Archive for September, 2010

Two Detroit Bike Rides

This past Friday and Saturday were big days for bicyclists in Detroit. It started Friday night at 7 p.m. with Detroit’s Critical Mass, a worldwide bicycling event held on the last Friday of every month (through October here) to bring attention to cyclists’ rights to the road.

Despite strong westerly winds blowing a steady 25 miles-per-hour with gusts up to 40 miles-per-hour, an estimated crowd of 350 or so cyclists showed up at the corner of West Warren & Trumbull for the casual ride. Like the last couple of monthly rides, the turnout, as I wrote about in early August (click here for the story), was made up primarily of young people riding vintage or retro, single speed bikes.  Not many speedsters in this crowd.

As we headed out around 7:00 pm the sun was just starting to set and the temperature was in the lower eighties, a nice contrast to the whipping winds. The evening’s 14-mile route included a trip across the new I-75 Bagley Pedestrian Bridge leading us into the heart of Mexicantown. I found it amusing watching the bike riders funnel into the narrow East entrance and slowly work their way across the bridge to the West end. Once off the bridge we crossed the bicycle blocked service drive (despite the blaring horns of the semis that couldn’t get through) into Mexicantown. 

Leaving Mexicantown we rode south past beautiful Clark Park to Historic Fort Wayne. From there we headed downtown where the tall buildings were glowing in the dark. We passed under Cobo Hall to the river, pedaled to the Renaissance Center, through Greektown and on to Comerica Park where the Tigers were going at it with the Minnesota Twins.  From there we headed back to WSU where the ride ended.

Otis on his colorful, bright bike.

As we rode into the early evening, it became darker and darker, adding to the ambience of the city ride.


Saturday morning was Tour de Troit, a 30-mile bike tour of the city that drew close to 3,200 bicyclists all paying $30 to help fund the Corktown-Mexicantown Greenlink, a series of bicycle lanes and off-road pathways scheduled for constructed in 2011.

The ride began in Roosevelt Park, directly in front of the Michigan Central Station near downtown Detroit. Like the weather on Friday night, it was windy but the temperature was about twenty degrees cooler. Riders in this event were quite a contrast to Friday’s group. It was an older bunch; many with families, and lots had serious looking road bikes. They came dressed to ride in the blustery weather as well, wearing sweatshirts and long pants. A good number had the usual spandex racing-type jerseys and matching pants.

We rolled out of the park around 10 a.m. as scheduled. A friend and I started near the rear, and I was awed by the sheer amount of bikes on Michigan Avenue ahead of us. As far as I could see were bikes eight to ten wide, and the pack extended at least two miles or more toward downtown. It took us a few minutes to get up to speed, but once we did we were able to work our way through the bunched-up, heavy bike traffic on our way toward the front where it was a much faster pace.

There were bikes as far as you could see in both directions.


The 30-mile route took us through Downtown Detroit, out Gratiot, along the Dequindre Cut to the riverfront. From there we rolled out to East Jefferson Avenue and sped off to Belle Isle at a good clip. We looped around windy Belle Isle and crossed back to the mainland stopping at Gabriel Richard Park at the foot of the Belle Isle Bridge. There we were served a light snack. For most of our 30-minutes there, a steady stream of cyclists crossed the bridge on their way to the park.

Enjoying a break at Gabriel Richard Park.

Leaving the park we headed out East Jefferson once again to St. Jean and took that up to Kercheval where we headed downtown. We did a quick pass through Historic Indian Village to check out the mansions. Exiting there we headed out Mt Elliott to view a couple of historic churches and then cut over to the Detroit Medical Center. We continued on to Wayne State University and the New Center area before heading back to Roosevelt Park where the ride ended. There we were served food and beer.

At Roosevelt Park

Both days I cycled to and from the events and in spite of the strong winds pushing against me, I racking up close to 85 miles.

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The area around McNichols, 7-mile road and East Davidson in Northeast Detroit seems to be a hot bed of scrap yards, junkyards and used auto parts joints. I must have come across a good half-dozen or so within a few blocks of each other while riding in this neighborhood. Some I pedaled by were clean, well-kept places spread across a few acres of land. Peering through their surrounding chain linked fence or gate; topped with barbed or urban razor wire, they appeared to be neat and well-organized. Chrome bumpers (remember them) were stacked on specially designed racks six to eight high. Car doors, fenders and hoods, sorted by make and color shared similar space. In some of the better-organized lots, wrecked cars or those missing doors, hoods, etc., were lined up in close to perfect rows, like a new car lot, waiting for a yard worker to strip off a little more of what remained of them. 



Other places I rode past looked as if a bomb went off. The partially stripped, wheel less, rusted vehicles were randomly mixed together with other oily, tarnished scrap metals and heaped into piles similar to those I’ve seen after a building had been imploded. The nasty looking, pure auto junkyards I bicycled past had cars parked everywhere. Judging by the weeds grown around and through many of them, it was clear they haven’t been moved or touched in years. They were basically hulks of metal slowly deteriorating and rusting into oblivion. They too were surrounded by chain linked or sold metal fences that in many cases were bowed out because so much stuff was stacked against them. Looking at them, it’s a wonder they were still standing. 


Check out the “Beware of Dog” sign.


Whatever it takes to keep people out.

 Every yard I passed had a locked gate of some type and a few looked like they’ve been bashed into so many times that a small nudge would push them right off their hinges. “Do Not Enter” or “Beware of Dog” signs were everywhere with many placed prominently on the entrance gate. It didn’t matter if they were a chain linked fence type, solid sliding metal or a combination of both, most had at least one sign.  A few had them plastered everywhere I looked. 



Five “Beware of Dog” signs and I saw no dog. 


If no sign was posted, there were usually junkyard dogs roaming the black, oil caked lots; mean looking, barking, snarling dogs with noses poking through the small gaps between the solid metal sheeting used for fencing. Others were jumping on the chain-linked fence or running back and forth, barking while keeping me in their eyesight. Judging by their fierce barks and the appearance of their sharp teeth as they growled, I didn’t think they liked me riding so close to their territory.  Go figure. 


This guy was not happy to see me.

But not all were ready to jump the fence and rip my leg, arm and head off. Some were quite casual and wagged their tails as I rode close by, much like a neighborhood dog looking for a treat. A couple were even sleeping in the sun, so I gave a quick whistle and a “hey man” call out to wake them from their guard-duty dreams. One such beast, a good-sized Doberman, looked over his shoulder at me and yawned before getting on all four and walking slowly to the gate where I was sitting on my bike smiling.  Although he looked friendly, I was glad the fence was between us as I pedaled away. 


This snoozing dog came to life when I got close to the fence.


The Doberman gave me a look that said, “Why did you wake me?”


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Barbershops of Detroit

Barbershops seem to be everywhere I ride in Detroit. They are found on major roads such as Gratiot Avenue, Fenkell, Linwood and on many others I’ve ridden. Others are situated in a neighborhood storefront, and most appear to be a gathering place for the locals. Sometimes they are hard to spot because their signage has faded over time, or they are located in a small unassuming building that looks as if it is abandoned.  There is one I pass regularly that has no street level sign that I can see. A lone, bare incandescent light is shining through the bars that cover the windows and door, lighting the entrance way. Peering in, it seems that nothing has changed since the 1930’s.


I like the script used in the name.


This place always seems to be open, no matter when I ride by.


Catchy name and phrase.

Barbershop names and signs are some of the most creative I’ve come across while cycling. I’ve seen shop names that rhyme – “Braids and Fades”. Others I’ve found difficult to read because the letters that were used appeared to be hand painted. Still others feature drawings or paintings of clippers, scissors, combs or razors. Most are painted in bright colors and of course, the proverbial barber pole can be found painted near the entrance door or somewhere on the building. 

$7 cuts, 7-days a week?
Note the accessories in the painting.
Tough name to read.
Can you spot the typo?

Barber pole paintings can be very interesting.  Sometimes the stripes are painted as if they are traveling up (twisting right) while others are painted as if they are traveling down (twisting left).  A few have large painted globes on top, giving them a top-heavy look. Others appear is if they are floating on the side of the building and one I saw looked like a rocket, pointing upward like it was ready to be launched. No matter how crude or stylish they may be, the red, white and blue striped pole paintings do their job in identifying the shop as the place to get a haircut.  I’ve yet to spot an actual working, 3-D barber pole on my rides. I know it’s out there.

I love this hand-painted sign!
The barber pole painting seems to be split.
Nice clean lettering and graphics


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Labor Day Weekend in Hamtramck is festival time and that means food, music and (as I discovered on my early morning Sunday bike ride) a polka mass on Joseph Campau.  Shortly after crossing Caniff where the Festival began, I was approached by a little old lady who asked if I knew where the outdoor mass was.

“No, but I did see some people sitting on chairs down the street in front of a big stage.” I said pointing left.

“Oh,” she said, “that’s probably it.” She turned and walked in that direction.

I didn’t think anything else about it and slowly pedaled off through the festival area where the booths, food vendors and the amusement area had not yet opened. Riding through the festival site, minus the hordes of people who would fill the street a little later, was a colorful, visual treat. The cotton candy, elephant ears and corn dog concession booths were sparkling in the morning sunlight. Many of the tee-shirt and souvenir vendors were setting out their vibrant colored goods hoping to entice festivalgoers into purchasing a souvenir from them.  The small, locally owned restaurants specializing in Polish foods were making last-minute preparations, and the rich smell of ethnic food was in the air.

Early morning set-up time.

Many competing colors on these stands. Note the Art Deco touches.

This two-story elephant ears and corn dogs concession stand was quite colorful.

Polish food stands were everywhere.

Polish food stands were everywhere.

A little further down the street, the amusement area was unusually quite. I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a carnival midway without music blasting, humming generators, kids screaming and everything spinning in a flash of color. Looking at the many lifeless rides, games of chance with their stuffed animal prizes hanging above open awnings and the flashy concession stands catering to what thrills us, I noticed the detail and design elements that goes into these things. I saw hand painted drawings on the sides of food stands, the use of bright colors to highlight a hot dog and bold letters calling out a product. I think we tend to overlook these elements or don’t notice because of the distraction that is part of the carnival setting.

At first glance this booth reminded me of an outhouse.

I liked the gold and blue color combination on this face.

Caution is urged plus other useful info.

Nice mugs!

After circling through the amusement area, I headed back down Joseph Campau on my way to downtown Detroit. At Caniff, I came across the outdoor polka mass that the lady had asked about earlier. I had to laugh; not at the service, but what was on the stage. Directly behind the makeshift altar was a huge banner promoting a brand of vodka. It’s the only church service I ever saw that appeared to be sponsored by a vodka company.

The Echo Maker” by Richard Powers

On a cold winter evening in a desolate road in Nebraska, a young man flips his vehicle and almost dies. After 14 days in a coma, resulting from a serious head injury due to the accident, Mark Schluter, the main character, wakes up and fails to recognize his sister Karin, who had returned to the small town where they grew up to nurse him back to health. He thinks this woman is posing as his sister because in his mind she is an exact image of her that talks and acts just like her. He even thinks his dog is a look-a-like and his home a replica. Unable to deal with Mark’s lack of ability to recognize her, Karin seeks the help of renowned neurologist Gerald Weber, who recognizes Mark’s condition as Capgras syndrome, an extremely rare brain disorder.

There are many subplots throughout the novel that include a mysterious letter found at the scene of the accident; Karin’s relationship with a childhood friend Dennis, who she hasn’t seen in years; the migratory Sandhill Cranes and the “Crane Peepers” tourists and their effect on the small town. Also revealed are secret plans to build a “crane” theme park near the migratory path of the magnificent birds against the wishes of the Refuge, an organization dedicated to preserving the Platte River, the stopping grounds of the Cranes.

This book is well written, and I found the characters interesting, with the exception of the neurologist Weber. I thought the author spent too much time writing about the neurologist’s latest book, its general negative reviews in the medical industry and his book tour to foreign countries promoting it. However, I did like the brain disorder descriptions and case studies that were presented by Weber.

Overall I found this book, which won the National Book Award in 2006, to be a worthwhile read. I especially liked the way the author incorporated the migrating cranes into the story and how in many ways, their behavior mirrored human life and the patterns humans fall into. I also liked the sparse visualization of the small Nebraska town and the surrounding, flat, featureless plains. It was interesting how the author used this as a metaphor into Mark’s life both before and after his tragic accident on that dark, lonely road.

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It seems they’re everywhere throughout Detroit’s neighborhoods and parks in the summertime hawking their sweet, drippy treats.  Like the pied piper, they can be heard a few streets away before they’re spotted, beckoning kids from the surrounding area. Most, if not all of the ice cream trucks I’ve seen and heard while bicycling, are playing the same, traditional ice cream selling song – “Turkey in the Straw” – at close to ear shattering levels. Not only are they blasting that attention-grabbing tune, some occasionally break into the looping music to throw out a pre-recorded, high-pitched “Hello, Hello” as they slow to a crawl during dinner hour. I also heard a truck use a piercing “Quack, Quack” duck call in his music stream to draw attention to his cool offerings. That unique selling technique brought a smile to my face when I heard it. 

As the kids swarm to the trucks that are crawling along the street, they pull over and stop but usually don’t turn off, or turn down the music. Mix in the chatter of happy kids screaming with excitement and the loud humming noise of the refrigeration units found on the vehicles, and you end up with a mini “carnival midway” in the middle of the street. 

The slow-moving trucks are colorful, eye-catching vehicles, and many appear to be converted delivery trucks or mobile homes. I also saw a motorcycle with a refrigerated sidecar making the rounds. The trucks feature complete, busy, multicolored menus or soft cream images showing all they sell; cones, cups, sundaes, sandwiches, milkshakes, frozen popsicles plus other sweet treats. In looking closely at the many mobile ice cream stands cruising the streets of Detroit, it sure looks to me as if the same art is used to create many of the mouth-watering images.  The only difference seems to be slight color changes to the toppings or the order of appearance: cones then ice cream cups or ice cream cups then cones.

I like the cool company names found on these trucks. Names like “King Softy”, “Mr. Softy”, “Mr. 3000”, “Lovely Ice Cream”, “Mr. King”, “Mr. Soft Serve” and my favorite “Mr. Obama Ice Cream”. 

Take a look at some of the kid magnets I’ve spotted on my two-wheeled travels in Detroit.


I love the President's side business.



Detroit Jazz Fest

Labor Day is Detroit Jazz Fest weekend, and like past Festivals, this year’s schedule is jammed pack with talent. So much in fact, that it would be impossible to see all the great acts in this year’s lineup. After reviewing the 70 plus performers on this year’s schedule, I’ve listed the top bands that I hope to catch over the four-day event. This is not an “end-all” list by any means, but a starting point to the variety of music that will be offered at this year’s Festival.  

Friday – September 3rd –

  • 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. – Take 6 with Mulgrew Miller Trio – Great combination of a cappella vocals and extraordinary piano playing from one of the best.
  • 9:15 – 10:45 p.m. – Tower of Power – I love this band’s soulful, funky sound. Their 1974 album “Back to Oakland” is one of their best.

Saturday – September 4th –   

  • 6:30 – 7:45 p.m. -‘Hot Pepper’ with Barry Harris & Gary Smulyan – If you’ve never seen or heard Detroit’s own Barry Harris, check him out. You won’t be disappointed. Art Pepper heavily influenced sax player Smulyan; this set could be a festival highlight.
  • 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. – The Fabulous Thunderbirds – A surprise when I saw this Texas blues/rock band on the schedule. Should be a rockin’ show.
  • 7:30 – 9:00 p.m. – Terence Blanchard Quintet – I’d hate to miss this renowned trumpeter from New Orleans. Like many of his generation, he made a name while playing with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
  • 9:45 – 11:00 p.m. – Mulgrew Miller & Wingspan – If you missed Miller on Friday, check him out as he leads what appears to be a great sextet.

Sunday – September 5th

  • 5:45 – 6:45 p.m. – Kenny Barron & Mulgrew Miller – Two of the best pianists pair up for what should be an amazing hour of music. 
  • 9:15 – 10:45 p.m. – Brownie Speaks: The Music of Clifford Brown featuring Dominick Farinacci and Jonathan Batiste – I don’t know these musicians, but I do love the music of the late trumpeter Clifford Brown.
  • 9:45 – 11:15 p.m. – Mambo Legends Orchestra – Former members of the Tito Puente Orchestra, these guys should have people dancing in their seats.

Monday – September 6th

  • 3:15 – 4:45 p.m. Branford Marsalis – This saxophone player comes from one of Louisiana’s (and America’s) most musical families. He too made a name for himself while playing with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. 
  • 4:30 – 5:45 p.m. Finger Poppin’: A Tribute to Horace Silver – Randy Brecker played with Horace Silver and he joins the Michael Weiss Quintet for what should be a soulful, hard bob set of Silver tunes. 
  • 5:00 – 6:30 p.m. Allen Toussaint – A singer/songwriter legend, not to be missed! Toussaint wrote “Fortune Teller, “Southern Nights”, “Working in the Coalmine” and many others that have been covered by The Band, Three Dog Night, The Doors and many others.
  • 5:30 – 7:30 Manhattan Transfer & Gerald Wilson – The jazz vocal group will be backed by the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, led by composer/arranger Gerald Wilson. Should be an exciting, uplifting evening of great music. 


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