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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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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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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Saturday was a perfect day in Detroit to be on a bicycle. It was breezy, sunny, and the temperature was in the mid-seventies; an unusually warm day for mid-March. So I took advantage of the day’s heat by jumping on my bike and riding the ten or so miles to downtown.  Pedaling along, I was quickly reminded how cautious I needed to be on my spring rides. Not so much because of buses and traffic; that’s a given…but because of the broken glass and trash that seem to accumulate along the curb areas this time of year. I didn’t want to fix a flat tire on my first two-wheeled trip downtown this year.

On my way I passed through the Historic Eastern Market. It was jammed with shoppers pulling carts and carrying bags of fresh goodies. Russell Street, the main through street of the market, was gridlocked with cars, all vying for a place to park. Like most warm days at the market, blue smoke from barbeque pits that lined a section of the street cast a sweet-smelling haze across the area. It was also St. Patrick’s Day, and plenty of shoppers were dressed in green.

The moose on Mack Ave had the Irish spirit

From the market I zigzagged through numerous downtown streets to check-out the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Like Eastern Market there were gobs of people dressed in green wandering the streets. The city’s most famous downtown Irish pub had two circus sized tends set up in parking lots behind the place, and they were jammed with revelers. In fact, there were long lines of motionless people leading into the two tent entrances. The lines, at least four people wide, stretched a block from each opening. I could hear music coming from tents well before I got there, and surprisingly it wasn’t Irish. It was Techno!  So much for a true Irish celebration.

Next, I biked out Michigan Avenue a mile or so, to Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, Corktown, an early enclave of Irish settlers. The Corktown area of Michigan Ave. is lined with Irish saloons and, like the place downtown, they were crammed with party goers brightly dressed in the color of the day. Many were moving from pub-to-pub taking in the activities. But unlike the place downtown, the music of Ireland was pouring out of the drinking establishments.

Since I haven’t been out on my bike for a few months, checking out some of the city’s graffiti hotspots was in order. Therefore, I headed out Trumbull Street to one of favorite outdoor galleries, an unassuming wall along some railroad tracks. Once I made my way to the wall, I found some fresh, colorful pieces that weren’t there last fall. Checking them out, I was amazed, as always, at the flow and how creative the graffiti artists can be using only paint from spray cans. After poking around the site for a while, I hopped on my bike and headed back to the eastside.

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