Stone cold awesome

We journeyed “Up North” recently and learned that A) it snows in Michigan in early October and B) Petoskey stones are the kings of rocks.

What are Petoskey stones? They’re fossilized corral rocks formed by glaciers millions of years ago and they’re found in one place on the planet: the northwest coast of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Amazingly, if you know what you’re looking for, you can find them all along the coast up there. Even I found some. With a few pieces of sandpaper you can shine these Petoskeys into shelf-quality art. Who knew?

Rocks are very solid citizens on this planet and worthy of admiration. You can build with them, throw them, climb them. Back home on a barrier island in South Carolina, there are no rocks. Only sand. Sand shows Mother Nature isn’t perfect. It irritates and agitates and is generally a nuisance. Sand wishes it could become a rock. And all rocks wish they could become Petoskey stones. I’m extremely honored to have a few in my possession.

I was all cocky about my Petoskey stone knowledge until I checked out Andy on this video:

Published in: on October 27, 2009 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

State hate

I live on Hilton Head Island. We get lots of tourists there. You don’t know where most of these tourists are from unless you ask them.

The good guys.

The good guys.

The bad guys. Not Disney; Ohio State University. (Photo courtesy of the Disney Store)

The bad guys. Not Disney; Ohio State University. (Photo courtesy of the Disney Store)

Except for the Ohio crowd. They feel obligated to tell you where they live and that they root for Ohio State University. They fly OSU flags out of their minivan windows and on their rental houses. They wear their school colors. Always. Even on the beach. They greet each other in amazement, as if they were traveling in Siberia.

What they don’t do is drive well. Show them a traffic roundabout, they panic. Show them a speed limit, they’ll make sure they never reach it. Give them directions, they’ll ignore them.

Of course, I’m generalizing here. There was that one minivan with Ohio tags that negotiated the traffic roundabout perfectly back in ’94.

I thought I might have been taking this state hate too far when, shortly after my arrival in Ann Arbor, I saw a salesman on the street hawking T-shirts with the words “Worst State Ever” emblazoned inside the outline of a map of  Ohio.  I knew I had to have one. I  knew I was home.

Published in: on October 6, 2009 at 3:26 pm  Comments (2)  

Dang tango

I’m on sabbatical so I’m trying to do things I wouldn’t normally do. Turns out, that covers a lot of ground.

There’s doing things that are out of your comfort zone, like, say, writing a blog or eating vegetarian Indian food. Then there’s doing things that make no sense at all, like crossing State Street with a blindfold on or taking tango lessons.

That’s right, I’m taking tango. (I can hear my brother laughing all the way back in North Carolina.) You see, my wife was a professional ballerina back in the day and she’s always wanted us to take tango lessons. That was never a problem because, dadgummit, tango lessons weren’t offered anywhere near where we lived.

Litltle did I know that Ann Arbor is home to the Michigan Argentine Tango Club. Or should I say the Flourishing Michigan Argentine Tango Club. There had to be more than 60 people at the first lesson we attended in the below-ground classroom at Angell Hall. I was expecting maybe 10.

Things went about as well as could be expected. To make a long story a tad less embarrassing, let’s just say I broke out in a sweat. An embarrassing, obvious, “ew I don’t want to dance with you” kind of sweat. We were supposed to change partners but, much to my classmates’ relief, I took myself out of the rotation. I made sure I danced only with the one who brung me.

Now who’s out of their comfort zone?

Published in: on October 1, 2009 at 6:23 pm  Comments (2)  

Building in the dark

Downtown Ann Arbor has tons of energy. There’s the farmers’ market in Kerrytown every Wednesday and Saturday, scores of excellent restaurants, intersting shops and some of the best people-watching you’ll find anywhere.

That’s why we were so excited to score an apartment in the converted Armory, right in the heart of Ann Arbor. We’re within walking distance of everything, it seems. Score one for the Poplins.

But there’s a drawback we didn’t anticipate. Specifically, the crews working on the new city hall, located catty-corner to the Armory. These work crews are like bats, doing most of their damage in the dark. Long before the sun comes up they’re on the job.

Unlike bats, however, these guys are anything but quiet. They start each workday, including Saturday, framming and blamming like you’ve never heard. So much for sleeping in.

The new city hall is taking shape, but I have no idea what it’s going to look like when completed. Come to think of it, the workers probably don’t, either. How could they? It’s got to be tough to build in the dark.

Published in: on September 30, 2009 at 9:00 am  Comments (2)  

Creeper status takes a beatdown

This fellowship thing is working out great. I get to go to class — classes that I picked out just because they interest me — and skip the tests. Such a deal.

But there have been concerns.

At first, I felt sort of like a creeper when I was hanging out on campus. The term “creeper,” as used by my teenage daughter and her friends, describes males who act, or even look, shady or out of place. I was very self conscious about being that guy. Turns out, the students in my classes have more important things to do than worry about the old guy in the back of the room. I’ll take it as a lesson in humility.

But there was one instance where I was definitely approaching creeper status.

We got tickets to the Michigan football game. Excellent. Since I’m a student, those tickets were in the student section. Less good.

I attended with my daughter Olympia, age 12. We were surrounded by young people who were ALL ABOUT Michigan winning that game. There was flowery language all around. Now, that didn’t bother me. I firmly believe in cheering on the home team, even when the situation requires creativity. At the end of the day, I’m a First Amendment guy.

But the students kept looking at Olympia and  me apologetically. So much so that I finally understood how out of place we must have appeared. As a huge football fan, it felt weird to feel weird at a game.

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 7:25 pm  Comments (4)  

Why the devil made computers


(Middle Aged Newspaperman In College)

“Let’s go to the computers,” said the professor in our blogging class.

Uh oh, said I.

You see, I’m “going back to college” – at the University of Michigan, no less – as part of the Knight-Wallace Fellowship program for mid-career journalists.

There are parts of this fellowship that are a snap. The red tape, for instance. You don’t get to be a middle-aged man with three children, including two in college, without dealing with some bureaucrats. You want to see me get flustered, cable company? You’d better bring your A game. I’ve seen it all before.

Unfortunately, college these days doesn’t involve as much red tape as back in the day. It’s all done via the damn computer.

Don’t get me wrong. I know a good bit about computers. I understand, for instance, that they were put here by the devil to keep middle-aged men from getting good jobs. And to frustrate balding guys who are going back to college.

All the professor wanted us to do was call up some Web sites she’d been telling us about. How hard could that be?

Real hard, especially if you forget your university-issued password that – no lie – involves 12 characters, including a capital letter and a percentage mark. (Find that one on your fancy new BlackBerry you thought you couldn’t live without, middle-aged man.)

Anyway, after fumbling around and then Googling a while, I caught up with the rest of the much faster and more alert class.

I must have slept through the memo that said humans are now responsible for doing more than one thing at a time. Like texting, drinking coffee, carrying on a conversation and completing homework assignments. I can’t even watch TV without falling asleep.

But it’s clearly now or never with this Interweb thing. (Thanks for nothing, Al Gore). I’ll press on in my blogging class, knowing that some day soon we’ll have to return to the computers.

In the meantime, I’ll be checking out Ann Arbor, one of the coolest college towns in America.

Published in: on September 28, 2009 at 11:32 am  Comments (1)