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This is my 1,000th post!

Photography, Road Trips

Decline and growth, close to home on the Michigan Road

For a few years now, I’ve meant to photograph the portion of the Michigan Road nearest my home. For those of you familiar with northwest Indianapolis, it’s the stretch between about Kessler Boulevard and 62nd St. — and its best days are past. I want to record the gritty suburban decline. I can almost see the photos in my head: tight, monochrome, contrasty, grainy.

These shots don’t fulfill that vision. I was just trying to get to know this subject. I was shooting my Canon EOS 630 and the 35-80mm lens that came with it, using Arista Premium 400 black-and-white film.

This barber shop gave me the idea for this series, as it perfectly represents this corridor. The 421 Barber Shop was so named at a time when Michigan Road was also US 421. That designation was gone from the road before I moved here 20 years ago.

Barber Shop

This building has been several different hamburger stands over the 20 years I’ve lived near here. Mr. Dan’s has been the longest lived. You know you’re in a good neighborhood when the one up-front parking spot is reserved for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

Mr. Dan's

This is where the children of Indianapolis are made.

This is where they make the children

Shortly after I moved to Indianapolis, this liquor store was in the news for its customers drinking in the parking lot and peeing behind the building. Customers sometimes drove to and from it on the residential streets alongside and behind it, presumably under the influence. All of this understandably angered residents. To deter the misbehavior, the city put in some unusually stout speed bumps on the side street and the liquor store put in floodlights and cameras. Fun times. I bought beer in here a couple times — the cashier is behind thick bulletproof glass. Very upscale. Hey, at least they got new signs this year to replace ones with broken letters.


The missing L at Highlander Center, a laundry, is a recent loss.

High ander Center

This homemade sign on the side of a shoe repair business really captures the area’s spirit. I kind of feel bad that I didn’t try them the last time I needed some shoes resoled.

Shoe Repair

This corridor has seen some growth in the last 10 years or so. Many formerly vacant buildings now contain small businesses, like Poor Man’s Towing. In color, this building is white and bright green — easy to spot. If I had this shot to do over, I would have moved in closer.

Poor Man's Towing

Also, this Speedway station was built on this formerly vacant corner about 10 years ago, and then the Family Dollar store next door went in. They are well maintained and fill a need in this middle-class and lower-middle-class neighborhood.


Finally, I was surprised to see this new Pizza Hut going in next to the old one, as this has been nothing but a carry-out store for as long as I’ve lived here. Looks like the new store will be bigger, perhaps allowing more pizzas to be made.

Pizza Huts old and new

There have been other positive signs. A Starbucks went in on the corner of Kessler and Michigan a few years ago. A Dunkin Donuts went in on the opposite corner a little while later, but it didn’t make it. Then the city installed a pedestrian trail along the west side of Michigan Road. It really eased this excursion, as previously there had been no sidewalks on either side of the street.

I am eager to see whether the new Walmart Neighborhood Market that opened last year on Michigan Road just south of Kessler Blvd. will bring more revitalization to this corridor. What looks like a McDonald’s is being built on a Walmart outlot. It’s not a four-star restaurant, but it’s a step up compared to what you see in these photos. I’m hoping for some sort of bar and grill, a place where I can go for a bourbon or a cheeseburger. My neighborhood has been a bit of a retail and restaurant desert until Walmart came; here’s hoping more is on the way.


58th & Victoria

58th & Victoria
Nikon F3HP, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Arista Premium 400 (exp. 11/2011)


Sculpted shrub

Sculpted shrub
Kodak Retina Reflex IV, Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar 50mm f/2.8, Kodak Tri-X 400

Photography, Stories Told

Photo essay: Getting ready for winter

The last leaves fall the first of November, just in time for cold days and freezing nights. Let the calendar disagree with me, but I say this is where winter begins, bleak and down and lonely.

Bare Branches

Through October I spend every Saturday mowing up the trees’ prodigious leavings, just me and my old tractor. I cling to this ritual, which readies me for the closed-up months to come.

Tractor and Bagging Attachment

Most years I mulch the leaves back into the lawn. Some years I bag the shreddings. This year I dumped them behind the low fence in a corner of the back yard; the years will turn them into dirt. It’s mindless work: mow for a few minutes until the buckets fill, drive around back and dump, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Leaf Dumping Grounds

But in November, after the trees are bare and the yard is clean, a ceremony of sorts: the putting away. Unclutter the garage so the car can go in, clear the deck to protect summer things from rust and decay. Into the shed go the yard tools, the bicycles, the patio furniture.

Open Shed

As I move each piece, a summer’s events project on my mind, idyllic like color slides: the new brown bicycle I couldn’t ride after foot surgery, the dirty red wheelbarrow I used to spread fresh and smelly mulch, the new green electric cultivator that leveled and mixed compost into my front yard all torn up after the new sewer connection. My whole family worked an entire Saturday with me to do that and plant new grass. What a good day.

Electric Cultivator

The patio furniture went in next. I hardly used it this year thanks to the thick, relentless mosquitoes! The citronella candles on the table didn’t help at all.

Patio Furniture

All secured, it was time to run the gas out of the mower and tractor and put them away, too.

Push Mower with Tractor in the Background

While I waited, I walked around the yard, clear of leaves and still green, especially the new grass. That color will dull and fade through November; now is the time to enjoy it.

House at the End of Autumn

I noticed the work I didn’t get done this year. The driveway’s cracks need filled, dead limbs need cut from the maple, the windows need scraped and painted. Next spring, for sure.

Bare Tree Reflected

The motors soon shut off, one and then the other, out of gas. I pushed the tractor in first, the mower in next, and then locked the shed. One more job, which I hired out: haul that brush pile away. It was gone the following Tuesday. It feels good to have all those overgrown trees and bushes cleared out back. I worked at it here and there all year, sometimes alone, sometimes with one son or the other, once with my parents newly moved to my town and eager to do normal family stuff. Good memories.

Shed and Brush Pile

Good memories indeed. It was a summer well lived. Okay, winter, I’m ready for you now.

Photographed the afternoon of November 9 with my Polaroid Big Swinger 3000 on Fujifilm FP-3000B instant film.

Stories Told

The ponder seat

I was reminded of this story from five years ago as I have been driving my old lawn tractor around the yard, picking up the fallen leaves. The tractor looks a little more beat up now, and comically its hood hinges both broke and are being held in place by two Vise Grips, but it still runs well.

This is where I do my best thinking.


My tractor was a birthday gift from my wife 17 years ago – the biggest and most expensive gift I’ve ever gotten. We had a half-acre yard full of mature, prolific trees. Before the tractor, every autumn Saturday my wife, stepson, and I went at full tilt all day raking and bagging fallen leaves. Those Saturdays were brutal, and woe betide us if we skipped one. I dreamed of driving a tractor around the yard, sucking up the leaves into a catcher, my family sitting on the patio sipping iced tea and smiling brightly and waving whenever I passed.

After the tractor came, of course I mowed the yard with it every week. It didn’t take long before I could do the work on autopilot, effortlessly navigating obstacles. The world slipped away while I drove my tractor. Even the Briggs and Stratton roar faded into the background, and my mind was free to think and dream. It was time just for me. I can’t remember any epiphanies or even darned good ideas that came from my ponder seat, but when I put the tractor back in the shed I was always mentally refreshed.

I’ve downsized to about a quarter of an acre where the autumn leaves are a more bearable chore. I could get by without a tractor now, yet I clean and tune up my tractor every spring for another season. I can’t believe it still runs after this many years – I wish my cars lasted as long! As long as it keeps starting, I’ll keep looking forward to my weekly mind-renewing trip around the yard.