Archive for November, 2010

Winding Down

The cycling season is sadly coming to a chilly end here in Michigan. On Sunday, I bundled up, jumped on my bicycle and ventured out for a ride to Detroit’s New Center Area, through the Wayne State University campus and on to downtown. The day was gray, overcast and most of the bright-colored leaves of autumn have blown off the trees or have been washed away by the recent heavy rains.

With the exception of early morning churchgoers, there weren’t many people out. I spotted a few, lonely looking individuals standing in doorways of abandoned buildings or on deserted street corners. I saw others sitting or standing in bus stop shelters waiting for a ride or simply taking advantage of a warm place to rest. Even car traffic was virtually non-existent in some areas, especially the industrial sections found to the south and east of the New Center.

Third Avenue south to Wayne State was also free of traffic, making for a nice, leisurely bicycling pace. As I rode under the railroad overpass near Baltimore Street, I could hear the humming of an Amtrak train as it idled at a nearby station. In many ways, it was quite comforting hearing its soothing sound.

There wasn’t much activity on the Wayne State campus. A few students were milling about, and some appeared to be on their way to a local café or perhaps to the library for some peaceful study time.

At Warren Avenue I cut over to the Historic Woodbridge Neighborhood, located just west of the University. There I saw people out walking their dogs, doing some last-minute raking and generally tidying up their property before the winter season sets in.  I exited the neighborhood at Grand River to head downtown. Just then I heard the familiar sound of a train horn blasting and turned just in time to see the Amtrak train (probably the one that had been idling at the station), crossing a graffiti-covered overpass.

Riding past a collapsed commercial building on Grand River, I glanced quickly through the broken out window of the building’s chained front door. The place had no roof, and the roofing materials and second floor had fallen into a pile of rubble. I stopped my bike and peered in for a closer look at the mess. Off to the left, lying in the wreckage, was an old dirt-covered music album. Looking closely I saw that it was “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye.  I though to myself, “How ironic is this? Detroit is full of blight. This building is a microcosm of that blight, and here’s Marvin Gaye asking the question, ‘What’s going on’ (Detroit)?”

Once downtown, I headed over to Campus Martius park to checkout the ice skaters and this year’s holiday tree. Plenty of families and others were taking advantage of the light crowds by enjoying a few spins around the rink on their sharp blades. The huge tree was spectacularly decorated and really added color and brightness to the somewhat gloomy November day.

It felt a little odd, sitting on a bicycle, watching ice skaters with a huge, fully decorated holiday tree in the background.

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Over the summer, I wrote a couple of entries on the many quirky signs I encountered on my two-wheeled travels across Detroit. This is the third in a series focusing on those unusual signs. To read the first two, “Amusing Signs of Detroit” – “Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 2”, simply click on the names.

As mentioned in the previous entries, I’m quite fond of Detroit’s grass-roots entrepreneurial spirit, in particular the promotional efforts many of the small-time business owners embark upon. I admire their odd signs found on the side of buildings, attached to telephone poles, trees, and those placed on neighborhood sidewalks. I especially like the ones constructed from discarded wooden pallets or unusually shaped sections of scrap plywood.

Many of the streetscape advertisements I come across while riding throughout the city feature bright, eye-catching, colorful letters that, in some cases, have typos in the message. A few can be hard to read as the lettering runs together. Others have sagging letters because they seem to have been created using an ordinary 3” economy paintbrush, or were fashioned straight from a can of over-the-counter spray paint. I’ve also seen crudely drawn illustrations that are muddy looking and totally out of proportion. Nevertheless, they do serve their intended purpose by featuring mattresses, refrigerators, liquor or other products or services.

Take a look the latest!

I think there should be a comma after dog.

This place is all about service.

I like the simplicity of this sign.

Interesting spelling.

What are “porchs”?

I don’t understand what “matters” is all about.

Good deal on the enginon check.

Bizarre! I can’t figure this out. What moved? The garage door?

I’d love to have this sign.

Reminder – Click on any photo to view them larger.

This entry on Amusing Signs in Detroit is part of an ongoing series. To view the others in this series, simply click on the one of the headlines below.

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Fall Colors of Detroit

In case you missed it, Detroit is a beautiful place.

Bicycling across this large city over the past couple of weeks, I couldn’t help but notice the gorgeous fall colors. They seemed to be everywhere, whether I was riding in Detroit’s most desirable communities or through some of its worse blighted neighborhoods. It didn’t matter. Even the abandoned commercial strips where trees and plants were growing through their pockmarked facades and roofs had streaks of brilliant color.

The Historic Vanity Ballroom on Detroit's Eastside

Red Maple near the long abandoned Packard plant

Riding the streets that cut through the open fields on Detroit’s eastside this fall was a tranquil scene. There, I saw wheat colored plants, coupled with vivid red Sumac plants stretching across acres of abandoned land with Maple and Oak trees standing guard in the distance. It reminded me of open farm land found in Michigan’s North Country.

Clark Park on the Southwest side of the city was packed full of bright, shimmering leaves, as were the riverfront parks and canals found in the Creekside community on Detroit’s eastside. Many of the downtown buildings were highlighted in fall’s bright colors as trees, used in their landscaping designs, gradually changed from green.

Vibrant colors in Clark Park, Southwest Detroit

Clark Park in Southwest Detroit

Along a canal in Detroit's Creekside neighborhood

Fox Creek on Detroit's Eastside

Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit

On the campus of Wayne State University

Near an interior pathway on Belle Isle

Belle Isle’s inner woodland trails were glowing with a variety of red, gold and orange leaves. Riding through the trails that wind through that section, I spotted many of the colorful leaves, laying on the surface of the interior ponds, shimmering in the morning sunlight. The island’s assorted lagoons, open prairies and outer wooded areas of the park were lined with color. This created a stunning contrast to the bright blue sky, or in some cases, the turmoil of the low, gray storm clouds that were creeping in from the west. Even the Detroit River seemed much bluer and richer in the fall sunlight.

Along a woodland trail on Belle Isle

A fall ride on Belle Isle

The north side of Belle Isle

Note the water's deep blue color near the Detroit Boat Club

Viewed from a distance, Detroit can seem depressing or foreboding, and the sheer beauty of this old city can be fleeting. But, as I discovered, riding in Detroit this time of year can be enlightening and somewhat humbling.


Detroit's Belle Isle Park

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Last Friday night was the final Critical Mass bicycle ride of the year. Since it was Halloween weekend, and just a couple of days before the scariest night of the year, the ride was nicknamed Critical Masquerade. It was windy, cold and dark, but that didn’t seem to stop 300 or so bicyclists from taking a two-wheel ride through the streets of Detroit.

So who showed up on this blustery evening in late October? Well, there were clowns and skeletons, caped riders and devils. There were flesh-eating zombies straight from the Night of the Living Dead! ET wrapped in his white shawl was there, sitting comfortably in his milk-crate basket as Elliott pedaled along. An 1890s High Wheel replica was part of the group, as was Mrs. Clause, a Panda Bear and many other characters, some without costumes.

But the “best-dressed bike” had to be the big brown, furry monster that made its appearance about four blocks into the ride. Much to my surprise and others riding near me, it magically appeared from a side street, and joined the ride as cheering cyclists waved it on. The large brown monster, built on a tandem bicycle, had a nasty looking tooth and a menacing under-bite that appeared to open and close as it zoomed along the streets of Detroit. I still chuckle thinking about that unusually decorated bicycle!

Totally unexpected! Watching this "monster" roll along was one of the highlights of the ride..

The night’s ride took us down Woodward Ave. to Campus Martius Park and over to the Renaissance Center. Unfortunately, the ramp leading up to the Ren Cen was the High Wheel’s demise. Nearing the top, it slowly toppled, ending the rider’s couple mile ride to that point. Not too bad of a run for a bike of that type.

From the Ren Cen, we rode along Atwater Street, jumped on the River Walk and rode along the Detroit River to Mt. Elliott. The wind blowing off the river was bone chilling, to say the least. At Mt Elliott we headed up Jefferson, crossed over and pedaled our way through Historic Indian Village before returning to the bright lights of downtown.


On the return trip, we passed cheering football fans at Martin Luther King High School, then entered the Dequindre Cut, a former below-street rail line that has been converted to a greenway for walkers and bicyclists. Exiting the cut, we rode through Eastern Market  as we worked our way back to West Warren and Trumbull. The Detroit Police helped us out by blocking a few streets as we passed through busy intersections.  A big thanks goes out to them.


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