Sunday, June 26, 2011

Should South Euclid merge (and with whom)?

One of many possibilities (click to enlarge)

The communities of Orange, Pepper Pike, Moreland Hills, and Woodmere are studying a proposal to merge their small communities into one larger one. These four towns already share a school system. Combining police, fire, and other services would save them a substantial amount of tax dollars and increase efficiency. I believe it would also help root out the corruption that is inevitable when fiefdoms take root as happened in Woodmere during the 1990s. There has been speculation about what the new suburb would be called, from Chagrin Hills to Pepperwood. The latter sounds too much like peckerwood, and is best left alone.

There has been talk of other communities merging, including Parma/Parma Heights, Seven Hills/Independence, Olmsted Falls/Olmsted Township, and Cleveland Heights/University Heights. There has also been talk of South Euclid merging with various bordering towns. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to stick to South Euclid and its bordering communities.

Should South Euclid (population 21,000) merge with another community, and which one? University Heights? Richmond Heights? Lyndhurst? Let’s examine the various possibilities.

I didn’t mention Cleveland Heights above because I think a merger with that city would be out of the question. It’s very unlikely that citizens in either community would agree to it. Also, Cleveland Heights – with a population of over 46,000 - is arguably large enough by itself that a merger is not warranted.

Some have suggested University Heights (population 13,500) merge with South Euclid (calling it, Euclid Heights, perhaps?). This idea has its merits: both are about the right size for combination, and a merger would not make the combined community too large. The demographics of South Euclid and University Heights would commingle nicely. But there are obstacles, too – chiefly that University Heights and Cleveland Heights already share a school system. It’s my opinion that any new communities should match their school systems – and the state board of education makes decisions in those matters. If the South Euclid and University Heights school systems were combined, it would mean construction of a new high school and the shifting of a lot of kids to new schools.

Merging South Euclid with Richmond Heights (population 10,500) would benefit neither and possibly harm both. Consider that both SE and RH have mostly older housing stock and a struggling tax base. Any improvement in efficiency would be marginal at best – for example, the SE and RH fire stations are so far apart, both would need to remain open. Then there is the issue with the school system: Richmond Heights High School would be too small to accommodate a large number of additional students, sits on a cramped parcel of land where expansion is impractical, and would have to be replaced. Finally, the Se and RH borders don’t fit together well, and the physical layout of the area would look like an infant gerrymander.

Under just about any reasoning, it would make the most sense for South Euclid and Lyndhurst (population 14,000) to merge. For one thing, both cities have had a long history of mutual cooperation – though there have been some rough patches lately, mostly caused by South Euclid’s city council. For another, South Euclid and Lyndhurst already share a school system and even a branch of the Cuyahoga Library. In many ways, South Euclid and Lyndhurst are de facto merged already, so the transition could be accomplished with the least difficulty.

I’ve thought of various names for a new, merged SE-L suburb. I’ve never been a fan of the South Euclid name. It makes it seem as if we’re an appendix of Euclid – when in fact our border with Euclid is tiny. The name that strikes me as most apropos is Hillcrest, a nod to an earlier era. Some are under the impression that Hillcrest refers only to the area adjacent to Hillcrest Hospital, which is not the case. Historically, Hillcrest has referred to the entire hilltop area intersected by Mayfield Road, from Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland Heights to the western border of Gates Mills. (Early geographic surveys referred to that region as Hillcrest, later calling the western portion Heights and the eastern part Hillcrest.) That’s why the Hillcrest branch of the YMCA is located in Lyndhurst near the South Euclid border. Since the SE-L area sits dead center in that region, and is literally at the top of this hill, calling a merged suburb Hillcrest would be historically and geographically accurate.

Merging communities is not an easy prospect to sell. Most Lyndhurst residents would probably be against it. I lived in Lyndhurst from 1983-1985 and 1994-1998. Many there have long had a somewhat “nose in the air” attitude toward South Euclid which is totally unwarranted. Some have proposed separating South Euclid and Lyndhurst into individual school districts, even though the combined district is smaller than it has been in decades. The best way to overcome these objections is for the County to give Lyndhurst a choice: merge with South Euclid or merge with Richmond Heights. It would be a no brainer for them to choose South Euclid.

University Heights, I propose, should merge with Beachwood (population 12,000). The combined population would be about 25,500 and would balance nicely with Cleveland Heights’ 46,000, the proposed Hillcrest’s 35,000, and Shaker Heights’ 28,500 (Shaker is large enough on its own that a merger is not warranted). The distinctive housing would make the Beachwood/University area even more of a gem; and the plentiful retail would keep taxes low, helping to dissuade people from moving to a far off exurb. Most importantly, University Heights would greatly benefit from joining with Beachwood’s excellent school system – far superior to the struggling system in Cleveland Heights. Another option would be for University Heights to merge with a combined South Euclid/Lyndhurst, making the total population about 48, 500.

That leaves the question of Richmond Heights. In the new paradigm, it would be too small to remain on its own. As a standalone, Richmond Heights is barely viable. Since Euclid already has a population of over 50,000, I would recommend that Richmond Heights merge with Highland Heights and the name be changed to Richmond Highlands. The existing school infrastructure would remain the same, with kids going to the same schools as at present, but would be under the jurisdiction of the Mayfield City school district.

Hillcrest,Ohio. Has a nice ring to it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Walt Disney World – final post

This is a long post with a somewhat rambling diversion. But it contains some thoughts I need to put front and center, because it deals with what I see as a decline in American morals. Some people, most of them religious fundamentalists, define morals on the basis of who you sleep with or how you make love. I define morals based on whether you apply the Golden Rule to your conduct (so, from the available evidence, did Jesus Christ). An example: While waiting at Akron-Canton Airport for our flight, an announcement went over the PA asking if any couple would be willing to split their seat assignments so a mother could ride with her young daughter. Dan & I volunteered. That’s the Golden Rule in action. (Air Tran bumped us up to Business Class for our return trip, which was a pleasant surprise.)

By far the most frustrating part of our trip to Walt Disney World was something we encountered every day: rude behavior from children and a good number of adults. As I previously related, Dan and I used Disney’s transportation for travel throughout WDW. If I could only air one complaint about Disney it would be that they do not provide adequate transportation: there were too few buses and monorail cars – so we often waited longer than necessary and vehicles were standing room only. We also encountered one bus driver who was plainly not fit to be behind the wheel of such a large vehicle. The transportation situation must be even worse at peak season.

It was in the buses that we observed children lazing in seats while adults (some of them elderly) stood while the vehicle made its way to and fro. Dan and I were appalled – and we weren’t the only ones. I was far from a perfect child, but I would certainly have had the sense of mind to surrender my bus seat to an adult. If I hadn’t, my parents would have swatted the sense into me via my backside. Of course, the parents here were to blame - they often lacked the good sense to put small children on their laps so another adult could have a seat. Discourteous behavior on the buses was duplicated at restaurants, in queues, and even on rides: kids ran around like plague ridden rats, shoving adults out of the way and throwing temper tantrums at the slightest provocation.

All of the badly behaved children had one thing in common: they were American. I have rarely been as ashamed of my country as I was during the week I spent at Disney. Watching how they behaved, I shuddered to think of what foreign visitors would say about Americans after returning to their homelands.

As touched upon at an earlier post, Dan & I observed a family with superbly behaved kids at San Angel Inn one evening, and I thought to myself, “This is a nice change”. Listening to their conversation, I realized the family was British. The father spoke to his children like they were grown-ups, and these kids did behave like miniature adults (British adults, as some American grown-ups were as bad as their kids). Indeed, during our entire trip to WDW, we never observed a foreign child who was discourteous in any way.

Where did we go wrong? Let’s compare & contrast two societies: The United States and Great Britain.

It seems to me that America’s expectations of instant gratification (which the Great Recession seems to have done little to correct) came about in the generation following World War II. After the war, American soldiers came home, got married, bought homes, and had kids – all in an era of unprecedented prosperity (the likes of which would be repeated in the 1990s). For the first time in world history, a nation held a prosperous middle class – which in & of itself was a good thing. (It’s worth remembering that during the war, food, clothing, and gasoline were rationed – and the President regularly took to the radio to caution Americans not to make unnecessary purchases, especially those involving installment payments.) After the war, whether one paid for something in cash or financed it made little difference; if an American wanted something, he bought it. And over time, the homes became bigger, cars became fancier, children’s toys became more elaborate – but just as quickly discarded. The values of thriftiness learned in the Great Depression and shared sacrifice learned during World War II were lost. At the same time, the value of working with one’s hands was diminished as the service economy took over – and fewer & fewer Americans could be troubled to paint their own homes or fix their own cars. Also, an attitude of “me first” (or even me only) took hold among the adults. Such an attitude (and I won’t deign to refer to it as a philosophy, despite its designation as such by Ayn Rand acolytes) didn’t have to be indoctrinated into children – “me first” is their default position.

Contrast this with England’s postwar experience. As pianist Stephen Hough relates, the experience of England’s people in the decade after World War II was far removed from Americans’:

“It is often forgotten that the years immediately following World War II involved more suffering for the British people in many ways than the six years of combat. Rationing lasted well into the mid-1950s, and homelessness, hunger, and deprivation, along with listlessness and depression amidst the cities’ unrepaired, litter and rat-infested bomb sights, made those years of ‘victory’ seem at times like a cruel irony. With air-raids, threats of invasion, and a certain man with a moustache as an enemy there seemed a moral purpose behind the hardship. People joined together and cheerfully kept ‘the home fires burning’ as a community through the dark years of the war. When all this was over things just wouldn‘t return to normal – like a nasty virus which lingers: insufficiently serious to take time off work, but debilitating enough to make useful activity impossible.”

On top of all that, the British Empire was crumbling, while America’s Empire (which was as much economic as military) was just solidifying. England’s parents had to tell their children that they weren’t going to get everything they wanted for Christmas. On the rare occasions the family could afford to dine out, the children would be expected to sit in their seats without fidgeting. Also, the English were more accustomed to public transport than their American counterparts, whose parents were part of the car culture – so kids already knew to surrender seats to adults, especially the elderly.

English culture has long been based on the concept of respect – it may have started with deference to the monarchy, but with the demise of England’s class system, it has evolved into mutual respect for everyone. At the same time, America, with it’s not-so-rugged individualism, has devolved into “I’ve got mine, you’re on your own, pal.”

But sometimes, the kindest thing you can do for a child is to say “No.”

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Parks at Walt Disney World

A map of Walt Disney World

As stated previously, the last time I went to Disneyworld was in 1979. I was 12 years old. (I also visited Disneyland, which does not compare to the Florida park in quality or quantity of attractions, in 1980.)

First, a few quick tips: If you’re traveling to WDW and staying for more than one day, your best option is to stay at a Disney resort (more on that in a later post). The main reason for this is that you get extended hours at the parks, and there is free and reliable (if crowded) transportation to the various parks via bus and monorail.

A note about the rides at the parks: Most popular attractions offer the Fastpass option, which lets you come back at a pre-selected time and avoid a long queue. If encounter a long line at a ride, don’t hesitate to take advantage of this option - it saved us hours of wait time.

I don’t remember much about that 1979 visit to the Magic Kingdom - it took place during a particularly difficult time in my life. Of the park, I only remember Space Mountain and the monorail with any clarity. I returned to Space Mountain during this trip, and it hasn’t changed much. Not a particularly challenging roller coaster when compared with the coasters at Cedar Point, it’s the lighting effects which sell it. Still, as a middle-aged person with a bad back, Space Mountain was about the limit for me this time around.

During our trips to Magic Kingdom, we walked through the entire park, visiting most attractions including The Haunted Mansion (not at all scary), and It’s a Small World (which became a bit nightmarish after we briefly became stuck). Experiencing Magic Kingdom from an adult perspective was interesting. Some of the attractions, like Country Bear Jamboree with its primitive animatronics, seemed dated. (A worker there informed me that it will be shut down this year.) The Hall of Presidents, recently refurbished, suspends one’s disbelief. A bit of that was necessary during the “historical” film which precedes the unveiling of the Presidents – the sanitization of Andrew Jackson’s role in the genocide of American Indians was especially galling. Still, the experience of seeing a faux Abraham Lincoln rise out of his chair and deliver the Gettysburg Address was more than impressive from a technological standpoint; it was haunting and emotionally moving. Lincoln, along with Washington and Barack Obama, were the only three Presidents who spoke at this attraction. All three figures had full articulation and Obama’s hand gestures were mostly realistic. All of the figures had some level of articulation, at least to the extent of nodding their heads when their names were heard in the Presidential “roll-call”. During our trips to Magic Kingdom, we walked through the entire park, visiting most attractions including The Haunted Mansion (not at all scary), and It’s a Small World (which became a bit nightmarish after we briefly became stuck).

With a friend in Frontierland.

1979 was an era before Epcot, before Hollywood Studios, before Downtown Disney. Most of those places were already in the design stage by then. (Indeed, Epcot was designed in the 1960s while Walt Disney was still alive, and was envisioned by him as an actual city, not an amusement park.)

If a visitor had time to visit only one park at WDW, I would recommend Epcot, particularly if the visitor is an adult. Although there are several kid friendly attractions, including Mission: Space and Soarin’ (one of the best attractions in the entire WDW complex), the World Showcase is clearly aimed at adults. Indeed, each represented “country” has several stores selling themed wares, so this area is aimed at adults’ wallets. The Showcase pavilions include Mexico, Norway, China, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and America (which is somewhat redundant with a similar area at the Magic Kingdom. Surprisingly, there is no pavilion for India, although a pavilion for the world’s second-most populous country would be warranted – especially given India’s plethora of cultural riches. Everyone who visits Epcot should experience the nighttime IllumiNations show – more than entertainment, it’s a summation of Walt Disney’s vision.

Hollywood Studios is a faux recreation of a studio backlot, circa 1940. There are some stage attractions like Beauty and the Beast (a condensed stage version of the animated musical) and Indiana Jones (a best hits stunt demonstration), along with some rides such as Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Star Tours. But the shopping-to-attraction ratio is higher here than at any other park, so some sections here might not be appealing to kids. There is a nighttime show with music, water lighting effects and fireworks called Fantasmic. This was a crowd pleaser for adults and kids alike, at least until the wind shifted during the fireworks finale and we ended up with ashes in our eyes.

Beauty and the Beast

Animal Kingdom is the newest of the Disney parks, and the least focused. The problem with AK is that it can’t decide whether it wants to be an amusement park or a zoo, so neither aspect satisfies. There are a few animals visible, as with some primates in one area, a show dealing with birds (the highlight of our trip to this park), and a trolley ride past some jungle animals. There are also some rides, such as Expedition Everest, and shows such as Festival of the Lion King (featuring some impressive acrobatics). But I never experienced the awe I’ve felt when visiting the Cleveland Zoo.

Animal Kingdom Lodge in the background

Downtown Disney is not a theme park, although it’s part of the Disney complex. You don’t need a ticket to go there, because you’re essentially going to a hyped-up shopping center. (Think Legacy Village, but larger, and almost entirely devoted to Disney.) A 24 screen AMC movie theater there shows first run films with ticket prices at $11 per person. At one time, Downtown Disney was envisioned as an adult-oriented place, but has been tweaked to make it more kid-friendly. Still, there are a number of bars there and I observed some public intoxication that didn’t seem Disneyesque. I would not bring my kid here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Food, Glorious Food

Dan & I traveled to Walt Disney World from May 31st to June 6th. It was the first time I’d been there since the summer of 1979 – a time before Epcot and many of the other attractions now available. In my posts detailing my previous travels, I’ve related the events of the trip chronologically. However, for this trip, I didn’t have my computer with me and didn’t take notes. So, I will be posting my thoughts on different aspects of our trip.

First, for those who are contemplating a trip to Disney, I strongly urge you to use the Dining Plan that Disney offers, especially if you are staying at a Disney resort. There are several versions of the plan available. We chose the version that offers one quick-service meal (essentially, fast food), one snack, and one table service meal per day. Alcoholic drinks and gratuity are not included in the plan. (It should be noted that some of the higher end restaurants will count as two meal credits per person. Still, you’ll wind up paying less than if you bought each meal separately.)

Also, for table service meals, make reservations as far in advance as possible (Disney allows restaurant reservations up to 180 days in advance). Dan & I made reservations in February, and by that time, several restaurants were already booked – notably Le Cellier in the Canada pavilion.

As mentioned, quick service meals were essentially fast food – just a step up from the fare you’d find at McDonald’s. Each of the value resorts has a food court much like what you’d find at a shopping mall. Dan and I used them for breakfast most days, where they served omelets made-to-order with home fries, waffles (shaped like Mickey Mouse’s face, I felt I was committing rodenticide through food proxy), juices and fruit. They also have lunch and dinner options of the hamburger/pizza type.

Snacks can be purchased at the food court, or at any of the food carts that dot the various Disney parks: anything from ice cream to sweets or healthy options like fruit. With the large breakfasts we had, Dan & I only needed a small snack to carry us till dinner. On one occasion, we purchased one of Disney’s legendary smoked turkey legs - one was enough for both of us.

In each of five full service restaurants we went to, Dan & I experienced attentive service. Each restaurant was staffed with people recruited from their respective countries. Here are the details on each of the restaurants we went to:

Boma – Animal Kingdom Lodge: This is a buffet, specializing in African dishes. The food is prepared in an open area and I conversed with one of the chefs, who was from Mentor. Since the African continent is vast and encompasses many cultures, the selection was highly varied. Highlights there are various meats cooked over an open flame, salmon with capers, a delicious seafood bisque flavored with curry and coconuts (which Dan had to skip due to his shellfish allergy), and a huge selection of desserts. There was simply too much food for Dan & I to sample everything, and I came closer to gluttony than I have at any time since I started my diet in January. (Incidentally, my dietary restrictions were suspended for the duration of the trip). But I would recommend it to anyone who thinks buffet food is automatically second-rate.

At Boma

San Angel Inn – Epcot, Mexico pavilion: Obviously, this is a Mexican restaurant - part of a shopping complex, all interior, which is designed to feel like an outdoor setting in a small Mexican town. .The food here was good, but not extraordinary. The chips and salsa, for example, were no better than you’d get at a garden variety Mexican place anywhere in Cleveland. The most arresting thing here was a family we spotted at the next table: Two perfectly behaved children with their parents. I was within earshot of their conversation and they were British. More on this observation in another post.

A possible Hidden Mickey at Teppan Edo

Teppan Edo – Epcot, Japan pavilion: This was a real treat for Dan, who’d never been to a Japanese teppanyaki restaurant before. We shared our table with another group. Here, as at the other restaurants we went to, the staff were proactive in asking about food allergies. The chef cooked Dan’s food separately from everyone else’s to avoid contamination. Rather than going into detail about our food, this video tells the story:

Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room – Epcot, United Kingdom pavilion: As I may have said before, my ancestry is English, and I adore their culture and the temperament of their people. As for their food, it’s agreeable to me, but doesn’t send me into waves of ecstasy. Rose & Crown recreates the English pub experience, complete with a live performer singing bawdy songs. We sat outside, under a shade so the heat wasn’t too oppressive. I had the Surf (broiled to medium rare perfection) & Turf – and for dessert, Chocolate Scotch Cake, (and I sampled Dan’s Sticky Toffee Pudding).

California Grill – Contemporary resort: This is one of the most popular restaurants at Disney. Located on the top floor of the Contemporary Resort, you can only gain access via a special elevator guarded by the maître’ d. One of the reasons for this is the restaurant’s balcony, which is ideal for viewing nighttime fireworks. Like many higher end restaurants, California Grill serves smaller portions, so we were able to enjoy our appetizers (flat bread and salad) and entrees (I got the Veal), with room left over for dessert.

I almost felt guilty eating this artfully presented dessert

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Trip to Walt Disney World

Hello all.

Dan and I returned from a trip to Walt Disney World. I will be posting about our trip over the next several days.