Wednesday, July 21, 2010

At the Start of My Last Week in Michigan

We were supposed to leave on Tuesday the 27th, but it looks like it will be Wednesday instead. So now begins my last week in Michigan. Usually at these turning points - leaving a job, saying goodbye to friends, moving - I get caught up in a lot of sentimental reflection, like one of those corny flashback montages at the end of a TV series. But this change is so BIG, encompassing all three of those aforementioned shifts (and so many more), that I don't have time for my usual sap. That's probably a good thing. But I do have a couple of quiet minutes at the top of the day, so I thought I would jot down a few observations about getting ready for the grand exodus.

Nothing has ever made me so popular as moving. Getting married came close. I remember that warm feeling at my wedding, when I got to see some of my closest friends and family meet each other and celebrate on my behalf... that was pretty fantastic. Amazingly, I've been feeling that same warmth almost every day for the last month. Particularly since the start of July, my free time has consisted of a nearly non-stop parade of friend visits and a series of fun local adventures. By the time we leave town, I think I will be able to say that I saw every person I needed to see. But more than that, I've had the pleasure of spending more time with those whose company I probably should have enjoyed more often - really cool coworkers and friends that I took for granted because they live nearby. Of course, this can lead to a sense of regret, which will probably hit me after I've been in Chattanooga a couple weeks. But really, I'm not big on regrets. I knew that I had a limited window to hang out with all of these wonderful people and I made the most of it. I'm even a little proud of myself.

I've been having good luck with timely reunions. In the past two weeks, I've been able to hang with my two oldest friends (meaning those I've known the longest - M and S, you know who you are), as well as their lovely spouses and Dan's best friend from high school, J. In a weird way, I feel like old friends are inherited through marriage, so if you add it all up I got to hang with five buddies from way back, none of whom live in Michigan. In addition to that, my mom is hosting a family reunion this weekend during which I will be able to see five of my six siblings. That's one of the many reasons I'm feeling lucky.

Packing is way better when you don't have anything else to do. My last day of work was on Friday, so my only job right now is to visit with friends and pack. What luxury! The last time I moved when I wasn't working was when I left home at age 20, and back then I had barely enough stuff to fill half a bedroom (also I was moving from Dearborn to Ann Arbor, a distance only 1/15 of my upcoming journey). I don't have that combined sense of panic, frustration and exhaustion. Not yet, anyway. I'm able to approach packing in an organized fashion, which appeals to the obsessive librarian in me. I hesitate to say... it's kind of fun. I'm excited for this morning's project - watching DVD reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation while I clean out the closet!

I'm guessing the next time we move will be in Chattanooga, from our new apartment to a house, but who can say what the future holds? I can't imagine moving to the west coast - I would just want to throw everything away and start over, rather than pack and haul it all. As it is, I can't believe all the shit we've accumulated in this one bedroom apartment. I used to take pride in the art of the three carload move (I used to not need more than that) and look at me now! I'm starting to worry about fitting all this into a ten foot truck. I don't know how people do this with kids, but they do and we will, too, if need be. I guess the point I'm getting at is that I suspect I'm enjoying certain luxuries that won't be available next time around. And I can definitely say that I won't be sharing that last week with the same set of fascinating people. That's why I'm trying to enjoy it while it lasts. There's simply no time for the montage.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gym Songs, Karaoke Songs

If not for Planet Fitness and karaoke at Powell's Pub, I would not know these songs. Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes I regret that my healthy and happy habits have made me cross paths with these moments in popular music.

"Picture" by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow

I've averaged at least one night of karaoke a week over this past year and this is, without a doubt, the song I've heard most often (yup, even more than "Don't Stop Believing"). It offers a couple of advantages. One, it isn't difficult to sing. Two, redneck girls can actually convince their drunk boyfriends to get up and sing this one, because what local redneck guy doesn't want to be just like Kid Rock? It isn't a terrible song, but it's long and sort of boring and the chorus sounds just like a snail pace version of "We're an American Band". I can't help groaning every time I see the title pop up on the monitor. Still, the results are usually less painful than "Don't Stop Believing".

I wonder if this song isn't quite as popular in places that don't call Kid Rock their homeboy, yes?... Please?

"Our Song" by Taylor Swift

Of all the songs I've discovered by way of Planet Fitness, this is one of the most "not bad". It has definitely improved my opinion of Ms. Swift. I was aware of who she was before I heard any of her songs, because of that humiliating Kanye West incident at the VMAs, as well as some other award show appearances. Every single time I saw her, the first words out of her mouth were "I'm a country musician," usually followed by something along the lines of, "You like me. You really like me!"

"I'm a country musician."

"I'm a country musician."

"I'm a country musician."

Clearly some A&R dude convinced her that this talking point would give her a devoted country audience despite the fact that songs like this are just overproduced pop. I think that scheme has worked. Several months ago, I met a newly engaged woman who described to me her fiancee's proposal. "He skated me to the middle of the rink and popped the question in the middle of my favorite Taylor Swift song! Have you heard of her? She's a country musician." Oh, boy.

Anyway, I like this song. I wish it were more stripped down, with more banjo, more actual country sound. But the lyrics are sweet and I admit, it gives me a little boost on the elliptical. Also, I appreciate that she wrote it, when she was very young, no less. I was disappointed by this oh-so-precious video. I like the one in my head better. It looks like the low-budget videos they used to show on The Nashville Network, with cornfields and cut-off shorts and the like.

"Who Knew" by Pink

Yeah, this is my JAM! For the record, I do realize that this song (and all the other ones, for that matter) is years old. I've been out of touch with new music for most of the last 10 years. I never listen to Top 40 radio stations so I don't know anything until it becomes Planet Fitness or Powell's-worthy, which seems to take 3-4 years. Oh, well.

Anyway, I think this song rocks. It's catchy throughout with a great chorus and it's fun to sing. I rather like this video, too. It's pleasantly simple and forgettable, which is great if you just want to get into the song. Plus, her hair looks cool and all that carousel madness at the end reminds me of the awesome, violent finale from "Strangers on a Train". Aces, Pink! I am always happy to hear this while I'm working out, or see the title appear on the old karaoke monitor.

"The Sweet Escape" by Gwen Stefani

I HATE this song. I actually heard it quite a bit when it came out. The line "I know I've been a real bad girl," was enough to seal my sense of loathing, but hearing it almost every time I go to Planet Fitness makes me angry to the point of wanting to bludgeon Gwen Stefani with her hair. You know, I might not hate it at all if it were just 2 1/2 minutes long, but it's 4. I've timed it on the gym machines. I suppose I can credit it for some pretty hardcore workouts - "If I pedal faster will this song be over sooner?"

Fortunately, no one sings this at karaoke, which is curious because chicks with good voices love Gwen Stefani. "Don't Speak" is a show-off jam, and "I'm Just a Girl" and "Hollaback Girl" are also popular standards (though I like a good "Spiderwebs" best - the idea of "screening phone calls" is now so quaint!). But no one seems to want anything to do with this song. I'd like to believe this is a rare example of common good taste, like when they banned that OJ book a few years back.

"Fancy" by Reba McEntire

Though it's really old, I first heard this song when my friend L - a high falutin' academic super nerd - sang it at Powell's about a year ago. She's from Missouri. Thank Jeebus for Powell's and my pals who grew up with country music, or I would be completely unprepared for my imminent move to Tennessee. And what a video! Those sunglasses, that acting, and how about that twist ending! It's so effin' sad and I love it. I think I've actually heard this at the gym because I remember Dan and I getting really excited about it. I like it more each time I hear it and I notice that women who sing it tend to do it really well. It's almost sacred. No one has the nerve to fuck up "Fancy".


I used to rip on Planet Fitness's music selection but I'll be sad if our Chattanooga gym doesn't play music. I don't like wearing headphones while I'm sweating and beside that, it's my one chance to be forced into a meeting with pop music. I have so many opportunities to choose the songs I hear. I like surrendering control sometimes, as long as I don't have to listen to any commercials.

As for karaoke in Chattanooga, I just hope to avoid this auto tune business. It just isn't karaoke if everyone sounds good. How can we distinguish the rare triumphs from the more common mediocrity? If everyone can sing really well, will anyone bother with "Picture" or will they all turn to Journey? I fear for the lack of variety...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

D'Light: "This is why people like us don't get valet"

A mob scene greeted us as we exited the front doors of the theater. In any other circumstance we would have quickly mapped and traveled the most efficient path away from the crowd, but the sad truth is that Dan and I belonged with them. We were all waiting for our valet parked cars.

A couple weeks ago, Dan and I scored free tickets to Enana, a Middle Eastern dance show at the Max M. Fisher Music Center. Our friend M, who is the community manager for Yelp (a website where Dan and I write snide, know-it-all reviews for local businesses) was the source of said tickets, and she suggested we meet at Atlas Global Bistro for a pre-theater drink. As we were finishing our wine and overpriced appetizers, M reached into an envelope and said, "I've got fancy tickets for you guys. Do you want valet, too?"

Dan and I looked at each other. We were parked across the street, just a four block walk from the Max, but how could we turn down this deluxe freebie? It would be like abstaining from an open bar at a rich person's wedding. "Uh... yeah, sure!". We happily snatched the voucher and made our way to the theater.

But as we stood in that increasingly testy crowd outside the Max, the idea of being able to walk to the car and leave at our leisure seemed way more appealing. In the midst of the throng, an irate customer whined at the others, "There's a line. There's a line. There's a line." There was no line. There wasn't even room for a line. It looked as if half the crowd (about 500 people, I would estimate) had opted for valet, and everyone was set on being first served. This was reminding me way too much of air travel. Fortunately, Dan and I had the same instincts. We made our way to the nearest bench and silently agreed to patiently wait out the mob.

We considered walking two blocks north to Union Street to get a drink, but that seemed silly. It wouldn't take that long, right? But even after ten minutes, the situation didn't appear to be getting better. It was all so absurd. The scariest thing about walking around midtown Detroit after dark is that there just aren't that many people around. If half of the valeted car owners had just parked in the hundreds of open spaces surrounding the theater, the departing crowds would have created the sort of "safety in numbers" critical mass needed to overcome the collective fear of walking at night in Detroit. Instead, there was this swarm of frustrated rich people standing still on one block of Woodward Avenue.

Eventually, we gave up and headed to Union Street where the service was typically poky but cordial. As we waited (comfortably) for our drinks, I glanced at the large-for-a-Tuesday crowd in the dining room. I like Union Street, because it isn't all white people or black people or young people. It was a diverse group, including families and older people and some very well-dressed Arab ladies who had probably just attended Enana, as well. But then some pleasant odors distracted me from my people-watching and I found myself fixating on the large oval trays of food floating past our table.

"Why does the food smell especially good tonight?" I wondered.

"It's probably the smoking ban. You can actually smell it now."

I pored over the giant menu and so did Dan, but then I hesitated. "We shouldn't order food. We need to get back to the theater soon."

"Whatever. It's going to take forever to get the car. We should just order what we want and take our time."

This is a perfect example of a situation where Dan and I don't see eye to eye. I get very nervous and worrisome about logistics and timing. He does not. Sometimes this leads to bickering, but I wasn't in the mood for that. At the same time, I was definitely in the mood for a snack. I very consciously chose to set aside my usual concerns ("What if we make the valet guys mad?") and just go with the flow. I even suggested that Dan pick the entree we would split.

I wasn't disappointed - a buffalo burger with a side of potato salad. Our total bill was a third of what we spent at Atlas and the portions were way bigger. Tasted just as good, too.

After we paid our bill and left a good tip for our not so great (but nice) waitress, we wandered out to Woodward in a happy daze. I was telling Dan something about work when he interrupted me. "Shit!"

My first instinct was to be annoyed because he wasn't listening. My second was to move into comfort mode, because I realized that he was actually upset about something. "Don't worry. It's going to be fine." Sometimes I say "Don't worry. It's going to be fine," before I fully assess the situation, which is not always wise.

"How can you say it's fine? They're gone." That's when I finally realized that the crowd and the valet guys had disappeared. Shit.

I was nevertheless cool. I didn't know how I'd come by this bout of mellowness, but I was determined to ride the wave. "It'll be fine, Dan. They probably gave your keys to the house manager. I'm sure there's still someone at the theater." When we tried each of the front doors and found every one locked, I could tell that I wasn't winning this one. I could feel Dan panicking.

We had no other choice but to begin searching for the car. We turned around and started heading back up Woodward when a young man in a silver car stopped in the middle of the road and yelled out his open window, "Hey, you looking for your car?" I could guess from his white uniform shirt that he was one of the valet guys.

Dan shouted, "Yes!"

"Go to the back and ask for BJ. He's got your keys." We thanked him before he drove away and I remember thinking how nice he was considering that he must have thought we were complete idiots. I had realized by this point it was about 11:45 and the dance show had ended over two hours ago.

We rounded the corner toward the small parking lot behind the building and delighted to see our little Sunfire parked in the corner. We turned down the alley toward the rear entrance and saw a stocky man walking away from us.

Dan called to him, "BJ! Hey, BJ!" The man glanced over his shoulder and quickened his pace. Not BJ, apparently. By this point I had instinctively reached into my purse and grabbed my keys. Even if BJ was gone, we could still get out of there.

Fortunately, the back entrance was open and there were two security guards sitting at the front desk. For lack of better descriptors, one dude was black and the other one was white.

The white guy had a dour expression. Dan said to him, "Are you BJ?"

"No. Are you the guy with the Pontiac Sunfire?" Dan nodded and the black guy started cracking up. The white guy was not amused. "Where were you?" Oh boy, this was turning into the exact type of situation I try to avoid by way of worry and logistics. There's nothing I hate more than someone thinking I'm stupid, especially when they have a good reason.

"It was taking so long, so we went to get a drink," Dan began. "I'm looking for BJ, the valet guy."

The white guy was even more pissy. "BJ is not the valet guy, but he does have your keys. We'll call him." The black guy laughed some more as he punched numbers into a phone. I was feeling like the white guy was about to lecture us, so I decided to make my escape.

"I'm gonna wait outside." Dan nodded and I pushed my way out the glass doors as quickly as I could. I took a deep breath of the warm, late evening air and felt relieved - for the sight of our little white car, and for BJ having Dan's keys, and for being away from the irritated white guy. And then it occurred to me that this well-lit alley (my haven of relief) would seem to be a very scary place for anyone who fears Detroit thoroughly. Granted, I fear Detroit, too, but I also have the sense to recognize degrees of danger. I wouldn't head out to Woodward and just start walking on my own (but if I had to, I would feel better being on that street than one of the side roads). I remember trying to explain this to my Swedish ex-boyfriend's parents. They were floored when I said, "There are some places in Detroit where I would walk around by myself in the day but never at night." They thought that was the most screwed up description of a city they had ever heard and they felt sorry for Americans because we are forced to analyze our dangerous cities this way. Oh, well. I'd rather have the analytical skills than never hang out in cities.

A moment later, Dan joined me, the coveted keys jingling in his hand. Once we were settled in the car, we cracked up.

"Dan, can you imagine what that guy was thinking when you were chasing him down the alley, yelling, 'Hey, BJ!'"

He laughed even harder. "Wow, that would have really sucked if we had lost our car. I seriously thought they would still be out there by the time we got back."

"Yeah. I don't know how this shit works. What a ridiculous situation. This is why people like us don't get valet."

We motored up Woodward to Ferndale and spent the next couple hours singing karaoke in a bar with four other people. It was a pretty great night.