The local landscape.

Well, it only took three years, but I guess I’m a real Detroiter now. Behold, what I parked next to at Starbucks yesterday:

mystery car

When we moved here, people said we’d see this sort of thing all the time — mystery cars obscured with tape or fool-the-autofocus camouflage, models ready for road-testing but not the showroom. But this is the first one I’ve seen. (I really need to get out more.) It hardly looked cherry, but couldn’t have been more anonymous. The interior was terra incognita as well:


I didn’t recognize the badge on the steering wheel, but — and this is a key part of the experience — I was soon joined by another Starbucks customer, who was about to pull out of the lot, but re-parked to get out and check out the mystery car, too. And he knew everything. “That’s a BMW,” he said. Never mind the badge, “that’s the iDrive.” No clue. So he explained the iDrive, with which he was well-acquainted; he did everything but offer a supplemental reading list. This is standard local small talk, and on the whole, I prefer it to chatting about the weather. Someday we’ll have to get JohnC to talk about standing around the grill while the burgers cook at a backyard party, arguing over whether Billy Batts was driven to his funeral in a Bonneville or a Grand Prix. This is not worth arguing, as the record clearly shows it was a Grand Prix.

Anyway that’s a Toughbook on the console, powered by the cigarette lighter, wires running to a mystery port between the seats. And that’s your correspondent reflected in the window. Always happy to bring citizen journalism to my readers from sea to shining sea.

Alex noted something I was marveling at yesterday — that you never know what will get people chattering, and apparently, asking about everyone’s fun with prescription drugs is one of those all-skate topics. He suggested perhaps sex or rock ‘n’ roll for a follow-up, but I don’t have it in me. Besides, it’s snowing again and I’d like to go out and enjoy the pretty part of winter.

Do we have bloggage? We have some:

Brian Stouder recommends this story about a narrow escape from the tornadoes earlier in the week, says it passed his lump-in-throat test. I’ll leave it up to you to measure it against your own. What I’m always amazed by, in these situations, is how people rise to the occasion. A few years ago, an F4 hit Van Wert, Ohio, just as a small crowd of young people were leaving an afternoon movie. The manager saw it coming, turned around, herded everyone into the bathrooms — the only cement-block part of the structure — and there they crouched while the wind destroyed the entire building. Here’s where everyone had been sitting only a couple minutes earlier. And all survived, uninjured, except the manager himself, who had a cut on his arm. He hadn’t had any special training in evacuation procedures or where the safest part of the building was; he just thought fast. What if the movie had gone five minutes longer? What if it had been little kids instead of teenagers? What if the crowd had been bigger? What if?

A young Vince Vaughn fights a ‘roid-raging Peter Billingsley in an after-school special. Yes, that Peter Billingsley. Ralphie.

Prostitution, drinking, drugs and having Tom Sizemore as a boyfriend is tough on a girl’s looks. Ask Heidi Fleiss. And check out her co-pilot.

So, Mittens is on his way home, but was it good for the Mormons?

Friday on my mind, folks. I’m outta here.

Posted at 9:47 am in Current events, Detroit life |

45 responses to “The local landscape.”

  1. Dorothy said on February 8, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Hmph. Is it just me or does that logo on the steering wheel look like a plastic mouth guard? My kids used to wear them when they played basketball.

    I was watching the Today show when those two students were interviewed. A serious story, but to me it was sort of funny at the end when Meredith Vieira admonished them “I hope from now on you’ll take those tornado warnings more seriously!” She sounded like a mom, not like a news anchor.

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  2. Kirk said on February 8, 2008 at 10:29 am

    OK, I’ll show my ignorance. Unlike almost every other American, I’m not obsessed with cars, so I don’t get what’s going on with the junky-looking one. Do people do this to try to fool thieves? Are these stealth prototypes? Go ahead, land on me with both feet.

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  3. john c said on February 8, 2008 at 10:40 am

    I wouldn’t have known that was a Beemer. But that would have been my guess. Putting performance aside, they are very boring looking cars.

    There was another great Detroit moment in the Kwame coverage. Our embattled mayor had delivered his sniveling, arrogant speech, and the camera crews were outside his mansion. The anchor person said: “A Chrysler 300 could be seen pulling up earlier.” This is the only place in the world where the news person would, correctly, note the make and model of a random car.

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  4. Mindy said on February 8, 2008 at 10:40 am

    My car doesn’t even have a cigarette lighter, and it’s an ’01. There’s a plug-in for the cell phone in the area where cigarette lighters used to be in cars once upon a time, but no lighter and no ashtray. Honda must figure its buyers aren’t smokers.

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  5. alex said on February 8, 2008 at 10:40 am

    A Beemer? That stubby thing? It looks like a Hyundai.

    As for the Goodfellas Grand Prix, yes, that one’s a ’68, the last time a Grand Prix was something special. After that they went to a mid-size platform and went downmarket, but Pontiac sure sold a lot more of them.

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  6. nancy said on February 8, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Those cars are test models that cross a range of circumstances. Some are design prototypes, and they ugly them up to keep the competition from seeing them or to obscure design details they want to keep under wraps. Some have this weird semi-reflective fabric covering them that is, allegedly, difficult for photographers to shoot; the so-called carparazzi/autorazzi are a fact of life for the companies.

    I suspect this one was undergoing some sort of engine or suspension testing, given the presence of the laptop. It was probably recording data from the innards somewhere. Beyond that, I’m fairly clueless, too.

    Oh, and Mindy — the disappearing lighter/ashtray is a fairly established phenomenon, but the outlets for it are proliferating. Mine has them in front and back, and even in the storage compartment. Check the automotive aisle at Target for the dozens of fun new accessories you can get to plug into them — coolers, extra heaters, etc. Even (I swear) a blender, I guess for when you just gotta have a margarita before starting the commute home.

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  7. brian stouder said on February 8, 2008 at 10:58 am

    Gotta have ashtrays, in which to store coins, free soda pop certificates from Speedway, Arbys coupons, and the tire pressure gauge

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  8. Jolene said on February 8, 2008 at 11:06 am

    If the story re the two students put a lump in your throat, this one will choke you up completely.

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  9. ashley said on February 8, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Now, the Mormons have Glenn Beck as their poster boy. I think they were better off with Mitt.

    And Fleiss has always been sub-skank.

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  10. brian stouder said on February 8, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Jolene – that article was definitely affecting, too.

    It (rightly) got lots more attention; the one about the quick-thinking girls in the dorm was a bit more off-the-path. It just really impressed me that they snapped right into action, and did the smartest things, in an instant.

    Also, I was struck by all the expressions of faith in God’s protection, even as God’s fury destroyed everything around them, and the young folks maximized their odds by immediately acting in accordance with the emergency training the school provided (one might say ‘Thank God for on-the-ball administrators and safety committee members’!)

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  11. Jolene said on February 8, 2008 at 11:32 am

    I was also struck–more like puzzled, actually–by those expressions of faith. Whenever I hear such statements, I wonder why people thank God for saving them when, presumably, they also believe that God sent the storm. Logic, I guess, it’s not what’s driving their utterances.

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  12. MichaelG said on February 8, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Lots of manufacturers are coming out with variations on BMW’s beloved iDrive. An NPR guy tested an iDrive equipped Bimmer a couple of years ago. It was hilarious. From the looks of the steering wheel hub, your car appears to be a Honda. My second guess would be Hyundai. There have been lots of pix of pending BMW models lately and none of them look like that one. The number one snapper of mystery car spy pix worldwide is a German woman named Brenda Priddy. Check her web site.

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  13. Mindy said on February 8, 2008 at 11:51 am

    A frozen concoction to help me hang on during the drive, what’s not to love. Maybe I should trade my car in on whatever it is that’s being advertised as having a cooled glove box for bottled water. Ice, a pint of Jose and some margarita mix for my car blender and I’d be all set to offer the traffic cop a refreshing cocktail.

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  14. brian stouder said on February 8, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    and lest we forget to say what everyone thought – the proprietress – with her retro-headband

    looks hawt as ever!

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  15. Kim said on February 8, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Hey, I finally saw some actual Truck Nutz the other day, dangling off the back of a Lincoln doing about 90 on the interstate.

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  16. nancy said on February 8, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    That is my “I’d like to keep my ears through the winter” fleece headband, which is my default cold-weather choice, at least while my hair stays nice and thick. Keeps everything warm, no hat hair.

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  17. brian stouder said on February 8, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    everything warm, and, hawt at the same time!

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  18. Danny said on February 8, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    The reflection of the Starbucks sign above your head looks like a “thought bubble” in a cartoon.

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  19. Jeff said on February 8, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    How do you properly say “I’m thankful” when great good fortune come your way? “Thank God” is as effective a place-holder as any for stating “I can’t believe I’m still alive, and am glad.” The fact that detailed theological reflection on why God allows evil to occur will only happen much later doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

    In fact, I can pretty much guarantee you that many of the folks who say, yes, by reflex mostly, the words “I thank God for my deliverance today” will have some pretty interesting conversations later in Sunday school and small groups and even in the middle of worship about how to understand why “one is taken up and the other left behind.” And there is no stock answer (outside of some pretty hard-line Calvinists) to why that is and what that means; many of us religious folk would say the meaning comes later in what you do with the good fortune, and not in imposing meaning onto the randomness of the act.

    All of which is a bit better than solitary survivor guilt, with a person wondering for years, in an endless internal dialog bearing a weight of unworthiness: “why me, and not them? how did I come out alive when better or more innocent lives were lost?”

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  20. Connie said on February 8, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Mindy, you have to buy the smoking package. You’ll get the lighter and one or more ashtray inserts. All the discount tobacco places around here sell various kinds of ashtrays that fit in a cup holder.

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  21. alex said on February 8, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    My ’05 Toyota truck came with an ashtray, lighter and enough other ports for 12-volt toys that I could probably go live in it if Mother Nature ever wipes my house off the face of the earth. In fact, I keep discovering new ports every day — in the back seat, on the rear bumper, in the bed.

    But I use the ashtray for coins. I keep a snuffer cup in the cup holder, which is more ergonomically convenient and it never reeks of smoldering butts. One thing I never understood about car ashtrays was why designers put them in the awkward places they do. Inevitably you bump off your cherry on the way down trying to find the damn ashtray and burn holes in your console and carpet. Could it be a conspiracy to make vain people pay for expensive repairs? Or buy leather in the first place?

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  22. john c said on February 8, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    One of my fave features in my Buick is a plug – a real household plug.

    And I just had to explain to my 5-year-old what an ashtray was when we were flying back from New York, which made me notice they still have them in the arm rests. Seems like a very, very long time ago you could smoke on planes, though I know it wasn’t that long ago.

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  23. Dexter said on February 9, 2008 at 3:17 am

    prototypes are OK, but I prefer the hoopdees-on-parade.
    Years ago The Freep ran a feature on them…amazing hoopdees were featured in the final story.

    As a devotee of cars that won’t be traded in, but towed or driven to the salvage yard and sold by weight or whatever I can get, usually 90 to a hundred and fifty dollars, I really identified with that story.

    Remember when we’d see cars with huge signs , “NO RADIO”?
    Well…that was in Chicago, I guess, don’t know if that phenomena made it to Day-twah…whatever…yep, in the rough-and-tumble 1980’s ya couldn’t even have a damn radio in your car … or you’d be driving to the glass shop with a cardboard & duct tape patch window.

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  24. Dexter said on February 9, 2008 at 3:19 am

    Here’s that internet smash, the WWI real-time blog , 90 years late, set up by the soldier’s grandson….

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  25. Jeff said on February 9, 2008 at 9:15 am

    Don’t know how i’ve missed this — thanks, Dexter.

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  26. basset said on February 9, 2008 at 11:14 am

    I’m about ninety miles east of the dorm collapse and thirty miles southwest of the found baby… we had a sizable tornado come up from the southwest, lift off about five miles southwest of me, pass over Nashville, and set back down on the other side, which is where most of the worst damage happened.

    scared hell out of me for sure, never heard winds quite like that and I was sure the house was going over. we had a tree knocked down in the yard and feel most fortunate.

    I need to get off the computer and go cut the damn thing up too, then start on fixing the fence…

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  27. Dorothy said on February 9, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Glad you and yours are okay, basset.

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  28. brian stouder said on February 9, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Media-related non-sequitur:

    Did you see Keith Olbermann express that he and his network are ‘literally, dreadfully sorry’ for what David Shuster said, about Senator Clinton’s daughter?

    You can go to this page

    and then select Keith Olbermann’s mug to watch the 45 seconds (give or take) of literal, dreadful, sorrow.

    Olbermann’s somewhat bizarre statement seems to raise a few big questions, though. First – why are they so ‘literally, dreadfully sorry’ about what Shuster said, and (apparently) not sorry at all for what Chris Matthews said (a buffet of choices of anti-Clinton things presents itself, in Matthews’ case).

    Afterall, Senator Clinton’s campaign rightly complained about Shuster’s AND Matthews’ trash talking…….

    Which leads us to the second big (BIG) question – why did MSNBC place Shuster “on suspension” (in Olbermann’s words)? – and why did they NOT suspend Matthews? And why did the Keithster make the apology and announcement of suspension, instead of the head of NBC?

    In the most general terms – if we are going to have pundits on news shows, and if the pundits risk suspension for impromptu remarks (even tasteless remarks) if a campaign manger complains forcefully enough , then isn’t the effect on robust public debate going to be (to use the fashionable term) “chilling”?

    David Shuster’s remark was no worse than any number of things Matthews (or Olbermann, for that matter) routinely says (albeit about other political figures, or their families), afterall.

    Put another way – this might point up one major reason why there is such a thing as “herd mentality” in main stream media reporting. If a person works at msnbc, for example, this sacrificial offering of Shuster’s reputation by that network provides a cautionary tale as to why a reporter at msnbc (for example) would be wise to NOT speak ill of CNN or Fox…because one might find that the time comes that a paycheck from CNN or Fox beats the hell out of reverting back to doing the weather in Salt Lake City, or outright unemployment

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  29. Dexter said on February 9, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    “David Shuster’s remark was no worse than any number of things Matthews (or Olbermann, for that matter) routinely says (albeit about other political figures, or their families), afterall.”

    brian st. : You are SO right… I read on some blog Shuster was out for 30 days.
    I don’t like it.
    He was just using street vernacular in a way that was most descriptive of how he envisioned the Clintons were using Chelsea.
    In no way was he calling Bill and HRC pimps and inferring Chelsea was some kind of whore.
    It’s an EXPRESSION! My 16 year old grandson is always talking about “pimpin’ ” something out…it “don’t mean nothin’!”

    If I say . “Hillary’s my dog in this hunt!”…that’s a COMPLIMENT!
    I wouldn’t be calling her a bitch dog!
    People gotta lighten up.

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  30. alex said on February 9, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    I recall a joke on Fox a while back, the kind that appears in a graphic, usually while cutting to a commercial break.

    It went something like: “An African tribal leader approaches Bill Clinton to purchase Chelsea Clinton’s hand in marriage. Should the proper payment for Chelsea be (a) a goat; (b) two chickens; or (c) a hill of beans?”

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  31. Jeff said on February 9, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Wolfson (Clinton campaign comm director) was looking for grounds to avoid doing the debate in Ohio up next to Cleveland without looking like his candidate was ducking a debate. There was surely a great combing through everything said on MSNBC to find a pretext, and Shuster handed them a bucket o’ pretext. Going after Matthews would have entailed much more blowback, but bringing the roof down on Shuster is easier to pull off, and then you get to say more in sorrow than in anger, “Gosh, we just couldn’t go on that network to debate.”

    Then wait for CNN or someone else to set up a debate where the context is more Hillary-friendly (think Toledo), and they’ll be back in the game. David Shuster’s a big boy, and he’ll be fine, but whether the HRC campaign can survive both the Petraeus and Obama surges remains to be seen. Add in the ongoing scrutiny of Bill Clinton’s business practices, and we’ve got McCain and Obama running for November, harassed by the Nader/Paul ticket . . .

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  32. basset said on February 10, 2008 at 1:30 am

    sure appreciate that, Dorothy… neighbor, son, and I spent most of the afternoon chainsawing the tree into liftable pieces, piling the lighter ones by the curb for the chipper truck, and heaving the trunk sections into the creek bed out back.

    meanwhile… I thought that Shuster comment was way out of line. If I were Bill Clinton, this Shuster fellow would need a truss and a beefsteak… no, wait a minute, that’s if I were… well, you know what I mean anyway.

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  33. Brenda Priddy said on February 10, 2008 at 2:01 am

    German? I’m as American as Apple Pie. … But do you have any more pictures of the car?

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  34. Dexter said on February 10, 2008 at 2:31 am

    Huckabee is becoming the big story now…old mo’ is on his side.
    To me, and I have never cast a repugg vote, I find this much more intriguing.
    For one thing, McCain commands attention when he delivers a TV speech, but I usually think it’s Dr. Evil on the tube.
    Then to further confuse me, Dr. Evil WAS on the tube earlier on a cable channel…one of those Mike Myers movies.
    I watched both HRC and later Obama last night giving their speeches…just pure boilerplate re-hashing…not worth watching anymore.
    The McCain / Huckabee partial love-fest is more entertaining…Dr. Evil Strangelove vs. The Second Coming Incarnate. Fascinating.
    I highly suspect that McInsane was watching Austin Powers opponent, Dr. Evil, for pointers…while Huckabee was watching Fat Bastard and cheering when Fat Bastard went all-Jared and lost all that weight on the Subway diet.
    But…I gotsta know…does Huckabee’s skin sag like that?

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  35. basset said on February 10, 2008 at 2:40 am

    I used to eat at the same place in Bloomington where Jared lost all that weight… it’s a Subway now, down by the optometry school, but back then, mid to late 70s, it was called the “Hour House” and was the best place within walking distance to get a breakfast plate and a pot of coffee in the middle of the night.

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  36. Danny said on February 10, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Interesting, basset, about the restaurant. And I too am glad to read that you are safe and sound.

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  37. MichaelG said on February 10, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    My embarrassing mistake, Brenda. I’m very sorry. I picked up the German attribution at some auto web site. I can’t remember which, but it was a long time ago. I take it that I was correct about the rest? The stuff about you being Number One? Again, I apologize. I’ve enjoyed your pix for years. By the way, does that look like a Honda steering wheel?

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  38. del said on February 10, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Saw Huckabee for a couple of minutes on C-Span yesterday. He said that we Americans do not believe in murder (and several other crimes) then he said that, unfortunately, other cultures do believe in such things — and that Islamofascists believe in murdering their children. Please beam me up Scotty.

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  39. Julie Robinson said on February 10, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Omigosh, I lived over the Hour House! Third floor and my window was directly over the vent, so the rancid grease smell permeated the apartment. Not once did I ever eat there.

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  40. jcburns said on February 10, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I’m actually enough of a geezer that when “pimpin'” first became an expression in our culture, I was dejected.

    Really? This is the best we can do? All the richness and depth of the English language has to offer, and we need to talk in faux urban whatever the hell it is speak, using a term that means a guy who forces a woman to work the street for his financial benefit? That’s what we really want to bring front and center to our vast linguistic stage?

    So I’d just as soon see commentators apologize for using that term based on lack of imagination.

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  41. Dexter said on February 10, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Julie Rob.: I had to laugh at your description of your venting system above the Hour House! I suppose we all have horror stories of apartments. I was moving into an apartment halfway down a street off Spy Run in Fort Wayne, 36 years ago. I had moved about half my stuff in and was bringing in an armload of clothes into this duplex when …CRASH!!…a greasy haired kid had jumped THROUGH a closed glass-windowed door and then a huge man came after him with a double-barreled shotgun in hand ,swearing like a moth…well…you get my drift.

    I immediately got my stuff out and phoned the landlord demanding my deposit back. Go ahead, ask me how did THAT work out! HAHA!

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  42. Julie Robinson said on February 10, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    Dexter, my apartment horror stories can’t compare with that one. But for getting my deposits back, mentioning my uncle the attorney usually worked. Only once did he actually have to write a letter for me. Too bad he lost his license for gambling on the commodities market.

    And jcburns, AMEN!

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  43. basset said on February 10, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    I lived in Willkie Co-Op for most of my Hour House years… a little dorm where working-class students like myself got a break on the price in return for sweeping up, serving meals, and washing dishes.

    one of my best Bloomington apartment memories, though, was over on East 8th just above the Poplars. we rented from this sweet little old lady who we occasionally saw out in the yard in calico and a sunbonnet digging up dandelions to put in her salad.

    she wandered over one day to collect the rent or something and we had a rack of cookies cooling on the kitchen counter.

    now, these were not just any cookies, if you take my meaning.

    she mentioned how nice it was that we were baking cookies, and how good they smelled.

    we looked at each other.

    then we looked away.

    then we gave her some, with a glass of milk.


    no discernible effect then or later, though.

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  44. Dexter said on February 11, 2008 at 1:58 am

    My first apartment when I got back from the army was the upstairs of an old brick house on West Washington Street in Fort Wayne. I was living on the GI bill which was inadequate, of course, so I had a part time job, too…still, very frugal I was. I ran into this kid who was selling Kirby sweepers for a living and we were inquiring about the same place…it was a different time…we just decided to share the rent so we wouldn’t have to live under a bridge…then I talked an old high school buddy into moving in, too…ah! My rent then was a manageable $41.66 a month!
    This salesman was an 18 year old kid who had friends who were some kind of weed dealers. I came home one day and he had his friends there, and they were cleaning a big duffel bag of weed! I told him later, calmly, I didn’t care if he smoked it …whatever…but he just couldn’t use the apartment as a clearing house for enough weed to send us all to the pen !
    Anyway, when they left that day this kid must have swept the floor and got some seeds. We had a live flower growing in a flower pot. He must have planted the seeds there.
    When they grew a little , he told us about it…I just let it go…what harm ?
    One day I came home and the old lady landlord was in there snooping through our stuff!!
    She had a feather dust-mop in her hand and told me she was “cleaning”. Right!
    The kid’s little marijuana plants were maybe 8 inches high and I knew she had seen them.
    That was it. No more of that stuff. No trouble, just paranoia for a long while. I got mono and had to move back with my folks for a month to recuperate, and I lost the apartment. The kid went into the US Air Force and hopefully away from drugs.
    My buddy got married and lives in a farm house now.
    And I had two marriages, a daughter, a career, and now I walk dogs and blog all day.

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  45. brian stouder said on February 11, 2008 at 9:17 am

    You know – that emblem on the steering wheel of the car looks very like the Dodge ram…..while we’re on the subject!

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