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July 10 1998, Friday

An accumulation of flyer detritus on a telephone pole in Ann Arbor.

A

ll day I'd been troubled by the fact that I am running low on cash. I have a VISA ATM check card, but somehow I never got the PIN number. There are no Nations Banks (my bank) in the greater Detroit area, so today I tried to see if I could get cash with the card from a teller at an Ann Arbor branch of Great Lakes Bank. Sadly, I had no luck in this endeavour. After meeting Matt at the Fleetwood at 4:00pm, I actually considered opening a new account in this town, but in the end it seemed like too much trouble, especially after Matt told me about a sleazy check cashing place that he uses. He avoids such financial paper trails as bank accounts because he's on the run from a collection agency that has pursued him since he defaulted on student loans years ago.

We decided to walk around Ann Arbor together instead of heading directly back to the "porch livin' situation." It's become increasingly clear to Matt that he has to get out of the house and do things and meet people or else his life will go uselessly stale. An indication of such things is the fact that he hasn't gotten laid in two years. That's not quite as bad as the six year slump Tyler was in before Deya save him, but who know how long it will last?

An Ann Arbor police car posing anachronistically with the other, older cars at the Ann Arbor car show. Like many of the other cars, the hood is up to display the immaculately shiny muscles under the hood.

W

e saw that the police has closed down Liberty and some adjacent streets for a old-timey car show. This one was much like the one we'd seen yesterday in Ypsilanti, only bigger and more lavishly expensive. Instead of canned music from the 50s, Ann Arbor had a bland blues band (see if you can say that six times super speedy).

These car shows (and other things car-related) are really driving home for me the point that the greater Detroit area is car-obsessed to an extent that makes the usual American car obsession look like a vague fondness.Matt has lived in this area for many many years, but it's taken my bewilderment to draw his attention to the situation. Here's a case in point. You'd think that in a liberal town like Ann Arbor (where the fine for public marijuana smoking is a mere $25), there would be bike lanes running absolutely everywhere. But from what Matt tells me, the only bike lane in town runs for a few blocks along Packard. That's all. What other explanation could there be for this seeming disregard for the bike than the overwhelming exaltation of the automobile?

I

  decided the experience of the car show would be much better if done in my usual way, that is, under the effects of public drinking. At first Matt was uncertain that he wanted to do this, since he doesn't normally drink booze and had never walked around drinking any intoxicant in public. But eventually I convinced him that it would be a chinese way to experience the surreal ambiance of the auto show. So we walked over to the cheapest, most run-down party store in all of Ann Arbor, and there I bought a half gallon of super-cheap "Five O'clock" vodka and two bottles of Arizona Ice Tea, paying for it all with my VISA check card (so as to conserve my cash). The woman working the cash register looked at my ID and thought the last four digits of my license number (1955) was the year of my birth, and didn't believe it for a moment. This was the second time this has happened in Michigan.

We made ourselves drinks back in Matt's car and then hit the streets again. I'm really surprised covert public drinking isn't a better acknowledged institution in this great nation of ours.

As we walked by store fronts and through milling throngs of unabashed yuppies, Matt repeatedly made mention of the sorry state of the arts, music and even bar scenes in this town. "There'd never be a Buddhist Biker Bar in Ann Arbor," he assured me. The reason for the weak creative scene seems to be relentless high property values. It's simply impossible in Ann Arbor to find big spaces for experimental galleries or subcultural music. There could never be a Downtown Artspace in Ann Arbor because its landlord would soon find a profitable business willing to pay far better rent money than any rag-tag band of starving artists. As Matt explained this situation to me, I suddenly realized that there is a process akin in many ways to ecological succession at work here. It starts with a bombed-out slum, with high crime, lots of drugs, and very few legal forms of work. Eventually artists move in to take advantage of the low rent, willing (in the boldness of their youth) to take the necessary risks. With their presence and with the culture they bring, crime is gradually driven away and wealthier people, the kind less willing to take risks, settle in, increasingly driving up property values and eventually driving out the artists themselves. When an area becomes completely gentrified, it will remain that way until there is a decline in the underlying conditions that support the local economy. In Detroit, for example, the automotive boom led to lavish neighborhoods and glorious infrastructure. But with competition from the Japanese and changes in the purchasing habits of Americans, the bubble burst. Now there is so little tax base in Detroit that the city can't even afford to pull dead cars ("entropy-mobiles") off the shoulders of its interstates.

A picture of Matt doing some covert public drinking in an interestingly-decorated alley in Ann Arbor.

M

att made several attempts to call his other friend, Karen, and when he finally reached her, we headed over, jubilant to actually be doing something proactive for our social life. Having been dismayed by the dorkiness of Vanessa, I held out few hopes that Karen would be any different. But she was great. She's a little blond pixie-like girl, with interests in analogue video editing and music. Her housemate, Emily (upon whom Matt admits to having a crush) is rather different: grumpy and just a little too cool. Of course, Matt is the sort of guy who brings this out in people upon whom his personality grates, so I wasn't especially surprised.

Karen took us upstairs to show us a video she's been working on. But she was fast forwarding, rewinding and changing tapes and parameters so much that mostly what we saw was the default blank blue screen. I'd like to do some videotape editing some time, but I've always been intimidated by recollections of my feeble past attempts.

Karen led Matt and me down to nearby "West Park," and we shot basketball hoops for the better part of an hour. None of us were any good at that sort of thing, but the amount of practicing we did while there tonight had a marked positive effect on our accuracy towards the end.

At midnight Karen had a scheduled appointment with her housemate, Grumpy Emily, to provide moral and emotional support related to an ongoing crisis in Emily's life. Karen wouldn't fill us in on the details, but Matt suspects it has something to do with Emily's recent breakup with a boyfriend.

one year ago
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