Last week, on my way back from the Flurry, I'd thought about getting off of the train at some ungodly hour to visit Jusko & Tegal. But, as it turned out, I was having such a good time with Steo that I decided to just keep going. But I promised them I'd come back soon.
So of course, this weekend I'm on my way there.
Which provided me further opportunities to explore the area just North of Seattle's downtown, where Steca, Bripi, Rewil, and I once wandered around looking for Ed d'Bevicks. Today, I find a nice used bookstore, a few keen alleyways, and a “world-famous” fish 'n' chips shop. Wandering North, I discover a Whole Foods and, Castle, which seems to be an epic metal club. (Epic Metal being a little like Classic Rock in some ways. The band “Sonata Arctica” is at least partially representative of the genre.)
Later, I catch Amtrak's Wolverine to Ann Arbor.
The ride is intermeniable! Somewhere towards the end, something goes wrong with the train and we end up crawling along at a snail's pace, getting in perhaps two hours after we were supposed to. I've long since given up sitting down and have been walking back and forth along the length of the train to the point where people are recognising me and waving as I go by. On the 29th lap, we finally arrive at the station.
Visits to T&J are characterised by my taking long, relaxing walks while they work. When Tegal's home, I try to catch up with her, though it's hard because she's deep in the middle of a master's program and it's slowly consuming her soul. Jusko's considerably more free and we have longer talks and visit All Hands Active (the local maker space).
I may also have ulterior motives for visiting now: Steo's in Hamtramack (helping her mom pack things up in her recently-deceased grandmother's house), which is just down the road near Detroit. We arrange to get supper one night and J, T, and myself all drive into and through Detroit. There are large sections of the city which are dark and boarded up. Rumour has it that it has the lowest population density of any metropolitan region, which makes it impossible for utilities to serve customers without operating at a loss. The groundwork's already laid for its eventual bankruptcy.
So it happens that the first time I meet Steo's mom is when I appear on the front porch of the house to spirit her away to dinner at the Polish Village, which is probably the most in-character meeting possible. Hamtramack's long been a center of immigration and used to be predominantly comprised of Polish immigrants—so much so that there's still a church there that does their services in that language.
The restaurant's dark inside and playing Jeopardy, forcing Jusko and I to put our backs to the TV less we be distracted. Over delicious perogies and saurkraut which I refuse to admit might taste okay, Steo kicks our butts at game after game of bananagrams.
Later in the week, we visit a magic shop down the street; Jusko's talked with the magician before and they enjoy each other. While we watch with wary eyes, he repeatedly dupes us all with an array of tricks. Finally, knowing that we're an engineer and a physicist, he pulls out a pack of numbered cards and is deftly able to guess the numbers on them. We look the pack over, but can't figure out what's going on and end up buying it. Which is, of course, what he knew we'd do.
And, naturally, within minutes of getting home, we figure it out.
We make plans to visit Niagara Falls, but, for safe-keeping, I've left my passport in a safe at my parents'. I call them and they mail it to us. But, a couple of days later, it hasn't shown up! We call the post office and they tell us that they brought it to the apartment, didn't see my name, and brought it back to the post office to Return to Sender!
We dash out the door, hop into the car, and drive to the post office where I manage to convince them to dig around in the mail until they find it. Emerging, triumphant, we hit the road, passing through Detroit and to the North Shore of Lake Erie.
Under the mistaken belief that it'll be akin to the North Shore of Lake Superior (the park names do have a certain epic quality in both places), I talk Jusko into driving closer to the shore than is really necessary or expediant (not that he needs much convincing). However, the shore turns out to be pretty boring: flat farm fields going down pretty much to the water's edge. The only really interesting things we see are a big, smokey power plant and hundreds of signs decrying the negative “health effects” of proposed lake-shore windmills.
By the time we reach Niagara, it's already night. My first view of it is as a cloud of mist hanging out into the gorge as we pass over it on the bridge. Prior to visiting the falls, we check into the Wanderfalls Hostel, which is clean and has (at this time of year, at least) very reasonable rates. The proprietess introduces us to her Germany husband, who she met when he was staying here shortly after she opened the place. Thus secured for the night we go back out to see things. Of course, it being dark, you can't see very well, but that's okay because you don't need to see the falls… you can feel them. A kind of low rumble, and something about the air. We wander the islands just up-stream going past certain foreboding signs and right down to the edge of the river. In the shallows the water is slow and idling, but just a little farther out, it picks up a horrifying speed.
Later, we pop over to Canada for some Indian food (I have the korma, in the tradition of my time in Bristol) and get a taste of all the tourist attractions that have sprung up around, and pale in comparison to, the Falls.
The next morning, we have breakfast (pancakes) with an assortment of internationals, check out, and go back to the falls for some day time viewing.
The Museum at the Falls tells us stories of tight-rope walkers, steamships shooting the rapids, massive ice dams, and mentions the up-stream power facility (which has an even higher drop than the Falls themselves). There's a hocky educational video which tells the story of a boat which went over the edge with an uncle, a niece, and a nephew on board after the motor cut out. Onlookers managed to pull the niece off, but the uncle and nephew went over. Miraculously, the nephew survived. The video ends by saying, “Some say it was luck. Some say it was good. Probably both are right.”
Then we book it back to Ann Arbor, stopping only at the duty-free shop to pick me up a Dairy Milk.
On the way in, we swing by Steo's place again and make a trip to the Polish church where she and I abscond to the upper floor to look in on the organist, who's going at it.
On Monday, I find a trail by the river and resolve to follow it until its end.
But the trail turns out to run over 140 miles, so I have to turn back.
During an earlier visit to Ann Arbor, I brougth my tree climbing equipment with me and, one night, while Tess is studying, Jusko and I went off to the university's arboretum in search of a good tree. And boy did we find one! A sycamore over a hundred feet tall growing on the edge of one of the clearings. It took us a while to get our first rope up, but, once we did, it was easy climbing. As I landed on the first branch, I was terrified to hear that it sounded hollow when I tapped on it. But then again, the whole tree sounded that way. Trepidatiously, I came to the conclusion that it must just be a characteristic of that kind of tree.
Jusko came up and we threw ropes higher and, before long, we were a good ninety feet up. At the same time, the sun was setting. The tree was bearing a multitude of coloured leaves and these were ignited into a flaming profusion of hues by the sun. I descended out of the top, swinging in a wide arc as I went, and then sent the knots back up to Jusko. But they became tangled on the way, so he had to spend many minutes untangling them and then coming down was still difficult because the rope had twisted.
By the time he made it to the ground, it was well after dark and we scurried home to Tegal, who scolded us for not calling (Jusko had put the phone in a pocket which was subsequently made inaccessible by his climbing harness).
This time, I've brought my ropes with me again, and we take Tegal with. By the time we get out to the Arb it's dark, but there's a full moon shedding some light on the trees we're interested. We take turns going up it. On his down time, Jusko stalks deer in the clearing of the Arb, getting within an arm's reach of one before it gets nervous and frisks away.
On the way home, Jusko points out the university's hundred-year-old observatory up on the hill. All the lights are aglow. We all look at each other and head up. The door is open. We follow a winding staircase to the upper floor and find a few folks peering through the big, fourteen-foot telescope. They point it at the moon for us. Almost more interesting than the moon, though, is the telescope itself. There's a clockwork mechanism that causes it to rotate in such a way as to counteract the rotation of the Earth, keeping the object of interest in view. And the whole telescope is set on a giant stone cone which is free-standing, disconnected from any part of the building. We step onto it over a thin crack on the floor. This prevents the telescope from vibrating at all.
In short, we're looking at what used to be the State of the Art, more than a hundred years ago. Jusko will later go back again and again until he's actual made an operator of the telescope and tasked with setting it up and taking it down on viewing nights.
You know you've either stayed a while, or packed lightly enough when you have to do laundry.
Also of note: we watched part of David Attenborough's “Planet Earth” — this is to be highly recommended!
Finally, though, it's time to leave. Early one raining morning, Jusko walks me down to the station and I get on the train, head to Chicago, and catch the MegaBus home.
On the way back, I sit on the top front of the MegaBus with the couple below. She met him while doing a high school study abroad in Costa Rica. She went down and lived with him for a couple of years and now they're back, travelling together, and about to meet her family.