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Posts Tagged ‘cars’

The Signs Read Open

Open signs: we see them every day.  Most are made of neon, and they glow in storefront windows. Others rapidly blink on and off, designed to draw the attention of those passing by letting them know they are welcome to come in and shop.  Some, hanging in the window of a rundown building on a dark deserted street, softly illuminate the sidewalks in front, much like a distant headlight of a midnight train. Some magically spell out the ”open” letters in a variety of colors. Others, like LED types, are so bright and colorful that they stand out on a cloudless sunny day. Many that hang on a closed-door are pre-printed, made of simple plastic or laminated cardboard that can be purchased at the local hardware or office supply store.

There’s an entirely different type of open sign I see while riding the streets of Detroit. Those are the crudely hand painted versions I spot leaning against buildings, sign poles, fire hydrants and other stationary objects near an open business.  Those types of grass root signs are some of my favorites.  The signs of that type are cobbled together from discarded weathered plywood, or old flat wooded panels that may be found in a 1970’s basement. A-Frame stand-alone open signs, ones that may have carried a different message in a earlier life, now block the sidewalk in front of the open store. They usually have an arrow pointing to a door.

I see many hand-made open signs leaning against party stores

I spotted this in front of one of the many storefront churches in Detroit

Made from scrap tin, it works

The lettering on these one-of-a-kind, stand-alone open signs can be interesting. Most appear to be painted with a cheap, wide brush designed for large applications. Because of that, the wording on some of them may have dripped, creating a jumble of hard to read individual letters. The colors used on these beauties are usually basic white, black or red; nothing fancy. In some cases, dark paint was used on dark boards, making them a challenge to read. I find these one-of-a-kind, loosely painted open signs (and others) intriguing. It’s as if they represent a sub-culture of grass root entrepreneurship that is part of the history and soul of Detroit.

High up on a building with drippy letters makes for tough viewing for customers

Hand painted on the back of an old picture frame

I would guess the word open is a bit hard to read for those passing by

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Detroit is the Motor City. It’s a town of cars, freeways, and summer roadwork.  When they all come together, it creates lengthy stop and go traffic jams, as was the case on westbound I-94 near downtown this past weekend. While pedaling along East Grand Boulevard on the north side of the expressway, I noticed that car and truck traffic was much heavier than normal for a late Saturday morning. It didn’t register with me that drivers may have been hopping off the expressway and taking the service drive, which happens to be the Boulevard in that part of town.

I didn’t realize the expressway was slated for weekend work until I crossed over the East Grand Boulevard bridge on my bicycle. Glancing to my right I saw the glow of red brake lights from the cars below, all at a standstill. Peering over the bridge I saw a long line of orange barrels in the outside lane, angling to the right. The barrels were anchored at the end of the merge by a large yellow, electronic arrow. The blinking illuminated directional arrow was pointing right, forcing traffic from three lanes to one.

Vehicles slowly squeezed into one lane

Looking to my left I saw the front ends of cars and trucks, lined up on the expressway for as far as I could see. They were all waiting their turn to merge to the right just beyond the bridge. Looking down on the cars crawling by below, I couldn’t help notice the many drivers talking on cell phones, staring at their phone screens, or in some instances, texting away.  I was up there watching the slow, merging traffic through a chain-link safety fence for about 10-minutes. During that time, I would say at least 50% of the drivers were using their mobile phone one way or another.

Cars and trucks crawled along in long lines

Lot’s going on in some cars, others not so much

Others appeared to be snacking; some were smoking, talking with passengers, fiddling with what looked like their radio. Some simply looked bored.  One “tough guy” driver flipped me off, as if it mattered.  After all, he was the one stuck in traffic, not me. I laughed and pedaled away thinking to myself, “Bikes are better.”

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No, I didn’t race my bike in the Grand Prix, and I didn’t see any other bicyclists out on the Belle Isle racetrack this past Sunday. In fact, bikes weren’t allowed inside the race venue at all.  Imagine that? So I did the next best thing and checked out the Grand Prix from the outside looking in. I did so on my bike, a perfect means of transportation for an event of this size; an event that was spread over many acres on the west end of the island.

I was there for the early practice sessions on Sunday morning, a few hours before the actual race.  Not many fans had arrived yet, but they were slowly working their way to the island via shuttle buses or by walking across the Belle Isle Bridge. Once on the island, race fans were being funneled through security checkpoints at the entrances before heading to their grandstand seats.

Race fans on their way to the track entrance

Since I didn’t have a ticket, I rode along the eastern boundary of the fenced off area to see if I could find an open view of the track. The miles of cement barriers and chain linked fencing lining the track were covered with advertising banners, making it almost impossible to get a look at the race cars humming by. Fortunately, there were a few cutouts in the banners that were being used by professional photographers, and race personnel. It was at these openings where I was able to get a glimpse of the cars.

These guys never flinched as the cars sped past

Sort of like drapes pulled back for a view of the outside world

The cars flew by during the morning practice session

As I pedaled along the perimeter of the course, I spotted cameramen perched high on lifts. They were filming the speedy Indy cars as they sped around the winding track at speeds well over one hundred miles-per-hour. The live video was being shown on giant TV screens that were strategically placed along the track.

The camera and operator was in constant motion

The giant TV screen faced a section of the grandstands across the track

Cutting across a grassy area of the island park, I came across an auto corral. In that roped off area were a number of sports and classic cars. They were all perfectly lined up, like dominos on a table top. In that section of the park I saw spotless Ferrari’s, a variety of Porsches, Ford Mustangs, vintage Corvettes, Cadillacs, and sporty Camaros. Unfortunately, there were no vintage bicycles, just one outfitted with a battery operated motor, silently rolling by.

Classic 1954 Corvette

A sleek, black Ferrari, one of few that were parked on the lawn

As I rode my bike across the Belle Island Bridge to the Detroit mainland later that morning, I couldn’t help but think of the brutal contrast between the city’s huge deficit and the millions of dollars spent by private companies to put the auto race together.

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“Owl” by Malt

This past Saturday I took a tour of Detroit’s many murals hosted by Detroit Bikes. The ride began and ended at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Along the 20-or so mile route, we passed many forms of wall paintings and murals including lively tile installations, large portraits on an Albert Kahn building slated for demolition and well-designed, executed graffiti.  It included various stops, including the Lincoln Street Art Park & Sculpture Garden, near the city’s new center area. There, riders had a chance to view up-close, many large-scale murals that were painted by well know Detroit graffiti artists such as Malt and Deco.

Another major stop was in Southwest Detroit. Buried deep within that close-knit neighborhood is an alley. It wasn’t the typical alley one would expect with overgrown weeds, old tires and other trash scattered about. No, the alley I’m referring to stretches a full city block and is home to colorful murals. It is all part of a community organization called The Alley Project or TAP.

TAP is a youth based initiative of Young Nation. Their mission is to promote the building of relationships through community education and outdoor projects of this type. The organization promotes self-expression through the creation of urban art. It also encourages and promotes individual responsibility by requiring their young members to clean-up and maintain the alley and surrounding area. They believe hands-on ventures, like TAP, will help urban young people learn and grow culturally and socially in a clean, safe, and legal environment.

Graphics on one of the garages

The wall art on the garages and wooden fences lining the alley is amazingly diverse. There are monster sized, intricately designed graffiti masterpieces that feature flowing lines and letters that are almost impossible to read.  Murals cover many of the garage doors facing the alley. The multitude of images varies from the solar system to a skeleton head surrounded by a vast array of bright colors. There are painted graphic designs that seem three-dimensional, a number of unusual caricatures and simple, yet powerful written messages.

Check out the detail in this beautiful graffiti masterpiece

Nice detail on the skull and the background colors add interest

This eerie painting reminds me of something out of an Edgar Allen Poe story

The simple tag line makes sense

The TAP project is located on Avis Street, a compact street full of small frame and brick homes. It runs between Woodmere and Eismere Streets. The alley can be entered through an art-filled common area off Avis St. that was created by the organization.

The Avis Street entrance to The Alley Project

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It was a perfect spring weekend in Detroit for bicycle enthusiasts and for those attending a Mardi Gras style parade through the Cass Corridor. The weekend kicked off Saturday with the first annual Detroit Bike City bicycle show and swap meet. It was held at Cobo Center  downtown. Sunday was the third annual Marche du Nain Rouge, and that event took place in the city’s mid-town neighborhood.

Detroit Bike City

The Detroit Bike City show and swap meet, the first of its kind in the city, showcased a variety of cycling vendors. They were selling everything from collectible 1960’s-70’s vintage bikes, priced upwards of $350, to all types of new bikes. These  included mountain, hybrids, road bikes and retro cruisers, and they were selling for substantially more than the used bikes.  The new bikes I looked at were considerably lighter and technically superior to my 15-year old, steel framed hybrid.  As compared to them, my bike is as heavy as a 1950’s Buick.

There were a few vintage bikes for sale

Very cool, retro looking "Detroit Flyer"

I loved this monster of a bike. It was surprisingly very lightweight

In addition to bicycle vendors, there were a variety of used parts, bike accessories, and other cycling related sellers offering items such as helmets, t-shirts, stickers, etc. There were other vendors present who were promoting organized tours, trails and bike safety. They offered information on the Tour de Troit and the Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance, among other things.  The event also showcased stunt riders zipping off ramps and twisting and turning in the air.

A good mix of vendors attended the show

All types of Bike accessories were being sold

I arrived in the early afternoon and there was still a good size crowd wandering from table to table checking out the goods and services. The event seemed to be well-organized, and free secured parking was available to those riding to the show.

Lots of riders pedaled to the show

Marche du Nein Rouge – 2012

On Sunday, the third annual Marche du Nein Rouge was held in Detroit’s mid-town neighborhood.  The annual event is held the first Sunday of spring. It’s an event designed to banish an evil 300 year-old Red Devil from Detroit, and by doing so, lifting a curse from the city for the upcoming year.

After a rousing opening ceremony in the parking lot of Detroit’s Traffic Jam Restaurant, where the Devil himself made an appearance, costumed revelers and parade watchers marched their way through the Cass Corridor to the imp’s place of eventual demise, The Historic Masonic Temple. The stylish Mardi Gras type parade, led by the swinging Detroit Party Marching Band, included those dressed as unicorns, Christian brothers, angels, pilgrims, assorted monsters and other bizarre characters (some without costumes).

A colorful crowd of merrymakers jammed the streets of mid-town Detroit

Check out the hairy legs on this guy

At the Temple, the Devil taunted the crowd by spewing out evil doings that all Detroiter’s should partake in. After a few minutes of listening to that madness, people in the crowd had had enough and began booing and pelting the Devil with what appeared to be tomatoes, driving him away for another year.

Could the Nain be the answer to Detroit's problems

For more information on the myth of Detroit’s Red Devil, you can click here to read my blog entry on last year’s Marche.

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