A number of years ago I had the good fortune to meet the author Ian Frazier. In addition to being an enormously talented writer with a tremendous sense of humor, he also happens to be an avid fisherman. Frazier hails from northern Ohio and when he found out I was from Cincinnati, he told me a story about the last time he’d passed through town. It was in the midst of a book tour sometime back. After reading from and signing copies of his book at a store downtown, he needed to clear his head and decided to take a stroll down by the river. There he ran across a few guys with lines in the water. He asked if they’d caught anything and they shook their heads—bass and carp, mostly. He hung around for a little while, shooting the breeze and taking in the sights, and one of the guys volunteered that he’d landed a monster blue catfish recently. When Frazier asked what he’d used for bait, the man said he’d caught it with half of a White Castle french fry. That anecdote later ended up in a book of essays that Frazier wrote on fishing and the outdoors called The Fish’s Eye.
There’s no telling what a fish will go for but the fact that this one was landed with a french fry from such a hallowed local eating institution spoke volumes about the river and the city. As Frazier puts it in his book, “If a city or town has shoreline but no fishing of any kind, something’s wrong. How can you trust a place like that?” Indeed. Contributing editor Polk Laffoon IV expresses much the same sentiment in his essay in this issue on the city’s long, important, and sometimes neglected relationship with the Ohio River. It was Polk’s idea to go deep—to delve into not just the ecological, historical, and economic facets of the relationship but the emotional ones too. Timed to coincide with the new development finally taking shape at The Banks and Riverfront Park, his piece makes it clear that after a century of turning its back on the Ohio, Cincinnati is finally embracing the river as its new front door. (And not a moment too soon.) To accompany Polk’s story, executive editor Linda Vaccariello and design director Grace Saunders created a fresh, eye-popping package that gives readers a visual guide to the new architecture and green spaces sprouting up between Great American Ball Park and the Roebling Bridge, takes us on a tour from the Markland Dam to Anderson Ferry and beyond, introduces us to folks who make their living on the river, and explains how the turbid waters of the Ohio get turned into the clean, clear stuff that pours out of our kitchen faucets. We dubbed the whole thing “Water Power” and it’s not a stretch to say that this river runs through us.