Friday, May 29, 2009

Springtime in the Rustbelt

Observations From a Recent Trip to Southeastern Michigan and Toledo, Ohio.

As the trees were bursting forth and the flat expanses of grass appeared, I found myself absolutely fascinated by this region. I felt a driving tug that propelled me into junk stores to spend hours looking through things. I combed the internet and grocery store aisles and read road signs, looking and listening for the layers, the identities, the truth. I wanted to see beyond the franchised landscape. Where are the pieces of people's homes, lives, histories- in this area as they once were in boom times and as they are now? The place is steeped in car culture, manufacturing, chain stores, politeness and heartache. The effects of corporate culture, lost jobs and bland heavy food is everywhere, but I found an original and complex garden.

In Monroe, a town south of Detroit and north of Toledo, there is more than one locally-owned seasonal drive-in chili dog and root beer place. At both, young female carhops deliver trays that rest on your windows, ponytails swinging as they log another mile of their summer jobs. Both drive-ins are orange, and neither are plastered with a big A&W sign, apparently the root beer is homemade. I tried to ask about that-how do they make it? The girls just shrugged and said they made they're own. I would love to believe that someone is brewing their own herbacious syrup every week for the thousands of frosty mugs of root beer sold in the summer, and not dispensing a generic corn syrup concentrate into the machine, but I haven't talked to that person yet, so it will for now remain a mystery.

There was rhubarb growing in the back yard of a friend's house. I pulled up a stalk and washed it and cut it and ate it raw with sugar. The big leaves are poisonous, but I heard you can eat the stalk raw, in small quantities, which appears to be true and delicious.

One afternoon I went for an outing at a state park on Lake Erie. It was perfectly sunny, and grass and trees grew almost to the edge of the water. I walked on the beach as such with my cowboy boots on. The sound was like walking through the burned rubble of a porcelain factory, hundreds of Zebra Mussel shells crushing under each step. This lake was incredibly polluted at midcentury and though there have been years of regulation it still has plenty of problems, the plague of zebra mussels among them. The breeze blows and I squint at a pair of cooling towers on a far shore.

I found this in an antique mall alongside tiny sparkling glass salt cellars.

I saw remarkable architecture like the Greek-revival Toledo Art Museum and its smart looking new glass wing. Toledo is the "Glass City" because of the work of Libbey Glass, Owens-Corning, and other auto and object glass manufacturers that developed the area. There are blocks and blocks of amazing houses in the Old West End neighborhood, house after hulking house in Tudor, Late Victorian, and Arts and Crafts styles, to name a few.

As I meet the Midwest, the Midwest greets me in a surprising way. I was stunned to see this menu item available at a sports bar in Toledo. No fanfare, no bungled novelty, just an honest to god New Mexican green chile cheeseburger.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Saucy Little Dish

Sandia (watermelon) agua fresca from a truck from the ball fields in Red Hook, Brooklyn. This drink defines the term glow.

I will be contributing to a new blog called Saucy Little Dish with seven other lovely ladies. My first post goes up today! Check it out here..

Saturday, May 09, 2009

From the Company That Perfected the Dream of Controlled Nature

...part of a complete breakfast with juice and toast by...Mattel?