Retro Post—24-Aug-03 #3

[It’s aSquared’s First Birthday … we’re celebrating by looking back at events from a year ago … skip these retro posts if you’re not into sentimentality.]

Oh, those heady first days … and now it seems like we’ve been here forever instead of just a year.

Ann Arbor: Day Three

It’s a puzzling place.

The lush greenery is almost headache-inducing in its vastness and omnipresence. The traffic, alas, is not much better than the traffic in the Bay Area was. You see lots of cars with militaristic stickers like “AIR ASSAULT” nestled next to University of Michigan logos. Everyone seems to be in sort of a hurry, though it is unclear why.

The home improvement stores are a smash hit, with lots of big-muscled, tightly-wound Michigan dads and husbands taking self-important walks into the hugeness of the outlets with their wives and kids, almost as though to demonstrate how all-American they are.

The churches are not prominent and those who frequent them seem to be enraged that this is the case, judging from the perversity and intensity with which one of the patrons of one of the said churches tailgated us on our way home from Lowe’s today.

The Borders bookstore I went into while Steve bought beagle food at Petco was a strange and conflicting melange of not-quite-identifiable styles and feels, with the store music system playing Warren Zevon’s “Sacrificial Lambs” (“Krishnamurti said,/’I’ll set you free/Write a check/and make it out to me’”) while a line of customers waited patiently to make their buys.

Everything seems a little too well-appointed, a little too eager to please, a little too perfect. It reminds me some of Palo Alto, though shorn of that town’s always-aggressive yuppie ethos.

Every four blocks in Ann Arbor has a neighborhood name, which, even by the standards of name-crazy San Freancisco, is a bit on the obnoxious side. Our little housing subdivision, in a neighborhood helpfully called Bryant/Pattengill (most of the neighborhoods are named after the K-12 schools in their midst), seems very quiet, almost oddly so, and yet also very much each one to his own, with not much in the way of demonstrable neighborliness either from the current residents to newcomers or between the denizens already ensconced.

I saw and apologized to our next-door neighbor today for our trailer being parked in front of her door while we unloaded and she nodded and grimaced a tight, grimacing smile at me, as though I had just boasted to her that Bayley had taken a dump in her yard.

There is a real and pleasurable beauty about the surroundings, a large-ish park next door, a gym with a bunch of new equipment, a modest showiness about the houses and apartments, yet something does not quite fall together.

I think that the reality is that I still feel unsettled, and not just because things have not quite fallen together yet for me and for us, and the clash between this still, tranquil place and the memory I have of commuting every day to work and strolling through the urine-soaked passageways of MUNI up to the homeless-draped sidewalks of Van Ness and Market, with the same pathetic old woman sitting on her stoop every morning and squeaking an emphysematic “Morning” to the changing cast of harried and exhausted and studiously indifferent passersby, and the painfully buzzingly hectic pace of life in the Bay Area, and the rush of the packing and the semi-goodbyes and the cross-country voyage, and the urban sounds of sirens and car horns and yells and squawks, have yet to leave me. It’s all just very strange.

There are tons and tons of boisterous, chattering, fearless squirrels everywhere here, another reminder of Palo Alto, except the ones in California are brown and these are squirrels with patches of fiery orange and yellow on their breasts and legs. There are also insects that make strange rising and falling whirring sounds all day long in the bushes, like a cross between the hiss of an angry cat and the sound of a rattlesnake rattling. Steve tells me these are cicadas. The squirrels and cicadas own Ann Arbor, no matter what the people who allegedly live here think.

—Posted by Frank at 23:59:00 | 24-Aug-03