In the Neighborhood

S., my granddaughter, recently hosted her friend A. at my home for a sleepover.   The following day I drove A. back to her residence on the far east side of Columbus. It was a journey that we have made before. My usual route to A.’s house, a direct shot off of a freeway ramp, has been heavily impeded by construction. I accordingly took a different way through an older area of town with which I was only vaguely familiar. The girls were in the back seat chattering away as I navigated down residential streets in a part of the city that is a destination mostly for the people who live there. 

I made a wrong turn but was unconcerned. I was just off of the route as opposed to hopelessly lost. I made a turn in the right direction onto a street I had never heard of named Bexvie Avenue. Bexvie isn’t a long street. It is just a few blocks long, beginning on one street and ending on another. Since I am big on situational awareness I noted a cluster of neighborhood bars giving way to imaginatively named Apostolic and Baptist churches, all of it collectively comprising bricks within the residential mortar of a neighborhood that was new almost a century ago and which, like many of us, gamely carries on despite exhibiting its careworn age.

We were almost to the end of Bexvie when we suddenly came upon a large space on the north side of the street about the size of a city block, partitioned by a combination of fences and short walls and which included within a number of small buildings and, most remarkably, an exotic structure. A. reacted first, as she is wont to do. “What is THAT?!” she said. I eased the car to a stop and looked at it for a moment. “That appears to be a Buddist temple,” I said. 

That indeed is what it is. Its proper name of the structure is “Watlao Buddhamamakaram,” which designates it is a Laotian temple. The temple takes pride of place within the partitioned area, which appears to be set up as an araama. The small buildings clustered about the property serve as residences for the monks who tend to the property with obvious care. The temple itself would not look more out of place in the area than a beached ocean liner, but it so dominates the immediate area that I kept expecting Kwai Chang Caine to pop up from behind the gate and wave. 

I later dived down an internet research rabbit hole of (“I got you now, you wascawwy wabbit!” “On the contrary, I’ve got you!”) and as always knowledge begets more questions. In this case, documents indicate that the property went through a number of owners before being purchased in the late 1980s by a Laotian immigrant who eventually transferred the title to the Buddhist society responsible for running the temple. The araama has existed there since at least 2009 with little or no fanfare. I am sure that there is an interesting story as to how this religious community took root on a cross street deep within an urban enclave. While the Laotian community is relatively small in Columbus — about five hundred families — there is no official or unofficial Laotian neighborhood here. The residents of the city from Southeast Asia tend to cluster in the northwest side or the University area, far from this imposing outpost which serves as the religious, cultural, and social gathering place for the Laotian community. Columbus has a few Buddhist temples but most are located on busy thoroughfares that are conveniently accessible. This temple to say the least is an anomaly. 

I have been fooling around with an idea concerning what occurs in the months after a mysterious infectious disease appears and then disappears. The Watlao Buddhamamakaram quickly and boldly shouldered its way into the narrative. What occurs in my own fictitious narrative is that the community living there, which keeps itself to itself, is decimated by the disease, until several months later. Then it isn’t. I am having more fun with this project than I should, which is a good thing.  I also started thinking about a “what if” scenario in which we all woke up one morning to find that all of the vacant lots in the area were suddenly and without explanation no longer vacant but instead occupied by the totally unexpected. What if indeed? 

Have you stumbled across anything off of your regular beaten path in your city/town/village/mountaintop that you didn’t know about before and that might be worthy of remark? It can be anything from a place of worship or a pet cemetery to a place of unusual or illicit business, or anything in between. Share. Please. And thank you, TKZers, old, new, and in between, for visiting once again. 

(All photos from All rights reserved.)

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

21 thoughts on “In the Neighborhood

  1. Not physically, but while doing some simple research on where I could set one of my “MacGyver gambit openings” for the Blackthorne book I was starting, I ran across an article saying the cartels were kidnapping American engineers and forcing them to build cell phone networks so they could stay off the grid, and the premise of the book totally changed.

    • First! That’s interesting, Terry. I have read a similar (maybe the same) article, and wondered why the cartels would need to do that when Carlos Slim has basically provided them with such a tool with the TracFone industry. Not intentionally, of course. Still, I can see how the possibility would make a terrific story element for you. Thanks for sharing.

      • This was a number of years ago, and I can’t remember the date of the article. But it sounded like a good jumping off point, and much better than the book I thought I’d be writing.

  2. What a great discovery. A very cool post, Joe. Thanks for sharing.

    I remember thirty-five years ago, I was right out of college and had my first job pastoring a small town church. My dad, who knew every back road for 300 square miles (I really am not even exaggerating here) suggested a short cut for driving home. My wife and I decided to give it a try. We turned down this dirt road and drove a couple miles past farms and barns, turned left at the end, only to be stopped by a string of Holsteins returning to their pasture—which surrounded an old cemetery. Probably two dozen headstones, none looked under a hundred years old, wrought iron fence ringing the group and cow pasture all around. We passed this sight twice a week every week for a couple of years after that, always amazed by the quaintness of the location.

  3. Thanks, Douglas. That’s a great description. It might have been a family cemetery, all of them gone and forgotten with only the headstones standing as moot testimony to their coming and coming and going…wow. Thanks for the great imagery.

  4. What a cool place to stumble across, Joe! In NH, we’ve got some Deliverance-type places hidden away, but we steer clear of them. Other than that we’re surrounded by mainly farmlands. One of our favorite things to do is cruise the back roads searching for unique animals. We’ve found a peacock, who was absolutely stunning. On the same property lived a gigantic king chicken. Ever seen one? This dude stood about three feet tall. Crazy! Yep, it’s the simple things in life that give us the most pleasure. 🙂

    • Can’t imagine a crime writer avoiding Deliverance type places–haha.

      A farm not far from where I grew up in western NY raised peacocks. As a boy their feathers amazed me. However, in sprite of growing up in a farming community, I have never seen a king chicken. WOW, THAT is a BIG chicken.

    • Thanks for sharing, Sue. Being pretty much I city boy, I had never seen a king chicken. My google search kept taking me to Burger King but I finally prevailed. Those things are huge! I can think of at least one area of New York that they could terrorize!

      It sounds like you live in a very interesting area, what with the birds you’ve talked about on your posts and the peacock. I have to drive about an hour a way to see one here, and the farm charges admission. Enjoy your bounty!

  5. Good morning, Joe. You gave us a tough assignment today.

    My wife and I both grew up in the rural county in western Ohio where we now live, and there’s nothing to report of interest here. However, when I started thinking of travels and vacation, French Lick, Indiana immediately came to mind.

    French Lick once had a reputation for being a honeymoon spot, so when I learned of a conference being held there in the late 1990s, my wife and I decided to attend and spend a little time after the conference exploring.

    The old hotel where the conference was held looked like a huge tuberculosis sanatorium from the outside. The twelve-foot ceilings and ancient wood trim in the rooms revealed a place of luxury from the past, and roaming the empty hallways of the empty hotel the first night was a bit spooky.

    The history of the place is truly amazing, especially during the prohibition, when a carload of cash made the trip to the state capital every day to keep the booze flowing back in southern Indiana, two PGA golf courses were in operation, and the wealthy in Chicago had private train cars to make the trip to French Lick. It was the place to go for gambling and liquor.

    French Lick had a more recent reputation as a spa, so my wife and I decided we should check out the possibilities. She tried a massage, and almost changed her mind when the maintenance man showed up, pulled his tools out of his pockets, and rolled up his sleeves. I tried the “sulfur springs hot bath,” which was a challenge to complete. But, hey, I paid my money and survived to the end, when I emerged looking like a boiled red lobster.

    French Lick, check it out “for a good time.”

    • Good morning, Steve. As always, you are up to it, surpassing all expectations.

      French Lick sounds very similar to what Lima, Ohio was in its heyday several decades ago. Lima was the place to go for gambling, illegal liquor, and, um, other forms of entertainment. There was supposedly a passageway that ran under several downtown streets that enabled merrymakers to travel from one hotel to another without being seen. I maintain that the most interesting things continue to happen in small towns which hide their vices in plain sight. Thanks for sharing.

  6. It wasn’t a magical moment, although I’ve had those, but more of a WTH one. Hundreds of acres of farm land between my street which heads deep into the countryside and another which heads into the same countryside have been turned into middle and upper middle class homes with enclaves of stupid-rich communities. One day a few years ago, when said artery was pretty blocked, pun intended, I decided to cut through that suburban area and somehow made a wrong turn into a small subdivision. Every frinkin’ house was a castle-shaped McMansion! I’m talking turrets and stone.

    I was so stunned I didn’t make note of the street signs so I’ve never been able to find it again. I often wonder if I hit a glitch in the matrix, a fantasy portal, or had a mini-stroke because it was such a surreal sight. Fudging mini-castles!

    Speaking of ships being plopped down, Natuzzi Italia built a giant furniture showroom in downtown that looks like a ship on one side. They called it a gift to our city. Unfortunately, the streets around it are one way so drivers can only see it properly through the rear view mirror of their car.

    • Marilynn, I’m sorry that is happening to you. What you described has occurred in several areas of Columbus where folks who have lived quietly for decades suddenly find themselves in very tony neighborhoods. One of the major problems is that they have to be vigilant when an overachieving tax assessor comes around and values their home under the same criteria as the new places in the next block. Most cities have an appeals process but it doesn’t always work well.

      One thing you might try in order to locate the houses you saw is the satellite view of google earth. Good luck. And thanks for sharing. That showroom looks like the rock of Gibraltar!

  7. For years I traveled Highway 72 from my little town in Northeast Mississippi to Chattanooga and would see a sign that read: Coon Dog Cemetery. I never veered off the beaten path to check it out.
    However, a couple of years ago I took a friend to the Hellen Keller home and when she spied the sign, she insisted we go. An hour later after we’d traveled no telling how many back roads, we found this interesting cemetery that only contained the remains of coon dogs. There were probably a hundred or more tombstones. With pennies on top of them. They even have a festival in the fall.

    • Patricia, that must have been quite a sight. Thank you for sharing I LOVE coondogs. That said, I don’t think I could emotionally handle a cemetery for them. It sounds wonderful, however.

      Highway signs…there used to be (and might still be) a large square sign high up on a mountain over I-71 near Glencoe advertising a tattoo shop that promised: “Tattoos While You Wait!”

    • Patricia, I’ve found one much like that here in Texas! Deep in the woods of some long-forgotten town in East Texas, there is a greyhound cemetery.
      We were camped in the area for a medieval-reenactment event. During a lull in activities, we decided to explore the surrounding woods and found the tiny plot of, well….plots. if I remember correctly, there was a nice metal explanation marker. But I really cannot remember if it explained why ithe cemetery was there, of all places.
      It was oddly moving.

  8. Years ago, I traveled from WA State, where I live, to Minnesota to visit my daughter. In January. Because she just gave birth to my first grandchild.

    Somewhere between Montana & North Dakota, we passed a road sign at a dirt road which veered south.

    The name of the road was Bad Road. Given the blizzard which surrounded us, we didn’t explore.

    If I’m ever that way again, sans blizzard, I really want to explore the badness…

  9. Thanks, Deb. If you ever make that trip please tell us about it.

    I used to describe certain people as looking like the last ten miles of a bad road. Still do, actually…

  10. Fabulous pictures, Joe!
    Growing up in Dallas, I had a somewhat similar experience in what should have been nothing but residential blocks. I never found out to what particular region this Buddhist temple related, but like most of its kind it was striking! Always wished I’d had time to actually visit.
    Now that I live in a MUCH smaller town far north of Dallas (birthplace of President Eisenhower, in fact!) I’m stumbling across fantastic hole-in-the-wall discoveries all the time! I dearly love tiny, forgotten cemeteries, and this place doesn’t disappoint! Now, if only I could actually locate the “Body Parts” cemetery that’s reportedly positioned near the original train depot.
    Sadly, this quaint little burg is feeling the same pressure of McMansion-fever as what Marilynn found. I truly, truly loathe those shoddy-construction monstrosities. And yes, the tax man has found himself under attack from many of us who find ourselves caught in the crosshairs.

  11. Thank you, Cyn. I had nothing to do with the photographs, but as striking as they are, they don’t quite do justice to the whole setting. My pal Al Thumz tried to take a few but they just didn’t show the love. I love that you had a similar experience.

    The most striking example locally of that McMansion fever occurred a couple of decades ago when a local billionaire told a friend of his that he wanted to build a house in the country. They picked a rural town to the northeast of the city, a quiet place where everything shut down on Wednesday at 12:00P and there was a grain elevator in the center of town. There are now salons, spas, Bath and Body Works offices, and restaurants where you can drop three figures on a meal and be hungry an hour later. Not my kind of place.

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