Saturday, September 10, 2011

Location Independent

Jackson, MI

One of the things about this trip is that in a lot of the cities, even big ones, I've often ended up doing things that I really could do just about anywhere.  Whether it's going out to a bar, or a restaurant or brewery, or some store - the things I'm doing aren't specific to the city I'm in.  I'm not going to restaurant chains or shopping malls or anything.  But I'm also not seeing monuments or going to famous local restaurants a lot of the time.  I've started thinking of these types of visits as "location-independent" experiences.  And in Dayton, I had one of the best location-independent experiences of the trip.

I spent Thursday morning lounging around (like usual) and then around lunchtime I headed over to the Second-Street market.  The market is a narrow, long building that looks like it might have been a loading dock or a train station at one point, surrounded by industrial brick buildings with tall garage doors.  There's a train track running behind it with a spur that goes right next to the building, with an old train parked there next to a glass atrium with a bunch of lunch tables.  The market is only open a few days a week, and I was apparently there on one of the less busy days, because a number of the shops, while they had shelves and coolers and signs, didn't have any people or any wares displayed. (I was highly disappointed that the hand-made cheese was among those that only come other days, as there was an empty "free samples" tray on top of the counter.)

I grabbed some creamy tomato tortellini soup and a sandwich at a place called "All Souped Up," served by a mother and her daughter in styrofoam dishes with plastic silverware and thin napkins.  The tableware belied the richness of the soup and the freshness of the croissant that the sandwich came on.  I sat and relaxed and warmed up with the soup, watching the rain spit on and off out the window.  When I finished (and rested a bit to let the heavy soup settle), I made a lap up and down the market to see what other stores there were - mostly hand-made things, all local.  Anything from pottery to maple syrup to a place selling clothes made of Alpaca wool.

I got back on the bike and headed over towards the other side of town to search out a smoke shop I'd found on google maps which had a few good reviews.  The Wharf (motto: Without Piers) immediately impressed: I walked in, and there was a glass case with a selection of very intricate carved pipes.  Of course, they ran from $180 up to $900, so I wasn't even going to touch them, but any place which values pipes enough to have a few of those around is good in my book.

The store was an odd combination - the wares were definitely of the smokeshop variety, the decoration was a cross between a hobby shop and a seafood restaurant, and the furniture spoke of an aging public library.  Dozens of model airplanes hung from the ceiling, with model ships on shelves on the wall.  In random locations around the shop there would be a tie-up - as if pulled from an 1800's dock - with a heavy rope wrapped around it.

There was a large collection of square tables pushed together on one side of the room with two chessboards on it, though the tables were far enough across that you would have to lean over the table just to reach a board sitting in the middle.  A set of mismatched, wobbly wooden chairs surrounded the group of tables.  Nearby was another table, two middle-aged guys sitting at it smoking - one with a pipe and a book, the other with a cigar and a netbook - trading funny anecdotes from what they were reading occasionally.

The walls were covered with cases full of cigars.  I'd guess they had about 1000 varieties of cigars, no joke. They also had about 25 blends of pipe tobacco, which is the most I'd seen in any store.  I spent a while trying out different blends and picking one that I liked while browsing blogs on my phone.  Once I found one I liked, I headed back towards the University of Dayton to meet up with my friend Emily who I was staying with.

I knew she had to work in the afternoon, and had been planning on just sitting around working on a blog post while she was, but then I found out she was working at the rock wall - so I tagged along.  I ended up climbing quite a bit, or at least as much as I could having not climbed in a few months.  The thing about climbing is that I don't naturally have the muscles for it.  If I don't go running for a few months, I can usually still go out and run 4 or 5 miles no problem, albeit not fast.  My legs naturally have what I need to be able to run, even without training.  But my forearms do not naturally have what it takes to cling to a wall with a few fingers, and it doesn't take long for my forearms to completely lock up - and stay that way for a few days.

Dyno while rock climbing
Nonetheless, I climbed for a while.  And then I went with Emily to her team's ultimate frisbee practice - which I was in dire need of.  I hadn't thrown a frisbee since... Portland.  At the beginning of July.  It was a girls' team practice, but they had odd numbers and I was playing in sandals, so it worked out okay.  Plus I was able to help a few girls with their cutting, which (I hope) helped the captains out a little and let them run practice rather than help out individuals.

All of that - the market, the smoke shop, rock climbing, and ultimate - added up to be one of the better days I've had on the trip.  And a big part of why it was so good is because it was... normal.  It wasn't much different than something I might have done in Peoria, or might do in whatever city I end up in.  I could (at least theoretically) go to a market, or a smoke shop, or go rock climbing, or play ultimate in almost every city I've been to, even if I haven't.  As much as I enjoy the amazing things I've done on this trip, every once in a while it's nice to settle down and do some location-independent stuff - a.k.a. normal, everyday stuff.

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