à bientôt, A2

Good morning

In the next three hours, I’ll leave Ann Arbor for good. Yesterday I felt ready, but today, now that the departure is actually imminent, now that I have a time when I need to be on the road, I’m fighting it.

A2 Bucket List

I have two weeks left in Ann Arbor. Two weeks from today, I should be in Chicago, and a week after that, I’ll be getting ready to start my new job. I asked the internets for recommendations for my last two weeks here, and they responded in great force. I can’t obviously accomplish all of these things in two weeks, but it’s good to have a place to start.

  • Filmfest, foolmoon, festifools
  • Get into that little playground on the roof of the old Mott Children’s Hospital.
  • Coconut cream batido from frita batidos
  • Frita batidos, Sunday brunch at Aut bar
  • Canoe the Huron (if they’re open?) If not open or too cold, go to the DIA. That never gets old.
  • Dunny purchase from Vault of Midnight. Go see Lewis the orange tabby cat at Downtown Home and Garden. Go to Ashleys for beer on the busiest night, take $20 and play the same song (bad or good) over and over again on the internet juke box. Walk in Gallup Park.
  • If the weather is right & you still have your bike, you can take the b2b trail to downtown Ypsilanti.
  • Run through the Arb, brunch at Eastern Market, good beer at Jolly Pumpkin and then a bad beer over at the Eightball and definitely go visit Lewis!
  • Happy Endings at Berkley Front over City Club this Friday.

This is in addition to the list that Shana and I have been compiling:

  • Bell’s bi bim bap with Amanda
  • Nachos somewhere with Shana and Javan
  • Night out in Detroit with housemates
  • Biscuits and chocolate-bacon gravy at the Roadhouse (post-race brunch of dreams
  • Brunch at Raven’s Club
  • One last bakefest (Oreos!)
  • Another Knights of the West Side

Already checked off the list in the last few weeks are:

  • Afternoon Delight, which is hands’ down my favorite breakfast place in town.
  • Taco Tuesday at Sabor Latino
  • Donuts and/or ice cream from Washtenaw Dairy, which has the best donuts on the planet.
  • Plastic Passion at Necto
  • My first and only visit to the Arb
  • A very long walk along Huron River Drive
  • Treasure Mart
  • Zingerman’s

What am I missing?

Moving Forward with Thanks

I’m taking time out before the meal preparations start to tell you more about our big news, presented in brief in my previous post.  Chicago!

ashland

Let me back up.

When we started to talk about leaving DC, we were both unhappy in our jobs.  We were tired of our commutes, tired of living in the suburbs, tired of the cost of living somewhere just a little too expensive.  We had a lease that was ending, and a fabulous job opportunity for Shane.  We were Ready To Go.

We’ve now been  in the mitten for a little over two years, and (in the spirit of the day) have much for which we’re thankful.  We have good jobs and many good friends.  We’ve been able to pursue our interests – beer, mopeds, knitting, running, cooking, records, gardening – and have had storage space to accommodate all of those interests.  We’re healthy, though Shane has been fighting a nasty cold all week, as are our cat friends.  Our families and most of our friends are within half a day’s drive, as are several major cities and lots of gorgeous nature.

Chicago

So why move?

Because we’re craving city life.  Because every time we go to Chicago and see allllllllllllllll of our friends, we feel grumpy that we don’t live closer.  Because having a newish nephew has made us acutely aware of the passage of time and how much we’re missing by only seeing him a few times a year.  Because we’ve only gone to a handful of shows in the time that we’ve lived here.  Because it’s frankly not that much more expensive than Ann Arbor, but offers so much more to a childless couple in their 30s who want to have fun before they’re too old to be fun.  Because we didn’t get the full city experience living in the ‘burbs of DC.  Because it’s a major hub for airlines and a world class destination for good food and coffee.  Because I’m a Cubs fan.  Because so many of the people that made Champaign home are now in Chicago, and because Champaign is 2.5 hours away by train.  Because there’s a lake and beaches in the interminable summer.  Because it’s a city of neighborhoods, each with their distinct identity.  Because it has an established bike (and moped) culture.  And because we’re ready for a change.

wrigley!

After several conversations this summer, we decided that we wanted to focus our energy in this direction.  We weren’t sure if or when it would happen, but we wanted to make it happen.  We started applying for jobs, realizing that if they didn’t happen, we were still in a very good place, and the worst it meant would be that we would be in that good place a while longer.  In October, on the heels of a few weeks of ridiculous travel, Shane interviewed at DePaul, and a few weeks ago, he was offered the job.  Chicago!

So what happens next?  At some point in December, a moving company will pack up our apartment and load it onto a truck and drive it to Chicago.  We’ll go home for Christmas, then come back here to move me into a month-to-month sublet and to load up the van with some cats and the stuff Shane will need until the movers arrive.  I’ll help him get settled so that he can start his new job on January 2, and then we’ll do the back and forth thing until I can find a job.  There will be lots of visits and Skype calls and separation angst, but hopefully it won’t last too long, and by the spring we’ll be together again in our new city.  And we absolutely can’t wait.

Bike Angst

I really want to ride my bike.

I miss being a bike commuter. I miss the ride to GSLIS from our house, 7 minutes flat on a good day. I miss feeling superior in January when I would arrive at work in a bundle of layers. I miss the freedom of being able to hop on Yellow and go wherever I wanted in town.

I miss biking into DC. I didn’t do it all that many times, but it was An Adventure: crossing the GW Parkway and riding up along the river, past National airport, over the Memorial Bridge, then up the brutal hill on 23rd by the State Department, arriving at work jelly-legged and drenched in sweat, but secure in the knowledge that I could shower at the gym.

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=104087

Shane has a new bike, and on Monday we set off for work together, resolved to be bike commuters once again. But here’s the thing: I fucking hate biking in Ann Arbor.

My commute is literally up hill both ways.  The route to work is more downhill than uphill, but the uphill parts are situated in the midst of a series of one-ways and stoplights – as in, a light at every block for the last mile of my commute – making it impossible to build up or sustain any momentum.  In the course of a one-way commute, I gain and lose 100 feet of elevation, all on my single-speed bike.  The Statue of Liberty is 93 feet tall, just for the record.

While in most places, a bike is treated as a vehicle and so expected to be on the road, in A2, that seems to be up to the discretion of the cyclist.  This means that cyclists are on and off the sidewalks, in and out of the roads, riding wherever they damned well please – which then means that drivers don’t know what is going on and respond as erratically as the cyclists behave.  This means that today, Shane nearly collided with a cyclist running a red light (or possibly going the wrong way against traffic?), while I was almost hit by a car that ran a stop sign.

I’ve complained about the roads before.  They’re terrible.  This is even more noticeable when you have an uncomfortable seat, and when you’re trying to avoid getting hit by cars or doored while also trying to avoid seams, cracks, and potholes in the poorly maintained pavement.  Shane nearly wiped out in the gravel at the foot of our driveway, and I skidded on a crack in the road today.

In short, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it to try to ride my bike to work.  I arrive in a seriously disheveled and sweaty state and often in a foul mood from the exertion and annoyance of the ride.  I rolled into work this morning and had no willpower to resist Oreos in the breakroom.  I took a different route home and arrived in tears, winded and sore.  I thought that changing out the freewheel would help – and it has – but I’m still actively unhappy on almost every ride, and that’s just not worth it.  Sorry, Orange Porange.  Maybe we can have adventures in another city.

Move to SF and hate it?

I spent some time skimming this post and feeling pretty irritated about a variety of comments.  I’ll try not to get all irritated on you, but I didn’t want this particular brainstorm to go to waste, especially as it helped me crystallize a few things I’ve been stewing on lately.  Perhaps this content is better suited for our blog, as it pertains to our life here in A2, but I wanted to be clear that these are my thoughts and do not necessarily reflect the rest of Team Beers.

The question that kicked off the post I liked to was this:

Have any of you moved to the Bay Area for tech and hated the atmosphere? How long did you stay and where did you move to after?

The response that seems to be getting the most traction cited the cost, lack of casual food, abysmal parking and public transit, hordes of tourists and gutter punks, and lack of seasons. The author of this response left SF to return to A2, finally settling in Chicago. I haven’t lived in SF or Chicago, but do feel fit to comment on A2 after a year of living here.

Most of the times people ask us about living in A2, we give sunny responses. And they’re mostly true. There are a lot of very good things about A2, but there are also frustrating things, and I’d like to list some of both of them for you here.  Many of my points will refer back to the post response mentioned above, as that’s what’s kicking around my head at the moment:

The Good:

  • There are jobs – unlike much of the rest of the state – and the median family income is keeping pace with the national average.  Many of those jobs are at a top-tier research institution.
  • People are educated.  Extremely so – 71.3% over 25 have at least a college degree, compared to 27.4% nationwide [1].
  • People are green-minded.  The city composts, single-stream recycling was implemented this summer, and there are at least 13 community gardens available to residents for a pretty reasonable price.
  • As usually goes with the above, it’s a very liberal city.
  • There’s a very active local food movement, with three farmers’ markets during the week, several “underground” food collectives or organizations focused on local food, and restaurants that focus on farm-to-table.
  • Public transportation covers most of the city, and Amtrak runs to Chicago a couple of times per day.  The Detroit airport is easily accessible by car and shuttle, though I haven’t taken the latter.  I can’t vouch for the availability or cost of cabs, as I only ever see them on campus.
  • There’s a lot of green space, between the Arb and the many surrounding parks. I heard somewhere that you’re never more than 10km from a natural source of water in Michigan, which is pretty cool.
  • Access to great (an affordable, if you work for the U) healthcare at the U of M.
  • Great schools.  When Shane interviewed here, he was told that there are no bad school districts, just good and better ones.
  • Relaxed attitudes towards marijuana, if that’s your bag.
  • Michigan is an amazing state for beer.  We tried to drink west coast beers exclusively when we were in California, and were told a few times that there’s more that they can’t get from Michigan than that we can’t get from California.  So, go us!

The Bad:

  • It’s expensive.  Not as expensive as a big city, but more expensive than a small city deserves to be.  Median home values are higher than the national average – $245,000 compared to $192,400 – and monthly owner costs run to $1908 if you have a mortgage, $697 if you rent.  How can anyone afford to buy a home when the median home value is five times the median income? [2]
  • Lack of racial diversity.  This is a very white town.  Like, whitebread white.  Pure driven snow white.  72.8% white and 14.7% Asian, with the remaining 12.5% divided amongst all other racial groups, including those people who identify as bi- or multi-racial.
  • No good music venues.  OK, there’s The Ark, but it caters to a very specific audience, and frankly, we’re not that audience.  I know we got spoiled by the 9:30 Club, but if Champaign can put together an impressive line-up for a festival less than five years old, Ann Arbor really should be able to have a decent show once in a while.
  • The roads are in terrible condition.  This is an endemic problem in a depressed economy, of course, but my boss has lived on our street for 15 years and said that for as long as she can remember, we’ve been on the list for repairs that never seem to happen.  Sure, you can ride your bike to work, but you’ll be safer doing so on the sidewalk because at least the homeowners are held liable.
  • Along with the relaxed drug laws, you get things like Hash Bash.
  • I love Big 10 football more than all other sports combined, but the crush of traffic and humanity on game days here rivals anything we experienced in DC, including Obama’s inauguration.
  • I can’t fairly complain about the weather.  I mean, I could, but we moved to Michigan, and that means months and months of snow and cold.  I can complain about the “homeless” kids that hang out downtown as soon as the weather turns nice, though.  It’s one thing to be actually homeless, and it’s another to play at it, gutter punk style.
  • Lack of neighborhoods in the city sense, though they exist in the suburban sense.  The only exception that I know of is Kerrytown.
  • There’s no Galaxy Hut – or any reasonable equivalent.  And by that I mean, there are no casual bars.  Or at least none that we’ve found.  You want to go grab a beer and maybe food at 5pm?  Good luck.  Most days the patios of the downtown restaurants are already full when I walk or ped by at 4pm.  Expect an hour wait if you want to get dinner at 6pm.
  • And because it’s expensive, there’s little hope of a Galaxy Hut opening up.  It’s too expensive to charge reasonable prices if you have good beer, good ingredients, and good real estate.

The Mixed Bag:

  • There are seasons!  But along with the gorgeous spring and fall, we get a hot and humid summer – nearly as hot as in DC – and a cold and snowy winter that feels like it will never end.
  • Ann Arbor meets both the positive and pejorative definitions of ‘foodie’.  There’s a whole lot of good food, but it’s expensive and (often) pretentious – or at least over priced.  There’s no reason for a brew pub to charge $6 for a beer made in house.  There’s no reason to have multiple delis charging $10+ for a sandwich, even if it’s an excellent and quite large sandwich .
  • On a related note, there are ample excellent grocery options, but many are priced accordingly.  There’s a co-op, but you generally can’t do all of your shopping there.  There’s a Trader Joe’s, but it’s on the opposite side of town from us, and you also can’t do all your shopping there.  There’s no reason we need two Whole Foods locations, but we’ve got ’em.
  • Along with all of these good things comes attitude like nobody’s business.  It’s an extremely self-satisfied town.  In fact, I think it’s fair to describe Ann Arbor as the Brooklyn of the Midwest.  Move here, get your hippie-crunchy on, and don’t let anyone forget that we have great food and pot is legal.  Buy and proudly wear your Keep Ann Arbor Weird t-shirt.

When we first moved here, my eye doctor – a long-time resident who has been in practice in the area since the early 70s – told me that Ann Arbor used to be better.  It used to be more inclusive and less judgmental.  It’s as if the city moved too far to the left, and now anything to the right – in terms of politics, greenness, food, transportation, etc – isn’t good enough.

And I think that’s what’s rubbing me the wrong way.  I like Ann Arbor a lot, but I don’t love it.

[1] All statistics, unless otherwise cited, are from the Census Bureau’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates, by way of American Fact Finder
[2] Interestingly, CNN has totally different numbers for both household income and median home price.  They’re probably more up-to-date, but I have a hard time believing that the median household income has nearly doubled in the 2-4 years since the American Community Survey.

Eating my way into 30

One of the things I learned shortly before my birthday is that in Ann Arbor, there are a number of businesses that give away free things on your birthday.  While this may be the case elsewhere, it is so prevalent here that there’s a whole page on the ArborWiki dedicated to free birthday items, and organized in such a way as to maximize your freebies.  After some consultation and careful planning, and in the absence of any other significant birthday plans, we decided to rack up as many free things in 24 hours as we could.

Let me preface this truly ridiculous list by saying that Shane and I split almost every single thing on this list, and some of the items went straight into our freezer for later consumption.  Still, I think I could not eat desserts for a month and be OK.

1. We started the morning off with a free ridiculous coffee beverage at Caribou Coffee – a sugar-free turtle latte with whipped cream and Snickers bits, to be precise.

2. Up next, free aero-press coffee at Zingerman’s Coffee Company, obtained while picking up beans.

3. And then, free “John-do-ya” gelato at Zingerman’s Creamery. We tried many flavors, but this was literally like frozen Nutella – therefore the obvious winner.  The gelato guy congratulated me on having a birthday in the best month of the year. His is next week, I think. We ate about 1/3 of the gelato before moving on to the next stop.

4. A free 1/2 dozen bagels at Zingerman’s Bakehouse! The bakehouse folks made sure to remind me to get the other 1/2 dozen at the Deli later.

At this point we took a break from the free stuff to enjoy a very lovely brunch, complete with croquembouche, at our friend Shana’s. More on this later!
5. On our way home from Shana’s, we stopped for the second free 1/2 dozen bagels at Zingerman’s Deli – it was too busy and crowded for photos, so one from home will have to suffice.

6. Having rested up and returned a few phone calls, we moved on to get a free chocolate-covered strawberry cupcake at Cake Nouveau. It was tasty, but had nothing on any of Buzz’s cupcakes. I miss you, Buzz Bakery.

7. Next door, I picked out my free tea at Tea Haus – a cup of the Vietnam Yen Bai.  The woman who made my tea recommended that we check out the birthday deal at Weber’s, where she very nearly got a free lobster on her son’s 2nd birthday.

8. We’re not huge fans of Arbor Brewing Company, but they offer a free appetizer, so we stopped in for dinner. We had free nachos, played some shufflepuck, and drank a couple of beers before rolling on.

Several restaurants offered a free dessert, free logo pint glass, and free $10 gift card for birthday people – however when we tried both Grizzly Peak and Cafe Habana, we were told that the purchase of an entree was necessary. After all of this free stuff, though, neither of us were hungry enough for an entree, so we made a mental note to edit the ArborWiki page and moved on.
9. …to The Arena, where you get a free shot with purchase. Any purchase. I have no idea what my shot was called, but I know it had Bailey’s and I know it was on fire. Shane took one for the team and purchased a beer for our required purchase.

Once we were firmly wrapped up in our alcohol blankets, we wandered around downtown, stopping in at an art gallery and a record store, where Shane bought Remain in Light, before continuing on to our final destination for the night.
10. …Ashley’s, where we got a Free Tollhouse sundae – freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, ice cream, chocolate syrup, etc. Sooo good.

11. On our walk back to the car, we stopped in for my free scoop of ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s. This was, I might add, the first time all day that anyone had checked my ID to confirm that it was my birthday.

In addition, I might add that the following free things were obtained either shortly before or shortly after my actual birthday:
1. Free entree at Noodles & Company, split for lunch earlier in the week
2. Free “creation” at Cold Stone Creamery
3. Free scoop at Baskin-Robbins

All told, a pretty ridiculous way to spend one’s 30th birthday, and that’s without me describing the pastry-building process that took place just before brunch.  I was feeling pretty blue about not being able to celebrate my birthday with family and old friends – but I think we totally made up for it in fun and food.