About town

The Orangecycle Diaries: Because Margaret asked edition

Yesterday, my friend Margaret posted a comment requesting more updates on the bike riding and, yes, that's enough to propel me into action. People undergoing chemo can be so demanding! The first piece of news is that Daisy is no more. No, don't panic! Not the bike. Just the name. I don't know how it happened. Maybe it'll still say Daisy on her birth certificate, but Chris kept referring to her as "Orangey" and another friend or two asked about "Orangey" and I realized that somehow it just seemed more...fitting. Maybe because she's all orange and whatnot. I'm very scientific like that.

The second piece of news is that I have become an almost daily bike rider, although I am writing this after three whole days of non-riding. (Two I blame on a family visit and one on today's lousy rain.) The third piece of information I wish to impart -- and I refer to this not as "news" because it most certainly won't surprise anyone -- I'm still not particularly good at it.

The fibromyalgia continues to be a humbling factor in it all. I find my leg strength wildly inconsistent, so one day I feel like I could go for miles (until my ass cries otherwise) and other days a perfunctory ride around the neighborhood is the very best I can do and I have to ease up even small inclines at the lowest of gears.

That said, progress is still being made. While I can't always feel it during a bike ride, I can feel it at other times -- my knee no longer hurts nearly as much when I'm hoisting myself out of the bath tub or rising off the couch after a dormant spell. I can feel it at yoga, when my legs can hold the lunges just a little bit longer.

How I feel it most, though, isn't physical. At the risk of sounding pretty darn cheesy, it's in how it feels just to be that sort of free, unencumbered, moving through space and still feeling so much a part of your surroundings. Maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but I predict this whole "bicycle" concept could really catch on. Before you know it, kids'll be asking for them for Christmas. You mark my words. Buy your stock now!

I've had a couple of emails from other owners of Electra Townies who came across my blog entries after Googling their brand, so to them I share just a few additional thoughts. I'm still looking for some info about a bike rack that'll fit the Townie. I haven't done much because I'm lazy and highly unfocused but from what I understand, the longer length of the Townie's body and the forward-placement of the wheel means the frame doesn't fit easily into many models. If anyone out there has specific makes or models that'll work, please let me know!

Also, while the jury's still out on whether it's strictly a matter of user error, I'm beginning to see why some people online have complained that the forward pedal placement means the Townie's not great on hills. You can't stand and pedal, which is probably just as well for me right now as I'd likely just fall over. So I'm hoping if I continue to gain strength hills will at least get a little easier. Especially since you can't really go anywhere from my house without hitting one.

Lastly, my butt hurts. Apparently, the Townie's upright seating technology is great for posture, easing the neck, back and shoulder strain that can come from traditional hunched-over cycling form. However, the flip side is that the bulk of your weight is distributed squarely on the seat, not mitigated by balancing some front-body weight on the handlebars. I'm not saying this is a deal-breaker by any means, but I'd be interested at some point down the line to know if a seat with shocks helps at all or if it would just be more fancy window-dressing. Which I am also not opposed to by any means.

So while it rained all day long today, I'm hoping tomorrow's forecast for only intermittent showers means I can at least find a small window just to get back on and, as some of us in the business say, claim my seat. The weather's turning chillier here, fall rolling in, and I couldn't be happier about it. I love the crisp breeze on me as I whiz down the streets, tires crunching through the first fallen leaves. I may only have a couple of months left on Orangey before the cold really takes hold, but I am on it, baby. I'm on it!

The Orangecycle Diaries: Uh, more days

It seems that God -- or whoever is in charge of the universe this week -- felt I had gotten a little uppity about my bike ("It's so pretty! It's so cool! I'm a better person than you are!") and arranged for a couple days of rain this past weekend. Because I'm pretty sure that's what a higher power does: sits around dreaming up ways of putting me in my place. Thus, my dream of taking Daisy to one of our finer metro parks to see what she's made of did not become a reality. It's possible this could happen another time, but I prefer to dwell on the finality of it all. Due to the aforementioned weather issues, I've only had a few days riding since I last posted and, to be honest, not much riding in those days, distance- or time-wise. I'd blame it all on my hectic social schedule, but I think we all know that's not the case. Mostly, I just tooled around the neighborhood, and I seem to be mastering one of what I presume to be the key elements of bicycling -- keeping my balance. It seems to me that not falling off is probably a pretty important skill to have and the more I ride, even little jaunts around the 'hood, the less likely it seems that I will lose control of my bike and veer into a parked car. Or a moving car. Or a small child. This is all good progress.

I'm still a little skittish around cars because, it seems to me that all the belly-aching my bikier friends have been doing for years about drivers being boorish and discourteous to riders might actually be true. (If I'd known I'd wind up with a bike one day, I might have listened with greater compassion and an ear towards a solution. Probably not, but maybe.) And I still haven't mastered what feels to me like a Cirque du Soleil-level trick of steering with one paw on the handles so that I can signal my turning intentions to drivers. Thus, I've been known to pass up a turn or two just to keep both hands in play. I'm discovering that a person could get lost this way.

Yesterday, I waited for the rain to stop then caught what I thought was a primo late-afternoon chance to zip around a bit. I will say this: my legs are getting stronger. The hills aren't quite so torturous. And, let's face it, by hills I mean slight inclines. We all know where this story's heading. So when the rain returned, rather suddenly, I learned first hand that one gets considerably wetter on a bike than when driving in a car. I'm not saying one is better than the other, I'm just stating facts. In a three-quarter mile distance back to my house, I got soaked to the bone, but I will confess this: it felt kinda awesome.

Two things I learned about cycling in the rain, besides the obvious "getting wet" bit, which I will share with you now:

  1. My brakes squeal in the rain. Is that supposed to happen?
  2. Your pretty bike gets dirty. Dirty!

Today I ventured out for an extremely long and arduous journey. By which I mean about 3.75 miles. WHICH IS A VERY LONG WAY IF YOU ARE SEVERELY OUT OF SHAPE AND GENERALLY LAZY! I probably taxed my knee a little too much, not to mention my legs -- all of which were pretty mad at me already after being dragged out to yoga last night. Apart from the times when I thought my knee would snap in half and my thighs might catch fire, it actually felt good. I went places, man! I went to the CVS (or near it). And Kroger (or near it.) I could have, ostensibly, gotten out and run actual errands if a) I had bought a lock yet and/or b) my basket had arrived and I had any way to carry anything home.

One last observation -- for now, at least: I noticed that people smile at me a lot when I'm riding past them. People on the sidewalk, postal carriers, old ladies driving their cars. Since they don't actually know me, I don't suppose it can simply be chalked up to the irony of my being on a bike in the first place. No, I figure it must be my jaunty orange Townie, spreading love and sunshine everywhere it goes.

Yeah. 'Cause that's so me.

Need two empty bottles?

040809 Porch1

The serial killer* who lived next door finally sold his house and moved out. It went on the market at $189,000 and the last I checked was down to $150,000. I'm guessing it went for less than that, which just goes to show you that, in this economy, people simply aren't paying what they used to for neglect.

He left something for you on the porch in case you're interested:

040809 Porch2

*I suppose, in the interest of dodging libel charges, he may not necessarily have been a serial killer. Let's just say that if the new tenants happen to find surprises waiting for them in the crawl space, I won't be the least bit surprised.

What are you doing for Halloween?

People have been asking me this for the past couple of weeks and I have to say, for the most part, I don't understand the question. I'm a grown up. Without children. Who doesn't drink. What on earth would I be doing on Halloween? It strikes me largely as a holiday for kids and drunken young adults to dress up and annoy the shit out of normal folk. But now I have an answer to the question and a rather cool one at that! I'll be attending a showing of The Phantom of the Opera at the Michigan Theater. Not the screechy Andrew Lloyd Weber Broadway crapfest, but the original 1925 Lon Chaney silent film. The theater's organist will be playing the soundtrack live and -- get this -- my friend Maggie Grady will be singing the heroine's arias live, along with the film.

How cool is that? Very. Suitably Halloween-y for a grown up. And no costume required. If you're in Ann Arbor, you should totally go.

All cultured and stuff

I just spent two evenings in a row at the lovely Hill Auditorium here in Ann Arbor. I don't take nearly enough advantage of the fact that there is a constant stream of cultural events here in and around the university, but I think I've done my share this week. Wednesday night, I went to see my friend Maggie -- who is a senior voice performance major -- sing in a chorale concert. Truth be told, I saw half the show -- the half that she was in! -- because the peeps I went with and I decided to get enchiladas at Sabor Latino during the orchestral part and pop in after intermission. For someone who was raised on classical music, I have to say I'm not good at sitting listening to an orchestra. I need something to look at. Like a book or knitting.

We sat right up in the front section for the chorale performance, which was basically a half hour mass. Beautiful, but again, probably five or ten minutes of mass is plenty for this heathen.

The next night we returned to Hill -- in much further away seats, mind you -- to see David Sedaris read. He decided not to read from his new book, but to treat us to some new and unpublished work which was, as would be expected, fantastic and very funny. I love the insider-y feeling of hearing his new stuff, especially that still in progress.

I love the fact that the pulls a little notebook out of his pocket and jots down notes, which I imagine are about what works and what doesn't, for when he (by his own admission) goes back to his hotel room and reworks the pieces. It makes the audience feel like part of the writing process, which is nice. I've been feeling lately just how lonely and isolating the writing process can be and I imagine letting other people in has to alleviate some of that.

I also love that Sedaris is so generous with his time after the readings to meet with his fans. I've seen him several times and I haven't ever lined up to have him sign a book or have a minute of chat with him but I've watched him do it. And it's amazing how accessible he is, how real he is with people, how much he appreciates his readers. If I ever get any readers, I'm gonna appreciate the HELL out of them too.

Adventures in Apple Pickin'

101108 - Orchard (8)

For some reason we're having unbelievably warm weather here in Ann Arbor -- I'm talkin' high 70s. Thank you global warming! So when my friend Jason suggested we head to one of the local orchards for a little apple pickin' yesterday, I was all for it. Or, you know, what passes for all for it for me.

101108 - Orchard (4)

We headed to Wasem Fruit Farm in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor's neighboring city as our friend Zak the Apparent Orchard Authority said it was the best. (This being Michigan, the area's got several orchards and cider mills to choose from. Howzat for variety?)

It was bright, beautiful and sunny, perfect for frolicking among the perfect rows of trees, sampling different kinds of apples and filling up our 1/2 bushel bags. I'm a tart apple kind of gal, and since it's not yet time for Granny Smiths yet, we stuck mostly with Ida Reds, a suitably tart, crisp substitute.

101108 - Orchard (7)

And lest I be accused of sticking with the healthy fare, it's worth noting that Wasem also offers up some of the freshest, bestest donuts you'll ever have in your life. We sampled a big bag full of blueberry, apple, pumpkin and plain donuts with your choice of vanilla icing, maple icing or no icing. They put most donuts to shame, I tell you. (Sorry no pics, but we ate them too fast, washing them down with fresh-pressed cider -- while constantly dodging and weaving to avoid the onslaught of bees that were every bit as confused about the weather as we were.)

A few more snaps of the day:

101108 - Orchard (9) Jason offering up his forbidden fruit while Zak does God-knows-what in the background.

101108 - Orchard (15) Zak on his ladder.

101108 - Orchard Sarah, lovin' her some caramel apple action.

101108 - Orchard (10) Jason 'n Jon.

101108 - Orchard (3) Zak, Sarah and Chris -- the blond orchard babes.

101108 - Orchard (22) Jason 'n Sarah.

More photos for the so-inclined here on my Flickr page.

Yes, we can...not see you, Obama

090108 Obama Rally (15)a

So here was our logic: given the small turnout Obama got in Toledo yesterday, and given the fact that it was Labor Day weekend, and the fact that the gates opened at 8:30, we figured we'd be okay arriving in downtown Detroit around 7:45 or 8 am. We were wrong. Sure, there were complicating factors that may have swelled the crowd -- the annual Labor Day Parade, the last day of the Detroit International Jazz Festival and a Tigers game.

But still.

090108 Obama Rally (7)

At no point did we imagine that we -- me, Chris, our friend Maggie and her friend Sarah -- would take our places in line at 8:30 and would patiently snake our way around downtown buildings in the beating sun until nearly 11 am only to get nowhere near the entrance gates. And only to experience the entire breakdown of the crowd system after a volunteer told us that they simply didn't have enough volunteers to control the crowd anymore.

The mood, at first, was pretty exhilirating. It's an exciting time, obviously, in politics and we were buoyed by the notion of getting to see Barack Obama in person, if he only seemed a speck in the distance. The crowd was enormous and the mood pretty good, overall. But the whole thing seemed strangely uncoordinated. Given how many people were lining up and given how the line was looping around downtown, we commented repeatedly that it was a miracle that people were behaving in such an orderly fashion.

090108 Obama Rally (3)

However, by nearly 11 am -- the time at which Obama was scheduled to speak -- we were nowhere near the front of the line and it was pretty evident that we weren't going to get inside. It was as though most of the crowd realized it at the same time and there was a pretty big rush to volley for positions in front of a big screen and that was as good as it got for us.

We were hot, tired and thirsty and we waited until nearly 11:30 for Obama to take the stage following brief introductory comments by local labor leaders. It was still thrilling to see him on the screen and to know that he was somewhere, you know, over there. Obviously, today's speech was supposed to focus on labor and unions and Obama did make a few remarks about supporting the American worker. Then he said that while he had planned a political speech, today was not the day for political speeches, given Hurrican Gustav's approach to the Gulf Coast. Instead, he asked us to share a moment of silence and to remember the spirit of giving and togetherness and all that good stuff.

090108 Obama Rally (10)

The AP says it was a ten minute speech, but only if you count the pauses for applause, some intro banter and the moment of silence. I think it was closer to five. Which, if you had rolled out of bed at 7, as I did, and waited for three and a half hours, could be a bit of a disappointment. Or if you had been in line since 5 am, which many of those who did get into Hart Plaza did.

And it was over. Just like that. The majority of the crowd seemed to be pushing their way over to the Jazz Festival. Some were headed to the Tigers game. Others, like us, were done for and just wanted to get home and hydrated. Am I glad I went? I suppose I am. It's just not what I thought it was going to be. Maybe I was ridiculously naive in thinking I'd catch a glimpse of the man I believe will be our next president.

090108 Obama Rally (9)

I will say that it was a particular kind of thrill to be among those throngs of people of all different ethnicities, ages, etc. And there was a lot of -- dare I say it -- hope floating around the joint. If those people are willing to come out and shuffle along in line for hours on end, then surely they'll all make it to the polls to vote. In which case, I guess we'll be seeing a whole lot of change, which will more than make up for not seeing Obama in person.

Officially summer

How can I tell, especially with temperatures still dipping into chilly-low places at night? Here's how:

052408 Dirty Sheed

It's the first Dirty Sheed of year, a summer tradition, a Zingerman's concoction of espresso and Mexican vanilla syrup (sugar free, in my case) and half-and-half over ice. Like a cup of rich, melted coffee ice cream. Taken during our walk to Kerrytown last Saturday morning to the farmer's market. Sipped from a prime people-watching bench from which we also spotted:

052408 Kerrytown Doggies

A couple with their hands full of doggies. And, out of the corner of our eyes, prompting an up-close ooh-ing and ahh-ing:

052408 Kerrytown Poppies

A riot of gorgeous bright orange poppies. Not a great photo, but you get the idea. Such a crazy, reckless kind of flower, no? All or nothing, putting themselves way out there. No wonder they don't last long. It must be exhausting. Then, on the walk back home, with a sack full of fresh asparagus and overpriced home-grown lettuce, a few other oddities soaking up the sun:

052408 Three chairs

Three random chairs catching some rays. (If this is a race, the one at the front has a considerable lead, it seems.) Also, this little fella:

052408 Kitty akimbo

I think we could all learn something here. This seems like an optimal position to avoid awkward tan lines. (I worried a little that this was actually the fallout from an unsuccessful attempt to fly, but I wanted to afford him some dignity and at least pretend that he totally meant to land there.)

Tally ho, Tally Hall

It's been a long time since I watched a music video. Which is funny, because I'm of the generation that came of age just as the moon man bounced in the dawn of MTV. I remember being in middle school and going over to a friend's house -- we didn't have cable -- to breathlessly await a new Duran Duran video. (The Reflex! With the wave of water coming out at the end like it was COMING RIGHT AT YOU!) Or staying up late to watch Friday Night Videos so that I'd be in the loop around the proverbial middle school water cooler the next day. All of this is a very long-winded way of saying that I just watched the new music video for the song "Good Day" by Ann Arbor band Tally Hall. I'm so out of the loop on local music -- hell, on new music in general -- but these guys seem to have garnered quite a following and have been popping up everywhere from the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson to MTVu. (See, I don't even know what MTVu is.) I read in this month's Observer (a local rag) that they're re-releasing their first album "Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum" on a major label. Good for them.

But back to the video. I don't know what the other kids are doing with their videos these days (and thus, it may turn out this video isn't remarkable at all) but the "Good Day" video is a tad infectious, a little dizzying and fun to watch, especially for Ann Arborites, since many shots were done around town. (They're playing in front of Rackham Hall! Now they're in the Big House!) Anyway, I'm not entirely sure about the song -- might be a little Queen-esquely operatic for my tastes -- but the sheer effort that must have gone into making this video makes it worth a nod. And who doesn't love a local-boys-make-good story?

Sunny Sunday walk

031608 - Allie & linens Some things I saw on a late afternoon walk yesterday afternoon around our neighborhood in Ann Arbor. (Okay, so that one above may not technically have been taken on our walk, but if Allie could have come with us, he'd have given up his sunny spot on clean sheets in a heartbeat.)

031608 - Turtle 1

Turtles seemed to be something of a theme...

031608 - Turtle 2

...sunning themselves on rocks.

031608 Turtle 3

Perhaps this last one's pushing the theme a tad, but it seemed sad to leave it out.

031608 - Water pump station

Above is a very cool building near our house, a series of small-scale lofts nestled just off the street. The building used to be some kind of water station pump thingie. I'm big on details.

031608 - Mulholland Ave

One of my favorite streets, Mulholland Avenue, with its pretty painted houses.

031608 - Mailbox

A bright and cheery mailbox.

031608 - Thingie & Branch

A curious yard ornament against a yellow house.

031608 - Bench

A sunny spot to sit under a tree.

031608 - Boxes

Two silver boxes on a blue sideboard on a porch. Did I mention I love this town, especially on foot? I'll never run out of cool little things to notice.

A tale of two concerts

I've been to two concerts at the Michigan Theater in the past week or so. Last weekend, Chris and I joined our friend Fara and her boyfriend Mark to see James Blunt and, while it was a good enough show -- it was basically like watching him perform the albums -- I was nearly driven batty by everyone using their cell phones all throughout the concert. Some people seemed to be calling friends and holding up their phone so they could here. More were either taking pictures or recording video, which always surprises me because the quality of that stuff is always lousy and I wonder who they're showing it to, going, "Look! You see that tiny little blurr of light on the stage there? OH MY GOD THAT'S JAMES BLUNT!" There was even a guy two folks down who kept recording portions of the songs. Copyright and piracy issues aside (especially since I'm not a saint in that department), it was just annoying and distracting -- at times the glow from the phones around me seemed brighter than the stage. It all seemed so contrary to actually being present in the moment, to actually experiencing being at the concert. It had me musing about how this younger generation -- kids today! -- can't seem to just engage with their surroundings without filtering the experience through some kind of gadgetry. It had me, most of all, feeling old.

Then, on Wednesday night, Chris and I went to see Steve Earle . I am not, admittedly, a big Steve Earle fan, but Chris loves him and the tickets were part of his birthday present. This time, we were on the main floor of the theater, rather than the balcony, and the vibe was entirely different. What struck me first and foremost was that, in sharp contrast to the previous concert, the Steve Earle crowd made me look like a spring chicken. I have to admit it was kind of a nice feeling. Somewhere along the lines, I must have gotten used to feeling old, especially in this college town where youth and its indiscretions are impossible to avoid. Save for a sullen teen behind us whose constant complaining suggested her mother had dragged her to the show across the year, I was the youngest person around me by far. Even Chris got into the humor of it, dubbing it "Steve Earle: The Cocoon Tour."

Oh, yes, they were old around us! The couple to our right didn't look like they could stay awake for the whole evening. When a large group entered after the opening act, Chris remarked that the bus from the group home must have been late in arriving. Oh, how we laughed. And then I settled into my seat. I pulled my Icy Hot pain reliever stick from my purse and applied to my neck, a necessary evil for me to sit still for any period of time. And then I pulled my knitting from my purse and Chris and I just looked at each other and laughed. There I was, poking fun at old folk and I'm the only one in the crowd stinking of wintergreen and knitting a friggin' sweater. Irony, you are a cruel, cruel beast.

On a side note, I should mention that I didn't not enjoy the Steve Earle show as much as I thought I would. He's still a tad nasally and twangy for me, although his last Grammy was for folk music and I can get behind some o' that. And I respect his politics (ol' lefty-style) and his recovery from drugs and alcohol (which he's pretty vocal about and committed to.) What I will say is that there were parts of it I truly enjoyed, especially his newer stuff. It was a really pared back show -- mostly him on stage with his guitar or mandolin or what have you. But for some of the songs, he was accompanied by a DJ and what I thought was going to be cheesy -- who plays the banjo to an electronic beat -- was at times really interesting. One might even say enjoyable. Enough so that I even put away my knitting and forgot, at least for a moment or two, to re-apply my pain stick. Kids today!

Fall in Ann Arbor

IMG_1930 Fall is, without question, my favorite season and, call me biased, but it's also when Ann Arbor is at its beautiful days. It's my favorite time of year for grabbing the camera, running out and taking zillions of photos of things people have seen many times before but which continue to give me a bit of a seasonal thrill. I'm the guy walking around with her head face pointed up at the trees, truly marveling at the colors of the leaves, wondering how on earth nature pulled it off yet again.

Yesterday was the quintessential fall day -- clear blue sky, crispy leaves on the ground -- except, perhaps, for the temps in the high 70s which made it a little warmer than is perhaps globally apt at this time of year. Thus, I set out for a long walk, armed with my camera and the self-imposed assignment of snapping things that are orange. (A mission made considerably easier by our proximity to Halloween, I admit.)

Pumpkin season is upon us and my neighborhood is playing its part swimmingly. Here, without further ado, just a smattering of those snapshots:

















There. If that doesn't leave you feeling like fall, you simply can't be helped.

A weekend in A2, part II

06.09.07 1 (6) Yes, the glorious weekend continued on to Saturday, when Chris and I hit the Farmer's Market and then Zingerman's for lunch. The evidence, in photos, if you will:


06.09.07 1 (8)

Wooden fish. No reason.

06.09.07 1 (12)

And pretty flowers...

06.09.07 1 (14)

It is Ann Arbor, so a little peace with your produce...

06.09.07 1 (16)

Head gear for your "Little House on the Prairie" re-enactments...

06.09.07 1 (17)

Al Gore, America needs you!

06.09.07 1 (21)

But me? Mostly I just needed lunch at Zingerman's:

06.09.07 1 (23)

Loads of loaves to ogle while in line...

06.09.07 1 (25)

Plus beautiful hand-made local cheese...

06.09.07 1 (26)

06.09.07 1 (27)

Perfect day for dining al fresco

06.09.07 1 (35)

After lunch, a little impromptu entertainment outside the Kerrytown Concert House as a father and son fiddlin' duo practice for a recital...

06.09.07 1 (37)

And all of that by 1 pm!

A weekend in A2, part I

I spent much of this weekend wandering around Ann Arbor with my new camera, taking pictures of not much important and enjoying the weather and the company of my husband. The former was idyllic and the latter was a nice treat, as he has been working 15 hour days, seven days a week for some time now to keep the wheels of Sharesleuth rollin'. (The result of this last burst of work is an interesting piece on a company that implants human cadaver bones into spines -- which, you might be fascinated/horrified to learn does not require FDA approval. Read it here.) Friday evening Chris and I wandered into town after dinner to check out the scene and grab a coffee. On the way, we encountered some A2 wildlife:

06.08.07 2 (7)

Even the graffiti artists are polite here:

06.08.07 2 (21)

Ann Arbor's packed with some really gorgeous architecture, especially around Main Street. This view is of one of my favorite buildings, the First National Bank Building, an Art Deco gem that dates back to 1927 and, at the time of its erection, was the tallest structure in the city.

06.08.07 2 (26)

Nowadays, historical architecture competes with the crop of lofts that are popping up around the area, most of them in new construction high-rises. (Well, not too high...A2 doesn't like to have their skyline messed with, and I say, good on 'em.) I can't conceive of where they'll find people to fill all the lofts they're building, especially at price tags ranging from $250k to $600 per unit.

06.08.07 2 (25)

Onto downtown...typical of a gorgeous summer eve, Whiteyville was in full swing, packing in the outdoor cafes.

06.08.07 2 (42)

Not a bad place to live, at all.

06.08.07 2 (49)

The problem with Ann Arbor

I know, I know. Since I moved from St. Louis to Ann Arbor, I've become the latter's unpaid ambassador, singing this small town's praises like nobody's business. I've been here long enough, however, to see that all is not golden in this little haven. For a supposedly liberal town, there's almost no gay community here and way too many environmentally-destructive SUVs parked outside the food co-op. Most of the punk rock kids are likely riding skateboards paid for by trust funds or, at the very least, generous upper-middle-class allowances. And while the university injects a certain amount of cultural diversity, this is a white, white place. In addition, there's not really much of a real working class here -- and no, sorority girls waiting tables does not count. And this, my friends is precisely why, this is what's wrong with Ann Arbor: http://annarbor.craigslist.org/rfs/335950974.html .

That's basically my dream house -- a cute little Arts & Crafts bungalow, with hardwood floors and a working fireplace. Granted, I'd ideally love to have three bedrooms and not two, so Chris and I could continue to have separate offices, but let's say I wasn't fussy about that. This charmer has an updated bath, a back patio and even a garage, which is a definite plus when the weather turns icy-snowy. And it's within walking distance of downtown, which means we could remain a one-car family and ensure at least a little exercise once in a while. It's a total of 910 square feet, for which the crack-smoking owners are asking...


That's right. Three hundred and nine THOUSAND dollars.

Now, this is just crazy talk, even for this inflated housing market. Pfizer lay-offs have resulted in a bunch of foreclosures in the city's outskirts, where housing prices are more "reasonable." And, yes, adorable homes within walking distance of downtown are premium real estate here. But seriously? The St. Louisan in me just cannot imagine that kind of housing cost. This isn't New York, people. It's Whiteyville, Michigan. Am I missing something? Are the basements here paved with gold? The foundations built with bricks of cocaine?

If we ever decide to stop renting here, we will have to live in a cardboard box. Although clearly we'll have to look for one on the outskirts.

(Note: $309,000 is the reduced price for this home. It was on Craig's List last month for $330,000.)

Bigger 'n Nothin'

It was, by all accounts, a glorious weekend. Perhaps a tad chilly for some, but with the sun shining brightly and temps flirting with the mid-60s, it was pretty perfect for little old me. Makes me want to fill the window boxes of our house with bright-faced annuals to admire from the street and the comfort of our back deck, but Michigan natives warn me the finicky nature of the weather here makes it unwise to do so before Labor Day. We were due a glorious weekend, I think, as last week, when it rained, it poured...if only figuratively on our end. Though it is my understanding that it both rained and poured back in St. Louis, where the basement of our little blue house took on indoor pool status. As if a leaky basement weren't enough, our renters informed us that the water heater was leaking and the refrigerator was on its last legs.

Being a landlord is difficult enough, but doing it from a distance, finding reliable service people and coordinating repairs and replacements is a particular kind of stress. Truth be told, were the market not what it is, we'd consider selling the house just to get out from under it. But now's not the time. We promised our little blue house o' love a kitchen upgrade and some bathroom repairs before we sell and if things would just quit breaking down, we may be able to afford it in between tenants.

Enough about that, though! Saturday, itching to get out of the house, I found a listing for the Bigger 'n Texas Sale, billed as a "giant community garage sale" to benefit the Ann Arbor News. Sounded like fun browsing, so I pried Chris away from the computer and lured him out to the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds to check things out. After paying $5 for the privilege of parking (reminding ourselves that we were supporting local media), we headed towards the sale.

To be honest, our first instinct was disappointment. I pictured something far grander in scale, but in reality the sale took place in two large barn-like buildings with tables set up in the middle of and around the perimeter of each room. Now, I've been to a few garage sales in my time. Even wrote about them for St. Louis Magazine once. But this, my friends, despite its promise (or, perhaps, because of) would qualify as the crappiest ever.

It was a strange mish-mosh of true garage sale crap -- tables piled with junk that was pushing it to have been purchased once, let alone trying for another go 'round -- and jewelry, crafts, perfume knock-offs and infomercial fare (complete with vegetable-peeling demo). Some of the crafts were obviously hand-made, possibly by blind people. Others were obviously purchased -- gross after gross of wooden roses tinted unnatural shades, for example -- and here for the resale.

It's likely that some of the stuff for sale, dusty and dented in its packaging, were straight off the back of the truck. And talk about variety! At one booth, you could buy a genuine bottle of Armani cologne -- a single box, slightly scuffed at a third of the usual price -- or walk tables away and save even more with a similar looking box of R. Mani perfume.

Chilly, or just like your throw rugs to make a statement? Consider the booth selling giant, garishly-colored synthetic fiber throws with subtle graphic imagery, like a half-naked woman or the Confederate flag (with or without "Git 'er done" acrodss it). Need a peg board with ducks on it? Ladybugs? Geese? Trucks? Cars? Boats? Cats? Dogs? Jesus? Anything? You're in luck!

It took us a whopping ten minutes to stroll by every booth, careful not to make eye contact with the desperate folk behind each table. (I learned the hard way by looking twice at the vegetable peeler display, mostly because I thought they were selling browning chips of sliced potato. I managed to free myself by declaring, "If my husband finds out I can peel vegetables, what's next? He'll expect me to cook them?")

Even accounting for hyperbole, whoever named this sale has never actually been to Texas. Or looked it up on the map. The Bigger 'n Rhode Island Sale probably wouldn't draw a crowd, but it'd have been more accurate. In fact, the only thing bigger 'n Texas here was the size of the average rear end. As a not-small woman myself, I confess to being stunned at the number of morbidly obese people lined up to buy small plastic buckets full of fries from the concession stands. I didn't even know there were this many fat people in Michigan.

We felt we had to buy something to justify the $5 entry fee, so we bought some alarmingly cheap replacement blades for Chris' razor -- which he needed anyway -- and came out about $2 ahead and rich in the knowledge that we would never make the mistake of repeating this event in the future.

The rest of the weekend went swimmingly. Saturday night we stayed in and finally watched The Good Shepherd, which has been sitting on our DVD player for about three weeks. (If you ever order a DVD from Netflix and it says "long wait" next to the status, the reason is people like me.) While it's still mildly adorable to watch Matt Damon attempt to play anyone over the age of 25, I think a better title would have been The Extremely Confusing and, Really, Only Moderately Interesting Shepherd.

Yesterday, as I mentioned, was glorious so after running a few errands, we hit Gallup Park in the afternoon, where Chris took a run and I did my version of walking (interspersed with brief, brief bursts of what barely qualifies as running) along the lake. Such a beautiful sight, people snoozing in the grass, whole families on bicycles, kids and parents cutting through the water in kayaks or paddle boats.

Then, being the true nature lovers we are, we headed to Ikea in the hopes of finding some chair cushions to make the adirondacks on our deck a tad more comfy. No dice in that arena, but no worries! We still spend $50 on crap I didn't know I needed until I got there. Gotta love the genius mentality of the place, "I MUST spend this money because it's so CHEAP." Or maybe that's less the mentality of the place than the mentality of me. Either way.