So, What’s Wrong With Columbus?

If you build it they will come.

Or not.

Columbus, Ohio, has been blown off twice as a destination for survivors of Hurricane Katrina _ by folks currently sharing a Houston one-bedroom with 23,999 other people.

Last week, the capital city threw together a place for more than 300 evacuees from the Astrodome only to learn that, when the thousands encamped there were asked how many wanted to come to Columbus, only seven raised their hands.

Disaster officials denied that six of the seven who volunteered for Columbus did so only because they thought it was the city in Georgia and that the seventh consented only because it meant he’d be able to spend weekends in Dayton.

This was supposed to be a big deal for Columbus. The governor was practically standing on the tarmac at Rickenbacker Airport on Saturday in a white sport coat and a pink carnation, clutching a box that held a fast-wilting corsage as he scanned the skies.

But we were stood up, shut out. The red-haired stepchild among major U.S. cities, Columbus will be smarting about this one for a while.

Civic tub-thumpers are still upset that the Department of Homeland Security rated Columbus a mere secondary target of terrorists.

Their disappointment might seem odd to some, but I well remember the perverse glee of local chamber-of-commerce types back in the early ’60s upon learning that the Soviets considered Columbus a first-strike priority.

We earned the distinction chiefly because of North American Aviation and Lockbourne Air Force Base. They’re gone now, and al Qaeda is unwilling to put us on its to-die-for list simply because we are the international headquarters of the world’s up-and-at-’em brassiere empire.

How crushing.

Almost 600 hurricane refugees left the Astrodome for Salt Lake City last week. Pray, what Big Easy traditions did they expect to find in Utah? Somehow, I can’t picture the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in top hats, swallowtail coats and umbrellas doing a “second lining” for a funeral.

As for those of us in central Ohio, we’re just going to have to face the facts: Columbus is to a New Orleans native what Minot, N.D., would be to us.

If your idea of breakfast is beignets and cafe au lait at the Cafe Du Monde, Bob Evans doesn’t hold much appeal.

If your annual bash involves lots of beads, balconies and bacchanalia, your mental image of Columbus, Ohio, might involve a pair of American Gothic types standing in the mouth of a haymow hollering, “Show us your soybeans!”

We’ve all heard the old saw of how Columbus evolved: “Suppose a half-million people came to the Ohio State Fair _ and stayed.”

What Columbus folks need to understand is why it makes sense when the New Orleans natives at the Astrodome say they don’t want to venture farther from home. We might see that home as a soon-to-be-condemned dwelling currently occupied by 9 feet of standing water, three cottonmouths and enough cholera germs to wipe out Los Angeles.

The owner of that house _ no matter its current state _ sees it as the anchorage for all things sacred: family, culture, roots, one’s sense of place.

I wouldn’t want to leave a tornado-ravaged Columbus for Minot.

So, we needn’t act like the owner of a gift horse spurned.

After all, this isn’t about us.

(Mike Harden is a columnist at the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio. E-mail mharden(at)