Thursday, August 13, 2009

That's how you roll???

I suppose I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the neglected, the not shiny, the not new; those things that, in the vernacular of Linus, "just need a little love". I can't explain it rationally, but there's something in the nature of the borderline derelict that makes me say, "That's not so bad, I bet it can be fixed".

This sympathetic inclination toward all things salvageable has informed me through two questionable home purchases, countless thrift store finds (large and small), and dozens of motorized vehicles (of both the two and four-wheeled variety). Admittedly this inclination has been dormant of late (I don't have nearly the collection of almost functional bikes, radios, amps, and appliances I used to), but a peak behind my house reveals that an ember of it still glows.

Pictured, in all it's humble glory, is my 1975 Saab 99 Wagonback. I owned one of these in the early '90s and always loved it. When the chance to buy another came along, I couldn't resist. It's nimble, it's quirky, and it's got a modern design pedigree courtesy of Sixten Sason. Sason was a Swedish designer who, in addition to designing cars for Saab, also dabbled in vacumn cleaners for Electrolux and sewing machines for Husqvarna. While not as widely recognized as Eames, Saarinen, or Nelson in the mid-century designers pantheon, he was certainly a contemporary and equal.

The 99 is not a particularly common car, and it's not particularly collectible either. In Saab lore, it's mostly seen as a transitional vehicle; the bridge between Saab being a quirky two-stroke import and Saab being a worldwide luxury marquee. That Saab used the 99 as the platform to launch the first commercially available turbo-charged car gives it a bit of status, but unless you've got one of those, you've mostly got an old and not really valuable car.

I bought mine from my local Saab mechanic a few years ago for $300.00. He'd had it on his lot for a while with the intention of restoring it. I suppose at some point he realized that wasn't going to happen, and since I'd been pestering him, he let me have it (Really, it's not such a bad little car, it just needs a little love). I too had every intention of restoring it, but haven't. It is, quite literally, too big of a job for me.

What it's become is my second car. Given my penchant for all things old, I've never owned a new car (In fact, I've never owned a car in the same decade it was manufactured). Driving older cars of course necessitates taking some precautions. The first is a AAA membership, and the second is keeping an extra car handy for when the first one breaks.

This "second car plan" has paid off a couple times in the last year. I logged quite a few miles in the 99 when the windshield of my VW Golf started rusting out in a very alarming way. Rather than being forced into a hasty purchase to replace the VW, I was able to take my time and find the right car while tooling around in the not so luxurious lap of the 99. More recently, when a drunk driver wrecked my "first string car" the 99 was there to get me back and forth to work while I sorted through my purchase options.

I still go out back and start it regularly (I had to chase a nesting possum out of the engine compartment once), and I'll take it on short errands to make sure everything is still functional. I like that it's easy to find in parking lots, and I'm heartened by the occasional supportive comment from strangers. I'm never sure how much is appreciation and how much is sympathy, but you know what they say about gift horses.

So yeah...that's how I roll. If you see me out and about, make sure you honk and wave!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

OSU's Shiny New Beacon Of Learnedness

The Main Library. That's what I always called it. "I'm going to Main to study", "I've got to pick something up at Main", "Main's got a copy on reserve". In its day the name fit like a glove. The Main Library was just that...the main library. It was big, utilitarian, servicable, and not much else (think main post office, main bus depot, main terminal, etc.).

I point this out because I'm pretty sure that's what everyone called it. So I was more than a little surprised when I visited the newly renovated Main Library only to find out it's not called that least not officially anyway. Apparently there's a new brand in town (and if you're one of those people that has never gotten used to "THE" Ohio State University then I'm afraid you're probably not going to like this either). According to the still warm and inky smelling visitor's guide (and OSU's own web page) we will henceforth and into the future refer to the tall library at the west end of the Oval as "The Thompson Library".

Now, before you roll your eyes and run for the familiar comforts of cynicism, consider this: It fits. The name fits. How? you might ask. Did you notice how "The Thompson Library" sounds sort of dignified? Well, the new library is sort of dignified. And did you notice how "The Thompson Library" sounds sort of stately, even a little old school? Well, the new library is kind of stately, and even a little old school. The Grand Reading Room is a perfect example. It's been brought back to it's early 20th century splendor in a way those of us who toiled under the old version of this building could never have imagined. (There's even a copy of "Winged Victory" on hand to remind us (presumably) of our indebtedness to our Greek forebearers and the importance of a well-rounded and Classical education.) Which isn't to say the whole building is some kind of Gilded Age throwback, because it's not. There's enough glass, exposed structural elements, and sleek lines to keep the modernists happy too.

What I think will strike most visitors is the way it all works together; old and new, books and computers, form and function. The old building never really acknowledged the collection. The stacks eventually became a kind of eleven story basement (if there even is such a thing) while more and more computers were pushed to the front of the building. Now I'm no luddite, and I'll be the first to acknowledge the role of technology in libraries (critical!), but the fact is the library's "brand" remains books.

Happily, the architects, librarians, administrators, and other smart people involved in this project seem to have understood this. The collection, rather than being hidden from view, has become a focal point, a source of pride even (think of bookshelves in your home). The stacks - the very books themselves - are on display in a kind of multistory bookcase that simultaneously inspires and humbles. Walking through the lower floors, the building behaves as if everything revolves around this towering collection of books. In a way, it does. The library remains a vehicle by which we can store, organize, and retrieve information, and while computers have their place, there's nothing that illustrates the organization of information quite like thousands of books ordered on a shelf.

And if that's not enough to make you want to visit "The Thompson Library" I'll recommend a trip to the top floor of "the Tower". This formerly dingy recess of a space has been converted into what amounts to an elegant reading room/observation deck (complete with wood paneling and comfy chairs). The views are terrific from any point on the compass, even on the grey morning I visited.

Congratulations to OSU, OSU Libraries, the Architects, and everyone else involved in this project. It's a great building, and one that's certainly worthy of the name!