Sunday, October 31, 2010

Arson Watch 2010

Arson watch since 2007 has been more about a gathering of friends and neighbors to actively dispel 30-years-out-of-date perceptions that the neighborhood we live in is a hot-bed of violent crime than to provide some kind of civilian safety enforcement crew.

The reporter from the Saginaw News who joined us was surprised to hear that single women walk their dogs alone at night here without issues. But they do… In this neighborhood we gather in each other’s homes for meals and company. Most everybody here knows most everybody else. Once we locate a family of Cleavers including Beaver we'll just about have the full cast of a perfect neighborhood. Well. A complete cast plus a few wandering individuals with shopping carts. But still…

Arson watch isn’t the product of paranoia. It’s not the flashlight-wielding offshoot of a fear that our neighborhood is going to spontaneously combust. The patrol does not look to catch an arsonist. Rather, the patrols by keeping an eye on susceptible buildings show the neighborhood to be cared for and looked after.

On our first night we had eating, walking, driving or hanging out one of each: Tana, Arik, Roderick, Christy, Eric & Kaitlin, Mark, Tom, Rick, Chummy, Quinn and Wes and self. A watched pot never burns, I suppose.

Photo by Jared Hamilton of the Saginaw News

Friday, October 15, 2010

Breakfast at the Savoy

On a rare and coveted Saturdays when - between errands and work later in the evening - there is time for only one meal in a day that might end sometime within minutes of the next morning I like to scoot for breakfast at the Savoy on Franklin a few blocks from home.

Tangerine Formica-topped tables of various shapes, 6 or 7 types of chair, random groups of photographs showing a more architecturally wealthy Saginaw before old buildings became illogically undesirable, sideboards, coffee urns, massive columns half buried in the wall leading up to an olivey-brown tin ceiling. This is the kind of place that always smells of enough to eat and demands either a chatty table mate or a good book; this morning, I chose the latter.

I ordered my favorite breakfast of solid biscuits (a lot like Aunt Lil’s) napping under thick, peppery sausage gravy, and a couple of eggs on a bed of crisp hash browns all washed down with hot coffee and settled into my current favorite book, “Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place At The New Orleans Table” by Sara Roahen.

Her stories reminded me of frequent-as-we-could-manage trips down to Galveston with my mother – just the two of us – with their packed lunches, bumming along the seawall ducking into shops built on pilings jutting into the Gulf and offering everything from lunch to the shells it might have come from. I remember hours of beachcombing at beaches that have lost most of their tidal pools and personality in the storms since 2005. As siblings and responsibilities made such trips more challenging we were left to remember and grin more than pack and run.

Mostly, though, I think I value the apparent hiding from time these trips represented. Everything about them from the food we packed to the random pebbles we chose to carry with us as we stumbled into the next photo opportunity seemed peppered with a sort of reckless, lucky-to-have-made-it refugee joy.

With my mother there were always photo opportunities that I think might have sprung from few of them in her own childhood combined with a passion to only remember what is good whenever possible. Despite times when that damn camera seemed such an irritation, I have to admit that I now love the pictures and videos and I am aware in myself of a near-genetic need to record everything wonderful before something else crowds in and a bit of happy history – a look, a particular moment of sunlight and leaves, a random thought – is gone forever. My mother chose a camera; I just happen to favor words.

On one our family trips to the coast in 1993 we discovered shrimp Po-Boys at Pier 19 in Galveston; they were a lower-case epiphany. Such simple food with their tiny, melt-in-your-mouth fried shrimp that likely came out of the Gulf that morning, citrusy tartar sauce and a long toasted bun resting in a nest of hand cut fries. That first sandwich satisfied and at the same time spoke of more, always more, because the Gulf would never fail to feed us on one hand while it terrified us on the other.

I realize sometime after that Po-Boy I tended to remember family trips and personal excursions as a series of smells and sounds punctuated with food. Food became the tethering point of memories; start with remembering the meal, and the entire trip could be brought back and loved all over again.

All of this came back as I sat over my plate at the Savoy reading Ms. Roahan’s stories of family cafès, local personalities and the foods that pulled them back into existence in her memories. I found a kindred spirit and a new loved author.

This was a wonderful find since I live in a place far enough north that the storms of 2005 had very little impact and even the recent oil spill in the Gulf is just another news item over which to rail at corporate and governmental failings because it does not involve General Motors and its local impact is not as immediate.

Having grown up much farther south, such news items are so much more personal to me. The storms of 2005 were the beginning of the end of so many things that seemed as though they would go on forever. That year levees broke, whole neighborhoods vanished, casual meeting places like coffee shops and cafès and Galveston’s Strand were drowned and a world was interrupted.

Much like a stroke or heart attack, the longer the interruption lasted, the less life would return afterward. In many cases the interruption has become permanent; things and places and people have died and I still have a catch in my throat for things I remember that will never be the same.

After 2005 and the record storm seasons since many things are gone irrevocably only to be temporarily revived through photographs taken and sentences written. The last item of note I came across regarding Galveston’s Strand was in an architectural preservation journal: Due to the repeated storm waters seeping into the masonry and corroding the cast iron facades of its buildings the Strand is on a short list of immediately endangered districts.

Sometimes – in the present - when I need to go back I cook dishes like gumbo that includes okra and file powder because I love them both, but with no seafood because it scares my neighbors. I cook, and I read and remember over quiet breakfasts.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Many Waters in the Fall

When my mother was younger she would skip school and drive north toward Tawas Point turning off at Wilbur Road toward Lumberman’s Monument with friends to enjoy the woods. Just down the bank of the Au Sable River from there was a place called Iargo Springs where she and her friends sometimes also spent time.

This last place has been very special to me since the first time I remember my mother taking me there as a child. There is an observation deck overlooking the Au Sable as it placidly, gently kinks through green marshes hemmed in by stands of now-shimmering orange and gold trees.

The best part of the Springs, though, is gotten by a descent of something like 300 stairs to a place where moss covers everything sitting still too long with mayapples and plantain poking through getting ready for next spring.

Crisscrossing this way and that under board walks and small decks are whispering ribbons of ice cold, crystal clear water tripping over fallen trees and stones to meet the river.

I was glad Arik, Tisch and Roderick and I could make this trip to the Springs, Tisch, especially, since she seems in need lately of a break from a world that sometimes pinches a personality that deserves more space.

As we wandered I was reminded there is no way to view from this place anything to do with modern conveniences. Iargo is entirely given over at this time of year to the spicy scent of fallen leaves mingled with the musk of wet bark and mossy stones mingling into something deep and ancient; in my mind this is the smell and feel of continuity where time is not a threat, but more of a thread that everything hangs on waiting for the next thing to begin.