Amazing Downhill Bike Race, Valparaiso, Chile. This year’s race is Sunday, February 19.

 Image from last year’s race

While it’s quite chilly here, it’s summer in Chile. So take a break inside and enjoy some fun bike stuff. Like the Cerro Abajo in Valparaiso, Chile. Here’s a link to a video from an amazing downhill urban bike race  (It’s from last year). They’re doing it again on February 19.  Here’s a link to the official site of the race.

There’s also a Facebook Page, and there are, apparently, plans to stream the race live via the Facebook page. Check it out. Looks like fun!

Out-of-Season TDH: First dual-citizenship TDH ride: The Packard Plant

Back in the fall, I took some visitors from out of town and out of the country (plus a newbie from the area), on a Tour De Hood ride. Being from Switzerland and Boston via Seattle, they wanted to see one of Detroit’s iconic ruins – The Packard Plant. I’m not usually into ruin porn, and lord knows there are enough photos of that collapsing disaster available for your delectation, but the ride turned out to be more interesting than I had thought at its onset.  Here we are, prepping for the ride.

From left to right: The Geomaster, misterarthur, Topsider, The Boston Bomber, and Monsieur Tonton

It was a really windy day – not the best of cycling conditions, and getting to the Packard Plant meant heading right into the gusts. So we zig-zagged towards it.

Thar she blows, matey

The zig-zaginess of our travels were not for naught, as we, typically, passed a couple of interesting TDH-like spots along the way.

There was a (defunct?) motorcycle club headquarters:

“BFF” is not something I usually associate with MCs, but what do I know?

We also passed the Husky Fence Co., which, along with fencing, sells Gates, Guards, and, rather unexpectedly, Dirt.

Topsoil’s for sissies. In Detroit, we prefer plain old dirt

Another motorcycle club soon came into view. This example is clearly going for a more butch motif than the scrambled consonants club noted above. They are also fighting a losing battle to have Detroit take away the title of “Sin City” from Las Vegas. (And by the by, doesn’t that “C” look like a Pac Man ghost?

They’re tough. On the English Language. Deciples? Decipies? Decibels?

I hope they didn’t have the spelling error tattooed all over their arms and chests.

Much of the artwork I encounter on my rides is unsigned or unclaimed by its creator. This fella, however, seems to have spent as much time advertising himself as he did creating the dancing machine he painted.

Area Code 313, if you need to contact Bird

Over on Goss, we passed the Houston Grill, which has what appears to be its whole menu painted on its exterior.  I’ll admit, Ham Hocks and Tomales (sic) are a type of fusion cuisine I had hitherto been unaware of .

You say Tomale, and I say Tamale

Does any city in North America have more tire stores per capita than the Motor City?  I’d wager not.  Van Dyke Tire does other work, too: mufflers and brakes.

Guess they specialize in drum brakes: Those are brake shoes, not disc pads

Should you be interested, Van Dyke Tire seems to have pretty reasonable prices on oil changes and hand car washes. They will also clean your vehicle “In 3out” for $60.

I wonder if yellow used tires carry a premium price

On we went to the Packard plant.  We had a very fortuitous meet-up with a group of fellows who live in one of the abandoned garages across the alley from the ruins of the plant itself.  They know everything about the place. What’s safe. What isn’t. Who put the tvs on the roof. They’ve sort of taken on the role of Packard Plant Docents for visitors. Naturally, they gave us a guided tour. The fellow on the left with the brown hat is a reporter who also happened to be there that day.

Meet the Packard boys. And scribe

The Packard Plant has plenty o’ street art festooning its exterior: Here’s a sample you may not have caught elsewhere:

Comely Graffiti, indeed

I stayed outside to keep an eye on our bicycle collection, while Tonton, the Bomber, the Geomaster and Topsider went in for a look-see.  We happened to be outside the section of the factory where Banksy’s artwork had been “curated” (read: Stolen)  either by Gallery 555 or the mysterious owners of the plant itself.  You can read more about Banksy’s visit to Detroit on the excellent Detroit Funk site. There’s still plenty of stuff to see:

A tree

Trash ‘n’ water

There’s also graffiti er, street art, that isn’t done by Bansky. Like this, mmm fish?

This is for you, Al!

And this somnolent looking guy:

There’s a very alert man to our right (his left).

Tour over, we headed back, our fingers numbed and our faces chafed. The out-of-towners were delighted. I got to see my first Dirt Store. All was well in the hood.

Utopia is right around you. All you have to do is look.

I promise to be a little more regular in my “off season” posts. I’ll try and get in some winter tours soon. Until then, best wishes for a great 2011!


Dally in the Alley Day in the D

I had a really nice ride on Saturday, and made it back before the rains hit.  Or should that be I had really nice ride on Saturday because I made it back before the rains hit? Or both? Both it is. The ride through my old stomping grounds (the East Side) was TDH as usual.  I did discover this building, which I haven’t seen before. From what I can tell, the letters that used to be there spelled out F. M. Sibley Lumber Co. Sure enough, it’s got an interesting history.

I think that sign advertised an event on Belle Isle

Sibley’s was Detroit’s second largest lumber company. (This was its office building.)  The interesting bit is that Mr. Sibley, along with a certain Mr. Freuhauf, is credited with inventing the semi trailer. Nifty, eh? The building itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sad that it sits empty – I’m a sucker for Corinthian columns.

Michigan State was playing Florida Atlantic University (?) at Ford Field downtown, and the Sparty Faithful were out in droves. A fellow was playing alto sax to serenade the crowd. While he stuck to improvisations over the Michigan State fight song, I gave him a dollar, and was tempted to ask him to play “Hail to the Victors”. We agreed that a dollar wasn’t worth the potential injury from wrathful Spartanites.

This guy can really play. That jacket color’s not an accident

The bars around the area were hopping. (Duh). On the other side of Ford Field (actually across the Fisher Freeway between Clifford and Park), I rode by a couple of places I had not visited before.  One featured a sort of urban bowling alley; a peculiar combination of 10 pins, bocce,  and petanque.  I don’t know the rules. Or what you strike the pins with.

Maybe you have to bounce the ball onto the pin platform

Another bar around the corner had a name that made me scratch my head at first. Given the retro-ish nature of the logo, the letters AFB could’ve stood for many things: American Federation of Barbers, Alert Firefighter Building, Accidental Federal Bureaucrats. I could go on. My inventions aside, the real name is superb.

Everything you need, all in one place

The truth, as they say, shall set you free. Or in this case, make you laugh, I hope. Just around the corner (on the bar’s window) the acronym’s revealed:

Hooray! Another effin bar!

The Comet Bar looks as if it’s been around for a while. I don’t know how long this decorative yard art has been uplifting the back area, but it looks suspiciously like Tina Fey imitating Sarah Palin to me.

Shame about the stumpy feet

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that Slows to Go was coming soon. Phil Cooley, Detroit’s one man renaissance machine, is the guy behind Slows. The people behind Phil were hard at work inside the soon-to-be take out and catering headquarters.  I think the husband and wife I met were Phil’s parents. They’re just delightful, parents-of-Phil or not, and graciously showed me the uncompleted space. Here’s where the (giant) kitchen will be:

Smells like sawdust: Will soon smell like dinner

I for one, can’t wait. Aside from the new Slows, Midtown appears to be gathering some development momentum (knock on wood) in general. Toronto’s Globe and Mail had a very complimentary article about Detroit in Saturday’s edition – it concentrated primarily on the Midtown area, and the writer was/is spot on with his recommendations. (Even though he never mentioned this invaluable guide to our fair burg. Boo hoo hoo) I concur fully with his pick of the Avalon Bakery’s Sea Salt Chocolate Chip cookies.

The Saturday after Labor Day is the traditional date for Detroit’s own oddball urban street fair, the Dally in Alley.  Way back at the head of this post, I mentioned that I got home before it started raining. I’m sorry to say that it rained all afternoon and evening, but while I was Dallying, things were in full swing.

There was a band playing on the Forest (street) stage.

I believe Tune and Niche were playing while I was there

Moms against War were parading to the sound of a muffled drum:

What’s a street fair without a silent protest and Polish sausage?

And, in an interesting coincidence, Theatre Bizarre was putting on a show. (Coincidence, because I rode by their, er, headquarters, last weekend, over near the ex State Fairgrounds).  There was a very long line to see the show. I also fell off my bike.

I didn’t see any sign of  Larva Girl, I’m sad to say

I did get to meet one of Detroit’s great poster designers, Carl Lundgren.

Following an aggressively caloric ganache-stuffed brownie at the Avalon, I sped home, abetted by a SSE wind and a strong desire to get back under cover before the rain hit.  Along the way, I was happy to see that the Helen Newberry house for Nurses (across the street from the DMC on John R.) is being rehabbed into what will be, I believe, apartments. It’s a lovely building, and will add to rebuilding Midtown.

Nice old building being reborn. Hooray!

The Hood was alive this early afternoon in September. It’s a nice thing to see.

STHs. Strucks {sic}

The Legal Eagle has come up with a new name for abandoned buildings. He calls the ones in the worst state of repair “See Through Buildings”.  I have stolen his idea, and subdivided it into:  STH (See Through Houses) STB (See Through Businesses) STF (See Through Factories). On the 11th, the Warden (my new accomplice) and I passed a fine example of a STH:  Voila:

STH: Example 1. Note Sky Through House

Here’s an STH in its incipiency: The owner has tried to stave off see-throughness by the liberal application of blue tarping.

Can’t see through the first floor yet

Over on  Conner between Mack and Warren, I espied the Temple of the Black Eyed Peas. Or Popeye. Well, not really,  but close enough:

Will, I am, I yam

You will probably find this hard to believe, but just around the corner on Warren was a particularly apropos graffito. I think it needs no further introduction.  It’s a pretty apt descriptor of the state of the neighborhood.

Indeed. Note the care with which the cross is inserted into the “O”

One of the real (and I mean it) pleasures of touring the hood on Sundays is listening to the choirs in the churches I ride by. While I can make no claims as to the nature of the pastor’s sermons, the choir at Second Timothy Baptist Church rocks. The organist appears to have channeled the soul of Jimmy Smith into religious music.  If the Episcopal church had drummers and B-3 players, I think its long membership decline would reverse itself, pronto.  Here’s the church of which I speak.

I wish I could provide you with an audio sample

Dateline NBC is preparing to do yet another story about Detroit and its dismal condition. I’m truly tired of the endless loop of stories about Detroit’s demise. For an alternate perspective, I encourage you to check out the excellent piece posted at The Urbanophile, which nicely debunks some of the fallacies about our fair city.  Included in that piece are a number of what will, I am sure, be surprising photos of the nicer parts of our city. In that vein, I present to you the newly-renovated, just-in-time-for-spring Shed 3 at the Eastern Market. (The Urbanophile has a photo of a shed, too, but not this one).

Shed 3 at The Eastern Market

Some things in Detroit will remain constant, of course. Here’s a buyer of houses that isn’t interested in the building where he’s placed his ad:

Will buy your house; just not this one

And we will, no doubt, continue to mangle the English Language:

Shocks + Struts = Strucks?

Need a new muffler? I feel you.

One can only hope our distinctive signage style will continue to stay true to its roots. Here’s a tempting call for snack lovers:

Red always = hot

While on the subject of peanuts, back in my college days, I volunteered for an organization that put on jazz concerts. One time, I was sitting backstage waiting for a Dizzie Gillespie show. Prior to his entrance, he sat down next to me, stuck a mute in his horn, and warmed up by playing “Salt Peanuts”. It was one of the greatest experiences in my life. (I also drove around Ann Arbor with Sonny Rollins, but that’s for another time).

My great grandfather owned a company on Atwater called Detroit River Iron Works. It made parts for ships. The building’s still there. I have to get a photo of it before it goes away. Meanwhile, Addison Iron Fabricators is still a going concern, still showing that metal who’s boss.

Making things: An honored Detroit Tradition

That’s it for the week of April 10. We’ve had wildly varying temperatures lately. If it gets warm enough to get out on the saddle, I’ll post some more tomorrow.

Spring, Sprang, Sprocket.

Spring brings out the optimist in all of us, right? With that in mind, I set out on today’s Tour De Hood, looking for the best in all I rode by. (That’s the Sprocket to which this blog post refers.)

Herewith, some of the treats that  I took as signs of Detroit’s revivification. (By the way, the Detroit Free Press had a lengthy article detailing big plans for returning Detroit to its rightful spot as the Paris of the Midwest.)

I noticed a number of new tags on various buildings, abutments, and other objects. This wall, for example, was tag-free last year.

Hi-ho, Paid AAwaaaaaay. (Thanks to Kae V for the deciphering)

“Away” made a return visit (though in a much less artistic form) next to his or her new pals, EP & KBT.

Don’t know if “Away” means “Go Away” or not.

Part of what used to be/is still a residential neighborhood seems to have rezoned itself as a truck stop. Last year there was only one truck here. The family’s growing.

No homes on the block = more space for your semi

I also cycled by a formerly-standing abandoned house. It has dedicated itself to a new Detroit by ceasing to be.

All-new destruction for 2010

For those of you familiar with my end-of 2009 post, I discovered a 23-hour tire(s) repair shop on Kercheval. The owner has spruced up the storefront by painting it a lovely shade of purple. (The sign itself could still use some fixing, if you ask me.)

Perhaps Easter Sunday is included in the hours it’s closed

The following photo may not look like “new” to the casual viewer, but last year, it didn’t have a roof, so we’re moving forward with purpose and vigor.

Still looking for tenants

New to me, but not to Detroit, a coaling (?) stop on the Grand Trunk Railroad. (Information, courtesy the Legal Eagle).

Here’s the abutment:

The coal started here

There’s a little bit left of the track that marked the coaling station itself. There’s nearly a foot left of old track.

Former rail line: Not part of America’s new high-speed rail project

For those of you looking to increase your carbon footprint, there are chunks of the actual carboniferous object itself for your personal collection:

What naughty children used to get for Christmas

The Dequindre cut has a number of actual, new new features for 2010. First, it now extends all the way to Atwater Street – which is nice. It’s currently “blocked” by orange-and-white barrels and some kind of plastic netting, but no one appears to be letting that slow them down. There are also some new examples of street art over which to marvel. One, a more traditional language-based style:

The Dequindre Codex?

The other is of the figurative variety.  I don’t know if this is a “curated” example, or some interloper’s work.

Ferngully meets Detroit Gully

There’s a wall standing alone in a field off of Grand River.  I could’ve ridden past many places today; but coincidentally, (it being Easter Sunday), I happened upon this mural.It has been newly-decorated with a bunch of bunnies. Awww.

Suspicious-looking “bunny” on the right, no?

The Michigan Central Station is one of Detroit’s most iconic ruins. There seems to be some noise about turning it into something – I have no idea what – but I think my Tour De Hood Chronicles wouldn’t be complete without tossing in a photo of one set of its broken windows. (That makes this photo new to the Tour De Hood archives:)

Maybe someone recycled that glass

In a plea for government help, someone has painted the President’s name on the curb outside the razor wire. (I haven’t heard whether it’s had its intended effect or not).

Dear Mr. President: Help!

A venerable pawn shop has given up the ghost. (The license is available). So if you’re looking for a rifle or diamonds to pawn, you may have to search elsewhere.

Four score and six years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new pawn shop. Now it’s no more

Directly across the street, I spotted a mural “advertising” Corktown, an historically Irish neighborhood. Nothing about the mural strikes me as redolent of Eire, but it could be because I’m ignorant of Celctic traditions. Or something. Judge for yourself.

Forward, diverse robots!

One thing about Detroit businesses, when they fail, they fail. Here, a formerly going concern of some kind that is definitively done. Put a fork in it.

I’m sorry, too

Anyway, this being Easter and all, perhaps a benevolent higher being will resurrect the establishment to the wonder and delight of all. Here’s hoping.

Thanks to The Legal Eagle for the History Lesson, and for Spencer’s accompaniment. Yo! Spencer! 28 miles!

A little poem to celebrate the arrival of spring:

“when faces called flowers float out of the groundand breathing is wishing and wishing is having-

but keeping is downward and doubting and never

-it’s april (yes,april;my darling)it’s spring!

ee cummings.

Mondegreen, Overly zealous security guards, Chix on Dix – 2009 Tour De Hood Grand Finale

This post is way overdue. The legal eagle was threatening to arrest me under some abstruse infraction of the law if I didn’t write something, so here goes: the description of 2009’s last official Tour De Hood ride. The ride actually took place back in November. You can follow the route by clicking here.

We started off with a quick visit to misterarthur’s birthplace:

Birthplace of misterarthur

No, I wasn’t born in a field. That’s the former site of Detroit’s East Side General Hospital.  In lieu of a memorial to my birth, there’s an ice cream truck parked where I took my first breaths.

I had an uncle named Bob. (So this isn’t my uncle’s ice cream truck)

Directly across the street from the used-to-be-a-hospital site is an abandoned Masonic lodge. At least that’s what I think it is. No one ever asked me to be a Mason, so I can’t be sure.

Secret Handshake Headquarters

Enough of old memories.

The legal eagle and I have covered most of Detroit’s main thoroughfares this summer, but hadn’t officially ridden the Southeasternmost part of Detroit.  There are plenty of lovely sights to behold.

One is Ste. Anne’s Church.  Ste Anne’s is the second oldest operating parish in the United States. Wow! (It’s proper name is Ste. Anne De Detroit, after the patron Saint of France.) It’s a beautiful church, but one of its features leaves me a little puzzled.  Here’s the rose window. Anyone care to speculate on why it features a Star of David?

Maybe they put up a Kvetch at Christmas

There’s a beautiful though abandoned fire station right next to the Church. I don’t know who owns it now. The inside looks to be in pretty good shape.

Look closely. It was opened in 1897

The station has lovely brickwork detailing. See?

Public Building, built like they should be

I simply cannot think of one time in my adult life when I was happy to pay for parking; hence I was bemused by this cheerfully-named place to leave your car when you hand over cash:

If you don’t pay, you won’t be happy

The advertising business has been hit hard in Detroit, what with the troubles of our domestic automakers. The easy fix for companies in trouble is to blame their marketing firms.  I worry that in a couple of years, all the big names will be more like the shop below than the agencies glorified on “Mad Men”.

Advertising and Distributing: Take your pick

A bit further south, we came upon a city-owned property that is a Jimi Hendrix Mondegreen.  (A Mondegreen is a misheard/misinterpreted lyric to a piece of music, like “The Girl with Colitis Goes By” instead of “The Girl with Kaleidescope Eyes”).  Here’s what I mean: ‘Scuse me, while I Mistersky:

Look closely, you can see former Mayor Dennis Archer’s name under that tape

One of our main reasons for this trip route was to get a look at Zug Island, a real beauty of an industrial eyesore.  Zug Island is connected to the mainland by a railroad bridge. There are signs all over the place saying not to enter, and, more specifically, to NOT TRESPASS OR YOU WILL BE PROSECUTED TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF THE LAW.

Zug Island Road (Private Road)

Curiously, the warning sign is only on one end of the street. We had entered at the other end. A sign there warned against taking photographs of Zug Island proper, but I thought that meant you couldn’t take pictures on Zug Island, not of Zug Island.  I was wrong. After popping a couple of snaps of a nondescript pile of coal and a smokestack, we rode away, only to be chased down by a US Steel Security Guard, who demanded that I erase any photos I had taken of the industrial complex. “Why can’t I take pictures?” I asked.  “Homeland Security,” he answered. Huh? Why a terrorist would target a heap of taconite and blight is beyond my ken.  Shortly after passing this neglected caution sign,

Perhaps it’s to confuse would-be terrorists

we were able to see the full beauty of Zug Island from a different, legal, not trespassing angle.

I ask you: Can your city boast of an eternal flame like this one?

Detroit has a Yeti-Sized Carbon Footprint

Does your city have a Homeland Security Protected Steel Mill that randomly spews out smoke and steam?  Well, mine does.

I’m sure it’s in full compliance with current EPA regulations

Zug Island abuts Delray, a Detroit neighborhood formerly populated largely by those of Hungarian descent.  They’ve all pretty much pulled up stakes and abandoned the old neighborhood.  In an effort to protect some of the buildings, someone has put angels on the structures.  More precisely, they’ve put paintings of angels on the buildings, but you get my drift. Here are three.

Perhaps they’re the patron saints of light beer.

This grocery store on Schaefer appears to urge the populace to eat more vegetables.

I’ll take two turnips and a head of lettuce, please

As we turned onto Dix, I was looking forward to crossing the Rouge River, not expecting to pass by the winner of the Tour De Hood “Best Named Strip Club” award.  It takes a great name to knock the “Please Station” off its pedestal, but how can you argue with the genius of this club’s name?

How could Chix on Dix not be an adult entertainment facility?

There was better news yet to come. Not only does the club have the best name ever, it’s affordable family fun, too!

Not just $2 Tuesdays; lap dances are only $10

Our elation was deflated a tad bit by this sad tire repair sign,

Poor little bias ply

But we perked up a bit at the National Geographic quality view from the bridge across the Rouge River.

Detroit: Vacation paradise

For an inexplicable reason, some passing adolescents yelled “Faggots” at us while I was taking this photograph. I guess they don’t like bicycles.

On the way back north, we passed an eatery that was, unfortunately, closed:

Dig those stylin’ shades on AD.

We also came across what I think was a broken water main just off Rosa Parks avenue.

The Plank and Tire are a nice touch

Our ride ended with a nice surprise. We intercepted Steve Coy and Dorota Billica as they were painting an “Hygienic Dress League” mural on Woodbridge.  That’s the second time I’ve run into Steve on one of my rides, and I encourage you to go downtown and check out the finished work.

Artists at Work

And that was that.  All in all, a great year on the TDH. I’m going to take a break while winter’s at its worst, but will be back like the swallows to Capistrano come Spring.

I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays, and best wishes for a fantastic 2010.

Blessed Elephants, Polar Bears, and Atomic Dogs – TDH visits Wyoming, Tireman, Harper, and more

Took a rather extended loop on the Tour De Hood today. It was the same day as the Tour De Troit – which we intersected on our end stretch near Indian Village. Went our own way, as the legal eagle and I  didn’t want to follow 2,000 cyclists around a path we already know well.

Here’s a Google Map of Saturday’s Route of the Tour De Hood if you’d like to see the route. We did go through Hamtramck & Highland Park, so some of it wasn’t, technically, Detroit proper, though let’s not quibble, ok?

The Tour started on Harper, where I encountered my first Lash Parlor. (Not an S & M facility, even though it was across the street from Harper News, “An Adult Fantasy to Experience”.)

1noexcusesNo excuses not to look your best, Ladies (dig the scissors in the “X”)

So far, nothing out of the ordinary, just typically exuberant Detroit retail design. Here’s the  relatively subdued adult video emporium (I didn’t know these still existed) which offers titillation for a mere 25 cents.

2adultvideosLooking for a lottery tip sheet to go with your porn?

I am as much for keeping your car clean as the next guy, so I’m thinking that my anodyne sedan might need a trip to the following locale:

3mrheavySalon + Mr. Heavy = iron fist in velvet glove

We passed an unfortunately defunct appliance repair facility. While the english-ness of its name (World Tomorrow) is a bit questionable, the application of a real washing machine to its signage deserves inclusion into the Detroit pantheon of retail peculiarity.

4worldtomorrowFollow the arrow to tomorrow

As should be obvious to any one who has followed my peregrinations, it wasn’t long before I passed by a strip club:

7chichisTime to celebrate National Hispanic Month

It’s September, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to prepare for Valentine’s Day. Flowers are always appropriate.

5loveoneAt least there’s no unnecessary apostrophe, but that dash! Oh, dear

There’s a fascinating (though unfortunately faded-by-weather) mural where Harper crosses Gratiot. (Which I now automatically pronounce Gra-toit – per the misspelled sign from last week.) Among the portraits you can spot Malcolm X, former Mayor Coleman Young, the People Mover (?), Nelson Mandela, a young Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King, and, I think, Toussaint L’Ouverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution in the late 18th Century. The mural’s title confounds me:

6aaubiquityAmalgamation of Ubiquity? Fusion of Everywhere?

Shantinique Music is bucking the trend of highly-focussed retailers, like Michigan Saw & File, and has (successfully?) cobbled together the only Music/sportswear/footwear shop I’ve ever seen.

8shantinitqueMusic, and the outfit to go with it

A delightfully-named car wash, “Bubble Time”, was the next sight to behold, which wouldn’t normally merit inclusion here, but I was struck by the inequality of the time devoted to painting the bubbles, and the slapdash execution of the name itself.

9bubbletimeTime to get down with your foamy self

Shortly thereafter, things soon descended (or arose, I guess) into one of the most memorable rides I’ve taken in Detroit, a surreal combination of misspellings, oddball graphics, stolen logos, religious “iconography”, and just plain weirdness that is probably unmatched by any other city in America.

Behold: The Harper/Mt. Elliot/Conant/Oakland/Wyoming/Tireman acid trip on two wheels.

There’s a lonely chimney, which reminded me of the photos of Atlanta following Sherman’s March to the Sea.

10chimneyFormer site of _________?

I know the English language has certain peculiarities which make spelling correctly kind of difficult – but the person in charge of this sign appears to have not even bothered trying to get it right.

11frigiratorsHot ‘n’ Kold, I guess

Given that our native tongue has (according to the O.E.D., which ought to know) over 170,000 words in current use, it’s surprising that the owners of this facility couldn’t drag up a better adjective to describe their wares:

12ampleDig those “Roman” Ds

Consider yourself a sign painter. You have a project. Your assignment is to paint the name of a store and its goods on a rather large blank wall. Given the space you’re given on which to apply your art, wouldn’t you think about that door before you realized that you’d have to split “gro” and “ceries” to maintain your sort-of centered type format?

13newpolkaNo more Frankie Yankovic? That’s Old Polka

Last week, I mused on the absence of a mountain on Mt. Elliot street, but I think I found a lump that could be the missing mountain after all. It’s a geological oddity, as it’s made primarily of crushed concrete, unlike the Alps or the Himalayas.

14mtelliotBehold Detroit’s highest mountain

The Highland Park High School Varsity football team was playing an away game against Country Day on Saturday. As predicted by some of the people we met, they stomped all over the Country Day Yellow Jackets, 36 to 3.  But here’s the question:  What on earth possessed the school board to name the team “The Polar Bears”?

16polarbearsPolar Bears in Highland Park? Reminds me of the first two seasons of Lost

A temporarily permanent “restaurant” beckoned on McNichols, and while the art work featured enticing renderings of  various comestibles, the sign (with a surprisingly accurate use of an apostrophe) promised Nothin’ but Love” [sic]. I don’t know what the end quotation mark is for.

17nothin'butloveI want some fries with that love

Co-winner of this week’s Pro-Am competition, this professionally painted but amateurishly spelled appliance repair store:

18proffessionalsGreat at ffixing frigirators.

Tied for first with the proffessionals is a furniture repair shop, that promises all kinds of furniture repair.

19dinningroomQuality work; bad spelling

Here’s this week’s stump the misterarthur winner. I’m willing to go with blessed money plants (sure to generate wealth) and blessed thinking caps (we could all use one of those), but the blessed elephant thing totally confounds me. Do you have to bring your own elephant to be blessed?  Is this a combo candle store/pet store that only sells elephants? Is it legal to own an elephant, blessed or not, within the Detroit City limits? Does this Mayor know about this possibly illegal trade in elephants?

20blessedelephantsI’ll take one thinking cap, please

We try to support Detroit Car makers as much as we can; but even if your car comes from elsewhere, we’re happy to repair it. That doesn’t mean we have to spell its origin correctly.

21foriegnI promise to defend the constitution against all enemies, foriegn or domestic

I’m not sure if a Moabite Body is something I’d like to have. According to Wikipedia, the ancestor of the Moabites was Lot himself, via incest with his oldest daughter. Whether that contributes to physical perfection is not within my area of expertise.

22moabitesThere’s a town in Utah called Moab, maybe they’re Mormons

Next up, Detroit’s version of fusion cuisine. Not quite what you’d expect from a Spa experience in California, but what the hell, it might be tasty after all.

23asiancornedbeefWTF? Irish Sushi?

This week’s TDH winner of the Amateur Retail Decor Award is a sort of one-man Home Depot.

Here’s a wide view. Note the care with which the sign painter avoided the shutter on the left hand side


It’s a medical building, too. See above the door

My favorite part is the full Detroit rendering of Doors, Lumber, and Window$ [sic], especially the random use of upper and lower case letters.


A fellow walking by said “That building’s all F’d up. Ain’t got no floor. Ain’t got no roof”.  I take that to mean we’ll have to look for our new KiTCHEN CABINET elsewhere.

Detroit has been a Democratic Party stronghold for years and years, and, as a whole, has embraced our new President. That said, no one appears to have taken it as far as the proprietors of this service station, who’ve violated every copyright law in Amercica to proclaim their allegiance to Mr. Obama.

27obamagasIn case you don’t know which Obama they’re referring to, there’s a photo for your assistance

Even the pumps carry the full Obama Campaign graphics.

28obamapumpDoes Hugo Chavez have anything to do with this?

David Mackenzie High School was erected in 1931 – hence the glorious Deco tile work. I don’t know when it was abandoned; it still has some unbroken windows.  What a shame.

29highschoolNo child left inside

God, as I generally understand it, is all-seeing, and all-powerful – at least as defined by Judeo-Christians everywhere. You can imagine, then, that I was nonplussed by the re-definition of God’s will over here at Cliff’s Family. I think it’s a barber shop – the signage behind the white Ford Explorer says “regular haircuts”. No tyzillions here, I guess.

30godspecializeGod Specialize in what?

This small restaurant on Tireman was new to me – I don’t remember it being listed in one of the hot Detroit nightspots directories.  Irradiated food! It’s the next big thing!

31atomicdogsNote: Whole Chicken Wings

The sign painter has either inadvertently left a space between “cat” and “fish”, or is, instead, promising something I’ve never seen on a menu before; your choice of cat or fish.  I’ll take the Atomic Dog.

We ran across another spelling fail before we got home. I hate insurance deductibles (like everyone else). As for deductibales, I’ve never had to pay one. Special Shout Out to the estimable Ed Dilworth, who pointed out that Jay’s phone number has an extra digit.

32deductibalesIt appears as though they demolished their dictionary, too.

The ride ended, not with a bang, but a hiss. A piece of glass, too big to be a shard and too small to be a chunk whacked my rear tire. Two patches later, the tube was still not holding air. My wife had to come and pick me up. Thus an ignominious end to a glorious and enlightening day. Such is life on the Tour De Hood.

Addendum: Forgot to include this impressively named and fantastically decorated hair salon:

anointedhands“A woman’s hair is her glory”

Mt. Elliott (or as we call it on the Tour de Hood, the Col du Mont Elliott)

Mt. Elliott, as a street name, has always confused me. The contour of the street itself is as little like a mountain as imaginable:  Not even a small hill interrupts its gentle flow across the east side.  After riding up part of its length on Saturday, I wanted to get some details about why a flat road is named “Mount”, which my cousin Paul was kind enough to pass along.

mtelliottStreet & Cemetery

There’s a famous Detroit cemetery on the south side of the street; it’s called Mt. Elliott Cemetery.  I thought the cemetery was named for the street, but I had it backwards; the street is named for the cemetery, and the cemetery is named for Judge (and practicing architect) Robert Thomas Elliott, who wanted a Catholic cemetery for Detroit’s burgeoning Irish population. (I guess he didn’t want to spend eternity in the company of amidst the French Catholics who had originally settled Detroit).

Anyway, the Honorable Judge Elliott was instrumental in the purchase of the property, which was consecrated in 1841. The cemetery was named for the judge, who was killed in a construction accident shortly thereafter.

The “Mount” part is simply a style of cemetery naming current at the time of its consecration.  Got it? Good. Let us proceed up the “Mount”.

At its base is a nifty sign adjacent to a weird cafe/art gallery/auto displayground.  Let the good cheer begin.

enjoydetroitDig that Pontiac

Parked a dozen yards or so up the street was a mini bus with a terrific promise.

totalhospitalityIt’s an “Escort” brand bus. Coincidence?

I waited to be transported to the vehicle’s mystery destination, but it just sat there.

One of Detroit’s most famous tourist attractions, (the Heidelberg Project) abuts Mount Elliott, but I concentrated on some lesser-known features, like the fab pawn shop at Mt. Elliott’s intersection with Gratiot.

goldmineYee hah! There’s gold in that there shop.

Dreams of wealth beyond avarice soon fade, though. Mt. Elliott quickly reverts to more typical Detroit scenes. Like this shop.

finethings“Fine” does not include paint

Near the intersection with E. Grand Blvd., I wandered off-course, and came across this week’s stump the misterarthur winner, a company named….?

cuombCuster’s Tomb?  Cruet Bomb?

I’ve noted before that we’ll spray graffiti on just about anything in our fair city, these abandoned tires being a prime example:

taggedtiresMy tread’s lusher than your tread

These tagged tires were cheek-by-jowl with one of Detroit’s more spectacular collapsed buildings. The whole mess is very near to the ex-Packard factory, but I’m not sure if this “structure” was ever part of the car producing firm.

collapsedAnyone need a sectional – slightly used?

Some people were scrounging around amongst the ruins, “recycling” some cinder blocks they’d managed to find. It appears to be a popular wrecked area, as every graffitier has left a mark somewhere in its vicinity:

accessorydollsThanks for the offer

Once I crossed the Edsel Ford Freeway, and passed the Cadillac plant, Mt. Elliot forks off to the right, and if you continue straight along, you’ll find yourself on Conant, as I did. The rest of my ride looped me back home.  I did go by the Kowalski factory,

kowalskiIs that a big prong in your sausage, or are you just glad to see me?

and before I got home, I also passed a Deli (now defunct) which appears to have been named for one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

greedysdeliMore hand-dipped ice cream, please

The Deli’s on Oakland street, in case you’re looking for proof that you don’t mess around with Capital Vices in public.

At the Avalon Bakery (I recommend the blueberry buckle cake) I met two charming people, Johnette, who raises money for impoverished South Africans at her site, Afribike, and a real Detroit tour guide, Mark Denson, from Dtours Detroit. Check out their respective sites

Van Dyke Avenue, The Atmospheric Training Academy, and the world’s best name for a barber shop

Saturday’s ride took me the length of Van Dyke Avenue; actually its length within the Detroit City limits. (We turned around at 8 mile, not wanting to venture into the wilds of Center Line.) Van Dyke is named for a former mayor of Detroit, James A. Van Dyke. Were the world a perfect place, the street name would be kept the same, but to honor the great Earl Van Dyke, keyboardist and bandleader of the Funk Brothers, the great Motown house band.

erlvandkNot the eponymic Van Dyke, but the Van Dyke

First up on view, Michigan’s Oldest Bank. Until recently, it was a Domino’s Pizza outlet (hence the busted sign).  You know it’s the oldest bank in Michigan because it says so, right on the edifice itself. (You won’t be able to make it out in the photo, but should you want to verify the claim, it’s on the corner of Kercheval and … yes, that’s correct, Van Dyke.)

oldestbankNo money, no pizzas, no buyers

Until you cross Gratiot, Van Dyke is mostly residential.  Like a number of severely depressed parts of the City, this section of Van Dyke it trying to drag itself up by its bootstraps.  Here’s an exhortation to the locals:

self-helpWork, Earn Money, Spend Money

There’s a nicely painted bench near the sign – I think it’s a bus stop, but these days it’s hard to say for sure, because the city is cutting back services left, right, and center, including bus services.

benchFor your own safety and comfort, please hold the hand rail

I passed a boarded up theatre – I’m positive I saw a King Crimson/Procol Harum concert here when I was a tadpole, but for the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the venue. UPDATE: It was the Eastown Theatre.

theatrewideMystery Theatre

There’s a wonderful detail above the former Marquee – something you don’t see at today’s octoplexes.

theatretightShakespeare subservient to comedy. Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of humor

I asked a local passerby if he remembered what the theatre used to be called, but all he could recollect was that the last time the building was open, it was a methadone clinic.

Detroit seems to have more than its fair share of tire stores (could be related to our giant potholes), but perhaps no other has a paint job to match that of D.O.T. tires

nousedtireguaranteeMonsieur Michelin meets Mister Sponge Bob

Once again, my photo doesn’t do it justice.  It’s an honest shop.  As it says above “Blow Horn”:   “What’s up Doc?  YOU KNOW there’s NO guarantee on Used Tires.”

Cooley’s Lounge, is, as far as I could see, shut down. But after looking around on the internets, crazily enough, there’s a web listing for Cooley’s Lounge online. While the building promises Blues & Dancing, the web site I linked to claims “Gay/Lesbian Lounge Music”.  I like the guitar, which looks like the ill-begotten love child of a Gibson Explorer and a Super 400.

cooleysloungeLooks closed to me, but who knows?

There’s a schizophrenic (or is that multiple personality disorder?) quality to many of Detroit’s main streets, and you’re apt to see strip clubs right next door to day care centers. True! Continuing the trend, the next thing I noticed after passing Cooley’s was this reminder:

salvationfreeHurry Up!

Every city has cranky citizens; Detroit is no exception.  We do need help here, so the sentiments behind these signs aren’t completely unwarranted.

sqrewedWhere’s that stimulus money, any way?

I like the novel spelling of “sqrewed” and “communiies”, but I still miss the possessive in “wheres”. After all, I am still a member in good standing of the grammar police.

Stroh’s was our local beer. The Stroh family owned and made Detroit’s “Fire Brewed” beer, but then sold out to some faceless conglomerate that ran the brand into the ground. A note of interest:  Stroh started making ice cream during Prohibition, as means of keeping the company running during the dry years. (p.s.: You know the song “Jailhouse Rock”? There’s a lyric in it: “The whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang”. That was a Detroit gang of bootleggers.)

strohsAmerica’s “Favorite”

Back when I was in college, I worked at Dodge Main, the original Dodge Brothers’ factory in Hamtramck.  Just down the line from me were some members of a motorcycle gang named “Satan’s Sidekicks”.  They had red helmets with attached red Devil’s horns. As a young naif, I thought they’d be meanies and try to thrash me. I was wrong, of course. Satan’s Sidekicks was really just a social club.  That said, I’m not sure about the socialness of a motorcycle club with the following motto:

libertyfreedomdeathCognitive Dissonance, anyone?

Sir Mix-A-Lot had a boffo hit a while back: “Baby Got Back”.  I’m sure you remember it. If you got back, and you’re looking for a place to shop, you may want to check this place out.

biggirlsYes, indeed, they do

OK. Next up, the best-named barber shop anywhere in the English-speaking world, and singularly à propos for my fair city.

illcutyaThe Demon Barber of  Van Dyke?

Continuing the tradition of misspelled Detroit signage, I present to you “Pittbull” (sic) Tattoo’s (sic) & Body Piercing.  I noticed a number of lawn-sign type ads for the Pittbull company along my ride. Business is either slow, or they’re making enough profit for marketing. The painting that is the focal point of the shop mystifies me to some degree, it looks (to me) like a combination of a V-8 engine cutaway (I think those are pistons), a heart pierced by thorns, flames (hell?) and a bunch of skulls.  It’s like Hieronymus Bosch meets Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. You decide.

pittbullTats ‘n’ Holes

More of the piston motif can be found by carefully scrutinizing the Mojo Auto Parts sign. I believe that’s a piston behind the wheel. And there’s a Jolly Roger in there for good measure.

mojoautopartsHope this mojo works on you

Next, another strip club. It was called (The) Duchess Lounge – here’s the old sign. The thong is for the prudes in the area, I guess.

duchesssideDon’t know why there’s a 2 x 4 nailed across her head

Either it’s under new management, or the name wasn’t packing them in like it used to, as the club is now partially renamed Minx, or if  you take the uncovered part of the old name and combine it with the new, “DucMinx”.

duschessminxOpen for your pleasure

Once again, and true to form, the next thing I ran across was a church with a fantastic message board. I’d love to meet the pastor, who clearly has a sense of humor.

signbrokenAll are welcome to…find out inside

The uplifting spirit continued on to the impossibly-optimistic towing service next door. I guess if you’re sitting in your car while it’s being towed, all you could see is up.

upwardvisiontowingEver-alert auto towing service

Scroll back through my older posts, and you’ll soon discover that much about Detroit mystifies me. I have another piece to add to my collection of establishments whose purpose is not quite clear to me. I guess the Atmospheric Training Academy could train you for lots of things. But what, exactly?  Pilot’s license? Weatherman? EPA Air Quality Monitor? Just thinking karmic thoughts? I honestly don’t know. Please feel free to add your guesses to the comments. Anyway, here it is.

atmospherictrainingStump the misterarthur winner for this week

By now, I had just about run out of Van Dyke, and it was time to head home. Not too far from the ATA is the famous (I hear) 007 Gentlemen’s Club. No question about its purpose.

007RAWR, as my friend Mandy would say

If you decide this might be a place worth visiting, you should know that there are some things you cannot bring along with you for your evening’s fun:

noweaponsTrès Civilized

While weapons and guns are not permitted, everything else appears not just to be accepted, but encouraged.

007poster8 p.m. ’till you drop

A couple more interesting sights presented themselves before I got home. There’s the flaming tire tire shop (which also, curiously, has a rainbow in its logo, though you can’t see it from this angle.)

flamingtiresHot Tires, anyone?

There was the almost-correctly spelled Jamaican Restaurant, which may or may not be open for business. (Looks like a new paint job, so I’m betting on the former.)

trippleII, eye, aye

Back in the olden days, there was an “adult entertainment” establishment called, with a full sense of the irony implied in its name, “The Grosse Pointe Athletic Club”.  It went out of business, but was reborn as “Cover Girls”.

covergirlsDig that dated art style

Judging by the style of the art, I’m guessing Cover Girls closed its doors before the turn of the century.

Then it was time to grab something for lunch. Three options presented themselves:

oxtailporkchopfishOne of each, please

As the establishment was closed, I went home and ate a hot dog. Dearborn brand natural casing,  if you must know. Gotta help the local economy any way I can.