Good morning, Michigan.
In the land of QD donut munchers, life plays tricks on you. One minute you’re cruising along, doing your thing. Thinking everything is fine. Not really cognizant of the dumpster fire simmering just underneath the surface. Because the focus is on fighting up the
fish social ladder to make things just a bit better than they were the day before.
But complications hit with shocking regularity. Obstacles, that make about as much sense as having to turn right in order to go left, constantly threaten to throw you off the path.
Because things here in Lansing are a little weird; nothing makes any sense. And it’s difficult for a transplanted brain to fully comprehend the subtleties so deeply ingrained in the rhythm of Ingham County.
The machines built as part of the extortion scheme behind the dehumanizing bottle return system terrify me. I can still smell it. And sometimes hear the crashing clunk of the machine grinding up the deposits in my infrequent dreams.
I don’t feel bad that I ended up breaking the machine during my first, and only, visit. Sorry, environment. Everything goes in the bin now. I may not save the planet. Or my $.10. But I’ll save my sanity. And dignity, by not having a shocking number of Guinness cans on public display.
The roads here are more patches than pavement. At least when they’re not forested with barriers of orange barrels. Red traffic lights seem at best a suggestion. The stretch of South Cedar between Old Everett and Holt is the most convoluted mishmash of urban planning disaster I have ever encountered; it shouldn’t be that fucking difficult to get to a Meijer in Michigan.
And, perhaps most controversially, if you’ve ever lived beyond the constriction of a state where people point at their hand to explain geography, then it’s easy to understand the disappointment of the donut scene. Because honestly? Donuts kind of suck up here.
Is it any wonder that I still struggle to understand this City?
But I am trying. I’m not just some hateful expat, railing against the idiosyncrasies of his temporarily adopted hometown. I’m actually trying to do something about it.
With unexpected free time filling the gap of where she used to love me, a near total lack of adequate adult supervision, and some recently acquired disposable income, I challenged myself to learn this Capital City beyond the limits of the paths to familiar places.
And I started in REO Town.
It was an unseasonably warm and foggy December day. The traffic barreling north on MLK woke me up earlier than I had planned and after having my morning cuppas, I immediately felt claustrophobic pinballing inside the single room of my Capitol view apartment.
The tops of the three stacks that I have since learned are named Wynken, Blynken and Nod were hiding behind the low hanging fog, obscuring the visual landmark I have grown to rely upon. Smokestacks have been a habitual navigational tool since those early days back in Dublin. And it’s a hard habit to break.
But I shook off the uncertainty of another random Michigan Thursday, made sure my phone was charged, and then rolled out into the City.
Fighting through the usual traffic nonsense where I got stuck behind every light on W. Malcolm X, I eventually made it to REO Town after turning around on E. South Street, a navigational feat which baffles me. I’m still not sure if I was going east or south.
Underneath the fog shrouded stacks, I found stacks of wax at the Record Lounge in the REO Town Marketplace.
If you’re ever on the hunt for vintage vinyl, or the equipment necessary to properly enjoy the experience, it’s definitely worth the visit. Even spending a few minutes thumbing through the albums makes the trip worthwhile. Especially if you’re old enough to appreciate the warmer sound of vinyl-clad music. Or remember those weird little adapters required to play 45s on a regular size turntable.
My journey to REO Town inevitably took a thrifty turn with a visit to St. Vincent de Paul.
It’s a fairly large shop with a lot on offer. And, unlike a lot of other thrift stores, they haven’t really jacked the prices up—I’m looking at you, DeWitt Goodwill.
St. Vincent de Paul has a little boutique of high ticket items at the front. The rest of the store is dedicated to the usual thrifty offerings. With the unusual underlying vibe of sincerely wanting to help those who might be struggling. And there are a lot of us struggling these days. So that palpable compassion didn’t go unnoticed. Or, unappreciated.
A little further down S. Washington, past the Good Truckin’ Diner and the Saddleback BBQ joint that advertised its culinary offerings through the pungently seductive scent of roasted meat, I ducked into a little coffee shop. The one with a Blue Owl on the door.
Generally, given my Irish heritage, I’m more of a tea lad. But occasionally, out in the real world, I join the bean juice drinkers for my caffeine bumps. It’s just easier than complaining about American tea, which is generally as weak as the Spartan’s special teams unit.
While waiting for my simple drip coffee in the land of half-caff, soy milk, pumpkin spice abominations, I thought about a pretty girl. And imagined her sitting at the front window with me.
For some reason, that caught me off guard.
Because things are weird there, too. We never really figured things out before it all got messy. There are still things to move out of my head, before I can move on. So I didn’t smile back when the cashier smiled at me.
Instead, I grabbed my boring order and pinballed through the hipster masses. Bounced out of REO Town red hot, in a little green car. And sipped my coffee in the traffic on the drive back to MLK, curious what Lansing has in store for me next…