Tag Archives: midtown

Happy holidays!

December 24, 2013

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Recent walks have been full of sightings of things decorated for Christmas, people out decorating for Christmas (inflating a large pink and white Hello Kitty may take the cake as most festive), and birds eyeing decorations for housing opportunities.

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These decorations were right up our alley, although the footwear seemed a bit ambitious given the weather.

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As the holidays begin, #25daysofchristmaslights is drawing to a close. Here’s a last-minute one that’s by no means the most ostentatious, but charming nonetheless.

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Which holiday displays have been brightening up your walks?

Solstice

December 21, 2013

It’s the shortest day of the year; the longest, darkest night. The winter solstice is traditionally a time of turning inward to reflect on the cycles of nature. It’s an auspicious opportunity to take old familiar paths, pondering changes in the self and its environment. There have been many such changes.

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Last year, the warmth of good intent cut through the cold. Someone was tending a fire in a barrel in Redmond Plaza, a welcoming flame inviting anyone who walked through to linger and warm themselves. Today the park is empty, but not on account of the cold or precipitation. It was fenced off months ago, the shiny metal barrier enforcing its vacancy for no discernible reason. The park’s visibility and the absence of any construction make its inaccessibility infuriating. On a few rare occasions the gates have been unlocked and people will amble beyond them, but it’s unclear why they open these times and not others.

The concrete seal, an empty chair.

Snowy day with the concrete seal and an empty chair.

The weekend community barbeques that have been happening here for years are still scheduled to occur. A few folks gather around the perimeter, maybe in anticipation of this, sitting on the two chairs at the corner and perching on the concrete ledge. One of the only people I see often at the park these days is the guy who dances wildly in the crosswalk on Second, wearing headphones. He’s often preoccupied, but sometimes he notices me and militantly barks a greeting.

This is his corner.

This is his corner.

The lot belongs to the city recreation department, but it’s slated for redevelopment by Midtown, Inc. in the coming year. Next door we’ll get a new restaurant, but what good will come for the people who previously spent time in the park? I doubt I’ll be getting catcalled much anymore while travelling through that intersection, but who will be there to wish me a good morning with such exuberance? Neither is the domain of the hipster or young professional, the kind of “Detroit by Detroiters” for whom this development is taking place.

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It’s also one of my favorite corners for pigeons in the city, probably as many as at Rosa Parks Transit Center, but with fewer comings and goings, disruptions. They’re used to the presence of humans, seem to have a symbiosis with the people who hang out here. They’re not afraid of anything. If I stand there for a moment, sometimes they’ll all flutter down at once, landing close and inspecting my boots, maybe mistaking them for one of their own kind.

When, like Third last year, Second gets its makeover into a two-way street with fancy bike lanes, where will the pigeons go? Nobody really cares about pigeons (though you can usually find a good spread of birdseed nearby at Third and Alexandrine), but a place too busy for birds impacts foot traffic, too. Will we have to contend with cars coming fast from both directions? For all its increased bikeability, the revisions to Third fail when considering the lack of safe crosswalks for pedestrians.

Change afoot.

Change is afoot.

What will this intersection look like in a year? In ten? What will it look like then in our memories?

UPDATE:

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A week later, volunteers are setting up for the community barbeque, positioned in a line along the sidewalk. As others dither over whether to put the fruit next to the desserts, one man tending some coals tells me that they tried to get permission to continue using the park, but were turned down. “I don’t know why they don’t want us in there,” he says sadly. “We’re just out here having some fun, feeding people, doing God’s work.”

Snowy day

December 15, 2013
from The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

from ‘The Snowy Day’ by Ezra Jack Keats

Saturday’s commute isn’t quite as fantastic as Ezra Jack Keats’ famous treatise on the merits of snow days, but it’s close.

Snow is hitting me in the face. People come bundled in pairs, shuffling along. It’s hard not to think of duos boarding the biblical ark before the flood. In questionable logic, pedestrians take to the streets as cars grapple for traction.

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A pair of pedestrians walking down Woodward.

A pair of medics are out in front of an apartment building, waiting agitatedly. As I hike closer to them, one yells, “Hey, are you the patient?”
“The patient? No,” I holler back, laughing. How, in this moment, hale and red-cheeked, might I look as though I require medical assistance? Maybe these perambulations are an outsider’s preoccupation.
They shrug, frustrated, and climb back in the ambulance. When I catch up with them a minute later, they roll down the window. “How far are you going? Do you need a ride?”
“No, I’m fine,” I say, all instinct, “Just to the library,” abbreviate my course for their benefit. The streets aren’t empty; the buzz is that the library is closing early. Hastening is absurd. There’s still time. The snow slows everybody’s footsteps, covers their tracks.

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Darkness takes longer than usual to show up this evening. When it does, the snows reflects light, giving the sky has that comforting wintery pallor. It brings about memories of being small and warm, someone making hot chocolate with marshmallows, the lofty roof of a blanket fort overhead. Brushing off my coat and hat, I take the long route home, searching for snowmen other than myself. There aren’t any yet. No snow angels either, but residents are out with shovels and brooms in a seemingly futile effort to keep the still-falling snow. Someone walks with a dog up past its elbows in fluff.

Snowfall gauge.

Snowfall gauge?

All in all, it was hardly a snowpocalypse. The National Weather Service claims just six inches of snow in Detroit, but as the blustery flakes fell into windswept dune-like formations, it seemed like more. Of course, winter is yet to come.

The season

October 21, 2013

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It seemed like maybe a homeless person resting in this improbable spot of sun-soaked fabric. Who sets up a nametag on the sidewalk while they sleep? Inspecting closer, more likely a bake sale gone under. Spilled words, small crumbs.

Good girls walk to Paris

September 15, 2013

They stood side by side examining it. I was going to ask to see the rubies when the phone rang, and Gatsby took up the receiver.

“Yes… Well, I can’t talk now… I can’t talk now, old sport… I said a SMALL town… He must know what a small town is… Well, he’s no use to us if Detroit is his idea of a small town…”

He rang off.

Walking past the window of the creperie, this sign feels like a reminder that, however citified or gentrified, Detroit is still a wild west of sorts, a frontier. A city populated by outlaws, cowboys, and pioneers with rough hands tending chickens in backyards. If this is anyone’s idea of some dinky podunk outpost, we don’t need them here, their disrespect, their stagnant, unconstructive attitude.

In the context of Detroit’s rebound (bankruptcy filings aside; there wasn’t a crepe shop here five years ago), is there any irony in placing this sign in the window? The Great Gatsby, the glamorous and tragic story of the darker reaches of American dream in the prosperous 1920s, incidentally a period of great growth in Detroit, is often interpreted as a warning against decadence in a burgeoning economy. Perhaps this looks too far forward — in the meantime, the more congenial message promoting solidarity and change is welcome.

Print by Ben Friedman available on Etsy from Signal Return Press in Eastern Market. First time I’ve seen one of these hanging up around town.

One year ago today

July 16, 2013

Just after I finished rereading Thoreau’s essay on walking (daily, four hours a day, sauntering, sans terre, la Sainte Terre), the guy who works for the pizza place nearby came by to hand out fliers, on which he always personally writes an impersonal message to promote neighborly savings on chicken wings and the like. It was his last stop of the day. He thinks he has walked eight miles by now, so I offer him tea.

He normally walks between six and twelve miles per day, he says, but once he walked thirty-three, from 13 Mile and Schoenherr to 19 and Livernois, or some stretch like that. He used to drive sometimes, but he likes walking, and his boss said that when he hands out fliers on foot, the screen looks like a video game, each address on his path lighting up with pizza orders.

So now he just walks. 250 or 300 miles per month. His shoes look inconspicuously comfortable, unscuffed. I ask if he ever got too sick or injured to walk in his eighteen years of this occupation, and he says no, vehemently, never. He gives me the empty teacup and I tell him to come back to the acupuncture clinic if he ever needs to put up his feet and take a nap. He smiles and walks away.

He might walk to Florida someday; there, “you get a great tan – all seasons!”

I haven’t heard from this character in a while and it worries me. I hope his tan is coming along well.

Walk a mile in my shoes

March 20, 2013

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Then if you don’t love them, leave them for the next person who comes along.

And — vernal equinox, happy spring! Despite intrepid flowers shyly blooming over the weekend, we’re still in the thick of the lion weather. Don’t park your boots just yet; we’ll be rambling soon.

In your own backyard

January 22, 2013

It’s easy to read stories about bad things happening elsewhere, to other people, and dismiss their purported improbability. Really, the dangers of walking and texting resulting in a disfiguring accident?, you think as you stumble along. Surely not for me.

Here is a courageous and humbling account from Wayne State University professor Geoffrey Nathan of his walking injury earlier this winter. It can happen to you, too, pretty much right in your own backyard. Perhaps even on your own concrete planter.

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“But the ‘take-home’ is very simply–don’t text and walk. It’s dangerous. I could have been badly hurt, not just ‘defaced’.

End of lesson for today.”

Read the rest of “Don’t walk while texting (or emailing or browsing…)” and proceed with caution!

Serendipitous solstice!

December 21, 2012

In the sudden flush of wintry weather, one can sense warmth pulsating from a mile away, a lighthouse beacon.

On a whim, taking a different route across town, distortions in the air over a metal trash can promise heat, or at least something interesting. It’s noon, and when the sun stands still, so do I.

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The park was empty. He saw me and sauntered over. “Hey, I like your boots!”
“Uh, thanks.”
“Oh look, did somebody put more wood on there? I put some on this morning.”

In Redmond Plaza today there are warm hands, a feeling of gratitude for those who keep things illuminated in the city, and, as always, a large concrete seal.

Happy solstice!