Columns

2009.08.26 Crazy times in the big city

on . Posted in By The Way

This old column from 20 years ago is a little sad because it mentions six vacation days. It’s been a while since I’ve had six vacation days. All in a row, no less.

I was granted a day off last week so we took off for a three-day weekend, if you count not leaving until after noon and five hours sitting in the car. Writing Observer stories.

We went north to experience rain and chill. It’s been too hot and dry down here in the south. I recall walking the streets of Traverse City wearing four shirts and wishing I had my sweatshirt from the car.

With that weather, there wasn’t much to do but visit stores and remember that this is called vacation for my wife. For me it was called torture. It was called madness.

I stood in the basement of the refurbished state mental hospital—now stores, offices and condos—staring out the window, wondering if I would ever be released.

Finally I was. The sun came out Sunday and the obligatory dip into Lake Michigan arrived.


It happened in the Village

Sept. 7, 1989

So there I was walking near St. Mark’s Place in the Village. A subway was rumbling away somewhere down below. A man in a delivery truck was screaming at a woman who stopped to get a parking spot.

There was a bag lady looking through the trash and an array of the down-and-out sprawled on benches and asleep in the shade of buildings. A woman with green hair walked by, then a little later one with lovely purple locks.

A man stood in the street pounding a long stick on the pavement and chanting, “Light my fire! Light my fire!” I looked across the street and noticed he was yelling at the fire station.

Then these two nasty-looking guys approached me. One of them looks out of the corner of his eye at me and he says, “Kill him. Bring him back to life. Kill him again.”

Isn’t that the kind of story you expect to hear from someone returning from a vacation in New York City?

It really happened, but I wasn’t too concerned. Those two were just having some fun. They walked right on by.

If you had six days and some gas money, wouldn’t you choose New York City for a little relaxation?

Actually, our destination was the Bronx. There’s always a bed awaiting us at Colleen’s mother’s apartment—that is if her brother Mark sleeps on the couch.

The impetus behind this visit was the marriage of a high school buddy of Colleen’s. That grand event took us somewhere up onto Long Island. The reception was at the plush Swan Club. My attire made it closer to the Swine Club. Someone had to play the role of country bumpkin.

Around 1 a.m. on our first night out of Morenci, in a Motel 6 in Youngstown, Ohio, Colleen realized she forgot my dress shirt. She found this so funny she was forced to stuff a pillow in her mouth to avoid waking up our neighbors. About 2 a.m. she realized she also left my shoes behind. And my belt.

My wedding experiences are limited, but it seems that in Michigan people dress up for weddings and dress down a little for receptions. Loosen or remove the tie. Take off the jacket. Even go without a belt in my case.

We arrived at the wedding and I almost felt overdressed. A lot of people weren’t wearing suits. When we later arrived at the Swine Club, I left my coat and tie in the car and turned over the keys to the attendant.

We went inside and there were the same people dressed to kill. I’m sure there was a lot of explaining going “Oh, he’s from Michigan.” They could have at least said Ohio.

I remember looking over my shoulder at the final glimpse of the New York skyline before it becomes hidden by that low range of mountains in New Jersey. I remember glancing at the Toledo skyline off the turnpike a few hours later and thinking how tiny it looks.

Then came the Morenci skyline which of course is nothing but trees. But you know, it kind of looks like Central Park and that’s where this big ugly guy came up and...

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