Category Archives: MUSINGS

Last Night, Night Before

Last Night, Night Before

Michelle J. Pearcy

 

Last night, night before

24 robbers at my door,

I got up and let them in and hit’em in the head with a rolling pin.

Ready?

Ready or not, here I come.

You’re ‘it’. You have your eyes covered, face pressed against a tree. You’re the seeker, the person waiting for others to hide in the youthful game of Hide and Seek.  So you recite this ditty aloud. They scramble to hide. As night fell, especially in summers, you were never fully able to roam the place you called home – Detroit. That luxury was denied of many of the Motor City’s denizens, not just children. You lived with the constant possibility of meeting the (mis)judgement of law enforcement. Not in the courtroom, but in the streets:  judge and jury. Right there in the streets, sometimes as close as the alley or corner of the street on which you resided.  Somehow despite being raised in strict emotional confines delineated by fear, it was a memorable youth. Children in your neighborhood adjusted and made play in spite of fear of missiles, brute force law enforcement, and depopulated neighborhoods. You made the most of what you had to work with.  But, a deeper meaning of the ditty would penetrate your dream world and become a recurring existential drama that replayed over and over with the same nightmarish proposition: 24 robbers at my door.

A strong, faceless authoritarian force that methodically moved from house to house extracting children from their beds, leaving their parents impotent to intervene.  It was a nightmare that had very little variation: a rumbling of the earth beneath your bed, an urgent boisterous rapping on the door, and the sound of rushing feet in cadence approaching your bedroom. The very fact that no one on a sweaty horse interrupted this sweaty, bleary dreamspace meant, after a few very upsetting awakenings that no one would save the children. The recurring dream did not arise from an overactive childhood imagination.  It did not come out of nowhere. Some things can last forever, like trauma. The contents of an upturned hourglass are obedient to gravity, but a few things that simply defy time: hurt and love. They’re defiant and dismissive. The sense of loss of comfort, of safety that arose from thinking that even parents could not protect you remained with you all the remaining time you spent on the street where you were born: Taft Street, Detroit, Four, Michigan.

It was summer. You remember the smell of moist soil, of flowering trees and shrubs and the comfort of a carpet of thick blades of grass that engulfed you when you fell to the ground. You’d been circling and charging the hanging sheets on the clothesline hoping to dislodge a wooden clothes pin from the laundry line without being discovered. Clothespins doubled as all sorts of creative playthings:  slingshots and finger pinchers and wrestlers, especially when two pins were entwined and bound by rubber bands and then let loose. The chaos of the bands untwisting mocked two wrestlers tumbling on the mat and as you would later compare, the old neighborhood entwined with the new.

It was at a time when a lot of change was taking place on Taft Street and in the world. It was at a time when zip codes didn’t matter much; it was when one number sufficed for postal delivery. It was a time when having a party line was no cause for celebration; it was when one phone line TYLER87105 was shared by two households. It was at a time when fish was sold from a truck, when a man yelling “FRESH FISH” from the top of his gills didn’t disturb the peace. It was at a  time when milk and fruit juice with perfectly crimped tops made of paper were delivered in bottles and deposited magically in the milk chute, a place that doubled as a ready way into the house in the event you lock yourself out. It was at a time when garbage trucks picked up all sorts of discards, none of which were people.

It was a time when the only thing recycled was the washing machine’s roller ringer thingy when it failed to squeeze all the water from the wet towels and the cycle had to be repeated. It was at a time when coal was delivered by truck and the imperfect black gold was pushed in carts across perfectly laid planks on the grassy carpet of your backyard. The sound that coal made as it rolled down the chute into the bin in your basement made boisterous summer storm’s thunder claps sound like purring kittens.

Callin’ out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat?
Summer’s here and the time is right…

It was summer 1964 and Martha & The Vandellas’, one of Motown’s all-female groups invited Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore and DC, and, Don’t Forget the Motor City to dance in the streets. Across the nation, friction caused by teetering economies, Jim Crow mentality that was steadily migrating north from America’s south,  mass exodus and divestment from city centers, growing entanglement in Vietnam, and intense brushes between law enforcement and black communities left many cities out of breath. It would be an exhaustion felt by Detroiters for an entire decade between the time The Vandellas’ dance call and some relief from the brutal way Detroiters were treated by Detroit police units.  You were a child, but knew from adults’ conversations that The Vandellas’ call to dance was much more than asking people to do the ‘in’ dances like The Mashed Potato, The Monkey, and The Hitchhike. It was a call to action to challenge unfair treatment of those who lived in Don’t Forget the Motor City and all the other cities blistered by racial friction.

And, because there was so much going on in your own streets, you did not know that at the same time cities were being called to dance, 50,000 new soldiers and paramilitaries were marching into South Vietnam, all needing to be fed, clothed, paid, and armored. You also did not know that they landed in a land that most could not conjure in their bleariest dreams. You also did not know that their absence would leave your own streets so short of manpower and so robbed of spirit that if they returned from the war they would face so many new challenges. Despite the impact ratcheting up of military spending and outlays from the mid-60s until 1970 had on the economy, Detroit’s music industry remained healthy. While a war was being fought on the other side of the world and NASA was launching men out of the world, Motown kept so many communities grounded and rooted and as history would tell, became a renowned incubator of creativity that left a lasting mark on music, choreography, performance artistry, and style, worldwide.

And there you were, laying face up in the grassy carpet in your backyard just down ‘the Boulevard’ a few miles from Hitsville USA, the place where Berry Gordy and William “Smokey” Robinson and others at Motown Records were writing, practicing, teaching, and changing the world. Circling and charging hanging sheets on the clothesline was simple but dizzying fun. You fell to the lawn and looked into the summer sky and suddenly felt a rumbling beneath you. And, in that instant your place in the world changed. In the alley the kids scrambled and were running and jumping fences into neighboring backyards. The dance on Taft Street in Don’t Forget the Motor City usually took place in the alley. Really, your memory of the dance was that it was a chase more than a dance. It was a slow and deliberate chase. The uniformed grownup Hide and Seek seekers intended for their unmarked black sedans to be spotted before they slowly and intimidatingly marauded and cruised the alleys of your west side neighborhood.  The officers were all or mostly white and did not live in Detroit, Four, Michigan. You could safely guess that they lived in the fringe neighborhoods of the City in insulated enclaves populated by their white brethren in blue. By the time nearly 500,000 people had migrated from the south to Detroit in the 1940s the demographics of Detroit had changed drastically and many white southerners seeking better paying jobs in the industrial North added to the resentment against a wide pool of black factory workers already in place since the Second World War. By the 1950s and after Detroit’s bloody race riots in 1943, may white southerners were recruited to the police force.

BIG FOUR!!! The clarion would call and all would scatter.

The Big Four’s sole purpose seemed to be to disperse the nucleus of the neighborhood. The unit practiced a broken policy of broken window policing even before the broken thing earned a name and became a thing.  They were a special detail of the Detroit Police Department. Three plain clothed officers and one uniformed officer, the driver, in one unmarked black sedan.

The alley behind Taft Street, Detroit, Four, Michigan was a gathering place until plans for the interstate disconnected one community to keep another connected.  Why wouldn’t planners and politicians graft a new artery for the new wave of ex-Detroiters to carry themselves back to the heart of Detroit’s downtown? The rumble of those plans were felt in your backyard and your alley long before the first cubic yard of concrete was ever laid on the new six lane highway. First things first: shut the alleys.  

Alleys may have been publicly owned easements but were also the most intimate arteries of Detroit’s neighborhoods. Alleys were extensions of backyards and platforms for community conversation. Alleys hosted talk about plans to dislocate you from the campus on Grand River that contained three schools: an elementary, a junior high, and high school. Planners intended K through 12 education in one place. Instead, you were banished to an old building erected in 1899 until a new school was ready to occupy. “Old” and “new” were used to make distinctions in alley conversations. And, by the time you reached New McGraw School you were such a displaced second grader that neither the age nor the fate of any schoolhouse mattered.  By the time you learned your way to the correct door to the second grade classroom and the correct hallway to the second grade classroom your school had been changed.  Who can justify causing as much uprooting of small children as this? When New McGraw opened it was at the time when the U.S. lost the race for the first man in space to Russia. The new school’s aerial view oddly resembled a UFO.

Alleys were places where services were delivered and where communities recovered from disasters. They were wide enough for Detroit DPW and Detroit Edison repair trucks to skillfully squeeze by each other after a summer storm to collect downed limbs and power lines without taking out your cyclone fence. Alleys hosted rumors that the Sound of Liverpool and the famed five brothers of the Motown Sound would be doing something in the second floor space above the bowling alley on Grand River Avenue. The alley where you played was a connector to great fame and sheltered awe-struck children who patiently waited for hours based on a rumor that they may catch a glimpse of entertainers piling out of their own black, unmarked sedans before a concert at Olympia Stadium. Alleys were places were children could be children riding bicycles picking up impromptu games of softball or football. Alleys were places where teens practiced being grown. Where boys with processed hair kept in place with do-rags rolled dice against garage walls betting coins, trying miserably to mimic grown men. Alleys were places where a stray cat could wander into your backyard and your heart and become your first pet. They were places where the sound of your mama calling you home seemed to be perfectly dubbed over tracks of music wafting from the front room window of your Aunt Connie’s upstairs flat. Families lived together in houses with two doors in Detroit, Four, Michigan.

Come on and
Show me the way
To get to Soulville, baby
Show me the way to go home.

Soulville. As Detroiters left in droves in waves and settled in predictable concentric circles outside the city, Detroit- churched, Aretha Franklin who would later earn the royal moniker, Queen of Soul, sought the familiar. Although Soulville may only be a lyrical place to many, like Detroit, it  was a place where music and food and love could be counted on. Ms. Franklin’s soulful cover of the song had been interpreted differently by Dinah Washington. Soulville was one of many Ms. Franklin recorded in a tribute album released the year after Dinah Washington’s death. Washington was much loved by Franklin and Detroit for her unique sound; so many were saddened by her too early departure at the age of 39. And now you think of it, you recall peering out of the window of your parents’ station wagon at vehicle after vehicle in queue along Dexter Avenue. It was a line of gawkers hoping to catch a glimpse of fame among the spectacle of friends and family mourning Ms. Washington at the funeral home. Dexter Avenue was he same street where Ms. Franklin’s father, Reverend CL Franklin, a civil rights activist had his church. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, led by Rev. Franklin earned respect in 1963 when he led a freedom march in Detroit that some called a prototype for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historical March on Washington for Workers later that year. Reverend Franklin’s effort brought out over 125,000 people to Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

When things were most uncertain in Detroit, a taste or touch or sound of Soul was always waiting to be experienced. For years, radio personalities like Wade “Butterball Jr.” Briggs used the airways as connectors of their own. Briggs was a 19-year old prodigy at Detroit’s first black-owned radio company, Bell Broadcasting. Drs. Wendell Cox and Dr. Haley Bell founded stations WCHB and WJLB in Detroit under the Bell corporate banner. WCHB’s memorable call was “1440 WCHB, Soul Radio.”  Their aim was to create a full-service radio outlet for the black community; they were on target and enjoyed many successful years. One of the things that would stick in your mind was Bell’s radio personalities had a role in the live Motown performances at Detroit’s beautiful Fox Theater.

If you were lucky, you were able to join the single lane of humans that had forgotten they had toes in a cold queue that wrapped around two city blocks for the MotorTown Revue or Motown Talent Show. There was something completely just about first-come, first-served and year after year, you made sure you arrived earlier and earlier to join the queue for the best seats. The season around Thanksgiving was perfectly suited for the MotorTown Revue. The program was a feast of music and choreography and style from the sequined fitted dresses worn by favorites like The Supremes to perfection in fit of tuxedoes worn by The Temptations.  Once inside the opulent Fox Theater your soles and your soul were warmed and you felt like someone special even if you were only one person among over 5,000 seated fans.  When the spotlight struck the first sequin on a form-fitting dress, your sense of feeling returned in a rush of excitement. It was hard to stay seated being in the same room with most of your music idols.

There was always a message in the music that traveled the airways. By the mid-60’s the sound from the community male-look-at-me-now songs like Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, but in time resonated with drumbeat to Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud). There was no question that James Brown’s studio work turned anthem of self-love was a huge esteem boost for African American people and a legacy for his children and grandchildren. Along the same vein, Marvin Gaye’s songs of  intimacy turned into to cries for understanding of what was going on in the streets of America and in Southeast Asia.  Nina Simone sang Revolution I and Revolution II because she could see the things to come and knew too well the daily struggle as a black woman just to stay alive.

But, as hard as the black artists and radio stations strived to keep up hope and the community connected, the decision to block Detroit’s alleys marked the beginning of development of the new six-lane artery. It ushered in a new time that unraveled the west side neighborhood’s ties. Your family practitioner, Dr. Leland, would no longer walk around the corner to make house calls. Your family dentist, Dr. Saginaw, who shared the lavender-colored building with Dr. Leland, would be across town, and no longer a short half-block walk to dental care. Your local grocery store, John’s Grocery, would be the only building remaining on Taft Street after all the real estate had been taken for the interstate. Without the residents of Taft Street bringing their wagons full of pop bottles for deposit returns and buying new groceries and paying their tabs that John had deferred until his neighbors were able to make ends meet, meant he would no longer be able to make his own ends meet. Churches, libraries, schools and all sorts of social infrastructure would be disconnected by the coming connector.

Years later, after the new artery was grafted to connect the new suburbanite to her heart, downtown, Detroit awakened to a gray sky and felt different. For the first time it was difficult for her to see past the gray; it was as though the sun was no longer waiting to break through. She had not anticipated the impact of some of the decisions hosted inside the walls of Two Woodward Avenue, inside her City Hall. And between the lines of every motion that passed that closed her most intimate arteries, she began to feel as though something else was contained between the lines of each legal document.

Between the lines, from cover to cover

are anagrams of hurt and shame.

Of growing old in a world that hasn’t learned yet.

So long as my brother is not safe with

food on his plate,

a roof for his head

and soothing salve for his hands,

I am neither.

Detroit was nearly inconsolable because some decisions that had been made in her midst were already having repercussions. Neighborhoods were hurriedly being dispersed and the human glue was disappearing. Though decisions had been made that determined the extent of the new road, something else inside her borders was widening the chasm. Detroit’s police department was moving further from its citizens. DPD had been known as innovators as early as the turn of the 20th century. They hired their first black police officer, L.T. Toliver and shortly after, their first female officer, Mary Owen. Detroit had bragging rights for being the first city to use automobiles to patrol, a natural since the heartbeat of the automotive industry in America was right within her borders. Many of Detroit’s automobiles went from raw resources to assembled vehicles, including tires at Ford Motor Company’s Rouge Plant, whose population of workers easily dwarfed the size of some cities. At most points in the Rouge Plant’s history the number of workers exceeded 10,000 with nearly as many suppliers; one manufacturer had an entire economy. That was multiplied three times in the Motor City; General Motors and Chrysler Corporation.

1967. But along the way, the fleet-issued sedans made by Detroiters struck fear in the streets. The department’s history went from making arrests of incorrigible drunks and corralling animals to 1967 when scores of revelers in an unlicensed after-hour club where guests were celebrating two GIs that had returned home from Vietnam were rounded up, sparking a fiery resistance that resulted in marshal law, state National Guard and Federal troops, the loss of 43 lives, thousands of arrests, millions in property loss, and an even wider chasm between black and white,  and Detroit and her suburbs. After the rebellion, S.T.R.E.S.S. (Stop The Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets), another Detroit special law enforcement team, used decoys that pretended to be drunks to draw out potential robbers. The failed unit with the failed acronym was not the city’s only epic failed law enforcement tactic, the decade older Big Four was an even bigger failure.  By the mid-1970s it was evident that the designers of such failed policing knew the exactly the stress exacted on the community. Police killings of residents were not uncommon and in 1974, Coleman A. Young, Jr. who was largely elected on a promise to end police brutality disbanded the stress(ful) unit as one of his first major initiatives.

One could only speak for the neighborhood one knew best, but it sure seemed some colonies of Detroit were being busted up to implement the ‘connector.’ In the time between the forced move from Taft Street and being settled your new neighborhood, you would go from being a cautious second grader to politically aware fifth grader.  As a second grader, you survived the fallout of fear from the Cuban Missile Crisis, which routinely sent small school children to fallout shelters. These safe places were usually in the boiler rooms of schoolhouses where you practiced placing your head between your legs in case of a missile strike. Children relegated to the bowels of the schoolhouse to prepare for something that would never happen were never prepared for the apparent danger in the streets.

At a time when Detroit was challenged on so many fronts, the memory of her proud history began to dwindle, and Detroit awakened from her own existential dreams, over and over.  One bleary-eyed morning, there was a stir beneath her, a rumbling. A voice resounded within:

Go there. Go to Second Baptist Church. 441 Monroe Street, Detroit, Twenty-Six, Michigan. You know where it is and when you get there, sit in a pew. Run your finger along the bottom of your dress. Sewn into the hem of your skirt are onyx treasures that you have somehow forgotten. Remember, you were the place where kidnapped and enslaved Africans decided to courage the journey. Every bit of spirit and courage of freedom from slavery you sheltered as a terminal in the Underground Railroad and every train or Greyhound bus ride from the cotton-picking South during Jim Crow with hopes of a good Detroit factory job still runs through your arteries. You have long stood for promise and hope from suffocation. You gave birth to more than the automobile industry and music. You helped bring hope to so many and labored so long and hard for them every day for a long time.  Catch your breath, a new day will emerge.

A sweet jewel onyx

I am

Of hope,

Of love eternal.

The rhythm

Of our hearts is one

I am

They.

 

Copyright (c) 2016

Michelle Joy Pearcy

Ain’t That A Trip? …when the camera lens introduces you to a new home sweet home

Knowing that we sleep under the same sky has narrowed the miles and miles distance between my family and myself. Somehow, ‘home is where the heart is’ just doesn’t compare.

There is a true art to living and loving the longing. 

 

Visiting Detroit. My home. The Motor City. Home of Motown. “Big Cat” sport teams: Tigers and Lions. The Comeback Kids: American automakers. Detroit is no ordinary place. Nor would this visit ‘home’  be ordinary. It’s been over 11 years and I still refer to Detroit as ‘home.’ There’s a worldwide Detroit diaspora; if you travel and meet someone from anyplace in southeast Michigan, they’re likely to tell you they are from Detroit.

It’s one thing to live optimistically, inspiring yourself along the way. It’s something else to see strong, positive affirmations in big, bold letters.

Opportunity Made In Detroit. 

 

 

I had purposely traveled to Detroit to attend a storytelling event hosted by The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers.Their mission is to connect humanity, create community and provide an uplifting, thought-provoking, soul-cleansing entertainment experience that is unique through the art and craft of storytelling. This event’s theme was “Thankful.”

And thankful I was.

I absolutely believe in the healing power of words. Stories are made up of words, yet they are so much more – they connect our very beings. Words can galvanize communities or become shields that deflect change, invite fear, or cast us into the hinterlands separated from each other. 

My trip home would be check-up of sorts. I would open my heart and say “aaaaaah.” My first visit home as a travel blogger. The weekend would be fast, full of family, old and new friends, good cheer and an extreme opportunity to experience home through the lens of my camera.   

This “Zamboni” ice rink maintenance machine tending to the rink in Campus Martius Park is one more reminder: Opportunity Made in Detroit

So, on the first full day of my visit, between family commitments, a meetup with a nephew for some cheer at Flood’s, Detroit’s place “where everybody knows your name,” and the storytelling event, it would be me and my camera. Solo.   

But before I would start my exploration, I would go to Flo Boutique in the West Willis Village, near Wayne State University to buy a coveted Detroit Snob embroidered t-shirt. The store’s team made the atmosphere like being at home with family. After making my purchase perched on a seat, I asked if I could  ‘just be,’ to just hang out for a while and enjoy the camaraderie. “Of course!” was Sheila and Felicia’s response. As well as meeting a number of women, I learned a lot about the growing attractions and community between  Midtown and Downtown Detroit. When I wore out my welcome, off I went. My first stop was Great Lakes Cafe, a coffee-centric shop on Woodward & Alexandrine Avenue for a yummy sandwich.

Flo Boutique – Detroit is a lifestyle boutique for men and women. It is in the heart of West Willis Village, the hub of the Wayne State University, Cultural Center area.

After having some eats, I would be on my way to the riverfront. Once I got east of the landmark General Motors World Headquarters, I inched my way down the street that runs parallel to the river – Woodbridge. Milliken Park. New. The Dequindre Cut. New.

The Dequindre Cut is a non-motorized recreational greenway spanning over a mile from busy Gratiot Avenue to the riverfront. I was impressed by reuse of this abandoned railroad corridor. 

The Dequindre Cut is a greenway that hosts non-motorized recreational activities. I know if I lived nearby, it would be in my walking plans.

While some take abandoned resources and recover their value, others show respect for the unpolished edges of the urban landscape by using them as backdrops for beauty and culture. 

A group of young Detroit models pose in the shadow of the GM headquarters in a field near a warehouse. True grit is what it takes to forge a way into urban arts and culture. Kudos!

This warehouse doesn’t stand alone. It’s supporting cast is a blind of beautiful trees and the handiwork of graffiti artists.

I love calling the U.S. automotive industry “The Comeback Kids”!

 As I inched eastward, the hands of time were inching along with me – backward. Belle Isle Park was definitely one of my favorite places to visit as a child. When ‘the isle’ was the destination for our Sunday riding, life was good. We learned softball, cricket, and when we needed to stretch our legs, we would pile out of the car and race to the Scott fountain. 

I used to imagine the Scott Memorial Fountain to be a wedding cake. Its alternating colored-lights gave it an awe-inspiring appearance at night. Beautiful public art!

In all the years I visited Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, I never noticed the first road, the perimeter road of the island is called Sunset Strip. A well-deserved name!

A Dramatic Change: Sunset Behind Detroit and Windsor Skylines

 

In the winter, we ice skated on this pond until our toes felt like they would fall off and then we’d go inside the pavilion and have hot chocolate and Cheeze-It crackers for a snack.

There’s something about showing up to make the full impression of your life something worthy of reflecting on later. Just as the sun will not half rise or set, life’s reflection should be nothing less than that of your full self. This is the place that brought so much joy to my young life.

Something mystical happened as the sun began to set on my memories of home. The sky changed colors like the most elegant fashion model sashaying down the runway and with each change reappearing with something far more exquisite than the last change. 

It was an eerie conspiracy: the sky and the water in the ponds and the river were completely still on the surface. The Detroit River is a shipping channel with grown-up currents. I don’t know the phenomenon, but the landscape morphed into a wondrous canvas where the beauty of life was cast. 

When I stepped out of my car and walked maybe 20 feet to the pond’s bank, the smell of hops from the Windsor brewery infused the air. My heart rang out when the bell tower struck half past the hour.

Along with the reflection of the past, what I saw was the beauty and perfection of the heart: it is a storehouse of joy! What, for ages has been revealed as something that cannot be seen nor known by reasoning, poet, teacher and artist of words, Rumi captured it best.

“The lips, the water of life, the one whose thirst has been quenched are one.”

I wonder if she knows she’s filling his storehouse with joyful memories.

Detroit-Windsor Ambassador Bridge at Sunset

This was the most giving sunset I have ever experienced in Detroit. After beholding a portfolio of beauty, it was time to make my way back downtown to meet up with my nephew. Earlier as I traveled from Midtown to the Riverfront, I noticed Campus Martius was alive and teeming with activity. It is a magnet. The shops, the ice skating rink, the hand-warming bonfire are all people-pleasing attractions. I found a convenient parking space, went to a wine bar, perched with a nice glass of red, and watched the activity of the ice rink like it was a big screen television.On As I approached Woodward, I noticed that I became the subject of the curiosity of a man, moving along the street that would end on Woodward. He walked in a challenged way.  As I stood at the focal point of the attraction taking photos, he finally caught up to me. He stepped right in front of my camera. “Would you like for me to photograph you?” When I asked Richard if I could take his picture, he agreed with no hesitation.

Richard.

This was the first shot. “Why are you not smiling?” He was concerned about missing teeth and smiling. When I assured him that a smile is not defined by teeth and comes from inside out, this was the sweet photograph he gifted me with.

A smile can change an entire landscape.

Of course I wanted to know his story. He moved to Detroit to be close to his daughter and there had been some bad blood and they had been sorely out of contact – for a long time.

Forgive

It just slipped from my mouth and into the cool November air. At that instant, all stopped moving around me and this man who walked with a limp, carrying a cane and vet status. He shared his story and we talked. And talked. What I know is words absolutely have healing power. And, the storehouse of the heart is big enough to hold, preserve and share joy whenever needed.  

After I left Campus Martius soul-cleansed, I was still early for the meetup with my nephew. So I drove along Lafayette Boulevard to take a quick look at the primary school my daughter attended while we lived in the Eastern Market. When I made a u-turn in front of Chrysler Elementary School, I caught a flash of blue.

“Capital A. U-G-I-E”

That’s how he spelled his name when I asked him if he consented to let me take his photograph. He did not hesitate. When I asked where he was headed, I knew his answer: “Downtown.”

Augie on his way Downtown.

The brim of Augie’s hat is lined with blinking lights: a great safety device in the dark. 

My brief and enjoyable cheer with my nephew and one of his former colleagues was just what I needed  after a long afternoon of reminiscing, making new friends, and exploring ‘home’ through another lens. Then it was on to a remarkable storytelling event.

Aint’ That A Trip? …when the camera lens introduces you to a new home sweet home 

 

Ain’t That A Trip? …when stars in the black onyx sky are trumped by the city lights

Good Luck

O, once in each man’s life, at least,
Good Luck knocks at his door;
And wit to seize the flitting guest
Need never hunger more.
But while the loitering idler waits
Good Luck beside his fire,
The bold heart storms at fortune’s gates,
And conquers its desire.

Lewis J. Bates (1859-1946)

 

 

Bates left a great reminder. My response to the sound of opportunity knocking at my door is to fling the door open and hug opportunity like a long-lost friend, then treat it like welcomed company, inviting it to over stay my hospitality.  

Odds are, if given a chance to share good laughs in good company in a good place, I’m there! 

So, off to Las Vegas I journeyed for a weekend of fun. And laughs. And instant classics.

I am a helpless skygazer. As soon as I settled into the hotel and walked to “The Strip” on Las Vegas Boulevard, I craned my neck up to survey the blanket I would be operating under. What is the blanket, you may ask? The sky, of course! 

The black onyx sky over Las Vegas Boulevard.

I could not see a single star.

All of the stars were down on the ground. On The Strip. The sky had been trumped by the city lights. Outshone. But, definitely not left naked and ashamed. The nighttime sky was beautiful, like smooth black onyx. Like a precious stone, the sky was dotted by a lovely milky white moon. 

 

The Landscape – A Place to Look Up To In Las Vegas

Another Good Reason to Look Up in Las Vegas – Art Glass Inset in Bellagio Hotel Lobby Ceiling

This was my third visit to “Sin City.” I am simply amazed how ingenuous development of the complex entertainment destination Las Vegas has become – a place smack dab in the middle of the Nevada desert. There is live music, comedy, theatrics, all sorts of attractions, acrobatics, adult entertainment – a panoply of reasons to stay active and all abuzz.

Tao Bistro & Club’s interior – as impeccable as the culinary offerings.

Stone tubs filled with rose petals and candles line the entryway into the Tao Bistro and Club. Inside the Venetian facility.

Guests of the Venetian enjoy gondola rides in a backdrop reminiscent of the beautiful city of Venice, Italy.

“Spiderman” takes a break from his post on the Strip.

Gladiators chat until the next picture-seeking visitor comes along.

Another thing that was clear more this visit than ever before was the sense of possibility. It felt palpable – like a heartbeat.  I’m talking about the feeling that comes from pursuit of chance, of luck, of fame, of fortune, of hopes, of dreams. 

The Cosmopolitan Hotel & Casino was live on Saturday night.

Because it was the weekend before Halloween, being in Las Vegas was particularly entertaining. It was challenging to distinguish the costumed for parties from those ‘working’ The Strip for photos with visitors and tips. As I passed those dressed in costumes I presumed were working, I thought:

Feed your dreams. They help keep your footing on a solid path forward. Dream big. In high-definition. Anything less than big dreams ought to be left to luck. Odds are, dreams will take you outside of what appears to be to what could be.

That was really advice to myself… then I reminded myself that the journey to the place with the beautiful, smooth black onyx sky was for good laughs and good company and not too much thought-provoking thinking.

Ain’t That A Trip? …when stars in the black onyx sky are trumped by the city lights

Ain’t That A Trip? …when a walk around old town Girona lands you in Mexico

I love avocados. I love Mexican cuisine. What a delight to find extraordinary Mexican cuisine in Old Town Girona, Spain.

Inside looking out. Maguey: Cuina Mexicana

MAGUEY: Cuina Mexicana
One of the owners, Arturo was born in Mexico, moved to France for stint in the finance industry, followed his heart to Spain, and landed in Girona.  

When you walk in the restaurant, you immediately know your needs come first to the attentive staff. Arturo or “Arthur with an o” as he introduced himself was kind and engaging. He genuinely seemed interested in what had brought me to Girona. When I asked how a Mexican-born, journalist ended up in Catalonia, he was open and friendly, sharing his story.

 A few nights before I visited the restaurant for the first time, I watched his partner from a distance. It was just before the dinner rush – she was setting up overflow seating outside the restaurant. Her boundless energy made an impression on me – she was wrestling tables and umbrellas along  the sidewalk. What’s remarkable is the over-capacity seating was one storefront away and around the corner!  

Inside Maguey: Cuina Mexicana

Their food was great, especially the guacamole; it had chunks of the sweet, buttery fruit balanced with those spectacular tomatoes, onions, and just the right spike of citrus flavor. The heavenly guacamole was just the perfect starter to excite my palate but not fill me up.

Did I say I was looking for the best margarita I ever had when I first realized Maguey offered Mexican cuisine? Well, I was not, but it was truly a happy discovery.

Their hand-mixed classic margarita was excellent – so how would the specialty margarita featuring guava fruit rate better than excellent? 

über-excellent

Don’t take my word for it. I rank my people-experience right up there with the food, so maybe I’m not a good reviewer. Go see for yourself – be prepared for good food, great atmosphere, and a welcoming, sweet staff. 

Since travelers and diners seek different experiences, this is not intended to be a review of the restaurant, Maguey. Their website is www.maguey.es

Ain’t That A Trip? …when a walk around old town Girona lands you in Mexico.

Ain’t That A Trip?…when an urban nature walk lands you in a bat cave

 

Inside the Bat Cave, Barcelona, Spain

 Destination has become something more than the name of a place on my itinerary. It is a  frontier waiting to be adventured. Along the way, I am discovering that the trip is to today and a passion is developing: wanderlust for a place where a new nation can be built from within.   

Recently, after a daylong themed tour, “Cava, Coves and Gardens” in the beautiful Costa Brava region of Spain, I thirsted for more. Not the bubbly part of the theme, but the beauty that can hardly be captured in a digital frame.  The gardens. The plant life.

After the impressive tour of the modest and native Mediterranean botanical garden, Marimutra, I arranged to discover the untamed, uncultivated species that grow right in the backlot of the hilly cultural hub of beautiful Barcelona.

The next morning at first light, I watered the horses, tamped down the canvas, and hitched to the wagontrain to the new territory. Well, not really a wagontrain, but a train – the regional train from Girona to Barcelona – a 1.5 hour trip. I boarded the train not pretending to know where I was on the trail, but knowing my path was being directed and a righteous way being made, knowing that any sagebrush in the path would be cleared, and knowing the fog of doubt would be lifted. I was a hopeful pioneer in search of an instant classic.

When we met up with NaturalWalks of Barcelona, we would take an urban walking tour up steep hills, onto precipices, peering onto the site of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the awe-striking Barcelona seaport, the sapphire Mediterranean sea, and the vast landscape views of metropolitan Barcelona. 

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As an avid walker, I have come to appreciate the beauty of the ordinary. By the end of the tour, what I knew was confirmed: the beauty and rich cultural heritage of the place I admired didn’t just lie just in the architecture and art and history. There was profound beauty and purpose in the modest and surefooted plant life that survived for generations. This secret life that graciously gave hints about how the land was used. 

We discovered uncultivated fennel, garlic, sage, lavender, carob, mint, and a plethora of herbs and aromatics; it was like a moveable aromatheraphy session. When introduced to a new specimen,  I would ceremoniously close my eyes, take in a deep breath, get a huge waft of aroma and exhale with a soulful, ‘aaahhh.’  

Along the way around the mount, we noticed portions of the large rock wall which had been used for Olympic rockclimbing was cordoned off. There were safety concerns due to falling material. Then the amusing appeared: a tunnel. La Fuixarda. An outdoor tunnel that was being used as an urban climbing experience.

The “Bat Cave” is adorned with protrusions of all whimsical shapes, painted murals on the ceiling of the tunnel, and varying degrees of climbing difficulty. It was truly like walking into a colony of bats – friendly bats that were about the business of learning to hang upside down on the ceiling of a cave.

Ain’t That A Trip?…when an urban nature walk lands you in a bat cave.

Thank you Evarist March, owner of NaturalWalks for the memorable experience. Their website is http://naturalwalks.com/

Ain’t That A Trip?…when you land in a struggle between nature and luxury

Amber Glass at Sunset
(C) 2012, Michelle Pearcy
click on image to see full size

Somewhere there’s a place that lies between the excessively busy, cluttered, filled with bad news stories, ringtone-filled world we navigate our way through on a daily basis and packing it all in and heading for a cabin on Walden Pond.

It’s the middle ground.

Finding the middle ground is a constant journey. I feel enormously blessed to know there is a powerfully-calibrated GPS system that guides me. When I need my course re-set, that system doesn’t give up on me, but recalculates and sets me on my way. It’s the Most Capable Guide.  

I never tire of the journey to the middle ground. It is a place where I can rendezvous with life’s challenges, face fears, and instead of ruminating over something that happened yesterday or a moment ago over and over, I choose to tap the stop button instead of the rewind button. 

The middle ground is a place where I can find peace of heart – mind too. It’s a place where only now exists. When I’m in the middle ground, I know no matter how rough, how rugged, or how pot-hole-filled the road may be, it can lead to a stretch as smooth as butter. Yet, the only way there is the way forward.    

The photo of the bottle was taken at a luxury resort where I celebrated my birthday. The beautiful amber glow on the bottle was light cast by a candle. The sun was setting and we had just settled into the beautifully appointed lagoon unit after exploring our new surroundings. When night fell, we were in a crossfire. A war was being waged between luxury and nature. As one of my teachers, Khalil Gibran would say: 

“If indeed you must be candid, be candid beautifully.”

As one would suspect, nature won out over luxury. The legion of palmetto bugs (beautiful word for “big tropical cockroach”) set our trail ablaze; we retreated; we were reassigned to another unit to spend the next night; it too was under siege. After the second move, we just knew it would be our chance to shine. We were singing in two-part harmony the theme song from The Jeffersons situation comedy: 

“Well, we’re movin’ on up to the east side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky…well, we’re movin’ on up…”

We were moving to a de-luxe mansion overlooking the sea. It was by far more luxurious and by far roomier than the other two units put together – it was a mansion, after all.

A simple set change. The combat theatre was more beautiful – the troupe this time was  rodents (beautiful word for “sea rats”). The powerful lesson in this instant classic as we call journeys with rich and memorable learning and teaching moments:

You can build your mansion to touch a gilt sky, but if your neighbor’s lot is unimproved, your shack is not much taller than his.  

In spite of the bumpy road we still had a great and memorable time. Most of all the middle ground was still to be found. 

“No road is long with good company.” ~Turkish Proverb

Ain’t That A Trip? …when time begins the moment you stop watching it.

Nostalgia Softens The Look Back
(C) 2012, Michelle Pearcy
click image for full size

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some years ago, I stopped wearing a timepiece on my person. At the very moment I stopped twisting my wrist to watch my watch is when time began.

Nostalgia does something remarkable – it softens the look back, making the hard edges of photos from the past appear gauzy and foggy – almost romantic. So often, the reward for looking back over one’s shoulder is joy. At other times, the payoff is discovery and discomfort. It’s easy to get the lesson not to dwell too long in the past when you walk the shoreline – after taking a step in the sand, when you look back the impression has been washed away.

This old Chevy truck became the subject of my camera’s lens on a ride through the countryside.  It was fall in Michigan – just outide of Detroit, my hometown. This old clunker was placed alongside the road as an attention-grabber for what else? A pumpkin patch! This Sunday afternoon, I sprung my Mom from the rehabilitation facility where she was recovering after a heart valve replacement surgery. We would have a few hours to enjoy the fresh fall air – so off we went, riding, to take in the ‘colors.’ What I didn’t realize is my journey would be with one foot in and one foot out of the past.     

It was breathtaking! Without a doubt, the color wheel got its inspiration from fall in Michigan – indescribably beautiful. You can shoot so much with a camera that your own eye misses the experience. This time, my heart was memorializing  everything. I am ever thank-full; the memory of that day is replete with sight, sound, smell, and sensation of a new season of healing. 

October in Michigan. My favorite time and place for pumpkin-picking, cider-sipping, and Sunday riding. 

 “The BEST and

Most BEAUTIFUL things

In the WORLD cannot

Be SEEN or even

TOUCHED. They

Must be FELT with

The HEART.”

~HELEN KELLER

 

Ain’t That A Trip? …when time begins the moment you stop watching it. 

 

 

 

Ain’t That A Trip? …when traveling light becomes the unreal edge

 The Unreal Edge

Keep your head to the sky. And, whenever you feel weighted down, if you cannot muster the strength to keep your whole head lifted, just get that chin up! 

The Unreal Edge (Graffiti Art – Brussels, Belgium)
Copyright 2012 Michelle Pearcy                          click image for full-size

On the eve of 2011, I sat in a not-so-crowded salon of a Brussels hotel, bringing in the New Year with a young, gentle man from Tunisia. It was a giggle-filled celebration, not just in observance and excitement over bringing in a New Year, but in the common ground between two strangers – two travelers. The acquaintance evolved over a series of glasses of colas and  flutes of champagne. I wondered how long he could continue with his brown bubbly before becoming totally caffeinated. We talked family. We talked aspirations. We talked disappointments. In the space between was lots of laughs that left him with a medical case of hiccups. I smile as I think about how he emphatically invited me – a lone Bohemian – to visit Afriqué.  A few weeks later, his home, Tunisia was ablaze in an uprising.

It seems the road to our legacy is being paved with a cascade of sudden awakenings. The challenge of this generation will be to keep the walk-way elevated and on the high road. That means keeping goodness far away from the ground so when the roots of the Tree of Humanity do expand, the walk-way’s foundation is not wrecked. That’s when the Rock will only be a place on which to stand and no longer an object to hurl. Our greatest, most dynamic moments will be when we live as a community of passionate, loving souls. Then, we’ll know the Unreal Edge.