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Washtenaw Flaneurade
25 July 2005
Tales of Plucky Lazaro
Now Playing: Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin--"Soixante-Neuf (Annee Erotique)"
Saturday, the day Karen Frank and Erik Smith celebrated their March wedding in Hawaii amid the duller pastures of Shelby Township, Michigan, saw me reach said wedding reception by foot, by bus, by rail, by bus again, and then once more by foot, all the while dolled up to the sevens.

After getting some lunch at Casey's, I waited at the Ann Arbor Amtrak station for the train to Royal Oak, which was coming by way of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo and had been reported late at both locations. It was, all in all, twenty minutes tardy, but I didn't mind all that much. My earlier prediction that the nice, relatively cool weather wouldn't last proved beautifully wrong, and I sat by the tracks, read my Observer, and waited until the arrival of the 1:45 (I love typing that).

It was cool and comfortable inside the coach, with ample space for legs and feet betwen the rows, a welcome change from the cattle-car conditions of most American inter-city buses. It was something of a thrill, too, watching familiar places slide past. I'd walked the entire route from the station to Gallup Park, and it was fun to watch the countryside go by, the Huron River and the congruent paved walkway its only constants. Better yet was passing through Depot Town in Ypsi, which seemed to be having a perfectly delicious Saturday afternoon. Every time a train passes by Aubree's without hitting, everyone at the bar gets a free drink. I've been a beneficiary of this rail-based largesse more than once, and it made me smile to think some other lucky character got a test tube full of fruit-flavored booze just because I passed by.

"From Detroit we continued our course westward across the State of Michigan through a country that was absolutely wild till the railway pierced it. Very much of it is still absolutely wild. For miles and miles the road passes the untouched forest, showing that even in Michigan the great work of civilization has hardly more than been commenced."
--Anthony Trollope, North America (1862)

I was going the other way, of course, but it's still interesting to think about. I've never read any Trollope before, and he comes across in North America as a rather engaging character. After early success as a novelist (The Barsetshire Chronicles and all that) he'd decided to write a book about the United States and Canada, a pretty typical bit of reportage for an educated English writer of his era, only to have the Civil War complicate and enrich his plans. So it's sort of like I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, but... sort of not. It's actually a brisk little read--Trollope liked the United States and, unlike many of his contemporaries, was a firm supporter of the Federal cause. He makes his positions clear with an honesty I think recommends him even to twenty-first century readers. It's funny, though, to find him going on about freedom and liberty and then start bitching about the inferior quality of American servants.

Going through Detroit on the train was pretty interesting. When approaching by bus, you do so primarily via the freeway, your only genuine glimpse of "urban blight" being Lincoln Park. Detroit proper lies behind the freeway's concrete walls until you arrive at the bus station downtown, dead close to the water and catty-corner from one of the greatest bookstores on the planet (although you can also see "Hotel Yorba," presumably the subject of one of the only White Stripes songs I still like). Approaching by train, though, takes you through an urban wasteland of gravel, junk, disused rail track and fences--the kind so easily romanticized by soi-disant academic intellectuals. We went slower when inside the city, I imagine due to safety issues or city statutes. Arriving at the Detroit station was genuinely touching, as one got to see a remarkable number of emotional reunions.

I received a message from Karen on my voicemail (still accessible from pay phones even though my cell is dead). She hadn't received my emailed itinerary and so there was nobody to pick me up at the station. I'd heard that Royal Oak was a fitfully tidy little place, the kind that many want to make Ann Arbor, but the place seemed rather wan and deserted. The station office was closed and so there was no way of getting a return ticket in any event. I knew that the reception was on Van Dyke in Shelby Township (I should have brought the address with me, but no matter), so I'd just take the 740 eastbound on Twelve Mile to Van Dyke, and thence the 510 northbound along Van Dyke either to the reception or as far as it would go. The day looked to be shaping into quite an adventure, and I got an "I like what I see" look from a clerk in a nearby McDonald's. It was a guy, but still.

My plan worked, for the most part. I was worried for a bit (during which I walked a mile up Van Dyke) that the 510 didn't run on Saturdays, but I learned different, happily enough. The 510, though, only ran to Eighteen Mile, and I slogged it out on foot, in my nice black pants, blue shirt and tie, up Van Dyke through Sterling Heights, through Utica, and into Shelby Township (I think that's right). This is nothing new to me, and the weather was actually rather nice, but it's one thing to do it in pretty little neighborhoods with lots to see, and another to do it in a straight line past a moribund world of used car dealerships and real-estate offices. My aesthetic stamina needs work, that's for sure.

I finally arrived at my destination after one false turn at "The Gathering Place," where I had a beer and a glass of water to fortify me for the next sally. The reception was at the Club Montecarlo, where I was reunited with Karen and the members of her family I'd met (and ones I hadn't, like her lovely, vivacious, and very cool cousin Holly). The rest of the night saw me dance my tail off (for the second week in a row), subject to the whims of the worst DJ ever, an unpleasant, arrogant jerk who managed to piss off about everyone over the course of the evening. He especially enraged Karen--as our musical tastes diverge so often, it's surprising he failed to play something I liked and she didn't. I also drank way too much Bud Light (not one of my favorites, as many know). Afterwards, some of us ended up at Karen's mom's house, where we pissed on oenophiles everywhere by "accidentally" drinking a wedding present, a ten-year-old bottle of Italian red, in between rapidly warming cans of Bud Light. Now that I think on it, they probably could have bought another kind of beer. It dwindled down to Karen, Holly and I talking in the wee hours of the morning, and then... and then to bed. Just beautiful.

Karen drove me back to Ann Arbor the next day, after a delightful brunch with some of her family, who are wonderful and at the same time interesting to observe. My large-scale family gatherings are from the New Orleans Irish cultural orbit, and it was fascinating and heartwarming to see the Detroit Polish equivalent. As we were underway afterwards, I only then realized how much I missed her. She was one of my best friends in Akron, and we had a lot of great conversations and great times. It was a little heart-tugging to say goodbye, but I did. I wish those two all the luck in the world, because they deserve it.

Best Saturday in memory.

I'll post about the Madison House show later--I need more sleep first.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:26 PM EDT
Updated: 26 July 2005 4:13 PM EDT
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27 July 2005 - 11:02 AM EDT

Name: Elaina

Wow, and I can't even get you to respond to an email :).

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