Marche du Nain Rouge

At breakfast on my last weekend in A2, Olivia mentioned that she’d heard about some sort of festival? parade? taking place in Detroit on Sunday – maybe something about a dwarf exorcism? Of course I had to look it up once I got to work: “Detroit dwarf exorcism”.

So the story goes, Detroit has been haunted by a red dwarf – the Nain Rouge – since it was settled in the 1700s. The appearance of the Nain presages disaster, and so for the last 300 years, the people of Detroit have gathered together to cast out the demon.

Beautiful Revelers

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Monstrous Unicorn

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And so on a perfect Sunday in March, we found ourselves a part of a rolling party – a costumed parade through the streets of Detroit. There were horse head masks and hula-hooping luchadores. There were tremendous drag queens and children in Radio Flyer wagons. There was a bejeweled marching band. We started in the heart of the Cass Corridor, and spiraled outward, ending at the Masonic Temple, the largest in the world, where there was music and break dancing and adequate beer. A perfect way to say goodbye to Detroit.

The Half in Full

By 6:15, we were parked in Detroit, listening to music in the car rather than waiting around in the cold. My anxiety was at an all time high when Tina texted me to wish me a good race – this being the first long one I’ve done without her! We braved the cold and headed to the starting line. Shane picked up a coffee and did his best hype man impression, then gave me a huge hug before I headed off to join my wave.

Waiting for the Race

Ready to Go!

As my wave approached the starting line, I put on my music, closed my eyes, and tried to center myself. I said a brief prayer of thanks for that moment, for the months of training that put me there, for the blessing of good health. It’s totally cheesy, but I nearly cried when I heard Lose Yourself as we crossed the starting line.

Mile 0-1: The streets of Detroit are peaceful and quiet. We run west on Fort towards the Ambassador Bridge, twinkling in the half light. My favorite sign read something along the lines of “TIGERS LIONS MARATHONERS DON’T QUIT”. The deep flow of Stacey Pullen‘s Essential Mix was the right choice – Detroit techno on the streets of Detroit.

Mile 2: Around and around we go up to the bridge. I drop my $2 hat and gloves from Target – they’re almost too cute to let go, but too warm to carry with me. I start passing people, the hill training finally paying off as we make the climb.

Running up to the Ambassador Bridge

Mile 3: It’s windy on the bridge. I lost my headband, so my bangs are all up in my grill. There’s no sun to speak of, but that doesn’t diminish the views of Detroit and Windsor. I wave at a passing trucker, who plays an elaborate jingle on his horn.

Mile 4: Canada!

Mile 5: The Windsor waterfront is lovely. I take an espresso gel and pass up the water station. The streets are lined with cheering spectators despite the rain. One family has a table set up in their front yard with water and orange wedges on offer.

Mile 6: I am passed by a cyclist with no legs pedaling one of those lying down bikes. I immediately choke up. We wave at spectators in the riverfront hotels. My energy is starting to flag a bit, and I take my first water.

Mile 7: The tunnel! The tunnel is fast. The tunnel is loud. The tunnel is warm. The tunnel is fun. Our GPS watches lose signal as we race underwater. I make my one really stupid race decision and decide that I want to touch the international border placard – and then spin myself out because I didn’t slow down enough. Fortunately I avoid falling and actually hurting myself – and I pick up the pace to join the 9:44 pace group.

Mile 8: A member of the Canadian Border Patrol doles out high-fives as we exit the tunnel. Another cyclist struggles to hand-pedal up the hill, and I shout out encouragement as I pass him. All smiles through the gates at the border crossing.

Mile 9: It’s cold. It’s raining. We loop past Joe Louis Arena, and I pull up my hood to try to keep some of the rain off my face. No luck. Only 4 miles to go, though, and I’m right where I want to be – or at least I think I am, as I don’t remember seeing a mile marker for a while. I spot our car as we head down Lafayette.

Mile 10: Finally, a sign! I take water when offered, and am delighted to accept a handful of M&Ms from a spirit group. Who needs gels when there are M&Ms?! The road is flat and wide and I’m feeling good as we head up 18th. I pull out the cameraphone to take a picture of Michigan Central Station, but my pocket has changed a setting, so I quickly put it back. The mariachi band just before the next mile marker makes me smile.

Mile 11: The end is feeling near – but still far. We run through Corktown, where folks are sitting on their porches cheering us on. I stick right with the 9:44 pacer. A guy in a pink monster suit shows up from I have no idea where and runs with us for at least two miles. I’ve run out of Stacey Pullen, and switch over to Faithless for the duration of the run.

Mile 12: They’re starting to count it down for those of us finishing the half. I take two cups of water, but miss the Oreos on offer. I pull away from the 9:44 pacer, feeling reserves of energy I didn’t realize I had. My Garmin shows my fastest pace of the race yet as we near the cutaway point and mile 13.

Mile 13: I feel amazing. I feel strong. I feel tired but like I’ve just punched the go button that will get me across the finish line. I spot Shane right where I lined up to join my wave – he yells and cheers and snaps a couple of blurry photos as I run by.

Wave and Whoosh

Mile 13.1: Done in 2:05:50! I feel amazing and exhausted and oh so thankful for the space blanket and the medal and the food and water. I have beat my previous time by 13 minutes, and my goal by 4 minutes.

13.1! Space Blanket! Medal!

I slam a bottle of water, a banana, and half a pumpkin muffin. I get my picture taken with my medal and my space blanket. I slam another banana and a carton of chocolate milk while waiting for Shane to make his way out of the crowds. We hug and kiss and I don’t cry but feel like I want to. I grab another chocolate milk and a muffin for us to share in the car on the way home.

Happy and Relieved

Final stats:
Chip time: 2:05:50
Overall Place: 2538 / 8489
Gender Place: 1067 / 5311
Division Place: 217 / 883
Pace 9:37

Detroit half marathon: TOTALLY BROUGHT.

Prelude to the Half

Since I’m not getting much done in the way of course prep tonight, let me instead tell you about yesterday’s race.

Back in May, before I ran my first half, I was convinced to register for Detroit by a coworker who enthusiastically told me that the Detroit half is his favorite race. Running to Canada and back! Crossing the Ambassador Bridge as the sun comes up over Detroit and Windsor! Racing through the Detroit Windsor tunnel! Sign me up!

And so I spent the summer running home from work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Every weekend started with a long run, often followed by breakfast at Afternoon Delight.

Saturday Morning

Midwest Runner Girl

Veggie Delight and letter-writing

I was under the weather this last week, and as the race approached, my anxiety grew. I read about the course. I read about nutrition. I tapered my runs. I changed my diet to make sure I was properly fueled. I looked at elevation maps. And then on Saturday, we drove to Detroit so that I could pick up my race packet.

Countdown

We shared a back seat picnic and spent the afternoon at the DIA. We had cappuccinos at Astro and read the race materials again. I made polenta for dinner and we went to bed early.

Detroit Industry

Race Prep

And then the moment of truth. The alarm went off at 4:30, and by 4:45 I had eaten a bagel, fed the cats, and dressed for success.

Ready to run 13.1

1023 Afternoon in Detroit

I feel like I just want to show you pictures of our afternoon in Detroit with Laurie. I’m not sure if I have the words to capture the things we saw. First, the Fisher Building – we were headed to the knitting store, but were absolutely stunned by the interior of this Art Deco building.

Fisher Building Interiors

Fisher Building Interiors

And then The Heidelberg Project, two blocks of strange and unsettling urban art, made more unsettling by the overcast day and the contrast between the bizarre and the commonplace: a child riding her bike by a tree where a bike is mounted, for example.

Bicycle

Faces in the Hood

Black Squirrel

What could we do from there that might be more strange and wonderful? We tried to get dinner at Slows – a foolish idea any weekend, but much worse the weekend after it was profiled in the New York Times. Laurie’s friend had suggested Woodbridge Pub, so we headed there – confirming our suspicions that everything in Detroit is 2 miles away – and had an enjoyable dinner at what felt very much like a neighborhood restaurant – and will likely be one of our go-to spots for future trips to Detroit. I’m really glad that Laurie’s visit provided us with a very good excuse to see and try a number of new things!

0722 Happy Hour at Cliff Bell’s

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photo by Cigarette Girl Colleen C for Yelp

At some point in 2009, I became Yelp Elite.  I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but who doesn’t like being told that they’re elite?  Well, it turns out that being Elite is all about community involvement, writing reviews, connecting with other users, and basically being a great spokesperson for your favorite local places and things.  Sign me up!  Oh wait, someone already did.

Anyway, one of the side benefits of being Elite – apart from the satisfaction of a job well done – is the occasional Elite event, usually hosted by a local business and featuring free food, drink, and swag.  We attended our first event back in the fall at Café Habana, where we enjoyed mojitos, tacos al pastor, and a whole lot of this ridiculously good goat cheese dip.  There have been several events since then, but between our schedule and the fact that events often happen in Detroit, tonight was the first event we’ve made it to this year.

Cliff Bell’s, recently named one of the best bars in the country by Playboy (link totally SFW), was our host for tonight’s Elite happy hour.  Opened in the 1930s and recently restored to its former glory, Cliff Bell’s is exactly what you’d imagine if you heard the words ‘swanky jazz club’.  My grandparents lived in Detroit in the 1940s, and I can imagine that in their day, Cliff Bell’s was a place to see and be seen.  The event was cosponsored by local distillery Valentine Vodka, so we enjoyed vodka cocktails along with an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, most notably shrimp cocktail.

Shrimp cocktail!  This is actually the second time in a week that we’ve found ourselves at an old-timey kind of establishment, eating shrimp cocktail and drinking strong drinks, and I really couldn’t be happier.  Tacky as it may be, shrimp cocktail is a tasty reminder of another generation’s idea of elegance, and one I’m happy to embrace.

So thanks, Yelp, for a literal and gustatory flashback to a more glamorous time.  We’re looking forward to the next event!

0508 This Pizza is a Miracle

A miracle in a couple of senses.  First, it’s a miracle that I got dinner on the table at all.  I spent today digging channels for baseboards:
Spirit of Hope Hoop House Build

and holding 16′ boards in place while they were marked, drilled, and hung:
Spirit of Hope Hoop House Build

plus lots of other mucking about, digging, holding, and securing while participating in the Spirit of Hope hoophouse build in Detroit. What you don’t get from these pictures, though, is an accurate portrayal of the weather. It was cold. It was windy. It rained a lot. It also hailed. And then occasionally the sun would peek out and give us all hope. It was a physically challenging day, but the net result will be an extended growing season for the community garden allied with the kind folks at Spirit of Hope.

After delivering my carpoolers home, I went straight for the tub with a glass of bourbon, both very necessary to soothe and warm my sore muscles. So you can see how getting dinner on the table, much less a home-cooked dinner, much less one that had to be rolled out, was kind of a miracle.

The second miracle? How fantastic these pizzas tasted!

0508 This Pizza is a Miracle
Asparagus, prosciutto, and goat cheese

0508 This Pizza is a Miracle
Roasted red pepper, shallot, asparagus, and goat cheese

I had picked up a frozen ball of pizza dough at Plum earlier in the week, so tonight I split it in half, rolled it out, and pre-baked it at 450 for about 10 minutes.  I was surprised by how much the dough puffed up – we tend to like a thinner crust, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get it any thinner than this.  Add the toppings, toss the pizza back in the oven for a few minutes, and dinner was on the table.

Shane fancied his up with balsamic crema and olive oil, while I didn’t even wait to sit down to start eating.  So good!  I’ve decided that we need to keep pizza dough in the freezer at all times if it means that a dinner like this can be made in a pinch.

0501 Avalon Bakery

We had very good intentions of going hiking today, but the early morning thunderstorm followed by the late morning rain made venturing out for five miles an extremely muddy and unpleasant prospect.  At Shane’s suggestion, we instead hopped in the car and took a spontaneous trip to Detroit.

We both recently read this article from Vice (of all places) that decries the obsession with Detroit “ruins porn” – the exploitation of a city that has seen better days, but still contains vibrant industry and culture.  I have to admit – on our first trip to Detroit a few months ago, we were pretty amazed at what we saw.  It was a grey and blustery day, and it’s hard not to be struck by the Michigan Central Station or the site of buildings falling into disrepair, especially in such weather.  Look at a little closer, though, and you’ll find scenes like this:

This is the Detroit that people should be seeing

This is the Detroit that people should be seeing

Things are growing in Detroit.  Things like gardens with chickens in them in Cass Corridor.  Things like vibrant little bakeries where you can grab a snack and watch the (bread) magic happen:

Making the Magic Happen

We’re big fans of Avalon International Bakery, as I might have mentioned. Their breads are sold at Plum Market and at the co-op – somewhat more affordable than Zingerman’s with little difference in quality. By that I mean: a great crust, a great interior, perfect for sandwiches and toast.

Even though we’d just had ridiculously good brisket at Slows, we split a peanut butter brownie and an iced coffee and watched two bakers divide, weigh, and shape an immense pile of dough into beautiful little loaves. It was a lovely interlude in a very nice afternoon – I only wish that Avalon were in our neighborhood so that this could be a regular thing.

The Best Poet...

Things I Know About Detroit Circa 1948

My grandparents lived in Detroit after the war, and every time I talk to my grandma on the phone, she tells me stories about Detroit. More often than not, they’re the same stories I’ve already heard, but she’s 91 and has earned the right to repeat herself. It occurred to me this weekend that I should probably write some of this stuff down, if only so that I can remember it for future trips to Detroit:

  • There used to be a buttermilk bar in Eastern Market, where you could go have a glass of cold buttermilk, just like you might go to a soda fountain for an chocolate milkshake.
  • They lived on a street called Orchestra Place, which no longer seems to exist, and both worked at Harper Hospital.  One of their neighbors was Hawaiian.
  • I think Grandpa was doing his residency at Harper.  Occasionally they would get to go to the theater or the opera because in those days, they always had to have a doctor in the house.  They once sat behind the heir to one of the major auto companies.  Said heir had just married the heiress to a major tire company.  That was one of my grandparents’ brushes with famous people in Detroit.
  • Grandma was the head nurse on the ward where famous people were treated.  Said famous people would bring their own food and linens, and occasionally the nurses would catch a famous person in bed with a lover.
  • There was only one washing machine in their apartment building, and each household got it for one hour per week.  With two kids in cloth diapers, that one hour was precious.
  • Grandma would take the trolley downtown to do her grocery shopping.
  • Living in a big, diverse city was a big shock for two kids from Iowa, but no one bothered my Grandma when she walked to and from work in her white nurse’s uniform.
  • One time there was a knock at the door of their apartment, and it was a big African-American guy.  He had heard that my grandparents had gone to the University of Iowa and wanted to meet them, as he’d gone to school there as well.
  • There was a place where you could go pick out your chicken, and they’d do all of the cleaning and other stuff for you.

These are some things I know about post-war Detroit.  My grandparents lived there until around 1950, when they moved to Davenport, Iowa, where they still live.

0123 Detroit

I would tell you about tonight’s dinner, except that there really wasn’t much dinner to speak of. We made our first trip to Detroit proper today, and as is the challenge in any new city, we had about five times as many restaurants to visit as we had meals to eat.  Some time ago, we realized that restaurant meals are generally just too damned big for either of us to enjoy without guilt, especially if salads, drinks, or dessert are in play. We also realized that splitting meals means we can try more things – definitely a good strategy when, as in Detroit, we had more things to eat than could be reasonably managed in one day.

Our first stop was Slows Bar-B-Q, where we split an amazing pulled pork sandwich and Shane enjoyed a remarkable pour of Bell’s Expedition Stout off the firkin cask.  The meat was tender and flavorful, the flavor only enhanced by the array of sauces available for (liberal) application at your discretion.  I really can’t wait to go back to Slows – Shane said that it alone was worth the trip.

Our second food stop was at Supino Pizza, located in the Eastern Market complex.  We split the only slice they had on hand – a very thin piece of cheese with a crispy crust.  Other diners were folding their pizza New York style – with just have a slice each, we weren’t able to enjoy the full experience – or the amazing line-up of other zas.  Another must-return location!

Finally, after wandering around the Cass Corridor for a bit, we grabbed a couple of beers and a pot of crab dip at Motor City Brewing Works.  The beers were unremarkable – I think Shane’s going to review his – but I enjoyed the crab dip, hot and bubbly with a bit of a bite.  I continued scraping the little pot with my spoon long after all salvageable dip was gone.

Detroit, you were delicious, and I can’t wait to visit you again.