Springtime big ride in Detroit

I took the fixie out last Sunday on a 50-miler around Detroit. There’s so much happening in the city, that my rides are often unplanned connections between events and sites.

The first stop Sunday was at the new Ferndale Bike Shop. Nice shop, good start. Jon Hughes (and family) is no stranger to bike shops. Is this the first bike shop in Ferndale? Is it in recent memory.

Next stop was the soon-to-be-demolished Romney family house in Palmer Woods. What a shame that such a house has fallen in such poor condition. One-time occupant Mitt Romney agrees but says it’s “sadder still to consider what has happened to the city of Detroit, which has been left hollow by fleeing jobs and liberal social policies.” Detroit has been left hollow by families moving to the northern suburbs, something Romney’s family did in 1954.

Once in Midtown, I checked the construction progress on the UCCA’s newest community garden project on John R and their greenway along Kirby.

Since the Tigers were playing, I made a quick pass by the park to get a score update. My normal stopping spot is now occupied with fenced in stadium smokers. Bummer, but at least the Tigers were still ahead.

Heading east, I sneaked through Flower Day at Eastern Market. The place was hopping with people, music, and, of course, flowers.

After a visit to the RiverWalk, Milliken State Park, the Wheelhouse Detroit, and a lap around Belle Isle, I headed home.

A great day. Another great ride.

Bigg Rod’s got candy for you

Bigg Rod's Candy Shop in Highland Park, MichiganI was biking home from a meeting downtown. I was hungry and in Highland Park. I’d been meaning to stop into the Victor Bakery, but it was Monday and they were closed. Just nearby I discovered Bigg Rod’s Candy Shop was open, as open as a tiny store can be.

And what a great address: 4 Victor.

So, I leaned the bike outside and started inside.

An African-American tween asked, “What am I doing here?”

My suburban-bred-jump-to-conclusions-stereotypical thought was, is it because I’m a white guy?

Before I said a thing, she replied, “You’re an adult!”

I still have much to unlearn.

I purchased some gummy worms and funky coconut treats for cheap and hit the road.

I began thinking that if Bigg Rod was truly big, I couldn’t see him fitting inside his own store.

This also made me realize that this old time candy store offered one major dietary benefit. It might help explain why obesity rates were lower back in the day. If you ate too much candy and got fat, you could no longer get inside to buy more. Candy was a treat for the fit.

Now that’s a genius design!

Beers and Gears Detroit Bar Tour

Chilaxing at Coogan's Bar in Southwest DetroitSordid tales from last year’s ride and amazingly warm November weather led to a huge turnout for the Beers and Gears Detroit bar tour on Saturday.

Sixty-degree weather, thirty-eight riders, and six bars.

The first stop was the Lockerroom Lounge on Livernois near Curtis (6.5 mile.) Cleo was working behind the bar and was awesome. I’d already mentioned the music history behind this bar, including it being Bettye Lavette’s stomping grounds. As it turns out, her cousin was bellied up to the “dirty end” of the bar.

Bar number two was Abick’s in Southwest Detroit.  Without even a sign out front, many asked me how I’d ever found this place. The answer is this Neil Rubin article in the Detroit News. This bar was built in 1907. The proprietor is 86 year old Manya Abick who woke up early that morning to make chili for us. Abick’s certainly seemed to be the crowd favorite. It’s the perfect neighborhood pub.

After taking a photo with Manya behind the bar, one of our riders stepped on her cat, who let out a huge screetch.  Lila Lazarus, who was knitting at the bar, blurted out, “Had a great time until we killed the cat.”

Don’t worry. The cat was fine.

Next up was the nearby “Red’s” Coogan’s Bar which also had a Mexicana Cantina sign over the door.  A bar can’t have enough names. Gilbert served up some cold ones while some in the group went next door to El Rancho for margaritas.  Birkett played some Kid Rock on the jukebox, we finished our beers, rang the cow bell and head towards downtown.

Before the next bar, we rolled past the RiverWalk and then up the Dequindre Cut, a first for many on the ride.

Stop number four was Joey’s Meatcutters Inn or Cutter’s for short. They reportedly have the best angus burgers in town but I’m the wrong guy to vouch for that. The beers were distributed via ice buckets as some old-school Curtis Mayfield played in the background.

Next up was a beverage break at Hamtramck’s Whiskey in the Jar, formerly known as Mr. Joe’s back in the day. This was a quick stop as the sign was getting low on the horizon and not all of our group had lights.

We rode west on Caniff into a beautiful sunset.

The last official Detroit bar was the Dakota Rathskeller Inn on John R and… Dakota! This German bar is simply amazing. Again, with the daylight fading, we unfortunately couldn’t stay for long.

Heading up Woodward, our group split. A contingent went to the Stonehouse bar on Ralston near the State Fair. This was the final bar stop in last year’s tour.

We eneded up D’Amatos in Royal Oak. It’s ironic and frustrating that Royal Oak perhaps has more than it’s share of bars yet perhaps only one (Gus’) would be worthy of a stop on our beer tours. They lack the character, history, uniqueness, and grit of what we’d visited this year.

Yes, my bike tour photos are on this web site .  Andy Correll also posted some on Flickr as has Marielle Deighan.

Biking to Detroit’s musical heritage

Detroit has a tremendous history, which makes for some great biking destinations.

Yesterday I rode to 635 Belmont Street just north of Detroit’s Arden Park-East Boston Historic District. This is where Diana Ross grew up until she was 14 and her family moved to the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects, those abandoned towers just north of Ford Field.

The Brewster-Douglass projects were also home to Lily Tomlin, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Smokey Robinson. And, Bettye Lavette lived across the alley from Smokey.

Bettye has an amazing story. She recorded a hit single when she was just 16, but little success followed. She spent 40 years trying to make it in the music business. Much of that time was spent in the Locker Room Lounge on Livernois not too far north from the University of Detroit-Mercy campus.

While her fortunes have turned around with her two most recent albums, in this interview, she reflects on her less successful times.

This evening I’m going to a place [in Detroit] called The Locker Room, which is what the “Old Soldiers” song is really about [to me]. I was in there at least two nights a week, whenever I could get a ride. The Spinners hung out in there and sat at the big shot end of the bar, and I sat at the dirty end as they called it. But I would send all of my tabs up to the big shot end [laughs]. I hung there for 10 or 15 years…so often people would come in and say things like “Didn’t you used to be Bettye Lavette?” or “Do you still sing” A lot of love happened there, a lot of drunk happened there, a lot of crying…but I know that I can always go there.

Bettye’s video for “Old Soldiers” was filmed at the Locker Room.

[Yes, the Locker Room Lounge is on the 2009 Beers and Gears ride. We’ll be at the dirty end.]

I was held up by gunmen while biking

I was biking down Vinsetta Boulevard in Royal Oak last week and all of a sudden there was a major traffic jam.  This was real odd because normally there are few cars on that road.

So I slowly weaved through the stopped cars, past a policeman, and continued  on Vinsetta.

The only difference now was I was on a movie set. Oops.

At Main Street, someone asked me to stay out of Wagner Park as they were filming the remake of horrifically bad movie Red Dawn.

I went north on Main and there there were. Four gunmen. I rode past without a shot being fired. Russian? Chinese? American? Dunno.

Just another day of biking in Hollywood.

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