The Eastern Market is my favorite place in Detroit. Every Saturday morning, thousands of shoppers from city and suburb converge on the gritty urban space to buy cheap vegetables and flowers, meat and whatnot. I have a procedure: I find a parking place at one end, walk through on a reconnaissance pass, then walk back, shopping. I know who’s selling what and who has the good stuff, but this gives me an excuse to walk through twice.
Also, there’s a surprise every week.
I’ve spent my life living in pretty homogeneous places, and at midlife, I’ve had enough of that shit. When I walk through the market stalls I can pretty reliably count on hearing at least six different languages (three of which I cannot identify, all fricatives and coughing), seeing women in saris and hijabs and men in turbans and skullcaps, being offered the Final Call, being asked to sign a petition in support of impeachment or medical marijuana or Al Gore for president, being panhandled by a pathetic homeless guy asking for “just enough to get a coney for breakfast,” and witnessing at least one purchase of live poultry, usually by an Asian man who carries the birds away by the feet, suggesting he is not buying pets.
Over at Bert’s Marketplace, they have outdoor tables set up, a giant barbecue going (manned by cooks wearing T-shirts reading, “Why you all in my grill?”) and karaoke that always seems to have a singer, even before the lunch crowd arrives. A couple of weeks ago Kate and I heard the voice of a black gospel singer belting the last lines of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Our view was blocked by a truck, and as we passed we saw the black gospel singer was actually a skinny white guy, comin’ for to carry me hoooooome.
When I’m done getting my vegetables, I cross the freeway on the pedestrian bridge, which is hung with the goods of hawkers pitching shea butter from the motherland and T-shirts with Marvin Gaye’s picture. Also, CDs that look suspiciously bootlegged, framed posters and lots and lots of incense. On the other side is the Gratiot Central Market, a mall of meat, one building for all your protein needs. It’s loud and rowdy — the clerks behind every counter encourage anarchic, step-right-up ordering, but it works, and you rarely have to wait more than a minute. Nothing is yuppified or gourmet, and in fact, there’s a fishmonger selling buffalo at something like $1.49 for four pounds. Everything is cheap, though — you can buy whole beef tenderloin for $6.95 a pound, and they’ll cut it to your order; the going rate at the upscale market close to my house is three times that.
After the meat, if it’s not too hot and I don’t have a reason to return home quickly, I allow myself a little me-time. If it’s close to lunch, a slice at Flat Planet Pizza. If Kate is with me, we buy bulk cherry sours and gummy worms at Rocky Peanut. If I wanted to, I could even get a pair of balls, but so far, I haven’t needed any.
Usually I park near a storefront that’s been turned into a rehearsal space for an African dance group. Anywhere from three to six men beat drums while women dressed in sports bras and kente cloths do the moves. It’s hard to tell if they’re rehearsing for something, holding a class or just working out; they don’t seem to mind onlookers, but they don’t explain or introduce anything, and they don’t have a bucket out for thrown dollars. They just drum and dance. The vibe is old-school black pride — long, graying dreadlocks, rasta tams and the like. Last week three young men stood on the sidewalk, watching from the other end of the fashion spectrum; they were all the way hip-hop, with the baggy pants, cocked ball caps, lots of attitude. The drummers barely gave them a glance, which seemed deliberate, or maybe it wasn’t. It takes lots of concentration to keep a steady dancing rhythm among two or three others. After a while the hip-hop guys moved on, and the dancing continued.
Sometimes people ask, “Do you go every weekend?” I reply, “As often as possible.” No one ever asks why, but if they did, I’d tell them.
Weingarten’s got a great poll this week, in which we are asked to judge the Style Invitational, aka The Contest For People Much Cleverer Than You. The challenge was to “take any word, remove its first letter, and redefine the result. You were allowed to insert spaces or punctuation, but not to alter the order of the letters.” The results in the poll are all pretty good; I don’t know how I’d choose between Riskies: A brand of pet food made in China and Unich: German city voted World’s Safest Town for Women.
Why I would hate to investigate traffic accidents. I read once that for all the attention homicide detectives get, the ones with the really strong stomachs are the ones who clean up our blood-slicked highways. No surprise there.
Work beckons. Have a swell day.