Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bad Signs

I hate to go all political on this blog, but I thought you might be interested in something I recently submitted to my town's weekly newspaper, The Strongsville Post.  It published on September 1st, but they made me cut it down to 500 words.  A little background: the city used $130,000 from the General Fund to construct a large brick sign with the word "Strongsville" on it.  Seems like kind of  waste to me.  Here's the unedited version.

A few months ago, I noticed the beginnings of some landscape and brick work being done on the northbound side of I-71, at the SR82 /Royalton Road exit.  A few weeks ago, the work completed, I saw the result, a very nice brick wall with the word "STRONGSVILLE" attached to the front and rows of greenery directly in front of the wall.

The idea for the sign came from a city council member who drove past a similar sign while on a trip to Columbus.  If it was good enough for a Columbus suburb, it certainly must be good enough for a Cleveland suburb.

I wondered just how much this sign cost the city to construct.  It seems that the landscaping was paid for by an ODOT grant of $48,000.

But, what about the brickwork and the giant letters?  Last week the Strongville Post's Terry Brlas reported that the sign itself cost the city $130,000.  Whoa!  Hey, it's a nice sign, but is it a worth the same amount the parents of this community are asked to shell out to have 325 student-athletes play a high school sport this fall?

But, in reading Mr. Brlas' article, I found out that there's really more to this sign than meets the eye.  See, apparantly "the purpose of the sign it to let motorists traveling northbound on I-71 know that they are in Strongsville and the Royalton Road exit is the place to exit."

That's interesting.  I guess a motorist might not notice the several big green signs advertising the Strongsville exit placed on the the highway starting at about a mile and a half before they would have to make their mind up to turn.  Maybe people who like to just stop to discover new cities can only read words attached to brick.  Maybe their GPS is broken and would steer them past Strongsville and into a less desirable place like Middleburg Heights.  If the purpose it to ensure we lure as many potential out-of-town consumers off the road and into our town, why not just build the brick wall on the highway itself, replace the big letters with a large arrow pointing to the right, forcing motorists onto the exit and right into the Strongsville Commerce Trap?

A little crazy, right?

But is it as crazy as what Mayor Perciak said about the sign?  In the article, the mayor is quoted as saying the sign "identifies what our community is.  We're sound, we're stable, we're safe and it displays all that.  It also displays a certain amount of pride in our residents, our schools and our businesses."  I personally drove past the sign eight times this week, the last three times driving really slowly to make sure I wasn't missing something.  Not once did I see anything other than the word "Strongsville."  I didn't feel more stable or safer.  I didn't feel more prideful or feel better about the schools or want to patronize any of the businesses in town. 

Or, is it as crazy as having members of the committee who helped to organize the construction of the sign stand next to the highway with large letters while others on the committee drove past.  The purpose was to determine how large the letters needed to be in order for them to be easily read as they drive by.  How about just sending one person down to the Columbus suburb where the idea came from in the first place and measure their letters?

Maybe Mayor Perciak's assistant would be able to help me see the light on this.  He said, "Folks are flying in to see some of our tech businesses and this lets them know where to access Strongsville."  Really?  They're flying in, yet have no means to figure out how to get our town from the airport, which is three miles away?  I doubt they'll be coming from the south anyway, but don't worry, the city is planning another sign for the southbound side of the highway.

I'm not sure how we ever break even on a $130,000 pricetag for this sign, much less adding another one, ultimately costing the city $260,000.  The good news is that the dollars come from the city's General Fund.  Apparantly, that's the fund used for uneccessary projects.  The General Fund must not cover things like adding sidewalks for children who walk to school, fixing potholed and cracked roads, or beefing up police patrols to catch up with youth gangs who sell drugs right out in the open in the common areas of certain residential developments.

And, the General Fund must not cover the cost of looking into ways to solve the backed up traffic leading into and out of the Mall and the Costco/Best Buy shopping plaza off of Royalton Road and onto I-71.  Yes, the same Royalton Road and I-71 the city is hoping random motorist will unwittingly discover with our new nice but overpriced signs. 

According to Mayor Perciak, "the business community wanted the sign."  Well then, here's a sign that I (a taxpayer who most likely contributed to the General Fund) want: "Strongsville: Leadership WANTED."  Maybe someone will see it, run for office and help stop wasteful spending in this town once and for all.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Down For The Count

I'm beginning to think that Groupon may have something to do with the Mayan end-of-the-world prophecy.  Nothing can take down a civilization like two-for-one, month-long boxing lessons at the mall.  In my case, I didn't need the entire month -- I only needed about fifteen minutes.

My oldest daughter will be heading to high school in less less than two weeks.  She loves to work out.  I'm proud of how she takes care of herself, though I'm not exactly sure where in her DNA that trait came from.  Anyway, my wife finds a Groupon deal that would give two people unlimited month-long access to a new place at the mall called The Empowering Punch.  It's a place where you can take workout classes, most of which are boxing-related.  The crazy part about The Empowering Punch is that it's located inside the mall, between a pet store and the entrance to Dick's Sporting Goods.  There's a big window just for shoppers to watch you while they down their Auntie Anne's pretzels and large fresh-squeezed lemonades.  It's just what the  public has craved for all these years, a place to watch people sweat while taking a break from the exhausting chore of shopping.

My daughter couldn't wait to go.  She has like a thousand friends, according to Facebook, though none of them were willing to step up and take a class or two with her.  And, she didn't want to do it alone.  My wife wouldn't go with her and didn't even offer any sort of legitimate reason as to why.  So, my daughter was faced with going alone or...

"Why don't you take her?"  My wife every once in a while has a great idea.  This was not one of those times.

I needed to come up with something really good, an excuse my wife couldn't deny.  But, before I could answer...

"It would be great for you two to do something together.  I mentioned it to her and she really wants you to go with her."


There's no way out of this rabbit hole.  My wife had played the guilt card and she played it well.

When we arrived at The Empowering Punch, another class was finishing up.  The class was led by a man wearing a Garth Brooks-type headset, yelling out commands to people who looked like they just spent the last hour working a dunk tank at the local Home Days festival.  The killer part was that almost everyone was in amazing physical shape.  I've never seen healthy people sweat that much.  God only knows what this class would do to somone like me.

We signed in.  I think I signed some sort of waiver, not holding The Empowering Punch accountable for my death.  My daughter was excited.  Apparantly, the guy running the class was "hot."  Really?  That's what she's thinking about?  I reminded her that she has a boyfriend and to focus on the task at hand -- checking every couple of seconds to make sure my eyes were not rolling into the back of my head during the class.

I sized up the next group, the ones who would be my classmates.  There was a guy who seemed less in shape than me, so I started to gain a little confidence.  Maybe I could pull off this 55-minute workout afterall.  It's just punching, right?


With just five words, the instructor hit me with the biggest dose of reality any fat man could ever hear.

"Get out your jump ropes."

Gravity and excessive weight is not one of your classic combinations, like, say peanut butter and jelly.  Gravity and excessive weight go together like, "Holy shit" and "Get me out of here, now!"

But, I couldn't let my daughter see how frightened I was.  And, certainly I couldn't show any signs of weakness with the instructor.  So, I grabbed a jump rope, pretended to unwind it for a few minutes, then took my place in the only open area left -- the freakin' front row, right in front of Garth.  I had planned to be in the back row, so he couldn't see me and I could go unnoticed at my own pace.  What happened?  Now I'm in the front row?  This is not starting well at all.

"Let's go everybody", he yelled into his microphone.  I heard him say "everyone", but I know he was talking to me.

Since I haven't jumped rope since my eighth grade physical fitness test, I had no idea if I could even make it over the rope once.  Yet, somehow I did it.  I was jumping rope -- eight, nine, ten in a row.  And I was really getting some elevation when I jumped, maybe a foot or higher with each jump.  I was clearing the rope easily.  The problem was that I really needed to only be just barely off the floor.  Doing a full-out leap into the air every time that rope hit the floor really wasn't helping me conserve my energy. 

This went on for ten minutes I think.  It felt like an eternity.  Good God was I getting tired.  And this was the warmup.

I should have conserved what little energy I had.  I tried to see what was going on behind me.  It seemed that no one was working as hard or jumping as high as I was.  Finally, after pushing my body to the limit with a seven-foot length of chord, the instructor commanded us to go get our gloves.

Gloves.  Now that's more like it.  There is no jumping with gloves.

I found a pair of black ones.  I liked them -- they made me look tough.  Don't mess with me, I jumped rope for ten minutes and now I'm ready to take your head off with my fists of fury.  I'm going to make this class my bitch.

Then the truly hard part began.  The instuctor showed us various punches, all of which were numbered.  Number one was a left jab.  Number two a right cross.  Number three a left hook.  And so on...

Whatever number Garth Brooks called out, we'd do.  "Two."  Right cross.  "Four."  Right hook.  "Five."  Left uppercut.  I got cocky, thinking I could do this all day long.

Then Garth started with the combos.  And, he picked up the pace....big time.

"One, one."  Jab, jab.  "One, three, two."  Jab, left hook, right cross."  My mind worked slowly, but my body worked even slower.  I was still halfway through the last set of instructions when he barked out the next combination. 

"Four, six, two, one, one, three."  What?

Now I was tired and confused.  I started to make up my own combinations thinking that no one else would notice.  I thought maybe the instructor would be too busy calling out the orders that he wouldn't be able to tell if I was doing things correctly. 

But this guy was some kind of freak.  He zeroed in on my cheating ways by standing in front of me holding padded mits.  He called out the next round of instructions.  I tried, I really did, to make sense of it, then execute.  When I failed to translate his orders, he made me try again...and again...and again.  Either I did it right on the eighth try or he finally gave up on me, I'm not sure.  The good news is he was gone. 

But so was my stamina.

I couldn't do this any longer.  We were about fifteen minutes into this fifty-minute workout.  My daughter was doing everything correctly.  It looked like she was hardly breathing.  I, on the other hand, looked like an escape artist who had been unable to breath after being chained underwater for three minutes.  I gasped and wheezed and struggled to do what was being asked.

I had had enough.  I slipped into the side room next to the boxing studio.  It was quieter in there.  Maybe Garth wouldn't notice I was taking a break.  The instructor kept going as if nothing had happened.  Cool.  I bent over, exhausted.  Then, one of Garth's helpers appeared out of nowhere asking if I was alright.

"Oh yeah, I'm fine."  I lied.

"What did you have to eat tonight?" he asked.

"Umm, uhh...that's a good question."  You know, I couldn't remember.  Wierd.  I thought maybe I was punch drunk.  But no one hit me, so that ruled that out.  He waited until I finally just randomly called out whatever food I could think of... "a sandwich, I had a sandwich."

"Did you have any fruit?"

"Uh, no."  Didn't I just say I had a sandwich?

"Well, you should really have fruit before coming to one of these classes.  Next time make sure you have a piece or two."

Oh, I'm sure that piece of fruit would have given me the stamina to fire through this class like Sylvester Stallone on Red Bull.

"Next time?" Did he just say next time?


I started to laugh.  And, I couldn't stop.  He walked away after about six minutes and I never saw him again.

Going back into the class would not have been the right thing to do.  I was embarrassed and I didn't want to embarrass my daughter more than she probably already was.  So, I watched her and she did great.  I was really proud.  They took her up into what looked like a small version of a boxing ring and Garth worked one-on-one with her, calling out combinations.  She stuck with it.

Good for her.

After it was over, she asked me what happened. 

"Are you okay Dad."

"Oh, sure."  I lied again.  "Apparantly, I should have had a banana before I came here tonight."

"Well, maybe next time."  She was encouraging at least.

Then I started to laugh.  And I didn't stop until we got home.