Certain texts of Middle Eastern origin, from before the Dark Ages, of disproportionate influence on contemporary human behavior and often misinterpreted, proclaim the existence of a gilded utopia awaiting anyone who behaves properly. It is a land of plenty, of undying love and grooviness; it floats somewhere in the sky. The catch is that you must croak first to get there.
The rumors are true, except for the dying part. This place does in fact exist. We went there this summer. It’s in Michigan, beside the train tracks, between Benton Harbor and Ann Arbor. Here, with humidity like a blanket on the land, is an explosion of fertility: Flowers grow on vines that grow on trees that line fields bursting forth with so much produce that it’s hard to imagine anyone ever going hungry.
Leaving Chicago at dawn, gray skyscrapers emerging from concrete canyons, things maybe weren’t so idyllic, a rocking train traversing trash-strewn neighborhoods, crumbling apartments with fire escapes falling off the backsides, stairs ending in mid-air, saplings growing out of roofs, cardboard scraps taped into broken windows, glass shards left lying in the gutter, abandoned junkers on blocks in backyards, overflowing dumpsters. A purgatory of industrial zones, bleak and foreboding, void of life, smelling of egg farts and diesel, was safely negotiated before we got to the Pearly Gates and then everything was hunky dory, the garbage-y homeless tent encampment on the east side of Kalamazoo notwithstanding. It is by train that one gets to see both the underbelly of things, and life encapsulated as a movie.
The inland sweetwater ocean of Lake Michigan could be glimpsed, blending with an infinite sky, sailboats at anchor reflected in a cool blue mirror, between groves of ash and sycamore, tidy clapboard houses, trimmed hedges and yards. Everything in its place: kids outside an ice cream shop, a farmer on his tractor, cattails and lily pads ringing a violet pond. Water everywhere, rolling fields and forests, a friendly countryside teeming with fish and game; yet so long as people have lived here, 13,000 years or so, maybe longer, be they Ojibwa, Potawatomi, Sauk, French, British or American, they have fought over it. Yes, there is fighting in heaven.
We were on a mission, however, and paradise wasn’t our goal. It was something more tangible: a Tigers/Red Sox game. After our arrival in Ann Arbor, on a sunny Thursday morning we piled into our rental Malibu – black, with black interior, real thug, we blended right in – and motored down a busy I-94 into downtown Detroit, finding the stadium and a place to park without bother. Wary of lingering pandemic, we asked the fellow at the ticket window for seats by ourselves; he chuckled and put us in the upper deck along the right field line.
It was stinking hot and we found isolated seats, despite the big crowd — everyone was there to hopefully see Miguel Cabrera hit his 500th home run — in the shade at the top of our section. The swelling of the crowd noise, the heat, the big city, the ballpark, being there together: It was perfect. My sister Peggy, always enthusiastic, was in from Oregon and was as excited as a schoolgirl when I got her some Tigers schwag — jersey, cap and coffee mug — dancing a jig. Little Amelia, beside herself at the prospect of eating a lot of junk food prohibited at home by her health-conscious Mom, laid waste to the concession stand.
The resurgent Tigers played one of their best games of the year, leadoff man Robbie Grossman starting things off with a homer to left on an 0-2 count, and rolling from there, highlighted by two triples, one from either side of the plate, by switch-hitter Victor Reyes, a superb, improbable running catch in center by Derek Hill to quell a 5th-inning Bosox rally, and five dominant innings from young Detroit starter Tarik Skubal. Final scoreline: Detroit: eight runs, 13 hits, one error. Boston: who cares. Amelia: hot dog, hamburger, nachos, Cracker Jacks, chips, ice cream, lemonade, one happy tapeworm, and a blue-and-orange long-armed stuffy monkey with embroidered Olde English “D.”
After the game, sated, it became clear that one advantage of negotiating the afternoon rush hour of a gutted, ghost town of a city is that it’s no problem, traffic moving freely, especially after the annoying GPS is turned off.
Other highlights of the trip included a Rainbow Bubble Ballet in the backyard sprinkler at my brother Michael’s in Evanston; the pumpkin ravioli at Nonna Sylvia’s; the dog with the works at Budecki’s; lazy, timeless afternoons at Silver Lake, water warm and silky; a reunion with the buddies with whom the permanent move to Colorado was made in 1979; a surprise visit from niece Katie, now in Ohio, last seen organizing the Liftee Prom here a few ski seasons ago, and a special triumph born of tragedy.
Katie showed up with a variety of rubber chickens as presents, including an elastic chicken designed to shoot like a rubber band, called a Chicken Flinger. Such was Amelia’s gusto in unleashing the little clucker across the room that in short order it became decapitated, a source of dismay.
By combining disparate elements, however, the enterprising girl found that with patience the chicken head could be stretched over the head of her favorite Barbie doll, resulting in an ingenious Chicken Head Barbie. This could be our next million. Adding to the glory of the resurrection was the fact that this was one of the new, more anatomically probable Barbies, a Chunky Butt, or Big Booty Barbie. It just couldn’t get much better.
The feeling? Heavenly.
Sean can be reached at: email@example.com.