Road Trips

I love the Michigan Road, but I don’t always like living near it

The Michigan Road sucks. At least it does where it passes near my northwest Indianapolis home.

It’s still the Michigan Road, built in the 1830s to connect the Ohio River to Indianapolis to Lake Michigan, opening the entire northern part of Indiana to settlement. I will always love it.

But a long section of the road has been a part of my daily life for more than 20 years, and frankly, I try to avoid driving on it.

As a major artery, Michigan Road’s speed limit is 45 MPH. Especially since the late 1990s when the last portion of the road was widened to four lanes, traffic really flows fast. The road is designed to swiftly move lots of cars. Yet lots of businesses and even entrances to residential neighborhoods line the road. People turn left all the time, and there is no central left-turn lane. Rear-end accidents are common. It has happened to me twice.

MRBumperBash1

These photos are from the first accident, which happened a half block south of the 1852 Aston Inn house. Can I admit to still feeling satisfied, even five years later, that the other guy’s car sustained so much more damage than mine and was probably totaled? I was stopped behind a car turning left when I noticed this guy coming up fast. The crash was unavoidable, so I pressed hard on my brake to avoid hitting the waiting car before me. It’s amazing the crash didn’t do more damage to my car. And yes, someone’s head smacked the other car’s windshield in the accident. That fellow disappeared the minute I called the cops. Arrest warrant? Here illegally? Hope the concussion was worth it.

MRBumperBash2

Lesson learned: drive in the right lane, even if left-lane traffic is moving faster. The frequent left turns just create too much risk.

MR_NW_Ind

Imagery and map data © 2017 Google.

Meanwhile, this 2½-mile section of Michigan Road, from Kessler Boulevard north just beyond 71st Street to the former town of Augusta, has seen happier days. It’s a sad sight to drive through.

This strip’s heyday was probably the 1960s and 1970s when this road was still US 421. A building boom brought strip malls, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and motels.

Today, those strip malls are aging. You won’t find a Kroger or a Target here — it’s all second- and third-tier retailers and service providers. The motels, gas stations, and restaurants that remain have been repurposed for other uses. Many of these buildings have received minimal maintenance and show their age.

This mishmash of shabby businesses provides a poor introduction to the area, which is filled with middle-class neighborhoods.

This used to be a shoe-repair shop, but has been vacant for a while.

Pink building

I applaud the creative reuse of this former motel as a day care, but I wish it could be made more attractive.

Kiddie Factory

This aging strip of shops is at least kept tidy. The barber shop owner gave his overhead sign a fresh coat of paint in the last couple years; it had faded to near illegibility.

Barber

The pedestrian trail built a few years ago robbed this little strip of some of its parking. I can’t imagine that these tenants were happy about it. Here’s a 2008 photo that shows cars parked at these doors.

Getting your hair done on the Michigan Road

Mr. Dan’s is a small local burger chain. I photographed it in 2015:

Mr. Dan's

I don’t know what happened that the joint is called Mr. Dee’s now, but their reuse of the existing signs has all the grace and style of a knuckle sandwich.

Mr. Dee's

Ace Lock and Key has been on this corner for longer than I’ve lived in Indianapolis. This building looks like its first use was as a gas station. It’s an attractive little building.

Ace Lock and Key

When I mentioned the kinds of retailers you won’t find along this stretch of Michigan Road, I mentioned Kroger and Target specifically because this strip once contained both. Kroger was on the left, and Target was on the right. They moved out just before I moved to the area, and the buildings were vacant for years. Now it’s a grading facility for school standardized tests.

Fomer Target/Kroger strip

The strip mall on the southwest corner with 71st Street/Westlane Road has changed a lot since I moved here. This was once a full-line Marsh grocery store, but for most of the time I lived here it was a dim, dirty store with only basic grocery items. They chained up the carts. Someone at the service desk had to come unlock one so you could use it. Such class. Then Marsh closed it and discount chain Save-A-Lot moved in. Unfortunately, they also tore out Marsh’s attractive facade and rebuilt it with this windowless wonder. At least it didn’t go vacant.

Save-a-Lot

Across the street is the dry cleaner I’ve used all the years I’ve lived here. It was once a drive-in restaurant.

Griffith Cleaners

By all accounts, the food at this Vietnamese restaurant is delicious. The former fast-food building could use some love, however.

Pho 54

Here’s another tidy, aging strip. The clock-repair shop has been there longer than I’ve lived here. I had them repair a watch once, and they did a nice job.

Strip mall

It sure seems to me that this solidly middle class part of town would be able to attract higher-line businesses and improved facades.

Houses are sometimes sandwiched between the various commercial buildings along this section of Michigan Road. Many of them have seen happier days.

House on Michigan Road

A few houses have been well cared for, but it’s far easier to find ones that could use some TLC.

MCM

Over the years some buildings have seen great improvement. This building was vacant for years, and was clearly in sorry condition a couple years ago when this funeral center bought it and renovated it.

Serenity Funeral Services

St. Monica’s Catholic church and school has always been well cared for. A couple years ago, fire destroyed the section of the building at about the center of the photo. The church immediately rebuilt it.

St. Monica's

When I moved here, this U-Haul location was dingy and depressing. Some years ago it was renovated inside and out, and looks great.

U-Haul

This lot was vacant for a long time until this church was built.

Praise Fellowship Family Center

A bowling alley once stood on this lot, but it went out of business five years ago or so. This storage place opened only in the last year or so, and its graceless design says “industrial park” more than “shopping district.” Its setback from the road is also considerably shallower than anything else nearby, which makes it an imposing presence. It’s wrong for this section of the road.

Storage

A few auto-parts places were built along this corridor in the last 10 years or so, and they’re well kept. This is the one I visit most often.

Advance Auto Parts

I do understand this much about retail: the shiny, new shops always go where the money has moved to. If you drive just four miles north of here on Michigan Road, into Carmel, you’ll find solid retailers like Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s, and The Home Depot, plus shiny chain restaurants and coffee shops. Perhaps that’s why this section of Michigan Road is left to molder. It only takes ten extra minutes to get to the nice shops from here.

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Music, Stories Told

Headstone’s

I first told this story when this blog was young, eight years ago. I haven’t been back to Headstone’s in almost that many years. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I still have the tie-dye shirt I mention in this story.

Headstone Friends

When I was in college, I should have just had my work-study paycheck direct-deposited into Headstone Friends’ bank account. I spent most of it there anyway on used records and CDs.

Headstone’s is a music store in head-shop trappings. Step inside, and suddenly it’s 1969. Or at least it is after your eyes adjust to the dim light. But you smell the sweet incense the second you enter. Heck, you can hear the loud music way out in the parking lot.

The counter is on the left, offering jewelry and silly buttons and, at least at one time, scales and rolling papers. On the right are ceramic dragons and fabric Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix wall hangings and a rack of incense sticks. Then racks of CDs line the wall all the way to the back where a few bins of records remain. In the corner, next to the drinking fountain that has never worked, is a room aglow with black-light posters.

Things do change at Headstone’s. When I first set foot in the place thirty years ago it was half the size it is now, full of waist-high record bins. They expanded into the building’s back section a few years later, and slowly tall homemade CD racks crowded out most of the record bins. And every so many years, when the building’s mural and sign are faded and worn almost beyond recognition, they repaint. On the day I visited it looked pretty fresh.

Headstone Friends

Headstone’s is seriously old school. They have one location, on Poplar at 12th Street in Terre Haute. They’re not on the Web. They don’t take credit cards. The owners, aging hippies who were younger than I am now when I first visited, work the counter. They keep inventory records on index cards in cardboard boxes. When you find a CD you want, you go to the counter and have someone come unlock the cabinet for you. Then they total your purchases on paper receipts and calculate the tax by hand.

The staff is very low key, but while I lived in Terre Haute I visited so often that they came to recognize me. One fellow named Harold became friendly and came to recognize my buying habits. One day a college friend came by my dorm room and said that I should see Harold next time I was in. He had set aside a promotional poster from a Paul McCartney album for me. The album wasn’t Paul’s best, but the the cover photo, of Paul and his wife taken with the kind of camera used for 1940s Hollywood glamor shots, was outstanding, and larger than life on the poster. “We get this junk all the time and never use it,” he said. “You buy all kinds of Beatles and McCartney so I figured you’d like to have it.” Sure enough! I had it framed. Despite generous offers from collectors, it still hangs in my house.

Tie-dye

Harold was there that day. I hadn’t seen him in at least ten years, but he looked just the same – long brown-and-gray hair curling halfway down his back, reading glasses at the end of his nose, and a round, tan fisherman’s hat covering his head. There was a glimmer of recognition on his face when he saw me, but it had been so long I wasn’t sure he’d remember me even if I did give him my name, so I kept to myself. I didn’t find any CDs I couldn’t live without, but just for fun I did buy a tie-dyed T-shirt. It filled my car with Headstone’s scent all the way home. I hated to wash it.

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Film Photography, Stories Told

Pleasant suburban shopping on the Agfa Clack and Ilford Pan F Plus

Please don’t revoke my man card, but I like to shop. Even a weekly trip to the grocery store delivers a dopamine rush. And when my weekly trip takes me to the big-box store — ohhh yes, I can spend an hour just wandering the aisles looking at things I didn’t come to buy.

Meijer

The big-box groceries are squeezing the local players out. Marsh is the last local chain standing. I seldom do my weekly shopping here, as the big boxes offer compelling prices. But I’m suspicious of the big-box meat. Hamburger shaped into a rectangle? Pork chops shot full of “15% of a solution?” No thanks. I prefer to buy my meat at a butcher shop, but it’s a special trip. Marsh’s meat counter is convenient and respectable, and so gets a lot of my business.

Marsh Hometown Market

But I wonder how much longer that Marsh will be open now that Walmart’s Neighborhood Market is in the area. It became my main grocery store the minute it opened last summer. It’s just around the corner from my home! And their prices are just too good to ignore. Marsh feels that pinch — since Walmart opened, I get a lot of direct mail from Marsh, sometimes with coupons for $10 off the total bill.

Walmart Neighborhood Market

My routine shopping is about more than groceries, of course. I fill my prescriptions at a CVS across the street from Marsh. That’s pretty much all I do at CVS — for the non-pharmacy items they carry, pretty much any other store beats their prices. I used to have my color film processed here, but they took out their 1-hour lab a couple years ago. What a sad day.

CVS/pharmacy

I’m not as crazy about shopping for hardware and home-improvement items. Maybe it’s because I’m usually trying to quickly pick up one or two things so I can finish a project. The little Ace Hardware near my home closed ten years ago, so I switched to a smallish Menards that was only a little farther away until it, too, closed. I’m left with Lowe’s and Home Depot, both longish drives from home, both enormous and bewildering. Woe betide me when I need something small, as I did this day. Three different employees scratched their heads over where I might find the thing I sought. I ended up searching for a half hour. In a big store, small items might as well be invisible.

Lowe's

I choose Lowe’s over Home Depot because this Goodwill Store is next door. Sometimes they have an interesting old camera for a few dollars. Believe it or not, I bought my favorite suit here for $8.

Goodwill Store

This Walmart Supercenter is around the corner from Lowe’s and Goodwill. When I went through my divorce, I lived on next to nothing and this Walmart’s prices let me afford to feed my family. In those days, this store was filled with rude staff and angry customers. I hated shopping here. But then Walmart built a new Supercenter nearer my home, and overnight this Walmart became orders of magnitude more pleasant. I can’t explain it. It’s like all of the problems migrated to the newer Supercenter. It’s a war zone over there.

Walmart

When the shopping is over, I sometimes treat my car to a wash. Works Wash please, and no, I don’t want the extra-cost tire shine. This gives me a few weeks’ respite from a super annoying body squeak my car has developed. It was a tip from my mechanic, who said that an underbody wash is a good, cheap lube job.

Crew Carwash

It feels good to drive a clean car. And it feels good to wrap up the routine weekly shopping.

Photographed July 14-28, 2015 with my Agfa Clack on Ilford Pan F Plus 50 film.

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Dresses

My muse
Olympus Stylus
Kodak Plus-X (expired, cold-stored)
2015

Photography
Image
Stories Told

Requiem for Radio Shack

RadioShack

We’d been all over town trying to find a new gaming headset for my son and his unusually large head. It’s harder than you might think: most headsets grip his big head like a vise. We’d bought and returned four uncomfortable headsets already. On the way back from yet another failed mission, we passed by a RadioShack. “What the heck,” I said as I turned in. “We’ve tried everywhere else.”

It had become a sadly typical scene: RadioShack, the electronics store of last resort. It’s not a sustainable business model. The retailer has faltered for a long time, and looks like it will finally throw in the towel after 94 years.

Getting its start in amateur radio, and having not yet lost the space between Radio and Shack, the chain always had a defining, high-volume and high-margin product line. For years it was hi-fi, and then it was computers, and finally it was cell phones. But now phones are a commodity product, and nothing replaced them at the center of RadioShack’s business model.

RadioShackLogo

I’ve bought a few things at Radio Shack over the years. I suspect you have too; the stores used to be everywhere. Their battery club first brought me in the door when I was about 12. A free, fresh 9-volt battery every month to power my handheld electronic head-to-head football game? Yes please. That’s how I became acquainted with all the gear Radio Shack carried, from diodes to audio cables to calculators to computers. Radio Shack’s TRS-80 computer was respectable for its day.

When I needed a 1/4″-to-1/8″ adapter for some headphones? Radio Shack. A universal remote control when such things were new? Radio Shack. Patch cables to connect my cassette deck to my computer so I could digitize my old radio airchecks? Radio Shack.

My wife and I bought our first cell phones at RadioShack. And remember how every Christmas the front of their stores were crammed with radio-controlled cars? One of the last gifts from my wife before my marriage ended was a big radio-controlled 1967 Chevy Impala. That was fun. The car, not the marriage ending.

But that was more than 10 years ago, and until my son’s headset adventure I’d had no reason to step inside RadioShack. Most of us didn’t, apparently, because now here the chain is, at its end.

The clerk at RadioShack listened to my son tell his tale of headset woe, and guided us to a short aisle with a small selection of headsets. He opened a couple boxes and let my son try them on right in the store — which was just enough for us to learn that this stop, too, would be a bust. At least we wouldn’t have to bring a product home just to return it later. And so with that, I walked out of RadioShack for the last time.

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