Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sunday at the Arb, Ann Arbor's Own Nichols Arboretum

I moved to Ann Arbor in 2010 from San Francisco, and though not long after my boyfriend Greg and I did spend one of our first dates at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, I had never made it to the city jewel that is affectionately termed the Arb, or more officially named Nichols Arboretum, until last week. I often heard people speak of going for walks at the Arb or checking out the gardens (the Peony Garden is quite popular in early summer), but I never knew what they were talking about or where it was. (I stumbled upon the Matthaei Botanical Gardens via free passes to their Conservatory at the library one day.) 

So when my mother asked what I had planned for her visit one Sunday, I was pretty stumped until someone (it might have been Greg) suggested we investigate the Arb. I checked the weather reports online and decided this would be a terrific idea. I also looked up where the Arb was located in relation to Kerrytown so that we could also swing by Catching Fireflies and I could show my mother where my not-so-new-anymore job is. Turns out to be about a 5 minute drive from the Kerrytown and downtown areas, which was perfect.

After picking up some goodies from Catching Fireflies and grabbing some drinks from Sparrow Market, my mom and I plugged in the GPS and headed east. (Driving through Kerrytown is awful, and I don't suggest ever trying it unless you really know where you're going. With its total lack of a grid pattern and streets that randomly become one way for a single block, I still avoid driving there as much as possible.) 

The internet (and consequently GPS) led us to the Geddes St entrance, which does not include a parking lot. I remembered the website saying something about this, so after a little circling, I directed my mother to street parking down the road a block or two and around the corner. Parking in Ann Arbor is free on Sundays, and street parking frees up on the weekends in general. (Meaning no more "2 hour parking only" deals that plague me on the weekdays when I am trying to get to work.)

As soon as we entered the Arb and started on the path toward the Huron River, I understood why Ann Arborites were so fond of the place. There is an old grassy river valley with a wide, flat bottom that is perfect for games of Frisbee, picnics, and sunbathing. There are numerous paths to take, and most are well-marked by gravel or wood chips. There are also signs posted with location markers and maps available at the entrances.

We passed a few people on the path and saw more down in the valley relaxing, but it turned out the river was the place to be. Kids and adults both were wading in the swiftly moving shallows, and countless people went by in canoes, kayaks, row boats, and inflatable tubes. I've been warned about the Huron many times and how filthy it is, but the water there looked clean and clear and the temperature was perfect for swimming. It was on a bench along the shore that we had our picnic of turkey sandwiches and yogurt.

We heard an interesting story after we left about an older man who is often seen by the River there. He says he is moving rocks around in the river to form a heart shape. He wants to send a message of love with the flow of the water. We did see a man at water fitting his description, and I did think that the rocks in the river formed an unusually perfect V shape. Maybe that was him and his handiwork.

The Arb isn't as big as the Botanical Gardens, but it's great to have a huge park like this with such varied landscapes right in the city. Nothing grand like Golden Gate, of course, just lovely and spacious and really quite close to my jobs in downtown and Kerrytown. (Probably not walking distance, though.) I'd like to see the Peony Garden next year.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ann Arbor Art Fair 2013

I haven't "attended" the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair since 2011. Last year, I was too busy learning my new job at Crazy Wisdom and working nights at my then-main job at a grocery store (CW has since replaced it). This year, however, I spent all of Friday downtown, working two shifts at the bookstore with a break in between to explore a little of the surrounding fair.

It was really a dinner break, but I took the opportunity to wander the incredibly hot streets and see what the artists were offering this year. I went down Main to the little food avenue set up along W. Washington between Main and Ashley. I thought I'd pick up some street food and wander the booths, but I found nothing tempting and was a little taken aback by the prices, so I decided instead to go to Hommus Express on Liberty and pay roughly the same amount (actually, it turned out to be less) for better, tastier, more freshly made food - chicken shawarma and fries, yum!!

Along the way, I passed a few street performers, one of my favorite parts of festivals. There was a girl I don't think I'd seen before posing as a living statue all painted silver. The crowd around her seemed particularly perplexed by her hair and couldn't decide if she wore a wig or had sprayed her hair that color. A sign next to her read "The more you tip, the more my spell is broken." Whenever someone put a tip in her basket, she slowly changed position. When I snapped my photo, she was saluting someone who had just tipped her. At least, it looks like a salute to me. Her movement was very fluid. I don't know how long she'd been standing there, but she must have been very disciplined. It was very hot and humid that day. (It always is for Art Fair. It also usually storms at least once.)

Now, it wouldn't be an Ann Arbor festival without our very own Violin Monster, and I found him performing opposite the living statue in his signature aerobics outfit complete with neon sweat band. (Another of his signature outfits is a T-shirt that reads "Pretty Girls Rock!") I would have stayed to listen to a tune, maybe do a little dance, but I had limited time to find food while also exploring the art fair, so after taking the photo, I moved on down Liberty toward State.

The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair is huge. I don't think I've ever made it past Liberty, though it goes down State and across U of M's campus. There definitely wasn't enough time to explore all of it, which is a shame as I have heard the farther out artists are more unique and local to Ann Arbor. (People come from all over to sell their wares at this fair.) I found plenty of garden stakes and quotable plaques to hang around the home, the kinds of things you find at every art fair. For one or so block of Liberty I also encountered booths for local groups such as churches, atheist groups, political organizations, and other causes. There were. of course, a number of giveaways that I might have investigated with more time to kill. Nothing terribly interesting, mind, just free swag, of which I am generally a fan.

An interesting feature, I think, of the A2 Fair is that you can buy gift certificates. It's a better present than a card for the mall! (Okay, it's more unique anyway.) Also, there are four fairs that make up the whole fair, which is why it is such a large event. There is the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, which is all I've ever seen, the State Street Area Art Fair, the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, and Ann Arbor's South University Art Fair. The whole city gets involved, though. I particularly enjoy the plethora of sidewalk sales from some of my favorite shops, like Orchid Lane. There is also plenty of live music (beyond performers like Violin Monster). 

I know a lot of local people get annoyed when the Art Fair comes around. Traffic increases, streets get shut down, and parking becomes more scarce (though I have some tricks for finding good parking that I will not share). I don't mind, though. While working downtown, I get to meet people from all over and we do have some fun conversations. I like talking with the artists about their work and, being artists, they enjoy talking about their art. It was also nice to see some of the artists whose art we sell at Catching Fireflies at their booths with works that we don't carry at the store. 

Art Fair is just a part of life in Ann Arbor, and I, for one, enjoy it!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Midnight Mass Detroit

This past Saturday, July 13th, after working long days, Greg and I headed out to Hartfield Lanes and Lounge in Berkley, MI to check out Midnight Mas Detroit, a show for "pre-1965 traditional hot rods & customs." I've been to classic car shows before with a friend's family whose father did a lot of restorations while we were growing up. Midnight Mass was not like those shows. It wasn't all together different, either, but it wasn't exactly what I would call family-oriented.

The cover was only $5 per spectator, which is beyond reasonable when you consider it included a game of bowling in addition to a number of live music performances, goofy contests, and all the neat cars. Proceeds also benefited Helping Hannah's Heart, a charitable organization that helps to support families with children with congenital heart diseases.

We arrived before the sun went down, before all of the cars had set up. There were still plenty to look at, however, and it was much easier to see them in the daylight than after the sky had darkened since a row of lights in the covered parking area was out, and there were few spotlights in the uncovered lots. One of the early crowd favorites was a steampunk-looking vehicle that had copper plates riveted all over its body. That had to have been so time-consuming! (Click the pictures to enlarge them.)

There was also a car made out of a coffin, or possibly made to look like a coffin (though I suspect the former), and an old bread truck that had a tiki lounge built inside. It looked like a tiki lounge anyway, with bamboo walls, benches, and a surf board mounted to the ceiling. We all enjoyed it.

While Greg and I were taking a break from the cars inside the bowling alley, watching of the of bands playing, one of our friends from Game Night unexpectedly showed up! The bowling alley is right in her neighborhood, and it turned out we'd followed her down the road for a while as she was headed home. Wondering what would bring us up from Belleville, she investigated online, discovered Midnight Mass and decided to come check it out. She saw the rest of the band with us, followed by the bad tattoo competition.

I really didn't know what to expect from a bad tattoo competition. The prize for worst tattoo was a gift certificate to a local tattoo shop to have the tattoo fixed, and the judges were employees of that shop. A couple stories were quite interesting. One young woman had, at the age of 17, her boyfriend's name tattooed across her back. Six months later, they broke up and now she is married to the guy's best friend. To fix this unfortunate tattoo choice, she had another tattoo done over-top, a red VOID stamp which I thought was rather clever. Another entrant had chunks falling out of his tattoo the day after it was done. (I would have gone to a doctor if I were him. Chunks of tattoo equals chunks of flesh!) The winner was a woman who had a totem tattooed across her back. I don't know what was wrong with it, but she was beyond indignant and downright pissed because it was a part of her heritage gone wrong.

Another band hit the stage, and we went back outside to meet up with more of Greg's friends and check out the cars again. We ran into a friend of a friend who had recently acquired an old restored station wagon with a clamshell back. Greg and I had never heard of a clam shell back and were intrigued when the man demonstrated. At the turn of a key on the side of the glass of the rear window, the glass retreats up into the top of the car while the bottom metal part tucks into the bottom, like sliding doors. It was pretty cool, if a bit gimmicky.

We also ran across a farmyard junk band playing near the main entrance. One man was playing an old jug while another had a washboard, and another had an upside-down metal tub with a stick attached, which I've seen before, but I don't know what it's for. There was also a fiddle player and other more recognizable instruments.

Even though we had a free game of bowling for each of us, we ended up leaving before playing because I was just too tired to stay much later. Berkley is a good 40 minutes from Belleville, depending on traffic, and after only a 9 hour work turnaround, I was exhausted, with another full day of work waiting for me on Sunday. (Weekend? What's that?) The night was fun even without bowling, and we definitely got our money's worth. And now I know what a bad tattoo contest is.

Monday, July 8, 2013

If You Seek A Pleasant Peninsula, Look About You

When I was a kid, my family and I went camping at least once every summer. Camping is an inexpensive, relaxing vacation that I still enjoy. Sadly, it's difficult to get time off to go, so you can imagine I was pretty excited when not only was I able to get time off to join my mother and the regular camping group for a few days over the 4th of July holiday this year, but my boyfriend Greg was able to get the same days off so he could join us!

Usually, when camping, I get a lot of reading and writing done, one of the reasons I look forward to it. Being at home, I often depress myself with how little I am able to get done of my long list of Things To Do. I did get a fair amount of reading done on my two day vacation, but writing was my main hope, and only a couple lines were completed. Nature, however, I found very inspiring, as I always do, and that's worth something.

Being away from general society at least gives one pause. The mind is surrounded by a different environment that must be interacted with in a different way than the more familiar, everyday. It's a real break, and I was in sore need of a break. I haven't gotten too much writing since returning, granted, but today I have completed two loads of laundry, run the dishwasher, gone through another box from moving, updated my blog (or will have upon clicking "publish"), and should soon have time to run two errands before heading into work tonight at 5. I've also managed to watch a few episodes of classic Doctor Who, carrying my laptop from room to room as I worked. 

I keep telling myself that once I get all the other pressing responsibilities finished (unpacking, mostly, since we moved at the end of March and it's now July), I will take an entire day and sit and write. That might require another camping trip. On the plus side, Greg is taking a camping trip of his own in a couple weeks and will be gone for over 2 weeks, and that should give me plenty of free time to get things done. We'll see!