In the summertime, a zany calm settles over the weekly lunch among four friends in the real estate business.
College basketball is not in season. Steve Casper and John Bowman take a timeout from their full-court debate over who has the better team, the University of Cincinnati or Xavier University.
Steve, a West Shell vice president, is a Bearcats fan. John, a recent retiree from the Realtors' Kenwood headquarters and the lunch group's designated curmudgeon, roots for the Musketeers.
Off season, the four friends say, the talk is a better mix of politics, work and family. Good news for the other two at the table, Janet Davis, West Shell general manager, and Greg Tassone, the firm's in-house attorney. And just fine with me for this edition of "Lunch With Cliff," my weekly meal deal to see what's on people's minds.
What do suburban Realtors from West Shell's headquarters discuss over lunch at Ferrari's Little Italy in Madeira?
They don't want to talk business, but they do.
"Real-estate sales are up in Cincinnati and down in Columbus and Louisville," Janet says.
"And if we knew why," Steve adds, "we'd be very, very rich." They also talk about how important downtown is to the region. And they joke.
At least that's how Steve and John go at each other.
The opening shot is from John. He asks if Steve can compare UC and XU's perfect scores. "OK," Steve says, rolling his eyes, "you're on."
John's punch line: All of Xavier's players graduate. Every member of UC's team has an arrest record.
Steve playfully tries to get his hands around John's neck.
"How did I ever get into this business?" Steve asks in exasperation. He used to be a Cincinnati Public Schools teacher. But he stopped teaching high school business classes to go into real estate in 1971.
Being his own boss appealed to him. Being able to attend his daughters' dance recitals and gymnastic events appealed to him even more.
Turning serious and lowering his voice to a whisper, Steve gets a faraway look in his eyes when he says: 'There's nothing like being able to take off in the middle of the day to see your little kid perform."
Janet adds that between wisecracks, "we do talk about business. We talk about problems and how to resolve them." They regularly look beyond the suburbs and cast a worried eye toward Cincinnati.
"A vital downtown core is essential to the image and impression of the whole area," Janet says. But she does not see that vitality in Cincinnati.
"In the '70s, Cincinnati was a model for urban development," Steve says. "Now, look at it."
"Compared to Cleveland and Indianapolis, Cincinnati's downtown has lost a beat," John adds.
Janet does not see "a grand design for downtown." City leaders "are not interested in the kind of planning that exists on the Kentucky side of the river."
"They need to plan businesses and restaurants to connect the stadiums on the riverfront," Greg says. "Or that area will remain empty parking lots."
Steve hold out a solution for downtown's development problems. Call it the Casper Plan.
It entails building a new arena on Broadway Commons, wrecking Riverfront Coliseum, building a new Reds' ballpark in the old arena's place and tearing down the old stadium.
"That way," he says, "all parties get what they want."
Best of all, "the city can start moving forward with a smile on its face."
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.