img_9732aThe PopCulteer
May 5, 2017

It’s time for another rambling multi-topic PopCulteer, so let’s jump in and get this over with.

You may have noticed of late that, while your PopCulteer is still cranking out at least one post each day, many days it’s only one post. There is a good reason for that. I’m less than a week away from my first cataract surgery, and it can’t come quick enough.

My eyesight, exacerbated by the prednisone I’m taking as treatment for Myasthenia Gravis, has rapidly deteriorated. It’s at a point that I do not feel comfortable driving at night, and I’m not crazy about taking the interstate in the daylight now. This is a problem that will be resolved very soon, but it doesn’t just affect my driving. It also affects my reading and typing.

So the reason you haven’t had many entries in the PopCult Bookshelf lately is that I haven’t read many good books. I’ve acquired some fantastic books that I really want to tell you about, but I’m gonna need eyes for that. That’s also the same reason that there haven’t been many videos and photo essays recently (well, the photo essays are also delayed because of lingering technical issues from the last blog “upgrade” here at the Gazette-Mail, but my eyesight has a lot to do with that too).

Writing is also a bit tricky, and I need to thank Mrs. PopCulteer for doing some much-needed proofreading for the last couple of months.

indexSo, that’s my excuse for slacking off. Well, that and my support for the Church of the SubGenius, but I don’t wish to proselytize here.

Anyway, I was in Chicago last week, and had a great time despite my fuzzy vision. I did bring back a few observations that gave me a new perspective on life here in Charleston.

There seems to be a level of malaise and misery in Charleston that I don’t see in other cities. Now, this may well be because I only visit the best parts of other cities when I go there. It’s like here in Charleston when you pick up someone at the airport, take them to Bluegrass Kitchen, The Clay Center and to see Mountain Stage, then rush them back onto the next plane home before they notice anything else.

Our first day in Chicago we went to Lincoln Square. While Mel shopped in stores that sell things that aggravate my allergies, I sat in a lovely little park they have there and just people watched. I saw happy people. Not just that…I saw happy families, pushing strollers while going to their favorite shops and taking time out for their kids to run around and play and let off steam in the park. It was a nice, peaceful, happy scene…and one that I don’t see in Charleston.

img_0074I realize that the main reason for this is our lack of population density. The small neighborhood I was hanging out in probably had more people living in it than we have in Kanawha County. There were enough people to support the restaurants, the record store, the toy stores, the wine and bookstore, the apothocary, all the little shops and boutiques near the park. We simply don’t have that here. The photo to the right is Millenium Park. I didn’t take any photos in Lincoln Square.

I also didn’t see a lot of homeless people.I know they have a homelessness problem in Chicago, and I also know that they have a lot of neighborhoods that no sane person would visit without body armor, but where we went, things were pleasant and I saw fewer homeless people and had to deal with fewer panhandlers than I do downtown here in Charleston.

We didn’t just insulate ourselves in the fancy parts of Chicago, either. One day we decided to walk a mile from one cool store to another, and thanks to an upside-down map on a Divvy rack, we walked a mile in the wrong direction. The thing was, it was pleasant. We made our way through a quiet little residential neighborhood before we stopped at a Starbucks and got better directions. But it was fun. We didn’t feel the sense of danger that you get walking around in some neighborhoods here in Charleston. We went to what some uninformed people think of as the “murder capitol of the world,” and felt safer than we do in our own hometown.

I don’t know what these observations mean, aside from the fact that we just don’t have enough young, vital, happy people around here to balance out the miserable and desperate people. Area leaders have been working for years to find a way to attract more people to the area, and nothing’s worked yet.

divvybikesfirsttime_1I mentioned a Divvy rack. For those of you who don’t know, Divvy is a Chicago bike service that provides bicycles for people who can rent them for 30 minutes and ride them to another Divvy stand and drop them off (unless that stand is full, then they have to ride around until they find a stand with an empty spot, and then walk to wherever they planned to go).

In theory, it’s a great idea, and I’m sure that lots of people take advantage of services like this.  There are Divvy racks all over the Windy City, from the Loop to the train station to the far-flung little neighborhoods (Chicago has 79 neighborhoods, by the way). During our many recent trips to Chicago, I have seen a grand total of two people using the Divvy bikes. I understand that millions of people have used Divvy since the program was started four years ago, but they have somehow managed to escape my line of sight when I’ve been there. Maybe it’s the cataracts.

There are also bike lanes all over Chicago. I have never seen a bicyclist using one. I’ve seen a few bike riders, but they’re usually going the wrong way down a one-way street in heavy traffic. Earlier this week I was driving in Charleston, and noticed that they’re ripping up Kanawha Boulevard to put in bike lanes. I fully expect these to be used as much as the bike lanes along Route 60 between South Charleston and Saint Albans. What’s that? Oh, there have been bike lanes along MacCorkle Avenue for some time now. I’ve never seen anyone using them either.

A lot of folks get really mad when I point this out, but the idea of a huge segment of Charleston’s aging and sedentary populace suddenly rushing to ride their bikes along Kanawha Boulevard is a delusional Utopian daydream. A lot of money that could be used for more fruitful purposes elsewhere is being spent to build bike lanes that may, at their peak, serve as many as a dozen people per day. Even if there was a burning need for bike lanes in Charleston, the practical location would be through the middle of town on Quarrier or Lee Streets, not along a scenic thruway that’s several blocks away from most businesses. .

If we really had such a huge population of bicyclists who were just chomping at the bit to ride along Kanawha Boulevard, “if only there was a bike lane,” then we’d probably have more than two bike shops in town. I know that there is a very vocal and tiny group that thinks the solution to all the world’s problems can be found by banning cars from Kanawha Boulevard so that it can be used soley for bicycle traffic, but I question the idea of taking these people seriously. I hate to ridicule, but that’s the only sane reaction to the ridiculous. Of all the problems facing Charleston, the lack of bicycle paths is not in the top 100.

25-simpsons-monorail-2-w750-h560-2xOn a similar note, I see that Kanawha County is hoping to build a Monorail at Shawnee Park in Institute.

I don’t mean that literally, of course. It’s a reference to the famous episode of The Simpsons where their hometown of Springfield is sold on the idea of building a Monorail that’s “sure to bring in tourists and jobs and lots of tax money.”

The comparison I’m making may not be fair. So far we haven’t even gotten a catchy song to sell us on the idea of the Multi-Sports Complex. This sports complex idea that seems likely to be forced through doesn’t have nearly the potential to attract people than an actual monorail would.

I may be a little biased here. I live less than two miles away from the proposed sports complex, and I realize that Route 25 is not remotely capable of handling the increased traffic that we’ll be faced with for the six months or so that this Multi-Sports Complex will attract out-of-town guests before they abandon it and it falls into disrepair.

shawnee-park-planIt’s not that I have any great love for golf, but there are people who currently use the golf course that would be wiped out to make way for this Sports Complex. In addition, there is the matter of the nearby chemical plants that tend to cause the occasional shelter-in-place warnings. On top of that is the lack of any nearby hotels that would be suitable to house the various sportball teams that would theoretically be travelling from other states to use this facility. Never mind the potential spectator traffic.

The whole project seems to be designed to throw away lots of taxpayer money while simultaneously eradicating a golf course that is currently used by folks who can’t afford to join a country club. It’s a Twelve-million-dollar gamble on “If You Build It, they will Come.”

I have to ask, why go to the trouble of building this type of questionable facility in such a poor location that doesn’t have any nearby hotels, but is close to a potential chemical leak, when for a lot less money, they could take one corner of the parking lot and turn it into a skatepark that kids around here would actually use?

It just seems like they’re rushing into this without looking at the probabilities involved.

Or maybe I’m just being blind and cranky. That’s this week’s PopCulteer. Keep checking the blog for fresh content every day.