Market day.

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.


Why “drop a load of barrels” may replace “take a dump” in American slang.

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.

Posted at 9:07 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' |

10 responses to “Market day.”

  1. Mindy said on October 16, 2007 at 9:58 am

    One of the most delightful of my in-laws was a first responder for many years. He’s never without a joke or a brilliant snark at the drop of a hat. Once he started to talk about horrific accidents he’s seen but stopped when he saw my panic at hearing such stuff. The safest thing he could say is how surprising it is that most auto accident victims have come out of their shoes during impact. Makes the drivin’ and dialin’ age even scarier, doesn’t it?

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  2. LA mary said on October 16, 2007 at 11:21 am

    When I looked at the photo of Eastern Market, I clicked on the link to the photographer, and then to her website where she sells handmade jewelry. She has some very nice things for extremely reasonable prices. Just thought I’d mention that and send some business her way.

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  3. Dorothy said on October 16, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    You’re right Mary, her jewelry is very pretty and reasonable.

    Reflecting balls have always been a mystery to me. What is their purpose, exactly? Why would you spend money on something that reflects something in nature?! Wouldn’t you rather look at the actual object than the reflection of it? Maybe I’m weird but I don’t understand their attraction.

    Eastern Market sounds a little like the Strip District in Pittsburgh. I can’t go into town without making a stop there on a Saturday morning. It’s an addiction!

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  4. Rich B said on October 16, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Wouldn’t you rather look at the actual object than the reflection of it? Maybe I’m weird but I don’t understand their attraction.

    I was standing on Twin Peaks a few years ago wacthing two tourists marvel at the San Francisco skyline on the screen of their digital camera…”Ooo, there’s Coit Tower. There’s the bridge”.

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  5. Julie Robinson said on October 16, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    Dorothy, for some of us reflecting balls are a link to the past or a beloved family member. I don’t have one, but when I see one I remember my vibrant and sometimes daffy grandmother, who didn’t consider her yard complete without a reflecting ball, always in her favorite shade of blue. She thought they were pretty and fun, and that was plenty of reasoning for her. Why do I wear jewelry, or decorate my house, or even plant flowers for that matter? Simply because they all bring me joy.

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  6. Dorothy said on October 16, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    In that case Julie, it would make perfect sense. Anything with fond memories attached to one’s grandmother is okay by me! I miss my Grandma tremendously, and always wish my husband could have gotten to know her. I tell him they’ll be fast friends in the next life, if they bump into each other!

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  7. LA mary said on October 16, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    I’ve always liked reflecting balls because they usually were in lovely old fashioned gardens full of hollyhocks and dahlias and roses. They let you see all the flowers reflected in a distorted way that looks really riotous, nearly abstract. Like one of those kaleidescopes that allows you to see your surroundings, rather than color chips.

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  8. nancy said on October 16, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    One of the coolest items at the Ann Arbor art fair the last few years are these planters on rotating bases, with kaleidoscopes attached. The idea is, you plant a bunch of variegated flowers, the kaleidoscope is mounted on a frame, pointed down at the flowers, and then you spin the planter on bearings to make the image change.

    Of course, they also cost a bloody fortune. Story of my life.

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  9. Sue said on October 16, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    I always thought the origin of reflecting balls was to repel witches. Really. Like those hex signs on barns are supposedly to ward off evil. And hanging a horseshoe over your door was not for good luck, but to stop the fairies from stealing your babies (iron drives away fairies). Anyone?

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  10. wade said on October 17, 2007 at 7:40 am

    Correct, Sue, what we called “chrome balls” were originally called (according to my late grandmother) “witch balls”. Supposedly the witch gets mesmerized by the reflection and, distracted, can’t handle the broom any more.

    Horseshoes and fairies, that’s a new one to me… I only know the part about keeping it in the U position to keep the luck from running out.

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