some numbers written on it.

Put to order left to time.

Fire department water spigot with a patina

Antique twitter.

A picture of the exterior of a building on Plum Street with the year 1905 impressed in the decorative brick work.

So much struggle was on the horizon.

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The Place I Call Home

NOTE: Readers who aren’t familiar with Cincinnati. This blog is going to be about the neighborhood that I’ve spent the most time in. The neighborhood is called Over the Rhine, or OTR for short. It is just north of the downtown business district. It was blighted for the first 10 years that I lived here. There has been a renaissance in the last 8 years. It has the largest collection of intact 19th century urban architecture in the country. It was allowed to rot from 1970’s until just 8 years ago. For more on this neighborhood and current events read this: https://allthenamesaretakensothisisreallyreallylong.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/a-streetcar-named-wtf/

I lived in Over the Rhine when it was blighted. I lived there when the streets were lined with boarded-up buildings. I lived on the corner of 13th and Jackson 2003-2005. Here’s what isn’t obvious about that place in that time. There was a real community there. The people who chose this place as their home were grounded and real. While they were unconventional makers and builders. They were artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and chefs. There’s something that makes all posturing and pretense melt away when, the only thing that’s standing between you and a random act of violence is the vigilance of the people who live on your street.

Many things have changed since 2005. Most notably, OTR has been gentrified and is considerably more expensive to live in. The crappy corner bar with 2 dollar Jim Beams has been replaced with a craft beer bar with drinks at 10 dollars each. Rentals have given way to condos. Condos start at $250,000 for a very small two bedroom without parking. My 1200 sqft 2 story loft with 1.5 baths was a mere $650 a month in 2005. I’m sure that rent as at least doubled.

These changes have brought much-needed money to the neighborhood to spur development. And for the most part, I am happy for it. Although, these changes have by their nature changed my neighborhood. I don’t say hi to the drug dealers anymore. Instead I see lots of runners; a rarity in the past. The bars and eateries that I used to walk into and sit immediately are often on a 2 hour wait. But I’ve been wondering, how much has the community changed? Are there still great artists, makers, and bartenders living there?

I got my answer on Friday. Cincinnati shuts down in snow storms. Friday was no exception. Since I live within walking distance, I headed to OTR. I knew that the bars would be filled with locals, or people who could walk to their destinations. Suburbanites in Cincinnati would not leave their homes in this kind of weather.

I headed to The Drinkery. When I walked in, the nine strangers at the bar cheered and gave me high-fives. Apparently, people who go out in that weather appreciate others who do the same. My friend texted and let me know that she was across the street at Cincy by the Slice. Since they were pretty slow, we bonded with the staff over bad dating website pictures. One of the pictures features a recorder, a box of wine, a fire on a laptop screen, no shirt, and an animal skin rug; this picture is magnificently bad.

We headed outside into a snowball fight. This was cut short by the fact that our primary opponent lacked gloves. In The Drinkery, we found that the bartenders were well lubricated and chatty. At some point, we found ourselves outside with a bartender singing James Brown with Kevin the Poet. See the video below for an understanding of who Kevin the poet is.


After too many dollar Ancient Ancient Ages, we headed to Japps. It was at this location that I saw twerking for the first time. It just so happened that an Asian man jumped out of the DJ box and lead my friend to the dance floor. A few moments later, this man was twerking so aggressively on my friend that she nearly fell over. I can’t express how pleased I am that, my first twerking experience was with a gay man going for a ridiculous score of 11 out of 10.

After some less than graceful dancing (note: that is only in reference to my rhythmically challenged ass and not my friend’s), we needed some pizza to soak up the booze. We returned to Cincy by the Slice and ordered a pepperoni pizza. In the short time that we waited for pizza, we were joined by 6 or so people. They missed the cutoff for pizza, so we shared ours. Then we had a dance party with the staff at Cincy by the Slice to Missy Elliot.

This night was so fun. This night was filled with lots of great people. There weren’t any weird come-ons. There weren’t any douche bags. It has convinced me that the people who choose to live in OTR are still fantastic. The rents have gone up. The booze is more expensive, but the people who choose to call that place home? They are exactly as awesome as they were a decade ago.

This is a shot of 12th and Vine facing West.

This is a shot of 12th and Vine facing West.

This is looking north on Vine street.

This is looking north on Vine street.

This is outside The Ensemble Theater. I don't know why I liked seeing the snow lit-up from behind.

This is outside The Ensemble Theater. I don’t know why I liked seeing the snow lit-up from behind.

Looking north at the cornder of Central Parkway and Vine.

Looking north at the cornder of Central Parkway and Vine.

Here's the Christmas tree on Fountain Square

Here’s the Christmas tree on Fountain Square

Looking east on 5th street.

Looking east on 5th street.

Here's my rooftop!

Here’s my rooftop!

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A Streetcar Named WTF

This was the view of 13th Street from my OTR loft. It was, with out question, the best place I have ever lived.

This was the view of 13th Street from my OTR loft. It was, with out question, the best place I have ever lived.

If you are familiar with Cincinnati politics, you know that a streetcar line is under contruction. You probably also know that voters voted for the streetcar twice. On November 5th in a mid-term election with low voter turn-out, the city elected a mayor whose platform was to stop the streetcar. The city elected a city council majority that does not support the streetcar.

I’m going to talk about being a progressive voter in a conservative town, and why my future city will be determined by the fate of this project. I will not debate the merits of the streetcar project. If you want to get a firm understanding of why I think the project should move forward, have a look at these two blogs. They do a good job of capturing the reasons that I am solidly behind completing the project.

Here’s an article describing some of the details around the streetcar project.

Here’s an article describing Cincinnati’s mixed history with progress.

I moved to Cincinnati in 1994. I came to attend the University of Cincinnati. Cincinnati was a big change from Canton. Everything you need to know about Canton can be communicated by saying that it was on the Forbes 10 worst cities list in 2011, I believe. Job opportunites are slim, and city ammenities are slimmer especially for someone who values biking and walking as much as I do. If you can’t get enough strip malls and Applebees Canton is the place for you.

Although Cincinnati is notoriously conservative it was still progressive as compared to Canton. I experienced many firsts here. I went from a driver to a walker/biker. I met people with religious backgrounds that were different from my own. I met openly gay people for the first time. I lived in mixed-income and mixed ethnicity neighborhoods. I tried Indian food for the first time, and promptly fell in love. And specifically in Over the Rhine, I saw my first drug deal, my first hooker and my first historic urban neighborhood.

My friends and I piled in the car to head to a Red’s game. White people from the suburbs openly gawk or are visibly anxious in troubled neighborhoods. While I was unaware of my own gawking on this particular day, I have seen many people do it in the intervening years that I’ve lived in troubled urban neighborhoods. We were in the car mouths gaping, when a hooker walking the crosswalk in front of us flashed us. Naive is an appropriate word to describe my state then, because it dawned on me that this woman probably didn’t lounge around in those heels and that dress for fun. I don’t know what I thought a real prostitute would look like, but I do know she had less teeth than what I was expecting.

It was in this unlikely moment that I fell in love with Over the Rhine. Maybe my experience as a closeted gay teen in the suburbs made me love that the people in OTR wore their problems on their sleeves. Things that happened behind closed doors in the suburbs, happened on the street there. I loved the honesty of it. On top of that, the buildings, the boarded up rotting buildings were among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The brick and mortar felt alive with history. They were eyeless, toothless sentries breathing with human triumphs and disasters of more than a century.

From that point forward, I regularly lived in Over the Rhine or near it. I could describe the vibrant community that’s been there for all of my 18 years here. I could tell the story of how the city made wrong turn after wrong turn in shining that blemished jewel. But that would take numerous blog posts. So, skipping much, the current iteration of OTR is a mixed-income, mixed ethnicity neighborhood. In addition to all that development money that was poured into rehabbing the stunning buildings, the city has added numerous bike lanes and has made improvements in the city bus system.

This brings me to the streetcar. Should the mayor kill this project, it is almost certain that a big transportation project won’t be attempted here for at least a decade. So, the question that I am left asking myself is do I want to be 50 and getting the public transportation that I want out of my city?

Because there’s another layer to this question. It’s not just that Cincinnati is lacking transportation, and the republican state legislature seems to only want investment dollars in highways, but Ohio has a defense of marriage amendment in its constitution. Practically, this means gay marriage won’t be legal here for another 6 years at the very soonest. And assuming this divisive issue fails to pass at least once that 6 years becomes 10. So that question, do I want to wait until I am 50 to have my family and transportation in Cincinnati when I could move and have those things now?

I’ve traveled enough to know that it’s unlikely I will find a neighborhood that I love as much as OTR. OTR is the largest, most intact urban historic district in the United States, making the area unique. I stayed to contribute to the neighborhood. I stayed to contribute to the city. Things have changed, they’ve changed so much that with or without the streetcar I think OTR will continue to grow. And this is great, but it also means that I don’t need to stay here anymore. It means that I can go to what I want. I’m ready.

Here’s a link to our work cleaning out the lagering tunnels to make room for tour groups. This particular effort was about clearing out the basement of the Guildhaus on Vine.