Tag Archives: Ann Arbor

Nonsense of direction

This “new old age” business is definitely getting old. Not only am I losing vital inches from the frame I’ve been feeding and cultivating all these years, but a precious part of my brain is wilting like last week’s boutonniere.

Why? Because I use a GPS! Those pesky scientists have found that those who lean on this crutch show a decline in the hippocampus (which has nothing to do with African wildlife) and the ability to navigate. Of course, this assumes they have that ability to begin with. Your narrator is not among these fortunate souls.

My powers of direction are such that given half a chance, I’m liable to act like this guy, or this one. In contrast to the famous Wrong Way Corrigan, when I set out for Los Angeles and wind up in Ireland it’s not on purpose. “East is East and West is West” is no guarantee! Like Bob Dylan, I’ve been stuck inside of Mobile, even after they built I-10, and unlike Chet Baker I don’t need to sing “Let’s Get Lost,” because I’m usually there already.

You might wonder how I ever managed to function as a cab driver, which I did for about three years in my college town in Michigan in the 70s. I had moments of misdirection, and a few peeved passengers, but after being out there for eight or nine or ten hours every night—and having to drive efficiently to make money— I learned my way around.

That’s what the GPS generation doesn’t get. Despite having DNA that’s programmed to make me run around in circles, I still remember my routes. Even today, I’ll bet I could make it from the Old West Side of Ann Arbor to the Watergate in quick time.

And no, I don’t mean driving from A2 to DC. “Watergate” was what the drivers and dispatchers called the intersection of Nixon Road and Bluett Drive. Nixon-Bluett. Get it?

Fire irks and ireworks

Would it surprise you that the first controversy of this year’s college football season is already here and it has nothing to do with football – at least not what happens on the field? Nope, this one is about what will or won’t occur a few hundred feet above the turf, specifically Michigan Stadium (where I once played Frisbee at midnight). The athletic department had the idea of staging a fireworks display as part of the festivities at a couple of games this year. But nooooooooo!

The Regents of My Alma Mater have solemnly decreed with all the dignity and intellect ascribed to their office that none shall pass: no red glare and bombs bursting in air. No aerial shells, ball rockets, dragons’ eggs, stars, or other pyrotechnics shall light up the sky over the Big House. The reasons for this kibosh, as reported here by the Detroit News, include safety, which one might understand, but also concerns about “tradition and excess.” One Reg said, “We are not Comerica Park, Disney World or a circus … I love Michigan football for what it is … and for what it is not. It remains and should be an experience, a place that resists the excesses of our culture; intentionally simple. The fireworks should be on the field, not above it.”

Intentionally simple? Extra! Read all about it! A U of M Regent has discovered an actual, honest-to-Crisler time machine and journeyed back to the days of leather helmets and the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame! STOP THE PRESSES!!! (I worked as a journalist for 20+ years and always wanted to say that.)

Resists the excesses? Friends, we’re talking about major college football in the 21st century. You’ve got more than 100,000 people cheering, yelling, whooping, and waving their colors, TV copters and blimps overhead, marching bands, drunks and drunkettes, banners, beer commercials, traffic jams, and three or four hours of pure spectacle.

One of the times where the AD wanted to use fireworks was when Penn State comes in for a nationally-televised night game. I watched last year’s night game at Penn State, and even though my team found about 15 ways to blow it, I truly enjoyed all the pomp, the excitement, and the passion of the home crowd. Fireworks in an atmosphere like that would be just a bit of colorful frosting on a big cake.

The biggest problem with fireworks is that wherever they go, the amateur fireworkers follow. Some kid would get hold of some non-professional but powerful stuff, scare the bejabbers out of the neighbors, and maybe come away with a missing digit or two. This is the kind of thing that probably inspired one of Jeff Foxworthy’s best redneck gags: “What is the last thing a redneck ever says?” “HEY, Y’ALL! WATCH THIS!”

But I digress. My advice to the Regents is to quit worrying about tradition and just enjoy the party, like my friends and I did in the pre-ESPN, no-Internet days. Come to think of it, that time machine’s not such a bad idea after all.

Blue in the night

The other day I spotted this headline on the website that brings us all the news from Ann Arbor, Michigan, my college town: “Police: U-M frat members arrested after breaking into the Big House.” One’s first reaction might be, “What are these clowns learning in that overpriced school? Haven’t they ever seen a prison movie? You’re supposed to break OUT OF the Big House!”

However, the House in question, for those who aren’t steeped in college football, is Michigan Stadium. And I can’t condemn the frat guys too much because I once did the very same thing. In fact, I did it on my third night at the University of Michigan.

In late June of 1972, barely a month out of high school, I borrowed my mother’s ’67 Dart and drove to Ann Arbor for freshman orientation. You spent about a week living in a dorm, touring the campus, maybe taking some tests related to your fall classes, and generally getting a feel for college life. I remember being crammed into a single room with another guy, maybe two, and the staff blasting the Beatles outside the door to wake us up in the morning. I also recall the thrill of walking around and knowing I’d soon be there full time, free of my high school self and all his struggles, starting over, being somebody different and better.

What I remember most is that one evening, after the frosh-to-be had finished the formal program for the day and some of us were hanging out in the lounge of the dorm, one of our sophomore and junior advisors suggested we go play Frisbee in the stadium. Of course, I said, “Sure!”

Now up to that point, I was not a Michigan fan. I had no idea the place was “The Big House.” I figured it was just another football field, a bigger cousin of the one where the Kalamazoo Loy Norrix Knights played.

Four of us walked down there: the older guy, two freshwomen, and me. Our “guide” knew right where to find a gate that wasn’t chained tightly and we could squeeze through.

It was midnight. The field was still and quiet, bathed in soft white light. We walked to the 50 yard line and tossed the ‘Bee around, then sat down on the artificial turf and just talked for a while. Because it was night, I didn’t really get a sense of how big the place was. But I was thinking that this college business was pretty cool and I’d probably do all right.

Of course, we were putting ourselves in some serious jeopardy. I can only imagine what would’ve happened to us if we’d been busted. I’m pretty sure the legendary coach Bo Schembechler would’ve been extremely PO’d if a bunch of hippies had been caught defiling his field.

A couple of months later, I got my first view of the place in daylight, as Michigan bested Northwestern in a real Big Ten barn-burner of a home opener, with a final score of 7-0. I spent a lot of fun Saturday afternoons there in the next four years, but don’t remember any of them half as well as that night.