28 March 2008

Five Miles Of Sheer Terror

I spent most of the afternoon and evening in Ann Arbor chatting with an old friend, one of the few remaining people I know in this town, and who has the added distinction of having grown up in the same Downriver neighborhood that I did and attending the same high school I did, albeit a couple decades later than me.

But we have quite a few people, places and things in common, definitely enough to keep us blabbing away without much regard for the passage of time or the deteriorating state of the weather. We started out in a joint called El Sabor Latino on N. Main Street, quite near the police station and jail that played a featured role in many of the escapades of my youth. The waitress was a black lady about my age, who, this being the Sabor "Latino," I reckoned to be Cuban or Puerto Rican. Until she opened her mouth, that is, at which point I said, "Jaime, that lady has an Ann Arbor accent."

And by "Ann Arbor accent" I was referring not to a sense of place but rather of time: she spoke the way a certain segment of the population did in the Ann Arbor of the early 70s, that certain segment being many if not most of the people I hung around and, in between multiple tokes from multiple joints, plotted political, cultural and social revolutions. It's a distinct manner of speaking, the likes of which I've never really heard elsewhere, that combines a flat Midwestern matter-of-factness with an edgy whine accentuated by a slightly confrontational flaring of the nostrils.

It's not entirely unpleasant if you're familiar with it, but I imagine it can be off-putting to outsiders, and I've been gone long enough that my first reaction was to wonder if she was going to start turning over the tables and demanding that we choose whether we were going to be part of the problem or part of the solution, but in fact all she wanted to know was whether we'd be having flour or corn tortillas.

By the time we'd finished, the persistent rain was in the process of changing to persistent snow, but it being too warm for it to stick to the pavement, we moseyed on down to State Street and the Espresso Royale Cafe, a topnotch place for lounging about for hours on end, which we and numerous other people of leisure proceeded to do. I couldn't get over how huge the place was (it's two large storefronts knocked into one) compared with cafes in New York or London, where finding a table and chair is often a major accomplishment, let alone being able to slide a couple tables together for just the two of you and still have acres of space and empty tables around you. This seemed like the ideal place to gossip, and so we did, ultimately finishing up on the Dee Dee Ramone story, of which a couple of the last sad chapters were played out here in Ann Arbor at the nearby home of a mutual friend of ours.

About this time we were ready to head over to Downriver, to Southgate specifically, to see my friends The Challenged, on tour from back home in Brooklyn. But much to our chagrin (well, mine in particular, as I was the one who would have to drive in it), the snow had begun piling up on the streets an hour or two earlier, and had turned them into quite a mess. We drove as far as Jaime's house, about a mile away, before realizing that a trip most of the way to Detroit would be difficult and unpleasant, and, if the snow kept up, downright dangerous by the time we drove back.

So I called Colin from the Challenged and explained the situation; he agreed that it sucked and that they were going to try and get out of there right after they played and head south toward their next gig in Columbus, Ohio on the theory that, well, it was south of here, so maybe it wouldn't be snowing as much (much later tonight I heard back from him on I-75, where the theory hadn't quite panned out, as visibility was so bad they were having trouble finding an exit. Any exit, that is.

So Jaime stayed in and continued talking till about midnight, at which point I went outside to discover that the snow had kept up and it was downright dangerous, even for the 5 miles (by surface streets) or 6.6 miles (partly via freeway) back to my motel. I haven't driven on snow for a long time, and if it were up to me, it would have been a lot longer, but I didn't have much choice, and so I set off at an average speed of 5-7 miles per hour, gradually upping it, when conditions seemed to allow, to a daring 10 mph.

You can imagine how the other drivers, most of them obviously born and bred driving in this crap, felt about that, and they tried to get around me any way they could. I would have been happy to pull over and let them pass, but I couldn't even tap lightly on the brakes without starting to go into a skid. When I got to the hilly north side of town, it got much worse, because I not only had to worry about sliding rather than rolling down the hill, I often had no idea how or if I'd be able to stop when I got to the bottom. And the entire way there was not a snowplow or salt truck in sight, nor any evidence that one had passed through the area in at least the past week or so.

I wondered if it had anything to do with the state of Michigan being so broke it couldn't afford such luxuries as snow removal, or if it had more to do with superciliously disengaged Ann Arborites not wanting to be seen making a big deal out of some silly snowstorm, preferring to let nature take its course and haul away the wreckage and the bodies in the morning when the weather had improved.

Long story short - wait, I think it's already long, sorry - I did make it back to the motel, where I'm now safely ensconced and hoping that the storm will have let up by morning when I have to head back to the airport and civilization. or at least to a place where it rarely snows and where you'll seldom if ever catch me attempting to drive a car. Or as B. Dylan memorably opined, "I'm going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enough."

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