Category Archives: Michigan

Changing lanes of a thoroughfare

It’s coming up to one year ago that I first ventured east on Mack Avenue in Detroit beyond the comfortable confines of the city’s midtown district. At that time, the street seemed to be a forlorn and past its prime place. The feeling was likely accentuated by that day’s last snow of the season, a sensation I have recalled in the past couple of days with similarly cold weather and mild amounts of end of season snowfall.

But what really intrigues me is the total 180 degree turn in impressions of Mack Avenue in the year since. I now drive at least a segment of the road on a (week)daily basis for my regular commute, but the length of time spent on the street has gotten progressively shorter as my displeasure with the street has increased. It seems there’s no other street in Detroit that is essentially a very wide one lane road (well, there are a few, but they’re not on my regular itineraries except one other) – and drivers that constantly disregard the rules of said road and pass you on the right and then come to an abrupt stop. I’ll admit that I’ve joined this game on a few occasions – if you can’t beat them, join them – but my underlying displeasure with the road itself (not to mention its potholes, poor paving and other peculiarities) means that I limit my time engaging with it to as little as possible.

And yet, all of this is in stark contrast to that wide open desolate feeling of just one year ago.

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My Yelp page is more of a blog than my own blog these days

  • 4870 Cass Ave
    Detroit, MI 48201
    3/23/2016

    I’m glad this establishment has joined the ranks of area dining destinations, but I’m not sure it was worth the nearly two years of anticipation. (Signs advertising the restaurant have been in place since at least the middle of 2014.)

    I’ve visited here for a handful of meals since their opening in late February, and have decided I need to take a break at this point, with the possibility of a revisit in a month or so. Not because their service has been poor to me – though there was one occasion where a long line formed not long after I placed my order – but because the novelty and excitement of a mac and cheese restaurant has worn off faster than I expected. i recognize that I’d previously enjoyed their countertop offerings at Somerset and Great Lakes Crossing, but, those were experiences that only happened around once per month.

    The menu offerings that I have tried have kept up the hearty consistency that I found in their other locations, with the “four cheese” and “pesto mac” being particular personal favorites. The dine-in environment is colorful and welcoming, but could clearly use a little more thought, not only in terms of how and where customers wait, but also how to dispose of trash and if the seating can be mixed up a little.

    It’s fun that they offer some “brewz” in addition to the standard menu, but I’ve noticed that the servers have seemed a bit befuddled regarding how that section operates, so I hope they develop a clearer distinction or simply better integration between the main menu and the libations. And that they are willing to buckle up and make things work for lasting in the neighborhood!

  • 4830 Cass Ave
    Detroit, MI 48201

    Dependable if not fantastic destination serving Mediterranean fare mostly to the campus crowd. I’ve been living and working near here for a while, but paid little attention to the restaurant until last fall, over a year into my stint in the area. I think I would have enjoyed it if I had noticed it sooner.

    The restaurant places particular emphasis on the freshness of their food, for the most part, so I’d advise an eat-in experience over the take-out. As well, the take-out options can be annoyingly overly wrapped, which decreases from their freshness in the case of the fries and leads to spillage with some of the wrap sandwiches. Take the time to get to know the servers if you are coming here regularly, as they are personable and happy to help.

  • 50675 Gratiot Ave
    Chesterfield, MI 48051

    3/23/2016

    I found this theatre to be disappointing after getting to know other (newer) MJR locations in Troy, Clinton and Sterling Heights. While MJR is always endearing to the community with its great theme song and affordable pricing, this theatre suffers from a tight layout and currently a literally in-between status as it converts to those roomier seating arrangements that are taking over the industry. The location is relatively convenient in that it’s close to I-94 and various shopping attractions, but I’m not sure I’d come again.

  • 2124 Michigan Ave
    Detroit, MI 48216

    I’ve made a couple of visits here in the past year, and can’t shake an impression of it being overly hipster pretentious for its own good. If the space was larger and had a better sense of crowd control, plus built-in wifi for customers, I might think higher of it.

    I have enjoyed some of their food products, including the particularly good egg sandwiches and some other baked goods, but haven’t felt inclined to stay and enjoy or linger since the crowds tend to be large. It is worth noting that the business is an anchor of the Corktown district and certainly offers appealing local flavor if you’re willing to try it.

  • 2200 W Lafayette Blvd
    Detroit, MI 48216

    3/23/2016

    Recently made a belated first visit here. One of the most tasteful places I’ve discovered in Detroit, with a delightful and extensive array of sliders, all very inexpensively priced. I also tried the New England clam chowder, since I hail from that part of the country, but felt it should have a different name since that dish is NOT meant to have red sauce and more of a potato emphasis.

    The service here was on the slow side – how long can it take to make a small slider? – and one might suggest they should have a better system to get things all sorted out than the array of visible slips on the kitchen window. But that wasn’t a total negative for the visit and I could see myself coming here again if the occasion presented itself. Extra points for the provided parking, too, and not having to do awkward searches on the street.

  • 151 E Wacker Dr
    Chicago, IL 60601

    3/20/2016

    One of the most full service hotels I’ve ever visited and in a perfect location to take advantage of downtown Chicago. Very generously sized single room, practically double the size of what the “average” might be, and a good range of resources within the hotel to take advantage of, including a fitness center, general store, conference rooms, and several dining options.

    I get that they are trying to maximize the efficiency with an automated check-in system, and it worked fine for me, but they might want to consider having staff members more clearly visible for questions and helping the visitors, perhaps in a clearly marked information desk type area.

    No trouble with the hotel wifi (just enter your name and room number) or any of the additional customer offerings at the hotel. The lobby itself has more of an airport feel since it is so busy, but it is welcoming and does the job well of treating guests to a comfortable base for all that Chicago has to offer!

  • 643 Hastings Ave
    Holland, MI 49423

    3/20/2016

    Generally I appreciate the modest aesthetic of Microtels and that’s why I chose this place to stay in during a brief visit to Holland this weekend.

    The location is odd: close to route 31, but not much activity going on around the hotel, and the downtown and other regional attractions are a driveable, not walking distance away. The room I was assigned on the second floor offered the typical layout of the chain, with a generously sized bed, but smaller surrounding area in the room. It did have the nice window nook that I have particularly enjoyed at other Microtels.

    As someone who can be sensitive to light in dark places, I didn’t appreciate that the in-room satellite dish seemed to not have an “off” option, so that it created a constant blue light in the room even when lights were off, which was magnified by the in-room mirror. It’s possible I did not find the off switch, but, not everyone watches or needs TV.

    The included breakfast was OK the next morning, with a good range of basic pastries, fruit and yogurt, although the waffle machine was running low on its mix.

  • 4202 SW 40th Blvd
    Gainesville, FL 32608

    No frills and literally on the edge of town next to the highway, but seems to have good character and good value for the price. Staff also seem relatable and not pretentious or looking down at you.

  • 5295 International Dr.
    Orlando, FL 32819

    Possibly the most well stocked Ross I have ever been in! (I have been deprived lately since the company is not present in my current home state of Michigan.)

    I’m sure I fell right into their target consumer mode this morning, stopping by right when they opened (at 8:30am, perfect to keep the day going on a good start) to stock up on a few additional travel supplies and apparel items. If I wasn’t on a tight schedule, I probably would have stayed to browse longer and see what additional deals I could find.

  • 8001 International Drive
    Orlando, FL 32819

    3/14/2016

    Stayed here last night and felt that the place was serviceable but didn’t really know what it wanted to be. It presents a “resort” atmosphere but it is right on the corner of a very busy stretch of Orlando. My rate, admittedly negotiated through a third party site, was just a room and nothing else such as breakfast included. The grounds are nice if one looks at them a certain way (not facing the sprawl of International Drive) and does not have to walk too far. I found the floors to be quite thin as well, and could hear my upstairs neighbors in building 7 stomping well into the night. The place is not terrible, but it’s not as appealing as the name branding and other advertising led me to believe it might be. And I couldn’t believe they wanted me to pay extra for wifi – get with the times!

Inspecting…

It’s good to be sitting in the dark here in the Hilberry Theatre instead of sitting in the quiet at my house while the acting company puts the finishing touches on our current production, Inspecting Carol, before it enjoys Opening Night and a (total) three week run beginning Friday night.

This is somewhat keeping me away from focusing on end of the semester writing assignments, but that’s clearly par for the course at this point. If anything, it is pleasing to note that the tail end of the semester seems to be delivering more focus for me than at other times so far during this academic year. Perhaps there is something to be said for working under pressure and deadlines in a collaborative environment.

Continuing with my recent theme of “focusing in on the minutiae” I’d like to note an odd, but fun experience while driving into work this morning. As opposed to the aggression of eight days ago, which I noted in a corresponding blog post, this time I was much more “go with the flow”, although I had decided that today would be my weekly stop at the Tim Horton’s on the way into work. (I’ve come to treat it as a game of sorts to not go there every day.)

Not long after departing the Tim Horton’s (which was having a clusterfuck parking lot moment, so I’d parked in the adjacent lot), I flipped radio channels to my semi-regular station 93.9 and the song I’d thought and hoped might be playing was right there on the station!

Of course, this is as much a commentary on the station’s possible lack of variety as it is to my own keen intuition – a Jedi Mind Trick of sorts – but it still was a nice coincidence.

Yesterday's sunset from the office window

Yesterday’s sunset from the office window

Late Night in My Home City

I’ve found a conveniently located hotel in downtown Boston to kick off my Thanksgiving homecoming swing. It still tends to feel odd, when I first arrive, to be experiencing my home city on my own terms of adulthood, not rushing to a particular commitment, get-together with a friend, or traveling around with another family member. But that’s been a continually gradual adjustment since 2007 when I last lived full-time in Massachusetts.

It was a stunning moonrise in Detroit.

It was a stunning moonrise in Detroit.

The long day from Michigan to here brought many memorable little moments, and now that it’s the end of the day, I’m a bit perplexed by an aggressive theme that ran through the day … perhaps some sort of travel anxiety coming to the surface? Some examples of this included going through several yellow lights on the way into Detroit this morning, deliberately taking a small shortcut in a parking garage (and then talking back to the attendant who called me out on it), and, later, having a protracted back and forth with a car rental company – both on the phone and in person, at the same time – when they weren’t listening to the adage that “the customer is always right” and making me dance through several hoops to make a (what would be) seemingly simple change to a reservation.

Until the customer service agent at Logan Airport suddenly said “hey, you can just do it this way!” in a total coming to your senses manner, but with more than a hint of the runaround approach that car rental salespeople often employ. And I took him for his word, so I hope the result will be smooth when I see its effect on Friday.

And now a morning return to “The Family Homestead” awaits… can’t wait!

IMG_4070

Focusing in on the Minutiae

Some blogs do a great job of focusing in on the little details, the big moments in their author’s memories that seem to stand out in their author’s memories. Or maybe they have been embellished for detail and only the author knows the truth. In any case, this is a detail that I feel like my writing is only periodically successful with, and it’s something I’d like to work on. So I present this entry in a deliberately more active style.

Today, the Monday before Thanksgiving break, had that “ehh…” feeling that most Mondays tend to have. It was likely amplified for a variety of reasons, including our impending time off from the academic calendar (which will start tomorrow night for me), the sense of just hanging around after my midday class concluded, and, broadly, Michigan’s sudden shift back into winter weather this weekend, with up to a foot of snow in some parts of the state, and a relatively mild dusting here in metro Detroit.

Two brief interactions over the course of my day (which hasn’t ended yet, so there could be more!) made me feel like I had an invisible “(YOU CAN) TALK TO ME!” stamp on my face.

A recent morning view from Tim Horton's

A recent morning view from Tim Horton’s

In the first instance, I ordered my usual beverage at my on-the-way-to-work Tim Horton’s (where I’ve just recently crossed over into being “a familiar customer”), and an older man in his 40’s or 50’s was sitting near the counter. He suddenly started talking to me about gas prices and how it is notable that Michigan prices have recently fallen to around $1.75 per gallon or higher (which completes a cycle of up then down that started at the beginning of this calendar year.) I replied with some standard conversation and seemed to surprise him when I said the lowest gas prices I remember are around 89 cents per gallon in the late 1990’s.

I’d also like to note my impressed feeling that this Tim Horton’s location is often a hangout for US-Canadian Border Patrol officers.

In the second instance, I’m in my work elevator, which is generally the usual spot for awkward silences, since it draws a mixture of faculty and students. The fellow passenger actually engaged me in conversation, and I don’t remember what it was about! I do remember a similar instance sometime last week where the elevator briefly stopped in its path and seemed to be deciding whether to actually get stuck or continue, (it did proceed) – but the next day, the power went out in the building for at least an hour, and I wondered if that was a precursor.

Maple Theatre

Visiting the Bloomfield Great Lakes Coffee (inside the Maple Theatre), January 2015

A detailed blog post could be written about the venue where I am writing at this moment, known as the Great Lakes Coffee Company. It is a small chain of fair trade coffee shops in the metro Detroit region, and this location also has a beer and wine license. In the past I have enjoyed another of their locations adjacent to The Maple Theatre in Bloomfield Hills, where I took the picture displayed here at one of their very classy jazz evenings, but it is no longer as convenient a trip for me in my current living arrangement.

Nonetheless, this location on Woodward Avenue in Detroit could easily be seen as a hipster capital of Detroit, and I once heard it referred to as “capital of the New Detroit” (though I forget who or what said that) – meaning that the people who have flocked to Detroit within the past 5 years are more likely to turn up here than long-time residents. A friend says that the venue once served as a music club, and it’s easy to see its roots with exposed brick walls and rough hardwood floors. For a time I felt like I was watching the place change, as it instituted an awkward reserved seating policy involving hosts and table service, and seemed to want to deliberately elevate itself to a fast-casual type of place. I also felt like I didn’t particularly want to associate with that “new Detroit” energy (although I admit I could be seen as part of that same crowd) coming here and being seen, just because.

But … things seem more relaxed this time around, and it’s only the second or third time I’ve been here since returning to Detroit for the school year. I can’t tell if this is a permanent relaxation or increased comfort among the venue itself, but I think it does warrant a return visit sometime down the road.

Blogging is an Art

One of my cousins started a blog. And it’s not simply a commentary blog, it’s a detailed personal blog about life in the Big Apple. I’m not sure I would want to do the same thing for life in Detroit and surroundings, but it does remind me of what I call “the old days” of blogging, first when a long update on life via LiveJournal – sometimes several times per week – was the norm, later in a more public blog off and on for a few years, then morphing into Twitter updates that continue through to this day, and finally embracing the increasingly verbose and visually sophisticated art of Facebook status updates, which now IMO are currently more about the art of the “share” from another source, and less about the actual written status of the friend.

All of which to say is that this blog was originally intended as a way to “go back” to the habit of a more detailed description of daily life, and since its creation in 2009, I’ve come back to that objective periodically. But recently, for one reason or another – starting with no internet in the place I lived over the summer, and then going into a new residence from there and choosing not to have internet – this blog has felt more distant. It’s time to correct that!

SO, this weekend I spent a good deal of time in Canada, which I generally like to do, since it is literally right down the street and there are many subtle, fun cultural differences in going just over the border. At some point I became aware that the artistic culture is different as well, and I also learned that the Canadian film culture is occasionally ahead of the game from its US counterparts, as in a film is released earlier or simply comes to the area but doesn’t come to southeastern Michigan. And this fact is the most apparent when the Windsor Film Festival rolls around for another year, as it did this past week.

On the final day yesterday, the festival director excitedly noted that 17,000 tickets were sold during the five day event, a new record for their offerings. Three of those tickets were from me for three distinct films.

45 years posterFirst up on Friday night was 45 Years, a buzz-building drama expected to be rolled out in the US around Christmas. Star Charlotte Rampling is also expected to factor in the end of year awards season conversation for her role in this film. She plays Kate, a retired schoolteacher living in rural Norfolk, England, with her husband, Geoff. The couple is mere days away from their 45th wedding anniversary as the film opens, and due to some health problems they experienced five years before, they’ve decided to host a large scale celebration this time. The drama gets going when Geoff receives an unexpected reminder of his past, and the narrative moves forward from there.

I notice that the synopsis sounds more like a mystery or horror film, and 45 Years very much treads in that realm at times during its 95 or so minute running time. A crucial choice made by director Andrew Haigh involves leaving many details to the viewer’s imagination and almost nothing spelled out in the narrative. That is something that I greatly approve of in film storytelling, and is yet all too rarely seen!

It’s not a surprise that Rampling (whom I had the pleasure of seeing perform onstage in 2004, sort-of met after the show, and owe my appreciation of her work to this Avengers episode) ably carries the film on her veteran shoulders. But it was refreshing to see her drop a certain steely demeanor she’s become known for IMO in some of her recent roles over the past 5-10 years – she was believable as a person who enjoys the more relaxed side of life, and life in retirement phase. But when her husband’s surprising news affects her as well, there are many questions and she conveys the lonely confusion and disarray that envelops the character’s life.

As for the other two films, I’ll have to do a separate entry.

Getting back to Blogging, and Detroit Culture Vulture-ing

My first few days back in Southeast Michigan have brought a lot of driving, reunions, food, logistics, and just one film. Time will tell if I’m able to get this blog back up to regular speed. I think it is doable.

The one film, Amy, is clearly one of the most powerful entertainment (as opposed to human rights or other subject) documentaries I’ve ever seen. Using a combination of home movies, existing concert and interview footage, and present day voice-only interviews with the singer’s family and friends, the film charts the rise and fall of singer Amy Winehouse, who achieved her widest fame for her “Back to Black” album around 2007, before falling into a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse that eventually led to her premature death in 2011.

The success of the film, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Asif Kapadia, lies in its ability to refocus the narrative about Winehouse from a one-hit punchline into a full complex person. The viewer walks away with a clear and devastating understanding of how the acquisition of fame changed her life and what those around her could and could not enforce to make sure she was still herself.