How The Tour De Hood got its name

Last winter, I was interviewed as part of a series called “Detroit Stories”.  (I had gone to a gallery opening of photographs taken by a friend of mine.)  They wound up making 9 short videos of me, which you can find at http://detroitstoriesproject.com/arthur-mitchell

Here’s one of me talking about cycling in Detroit.

Oh, Oh, Oakland! And that’s just the beginning of the idiosyncraticity that is Detroit. (I made up one of those words.)

This TDH was a little longer than usual (as I remember, about 40 miles), but it repaid itself over and over again in maybe-only-in-Detroit visual thrills. Get ready, there are a lot of photos in this post. The Legal Eagle has been threatening to garnish my pay check if I don’t get a post up. He’s found some archaic Michigan law that he believes applies to overdue blog posts, so I could be on the verge of some time in the clink if I don’t get something up on the intertubeswebthing pronto. Which raises the question – do you actually read this blog, or just look at the photos? It’d be a lot easier if I just threw up some photos and let you have at it, so: First poll of the post:

On the way to Oakland, we passed this tagged building on Milwaukee. That’s nothing unusual for my fair city, but I was struck by the verve of the taggers who manage to make their marks on what appear to be relatively inaccessible portions of the building.

Perhaps the “n” is backwards because the painter was disoriented

The recently reopened Tangent Gallery and Hastings Ballroom (now featuring Booze!) was where we right handed onto Oakland. If you were paying attention in math class, you’ll recognize the significance of the sculpture that adorns its exterior

Please note the intersection of the line and the circle. It’s called a ______?

Directly across the street is a sort of homage to a venerable printing facility. The facility itself appears to have disappeared, unfortunately.******

Any backstory, Night Train: Detroit?

**** I was misinformed about Rusas Printing.  I received a very nice note from Mr. Rusas himself “I was contacted by a friend to check out your site and found that you have a photo of my sign posted. You mentioned in your post that the printing facility has disappeared. Although the buildings surrounding me have been abandoned and completely covered in tags, We continue to operate out of the hood & have for over 40 years! The blight of our city has been wide spread throughout, there are still companies doing our best to battle the elements without the help of the city or the police. Recently, I was contacted by the “Better Block” organization & they choose our city block out of all the city blocks in Detroit for a beautification push to be spotlightedduring the Detroit Design Festival Sept. 22 & 23. After 2 30 yard & 1, 10 yard dumpster along with the help of multiple volunteers. Joe at the Tangent Gallery, the Better Block Organization and myself have managed to clear the debris and clean up the abandoned buildings and clear the empty lots that have been left by their careless owners of the abandoned properties.

I think I’ve found my new pied a terre in the city. Looks comfy, n’est-ce pas?

Just right for the single man on the go

Once on Oakland, a veritable yellow brick road of unusual sights began to unfold before us.

Here’s a cool building that clearly has a commissioned exterior decoration (it’s signed by the artists)

Dig it? I do

Someone has re-imagined the City of Detroit flag on another building. For reference, here’s the “official” version:

The flag of our fair city

The version on Oakland has additional built-in Detroitness: For one, our motto is actually in English, and there’s a nice nod to the Tigers. (The Old English “D” for those of you not from around here.) And a reminder that we’re not all white.

Dig that Caddy in the upper right quadrant

A little further up, we cycled past a building I should’ve heard or read about before. Alas, I hadn’t. It’s a retail/educational facility the likes of which I’ve never run across before. Voila:

Jazz+Shoe+Shine+Art=Legendary

Other artwork abounds on Oakland. Should your interests lie in the plastic arts, there’s this triptych:

I wish I could give you more details about this, but I’m drawing a blank

Ride around Detroit a while (or even for a short spin), and you’re pretty much guaranteed to pass by some spell fails: Like so:

I like the $ at the end of “Dollar Items”

Did you notice anything special about the bricks on the top of the building? This used to be “Charlie The Pencilman’s” {sic}, which according to some cursory searching online used to sell incense and dream books. This whole block was populated in the 1930’s by European Jews, which explains the location of Detroit’s Russian Banya, or as we’ve always called it around it around here: The Schvitz. It’s still open.

For Men Only

It’s no secret that there are many many many abandoned homes in Detroit. This building’s owners made their feelings pretty clear:

And you’re probably never coming back

Not to worry, as this building will provide you with some reassurance about outcomes, if not word spacing:

God decided not to open the store today

Next up, a building with a certain amount of panache, of braggadoccio, if you will. There are innumerable buildings in Detroit, but this one is the one according to its owners:

Accept no substitutes. This is the real deal

I am not blessed with a thick, rich head of hair, so the possibility of it actually “breaking” is something beyond my imagination. It must be an issue amongst others, as evidenced by this beauty salon’s promise:

What can you do if it’s all falling out?

This next sign will probably only make sense to a real Detroiter, as it makes reference to our very own wacky billionaire.

Maybe he’ll swing by after he straightens out his issue with the new bridge

One of the things I enjoy most about cycling around Detroit (particularly on Sunday mornings) is the virtual lack of automotive traffic. It’s just a great place to ride along and enjoy the scenery. Like so:

Every wall’s an easel

Someone went to a great deal of trouble to paint the 10 Commandments on side of a building on the corner of Manchester. Wish they’d gone to the trouble of bringing a dictionary along with them.

The Sabeth? Adultry? And, what, exactly, am I not supposed to covet? Anything?

In an earlier post, I wrote about the Satan’s Sidekicks M/C. But I neglected to show you a photo of the mother chapter: Here it is, over on Fenkell.

Don’t know if they still sport red helmets with devil’s horns

Back in Detroit’s early days, the St. Francis Home for Orphan Boys was founded. At one point in time, it must’ve been a beautiful building. It’s just tragic that it’s fallen apart, with no evident sign that it’s going anywhere but further down. Here’s the cornerstone, still intact:

9 years in the making

And here’s the building, in its current sad state

What a disaster

My spirits soon picked up after I passed a very special car wash.

I can only imagine how clean my car would be

For those with a less spiritual bent, just down the road is a more civic-oriented car wash:

President vs The Lord for top car wash

I have no idea what this business is (or was), or what it does (or did). All I know is that it’s got a pretty bad ass logo:

Panther _________

This company:

Back when I was wee lad, the two great jazz clubs in Detroit were Baker’s and Watt’s Club Mozambique. Clearly the jazz road didn’t work out for the owners of Watt’s, which is bad news for jazz lovers, but potentially good news for those of you looking for some exotic manliness

Only the finest in exotic male dancers

As mentioned above, I am somewhat follicly challenged, so I have almost no need for this salon’s speciality:

I’m more in need of a slim fade

As we got nearer to our turn around point (Schaefer Highway) I heard “Jesus Loves the Little Children” being played on a saxophone. The player turned out to be an affable gentleman named “Jack”. “Black Jack”. Being just down the street from Watt’s, we reminisced about the olden days when it was a jazz club. (Black Jack talked about seeing Roy Ayers there). When I asked him which Alto players he admired, he said: “Me”. Then he launched into a very nice version of “Satin Doll”. Thank you, Jack. Nice to meet you.

“Black Jack” Alto player supreme

There was still a lot more to unfold along Fenkell. (BTW, Fenkell is not, I think it’s fair to say, the best place to show off our city to out-of-towners). I passed one of my side businesses; I just added the tattoo sign to try and snag some hipsters. (That’s not actually true. I don’t own this place.)

My attempt to get some street cred (that part is true)

This establishment will try anything to make sure you come in and shop; even pointing out which door you’re supposed to use to get in, in case you’re confused.

Neither a side door nor a back door be

If you’re a regular Tour De Hood reader (see poll above), you’ll remember that I’ve noted a number of hair-type stores I’ve passed on my rides. This seems to be the place to get the best bargains. Either that, or something that must smell truly disgusting.

Liquid Hair: The greatest invention since sliced bread

There wasn’t a whole lot to see on Schaefer Highway, though I did dig the wheel setup on the car featured here, at yet another car wash.

Caprice Classics rule the road in Motown

Grand River presented us with a plethora of interesting things to view. There is a lot of nicely-executed curated street art along its length. For example, this exuberant celebration of dedication to the Queen of England (I think)

Perhaps it’s dedication to the King of Belgium

A bit further along, there was a lot more to see – but first, I wanted to point out a nicely recycled gas station, taking on new life as yet another beauty salon. (Detroit’s gas station architecture is pretty recognizable. I think it’s safe to say this actually was a gas station at one point.)

Change the oil, and just a little off the top, please

As for the aforementioned street art, there’s a super nice cluster on Grand River and Vermont. Example #1:

Dude

Example #2: (This is actually part of the signage for a barber shop)

And perhaps my favorite of the bunch: a trenchant observation on the general flabbiness of our nation, as well as our indefatigable dedication to eat anything that comes in an extra-large size, example #3:

Sad but true. We’re a flabby old bunch, aren’t we?

Before we stopped for some nourishment, we passed yet another motorcycle club. I don’t know if they’re a “good” motorcycle club or a “bad” motorcycle club. Do you?

A suggestion for Mr. Toro (Or is that Toros?) A little more consistency with the ‘s (or not) would help give your brand some added punch

We repaired to the Lafayette Coney Island for a richly deserved brunch, Motown-Style.

If you’d like to duplicate this tour yourself, here’s a Google® Map to show you where we went.

Back to my question at the beginning: did you read this, just look at the pictures, or both?

A circle of Detroitly delights

You just never know what you’re going to ride by on the Tour De Hood. Case in point, the ride the Legal and Eagle and I did the other day.

Here’s a link to our ride: (Thanks to Legal Eagle) LINK TO ROUTE

Mack Avenue is looking both up and down. While there’s some new signage, other buildings are still decomposing at various rates.

Alley Scratchers looks pretty new-ish, if you’re on the look for a new tat or some piercings. (Note: They don’t appear to be open in the morning)

$20 seems like a deal to me

Mountain Tire, on the other hand, appears to be permanently shut. (I’m not certain, but I think I can state that with some authority based on the price for that tire).

I’d say 90% of the tire stores in Detroit are painted yellow (or yellowish)

The Peace Lutheran School is, I think, similarly shut down.  Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good Cliff Notes version of building conctruction, as you can easily see the layers that make up its facade and structure.

Not too many Lutherans left on this part of Mack, I guess

Here’s an interesting retail “outlet”. You are offered the possibility to buy “Bank Foreclosures”.  Given the arcane means banks have been devising to artificially inflate their bottom lines (See: Barclays Libor Scandal), I doubt this is an opportunity to buy a foreclosed bank at a bargain price.

Get ‘em while they’re hot

I’m reasonably positive this is NOT a retail establishment. And I’m not sure if it’s dissing or supporting our local Crip Club.

Yep,that about sums it up

If I had the time, I’d do a post that only had photos of barber shop/hair stylist establishments I’ve ridden by. Here’s one with a spiritual dimension

Better a Fade of God than the alternative

There’s a curious sign in the nail shop next door.  It probably violates a number of federal statutes (ask the Legal Eagle for details, if you must), but I can see the validity of its message.

Sorry boys, gotta stay outta here

Things were looking a little more upbeat a bit further towards downtown. An ice cream shop looked pretty spruced up. (With a nod to Albus Dumbledore?)

I confess: I’ve never actually purchased snow before

The Legal Eagle wanted to try and check out a former interurban train station (or it may be a bus station; I can’t remember which), so we turned onto Gratiot.  The building is still there (more or less), but we couldn’t figure a way in through the fencing. However, we did spot another interesting shop.  It makes a rather grandiose claim about itself on one of its signs:

Here, it claims to be “Michigan’s Best Kept Secret”

The next version of the claim is a little more toned down, perhaps on advice of counsel:

O.K., maybe we’re only “Gratiot’s Best Kept Secret!” 

There wasn’t much worth noting on Conner over by the Detroit City Airport, but new delights awaited us a bit further on:  To wit: A motorcycle club headquarters.

Any guesses what The “FW” stands for? I know MC = Motorcycle Club

 

There’s a semi-open (I honestly couldn’t tell) Chrysler axle plant over on Lynch Road. At one point, the parking lot must’ve been pretty crowded.  Here’s a photo of one of the turnstiles to enter the lot.

We also passed turnstiles 5, 6, and 7

Our ride came to an unplanned halt, as a very very long train had stopped (literally) in its tracks.  It sat there for a while, which gave us the opportunity to examine some of the mysterious signage on the car carrier cars: Here’s another quiz for you all

What the heck does this mean?

As I said, the train stopped for a very long time, which gave me the opportunity to snap a somewhat oxymoronic photo:

 Please note: While Union Pacific is building America, it’s falling apart at the same time. (See power line/phone pole in rear)

Once the train finally got moving, (It did make a really cool sound as the cars started dragging each other forward) we trundled onto Caniff. (Hi Tim Suliman!) We passed a video store with all your international needs covered.

Shouldn’t that read Bosnian?
Here’s something you probably didn’t know about Detroit. Just across I-75 is what is claimed to be something way better than “Michigan’s best kept secret”.  I present to you “The Nation’s 1st ISO 9002 Registered Boiler Rental Company”. Ta da!
Don’t go renting a boiler from anywhere else. Or else
We decided we’d gone far enough down Caniff, so we took 14th Street towards the center of the city.  (As it were). Along the way, I have to report that it’s probably not a good idea to have your out-of-town guests try an book a room at the Pink Inn. Once again, I’m guessing, but I don’t think they’re taking reservations any more.
The light is on (look carefully), but I don’t think anyone’s home
There is some glorious street art on Michigan Avenue and Vermont (I’m saving that for another post), but here’s some words to the wise in the meantime:
Neither a gossiper or a gossipee be
And a hint of what’s to come in a future post
Thank you, Lush, whoever you are
I need some help here, friends.  There’s a headquarters (I think) of a club (I think) that may have something to do with motorcycles (maybe) or ice making (could be).  The whole thing is so complicated, I can’t even invent a poll to help you help me decide. (Please feel free to throw in your suggestions via a comment).
Here’s the building:
Manse of Mystery
Perhaps you can help me decipher this.  Reading from left to right, we have: 1) “Headquarters President Nephew” 2) “Grand National President Mista Sonny Day Founder est 1969″ and 3) (Least comprehensible) “Icicles”.
If it helps you, there are also a couple of images of very fierce looking dogs.
Example one:
Mean dog
Example two (as if a stop sign isn’t enough):
Maybe even meaner dog
Oddly enough, we didn’t hear (or see any actual dogs). Maybe they were licking some icicles in the shade.
We also decided to check out Detroit’s now-year-old hostel, which has some newly decorated features painted on its outside.  On the way there, we passed a house that looked as though it had been plucked from the Heidelberg Project.
Very inviting!
We also rode up and down a street that has its original brick pavers.  It’s only for a couple of blocks, but a nice reminder of Detroit’s past.
I’m a sucker for brick roads, even though they don’t make for smooth bike riding
We also spotted a nifty welding shop.  Check out the steel work here. Nice!
I don’t know if “Joe’s” is the real name. But it’s cool.
Before we made our way back home, we stopped at the Astro Coffee shop.  (It’s on the same block as Slow’s.)  I had the best egg sandwich I have ever eaten in my life. (Honest!) And a scrumptious cappuccino.  Definitely give it a try some time.
Here’s the nicely finished-off cappuccino:
Made by hand by someone who cares about what they’re doing
Finallly, someone had added a nice thought to the typical “Employees must wash hands” signs you see in every restroom these days.
Pretty good advice for everyone, I think
That was it for the day. As I remember, we had a nice tailwind back home, so all ended well.

Nerd Tastic!

The Tour De Hood is an informal affair. Usually, the Legal Eagle tries to find a road or street we haven’t visited, figures out an interesting way to get there, and we’re off!  Over Memorial Day weekend, we engaged our inner nerd-selves and picked a destination (actually two) and rode there, not particularly caring about how we got there.  (In short, we rode down some streets we’ve been down many times before).

Greyhound (I believe) used to claim that “getting there is half the fun”, and that’s always true riding around Detroit, because you never know what new delights await you. It’s certainly tons more entertaining than a bus ride.

To wit, I’ve ridden down Mack Avenue many times, but saw some new things I hadn’t seen before.

Hoods {sic} Tire Service has an eye-catching new sign.  Scroll through the back pages of the Tour De Hood, and you’ll find the old one, which promised that they wouldn’t buy stolen rims.  The new one is very nice.

Been in business since the days of bias-ply tires

I don’t remember there even being a “Kita Pita” before – but that could be because I hadn’t noticed it before it had this swanky paint job.

I don’t know what a “Kita Kream” is or what it tastes like

A new food shop/car wash/auto sales retailer was celebrating its grand opening. But it wasn’t open when we rode by; nor were there any cars on offer in its lot.

Maybe I’ll try to get lunch there some day

Next up, a religious sect or local version of Mary Baker Eddy’s church of Christian Science.  This was founded by Ann Ryan back in ’47.

Mental Science: Didn’t catch on quite as widely as Sigmund Freud

After the “Dew Drop Inn”, the Elbow Room/Lounge has to be one of the most popular bar names in America.  This particular iteration of same has a nice new sign.

Nice new signage; same old paint job

Public art always brightens a neighborhood. A local metal fabricating company has pitched in with this outdoor sculpture.

Sturdy, recycled materials, What’s not to like?

Still on Mack, we passed an auto repair emporium that’s new to me. Pretty butch name, eh?

Better check out the availability of that URL, stat!

Mack Avenue behind us, we veered left onto Gratiot, where more discoveries awaited.

Sad to say, Jimmie’s bicycle repair shop is closed.

I love ghost signs.  A little snooping around online turned up a couple of interesting things about Laurel Stoves. They were made by Detroit’s own Art Stove company, and had the kind of advertising tchotchkes (If you prefer, tshatshketchachketchotchkatchatchkachachketsotchkechotski, or chochke; the standard Yiddish transliteration is tsatske or tshatshke) they just don’t make any more.

Here’s an ad for Laurel Stoves from a Cass City dealer in 1912:

Be Sure To Show Up At Two To Win A Free Stove

As for the advertising giveaway, I’m not sure why you’d want to attach your brand to a potentially lethal weapon, but I guess things were different back then.

Maybe it’s for making “Chop Suey” (ha!)

Jimmie’s Bike shop may be on the move closer to downtown, judging by the sign on this defunct small-engine repair shop.

Motown/Mowtown. Get it?

They’ve recently spruced up Capitol Park.  While the buildings surrounding the plaza are in various states of renovation (or non-renovation), the park is very nice, and has a nice scale model of Michigan’s first Capitol.

n.b.: Approximately 1/75 scale. SIgnage honesty rules!

Our destination was nearing. The Legal Eagle wanted to visit a couple of rail marshaling yards. (See title of this post).  So did I.  (See title of this post). Look at all those non-moving trains. You can’t beat that for a great time.

Lots of trains. Little movement

I only managed to snag a couple of photos before a very nice gentleman arrived and urged us to leave the premises.  He did admit we didn’t look like scrap metal thieves, but we’d been caught on the railroad’s CCTV system, and got the boot.

All that riding, only to be escorted from the yard. (We tried another location, but got tossed from there, too).  Anyway, before we headed home I did get a snap of this somewhat mysterious sign on a freight car.

I don’t know how or why you’d want to hump a freight car

Anyway, we had a great time while it lasted, and as we headed back north, we passed under I-75, where I noticed this piece of graffiti on a supporting column.

Copyrighted and trademarked. To what end?

A Nerd Tastic time was had by all. And Greyhound was almost right. Getting there was even more than half the fun.

If you’d like to re-create this ride, the Legal Eagle has provided this handy map of our route.

Boating Season in the Hood

I’m the first to admit that I’ve let much too much time elapse since I’ve updated the blog. Sorry about that. Anyway, Memorial weekend came, family gathered, and in what’s becoming (if you can count two holidays a trend) a kith ‘n’ kin tradition, we went on a group spin ’round the hood.

It also happened to coincide with Michigan’s traditional boating season – which is celebrated in its own peculiar way in the hood, too.  I don’t know about other cities, but there seems to be a trend of sorts of “storing” your boat in an empty lot, or trailering it where it’s difficult to extract it.

To wit: On the corner of Kercheval and (I swear) Lakeview (!) we spotted this lovely day cruiser

Ahoy, Mateys! Smooth seas ahead.

A bit further downtown I espied this little runabout in a back yard.  Don’t know how long it’s been there, or where it’s headed.

Land yacht

This isn’t just an east side thing.  Down ’round the edges of the Dearborn a “parking lot” was home to this previously-sea-worthy craft:

Yearning for open waters

In a much earlier post, I recorded what I believed (and still believe) is the shortest bike lane in the world, but since then, Detroit has become a veritable Disneyworld(r) of bike lanes. That, coupled with the paucity of vehicular traffic on the weekends makes Detroit more of a cycling heaven.  Voila! The St. Jean Cycling Lane, ready for your delectation.

Smooth riding ahead! (Note family member’s calves)

Even though bike lanes are sprouting, so is the “grass” in the vacant lots.  The city is seriously strapped for cash (again), and is cutting back on services (again), and has been remiss in tending to its greenery.  Note to self: This is what happens if you never cut your lawn.

 Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of neglected grass

Along with grass growing, I discovered a new record pothole. (I think this one’s an 8 on the misterarthur scale).  Unfortunately, my photographic ineptitude doesn’t show it off to full advantage.  Trust me, it’s a big ‘un.

The Bike-Swallowing Pothole: Not just deep, but long and wide, too. 

Ossian Sweet’s Home (see this post for details), has a nice rose bush in full bloom.

A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell so Ossian Sweet

The Detroit Waldorf School (building designed by Albert Kahn) is a wonderful institution (depending upon how much you buy into Rudolph Steiner’s er, somewhat oddball philosophy/religion/farming technique beliefs).  Truth is, my son had a wonderful experience there.  It’s a lovely building.  (Mr. Kahn also designed the Belle Isle Conservatory, the former GM building, Detroit’s crowning glory of ruin porn, the Packard plant, and many other famous edifices around our fair burg.)

The inside is beautiful, as well

The Waldorf School is on Burns and Mack, in Indian Village, and a block from a new-to-me-and quite-lovely garden.

The Indian VIllage Centennial Garden. Lovely

A bit further down Mack, things were a little more dodgy. The great Spanish poet, Garcia Lorca wrote: “La vida es sueño”. So is el former ice cream shop, now but a memory of frosty treats.

I don’t think Garcia Lorca ever saw the Dream Twist

We pressed forward to our destination (the Avalon Bakery), diverting through the Eastern Market to get there.  Along the way, I spotted two customized stop signs:  I guess both are warnings of sorts. The first suggests we keep our eyes lowered.

Roger that

The second, put there by either a philistine or an über-ironic urban hipster:

Oh, the irony. (Note family members in background)

Following some tasty treats and cappucini  at the Avalon, we meandered our way back home again.

I saw this nice typography on an electric substation.  I miss the days when cities used real designers to select municipal fonts. These days they just seem to slap Helvetica on everything and call it a day.

Note: Nothing to do with Submarines or the U.S. Navy

It was the day before Memorial Day, but we got a head start on matters by visiting the Elmwood cemetery, and more particularly the section honoring the soldiers who fought in the Civil War.  There’s a section of the cemetery dedicated to them; you ought to visit it some time.  One of the soldiers buried there was an adjutant on the staff of Ulysses S. Grant.

Some group or group of people had taken the trouble to mark the section with American flags.  If there can be beauty in a cemetery, it was on full display here in 2012.

Civil War Memorial Section, Elmwood Cemetery

All in all, a lovely family tradition continued, and a great day in the hood.

Fundraiser for a worthy cause: And you get to ride a bike, too!

I’ve mentioned the Hub of Detroit before on this blog. They teach kids about bicycle repair and maintenance, rehab bikes to give to disadvantaged youth, and generally brighten up an otherwise rather dismal section of Cass Avenue. They’re great people.

They’re holding a fundraiser/bike ride/progressive dinner on May 20th.  It sounds like a lot of fun, and it’s in support of a good cause.

You can read all about it HereOr here: http://thehubofdetroit.org/?p=1327

In either case, check it out, and try to participate. Thank you.

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Bicycles

The Tigers have announced a special “Bike to the Ballpark” event on April 22.  Here’s what they say: “For just $14, bicycle riding fans may receive an Upper Reserved ticket to the 1:05 p.m. game vs the Texas Rangers and a ticket for a one-day-only bicycle valet to be located on Columbia Plaza in front of Comerica Park’s Gate A entrance. Bicycle valet tickets are only available through this special offer, and will not be available for purchase on the day of the game.”  Click on link for more information. Thanks to Wettham for the tip.