I discovered this Roadside America attraction in June 2021. I was going to look for it, but it happened to be on the way from the Ann Arbor bus drop-off area to Kerrytown. Amusingly, while most of my trips to Ann Arbor have featured great weather, this one was exceptionally rainy. I even got caught in a Gene Kelly-style downpour, minus the hat, suit, and dancing.
Tag Archives: Ann Arbor
See no evil (“Behind the Walls”)
June 25, 2022, third full day in Ann Arbor
I woke up with a charley horse in my right calf. Then I put weight on my straightened right leg and quickly took it off. When that nerve isn’t happy, I’m not happy — or able to stand or walk. I settled in with Stacy Schiff’s The Witches and tried to baby my leg for a few hours. Then for a few hours more.
That didn’t work, and my inactivity made me feel guilty.
Finally I dragged myself out. After a brief rest in the campus park a block away (yes, that’s sad) I decided I was up to walking to Nickels Arcade.
On the way I passed the State Theatre. I like the old-school tile although I’m not tall enough to capture the entire name. It looked like the theatre had been taken over by a Target store, but I found out later Target had replaced another retailer in the building, Urban Outfitters.
Coming attractions for the Michigan Theater (note ”er” vs. ”re”) down the street (Liberty):
I reached Nickels Arcade and thought I’d check out the Peace Corps medallion Roadside America claims is nearby. That required walking several more blocks south on State Street (hint, Roadside America: No, it’s not near University). I found the building but didn’t have the steam left to go around it to find the medallion. I’ll regret that, I’m sure. Well, here’s a Nickels Arcade marker instead:
I did spot this other Roadside America attraction across the street — it’s hard to miss. Whimsically called “See No Evil” by Roadside America, it seems especially appropriate for the times.
Another sculpture dominated the museum’s lawn.
Finally I limped back to Nickels Arcade for iced coffee and a cookie at Comet Coffee, to Sava’s for a drink and dinner, and to the park area for a bit of shaded rest before limping back to my room.
I don’t think I ever posted this marker before. It’s across Huron from the bed and breakfast.
5,171 steps so far at 20:24. I would have sworn it was at least 7,500. Each painful.
Ann Arbor, June 2021
June 20, 2021
The train to Ann Arbor left on time, but was delayed immediately south of the station. Between that, speed limitations, and whatnot, the Wolverine was at least a half hour late. Could have been worse.
On the train, a man sitting behind me offered to heft my suitcase onto the overhead rack. I feel like this means I’ve graduated from “not cute enough to help” to “too old and decrepit not to help.” I said, “Sure,” but by the time he’d gotten up on his hind legs, I’d managed to heave it over the railing. I flexed my right bicep and said, “Have to stay in shape!” I’m not sure he was amused.
The trip was uneventful. In some ways I miss the possibility of having an interesting companion. When I arrived in Ann Arbor, the temperature was in the mid-80s, and the setting sun was beating into my eyes. At first it didn’t look like I’d be able to get a Lyft, but just as I’d resigned myself to walking (uphill), one became available. Whew.
I sat on my balcony for awhile as it got darker, gradually becoming aware the railing was dripping wet. I moved indoors, maybe because it felt a little cooler. Also at some point my phone exploded with weather alerts. The radar showed lots of thunderstorms moving toward both Chicago and Ann Arbor. Lots of thunderstorms with lots of red at their cores.
Awhile later the downpour came, which sounded great on the skylights (two in the living area, one in the kitchen area, one in the bathroom). When I looked out the back toward the neighbors’ yard, it looked like the downpour was rising as a bright mist. It would have been a great visual effect in a movie.
Next came the lightning through the skylights, then thunder. At one moment, they were nearly simultaneous. I felt very cozy, even when I woke up during the wee hours and there were a few flashes of half-hearted lightning.
June 21, 2021
The weather looked iffy all day, with lots of cloud cover, even if it didn’t do much of anything after all. I felt lazy, too, and my right Achilles tendon is continuing to bother me. In the mid-afternoon I ordered from Zingerman’s — a “Tard’s Tenacious Tenure” sandwich (turkey, avocado, muenster, Russian dressing, etc.), two kinds of pickles, BBQ chips, potato salad, key lime pie, and a Spindrift raspberry lime drink (water?). Enough for two meals. That’s one way to avoid the Zingerman’s line.
Every time I thought about going for a walk somewhere, a look at the sky and a twinge from my legs and Achilles tendon deterred me. This couldn’t go on for a week.
Maybe it was on this day I noticed the birds. From the balcony I’ll see a male cardinal once in a while, plus the usual European house sparrows and starlings. I might also hear the occasional coo of a mourning dove. This time I saw not only a female cardinal (on the fence) but I noticed most of the birds flying back and forth and landing in the trees and on the roof above me were house finches (they seemed less colorful than purple finches). I spotted a chipmunk running around between the neighbors’ yard and the B&B’s parking area and fence (under the “Park Not Here” signs).
Given the recent news I’ve tried to avoid about birds dying from a mystery illness, I was surprised by the number of birds and greater diversity. I wondered if someone nearby had put out a feeder (not recommended at this time), but their focus was on the trees and the roof above me.
June 22, 2021
Finally I ventured out, to Sava’s, where I ordered sweetie fries and a pasta entree, plus shoestring fries and a different pasta entree to take with me. And “A Lonesome Dove,” a really, really good cocktail. I don’t know why I didn’t have two.
Normally, I would have sat outdoors to watch the world go by, but the new arrangement has larger tables outside. i would have felt odd. Indoors, it was more like watching who was and wasn’t taking COVID-19 precautions. The three women at the front were mask-less; the server wasn’t. Does that mean they are vaccinated and he isn’t? Or that he is, but he’s extra cautious for personal reasons or because he has closer exposure to patrons?
(For the record, I’m fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, and I generally stay masked in public indoors as much as possible. The precaution is not a big deal.)
Afterward I stopped at CVS, where I got some dental stuff I needed and candy I didn’t. I wandered back through the park with the benches, which I finally realized is not so much a park as a green space between two University of Michigan buildings. That was the extent of my adventures for the day . WEAK!
June 23, 2021
I wanted to see if I could handle the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown and get in stops at Cafe Verde (now the People’s Food Co-op Cafe) and the Motte & Bailey used bookstore. I figured out how to use the bus system — after a fashion. You pay the fare online, activate your day pass just before boarding, and show it on your phone to the driver. Schedules and status are online. That much was simple. What proved to be challenging was getting to where I thought I was going — the Hands-On Museum, which is close enough to Kerrytown for me to walk. What I didn’t know was that Huron Street is under construction in that direction, so the bus detoured to the transportation center south of the post office. My nerves, joints, and Achilles tendon were going to get a workout whether they liked it or not (they didn’t).
I made it to Kerrytown, where I saw the People’s Food Co-op (always Cafe Verde to me) was closed, how temporarily I couldn’t tell. That had been my second choice for lunch. My first, The Lunch Room, where I’d had such a good salad two years ago, had been closed permanently in 2020. Sigh. I went over to Kerrytown Market & Shops, where Spun has taken over the space formerly occupied by Hollander’s.
Then I remembered I wanted to get something at Sweetwaters, which turned out to be a sandwich, coffee, and a huge piece of chocolate cake. Hey, I was on vacation. After a long sojourn there and a second biology break on the second floor, I stopped and bought these at Ann Arbor Spice Merchants — something I’d never heard of.
By the time I was done, the farmers market participants were packing up, and if I remember right the sky may have been dripping. It was odd to see no one sitting outside the People’s Food Co-op, where I noticed greenery taking over between the pavers — perhaps a sign of much-reduced foot traffic? No one had been sitting around earlier, even before the sky started spitting.
With a last wistful glance at Cafe Verde, I made my final stop at Motte & Bailey, which never disappoints. That’s where I found a book on the Pennsylvania Wilds in the front window display worthy after returning from a visit there. This time I was excited to see a history of Niagara Falls. If only I could carry more back. And had more time to read (starting with The Pennsylvania Wilds).
At this point it didn’t look like I was going to be able to get a Lyft, and I hadn’t fully figured out the transit system’s detours (I called customer service, and two representatives were as confused as I was). I walked the relatively short distance back — maybe seven-tenths of a mile — slowly and painfully. I have to get past this.
June 24, 2021
The weather was as good as it was going to get, and I was running out of days, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to make my long-desired visit to Parker Mill County Park. Two years ago, even pre-COVID-19, I’d been afraid of being stranded there.
The building under construction in 2019 is open now, with the name All Seasons Ann Arbor. It turns out it’s a senior living community. Now I wish I’d taken a photo of it from the Parker Mill parking lot. I wasn’t keen on such a big development so close to the park, but finished of course it’s more attractive than a construction site. It’s sprawling. It looks like independent living only, and you’d have to call for costs. No doubt out of my league.
I didn’t know all that when I arrived, just that it was done and was fronted by a monument sign. I was there for its neighbor.
I’d have preferred a sunnier day, but as long as it didn’t rain life was good. After a pit stop I walked down the slope and found not much had changed. A couple of families with loud, active children overseen by what looked like grandparents (residents of next door?) were playing by the pump and rocks, so after a look around I headed for the other side, which seems to be less visited. While I was there I saw only a few adult walkers plus a handful of cyclists whizzing by on the bordering paved bike path.
I didn’t find the mushroom patch from 2019, but the creek still burbles along, and the pavilion still sports a rooftop of plants and trees. This time I noticed many of the rough-hewn log benches are rotting away, which I don’t recall two years ago — two years of weather.
In the mid-afternoon the woods were quiet except for the drone of traffic on Geddes. I know birds have their active and quiet times, but I wonder if even mid-afternoons were not so quiet before DDT, climate change, and Nile virus. In the 1960s, my dad wondered where all the robins of his youth had gone. My childhood norm, which he was pointing out, was different from his, and my nieces’ norm was different from mine no doubt — but they may not know that. I wonder.
I could go only so far in the one direction, while the other seems to lead away from the creek. I didn’t want to spend my limited energy finding out. Behind the pavilion is a fence, so I walked back to the pump area..
I looked for ebony jewel wings, but they weren’t as plentiful with the sun hidden under the clouds. I had found some on the other side of the bridge on some rocks, but they were in shade and too far away for the iPhone camera to capture. No crayfish. Not even a butterfly that I remember. Not the right conditions, apparently.
Looking at the park map, I found an accessible trail (boardwalk) past the pioneer cabin and went as far as the beginning of it before I realized I was both hungry and out of steam (or spoons). Reluctantly I headed back to the parking area and finally requested a Lyft. To my surprise, there was one not that far away. On the ride back, I noted The Ride bus stop near Parker Mill County Park. Just in case.
June 25, 2021
When it wasn’t pouring, it was raining. When it wasn’t raining, it was drizzling. I curled up with a book and writing, maybe TV, but I really wanted at least one visit to Nickels Arcade and Comet Coffee. Finally, around 4:30, I left umbrella in hand, well, over head. I walked past Ye Gods and Little Fishes, but it was too wet to risk the iPhone for photos or videos. And the lighting could not have been drearier. Late fall in late June.
I got to Comet Coffee in a relatively dry condition, ordered coffee, a cookie, and a couple of high-end chocolate bars for later. The particular coffee I got was expensive but divine. If it were available here nearby, I’d be reallocating my pay.
My intention had been to stay as long as they were open (another hour) and as long as no one wanted a table. Soon I realized I am way too heavy for the delicate cafe chairs in the arcade. I expected to go splat with an embarrassing crash at any moment. More incentive, if I need any, to lose weight. I stayed as long as it took to drink the large divine coffee and eat the large cookie (part of the weight loss plan, right?). I didn’t mind the occasional drip from the arcade’s glass roof — not as bad as a 1990s CTA bus.
By the time I was done, I didn’t have it in me to check out some of the stores I like, so I headed back. My timing was perfect. Not too long after, the sky exploded. I made it to a tent on campus set up for some occasion, which had a warning sign about not sitting there during bad weather. A handful of us risked it, although I didn’t stay long — too heavy for the folding chairs . . . I shouldn’t have had that cookie. Of course I fled just as the deluge was at its worst. By the time I got to my room, my sleeves were wet, my pant legs were wet, my socks were wet. When I left on Sunday, the shirt sleeves were still damp. This was first time in Ann Arbor the weather was more uncooperative than not. But I’d never done so little walking, either.
June 26, 2021
I had lunch with friends at Conor O’Neil’s, which was busier than I’d seen during previous visits. I usually go during the week, though, and this was Saturday with a soccer game on the many tellies.
During the week, I saw some people wearing masks while others didn’t. I assume some, like me, are vaccinated, maybe many or even most. I tend not to wear one in the uncrowded outdoors, but do mask up indoors. Not everyone does. It’s easy to get a sense everyone is tired of being cooped up, constrained, masked, and lonely. The world’s dominated by extroverts for whom Zoom is no substitute for a social Guinness and a world soccer game.
I wonder what next year’s visit will be like. If there is one. (A visit, not a next year. Don’t get me started.)
Signs of the times, part 4: Barbershop poles
I have a lot of favorite commercial signs, so I’ll break them up into manageable categories starting with barbershop poles.
Once upon a time, the working barbershop pole was a common, universal sign. Someone on Pleasant Ave. in Hamburg had one in front of his house. There may have been one at South Shore Plaza; I suspect my dad went to both places. Now they’re almost rarer than a hen’s tooth.
I get excited when I see a barber pole in working order. The first one up is the Varsity Barber Shop in Ann Arbor. The 2012 photo was missing the location data, but I figured it out from the Michigan colors. Varsity is still open.
The next one is from Arcade Barbers in Nickels Arcade, Ann Arbor, possibly my favorite shopping area anywhere. The shop started in 1917.
This one is from a couple blocks from me on a stretch of 55th Street with many tiny basement salons/barbershops. I was excited when this pole appeared and remain surprised it hasn’t been vandalized.
Finally, here’s what happens when you can’t bother with a pole or don’t have a place to hang it.
As an aside, I looked up barber poles on eBay many years ago and found some for hundreds of dollars. Now I see several on Amazon for under $100. Have they made a comeback, or have they never been out of style (or a reasonable price range)?
Matthaei Botanical Gardens
June 26, 2019
Having worked out Lyft, my next objective was Matthaei Botanical Gardens. I’d been there before without noticing it’s down the road that runs north of Parker Mill. Gallup Park is on the way to both. After how many years of visiting Ann Arbor, I’m finally figuring out the geography.
I also spotted several places from which the Huron River looks accessible. After visiting Minnesota’s North Shore a couple of times, reading The Journals of Lewis and Clark, and digging into a textbook on earth science, I’ve developed a new appreciation and love for rivers and all their variations (streams, brooks, creeks — or “cricks,” as my dad would say). They shape the land and weather, offer passage to humans and wildlife, provide food, contribute to the economy, join and separate nations, and hold countless secrets from throughout the ages. Just ask the Tiber.
At Matthaei, I found one of the things I’d been seeking — a bowl of plants surrounded by kaleidoscopes. I wanted to we if I could improve on my previous efforts to record it. It’s not easy to aim the phone camera precisely at a kaleidoscope eyepiece, hold the clunky phone sideways steadily, and spin the bowl. I didn’t succeed at spinning the bowl either slowly or at an even speed. I swear my anxious exertions and the pain of standing for a few minutes made me pant..
I headed through the rest of the greenhouse, but didn’t look or linger — it was too hot, for one thing. I went outside, hoping to find flowers laden with butterflies and bees. Instead I found neither much in the way flowers nor butterflies. Perhaps earlier in spring or later in summer.
Next, I wanted to a better video of the wind-spinner sculpture I’d seen on a previous visit. If I had a yard, I’d want something like this in it. My dad, I think, would have loved it (but not the price tag, I’m sure, for anything similar).
I turned toward the Gaffield Children’s Garden, where there’s a “rustic” trail through a wooded area, with benches along the way. It would have been perfect but where there’s shade, there are mosquitoes. Many mosquitoes. At one point the one bothering me turned into a dozen swarming me.
I left the rustic trail for an Adirondack-style chair in a dappled area — slightly cooler than full sunshine, but not as infested as full shade.
A tiny bird, species unknown to me, landed on a birdhouse and called back and forth with another bird, with long breaks for preening. A few people came along, but most of the time there was no one about. I liked the feeling, a little like being retired, although I’d have expected more summer visitors.
Gaffield has pretty features, even if they are artificial. I can imagine I’m enjoying a bubbling mountain stream. (I can’t, however, imagine the mosquitoes away.)
After more wandering and sitting, a peek at carnivorous plants, and a better video of the spinning plant bowl, I stopped at the gift shop and bought souvenirs, including an embossed Green Man tote bag as a gift. If there’d been one more left, I’d have been even poorer.
While looking at stalled traffic from the window at work, I’d noticed that most cars are black, white, or gray. That’s why, when I got into my return Lyft, I praised the car’s light metallic green color. The driver told me the only way she could afford a new car was to drive it for Lyft. On the flip side, it had accumulated 12,000 miles to date. That’s a lot of rides.
And so ended my last afternoon in Ann Arbor this trip. Until we meet again
Parker Mill Park and Lyft
June 25, 2019
Lyft is my new favorite thing — as long as I can afford to use it once in a while. I love creeks (even more than Lyft) and while in Ann Arbor had a hankering to visit Parker Mill on Fleming Creek. My left leg has been protesting lately, and I don’t have to walk far there to see the creek and a little bit of the woods. I discovered it’s only a little more than four miles from the bed & breakfast, which in Chicago would get me only halfway to downtown. I fired up the Lyft app.
The driver mentioned he takes his dogs to Parker Mill Park. “You feel like you’re in the country but you’re not at all.” I asked him if I’d have a problem getting back. “No, this is a main road between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. I live in Ypsilanti.” I asked him what kind of dogs he has. “Shiba Inus,” he answered. One of the few breeds I know a little about. He told me about his, a dominant female and a rescue male.
As he left me in the parking lot, he pointed out what looked like typical exurb apartment blocks going up next to the park. Look in that direction and you won’t feel like you’re in the country anymore.
There have been a few changes at the mill. There’s a new Bison pump (for filling water bottles?). Two slides descend from it, and before I left someone pumped water for their dog. He looked like he wondered why he couldn’t get his usual dish, but made a half-hearted attempt at a few slurps.
Some rocks may have been rearranged, with new concrete forms (seats?) added. A new set of steps with a red handrail to match the pump has been added. These steps and handrail made it easier for me to get down to the creek, although they aren’t exactly rustic.
I headed under the overpass, where the water seemed deeper than I remember. When I turned my head to the right, the water sounded faster, more urgent. When I turned my head to the left, it sounded deeper, like the flow had decreased. I did this a few times with the same results. Since the creek’s flow didn’t change every time I turned my head, it must have been me. My hearing loss is mild to moderate in the left ear, moderate to severe in the right. I heard more, higher frequencies when my left ear is turned toward the creek. It’s a disturbing feeling, especially since the first ENT I saw (almost 15 years ago) said the loss will progress. It doesn’t help that usually fluid sloshes about in my right ear, partially blocking it.
I continued along the creek under the road until I reached the footbridge over the creek into the woods. Two women, not middle aged but not young, ran toward me, screaming. I briefly looked for the ax murderer who must have been pursuing them. I didn’t see one, and the women slowed down, laughing breathlessly. “A HUGE bumblebee! HUGE!!!” If I could arch my eyebrows like Spock, I would have. Just then, an average-sized bee buzzed by. They fled in terror, half screaming, half laughing. The bee, unimpressed and uninterested, wandered off.
After that, I didn’t see anyone as I wandered through the woods along the creek. I went mainly in the direction that reaches a dead end at a wire fence. I didn’t have steam to go the other way, especially since in late June the weather had finally turned hot, which drains me of any little energy I have. My Osprey ultralight stuff pack, water resistant and not letting any air through, either, was glued to the sweat soaking my back.
I spotted one flitty red admiral that wouldn’t stay still for a photo, and a tree with picturesque mushrooms that weren’t going anywhere.
At last the creek drew me back, although no matter how hard I looked I couldn’t find crawdads. I wondered if the water flow had changed and disturbed them, or if I couldn’t spot them in the deeper water.
This side was more populated, especially as the afternoon progressed. Cyclists, hikers, dog walkers, even a man on a bike accompanying a woman who was trying to manage the downslope behind the mill on old-school roller skates. She was young (20s) and fit, and it cheered me to see her grasping the wooden fence, stiffly and awkwardly taking baby rolls forward, finally crashing in slow motion into the grass where there was a break in the fence. This wasn’t her first rodeo; she was wearing thick knee pads.
A sloppily dressed man, smoking and yelling (presumably into a headset, although I didn’t see it), came along, unclear on the concept of a relaxing walk in the park. Maybe his doctor told him he should walk more.
A very old man came along, slowly and gingerly making his way down the steep paved walkway the roller skater hadn’t mastered. He was moving faster than I had.
As on my previous visits, ebony jewelwings flew around, sometimes landing to rest and sun on the rocks near the water. An eastern comma glowed with color when its wings opened, then disappeared when its wings closed.
Near the mill, a big, much-injured tree shelters a picnic table. I half expected a druid to emerge from its trunk and wondered if some of its wounds had been lightning strikes.
I hated to leave and hope to return.
From Amtrak: America the Beautiful, eastern industrial version
Once or twice a year I travel by Amtrak from Chicago’s Union Station — not cross country, just to Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Capitol Limited, Pennsylvanian, and Wolverine routes pass through cities, small towns, farmlands, and rusted sections of the Rust Belt. I ride the Wolverine during the day. The journey east on the Capitol Limited is all after dark, but on the return west we are in Indiana when morning dawns.
Steel and power
Amtrak passes through northwest Indiana, where in the late 1800s and early 1900s much of one of the nation’s most diverse ecosystems, the Indiana Dunes, was bulldozed over or carted off (see Hoosier Slide). Shifting Sands: On the Path to Sustainability shows the making of places such as Gary, Indiana, and the long-term costs of short-term gains.
I’m not sure Amtrak goes through Gary, but it stops at Hammond-Whiting, where the view from the train overlooks like an industrial post-apocalypse. That’s the nature of trains — industry and train tracks go together like chips and salsa.
If you were to travel through only northwest Indiana by Amtrak, you’d think the world is made up of industry, utility poles, and casinos. By car, you’d also see billboards for fireworks and adult stores, and countless personal injury and illness attorneys.
On the train, I sleep sporadically. One early morning I woke up to find the train stopped near this structure and garish lighting in Cleveland, Ohio. What could be more representative of industrial eastern America?
Weeds flourish, trees struggle, oily water lies in pools, buildings and train cars rust aggressively, and stuff is strewn everywhere. Human beings seldom appear, although parked cars indicate their presence. In black and white, in color, in summer, in winter, the view is bleak.
A bit of nature
I’m fascinated by where cemeteries appear — sometimes unexpectedly in the woods or at state parks like the Smith cemetery at Kankakee River State Park, Illinois or the Porter Rea Cemetery at Potato Creek State Park, Indiana. This one is on Mineral Springs Road in Indiana, where I94 passes over the train tracks. I couldn’t tell at the time, but it belongs to Augsburg Church, a Lutheran church in Porter. It’s about two miles from Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm, which are part of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, past most of the worst of the industrial areas.
When I see puffy clouds, an eggshell sky, and verdant trees on a June day in Michigan, I can’t wait to get to my destination to soak it all in.
Whether you call it Cellular Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, or Comiskey Park, the home of the White Sox is sometimes a surprise highlight for Amtrak passengers. If you look at the satellite view of the ballpark, though, you won’t believe the number of train tracks to its west. On the starboard side of the train, eastbound Amtrak passengers can enjoy the view of Universal Granite and Marble.
Apparently a scrapyard in Michigan City, Indiana, has mastered Monty Python’s art of “putting things on top of other things.”
I couldn’t figure out the purpose of this attractive building with cupola, but was surprised to realize later it’s in Michigan City, Indiana, not far from the Old Lighthouse Museum. The Hoosier Slide mentioned above was across from the lighthouse on Trail Creek where it empties into Lake Michigan, near this building. That would have been something to see from an Amtrak train. Now the Hoosier slide site is covered by a NIPSCO coal-fired plant. Progress. Rest in peace, Hoosier Slide. May we not forgot what we have lost and never known.
This wavy fence in Michigan City, Indiana, baffled me. I’ve seen them elsewhere, I think, but I don’t know the purpose other than aesthetic.
There may be millions of nondescript, decaying buildings across the U.S., but I haven’t spotted many more nondescript than this one.
The appearance of this building belies its message that Dowagiac, Michigan, is the “Grand Old City.”
I noticed this long red building on the edge of a small stand of trees in Parma, Michigan, east of Battle Creek. In the satellite view, a dirt road from another building, likely a house, is the only access to it. I’m intrigued by the tall chimney.
With no immediate neighbors, this house, likely part of a tree farm, looks lonelier than it is.
Farm buildings dot the back roads, and rails, of middle America.
Some houses in Pennsylvania towns like Johnstown are spaced closely together, with nearly touching side walls or an alley almost too narrow to squeeze through.
These houses on a hill are farther apart. I wonder if they would have been high enough to escape the Great Flood of 1889—or any since. The area’s geography makes it prone to flooding even without breaking dams.
Johnstown, too, has nondescript commercial buildings.
Some Amtrak stations, like the modern monstrosity in Ann Arbor, are cold and utilitarian. Next door, Ann Arbor’s former station has been converted into an upscale restaurant, Gandy Dancer.
Old school stations remain in use in Michigan and Indiana.
Often there’s not much to see in the dark, but I spotted the same rotting cars from the EB Capitol Limited. Nearby I found a National New York Central Railroad Museum. If they’re intended to be exhibits, they may use a little work.
Coming and Going
The morning Dan Ryan Expressway from Amtrak.
This is what you, and New Buffalo, Michigan, look like to an Amtrak passenger.
As children, we liked to watch for the caboose at the end of long freight trains. When the news pronounced the demise of the caboose, I was distraught. When I can, I watch the scenery recede from the last car of the Pennsylvanian, unimpeded by a caboose, remembering the miles of track and the cities, towns, stations, farms, taverns, fields, rivers, creeks, houses, plants, and stores behind me — and ahead of me on the return.
Finally, all journeys must have an end. Mine passes over the Calumet River through Chicago’s steel history.
Butterflies, bees, moths, oh my!
Lately I’ve been lurking at Perennial Garden in Hyde Park, a favorite spot of mine. Right off where the pavement turns in I found a bush where butterflies hang out. I’ve learned it’s called “butterfly bush.” It’s an invasive species, so I don’t recommend it for your garden. (Try something native, like butterfly weed.)
Some days the bush is visited by butterflies. At other times I see more little moths. One day to my surprise a hummingbird whizzed in and out. I’m not sure it even stopped. It (or another) did the same thing the next day, never when I was ready for a photo.
After the hummingbird sightings, I started thinking that my life would be complete if a hawk, or hummingbird, moth showed up. I’d seen only one once before, near the Cascades in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a fancy, not even a hope. The next day my jaw dropped when one of these little garden fairies buzzed in. Now I wish I hadn’t waited until August to start my lurking.
My life is complete. Until I figure out how to get better photos or get my camera over there. By then it will be September.
Relics: Clothesline, or hung out to dry
While staying at the Ann Arbor Bed and Breakfast, I spotted a relic that I remember fondly and that may be making a comeback in some progressive communities — the clothesline.
At our home, Saturday was wash day. As our only licensed driver, Dad was the designated launderer. Our Saturday mornings began with the emptying of the clothes hamper under the counter in the bathroom into plastic clothes baskets and the collection of bed and bath linens. Sometimes alone, more rarely with me for company when I was very young, he drove to a laundromat in town, where the women cooed over the little girl they assumed was his granddaughter, thanks to his middle age and shock of white hair. As I grew up, I went less often if at all — too cool to hang around with Dad at a boring place like the laundromat, I’m sure.
Behind the shed in our backyard, underneath the cherry trees, we had five or more clotheslines strung across — enough for most of our clothes and sheets. Knowing my dad, I suspect hanging clothes out to dry in fine weather was a matter of economy — conservation of money as much as of energy, although he did consider the environment, too.
When I was little and somewhat willing to help with the chores, I couldn’t reach the lines (conveniently). By the time I was tall enough, I had better things to do than to help my parents with what seemed like a chore, but would today be a pleasure to me.
When I was in 8th or 9th grade, I started to wear blue jeans to school. They weren’t the pre-washed, distressed designer duds of today, but were dyed a dark blue that penetrated every fiber. I spent countless hours at the kitchen sink trying to rinse the stiffness and the blue out of them. They, too, ended up on the clothesline after leaving a messy trail of water through the trailer. I even hung them out in freezing weather, when they froze and I risked cracking them.
Clothes hung out take longer to dry, especially when the clothesline is in the shade. It’s not as convenient as tossing a load in the dryer and hitting a button, and there are other downsides to line drying under trees besides the amount of time it takes. Occasionally a bird or two would ruin our laundering efforts with well-placed defecation. In our case late spring/early summer meant picking tent caterpillars off nearly every item. I loathe everything about tent caterpillars, especially stepping on them.
If left unscathed by birds and bugs, clothes dried outdoors pick up an indefinable scent of sun and fresh air that no fabric softener, dryer sheet, or other chemical treatment can replicate. It truly is like absorbing sunshine into your clothes.
Even as we tear our hair out over energy sources, climate change, and problematic technologies like wind farms, we’re missing out an obvious way to save money and our clothes — clothesline drying. It costs nothing but the price of clothesline and a few moments of standing outdoors. Our mothers may have loved the affordability and convenience of dryers, and homeowners’ associations hate the sight of something so downscale as clotheslines. But sometimes convenience takes away the satisfaction that performing a simple task as simply as possible offers. And you can’t chat with your neighbor if you’re both isolated in your basements, feeding your machines.
Perhaps a few more clotheslines combined with fewer homeowners’ association rules might improve the neighborliness that seems to have been lost in the last half century — the neighborliness that brought my parents and their peers many a lifetime friendship, no matter where the neighbors moved or where they hung their clothes.
Amtrak train incident, Albion, Michigan
Right now, all over the world, a nearly infinite number of things are happening. Hawks pursue rabbits; factions make war; dust filters through the atmosphere; buildings burn; stars shine; children die. Things happen, and everything changes. No one can comprehend it all, only what we experience. Our limitations are our protection; in omniscience lies madness.
My thoughts rambled on during the train trip from Chicago to Ann Arbor. In my limited view from one of the train’s windows, it was a perfect, sunny mid-September day, and in the back of my mind I was looking forward to a weekend spent with friends. I gazed out the window, unable to focus on reading or the other usual train pursuits.
The Amtrak passenger train braked more suddenly than usual, throwing everyone slightly forward. It seemed a strange place to stop, in the middle of a crossing in Albion, Michigan. Sometimes passenger trains halt to allow their freight brethren to pass, but generally the delay takes place out of the way and doesn’t interfere with auto traffic. To me, sitting in the second car, just on the crossing, this stop felt different.
A couple in an auto waiting at the crossing got out and walked toward the train. I wondered why.
At first, the passengers continued their pursuits — chatting, reading, listening to music through earphones, eating, drinking, or staring out the window, perhaps thinking of what the end of the trip held — reunion with family, school, work. At last, however, the low buzz of activity and conversation heightened as more people noticed how unusually long the train had stopped. A few made joking comments. The uniformed personnel who generally bustle back and forth between the cars had all disappeared. There was no one to ask about the delay.
A rumor from the first car floated back to mine; the train had hit a person in a motorized wheelchair. A motorized wheelchair? What is the likelihood of a motorized wheelchair being in the crossing just when a train is coming? In a small town in Michigan? Then, what is the likelihood that someone would think up that particular scenario?
Someone must have been hit or hurt, or perhaps become seriously ill; a PA announcement requested that any medical professionals on the train make their way to the café car.
The Albion police and two ambulances arrived. The police quickly set up the yellow “Police Line — Do Not Cross” tape around the triangle bordered by the train’s first car and a half and the grassy area next to the crossing, using several convenient trees. Two young women, late ‘teens or early twenties, stood on the grass, hugging each other and crying. The couple from the auto and then the paramedics talked to them and tried uncomfortably to comfort them. I wondered if they had seen the accident, or if they knew the victim well. For a while, they sat on a curb next to the crossing, but at some point they must have left. I wondered if they would seek professional help.
The conductor walked through the train asking that people not open any of the outside doors. “It’s very morbid, believe me,” he said. I knew then that the medical professionals requested earlier were not for the accident victim, but for someone else.
Both ambulances were parked for at least an hour, lights flashing and paramedics walking about, but no one seemed to be doing anything; it all seemed very disorganized and haphazard, almost dreamlike. Finally, both ambulances left, leaving only the police and what were most likely witnesses as well as the invariable spectators. By now, even the couple in the auto had driven off.
For a long time, the police wandered around aimlessly, at least to my inexperienced eyes. One man, sporting long hair and civilian clothes, talked to nearly everyone else, including the police and witnesses, although his role was unclear. He gestured and pointed quite a bit. He remained on the scene during the entire investigation. Other people noticed him as well and wondered who he was.
Meanwhile, the people on the train were becoming impatient. The man across from me spoke of a birthday party in Dearborn he was to attend, schedule for 6 p.m. Two women in front of me were going to two separate wedding showers. When they discovered their purpose in traveling was identical, even though the destinations weren’t, they fell into a deep conversation.
Some of the police began to board my car and walk toward the back, returning to the front and exiting a few minutes later. It occurred to me that they were probably using the lavatory. A crowd had gathered in the foyer between the first and second cars, and the police and conductors had to make their way through them. I didn’t see any reason for the convention, other than to be in the way or to see something of the action. They were a chatty, laughing group.
As the quarter hours, half hours, and hours passed, the passengers became more restless and agitated, wondering how long it would be before the train would be allowed to move on. A very young police officer told our car that the area was considered a “crime scene” and that they could not allow people off the train to contaminate the integrity of the scene. The photographers and others still needed to do their work. They were working as quickly as they could, he said, but could not make any promises about when the train would be released. I wondered what the “crime” was.
I overheard that we were waiting for another engineer to arrive; the train’s engineer was too traumatized to continue. I wasn’t surprised. I’d read before that train engineers involved in accidents suffered trauma long afterwards. Imagine seeing that you are about to hit someone and that that person is about to die. This probably has happened to many an auto driver, but without the surety of death, nor the particularly grisly qualities of a collision between train and human. Most likely only an engineer who has experienced that sickening moment fully understands the trauma and its reasons.
The passengers I heard talking didn’t say much about the victim or the circumstances. Most felt primarily inconvenienced and talked about why with people nearby. Some complained that no one from either Amtrak or the police was providing us with necessary information about when the trip was to resume. There was a rush toward the train’s only phone; one person came back and said offhandedly to anyone listening, “Don’t even think of trying to get to the phone.” “There a line?” one man asked. “Is there ever!”
Outside, the sun continued to create the perfect day. I looked out the window, forward, and for the first time noticed a motorized wheelchair. The police must have put it there within the last half hour. Next to it lay something covered in white. I must have reacted; the man across from me asked me if I’d seen something. “No, not really,” I answered. I didn’t want him or anyone else to talk about what lay under the white. I tried not to look at it, but it was directly in my line of my vision. I saw it and thought, “Only a couple of hours ago, that was a person, maybe going somewhere, just like I am, just like we all are. No more. Just lying there, an object for investigation.”
The police walked around the wheelchair and the body. A photographer appeared and took several photos of the site, including the wheelchair. Another lifted the white material as well — from the other side — and snapped several shots from several angles. The majority of people on the train were unaware of the grisly proceedings.
The man across from me opened a plastic bottle of diet soda. I was thirsty, too, but it seemed disrespectful to satisfy that living desire in the presence of recent death.
On the corner parallel to the train and the crossing, a small herd of boys on bicycles gathered. Each stood poised over his bicycle’s seat, watching the proceedings. It must have been at least 3:30 or 4:30 by then. School was out.
Another police officer boarded the train. He quietly asked the first few people some questions and seemed to disbelieve their answers. He looked around and asked loudly and a little plaintively, “Didn’t anyone see anything?,” as though he couldn’t believe what he had heard. The passengers looked at each other in puzzlement. How could people sitting in the second car be expected to see what must have happened at the front of the train? A young policewoman joined him; they asked each passenger for his or her name, date of birth, address, and phone number, as well as if he or she had seen anything and how fast the train was going at the time of the accident. This last question seemed pointless to me. A train’s speed is very deceptive; usually they are traveling much faster than it feels to the passengers. I suspect the answers ranged from five mph to 70 mph — all subjective guesses and not very reliable in determining exactly what happened. My own estimate was 15-20 — but I would not swear to that.
People continued to be increasingly restless. Another rumor began circulating — that the train was going to back up to the last station, which was quite a way back, so the police could get clearer photographs and drawings. The complaints began again. “I’ve got a better idea — why don’t we move forward?” Not too long after, the train started backing up, and several passengers began groaning. I watched the wheelchair and the white-covered mass recede before me.
The train did not back up to the last station, but just far enough to be out of the way of the police and probably most of the crossings. The passengers became louder as more and more talked to each other. A series of conversations unrelated to the accident arose as people found out where their neighbors were from, where they were traveling to, and why. The little mob in the front of the car continued to banter and laugh. I kept thinking of the shape lying a few blocks ahead.
Eventually, the engineer arrived, and the police cleared the train to leave. From Albion to Ann Arbor was a fast, uneventful journey; I arrived at 6, about four or five hours late. By then, the day’s bright sunlight was muted with the oncoming night. Later, my friends took me to dinner and then to a nostalgic toy store. Even then, I couldn’t help thinking of the white-covered figure and what it might have been doing had it not been for bad timing — or, perhaps, from its perspective, the timing had been perfect. And how it would never see another bright mid-September day. I thought such thoughts until they became too painful, too overwhelming. I could not think them for the millions of others who died that day. I cannot think them now.
Copyright © Diane L. Schirf