Thursday, April 5, 2012

Density Good for Cities

Here's a link to an interesting article which points out one way New Albany can regain prosperity. It's a simple solution and, like Dorothy's ruby slippers,one we've had all along.

Granted New Albany's not Asheville, but plenty of people live here and have decided to stay here. Downtown New Albany's density has already been diluted to with a history of poor judgment and a proliferation of surface parking lots. So maybe we need to focus on near-density or walking-distance density.

Many of our houses near the heart of the city are ill-maintained, and so they are an impediment to realizing the potential we have for increasing prosperous density. But that's another topic for another day.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Down Fulda Way

One day in early February of this year I had driven to Tell City on business. Since I had finished earlier than expected, and perhaps due to the first tell-tale signs of Spring evident on that sunny day, I decided to come back to New Albany in a more circuitous route than normal.

I have an iphone which has a compass feature and a gps on it. "Pshaw", I said, "I don't need any help getting back to N.A. And besides, I might stumble across a new prospect for work." So before leaving the rather familiar setting of Tell City I loaded up my thermos with coffee and headed away from the river. Generally speaking, that should be north.

While I was finding little in the way of prospective business opportunities, I was dialed into the classic rock station on satellite radio on what must have been a momentous day in the history of Canned Heat, because an unusually long version of their magnum opus "On the Road Again" was followed immediately by their other magnum opus "Goin Up the Country". The sun was bright, the coffee was still hot and the road ahead seemed interesting and headed in the right direction.

Since I had just about given up the ruse of looking for business, although one never knows around which corner prosperity lies for a salesman, I was not paying particular attention to my precise latitude and longitude. I recall seeing a sign for Fulda, but I can't say for sure that I was in that town or had just seen a sign directing people toward it.

At any rate somewhere near, or near to someplace that could be directionally related to Fulda, I met Caleb. I think his last name was Blauch or Block. At first I was pretty sure he was "on" something. His two tone Studebaker Hawk swerved around a corner throwing dust in my general direction causing me to spill my coffee in an awkward and uncomfortable spot. I reacted by hitting the brakes too hard, I slipped off the gravel/asphalt road onto the shoulder and uncomfortably close to last year's corn field. My car, with American ingenuity engineered in, has a self-defense mechanism that causes the engine to stall out when sudden impacts occur, apparently such an impact occurred when I left the road.

As I was sitting in the immobile car, I was pleasantly surprised by the near-absolute quiet of the countryside. It was so peaceful, and, presumably deserted, the near miss not withstanding, that I thought I might be able to take off my soaked pants and put on my gym shorts from the bag in the back seat. I was in fact reaching around to get the gym bag when I heard a voice with an ever-so-slight German accent say, "far out man, are you OK? You drive like Steve McQueen."

Reluctantly, I got out of the car and only then, in the full sunlight, did I see the full need to change into something a bit more comfortable and a bit less soggy than the coffee-soaked khakis I was wearing. I must have presented a humorous sight to Caleb, as he was giggling uncontrollably at my situation. He offered to share with me a cigarette. "Do you want an Old Gold or A Rolled Gold?" Apparently he'd already made his choice. I declined either, but said I'd like to know what he was doing driving so fast on this road. "You know, it could have been more serious than it was, the way you came tearing down the road like you did." "Hey man, I don't ever want to hurt anyone, but have you heard that new one by Donovan, man? I was just groovin to "The Epistle to Dippy". Man, that is so out there, and I was trying to make up some more words for it. 'Cause I'm in a band and Donovan's so cool, he's hot, and he's one of our favorites."

I asked if he could stand by in case I need help getting back up on the road. That's when Caleb noticed that I had lost the air in my tire, and, in fact, the tire was at an odd angle. "Hey, man, I'm really sorry about this. I just live over there." He pointed in some indeterminate direction that seemed to suggest that he dwelled among the many trees beyond the corn field. He said he lived in a commune, although I truly believe he used the words, "intentional collective". Nonetheless, in this intentional collective was a guy named Ezekiel who Caleb promised had both a tractor to pull the car out of the mud and the skill to fix the bent wheel. I wasn't going anywhere, so I might as well go with Caleb in search of Ezekiel.

The Studebaker was a surprisingly nice ride. And the Dylanesque harmonica neck brace Caleb had been wearing as he tried to flesh out "The Epistle to Dippy" lay on the seat between us and seemed to be the missing piece as to why his attention had wandered at the fateful curve.

As we crossed the wood-decked bridge the unusual sight of the commune opened before my eyes. A full two blocks on both sides of a street were filled with store fronts. It looked like a back lot at a movie studio. The place was not exactly bustling, but people seemed to be shuffling from building to building engaged in commerce and the general tasks of city life. I've been to New Harmony many times. I know quaint. And I think I know genuine. This place was both quaint and genuine. The stores seemed familiar, but not. Then I saw the car lot, "Yoder's Wheels For You". I'm not a real car buff, but I think I didn't see anything newer than about 1965. There were probably fifteen or twenty cars under strings of multi-colored pointy flags and a, for lack of a better word, hippie sitting in the bed of about a 1950 something pickup truck strumming a guitar. Two unclothed pre-schoolers played under the shade of a tree; they were blowing bubbles and a dog was gleefully chasing after the bubbles. A cat sat atop a Rambler convertible, interested but uninvolved.

My eyes must have betrayed my puzzlement.

Caleb simply said, "We're Amish."

As we walked into his living room, his wife, Gert, seemed to have stepped out of the photo gallery in the Woodstock album. "Hello, I'm Gert. You've wet your pants." Caleb to the rescue with a retelling of the incident on the road. In his version the near-collision seemed a bit more my fault than his. But, hey Gert makes wonderful granola, and the yogurt and honey was outstanding, so imprecise assignment of the blame is OK with me.

As Ezekiel worked his magic on the bent wheel, Caleb explained that theirs is a break-away sect from the mainline Amish. While the original Amish ride in buggies, and will not use electricity from a power plant and in other ways have stopped the clock at about the turn of the Nineteenth Century, the intentional community into which I had stumbled stopped the clock in 1967, uses electricity to power only those appliances available in 1967 or earlier, and rides in cars that made in '67 or earlier.

This updating of the Amish way had been suggested as a means of keeping the younger ones involved in the faith. So during a long summer of discontent a few yers ago, the painful birthing of the "new order" began. Some had suggested that the any temporal brake be disengaged, that the Amish simply join the modern world. A not-so-fast mentality won the day, and 1967 was chosen as a compromise between the group who wanted pre-World War II and those who wanted the Eighties. "Everything still seemed possible in '67", Caleb explained.

All of the stores in town are resale shops. A party of elders within the commune have contacts within Goodwill stores, Salvation Army thrift stores, and a wide network of similar resellers. The record store carries Moby Grape, but you won't find Moby. As with the orthodox Amish, most of the food is produced within the community itself, so there's no necessity to search out time-capsule Twinkies or the like.

Caleb said they haven't had much trouble finding the material goods to keep their clocks set on 1967. But, he knows the young ones will always rebel. "It just comes with the territory, man. There's probably one of those kids out there right now that'll want to jump up to 1975 one of these days. That would blow my mind, but that's just life, man. It's a trip."

While the commune members, unlike their orthodox kin don't eschew photography, they insist that all pictures be taken with cameras extant in 1967 or earler. I didn't have my Brownie camera me, and I can never remember whether it takes 120 or 126 film anyway. So I'll just have to look over the pictures in my memory until I can get back out that way.