Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A dose of reality on the streets of Boston

Bumping into "someone" and offering a helping hand.
The lovely Miss Wendy and I were wandering about Back Bay, taking an early evening stroll on our last day in Boston. The weather had cleared and the oppressive heat of the afternoon had given way to a pleasant chill.

Families and couples were out and about, along with gaggles of college students and tourists enjoying the final hours of the weekend. There was much to see and enjoy: trendy restaurants and boutiques; intimate gardens and expansive parks; soaring skyscrapers and ivy-covered town homes.

All was not perfect, however. Off in the distance, as we neared Copley Square, I spotted a bag lady struggling to cross the street.

She had managed to cart a suitcase and black garbage bag to the median strip of the divided roadway, had made her way back to the sidewalk and was struggling with a second battered case and several other bags as we neared. I figured it was going to take her several trips to reach the relative safety of the far sidewalk.

So I handed Wendy my camera, approached the woman and asked if she could use some help. She was fixated on her stuff, fussing about and mildly agitated. She glanced my way and mumbled something that sort of sounded like "yes" as I took hold of the case and a second bag and began to cross the street.

She told me I needed to wait until the traffic signal changed. I remain unsure if it was a legal or safety issued that captured her attention. A moment later she caught up with me and her bags and, because I'm a giving sort of guy, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a handful of bills.

It wasn't until that instant that I had a chance to get a good look at her. She appeared to be well into her 70s, a little ragged around the edges, but clean with a pleasant face surrounded by a swirl of white hair. I couldn't help thinking that she reflected the sentiment of a sign I once saw a homeless person holding: I USE TO BE SOMEONE! Someone, indeed!

I started to give her the money I was holding when she stepped back a foot or so, glanced over at Wendy and asked if she was my wife. I nodded, yes. Then things got a little weird!

The bag lady apparently had a set of rules that govern her life and quietly explained to me that she never takes money directly from men. She asked if I would please give the money to my wife and have her hand over the cash.

I can't fathom the philosophical or psychological gymnastics at play in her mind. And even though I was curious about the why of it all, I decided to play along and pass the cash to Wendy who passed it along to her.

Wendy and I still had things to see and places to go. As we headed off in search of a sugary treat and  last look at the nearby skyline, I glanced back at the bag lady. It had only been a moment, but she had vanished into the twilight, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

An ode to Avi on turning one

Avi is turning one and he's darn excited!
The noise is what you notice first. It's a jarring blend of banging mashed up with a banshee howl! In an instant Avi whizzes by in his baby walker, colliding with whatever happens to be in his path. His destination? Pretty much wherever he sets his sights!

Welcome to Baby Watch 101, an exercise that's more or less like herding kittens or trying to catch the wind. The good news is Avi always stumbles about with an infectious grin across his face and his wails of excitement are filled with good cheer.

As he finishes up his first trip around the Sun and officially turns one this week, he has mastered all those firsts you'd expect of a healthy, happy baby.

Avi poops and pees just fine, thank you very much; is just about finished with nursing and now enjoys a wide range of tasty foods; is talking gibberish that I'm thinking will morph into recognizable English sooner then we might expect and is pulling himself up and cruising about with abandon!

He's also at that exasperating stage where there is no corner he doesn't wish to explore, no staircase he doesn't want to climb, no sharp and shiny objects he doesn't have to grab! He's a study in rapid motion and energy and a challenge to watch and contain!

Bailey and Avi are already the best of friends.
Avi is also a joyous spirit, filled with the stuff of life; a malleable piece of clay that with proper care and attention will find a unique place in the world one day. The poets and philosophers among us might explore how a meaningful destiny patiently awaits his arrival just this side of the horizon, second star to the right, and straight on till morning!

My birthday wish is much simpler, that he remains healthy and happy!

Fortunately, that shouldn't be a problem since Avi has loving and doting parents, Lauren and Josh; loving and weary grandparents, Janice, Steve, Wendy and me; and an older sister, Bailey, who finds her younger brother adorable!

It's clear that all is well with the world when Bailey wants nothing more than to gently hug Avi and give him a kiss before heading off to preschool each morning. Bottle up such sweet innocence and sprinkle it about and I'm thinking all our days would be a bit brighter.

So Avi, dude,
you're now working on two;
and all I can say
is HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
Oh, it's also true
that we all love you ... and the check is in the mail!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Taking another bite out of the Big Apple!

Exploring new transport hub near World Trade Center.
The lovely Miss Wendy and I were four hours into a six-hour walking tour of lower Manhattan when we stumbled across Rocco's, a pasticceria in the West Village. The shop was a sugary delight and one of the many highlights of a recent trip to the Big Apple.

Yet again Wendy and I had pulled out our winter gear -- heavy coats, scarves and gloves -- and traveled north for what's become an annual pilgrimage to New York; a trip to the really big city to attend a few Broadway shows and eat our way across Manhattan. This time around we added a couple of tours so we could finally get an up close and personal look at several of the diverse neighborhoods -- Chinatown and Little Italy, SoHo, NoHo, the Meatpacking District and Chelsea -- that fill and define the southern end of the city that never sleeps.

The walking tour offered a sweeping historic overview of the area, from its founding and development around the southern tip of Manhattan to the impact its early settlers and residents had on the rapid growth of the region and country. A second tour at the Tenement Museum off Delancy Street on the Lower East Side focused on the immigrants who flooded into the area during the last half of the 19th Century.

Thumbs up: "Evan Hansen"
The tours were both fun and enlightening, but it was the delightful blend of Gotham energy, entertainment and good eats that made the trip memorable. Of course Broadway, as usual, was part of the mix!

"Dear Evan Hansen", one of three shows we attended during our four-day vacation, is breaking box office records at the moment and was the proverbial cherry on our holiday sundae. It's a musical with a message, exploring loneliness, bullying and suicide with a powerful and creative digital twist.

The two other shows -- the long-running musical "Chicago" and a one-woman play, "Not That Jewish" -- were amusing and distracting in an entertaining, if predictable fashion. "Evan Hansen", meanwhile, is wholly unpredictable and, I'm thinking, will be a big winner at this year's Tony Awards.

Sangria at Rafele's packs a tasty punch.
Fortunately, there was plenty of time between tours and shows to enjoy a few of the city's classic and unique delis, bakeries, diners and restaurants. We stumbled across a couple of new places and revisited a few familiar spots: Ben's Deli in Midtown and Le Marais, a kosher steakhouse a few blocks north; Zabar's on the Upper West Side and Katz's just the other side of Houston Street and around the corner from Russ and Daughters, the Jewish grocery specializing in caviar, smoked fish, herring and bagels.

What's mostly lingering about in my noggin at the moment, however, is the wine Wendy and I gulped down at Rafele's in the West Village. The restaurant -- we discovered it on a food tour several years ago -- has the best sangria I've ever tasted. We started off with a single goblet of the fruity nectar, but managed to polish off another two glasses as we dined on an assortment of Neapolitan dishes.

Italian bakery in West Village perfect way to end the day.
We then staggered out into the Village, a lightly falling snow covering the neighborhood with a modest dusting of the white stuff. The setting and vibe seemed just about perfect -- or maybe it was the alcohol ... I did mention there was booze, right? The day's outing only got better when we found ourselves wandering passed Rocco's.

Turns out the Italian bakery is a New York institution -- who knew? It's filled with a variety of goodies that are fresh and tasty and a perfect way to end a perfect day! Despite a yuge variety of cakes and cookies, pastries and other such sweets, we kept things simple and shared a mini-eclair and fruitamisu, a bit of pastry topped with a hefty glob of cream and fresh fruit.

I'm thinking we'll be back again, both to Rocco's and New York. After all, if you can eat it there you can eat it anywhere! Not at all sure what that means, but if it was good enough for the Chairman of the Board, it's good enough for me!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Trip to D.C. filled with monuments and memories

Washington Monument dominates the D.C. skyline.
Wanting and needing a little time off from the rigors of retirement, the lovely Miss Wendy and I decided recently to visit Washington, D.C. It had been a decade or so since we last traveled to the nation's capital and we were mildly interested in revisiting a few of the city's monuments and museums, but mostly looking forward simply to getting away.

Turns out the monuments are still around and still pretty much as they were when we last visited -- the Washington Monument remains a dominant landmark; so, too, the Lincoln, FDR and Vietnam memorials. Collectively, they say much about who we are as a nation and people; who we honor and what we cherish.

A few additional memorials -- one honoring the men and women who fought and died in World War II, another raised in tribute to the man with a dream, Martin Luther King, Jr. -- add both a needed touch of diversity and salute for the "greatest generation".

Visiting the White House and showing our colors!
There were a couple of disappointments, thanks to the work being done to spiffy up the Capital and White House for next January's inauguration of The Donald, our presidential yam!

The iconic view of both iconic structures was blocked by workmen building the inaugural platform where our 45th president will be taking the oath of office next month and the viewing stand where the president and his immigrant bride will watch the inaugural parade.

But I digress!

What lingers about at the moment is our visit to the Newseum, an interactive museum that promotes free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment. It's an informative and entertaining way to spend a few hours, focused mostly on the history and importance of a robust and independent press. I'm thinking it would be a perfect place for the legions of "freedom-loving" Americans, certain the "mainstream media" is hopelessly corrupt, to explore their tribal beliefs.

Lincoln Memorial glows majestically during evening visit.
Two exhibits -- one detailing how many countries control the media, the other memorializing working journalists killed in recent years -- offer a compelling argument for the import and impact of a free and vibrant press.

There are also galleries filled with historic broadcasts -- Walter Cronkite announcing the death of JFK and Edward R. Murrow's spirited takedown of Joe McCarthy -- and an expansive collection of newspaper front pages, detailing most everything of significance from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the election of Barak Obama.

One of the most memorable, if melancholy, exhibits is a memorial and remembrance of the coverage of 9/11. It includes the front pages of newspapers the day after the attack, the mangled and twisted broadcast antenna that once topped the World Trade Center and a documentary featuring first-person accounts from reporters covering the tragedy.

It's about as up close and personal a telling as I've seen, filled with much raw footage that captures both the massive scale of the attack and the impact it had on people caught in the toppling of the buildings. The film also serves as a stark reminder of both the danger reporters often find themselves in as they go about their jobs and the good work they do in keeping the public informed in a meaningful and timely fashion.

Newseum's 9/11 exhibit includes broadcast antenna from WTC.
This rich brew of journalism had me thinking back on my career as a reporter and editor -- I spent 40 years working for newspapers across the Southeast -- and the front row seat I had to the ups and downs of this stuff we call news.

It's been a while, given the turmoil that characterized my last few years in the business, since I've been able to fondly recall the work that I and my colleagues managed during the last decades of the 20th century; the "golden" era, some might argue, of journalism.

Thanks to the Newseum, I was able to remember and feel the thrill I experienced all those years ago when I first walked into a newsroom and the city editor handed me a press release to rewrite. It was a beginning! Little did I know at the time that, for me, it was to be the road less traveled; and, yes, it did make all the difference.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Aboard the Oasis and chasing the sun

Wendy, me and the Oasis of the Seas.
The crystal clear waters of the Caribbean were filled with small boats and jet skis, zipping about a small lagoon outside of Labadee, a quiet port on the northern coast of Haiti. I was in pure vacation mode, at rest on a lounge chair high atop a small city, the Oasis of the Seas, enjoying the view.

For nearly a week in late August, Wendy and I had been zig-zagging our way across the Eastern Caribbean, visiting Nassau, then heading a bit west to Puerto Rico and Haiti after a tropical storm and a medical emergency forced a detour in the ship's itinerary.

The change was of little import! Our goal for this holiday had less to do with the islands we'd be visiting then how we'd be getting to each port of call. Over the last few years, Wendy and I have been on several cruises to idyllic and iconic spots in Alaska, the Caribbean, down along the Eastern coast of the U.S. and, most memorably, a transatlantic voyage that had us traveling from Italy to Florida, with stops in a half-dozen or so ports in Spain, the island of Majorca and the Azores.

The trips were grand and all of them were on ships that had once been considered huge, but by today's standards were of modest size: 1,500 or so passengers with a crew of about a 1,000.

I was curious what it would be like to travel aboard one of the new mega-ships. So finding ourselves at loose ends -- that would be Wendy and me -- and wanting a quick escape before summer's end, I booked a week's cruise on the Oasis of the Seas, one of three ships in Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class.

Royal Caribbean logo, amphitheater offer up signature look.
It's not exaggerating much to suggest these ships are floating cities. They comfortably hold in excess of 6,000 guests and have a crew of well over 2,000. They are huge and hefty, displacing approximately 100,000 metric tons -- just slightly less, Wikipedia reports, than that of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

The Oasis is broken into seven distinct neighborhoods that house at least two dozen dining options and more bars then you'll find on Bourbon Street; a half dozen or so pools and hot tubs and a full service spa and gym; an expansive sports and kids zone, specialty retails shops and a duty-free store; a state-of-the-art theater featuring Broadway musicals and an aquatic venue for a one-of-a-kind water and diving show. Oh, there's also a couple of wave pools for surfer-dude wannabes, a miniature golf course, arcade, zip line, climbing wall and carousel for the kiddies and an ice skating rink featuring a world-class skating review!

Another way of capturing the enormity of the Oasis is simply spending a little time on the ship's Royal Promenade in front of the On Air bar that features a large digital ticker offering up an assortment of facts and numbers about the ship. They are staggering and stunning: 16 decks, 496 inside cabins and 2,210 outside cabins; 20 chefs and 222 cooks; 188 bartenders and 15 bar managers working in 37 front bars and 26 back of house support bars; 3,300 miles of electrical cables and 150 miles of piping; 968,751 square feet of carpeting and 86,111 square feet of windows; 7,000 unique works of art and enough paint used on the ship since it was commissioned in 2009 to create a path a yard wide from Boston to Los Angeles -- and back! Okay, I made up that last factoid. Let's just all agree that the Oasis is yuuuuge!

Central Park neighborhood a quiet oasis on the Oasis.
After much debate, Wendy and I booked a cabin overlooking Central Park, one of the neighborhoods on the Oasis that is off the beaten path. We had a view of a lovely garden filled with a pleasing blend of plants and trees, surrounded by boutiques, specialty restaurants and bars.

The park also featured the Rising Tide bar -- it can be raised or lowered between three decks -- and a geometrically-rich faรงade rising 16 decks that encircles and defines the area and creates a soaring atrium with the feel of a five-star hotel.

Much the same vibe can be found around the Boardwalk, another happening neighborhood that provides the signature look for Oasis class ships: a series of soaring decks surrounding a 750-seat amphitheater topped with the Royal Caribbean logo. The theater is framed by two massive climbing walls; bars and restaurants, including a Johnny Rockets; boutiques, an arcade, Ben and Jerry's ice cream parlor and a child-friendly and charming full-size carousel.

After checking out our room with its leafy view and wandering about for an hour or two, it became clear to Wendy and me that we could happily spend the entire cruise aboard the Oasis without ever spotting the ocean. Or not.

Surfer dude wannabes can do their thing on the pool deck.
It took only a little searching to find our way to a nearby bank of elevators -- there are 24 available for guests -- and zip up to deck 15. The sleek, cool and comforting look and vibe of the lower decks gave way to a splashy, watery playground of pools and hot tubs; a private solarium for adults and hundreds of lounge chairs at the ready for the thousands of guests who would soon be in search of a little fun in the Caribbean sun!

Off in the distance, the city of Fort Lauderdale shimmered in the afternoon heat while the vast Atlantic quietly and calmly beckoned. It was a good omen but, sadly, all was not perfect in paradise.

What makes the Oasis special is also what causes problems -- for some! Despite expert planning and attention to most every detail by the cruise staff, keeping 6,000 people happy can be a challenge. Bigger, it turns out, isn't always better.

The problems are small, but can prove irritating. Simply getting around a ship the size of a football field can be difficult, especially when elevators are sometimes packed and the only option is hiking up or down a dozen flight of stairs. Then there are the occasional lines for specialty shows and the longish wait to talk with service personnel.
Ship has over 2,600 cabins and can comfortably hold over 6,000 guests.

Foodies, meanwhile, will probably find the meals mostly forgettable. I was in the army and had no problem with mess hall chow. It was plentiful and filling and tasty in a pedestrian sort of way. So, too, the meals aboard the Oasis. There were notable exceptions, especially in the ship's specialty restaurants.

Okay, the really good news is that's about as bad as it gets; most everything else was picture-postcard perfect!

Only hours after leaving port on our way south to Nassau, Wendy and I dined at Giovanni's, an Italian ristorante in Central Park. The food was delicious, service impeccable and ambience warm and inviting. After dinner, we made our way out into the park, strolling under a cloudless and star-sprinkled sky.

The afternoon heat had given way to a temperate evening, a slight breeze finding its way up and over the towering decks that sheltered and protected the park. A few guests, like us, wandered about aimlessly, while others sat and chatted at several nearby cafes and bars. It was all together a pleasant scene that became even better when a string quartet began softly playing "Moon River"!

Apparently bedazzled, I wrapped my arms around Wendy and we slowly danced to the music and rhythm of the sea. It would seem that the magic of the ship had caught us in its spell and, at least for the moment, the Oasis was definitely much more than a mirage.

Friday, July 29, 2016

And now a toast for my daughter Lauren

Lauren moments after receiving her Master's Degree at Kennesaw State.
Lauren was sitting at our breakfast table, bent over a tablet as she put the finishing touches on an essay for school. I glanced down at her work and offered a few suggestions -- "want" should be "won't", "there" needed to be changed to the possessive "their" and, well, there really was no subject in the penultimate sentence.

Lauren wasn't happy. She tossed the pencil she was gripping onto the table and glared at me. It was the sort of look you might expect from a frustrated kid. After all, she was only 10 and still struggling mightily with the English language.

Fast forward a quarter century and my daughter is now a beautiful young woman, happily married with two children of her own. She also has two bachelor degrees and, just a few hours ago, was awarded a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education -- with honors -- from Kennesaw State University!
 
That's a pretty decent resume. It all becomes noteworthy and amazing when you consider she handled the added workload of going back to school while juggling a full-time job as a Special Ed teacher; serving on the board of our synagogue; raising a toddler, Bailey; and handling wifey chores for her husband, Josh.

Oh, right, she was also pregnant for much of the time and managed to give birth last spring to my second grandchild, Avi, during semester break. Now that's planning!

Lauren all dressed up and ready for commencement.
If there was any pencil tossing during her recent course work, I wasn't around to see it. Lauren did ask me to do a final read on a paper or two and, other then a few dangling participles and an occasional split infinitive, there wasn't much to edit. Go figure!

All those years ago, when Lauren was filled with potential and thrashing about to find the road that beckoned, it was hard to see exactly how she would, one day, get from there to here. This not knowing is one of the challenges that parents, wanting only the best for their children, are forced to confront on this journey called life. It's simply part of the job.

I never doubted she would find her way. I only wish I had the voice back then to speak of the future as a done deal. Lauren's beauty and grace, good heart and soul, meant that karma -- and other such spiritual stuff -- was always on her side and it was only a matter of time until her dreams became reality.

That's not to suggest it's been easy. In addition to the karma thing, there was also a lot of hard work, long hours and perseverance involved in the effort. But Lauren is a smart, focused and determined woman. Once she's set her mind on a goal she simply doesn't quit.

Wendy and I got an up close and personal look at her work ethic over the last month or so. After dropping Bailey at camp each morning, she came over to our house with Avi. We got the chance to spend some quality time with our grandson and Lauren got a chance to study.

On most days, Bailey also ended up at our home and we all spent the afternoon napping and playing, watching "Curious George" and eating dinner -- fish sticks and applesauce. Yum!

Even on the days when I was sore and tired from holding Avi and chasing Bailey from room to room, there was a sweetness that lingered about when Lauren and the kids left for home. I grumbled a bit to Wendy about being way too old for such work, but the quiet after the kiddie storm only served to remind me how special such moments are in life.

So if you happen to have a goblet of wine about -- or a glass of water -- then raise it high and join me in toasting my daughter on a job well done. You, Lauren, now have a special husband, two wonderful kids, three college degrees and a Mom and Dad who love you very much and couldn't be prouder of the accomplished young woman you've become. L'chaim!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Finally making it 'Uptown' in downtown Columbus

A bit of whimsy in Uptown Columbus.
After a short and eventful road trip across north and central Florida, Wendy and I decided to take a detour recently on our way back to Atlanta. That's how we ended up spending an afternoon in Columbus, the place I still consider home -- at least in a sentimental fashion -- even though I haven't lived there in 40 years.

We pulled off the interstate at Tifton and maneuvered our way along a series of state highways and secondary roads, passing through a half-dozen or so sun-bleached towns and cities -- Albany, Dawson, Lumpkin and Cusseta -- before pulling into Fort Benning.

The massive military base makes up a third of what the locals refer to as the tri-cities. Columbus and its neighbor, Phenix City, across the Chattahoochee River in Alabama, fill out the rest of the metro area.

After clearing one last rise in the road, the skyline of Columbus and its two skyscrapers -- the government center downtown and the headquarters of AFLAC a few miles to the east -- came into view. At first blush the city seemed a clay-stained vision of what I had seen on previous trips. The heart of the community was nestled in a bend of the Chattahoochee, sprawling to the north and east like a creeping bit of kudzu.

If rumors and news reports of massive growth and redevelopment were true, then what I was seeing from a distance had little to do with reality and much to do with my aging memory. Uncovering the truth of such reports, however, would have to wait another hour or so while I attempted to put the lie to Thomas Wolfe's assertion that you "can't go home again!"

First stop was to visit my folks at Riverdale Cemetery.
The first stop was a visit to see family and friends, all resting comfortably in the Jewish section of Riverdale cemetery off of Victory Drive. The Feinberg family plot, nicely shaded by a towering oak tree, is surrounded by the graves of the men and women who once called Columbus home and were members of Shearith Israel Synagogue.

It's here that my mother and father can be found; so, too, my paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and a legion of cousins and family friends and acquaintances: The Hirschs, Kravtins Raabs and Myers; Shapiros, Cohens, Satlofs and Siegels; Levys, Behars, Scopps and Greens; Robbins, Funks and Witts.

Hidden away in an older section of the cemetery is my great grandmother, Bailey Feinberg, who was born in Eastern Europe in 1852 and died in Columbus in 1941. She's the woman my granddaughter, Bailey Levetan, is named after -- her great-great-great Bubbe!

My great grandmother, Bailey Feinberg.
All these folk, mostly immigrants from Russia and Poland, settled in the Chattahoochee valley a century earlier, bringing a bit of Yiddishkeit to the Deep South, creating a vibrant community that prospered and came of age during the Great Depression and World War II.

There were a few doctors, lawyers and accountants among them. But, truth to tell, they were mostly merchants, men who scratched out a living buying and selling stuff -- food, clothing, hardware and scrap metal; watches, rings, luggage and weapons. Stuff!

Some prospered. Others struggled. My father did both.

Wendy and I spent part of the next hour visiting the store where he managed to grow his business, Village Pawn Shop; and the site where he began the journey. Central Pawn Shop, on First Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets, is toast now; a mostly fond but fading memory of a different, simpler time.

It was a tiny place with linoleum floors and fluorescent lights dangling from the ceiling. Once inside, there was a jarring blend of merchandise: watches and rings; hats, caps, suits and leather jackets; tires and tools; pistols, rifles, shotguns and knives; luggage, footlockers and a wide assortment of musical instruments.

The store was hot in the summer, cold in the winter and filled with a bizarre menagerie of characters: addicts and prostitutes, professional gamblers, pool sharks and con artists; men and women struggling to get by and others hunting for bargains; cops in search of stolen merchandise and the occasional reporter in search of a good story.

Chattahoochee and RiverWalk big part of city's redevelopment plan.
Now, four decades later and this spot -- rechristened "Uptown" in recent years -- has been swept clean. The footprint across much of the area remains the same, but most everything has been reconfigured and remodeled. There's a decidedly upbeat and gentrified vibe that hangs lightly in the air.

Thanks to an innovative collaboration between the city's consolidated government, Columbus State University and Uptown Columbus, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the slightly sleepy and seedy business district has been re-imagined and revitalized. It's a happening place, attracting locals, students and the occasional tourist with a pleasant and eclectic blend of upscale restaurant and bars, retail shops and boutiques, historic buildings and a world-class performing arts center.

Perhaps most remarkable is the western boundary of the area, once a decaying eyesore filled with abandoned warehouses, overgrown thickets of underbrush and debris. Now the RiverWalk, a beautifully landscaped path, meanders alongside the Chattahoochee for 15 miles or so from downtown, alongside the city's historic district and Victory Drive, to the southern fringes of Fort Benning.

The path is wide enough to provide runners, cyclists and folks just our for a leisurely stroll plenty of room to exercise and enjoy the natural beauty around the trail. And if that isn't enough to get your heart racing, just know that Mother Nature, herself, has been given a makeover of sorts.

A few years ago the river was slightly rerouted and gussied up with some well-placed boulders to create a rush of whitewater for kayakers and others in search of a wet and chilly way to spend a few hours.

All that remains of dad's store is the address.
For me -- and I'm guessing for other folks of a certain age who once called Columbus home -- walking around Uptown can be a melancholy journey into the past. It's filled with warm and mostly happy memories, especially for members of the Jewish community whose relatives owned and operated a vast assortment of shops and businesses here.

My father owned a pawn shop on First Avenue. It was next to Suran's Furniture Store, which was around the corner from the Kravtin's Novelty Shop on Broadway. Next door were a cluster of businesses -- Blue Ribbon Shoes, Rainbow's Department Store and Tots and Teens -- all owned and operated by the Rainbow and Shapiro families.

Nearby, on the same block, was Aaron Funk's United Jewelers, Gus Mendelson's Fox's Pawn Shop and Sol and Harry's, a hugely successful clothing store owned by Sol and Harry Cohn. A block north was Phil Pomerance's Kiddie Shop, Charlie Stein's Huddle Shop and Victor Kiralfy's woman's store.

Turn the corner at 11th Street and walk a block east past Kirven's department store and Federal Bakery and you'd be just across the street from Miller's Delicatessen, home of the best corned beef sandwich (possibly the only corned beef sandwich) to be found in Georgia south of Leb's in Atlanta.

The businesses are gone, replaced by Uptown's move into the 21st Century. The changes, wow factor and all, can be a bit jarring and unsettling. Certainly what's become of my father's business is notable. All that remains of Central Pawn Shop today is its address, 1023, updated and prominently displayed across a green awning that welcomes folks to "The Abbey".

Turns out what was once a pawn shop is now a ministry for young adults, providing prayer, meals and financial support. Now that I think about it, nothing much has really changed. Given my dad's warm heart and caring soul, I'm pretty certain he was doing the same sort of mission work years ago in his little store.