I was standing outside consulting a small cigar when the ranting man appeared. There are a few mentally ill individuals who stomp around downtown yelling and muttering; most don’t seem to direct their ire at individuals, but this fellow was staring at people and yelling. I concentrated all my perceptive powers at the corner of my eye and pretended to be looking at my phone.

He came over to me and did some close-up yelling, a string of invective. Boiler-plate stuff, but he seemed to be able to base his rants on gender, age, and height. I was braced but visibly indifferent. He walked away to the other ash tray and took out butts, yelling.

When he was gone a very large man - think Kevin in the BBC Office - walked over and said “The best thing to do is just to ignore them.”

Yes . . . that being the thing I just did. I made a circular motion with my index finger around my right temple, shook my head.

“Oh it’s not always that,” he said. Huh? “I’ve seen it get worse.” He shook his head. “Downtown.”

I pointed to the security cameras above. “When they hang around and get abusive, someone comes. Most of the time they just walk off.”

He didn’t seem reassured. “It’s better to ignore them,” he repeated, as if I had taken the guy’s lapels in my hand and shouted YOU TAKE THAT BACK.

“There are a few regulars,” I said. “He’s new.”

He shook his head. “Downtown,” he said, as if this was some hellhole where the mad capered in throngs. I told this story to my wife.

“Suburb,” she said.

Okay, maybe not fair, but probably so. If you live 40 miles out The City may seem, at first, like a strange and feral place. You don’t connect where you live to The City. It’s a thing you Go In To. I’m going into The City. For me there’s no distinction between where I live and downtown; it’s part of the same organic civic unit.

I feel this way about the whole country, to larger and lesser degrees. When I drive north and go through the outer exurbs, I don’t feel as if I’m apart from My Place, I’ve just passed through gradiated levels of difference that still have some commonalities. I feel at home in New York. I feel at home in small towns.

Ah, but why. Why? Because there’s a basic visual consistency to the country. You grow up with a certain set of architectural styles and design paradigms, and it defines what you accept as home. Which is one of the reasons I am churlish about modern architecture that deliberately casts off every previous frame of reference. It’s an affront to the common tongue.

I don’t mean this:


That’s part of the modern visual vocabulary. It’s also imaginary - the 1939 Futurama General Motors display at the World’s Fair, showing the City of Tomorrow. It’s my current desktop. I just noticed something amusing.


Classical urns for planters. Couldn’t be more out of place, but perhaps they were a reassurance: it won’t all be like “Things to Come.”

I think the only reason I didn’t feel at home in DC when I moved there was because I couldn’t leave. It had to be home now, and then I started judging it by a completely different set of standards. Architecture, smarchitecture, I wanted clean streets without drunks who sprawled in the doorways and performed their morning bladder-emptying without even standing up. Just unzip and unholster and behold the golden arc, winking in the morning light.

Anyway: downtown is deserted; too many people. That’s the presumption, it seems - all that mad Super Bowl traffic! Except there isn’t any. All the helpful friendly skyway guides stationed everywhere have nothing to do but smile. It’s supposed to be worse on Thursday. It’s supposed to be very bad on Friday.

To be honest? There’s all this stuff going on, but I can’t tell. Haven’t seen any of it. There are parties and dinners and galas galore, but unless you’re there, who knows?

Don’t know if I linked to my first video - if not, here you go. I just did the talking; all the video extras were done by Shari Gross, our ace videographer.



From 1933, some devices you can invent and make big money! Let's see how many things we have today:

We have that. All the delis have them now. It required LCDs and microcircuits to translate weight into price instantly; anyone who tried in the 30s would build something cumbersome, but I imagine it could be done.

A somewhat lower bar for inventors:

Stop milk thieves!

There's big money here. It's hardly a novel idea, though - it seems as if anyone wanted one of these, they could make one, or ask the builder to make it. Thing is, the milkma would have to have a key, and he's not going to want to carry around 100 keys for his morning route.



Welcome to Detroit, again.

I find the ruins of this city endlessly fascinating, and dismaying. The big ruins get all the press, but it’s the old commercial streets that have been scoured and blasted that give you an idea what vast stretches of the city must feel like. We’re going to be going down one street for the next few weeks. The buildings range from the small little beaten-down runts like this one . . .


. . . to spooky structures like this one:

The street has a million eyes!


The street has a million eyes!

A close-up reveals its old use, possibly the original one:

MASONS. Of course. It’s the King Solomon Grand Lodge building.

You can tell it was originally intended as a meeting hall: the doors and fire escapes give away the location of an auditorium.


BTW, I searched for Dexter Boston Market and got an OCR version of a page of the Detroit Free Press. It’s like something that would make Canticle For Lebowitz-types puzzle in their monastery for years:

JUNIOR FIGURE FOUNDATIONS 5th Floor Farmer Section I misses' sizes and half-sizes FRI.-SAT. ONLY at W voru low Drice! Swiss as you like it with large yes, very rjen narvn Perfectly aged. We'll slice it, if you wish. GRADE "A if EGGS poaching! FRI .SAT only?

Took me a while, but once I had the King Solomon name I could get some more info.

The building was completed in 1927, and the lower floors space that became the Masonic lodge was originally a bowling and billiards place called Dexter Recreation (from 1927 to at least 1967), combined with the Dexter-Boston supermarket.

The building was completed in 1927, and the lower floors space that became the Masonic lodge was originally a bowling and billiards place called Dexter Recreation (from 1927 to at least 1967), combined with the Dexter-Boston supermarket.

I found an ad:



Go on, try. Make it something plausible. I can’t. Perhaps the windows and door faced an alley that no longer exists - but it’s obvious something else was built and then destroyed. Fire? Gravity?


A small little pup alone by the road:



This was something else before it nothing. Can you guess?

It has the style of a particularly boring period of KFC stores.


Viewed through the trees reclaiming the city:

A thriving home once.

We’re just getting started.

It gets worse. Or better, depending on you rcapacity for morbid fascination.



So yes, that will do, won't it? He said, needily. Three restaurants, as usual. See you tomorrow!


blog comments powered by Disqus