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Archive for July, 2013

Poor Elmo, he can’t seem to find any shade in Detroit. The poor little character was recently spotted sitting in the hot sun on a pile of debris, looking lonely and forlorn. His bright red color is slowly fading away while he sits in the sun on the hot days of summer. Don’t know how he got there, but whoever brought him to this desolate place may be planning to return and feed him.  That may be the case because someone left him in a sitting position, as if at a table waiting for food and drinks to be served.

He was found in a large fenced off dusty lot on Detroit’s Westside.  The lot appears to be used by construction companies to temporarily store chunks of broken cement, piles of gravel, and large sections of black asphalt while rebuilding nearby roads and sidewalks.

The construction holding site is an unlikely out-of-the-way place for Elmo to be sitting and waiting. Not only was the area dusty and dismal, but there were piles of miscellaneous household and home construction materials that someone illegally dumped on the site.  And that’s where faded little Elmo was sitting, waiting patiently, with a surprised look on his face that seemed to say, “Are you here to feed me and take me away from this nasty place?”

 Elmo Picture

Unfortunately, poor Elmo had to stay in the deserted lot and sweat it out. Maybe Ernie, Alistair, or other members of the Muppet crew will stop by and join Elmo for a nice dinner and lively conversation. It can get lonely out there for him, and he could use a little company.

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Remember the drive-in theater?  The outdoor movie venues seemed to be everywhere at one time, from small town America to the country’s largest cities. Surprisingly, the country’s largest is located on the corner of Ford Road and Wyoming. The theater, appropriately named Ford-Wyoming, opened in 1950 with one large screen and is still going strong. Today it sits on a large piece of land that incorporates five screens. It can accommodate about 2,500 cars. At its peak, the outdoor theater had nine screens, each showing two feature-length films.

Standing tall since 1950

Standing tall since 1950

I recently rode by bike throughout the old place. What struck me right away was the enormity of the site and the architectural style of the main screen. It is designed in the Art-Deco style of the mid-century and features giant bold letters that face Ford Road. The associated buildings connected to the main screen structure and three free-standing toll booths are painted in vivid blue and red. They match the Deco trim elements found on the backside of the tall screen that can be seen from Ford Road.

Colors seemed to compliment the Art Deco features of the overall structure

Vivid colors seemed to compliment the Art Deco features of the overall structure

The long entrance off Ford Road leads to the ticket booths that reminded me of something you’d see at a U.S. border crossing. Beyond them there are directional signs pointing attendees to the right outdoor theater. They all have movie titles listed.

Ticket booths reminded me of a U.S. border crossing to Canada

Ticket booths reminded me of a U.S. border crossing to Canada

Directional signs pointed out the screens and featured movie

Directional signs pointed out the screens and featured movie

I rode into the number two screen area, and one of the first things I noticed inside the fenced off section was the vast parking area in front of the screen and the acres upon acres of speaker poles. They seemed to spread across the open landscape like cactus plants in the arid Southwest.

The theater land reminded me of the desert Southwest

The theater land reminded me of the desert Southwest

The actual movie screens are huge. They probably stand at least three-stories tall and are just as wide.  The supporting steel structure that holds them up reminded me of something found in an industrial complex. One of the sections I was in had a central concession stand, and there is a children’s playground in front of the screen.

Thick steel supports hold the screens in place

Thick steel supports hold the screens in place

The screens are mammoth in size

The screens are mammoth in size

As indoor movie theater’s screens grew larger and Dolby sound came into vogue, most of the old drive-in theaters have slowly faded away. VCRs and cable TV also added to their decline. That technology brought movies right into the family living room, gluing people to their couches in front of the television. Despite the advances in technology, it’s great to see that this icon of the past is still operating and showing double-feature films year-round.

Out - Ford Wyoming _6902

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Beware of DogsWhy do dogs chase bikes? It’s a heart-stopping, adrenalin-pumping situation when they come charging out of nowhere, running at full speed toward a bike rider. Although the size of the dog generally doesn’t matter, it’s a whole different problem when they are Pit Bulls that appear to weigh 85 pounds or more. That was the case for me the other day while I was riding along a quiet street in Southwest Detroit. Two of those scary, muscular animals came tearing down a flight of porch steps at full speed, focusing directly on me, while barking and snarling.

“Damn!” I said to myself as I braked and swung around and headed back the way I came before the dogs could reach me. As panic set in, my heart felt like it was exploding. I momentarily lost my train of thought before realizing I had to get the heck out of there quickly. So I automatically reacted by shifting into high gear to gain speed and momentum.

Unfortunately, I down shifted rather than up, and that panic move made me lose all my power because the pedals were free spinning at such a low gear.  Luckily I realized right away what was happening and was able to grab the higher gear and slowly built-up speed as the dogs quickly approached.

One of the dogs was white and tan, and he seemed to be the leader. He was at my lower left leg barking and snarling before I knew it. That menacing dog was so close I could feel his hot breath on my calf.

The other was black, and he was on my right side close to my rear wheel and closing on me. Together they had me boxed in like books squeezed between cast iron bookends, and both were charging at my legs. Fortunately, they didn’t go at them at the same time, allowing me to lift a leg as one approached and pedal with the other.

I knew I could not out-pedal them in the short run like this, but realized that once I got up to speed, I could probably get away before one of them latched onto one of my legs.

Knowing dogs can’t turn quickly, I decided to zigzag down the street to the end of the block and once there, take a sharp turn down a different street. That strategy worked, but only on the black dog.  It threw him off stride, and thankfully he stopped the chase half way down the block.

The white and tan monster was another story. I couldn’t get him to break stride. He finally gave up when I turned sharply in his direction a couple of times, almost clipping him in the face with my rear tire and spokes. Fortunately, I didn’t fall, and there were no approaching cars when I came up to the intersection and turned.  As I did so, I glanced over my left shoulder and both were standing tall in the street watching me pedal away.

Needless to say, it took me a while before I was able to settle down and get my heart rate back to normal.  No matter how prepared you think you might be for situations that involve hostile dogs while riding a bike, it’s always a surprising and dangerous situation when it happens. As the sign reads, “Beware of Dogs”.

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At one time outdoor pay phones seemed to be scattered across Detroit. The heavy-duty phones were mounted on poles near street corners or attached to the outside of party stores, gas stations, and other places where there may be heavy foot traffic. Most city restaurants had them, as did many of the strip mall and shopping center parking lots. At select locations there were phone booths that housed the pay phone. The little glass structures offered a little privacy, reduced traffic noise, and softened the general urban sounds for those making calls.

Phone from Car Sign_6840With the introduction of the cell phone, pay phones and phone booths have all but disappeared from the outdoor cityscape. Now people reach into their pocket, pull out their cell phones and talk loudly about things only important to them. Many users are completely oblivious to their surroundings, and whether indoors or out, people using them talk rather loud. It’s as if they were sitting in stadium bleachers filled with people talking to their neighbor, or sitting in a nightclub trying to talk over loud, pounding music.

Garbage Filled Phone Mount_7005On occasion I see where outdoor public pay phones used to be, but rarely see any that work. The ones I’ve seen are usually stripped of the handset or the push-button units have been pried off and probably sold as scrap. Others were more than likely removed by the phone company as more and more people migrated to cell phones. In most cases, I could see where phones have been, but now there is nothing left but a faded phone company sign or a mounting bracket attached to a pole or storefront location where the phone once was.

The handset on this one has been destroyed

The handset on this one has been destroyed

The outdoor pay phone is becoming a thing of the past

The outdoor pay phone is slowly fading away

Like 8-track and VCR tapes, the tough outdoor pay phone has slowly become a relic of the past.

One of a few  I've seen that are still usable

One of a few I’ve seen that are still usable

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Eat up!

Drink up!

Have a Festive 4th in Detroit!

Captain America_4651

Sincerely,

The Captain

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