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The Interview: Lisa Daris

River guide / Conservationist / Business Owner They say the human body is about 60 percent water. But something tells me that Lisa Daris has a little more H2O coursing through her veins than the average person. Her whole life, she’s never been far from a river. She grew up in Kent, minutes from the [...]
Jeni Ruisch



River guide / Conservationist / Business Owner

They say the human body is about 60 percent water. But something tells me that Lisa Daris has a little more H2O coursing through her veins than the average person. Her whole life, she’s never been far from a river. She grew up in Kent, minutes from the Cuyahoga. Now the owner
of Olentangy Paddle, Daris has literally made it her business to introduce people to the waterways of central Ohio. With a mane of curly blond hair, and an easy laugh that bubbles up like a brook, Daris is the perfect ambassador to speak for the ecosystems that reside in and around the Scioto, Olentangy, and their tributaries.

Relaxing in her home north of the city, Daris points in the direction of the nearest body of water, a human divining rod. Birds flit up to feeders at her window, and she names them as they come and go. She rhapsodizes about softshell turtle sightings as she gazes into the woods. Daris is at home among nature’s glory. She can read the weather and the rivers like so many books. Between the science she sources and her own experience and instinct, she can paint a picture of what the waters will look like from day to day, and can tell you on a Tuesday if the rivers will be running high on Thursday. Like a farmer reading the summer dust for signs of an early snow, Daris carries herself with an observant certainty that the weather will do what the weather will do, and we humans are simply along for the ride. Even if, here in Columbus, mother nature seems to mostly have been tamed.

“We have this intersection, especially in central Ohio, of urban and nature. It’s not all concrete like it is in Northeast Ohio, in Cleveland. They have a great metropark system, too. But there’s a different closeness to nature in central Ohio.”

When she explains her business and experiences, Daris is doing more than telling you about her job. She is translating into words the moving, breathing life force that is the continuous river ecosystem. Daris grew up a stone’s throw from the Cuyahoga, a river famous for being so inundated with fuel and refuse that it repeatedly caught fire. Childhood naivety, though, is blissful. Daris, perhaps upstream of the industry that wreaked havoc on the water’s chemistry, rode her bike to the river daily, and spent her days, weeks, and seasons on and in the water flowing past her home.

“Every large city in America is living off the infrastructure that was built a hundred years ago or more.”

“Looking back, I must have been isolated. Kent was a pretty small town back then. My mother didn’t drive, and my dad traveled a lot for work. I never felt isolated, but I think that’s because I had the river. I would play on the river all day long. My mom would say ‘go’ and we would be gone all day!”

Daris, it seems, lived a free range childhood—which back then was just called childhood.

“I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school, so there were a lot of rules with that. But once I got outside, I really got a taste of freedom. I really felt like I could learn things from trial and error, versus the rules that are set up for kids. ‘Do this, don’t do that.’ Outside, you push limits of certain things.”

This freedom and natural learning is what Daris hopes to spread with her business and activism work. She started Olentangy Paddle in 2014, running kayaks on the river, and renting them out to people who wanted to see the city from a new angle. Back then, low head dams dotted the river corridor every few miles. After the Main Street and Fifth Avenue dams were removed, and the river bottoms re-engineered, a whole new world opened up, both for creatures who live below the surface, and above. Newer Columbus transplants may take our bejeweled riverfront for granted, but long-time residents will remember a time when the water was not only inaccessible, but undesirable for recreation.

“Once the dams were removed, me and my friends kayaked it a few times. Everyone, including me, was just totally amazed. Who would have thought when I moved here in the 90s that you could kayak down the Olentangy? And who would want to? Because it still had some issues.”

That’s a polite way of wording the ecological near-dead zones that had been snaking their ways through the city for decades. A sewage runoff issue plagued the waters, and the infrastructure around the banks wasn’t made for contact with the rivers. But downtown initiatives put into action by the Coleman administration started a domino effect that, like rainwater, cascaded eventually into the waterways.

The facelift of the downtown area has changed fundamental functioning within the capital city. It has had obvious ecological and economic effects, and Daris has been at the forefront of that activity. In addition to running her business, she volunteers for FLOW (Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed), has partnered with the Godman Guild and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, worked with the Ohio River Foundation, and works for TOSRV (Tour of the Scioto River Valley), where she gets to indulge her other love, cycling. With every organization she champions, and every town hall meeting she attends, Daris manages to spread knowledge—her passion tirelessly shining through her words and actions.

“Columbus has been great about cleaning up the water. They bore a tunnel under the river to help with the sewage overflow. Every large city in America is living off the infrastructure that was built a hundred years ago or more. That would be like if we still had one-lane bridges built over the rivers. And that causes issues. It happened throughout America, and it’s still happening. But Columbus has done a great job of working with the EPA to resolve […] a lot of the issues we had back in the 90s and even early 2000s. We’ve grown fast, but we haven’t grown so fast that we can’t take a step back and fix some of the things that have caused the waterways issues. I’m proud to say that decision makers, policy makers, and taxpayers have said, ‘We need to do this.’”

Daris works with people of all ages, and from all walks of life. She connects them with the water, physically and otherwise. Her hope is that, children who are given the opportunity to bond with the water and the plants and animals that rely on it, will grow up to continue her stewardship. Sometimes it seems like it’s the only way to make it through a news cycle telling of brutal effects on nature from human meddling.

“A part of me really has just hunkered down and focused on saving the waterways one person at a time. I know that sounds trite. But sometimes it’s too big. Sometimes I feel like it doesn’t do any good. So last year I just really focused on Olentangy Paddle and just doing a really good job with that. If I can provide that one experience for somebody, no matter if they’re seven years old or 70, if it makes them care a little bit more about the waterways, that is a good day.”

Her activism exists in a place beyond self interest. Daris dreams of a natural watershed, running uninterrupted through the city. For now, the Greenlawn dam remains one of the few low heads left in the city limits. Utilities running underneath pose an obstacle in removing it, unlike the two dams removed in the last few years. But Daris retains hope that in her lifetime, it will be taken down, and the Scioto can run freely as it once did.

“If I can provide that one experience for somebody, no matter if they’re seven years old or 70, if it makes them care a little bit more about the waterways, that is a good day.”

“Wouldn’t that be an interesting sight? To see the Scioto in a more natural state south of the city? I’m in an interesting position, though, because that would also mean that we may not be able to canoe and kayak on that river as much, because it would get too low. The dam backs up the water, which creates a consistent pool year round, all the way up to the confluence. However, I’m a conservationist first, and I run a kayak business second. And so I would much rather see that river restored, and think about the ecosystem that could be restored there.”

In a city that has thus far defined itself by a search for an identity, the rivers provide a profile and distinctiveness that Columbus need only fully embrace to define ourselves to the rest of the world.

“We need to take what we have and run with it. We have this beautiful riverfront, and we already have some great events downtown. They’re gaining momentum.… [Ginther] is embracing that. Showing off the river to everyone. We have this opportunity in central Ohio to really plan more carefully to allow more green space based on population density than other urban centers have. That’s a difference I see between here and places like New York or Chicago. I say that we have to really put our stake in the ground and say we are going to protect the riverfront and we’re going to protect our green space, and we’re going to be known for having this mix of urban with wild.”

Ushering the next generation of stewards onto the waters plants seeds that Daris hopes the city will continue to cultivate. Creating a culture of conservation in the capital city will require dedication and work. It will take citizen activists and participants, along with legislation geared toward protection of our waters. It will require continually maintaining public parks and ensuring access for everyone in Columbus, regardless of background or income.

“Who is the greenest city in the midwest? No one has taken that brand and claimed it! So it’s up for grabs! I think we have the potential to claim that, and convince people that, if you want the benefits of living in the midwest, and you want diversity… If you want all that, you can have it here, and live in a city that is green.”

This enthusiastic leadership and curiosity is how Daris lives her life. Paddle in hand, moving at turns with and against the current. Gracefully, and (always) close to the water.

To book a river tour with Lisa Daris, visit

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Former OSU player starts career as Columbus Firefighter

614now Staff



Former Buckeye and New Orleans Saints running back running back Antonio Pittman is trading the pads and helmet of the gridiron for a fire hose and a...different helmet in his new career, according to ABC6.

Having recently graduated from the Columbus Fire Academy, Pittman is now on his first week on the job at fire station 12 on the city's west side.

A native of Akron, Pittman played for Ohio State from 2004 to 2006, and was part of the number 1 ranked team that defeated number 2 Michigan 42-39 in the "Game of the Century."

Pittman was then drafted by the New Orleans Saints, but was forced to retire from the NFL following a persistent knee injury.

"My goal was just to play football and honestly, I did that. And the dream was to have a ten-year career and to retire at 32 years old and be off in the sunset and just living comfortably. But you know, plans change and in life, you have to adapt to the change," Pittman told ABC6.

"My goal was to one day give back to a community, a city that's given me so much. A city that changed my whole outlook on life as a kid growing up in Akron."

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The Rest Is History: Couples in Columbus share their stories of falling in love

Mitch Hooper



Illustration by Sarah Moore

If Hollywood would ever pick up a romantic comedy about a couple falling in love in Columbus, how would it look? Would it be an epic story ending in an intimate proposal on the Scioto Mile, or two strangers bumping into each other at the Varsity Club on game day?

Funny enough, both are very plausible.

This month, we wanted to answer the question: what do love stories in Columbus look like? And what we found is sometimes love stories don’t happen in Columbus; instead they happen because of Columbus. While some folks were high school sweethearts who rekindled the flame, others struck up conversation in countries far away just because they shared the same ZIP code. In part, where you’re from shapes who you are, and for these couples, the capital city holds a special spot in their hearts. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Rachel Grauer and Aaron Guilkey

Aaron and I first met in the early 2000s at Eli Pinney Elementary in Dublin. He was my first boyfriend in fourth grade and broke my heart on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger, for the young folk). We didn’t speak a word to each other all of high school, thank you high school social hierarchy. I went on to OU and he to OSU. We reconnected after college while on a bar crawl in the Short North and the rest is history. We are getting married September 2020!

Lauren Sheridan and David Tripp

All of this is true: We met at a Clippers baseball game. It was a team outing for work. I worked with his mom and she was setting us up. This story is meant to be a complete disaster. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Our first o cial date was at 16-Bit, where we would take our engagement pictures over two years later. He lived in Arizona for 10 years before moving back to Columbus in 2016. It’s been fun reintroducing him to the city, especially our food and beer scene. I can’t imagine having these adventures with anyone else.

Misty and Erin Dickinson

We met at Rendezvous Hair Salon, where she is a hairstylist. Then we spent time together at Drauma at the Bluestone, followed by a night out for a Nina West show at Axis complete with dinner at Union and after party drinks at Macs. We were with my friends and I o ered to walk her to her car which had been towed because, well, Columbus. I stayed with her until we finally found her car at 3 a.m. We started hanging out a lot after that while we both swore we were “just friends”! Almost five years later and we are back in Columbus after a two year move to Tampa. We married (twice, but the story will be way over 100 words! Second time at LaNavona), and have a thousand Columbus stories. Columbus is our home. The place we love and always come back to. There is no place like it.

Kellie Anne and Carl Rainey

I moved to Columbus from LA in 2014 and met my now-husband a month after the move. We found out quickly that we were both California sports fans and went on our first date on Halloween. Lakers vs. Clippers was on the TV at the bar, so we made a bet and the loser had to pick up the tab. My Clippers beat his Lakers, so he had to pay up. We’ve been inseparable ever since. We got married March 23, 2019, and I’m so happy to call Columbus my forever home now!

Daniel Custer and Jenny Harris

I met Jenny on a wine cruise in Santorini, Greece. I saw her from across the pier before we boarded and knew I wanted to chat her up—she was gorgeous. She and her friends sat by me on the catamaran and we began telling one another where we were from. When it got to Jenny, she said she was from Columbus. I said, “Where?!” and she said “Grandview!” We spent the rest of the weekend together, along with the past three years.

Brittany and Ethan Monk

We met as employees at Scioto Country Club in UA. He was a broke server and I was a broke student working as a hostess. We spent many holidays away from family but with each other. We are complete opposites that were impossibly attracted to one another. We married and have 2 children. Still opposites—I work in clinical research and he is a musician and stay-at-home dad. We both have made Columbus our home!

Nicole Erdeljac and Andrew Crowell

We spent the day (separately) at the 2019 Memorial Tournament and were hanging out at the Bogey Inn afterwards. He was standing at the bar and I was behind him, waiting to be served. His friend kept accidentally hitting my shoulder while trying to reach over me to get his attention. I was visibly annoyed when he asked me to tap him. But, I did. We spent the rest of the night dancing to the live band and had our first date a week later at the Columbus Arts Fest, once again, dancing to the live sounds of Anderson East. The rest is history!

Tracie Lynn and Adam Douglas Keller

It was one month to the day after my mother had lost her battle to cancer in 2007. It was one of my favorite nights for being out in Columbus—Red, White, and Boom. After my sister’s and my friend’s group persistently encouraged us to go out for fireworks and time with friends, we agreed. We needed something light and fun. What could possibly come of that?

I’ll never forget the moment that I made eye contact with this handsome, tall and smiling man. He had happened to be out with a mutual friend of our group. We made small talk, listened to live bands, and, well—the rest is history. Nearly 13 years later, we now have two great kids, two dogs, and a rich, full life in Columbus. This is the city we met in, and the one we made a life in. I couldn’t ask for a better love story.

Rebecca Scha er and Peter Yeager

We met at Ledo’s, the first bar on our OSU senior bar crawl list. Flash forward 12 hours later at World of Beer, we bumped into each other again and he handed me a raw russet potato with his name and number written on it in Sharpie. Super weird and random but it did the trick. I called him my soul mate to his face that night. Last winter he took me around town. We stopped at both those bars, reminiscing about our time together. He asked me to be his wife in the middle of the same World of Beer where he gave me that first potato, hiding the ring in a large toy Mrs. Potato head. There’s no other way I would have liked the beginning of our story to go.

Victoria and Ryan Metzinger

I met my amazing husband in Columbus on a blind date set up by mutual friends (sounds very 1995, but it was actually 2011). He suggested a casual drink at Grandview Cafe and I upped the ante for dinner at Third & Hollywood. We continued to Spagio and ended at Grandview Cafe and the rest is history! Now, with two beautiful boys, our WiFi network will always be labeled “Third and Hollywood” as an ode to the perfect setting for a first date. We also visit the restaurant every year on our anniversary and it will never lose its luster.

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Arts & Culture

The Interview Issue: Author Saeed Jones




Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.

Saeed Jones has traveled across the country promoting his new memoir and chosen Columbus for his own next chapter.

Author and new Columbus transplant Saeed Jones finally has a break after wrapping up his 16-city tour to promote his new memoir How We Fight for Our Lives. It’s a book that isn’t solely about his past, but is designed as an earnest conversation with readers. The book succeeds Jones’ previous poetry collections and a stint as Executive Editor of Culture at BuzzFeed, and is already receiving numerous honors and highly- publicized acclaim.

“It took a long time to write the book, almost a decade. So, I had a lot of time to think about writing it [being] one thing, but when you publish it, it becomes something different. I tried not to think so much about other people and the audience, but I think I trusted that if I could write to myself sincerely [and] candidly, that would be a bridge for other people,” he said. “It’s like you’re encountering someone when they just had a transformative experience. Something that’s really important for me in my writing is the cost of silence and the ways we silence ourselves. I think it’s powerful—as a writer, with the fortune I’ve had in my career—for people to be like, ‘I’m going through it’, and for me to be one more person who goes, ‘Me too.’”

Though some authors intend to tell their stories later in life, Jones wanted to focus his story on the time period from his upbringing in Texas through his mid-twenties to capture a specific ethos that informed his narrative. Concerned that segments of his life would become deemed irrelevant to readers, he found the immediacy of the news sparked him to publish the book sooner than later. Soon after Jones considered writing in detail about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, which shifted the LGBTQ+ conversation, the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting occurred.

“Whenever I would get a little hard on myself about the book’s intentions, it felt like America would go, ‘We gotta do this now,’” Jones said. ”Everything’s not perfect but a lot has changed from 1998. [While writing,] I was like, ‘I don’t know if it’ll be a perfect book, but it’s gonna be the book that I want and need now.’”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

After his mother’s passing in 2011, Jones is attentive to their relationship in How We Fight for Our Lives, endearingly dedicating the book to her even after a moment of uncertainty that occurred when he came out. In spite of having a vibrant relationship with his mother, Jones jokes that the two weren’t able to naturally discuss sexuality. Promoting the memoir before Thanksgiving, Jones mentions that some LGBTQ+ readers confided in him about their own awkward conversations with family.

“Sure, it’s important for us to write about clear and present danger, whether that’s police brutality, homophobic or racially-driven violence, [but] I think that it’s also important for us to pay attention to the more subtle hurts that come to define us. Sometimes those hurts are a result of failings; loved ones who just can’t support us because they’re like ‘I don’t get it’ and they kind of give up,” he said. “My mom was working two jobs, so a lot of times she was just tired. She was like, ‘Sorry, we can’t have a heartfelt conversation today, I gotta go to my second job.’ That had an impact on me, and I know that has an impact on a lot of other people in those moments. In any meaningful, long-lasting relationships—certainly family relationships—it is going to be complicated. If you don’t have multiple colors in how you’re thinking about that relationship, the truth is that something is being deadened, something is being intentionally or unintentionally ignored or silenced.”

An avid reader of works by Margaret Atwood and Audre Lorde, Jones recognizes a similar urgency from his memoir through his influence James Baldwin, admitting to reading his 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room repeatedly, revisiting it at different points of his life to gain a new perspective. Identifying with different characters each time, Jones focused essentially on Baldwin’s deconstruction of queerness and social dynamics, which intersected American politics with racial identity. “[Baldwin] wasn’t going to pretend that there was this monolithic Blackness. He wasn’t just going to pretend that there weren’t Black men—who he was advocating for in terms of civil rights— who weren’t homophobic. He was like ‘We’re gonna do all this together’” Jones said. “He’s drawing from his background in Christianity, but he’s changed; he’s not practicing his faith in the same way. He [was] just doing a very good job of showing how we’re in flux and that it’s natural and better to embrace that. I feel like that set me up to start paying attention.”

Habitually enthusiastic about settling in Columbus (or what he calls “the promised land”), Jones speaks gleefully about The Great Migration and Ohio boasting essential Black authors—Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jacqueline Woodson, Hanif Abdurraqib and Toni Morrison. While he notes that Black authors have thrived

in Ohio through a formidable writing scene, in How We Fight for Our Lives, Jones touches keenly on the fragility of Black life. Days prior to our conversation marked the one-year anniversary of the death of 16-year-old Julius Tate, who was shot by Columbus police during a sting operation.

“If we’re able to villainize people we have wronged—and Julius was certainly wronged—it eases the rhetoric of brushing the wrong aside,” Jones said. “It happens so often and so much of our culture grooms all of us to move on. I’m not the one to say what justice for Julius and for Black people impacted by that violence looks like, but I would love to hear it. I have no interest in telling people to be quiet. I’m a writer, so I think a lot about editing and revision, and how you polish and the drafts you don’t want people to see. Cities are text, too.”

While Columbus continues to be a work in progress through systematic tensions, Jones is embracing the city’s tangible LGBTQ+ scene after residing in New York City, Atlanta, and San Francisco. In support of the Black Queer & Intersectional Collective, he attended the Columbus March for Black Trans Women in November, where he felt a sense of cohesiveness within the city. “I feel like the march was a great example of waking me up—unsurprisingly, it’s easier for cisgender gay men to live and feel embraced here than Black trans women in Columbus,” Jones said. “The stakes are high, but it feels possible. Here it feels like, ‘start reading up, go to that march, talk to people,’ as opposed to ‘here’s the finished story.’”

With a story far from over, Jones reveals that his next life work is to write about joy to balance the scales with his past struggle within How We Fight for Our Lives. Avidly writing about pain and loss, he vows to dabble into more written frameworks outside of his comfort zone. “I feel like I’ve written about myself so damn much, maybe learning to write in other forms—fiction—would be fun. I want to learn more, I feel that’s when I’m most alive, when I’m learning and realizing that I’m learning,” he said. “That’s when I feel fully present as a person, not when I think I know the beginning, middle and end.”

Follow Saeed Jones on Twitter and Instagram at @theferocity.

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