COLUMBIA — Look past the usual cliches of food, family and a centuries-old “celebration” between English settlers and Native Americans that barely prefaced a series of betrayals and wrongdoings. As Turkey Day beckons, here’s a Top 10 list that only Columbians can appreciate. And well we should.
10. We’re not St. Louis. Every time I visit our nearest metropolis, I want to thunk my head against the steering wheel, courtesy of the never-ending construction on Highway 40 that’s turned my hometown into a parking lot. Unless I’m there for tech support at an Apple Store or to watch the Cards play (let’s not even mention the Rams), my reasons to visit the old stomping grounds are rapidly diminishing.
9. The last gasp of fall. Last winter dragged on well into April with barely a week of spring before the onslaught of blistering summer swelter. Aside from an occasional downpour, September through mid-November has been the most delicious two months of 2009. Autumn always was my favorite season in the Midwest — and now I remember why.
8. The Citizens Police Review Board. Comprised of a competent bunch ranging from college professors to former prosecutors and retired government employees, the board is a win-win for both sides. Concerned Columbians have a nonthreatening forum to voice their legitimate complaints, and the board can aid the Police Department as a filter to weed out the bogus charges.
7. The True/False Film Festival. A documentary film festival is not merely a means to educate, entertain and recruit hundreds of volunteers, it's proof that a city has officially made it. The festival’s crowds only grow larger each February; its roster attracts talent from multiple continents. Now in its sixth year, 2010 should be no exception.
6. A two-newspaper town. I have an obvious bias with this one, but newspapers do more than hold public figures accountable. They hold themselves accountable, and newspapers need a watchful eye as much as anyone. Most cities are lucky enough to have one major newspaper still standing, much less two, and if I had to sum up a democracy in one word, it would be “choices.”
5. Arts and fitness. Ballet. Yoga. Theater. Acupuncture. Jazz bands. Pilates. Walk-in art galleries. Spinning. Symphonies. Columbia has nearly all of the amenities of big-city leisure but with less hassle.
4. Freebies and cheapies. I used to live in Los Angeles and while working in Pennsylvania frequently visited New York City. Between the two coasts, I became numb to $8 domestic drafts and $80 parking tickets. This past year in Columbia, I’ve enjoyed many a cost-effective night of happy hour specials and cheap venues, especially a series of free concerts from Jakob Dylan to Chuck Berry. Bring 'em on.
3. Our headline-free leadership. From Spitzer to Sanford, the last few political cycles bore witness to a wave of scripts far-fetched enough to exceed even Hollywood's expectations. Blago went wild while Palin was going rogue. Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was “sexting” explicit messages not long after former U.S. House Rep. Mark Foley was busted for e-mailing them. In mid-Missouri, however, our elected representatives have at least managed to avoid any scandalized media frenzies. Maybe they know how to cover their tracks. Or maybe they really are the civic-minded, everyday folks that give the Midwest its rep.
3. Booming business. A startling number of Main Streets across small-town America are dreary and deserted, thanks to suburban sprawl and the domination of big-box chains over mom-and-pop stores. Columbia, by contrast, boasts a thriving Broadway that entices shoppers by day and club-hoppers by night. Even three Walmarts and a Sam’s Club can’t stop the hustle.
2. Mizzou B-Ball. Mizzou’s football Tigers showed heart this year, but deep down we knew we were in for a so-so season in which making a bowl — any bowl — would equal the bar. I confess I only made it to one game in person, but I’d rather miss Christmas than miss seeing Mizzou defend its Big 12 basketball title. Enough said.
1. Higher ed. During wartime when all branches of the military are filled or so close to capacity that they can drop their recruitment incentives, that’s when you know the economy is bad. Really bad. Nearly one-third of Columbians reside within the cozy confines of higher education, and until the pendulum swings back, it’s a great place to be.
Brian Jarvis is a journalism graduate student at MU and produces the radio show Global Journalist.