It's an amazing time of year, when you literally can see the world change around you. Flowers bloom, windows open and baseball returns.
Winter even comes back to visit for a day or two.
Transitions are everywhere. Big and small, gradual and immediate, personal and communal.
I've lived the full spectrum this past week.
I recently spent a few days in Nashville staying with my father, who's slowly fading in his struggle with Parkinson's disease. My brothers and sisters and I paid for a week-long cruise for our mother so she could get a break from the constant care she's providing him, and my brother in North Carolina and I split the week by going home to stay with Dad.
My mother wouldn't have agreed to the cruise if someone wasn't in the house with my father around the clock, and it was a good way for us out-of-towners to feel useful.
My father's not talking much these days, but he's still pretty sharp mentally even as his body gives out. I asked him here and there about his childhood, our childhoods (I'm the oldest of seven), his work career and his disease -- as much to probe his memory as to know more about his current outlook on things.
He wasn't all that reflective with me, though that's not out of character for my father. He seems content with how his life has played out and has accepted his health problems. "It is what it is," he told me.
My father is 26 years older than me, which was an eternity when I was a kid or even a young adult. It feels like more of a blink of an eye now.
I drove back from Nashville on Saturday for my son's birthday party. Jack turned 3. He has the same name as my father.
For weeks we'd been talking about his birthday with Jack. He said he wanted to blow out candles and wanted animals on his cake -- especially Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King and Scooby Doo. They joined his ever-growing collection of plastic animals scattered throughout the house.
We took Jack to the zoo for his birthday. He wanted to see real animals, especially those corresponding to his favorite plastic ones: elephants, giraffes and polar bears.
Even though he'd seen the very same animals last summer, to Jack this was his first time viewing a real elephant, giraffe and polar bear in person. He liked it very much.
I kept asking Jack how old he was now, and he'd hold up three fingers.
Occasionally he still needed a little help from his other hand to make his pinkie and thumb meet.
I asked him how old I was. He thought a bit and said, "Hmmmm, 9."
On Monday evening I drove up to Oxford to speak to a journalism class at Miami. The class focuses on critical writing, reviews and essays, and I talked about the process of writing editorials and opinion columns.
I let the students in on my ongoing battle with the voice in my head that tells me, "No one cares what you think." It's a thought just about every writer faces when he or she starts to compose an opinion piece, and I think it's actually a healthy internal discussion to have.
On the one hand, that voice keeps you humble and focused. Anyone who publishes an opinion piece in CityBeat or The New York Times or your own personal blog is privileged to have a reader spend time with your words. Say something worthwhile and make that person glad he or she stopped to read you.
On the other hand, you have to constantly fight that voice or you'll never write anything for publication. I know I'm not among the top 1,000 writers in Greater Cincinnati or the top 20 writers in CityBeat, but that's OK. I think I have something worthwhile to say -- usually -- and so I push through the doubt.
The Miami students seemed to appreciate the honesty. I know college kids starting out on tentative career paths have more nagging voices in their heads than the rest of us combined.
As the class wrapped up, I went around the room and asked the students if they were planning to pursue journalism jobs after graduation. Some said they were, and some were going into other fields but thought the writing skills they were learning would come in handy. A few didn't know what they wanted to do.
When I asked one woman what she wanted to do after college, she said, "I want your job." After everyone laughed, I replied, "Someone has to do it next. Might as well be you."
Afterwards I drove down Route 27 back to Cincinnati as a huge orange moon was rising over the farm fields. I listened to WLW's post-game coverage of Opening Day and heard caller after caller describe what the first day of baseball season means to them.
Some talked about the beautiful weather, and some ripped Mayor Mark Mallory's poor ceremonial first pitch. But most reminisced about going to past Opening Days with their fathers or taking their kids to their first Opening Day or skipping college classes themselves for Opening Day.
I thought about my first big league baseball game, when my father took my brothers and me to Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, where we grew up, to see the Phillies play Roberto Clemente and the Pirates. And I thought about when my son would be old enough to appreciate a Reds game with me. And I thought back over the class I'd just spoken to and realized that I'm about the same distance from those students (26 years or so) that my father is from me.
Then I remembered I was driving on a dark and winding Route 27 and snapped back to reality.
Earlier today I was scanning CityBeat's blogs as well as other blogs and media Web sites and came across a number of items about new restaurants opening downtown and in Over-the-Rhine, and the concept of transitions hit me again.
The city's urban core has struggled to gain development momentum ever since the racial unrest in April 2001. The Main Street area was particularly hard hit after the riots, and the riverfront Banks project remains dirt and asphalt parking lots.
But now the transition back to growth might be at hand. Plans have been announced for three new locally owned independent restaurants in Over-the-Rhine: a Jean-Robert de Cavel place, a new concept at Neon's and a new place at the old Jump Café operated by Vinyl owners Roula David and Michael Spaulding -- plus the new Enzo Café that opened last week and a new bar at the old alchemize location. Add in the King Records-themed place at the old Uno's across from the Aronoff Center for the Arts (a joint project between Jeff Ruby and Bootsy Collins) and three or four other new restaurants opening later this year around Fountain Square, and local business people seem to be betting that the city center is transitioning back to life.
Like everything else mentioned in this column, time will tell regarding Cincinnati's business life cycle. Is this the start of new growth for the city, a momentary blip on our six-year holding pattern, neither or both?
Whatever it is, like Opening Day and birthdays and a college student's dreams, it feels good. As my father would say, it is what it is.
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