Saturday, October 4, 2008

New Acquisitions, part 1: Cleveland

It's not exactly a buying trip, because the jeep is already packed to the gills with camping gear and other crap for three full weeks away from home—but we have been hitting a few thrift stores and record stores here and there. The best one yet was Suite Lorain in Cleveland, a gigantic vintage emporium in an old bowling alley, pictured above. Emily picked up a cloak and a handbag (I'll show her finds in a later post) and I grabbed some records:

This has inspirational words regarding stainless steel on one side, and music on the other. Can't wait to hear it.

I had never seen this Tyrone Davis before. I don't have my portable player with me so I'll have to check all of these out when I get home.

Some local hip-hop, ca.1984.

Grace Jones Island Life, with photography by Jean Paul Goude.

The rest of these are from various thrift stores around Cleveland:

Good graphic inspiration.

There's a couple Bacharach covers on here that might be good.

They cover a Serge Gainsbourg song.

Oh c'mon, I had to get this 45.

This one too, it was only 50 cents.

And a Downhill Racer VHS for good measure.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Take A Ride With Me

Detroit holds a special place in our hearts because when Emily and I took our first big roadtrip together – our honeymoon trip up to Lake Louise – the early Slum Village bootleg was just circulating, and we listened to it non-stop. I had dubbed it from Jake One, who had dubbed it from Mr. Attic or Moss, and we just about wore that fuzzy cassette tape out as we cruised through the back roads of Montana, Alberta, and British Columbia. It would be difficult to understate the massive influence the group's producer, Jay Dee, would have on hip-hop in the ten years following, before he passed away – but that's for another post. Jay Dee and Slum Village were from Detroit, a fact that in and of itself brought a whole new outlook, and it made me want to see the city that birthed their style. [And yes, obviously there are one million other bands and styles of music that came out of the D, arguably way more important. That's not for another post – that's for other blogs entirely.]

So the plan for Detroit, in addition to a burger from Miller's, was basically to drive around and see it. We didn't go to museums or galleries or search out the hip neighborhoods or even go see a show (we had a debate to watch anyway). We'll do all those things on another trip. This time, we just poked around and looked at the city.

Not sure you can really tell from these photos, but it feels like half the buildings in Detroit are boarded up, empty, or gutted entirely (the very top photo is the gigantic central train station, probably the biggest of the abandoned buildings, though there are also some empty office buildings downtown). This Is Not a Political Blog, but you need look no further than Detroit for reasons Barack Obama must be our next President. (Certainly Detroit politics could also use some change, but this Is Not a Detroit Politics Blog Either.) To say Detroit is crumbling would be a vast understatement—in 1980 there were 1.9 million people living here, but it's down to half that nowadays, the result of layoffs, white flight, and crumbling industry. (Additionally, and anecdotally, Mark Miller told us that business at Miller's Bar is down 25%, the result of 12,000 people being laid off at Ford recently. So the ripple effects are very, very clear throughout the region.) Obviously I'm no expert on any of it, but it makes sense to me that if we followed Tom Friedman's advice, a new initiative toward green transportation could provide jobs and revitalization for Detroit and the rest of the country. Barack Obama is the most likely of the two major candidates to move forward on that. It's heartening to hear today that McCain is pulling his campaign out of Michigan entirely; the state has gone Democrat for the past four presidential elections, but it's always close, and with Obama's money it will certainly go Lions blue again.

And all of that being said, as I've mentioned before, there are a lot of interesting things to be seen in the decay. Remnants from previous eras and graphic styles are everywhere, and in a weird way it's morbidly refreshing to see the old stuff, rather than some new condo obliterating every reference to the past. I hope the best for Detroit; I was glad to see the "before," and I look forward to the "after," if we can rise to the occasion of creating new industries, jobs and prosperity in this country. Getting back to Jay Dee and Slum Village, it's interesting to see where they were coming from—amidst all the decay and all the possibility, Detroit has inspiration for days.

Next up: central Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. We'll mostly be camping for the rest of the trip, so I'm not sure about frequency of posts, but I'll see what I can do.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Crosstown Beef

The first thing we did when we got to Detroit last night was leave town. There's a bar in Dearborn that is widely considered, among people who track such things, to have one of the best burgers in the world. Once again, we were lucky to have the place almost entirely to ourselves, and owner/bartender Mark Miller schooled us on local history, the bar business, and most importantly, the ethos of his long-time burger outfit.

These really were some of the best, if not the very best, burgers we've ever had—Emily and I both agreed. (And as I told Mark, my grandfather was a cattle rancher, so I've had a few.) I ordered this one rare, and it actually was rare, and that was great, because Miller gets his beef directly from Detroit's Eastern Market, and knows where it walked around before that. Paired with some McDonald's-level-delicious fries (don't front) and a couple High Lifes (no relation to the bar, though their Miller distributor used to work there) it was just about heaven.

Cleveland to Detroit through Sandusky and Toledo

We were kind of in a hurry so I didn't stop to get pictures of the beautiful white herons we saw in the various waterways on the side of highway 2 – or of Zunk's Bait & Tackle, or the 24-hour worm machine, for that matter – but here are a few snaps I think are worth posting. Shooting through the window kind of makes the bottom one look like film.

Tell Me a Mitzi

I hate to be a spoil sport, but I have a feeling the bar we went to in Cleveland the other night will be my favorite of the whole trip. There will be other bars (many, many other bars), some of them legendary in their own ways – but Mitzi Jerman's is going to be a little lonely at the top. Founded in 1908, the bar has been in the same family for one hundred years. We had the place to ourselves on a rainy Tuesday night and it was nice to chat with Mitzi's daughter Susie about the bar and the city, and to meet her old dog Rosco and her cat Belle, who wags her tail like a dog when she's happy. It was like finding a home away from home on the road, and I couldn't think of a better introduction to Cleveland.

When Mitzi Jerman died in 2006 at the age of 92, her obituary ran on the front page of the Plain Dealer. Here it is:

St. Clair Avenue's friendliest bartender dies at 92
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Michael O'Malley
PD Reporter

The old beer joint will never be the same without the elegant lady in the housedress and clip-on earrings who called each customer "honey."

For generations she poured whiskey for the blue-collar boilermaker crowds that lined the wooden bar in one of Cleveland's oldest neighborhood saloons -- Mitzi Jerman's, named after the elegant lady herself.

Mary "Mitzi" Jerman, who was born in the apartment above the bar on St. Clair Avenue 92 years ago, died on Sunday in a nursing home where she had been cared for since April.

Before going to the nursing home, she still lived above the bar, helping her daughter and son-in-law when the place got busy. Sometimes she'd shuffle in wearing slippers, but always in a housedress and earrings, and always smiling. No one called her Mrs. Jerman. She was always Mitzi.

"The amazing Mitzi," Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman said. "She was the great innkeeper. She always made you feel warm and welcome."

Mitzi entertained her honeys with stories about her old bootlegging days and the characters who used to come into the bar -- politicians and reporters mingling with working-class Democrats. The late Frank Lausche, a Cleveland mayor who went on to be governor and U.S. senator, regularly left the place forgetting his hat.

And Mitzi remembered him having holes in his shoes.

Though the place will never be the same without those colorful stories, it was business as usual Monday at the bar. "My mother would have a fit if I closed," said Mary Therese "Susie" Myers, whose grandparents, immigrants from Slovenia, started the business 98 years ago.

John Jerman came to America and worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines before settling in Cleveland, where he met his wife Frances, a governess. In 1906, he borrowed $1,000 to buy a house at 3840 St. Clair Ave. Two years later, he opened a bar on the first floor.

When Prohibition came, the Jermans worked in the shadows to keep the business going, trying to avoid snooping G-men.

Mitzi's brother Eddie smuggled whiskey from Canadian boats, and when the Feds got too close, the Jermans would pass bottles out an upstairs window into a window of a next-door neighbor whose house stood only a few feet away.

"My grandmother used to tell my mother, 'Look out for those guys wearing the black boots and white socks. Those are the Feds. Those are the bad guys,' " Myers said.

In the old days, Mitzi cooked chili and hamburgers for the neighborhood's hungry factory workers and truck drivers. "She made the best hamburgers," said Karla Golub, 62, who grew up in the near East Side Slovenian neighborhood.

"My parents would give us kids money, and we'd walk from St. Paul's to Mitzi's for hamburgers. We would swivel on the stools and watch the factory workers crack eggs in their beers."

Golub owns Golub Funeral Home on Superior Avenue, where Mitzi's wake will be on Wednesday. The place used to be a boardinghouse where Mitzi, as a girl, took piano lessons. The old piano in the bar is dusty and out of tune.

Myers said her mother remained alert to the end. She said Mitzi asked every day about the business and her dog Rosco, an uptight mutt who sleeps in the front window and barks at the regulars coming through the door.

"Every day she said, 'Tell the customers I said hello and make sure you buy them a drink,' " Myers said.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Paul Croatian Catholic Church, 1369 East 40th St.

Mitzi Jerman's Café is 3840 St. Clair Avenue Northeast, near the waterfront. Stop by if you're ever in Cleveland.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008



Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Niagara Falls

A quick diversion on our way to Cleveland today.

Once again, architecture in the national parks impresses. This is the observation tower.

Actually Niagara Falls is a New York State Park—the oldest state park in the country.

And it's really amazing. No joke. I kind of expected to be all "whatever" because it seems like a tourist trap. It is that, but it's also a breathtaking natural landform, definitely worth seeing.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Shooting Buffalo

At the wedding last weekend when we'd talk about our trip, people kept asking Emily and me why we wanted to go to Buffalo (and to Cleveland, where we're going today).

Number one, why not? I will happily go anywhere. There are interesting things to see in almost every wide spot in the road. Second, Buffalo is not just anywhere. It was burned to the ground in the war of 1812, and spent the next several decades building back up, hitting a massive boom around the turn of the century, when the Erie Canal brought shipping business and loads of cash to the region. Louis Sullivan, the Saarinens, HH Richardson—there's a ton of interesting architecture here. Also, Buffalo 66 was made in Buffalo.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House. (There are a bunch of his houses up here but this is the only one we had time to see.)

The decline of a boomtown, while very sad, is at least as visually interesting as its rise.

Downtown is full of nice buildings, though they're almost all empty.

Cities like Buffalo always have some cool old bars.

Kazimierz Pulaski gets his props in Buffalo too.

The waterfront park is really nice. There's a gigantic view across Lake Erie toward Canada.

The Seneca were the first people here, and then the Iroquois as a whole, and then the French.

The grain elevator was invented at the Erie Basin.

The observation tower at the marina.

There's a military museum on the waterfront.

Does that lightning bolt really seem dangerous?

Finally: Buffalo Wings were invented here, at the Anchor Bar, by an Italian lady in 1964. We decided that their bleu cheese could have used more chunks, but that the wings were the best either of us had ever had. They're just extra meaty and cooked to perfection. The "suicidal" wings are extremely hot but don't lose any flavor. Highly recommended if you're ever in Buffalo.

Next up: Cleveland. Get ready to live.