Columbus, Ohio USA
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Jobs and Buildings
By Joel Knepp
November/December 2017 Issue
Gov. Rhodes at 30 E. Broad St.
With a few exceptions, I have spent my entire adult life residing in the Short North and employed downtown by a wide variety of organizations in many different offices. I challenge SNG readers to top my record of having worked at twelve (12) downtown buildings. And if you count my job just off High Street on Fifth Avenue, that’s up to thirteen.
1. Ohio Department of Health, W. Town St. This was an ancient, crumbling building with a huge gravel parking lot near the main library. It was demolished to create Deaf School Park.
2. Franklin County Welfare Department, 46 E. Fulton St., a former shoe factory, replaced with a county parking garage. In the 1970s the department turned over about one-third of its 1,000 employees annually. For strange tales, ask any of the thousands who worked there over the years.
3. Franklin County Welfare Department, 17 W. Fifth Ave. just off High St. For a time, we shared this office with the now-defunct CMACAO anti-poverty agency. While working there, Elvis died and I was the recipient of a Gypsy curse. I believe these events were unrelated.
4. 170 N. High St., yet another welfare office, is now a federal bankruptcy court. I briefly taught a lunchtime yoga class there and miraculously, nobody was injured or sued. On our breaks we could go next door for a quick beer at Lums, an out-of-biz, Florida-based hot-dog chain which also had a location on Olentangy River Road. Lums morphed into a Chinese restaurant, then a Kinko’s, and now it’s a FedEx.
5. Lazarus Department Store, Town and High streets. I spent several months at this venerable Columbus institution as a seasonal associate, i.e., Christmas help. Most of my time was spent a) refolding the multitude of sweaters customers continually messed up, b) explaining to little old ladies that I couldn’t escort them around the store or to the Chintz Room like in the 1950s, and c) sweating inside my required jacket and tie due to the overheated air probably meant to keep the little old ladies comfortable. In those days the cashier’s office would give you a new five-dollar bill if you convinced a customer to sign up for a store charge card. Perhaps the high point of my Lazarus “career” was selling a $60 Stetson black Homburg hat (big bucks in 1980) to an elderly African-American minister. Out of view of the sales area, Lazarus had a labyrinth of back rooms with some amazing stuff. Once I stumbled onto a creepy room filled with dusty mannequins that looked like they were from the 1920s. I actually worked in that same building many years later after it became a state office.
6. Ohio Department of Aging, Leveque Tower, 50 W. Broad St. Arguably our finest downtown building, it now houses a spiffy new hotel and a bar. Check out the cool brass zodiac elevators. My wife and I once salvaged a beautiful men’s room door from the Leveque which sat in our garage for twenty years and then moved on because we couldn’t figure out a use for it.
7. Ohio Department of Health, Atlas Building, NE corner of Long and High. This had a classy exterior but rotting interior; nothin’s too bad for state employees. The Atlas has recently been rehabbed into apartments.
8. Ohio Department of Health, Readmore Building, NW corner of Long and High. Friskier back then, I would run up the stairs to our 4th floor office each morning. The building once housed a bookstore with various offices above; now it’s Ohiohealth Behavioral Health and an art gallery.
9. Ohio Department of Human Services, Rhodes Tower, 30 E. Broad St., which features one of downtown’s ugliest statues, Governor Rhodes toting a briefcase, and a perennial peregrine falcon nest you can watch on birdiecam. I can’t even remember how many different floors I worked on over the years.
10. Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, 65 E. State St. This was my finest workspace: a private office with a door, my own heating/cooling controls, and a large window looking down to a fountain with frolicking nymphets and across to the Statehouse. Here I first used e-mail, received a beautifully decorated foam rubber 40th birthday cake, and was serenaded by a man in a chicken suit. I also watched the construction of the classy pillared connector between the statehouse and the statehouse annex… only during breaks and lunch, of course.
11. Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, 145 S. Front St., one of the plain twin cubes on either side of the beautiful Old State Office Building.
12. Ohio Department of Health, 246 N. High St., formerly Nationwide Insurance headquarters, with great lobby murals and a graceful spiral staircase leading up to paneled executive offices with private toilets. I got to use one once.
13. Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery, 77 S. High St. (pronounced like “life”), where our state graciously provides us with free art exhibits which change regularly.
These are not all my jobs, just the ones within walking distance of the Short North. For example, this doesn’t include my two thrilling weeks as a bong assembler at the Waterbeds ‘n’ Stuff warehouse in Grove City. Even though it’s practically downtown, I didn’t include my temp gig in which I pH-tested an entire skid of canned baby food for Ross Labs, because it only lasted a day. I also didn’t count several months selling beer, Playboy magazines, and whippets to college boys with too much spending cash at University 10th and High Carryout on campus, perhaps because it was the only job from which I ever got fired; I still don’t know why. I omitted my muscle-building summers in Japan moving U.S. Army furniture and stacking bowling balls and barbecue charcoal for the PX because, well, those jobs were in Japan. Note: This was back in the days of yore when middle-class kids still did dirty grunt work to build character and earn burger and date money instead of interning or going to coding camp like modern teens. I also left out jobs in Baltimore (Maryland), Akron, Delaware (Ohio) and east Columbus; too many to remember, really.
Still awake? If you can top the above record of downtown jobs and buildings, let me know at email@example.com. Just thinking of all the gasoline, wear and tear, and hassle I have avoided over the years by choosing to live in the Short North near my work warms the very cockles of my heart! I hope you have such good fortune.
Joel Knepp lives in Victorian Village with his wife Lynda McClanahan, an artist.
They performed as the musical duo Nick & Polina for many years in the area.
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