Don’t Avoid Detroit

When you tell people you’re going to Detroit they often give you that “are you crazy?” look and wish you to come back alive or at least unhurt. Pictures of abandoned and destroyed post-apocalyptic Detroit’s ruin-porn make their rounds on the internet, interspersed with scary crime statistics and sad economic news. A person with common sense would probably avoid Detroit, but clearly I am not that person. During a college visit to the nearby Ann Arbor, I set aside two days to check out Detroit because how could I not. Detroit is awesome. And we came back alive and even unhurt, if you don’t count a parking ticket, which did hurt a lot.

…but wait,there is more… Don’t Avoid Detroit

Driving Missouri: St. Joe

I haven’t been to St. Joseph for almost 20 years. Long time ago St. Joe was the first to get a riverboat casino and it seemed like a good idea to drive for an hour and a half to gamble away my meager earnings. I haven’t been back since. Either I wasn’t that impressed or more money-wasting venues propped up nearby, whatever the reason, St. Joe just never again appeared on my list of places to visit.  Then the Pitch wrote about a new pizza place, the last weekend of nice fall weather was coming up, and suddenly it seemed like why not St. Joe.

St. Joe is famous for its Glore Psychiatric Museum.

…but wait,there is more… Driving Missouri: St. Joe

Behind The Iron Curtain: Stool Samples

IMG_3258-2.JPG

Infamous Stool Sample Matchbox

This was originally written on my FB page where I post pictures and links almost daily and which you immediately should follow. I remembered about the stool samples when I was writing this post about the Soviet medicine of my day.

*Warning: please don’t eat while reading this.

Soviet kids had to be healthy whether they wanted it or not. And healthy meant parasite-free. So once in a while, my school (and I imagine all the other schools in the area) put out a call for stool samples. By a certain deadline every child had to submit a matchbox full of you-know-what, tightly wrapped and marked with the name of a producer.

At that time (and maybe still) the Soviet toilets (in places with indoor plumbing but not in public restrooms) were different from the American model we are all used to. Instead of a small pool of water ready to accept your deposits, it was more like a vase with hardly any water at all. When done, a person would pull a chain and a waterfall coming down from the high-mounted tank (if the water was on that day) would flush the stuff down through the hole located in the front part of the toilet.
That technical aside was necessary to explain that at least our parents didn’t have to fish for floating crap, it was all right there, nice and piled. Clearly no 8- or 9- or even 12-year-old wants to have anything to do with putting their own crap in a small box, so that somber duty had to be fulfilled by our parents. Many years later, as a parent myself, I’ve done many disgusting things and touched some substances that would make a grown man gag (and they did). But even after thousands of diapers changed I am still not sure I could go ahead and do what my mom had to do. This is something that would make you think twice about having a child.
The next day, the matchbox was proudly delivered and submitted to school, securely wrapped in multiple layers of paper and plastic (we didn’t have zip-locks or any bags of that nature) and tied with a string, with my name proudly scribbled on it like a designer brand. To this day I have no idea if anyone did anything with those nuggets. You can imagine that a school with 800 or a thousand kids can produce enough crap to fertilize a small organic beet farm. (Note to self: submit this idea to the school district as an extra source of income in light of recent school budget cuts by Governor Brownback.)
I always imagined that a lab in lower circles of socialized healthcare hell, populated by medical school dropouts, dimly lit and smelling worse than a meatpacking plant on a summer day, did nothing else but unwrapped the packages and examined the contents for parasite eggs and the signs of dinners past.But in reality I think they just threw these boxes away and faked the results. After all, sooner or later the parasites show their ugly heads, if you know what I mean.
Epilogue: When we came to the United States we had to pass some medical tests (in addition to the overpriced testing we were required to do in Moscow before we left). Then we received a mail-in stool sample kit, which consisted of some Popsicle sticks and cardboard envelopes. I was tempted to send my stuff in a box, but reconsidered and just threw the kits away.

They would have to pry a stool sample out of my……….

Montreal Graffiti

I always wanted to visit Canada and this year seemed as good as any for another trip in North America. We did a lot of train riding, starting in New York City to Montreal, then Toronto, finishing in Niagara Falls. I am getting pretty good at planning these things and everything worked out nicely and it was as close to a perfect trip as I could’ve hoped for.

As always I had both the camera and the phone with me, but found myself using the latter the most, phone is always close, the quality is decent, it makes easy panoramas, and the photos can be easily uploaded from the nearest WIFI spot. I realized that I bring the camera out of habit and can see myself traveling without one in the near future.

We found Montreal to be amazing, delicious, friendly and easy to get around. And covered in great graffiti. I am a big fan of murals and other folk art and Montreal didn’t disappoint.

Here are some samples:

…but wait,there is more… Montreal Graffiti

Sitting Down For The Road

We don’t have many traditions in my family. We don’t sit around the Seder table asking questions; we don’t eat Chinese food on Christmas; we don’t have Taco Tuesdays or Gefilte Fish Fridays. We are pretty ordinary people in that sense. Or every sense.

There is one tradition that I’d like to keep and pass along to my kid – sitting down for the road.

A view of Congressman George H. Tinkham’s suitcase after his trip. © Time Inc. David E. Scherman

Every time we were about to leave on a trip my Dad always said “Let’s sit down for the road” and we would set down our suitcases and sit quietly for a minute. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do – when you are a kid on the way to an exiting destination the last thing you want to do is to be stopped in your tracks and sit around even for a minute. But then again it’s a minute well-spent. You could realize you forgot something, or just look around one last time so a memory of your place will travel with you and eventually make you homesick. You could concentrate, finalize a plan, prepare for the departure, as a pilot might say revving up the engine. Many useful things you can do in a minute. Or you can just not do anything and wait for your Dad to signal that the sitting down for the road is over and open the door to something that awaits outside.

I’ve done this ever since I can remember. I sat down in places I’ve never returned to; I sat down with people who I never got to see again; I sat down before the trips I remember and many forgotten ones. Now I get to tell my kid to sit down and I like the continuity of it. It’s a real tradition, beautiful in its simplicity and as meaningful as one wants it to be.

For the road…