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inpeacee.jpg
"In Peace," photography by Eleanor Bennett

 

 

Driving in Detroit

 

by Lori A. May

 

 

 

Welcome to Detroit. If you are new to the area, as I am, you may have noticed the lack of public transportation. That's because there is none. This is the Motor City. You must drive. Preferably, you must drive a domestic car even if said vehicle is only designed in the USA and actually made overseas. Such details do not matter. What does matter is that you learn a few rules necessary for learning to drive like a local.

 

You have perhaps heard of the "Michigan Left." This is a standard procedure of which you will become accustomed, but here's an overview: in order to make a left turn, you must first make a right turn. Once the right turn is complete, you aggressively make your way to the far left lane and wait for a break in the median. You'll notice the U-turn signs permitting you to go back in the opposite direction. At this point, make the U-turn and continue on to your destination. Simple enough, right?

 

Of course, there is a variation for wanting to turn left. To make a left turn at intersections that do not allow right-to-left turns, simply go straight through the intersection and wait for a median where you may make a U-turn there, then proceed until you end up back at your original intersection in order to make a right, to then continue on to the left-turn destination.

 

Either of these options is suitable in their respective situations. Just remember you are advised not to make an actual left turn at an intersection. I have attempted to do so myself on more than one occasion, being new to this area. It is a mistake I will not make again. You will be honked at. You will hear profanities through duct-taped windows. It could get ugly. This is Detroit, after all.

 

Now, moving on to more challenging tips. If you need to pass a car that is moving too slowly in front of you, you must pass on the right. If there is no right lane for you to zoom through, you may nominate a right lane, especially on narrow residential streets. Just because it appears you are on a two-lane street means nothing. It is your responsibility to know how to handle this situation and then proceed to pass on the right. I once attempted to pass a car on the left, as I was accustomed, but I learned this was a mistake. Not only will the car you are attempting to pass gradually nudge you into oncoming traffic, you will also not notice the other cars passing in the correct, right lane and then what will you do? I panicked. You might as well. And it will be your own fault for attempting to drive as you might in other law-abiding cities.

 

On the topic of passing, there is something I wish someone had told me earlier. When passing another car, particularly on the expressway, do not use your turn signal until you have completed the maneuver. Using your signal after you have changed lanes lets other drivers know you have changed lanes. You don't want to give them advance warning, as no one cares what you are about to do. That's like saying you want to write a book someday. Everyone says it, but only a few make it happen. No one cares if you're thinking about changing lanes. Rather, you should simply update your fellow road travelers that you were not originally in this particular lane, but in another. Knowing you have previously changed lanes will also indicate you may do such a move again in the future. Other drivers will respect this information sharing process. They will become more alert of your presence, knowing you may again later change lanes and update them accordingly. 

 

Finally, if you choose to walk somewhere-in the Motor City, no less-there is one small, but important rule to follow. You are expected to walk in the street itself, rather than on sidewalks seemingly designated for such purposes. Not only will using the sidewalk let people know you're an outsider to the area, and thus increasing your chances of being robbed, but you will also confuse road traffic. From the short time I have lived in Detroit, I have learned it is most acceptable if you walk in the street itself, not too far off from the flow of traffic. It is also preferable that if you walk at night you also wear dark clothing and, in particular, a black hoodie. This will ensure drivers stay alert, as they will never know when to expect you. It is your duty as a pedestrian to remind drivers to be on the lookout.

 

These are just a few of the rules of the road as I have experienced in my short time in Detroit. They are rules you should follow at all times. I have come to realize this is a gradual learning process, but with each trip on the road I am finally letting go of those pesky habits I developed in Ontario. With any luck, you'll be driving in the fast lane in no time.

 

 

 

Lori A. May has contributed to magazines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, and American Road. Her poetry and literary nonfiction has appeared in publications such as Phoebe, Caper Literary Journal, Steel Toe Review, and qarrtsiluni. Her website is www.loriamay.com.

 

Worlds Apart

 

by Timothy Urban

 

 

 “How can one take delight in the world unless one flees to it for refuge?”

~Franz Kafka

 

 

 

Screech. Vroom. Clank. Sputter.

 

Boston is an orchestra with all of its instruments out of tune. It has a deranged rhythm. Cars honk and hiss. Drivers curse and bellow in traffic. Their hands flail in exasperation when the light turns red. Pedestrians on a sidewalk flock across the street when the white man says walk. Their feet pitter-patter on the pavement. They move with downcast eyes, staring at their shoes and rushing nowhere.

 

A businessman laughs. A car honks. A hobo begs.

 

My alarm beeps. It’s 7AM. I sigh and look up at the ceiling for five minutes before I roll out of bed and turn the damn thing off. Sunlight seeps in through the blinds and onto my desk. I open a window for fresh air. Outside, vehicles speed past my building on Brookline Ave. It’s another day consisting of the same old routine.

 

Sleep lingers. I’m in dire need of coffee. I grab a filter and fill it up with coffee beans. I’m a crack addict waiting for a fix. The liquid trickles into the pot. Time crawls as I wait for my morning jolt. The coffee maker hisses and ejects steam. The pot is full. I pour a cup and look at my planner. Work, work, work. Papers, midterms, and readings: the whole shebang.

 

I feel burnt out. My brain has turned into ash. The faintest breeze could send it in a thousand directions. I sip my coffee and look over a paper that is due in an hour and make some corrections before printing it. I dress, grab my paper, and leave.

 

My class moves at a snail’s pace. Pulling out my own teeth seems more preferable than sitting through another BIO lecture. The teacher stands in front of the class, reading from a PowerPoint, her voice is monotone, and I feel my eyes getting heavier. When class ends I’m ready for bed again.

 

I walk outside. I leave campus. My head throbs. It’s time for a smoke. My pack is empty. Across the street from campus there’s a gas station. I make my way over there. The gas station is dead. Shelves are stocked with chips and candy. On the back wall a freezer is full of soda, juice, and water. I go straight to the register. The cashier sighs when he sees me approaching, and stares at a TV while he asks me what I want. I tell him. He gives me a pack of Camel’s and I pay him the $8.95.

 

Outside I light a cigarette. A slight sense of intoxication overtakes me as the tobacco swirls through my lungs. The city air is polluted with harmful chemicals. Tobacco smoke is the icing on the cake.

 

People pass me as I walk back to school. There are so many objects moving. It’s like watching a movie fast forward. Cars are everywhere. People smother the streets. Buildings loom over everything and cast shadows on the concrete. I’m as small as a flea in this vacuum.

 

“Spare some change, sir?” a homeless man asks.

 

He’s sitting on a bench outside of campus, there are two trash bags by his feet, and he’s wearing wool gloves with holes in them. His lips are cracked. I dig through my pockets and drop a few quarters into his Dunkin Donuts cup. He nods his head and says thank you. I hear him asking other people for change as I walk away.

 

****

 

I’m in the car with my mom and grandma. We’re driving to a wildlife sanctuary operated by the Massachusetts Audubon Society in the Berkshire’s. It’s called Pleasant Valley. The drive is a little over 3 hours long. I sleep through most of it.

 

When we arrive, my mom nudges me awake. I look up and see the sanctuary. We’re parked in an old dirt lot. Only one building is visible, a small wooden hut with a red-shingled roof and papers posted out front. The sanctuary is an amalgamation of trees, lakes, and mountains. It’s a little humid, but the air is clean and fresh. The sun shines overhead and a slight breeze whistles through the trees. Mom grabs our lunches from the trunk and we start hiking.

 

Past the small shack, the landscape is a kaleidoscope of chaos. It’s beautiful. A groomed lawn gives way to weeds and undergrowth. There’s a dirt path down the middle of a meadow with grass that comes up to my knees. Ahead of me lies a wall of trees. Winds carry the smell of flowers. I hear the slight buzz of insects. Just before we’re beneath the canopy of trees the path forks and we stop.

 

“Which way do you want to go?” I ask.

 

“Let’s do something easy,” says grandma. “I don’t know if I can take walking up anything too steep.”

 

“Yeah, nothing too hard. We’re here all day, and we don’t want to kill your grandmother,” mom says. 

 

I groan a little in disappointment. The child in me wants to conquer the mountain’s hardest terrain. I want to climb up the steepest slope imaginable, feeling my legs burn and my heart swell.

 

“Okay, that’s fine with me. I might go off for a little bit sometimes,” I say.

 

We take a left and make our way up the easier trail. It eases up a soft hill. Inside the woods, the air is cooler. The path disappears in the woods and the ground is covered with leaves and broken branches. At first, the woods seem foreign. Trees bar us from the outside world. Some of them are pine, others are oak, and some are maple. Clusters of mushrooms protrude from the bases of trees. Random patches of grass sprout up here and there, waving through the summer breeze. I walk at a leisurely pace and try to see if there are any animals about. Something small makes a noise.

 

A bush twitches. I step on a twig and a chipmunk bolts from a hollowed out log. It runs past me, an acorn nestled in its cheeks, and goes deeper into the woods. The cute little bastard disappears. I share my mother’s love for animals.

 

The woods cast a spell. It’s like walking in a trance. Modern society vanishes in the forest’s cocoon. The machinery is gone along with the constant drone of engines. Trees are the only skyscrapers here. Being here makes me feel like I’m five again, in awe of everything.

 

We walk upwards at a gradual pace for a few hours before my mom tells me grandma needs a break. She says sorry. My mom says there’s no need to apologize, she’s here, trying, and that’s what counts. Grandma sits on top of stump, takes off her glasses, and brushes the sweat from her forehead. She’s wearing a white tennis visor and matching shirt and khakis shorts. In her bag she has her insulin for her Type 1 diabetes. She takes her blood sugar to make sure everything is okay.

 

“Hey Tim, you know they have beavers at the lake, right? The map says they come out near dusk. Do you want to try to see if we can see them later?” asks mom.

 

 “Yeah! It’d be cool to see them in person and just watch them in the lake till it gets too dark. Still though, I want to make it to the top first.”

 

She waves a hand, gesturing me to calm down.

 

“That’s fine,” she says, looks over at her mother, and asks, “How are you holding up, mom?”

 

“Oh, I’m fine, I’m just a little tired that’s all. I’m a lot older than you two, just give me a few more minutes,” she says.

 

After a few more minutes we start walking again. I hear water trickling somewhere ahead. As we walk it get louder. Soon I see the flat face of a rock in the side of the mountain, a small stream of water is moving down its surface and into a small pool below. It’s as close to a waterfall as we’re liable to see here.

 

“I love it out here. It would be nice if we could move out here. We could live near a mountain somewhere up north if only your father would go for it. Maybe when we’re older, your father and I could move to Vermont. We could go skiing and hiking whenever. I could have a nice garden and a big yard in the woods, oh, that’d be the life,” mom says.

 

“You’ve been saying that every year for a long time. If it does happen it won’t be for a while. Right now you couldn’t anyways ‘cause Jon and me are still students. Plus, I doubt you’ll get dad to move,” I say.

 

“Hey, buddy, I can dream, can’t I? Don’t ruin it,” she says.

 

It’s lunchtime and we still haven’t made it to the top. There’s a small clearing up ahead. We eat there, surrounded by trees all around and the clear blue sky above. My mom gives me my sandwich and I look around at the woods while I eat. It’s so quiet here. There’s nobody in sight.

 

After eating, I lie down and stare at the sky. A bird flutters across my view. The sun warms my face. My mom and grandma pack up the leftover food, and we continue the trek to the top. The top is so close now. There’s maybe only one hundred feet left until we’ve reached the peak. I notice the trees thinning out.

 

When we reach the top, the sun beats down on us. It’s hot, but the picture spread out before us is worth it. There’s an old crow’s nest, rotting and unkempt, at the peak. We put our packs next to it and stand side-by-side looking down into a valley. Other mountains surround the valley in the distance. The houses are so far down they look like miniature models for a film set. We’ve traveled into a Steinbeck novel. The valley has a long, winding road that stretches into the distance and disappears in between two rolling hills. We all have a view of our own. My grandma stares around her as if she’s lost. She is smiling.

 

 “Oh, Pat, it’s beautiful, so beautiful,” she says.

 

***

 

It’s 6AM. My alarm sounds–an obnoxious invention. It almost causes me to have a heart attack. I squint. The sun shimmers through the open windows. I get up and look out the window before shutting the blinds. There are a few people walking on the sidewalk along Brookline Ave. Down at the intersection cars honk at a red light.

 

I make my morning cup of coffee. The smell reminds me of quaint coffee shops that always play jazz music on the overhead speakers.  The shops inhabited by artists. With this in mind I turn on Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. The mood is right. I listen to it while I get dressed. It calms me, knowing I have another busy day ahead. I won’t let the days consume me.

 

Outside, people are all around me, riding my heels on my way to the D-line train. The wind blows, nearly knocking my hat off. I’m calmer than I’ve been in a while. The people around me don’t make me uneasy. While I wait to cross I look around at the little things, the trees in the courtyard across the street, the way the sun feels on my face, and the vines growing up the side of a dormitory building. I look down at my feet as I cross the street. Some weeds have pushed through the cracks in the concrete, reaching towards the sky and brighter days. 

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Summer 2012 Issue