Hitless Wonder

Oestreich, Joe. Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll. Guilford, Connecticut; Lyons Press, 2012.

Hitless Wonder begins with the author’s band (Columbus’s Watershed) playing for an almost non-existent audience in a bar in Detroit—the first stop on a ten-show tour. The local opening act has pulled out and there is no one to see the headliner. There are people in the bar, but none willing to pay for concert’s five dollar admission. The band waits at the bar while the club manager tries to talk them out of playing. The reader has already figured out that Oestreich is going to document the tour and it would not be far fetched to think we are in for a tragic-comedy. A band that once almost made it—over a decade before—is on one last failed tromp around old stomping grounds that are no longer looking for the next Watershed record.

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Cover Me

Huber, Sonya. Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir.  Lincoln, Nebraska; University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

I try not to do this, but I happened to read another review of Sonya Huber’s Cover Me (the Booklist review on the Clevnet catalog).  My fear is that reading another reviewer’s opinion on a work will only create an outline for developing my own opinions.  I like my reviews to be pure.  Needless to say, I made it three-fourths through Huber’s memoir of her diverse and often chaotic post-college years, told through her progression of health care coverage, with one line from the Booklist review stuck in my head:

It’s hard to be too sympathetic about her lack of coverage when she chooses to quit job after job (including eight with health insurance) that she finds dull or beneath her.

Bear with me, as I don’t mean to criticize the reviewer – who wrote a much more succinct and useful review than the one you are reading presently and who overall liked Cover Me.  I didn’t keep track, but the eight jobs quit with health insurance referenced is likely correct, but my reading was different. Continue reading

The Professor & the Coed

Gribben, Mark. The Professor and the Coed: Scandal and Murder at The Ohio State University.  Charleston, SC; The History Press, 2010.

Does the name Dr. James Howard Snook ring a bell?  It may be a result of this reviewer not being familiar with the general history and folklore of Columbus, but Snook’s story is new to me.  He was an Olympic sharp shooter and pioneering veterinary science researcher at Ohio State in the late 1920s.  But, if remembered at all, it would be for having an affair and murdering med student Theora Hix in 1929, known as the “Crime of the Century” at the time.  Mark Gribben painstakingly puts together all of the pieces of the whole affair in The Professor and the Coed.

As mysteries go, the murder of Theora Hix would make a disappointing 48 Hours episode.  While the sordid details of the affair would fill an interesting segment or two, the Columbus police went from difficulty identifying the body to getting a confession from Snook within several days.  The trial lasted several weeks – Snook’s testimony was very explicit – but the jury deliberated and convicted Snook of first-degree murder (which by state law at the time resulted in execution for all convictions) in about thirty minutes.  There was never any doubt, or mystery, in the crime.

It is the simplicity of the case and the lack of unsolved questions that would typically leave the whole affair as little more than a foot note in a larger work of history – possibly a “Famous Murders in Columbus”.  But Gribbens does a thorough investigation and places the story within the phenomenon of a “Crime of the Century”.  Within the Columbus newspaper market, there a scramble to uncover outrageous details from the crime.  At one point, the prosecution allowed a few papers the chance to interview Snook (not a common practice today).  The other papers then scrambled to make up facts to compete for sales.

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Sapp, Gregg. Dollarapalooza: or the Day Peace Broke out in Columbus. DeKalb, Illinois: Switchgrass Books, 2011.


“When the sun rises over Ohio, it casts the whole nation’s shadow.”

“Say what?”

“What I’m saying is that you can take the boy out of Ohio…”

“But you can’t take Ohio out of the boy. Oh, jeez, old man. That’s what you told me when I was a kid, and I didn’t believe it then.”

“And if it wasn’t try, you wouldn’t be here today.”

– Von Carp talking with Milt Carp in Dollarapalooza (218)


There has been a long, long tradition in literature of the wayward son returning home after experiencing life abroad (or simply away from home).  Dating back to even beyond Odysseus, this has become a common theme of American literature, from the Godfather to My Antonia.  It contrasts and works together with another big theme of American literature – the idea of mobility and, more simply, coming and going from a place. Think of a character catching a train or plain at the end of a novel or movie – destination may or may not be known.  Really, pick up any non-genre literary novel, and there is a good chance that a central plot point involves one of the main characters either coming or going home. The home is usually celebrated for its evils, virtues, or simply its folksy character. The return typically teaches the son his or her non-geographic place in the world – in that place called home.  These fictional wayward sons often become synonymous with real life geography – for example, Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and Ashville, North Carolina.

This brings me to Gregg Sapp’s Dollarapalooza, a novel about a wayward son, Vonn Carp, who emerges from the pieces of a shattered life in his hometown of Columbus – more specifically, the north side of Columbus. Vonn returns to Columbus for a family funeral, and Milt (Vonn’s father) persuades him to start a family business – an improbable, locally-owned dollar store.  Continue reading

High Stakes

Curry, Timothy Jon, Kent Schwirian, and Rachel A. Woldoff.  High Stakes: Big Time Sports and Downtown Redevelopment.  Columbus, Ohio; The Ohio State University Press, 2004.

One of the recurrent themes spoken by developers and civic officials in Columbus as reported in High Stakes was that getting an NHL team would make the metropolis a Major league city.  I don’t know if there is any way on measuring a Major League city (other than having a major league team), but Columbus landed the Blue Jackets expansion team in 1997 (starting play in 2000-01), adding it to the expanding list of new “Major league” towns.  These cities (such as Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City in Basketball) join the old guard of major league cities which were well established as major metropolis at the turn of the 20th Century (though maybe not so much anymore).

High Stakes tells the story of how Columbus landed a hockey franchise by looking  at one of the most instantly forgotten historic events – the failed referendum.  In 1997, the residents of Franklin County rejected a 50 cent sales tax increase that would go towards paying for an arena (for hockey) and a soccer stadium for the already established Columbus Crew of the MLS.  (The Crew played at OSU stadium at the time).  From the jaws of defeat, within a week, a new franchise owner and arena deal was procured through private (with some public) funding.  Eventually a soccer only stadium was built through mostly private funding on the state fair grounds.  Everyone won, including those consumers who would have needlessly (it seems) paid higher sales taxes to build such stadiums.  A main point throughout High Stakes, is that a strong opposition is healthy for referendum issues.   Continue reading

Getting Around Brown

Jacobs, Gregory S.  Getting Around Brown: Desegregation, Development, and the Columbus Public Schools.  Columbus, Ohio; Ohio State University Press, 1998.

As another school year approaches, I thought I would look at a education-related title.

Desegregation (and its aftermath) of Ohio’s large municipalities has not been one of the state’s prouder moments.  From the late sixties through the rest of the 20th Century, terms like “Busing” and “Neighborhood Schools” have developed racial undertones.  This is a very controversial issue with many nuanced arguments, which I do not want to touch at this time.  That said, integrating municipal schools is one of the most important stories in the history of Ohio cities over the last half century.  For better or worse, it led to the creation of Ohio as suburban state.  This can be seen in lopsided number of non-city residents in all of Ohio’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

With the case of Penick v. Columbus Board of Education, Columbus Public Schools were declared unconstitutional regarding separate and unequal schools.  The court took control of producing a remedy, which involved massive relocation of the student population.   Jacobs’ Getting Around Brown tells the integration story of the Columbus Public Schools.  What differentiates Getting Around Brown from other “busing” stories (there have been several written from different sides about Boston’s experience) is Jacobs’ focus on how the business community, city leaders, and the development of the city, from its beginning, made the Columbus story unique.

Getting Around Brown was published in the Urban Life and Urban Landscape Series through Ohio State University Press, a series that focuses on urban history and planning issue.  It is not popular non-fiction and Jacobs does not spend much time discussing the quality of education.
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