For Saturday bunny_hugger had a fine idea of visiting Ann Arbor.
I held a vague impression of Ann Arbor, first as the town to which all theses migrate upwards to spawn; second as a place that all the Michigan folks I know lived in or near for years. And I knew it was a college town --- so presumably similar in some of the feel and atmosphere to those I've lived in, like New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Troy, New York --- with a fair bit of pride in its general ... college-towniness --- so, unlike New Brunswick and Troy, which exist unimpaired by self-esteem. At the risk of short-circuiting a trip report, I think this impression came out reasonably right. Although we didn't actually get near campus, we did spend the day in the outskirts of the student-heavy district and it felt very comfortable and more self-assured than the college towns of my past.
We hadn't eaten a real breakfast to start the day, instead grabbing a few granola bars, because we planned on arriving to eat at the Zingerman's Deli. This is a 30-year-old deli gaining national recognition for its general deli-ness, with an impressive assortment of foods ready to buy, from the shelves or behind the counter, or to order from one of roughly eighteen menu boards jutting out from the ceiling at odd angles. We arrived slightly late for the lunch rush and so the line had dwindled to just the entire population of the Lower Peninsula, who were --- except for five people lined up outside in deference to ``fire regulations'' about the maximum internal population --- all present.
Incidentally while we were briefly lined up outside the folks ahead of us talked about comparisons to New York delis, and got to the issue of cheesecake, and the woman said it was ridiculous that something-or-other had referred to Junior's as world-famous cheesecake because she lived in Brooklyn and never heard of it. In the most outgoing and least shy thing I'll do this year, I asked how she had never heard of Junior's cheesecake, since, you know, it is rather cheesecake. And I helpfully gave vague directions to the one that's on either 44th or 45th street, I think. I know the alley it's by, that should be distinctive enough. I don't get to introduce weird coincidences like that often enough.
Zingerman's, I should emphasize, was busy. Busier than that, even. There wasn't any hope of sitting with our sandwiches in the deli proper. But they had alternatives, including a building next door with upstairs and downstairs rooms, and a heated tent off to the side, where people could sit. And when our order was ready they sent some poor employee to wander through each of about 40 possible locations, calling the name on the order check, until someone finally answered. It's good sandwiches, and I can easily understand the crowding, and I can only imagine what it's like when it isn't a nondescript mid-February weekend and there's a real mob of people in town instead.
On the walls by the bathrooms --- where, incidentally, there was a line about five guys deep for the men's room and nobody waiting for the women's room --- were signs with handwritten-looking notes that tried to explain the sandwich items. These explanations didn't quite always actually explain them, with one for example mentioning that the sandwich's name was derived from the name of the shuttle that gets one from part of Chicago's El to a particular suburb. It comes near enough clinging together it's almost easy to overlook that it doesn't explain anything. Also in the men's room they had a poster showing a 1986 Ann Arbor News human-interest story about how the area had an abnormally high concentration of New York Times readers. I know it was harder to get an out-of-town paper in 1986 and human-interest pieces have to be made from absolutely anything anywhere but it still feels weird.
By our table they had also hung a 1983 article from Michigan, the Sunday supplement of the Detroit Daily News, and I do not snicker at this name because I know full well that one of the two things which survived the collapse of the merger of the New York Herald Tribune, the World-Telegram and Sun, and the Journal-American was the Trib's Sunday supplement, thoughtfully named New York. It's still survived. But the article, including a photograph of the reporter which I had the regretful feeling probably pictured accurately what she looked like in 1983, or what Jeannie Teasdale looked like in 1995, attempted to explore the world of Michigan-area delis as they existed in that far-off and distant land. To underscore the exoticness of a Jewish deli a sidebar explained such obscure bits of Yiddish as the words ``maven'' or what's meant by ``oy vey''. I know, I grew up in the New York City cultural sphere, and so I grew up knowing vaguely what matzoh balls were, but it seemed wonderfully earnest to go explaining this, and in such detail too.
After lunch we went in search of a letterbox. Letterboxing is a hobby of bunny_hugger's, and a fair number of other people, in which boxes with stamps and log books are hidden and people try following clues --- some straightforward, some of Encyclopedia Brownesque misdirection --- to find them. On my previous visits we've tried finding boxes she had planted herself, which had gone missing. This is a natural hazard; while the boxes are small and ask to be set back in place and give a URL to explain the whole thing on top, they're also stuff left in public and probably get carted away on grounds of being suspected of suspections of suspiciousness, or at least for having usable ink pads inside. This time, she had one that someone else had planted, and that was reported in existence in location relatively recently, so there should be a fair chance of actually finding this. And for this, our third hunt for any kind of box at all, really, we found ...
Success! Even as I was trying to figure out the fire-escape stairs that the directions mentioned bunny_hugger went to the stairs and rooted around underneath, finding not just the letterbox but also a hitchhiker. A hitchhiker is a sort of miniature letterbox meant to be picked up by its discoverer and carried to the next letterbox one finds. She finds them about one box in ten, and they can wander very well when they don't go missing altogether, and there's got to be some interesting implications for this that the epidemiology community has probably studied, or should. So this was a bonus to the already tangible joy we had at finding a letterbox in place and where it should have been.
We stamped the fixed-location one's log, bunny_hugger with hers, and me with a little coati stamp that duplicates one she gave me as a present and that I didn't think to bring along. (We even stamped them, on adjacent pages, so our icons face one another, although this was the luck of how the stamps are arranged and what page was the first blank one.) We took the hitchhiker with us, to stamp in a more convenient, less-snowy, less chilly location.
Something we almost always do when together is go to a movie; unfortunately, do you know what's playing right now? Yeah, you see the problem with that. But bunny_hugger did have an outstanding idea, which was to go to the Michigan Theater, which was playing besides the feature performance a slate of the Oscar-nominated animated short subjects. This lineup includes the new Wallace and Gromit half-hour cartoon and a bunch of others that we never heard of either. Off to it, then.
The theater is one of those old-time movie houses which were built back when they were trying to make movies respectable by going way past the opera houses in decorative splendor and brass fixtures and intricate carvings on the ceiling and all that. You know, the sort that degenerated into dusty piles of fallen plaster in the 70s, and then were renovated when the appropriate state agency realized it could get some prestige points and praise from the historical preservation community by putting it back into respectable shape. New Brunswick has the State Theater, quite like that, and I saw altogether too few movies after that finished renovations my junior year (including 2001: A Space Odyssey on a screen the size of Rhode Island, which you should absolutely experience).
The Michigan Theater was well above the New Jersey version. The layout of the building I think was better, and the decor just beautiful throughout, and sparkling still. We were torn on whether to get popcorn, since the machine made it look so good, but we had just eaten, really. We were a little disappointed that the shorts were going to be in the screening room, rather than the main theater with the balcony seats and all that, but we could peek into the main theater and get an idea of what that looked like even through the light provided by a subtitled film certainly not at all moody or depressing.
The screening room was relatively near the size of a movie theater as I'd go to in the 80s, really, before the invention of stadium seating or seats with cup-holders in them. Around the rim of the ceiling were a diorama of Michigan-area street front settings, and we were stuck trying to figure whether the room was a new construction, or whether it had always been there; it didn't seem to fit architecturally quite either way. But up front, barely lit, was a fellow playing the organ in warm-up to the show, and we only trust that he was affiliated with the theater in some way.
I'll review the shorts as I remember them separately. The crowd favorite, and ours, was Wallace and Grommet, but bunny_hugger and I felt it had a not quite fair advantage. The other shorts were one-reelers, coming in about six to eight minutes each; Wallace and Gromit came in at a half-hour, per their usual. They had the biggest laughs and most dramatic moments and strongest plotline, but they also had four or five times the time to do it in. Plus, not a small bit of the emotional appeal of the short came from the audience having seen earlier Wallace and Gromit shorts, and knowing the characters and world from that, an advantage the one-reelers didn't have. It's silly to break down an already tiny category further, but it doesn't feel quite right to have a truly short subject competing directly against something that's only ``short'' because it's by design not seven reels.
From the theater we went out looking more at the shops in the area, including a hot dog stand which has been there forever and has interesting personal history to her, as well as a record store which featured a windowfront display of albums with science fiction-themed covers, including the obscurely famous War of the Worlds musical and all those Sorayama covers you may have noticed in the past. It was a tempting display, certainly. Plus Ringo Starr.
But instead of going in there we went to a used book store, the Dawn Treader, whose name would later reveal that I'd never actually said ``Treader'' aloud and had a different view of its vowels than bunny_hugger had. While I have a favorite used book store, it lives in the wild on a county road, not in the middle of the street. I haven't had a regular used book store like this since leaving Troy, and, aah, this was satisfying. It had the most important property of an urban used book store, a floor plan composed of the endgame of a lousy round of Tetris. You know, with a skinny front aisle that bifurcates into stairs and a ramp, a wider backside, a second narrow hallway, a wider far-back part that --- yes! --- opens into a skylight. From which a model Millennium Falcon hangs. Clearly, this is the sort of bookstore I could go to a lot.
And it did threaten to overwhelm not just my time but also my sensible understanding that I can't go buying every book ever in there. The store has not just a nice-sized science fiction section but one that I haven't picked over, the way my local and even my backup store have been. I've got some slightly classic tastes, and a few obscure ones (I'm a Chad Oliver fan, so like all Oliver fans, believe that I'm the only one) and I hadn't thought to put together a target list of possible authors to pick out. I did find one I'd honestly been looking for for over a decade --- The Second Book of Fritz Leiber --- and a couple of Clifford Simak books. And they even had three Chad Oliver books I hadn't heard of before, although two of them looked, frankly, awful. I decided to get the one that looked most interesting.
We were starting to think of the time, and also to think of: boy, we're always going to have to go here whenever we get to Ann Arbor. And I figured, why not peek into the humor section and see if they had anything interesting there, such as something by Fred Allen, or maybe --- say, what would be the chances they had a Robert Benchley book I didn't have before? Whatever the chance, they did have, this time, of Benchley --- Or Else, which I do believe I've read but from the library. And this was even a first edition, which isn't really important to me but is nice if you can get it.
And as if the bookstore hadn't done enough to be worth cherishing, off to the other side of humor was a stack of Pogo books. Not the attempts at Complete Pogo reproductions that always start in 1948 and stall out in 1955, but the books which collect daily panels, sometimes with redrawn or fresh-drawn art to smooth over the differences between daily and compiled publication, and broken up into chapters and books to show off complete stories, or to match things like ongoing romantic-entanglement or Pogo for President campaigns or the like. Which of these should I pick up? Maybe all of them, less the ones that I have already? But then there's luggage space ... of course, I could perhaps prevail on bunny_hugger to let me use her shelves until my next visit ... but then ... oh, this would be difficult, wouldn't it? And what if we went to Ann Arbor next time?
Well. With considerable self-restraint and amused looks from the cashier I decided: the Benchley I'd buy, as it is one book and the only Benchley they had on the shelves. With a stack of Pogo books, though, they could be reasonably counted upon to have some for next time, so I didn't need to rush. And this would have to pass for self-restraint for me. Besides, we ought to have dinner.
For dinner bunny_hugger wanted to take me to an all-vegetarian restaurant, one which had impressed itself on her when she was a young vegetarian because she could order absolutely anything on the menu. She had also joked about it not having updated its menu since the 70s, although actually, it was a new menu this time. I'd got, I believe, a burrito, with a bowl of chili to the side; she got chili and a quesadilla, I think, and this was a fantastic set with the really very good meat impersonations they've got these days. It was great. It's getting awfully easy to eat vegetarian these days, and if they come out with a wheat-gluten White Castle burger I could probably make the shift painlessly.
For dessert we had a peach pie, I think it was, with a chocolate shell which we expected to be a little drizzle of chocolate sauce on top. Instead it was a layer of chocolate thick enough to provide protection against nuclear blasts. This made for satisfying taste, but slightly messy eating, since we only had our forks and spoons to cut with at that point in the meal. We could have used jackhammers.
The restaurant had a world and a national map, with pins for visitors, and wouldn't you know there was already a pin from close enough to my home not to be worth putting one in? Ah, well.
We drove back home, to get her rabbit his playtime, and we our online playtime, and me my comics read, and in time this would take us to a happy sleep. The happy sleep part wouldn't quite work out.
Trivia: The population of Sapporo was about 760,000 in May 1965 when it was a candidate for the 1972 Winter Olympics. By May 1972 its population had grown to 1,057,000. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.
Currently Reading: The Death Of Doctor Island, Gene Wolfe.