Curiosities On The Highway


Pumpkin Is Back. Unexplained sign in the midst of a patch of those trees they have lining every Interstate-grade highway. It’s an invitation to wonder: pumpkin was away? I suppose technically. We worry a lot about pumpkin-spice things in fall and I guess it’s fall enough for most practical purposes around here. But pumpkin isn’t pumpkin-spice, as your pedantic friend on Facebook is already trying to contact me to complain about. I’m not on Facebook, but if you like I’ll give you some inaccurate names that might well be people your friend could complain to instead. Still, pumpkin what? Pie? Bread? Spice? Some other pumpkin product, such as pumpkin-inspired gatherings of squirrels? All great thoughts before you smash into the back of the Two Guys And A Pumpkin moving van that stopped short.

An Unspeakably Great Mass Of Foam On The Median. This overstates things. It’s more of a speakable mass of foam, but that’s because there isn’t a whole lot to foam. Most of it is air and the parts that aren’t air are … water? Soap? Something, anyway. What makes it so speakable is that it seems to be going on for quite a way. A quarter-mile or more of dribbles of foam resting in the grass, almost all the way to the Pumpkin sign. Why foam? Is someone trying to scrub the highway? Sure it needs it, but why the median? Or is this what’s left over after an inadequate rinse job? If they’re rinsing, is it just washing the road or are they trying to dye the highway so it looks younger? But why would a highway want to look younger? Is it trying to attract a new partner after Old Business 17 got re-routed five years back? Ends at Thump Road, gateway to the industrial bubble district.

Lego Buck Rogers. Another inexplicable sign. Is this a movie? A toy line? One social commentator’s cryptic message about the recycling and mashing-up of ideas to produce a franchise that feels worn out at its newest? Is Buck Rogers different from Flash Gordon in any way we have to have an opinion about? Is it about leaving the spaceships all over the rumble strips on the edges of the road? Did they dispense foam on the median in the attempt to escape killer trucks? If so, why is it not Lego Foam?

Inexplicable speedup. The less-appreciated counterpart to those weird little vortices of tardiness that roll around highways. Those spots where everybody suddenly drops to like twenty miles per hour. Here for no especial reason all the traffic gets going twenty or even thirty miles per hour faster. This lasts until the spot is passed, which takes only a couple seconds. Many people don’t even know they were in it unless somebody remarks how they arrived as much as five seconds ahead of expectations. This happens maybe four percent more often than you would expect.

Highway Sign Displaying The Message “September 5”. This one seems straightforward enough, what with there being a September and it having a “5” in it. No warning about anything starting then, or ending then, or continuing then, or even not being done at all then. And it isn’t the 5th of September or any date particularly near it either, except on a cosmic or historical scale. Possibly someone hopes to raise the brand awareness of September. Or “5”. If it’s an attempt to raise awareness of 5 that might explain why it didn’t say “September 15”. That would bring “1” even more attention than it already gets.

Customers Welcome. Sign painted to the wall of the … cement shop? Had they not been taking customers before? Were they just sitting behind cement desks thinking how nice and peaceful everything was and then they got worried about meeting payroll? Or is the cement industry only now getting tired of old-fashioned ways? They’re now looking to sell cement to people who need cement for whatever it is they do? Maybe something like creating tiny Brutalist public libraries for their backyard patio? Easily the strangest customer appeal since the shop with the sign Nominated One Of Three Places To Buy Paint that was off the foamy exit like six months ago. Maybe they were celebrating the return of someone nicknamed Pumpkin up there? That kind of makes sense.

Stuff In Town That I Won’t See


Last week around these parts I mentioned this huge lump of coal. It was dropped off a train in Lansing over a century ago. It was around in 1976 to take school bus tour groups to. Now it isn’t there. As far as I can tell. I want to give a full report about the spot where it’s supposed to be, so I can say what’s there now. Maybe the coal was gone but it had been replaced with a heaping pile of bauxite, for example, or perhaps potash. Maybe jute or some naval supplies. But I didn’t have the chance to get over there. Well, I got in the area, since it’s near the pet store. But I had to go over to the pet store under emergency circumstances. They didn’t allow for a side trip to go looking for deposits of cinnabar or whatever. But I looked at the place on Google Maps Streetview and I didn’t see anything. I think.

But lumps of missing coal aren’t all the interesting stuff described in Helen E Grainger’s 1976 book Pictorial Lansing: Great City On The Grand. I think there’s supposed to be a colon there. The cover isn’t quite clear. I’m sure it’s not Pictorial Lansing Great City On The Grand That Changed The World. The book’s got, for example, a picture of Ransom Olds’s mansion. He’s the person who invented the Oldsmobile. Just like you might guess if you were bluffing your way through the question “Who invented the Oldsmobile?” and you rejected “Biddle Jehoshaphat Mobile” for no good reason. The Olds mansion was torn down in 1966 to make way for an Interstate, which is a wee bit on-the-nose, people. The mansion had an Aeolian organ that was “sold and delivered to Oregon”. So if anyone in Oregon’s seen an Aeolian organ and doesn’t know where it’s come from, here’s a lead.

Then there’s the Lions Den. It’s also known as “The Lawrence Mansion”, “Squire Haven’s 1861 House”, and “Brauer’s 1861 House”. It is “now, in 1976, the oldest building in Michigan that has a restaurant in it”. Somehow the phrasing of that sentence makes me doubt my conceptual model of restaurants. It shouldn’t. There’s nothing revolutionary about the idea of a restaurant that doesn’t take up a whole building. Or a building that doesn’t have a restaurant. The phrasing just fills me with doubts. I don’t know. Anyway, a neat feature of the 1861 Lawrence Brauer Squire Haven 1861 Mansion House is a glass on top. The book says “the day [construction workers] finished it, all the working crew had a drink from a wine glass and then one of the workers climbed up and put this little wine glass upside down on top of the spire that goes up in the sky from the cupola”. The next page has a picture of the glass on the cupola on the spire on the building on whatnot.

It’s also gone. My love did some research and found that the glass was replaced at least once. And it was painted over and paint-welded to the spire at least once. And sometime last decade the building got declared architecturally unsound. It was down before it could slide downriver and crash into an Interstate. They were planning to build condos there, if I have it right, and then noticed it was 2008 so they decided to instead not build condos.

Now for something that is still there. I know it is because I keep seeing it along Michigan Avenue. But never up close because it’s on the median and there’s not anywhere nearby enough to park without looking weird. I’m glad the book tells me what it is so I don’t have to go experience it myself. It’s a blurry copper-I-guess plaque on a stone that doesn’t look at all like coal and if the book is right it reads:

This block of concrete represents the efforts of Lansing’s pioneer residents in the laying of one of the first and longest stretches of concrete pavement in the world, between Lansing and East Lansing.

That’s like four miles, downtown-to-downtown. Grainger didn’t know when the plaque was put up. The Highway Commissioner named took office in 1933, so, probably it wasn’t 1931, but otherwise who knows? Can we rule out 1954 in its entirety? But that’s all right, because Grainger didn’t know when the concrete pavement was put down either. She guessed not later than 1914. So I want you to appreciate all this. It’s a plaque I technically speaking have not read, put up sometime we do not know, commemorating an event that happened at some time we do not know. I’m not saying this is the funniest thing in the world. I’m saying this is one of the more giggle-worthy things I’ve run across in easily twenty-two days.

So in all, I would like to say that here in mid-Michigan, there are things, or used to be, and that isn’t so bad an arrangement.

Highway Robbery


If you accept the oddball news, then, you’d believe that a Russian official’s been arrested for stealing a highway. The BBC reports that Alexander Protopopov, a senior prison official, had thirty miles of road in the “far-northern Komi region” dismantled and driven away over the course of a year. (I’m glad they clarified it was the far-northern Komi region, and not, say, the far-southeastern Komi region I knew from visiting my grandmother in North Carolina when I was young.) I have to assume he was very careful figuring out which parts of road to steal first and which to leave for later. It’d be embarrassing to find you had to drive back over road that was now loaded up in the back of your truck. Sure, you could handle the situation — you’ve got road on you right there — but it spoils your getaway. You have to stop every couple feet to put down some more road and pick back up the old. It’s just undignified.

And I understand his pinching a road, if he did actually do it. I have a bit of a hoarding tendency myself. But I tend to grab stuff like that only if it’s clearly free and for the public to take. I have few far-northern Russian roads, so far as I know. My grabbed-stuff collection is mostly breath mints from Penn Station subway shops. (I say nothing about what my father might have in his storage locker.)

But I’m not a kindred soul to this fellow. The police, say the BBC, accuse Protopopov of selling off the road he got. That goes completely against the way I think. To me, if something might be remotely useful in some context I’m keeping it. “What, what do you need every receipt for buying gas for your car dating back to 2009 for?” a sane person might ask. To which I respond by pointing over the person’s shoulder, screaming as though in fear for my life, and running out of the room. A road is much more obviously useful, what with how you can set it up somewhere and attract a couple of grease trucks. Eventually this will form a little gentrified quick-food center in town, and you’ll get written up favorably in the local alt-weekly when they do their annual Dining In Town guide. So that’s where Protopopov really went wrong.

Also it turns out you can fence a stolen highway. I’m still getting over that a couple years ago someone stole a little garden statue from our front yard. It probably wasn’t this Protopopov fellow, although if Russian police do find he’s got a cute little statue of a rabbit standing up I’d appreciate their contacting me.

Expedition Log, Day 1, Redux: Not Arguing That Again


9:45 am. Not making the same mistake as last time. Headed out east to find the Cumbrey Road onramp desperately backed up due to emergency construction. Turned around; went west, discovered the Pridmore’s Swamp Turnpike closed due to non-emergency non-construction. At the Five Points Turnabout walls of orange barrels reach high enough to blot out the sun. Trying south instead discovered potholes for sale by the square yard and extending as far as forty feet off the highway and into people’s homes. Northwest reveals a patch where it’s still winter, and northeast finds routine construction implying detours sending me right back home. Clearly there are deeper forces at work here than we suspect.

Total Mileage: 0.

But it’s tidied up all along 127


So I realized this one rug needed to be vacuumed, and once you get to the effort of getting the vacuum out of its special guarded chamber and all that it doesn’t make sense not to vacuum the rest of the rugs too. And sure, once you have that it doesn’t make sense not to take out the broom and sweep the floor, and when you’ve got that going there’s the stairs too. And once you’ve got the cleaning vibe going for the stairs there’s all these things that could use dusting — I mean removing the dust, not putting it on, that was last week’s chore — and then there’s the glass that could use being sprayed with a translucent blue liquid that’s swiftly rubbed off and that can really be done on both the inside and the outside of the house and …

Long story short, I’m somewhere on the outskirts of Alma, Michigan, straightening out the edges of potholes. If someone could sneak up on me and shoot me with a tranquilizer dart and deliver me back to home I’d appreciate it.