Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Musings while seated at the NorthSide

I just picked up a new pair of glasses at the Kellogg Eye Center. They feel great - very light and the prescription works perfectly for my eye sight. They actually feel better on my head than my previous pair of glasses - ones that I have worn for three years.

DestructionOn my way out of the center, I noticed that the building that had been standing between Maiden Lane and Wall Street - a house or apartment with a drive-through driveway that connected the two streets - had been recently torn down; the rubble being slowly removed by digger and bulldozer. My initial reaction was one of interest tinged with regret. Regret because it was such a unique structure - one doesn't normally see a building that straddles two streets that has a driveway that connects the two - and interest because the whole "Lower Town" area seems to be undergoing a major renovation. Truth be told, the actual execution of the project (when it was created) could have been done with a greater amount of grace - the edifice stood like a lump of a building, "elegant" being a word that no one would likely have given it - but the concept of having an apartments (or a house) that sits atop a garage that also acts as a driveway and a pull-through - is an interesting one to me. Still, I am perhaps giving this lost building too much obsessive thought.

Coming up the road to the Northside Grill, I noticed that the doors to an older four-unit apartment building had large "WARNING" signs affixed to the doors. Looking closely, they informed passers-by of the fact that they were closed (and likely sealed) due to asbestos. Now, knowing the little that I do about asbestos law, the only reasons that the building would be shut down due to asbestos are the following:
  • Tearing the building down
  • Massive structural work
  • The owners want to do remediation
  • Change in ownership (and the new owners want to do remediation)
Based on what seems to be going on along Wall Street (Ann Arbor, that is), I placed "tearing the building down" at the top of my list because it seems - to me - to be the most likely based on several trends (in addition to the visible clearing of the above building).
  1. The Kellogg Eye Center likely needs more parking due to its recent expansion, and this property is immediately across the street from the expansion and (other than a storm drain) contiguous with an existing surface parking lot.
  2. The seeming trend of Ann Arbor landlords (aka "slumlords") to do as little as possible to structural issues on student accommodation (until it costs them an armload to actually do repairs), which means that they are unlikely to do anything that would warrant taking care of asbestos (and then may decide to sell the property instead of having to deal with the costs and liability themselves).
  3. The tendency of the University of acquiring more property when they have an opportunity to do so - especially in areas that are contiguous with existing property (and I seem to recall hearing about a "Vision Care Campus" being developed in the future), and the property values around here seem to me to be likely to be lower than next to the Central and Medical Campuses (and likely the North Campus too).
  4. And of course, there is the perceived vision (by myself perhaps) of the entire Lowertown area undergoing a major face-change (I wouldn't say "face-lift" quite yet - things haven't yet been decided) and the (to my point-of-view) relatively fast razing and condemning of older structures in the area.
Yet, all this doesn't necessarily mean what I think it will mean. And who knows? Perhaps the apartment building is undergoing a renovation to get rid of the asbestos. Perhaps the building will eventually make its way onto a list of local historic buildings that - although they look as rundown as Broadway party store - are actually of some important historical worth to mark the heritage of the city. (Still, though, due to the reasons listed above, and multiplied by the inertia of a seemingly ever-expanding university, it seems unlikely that this building will last into the 2020s.)

Remnants of a Northside lunchAs I wrote this entry, I managed to finish the NorthSide's "Morning Eggdition" sandwich - a hearty breakfast sandwich with scrambled egg, Swiss cheese, diced ham & tomatoes, and black-pepper mayonnaise all on multigrain bread - and about half of the hash browns (which just didn't sit well with me today). Immediately after I sat down, two Japanese women came in and sat down at a booth opposite me and started talking. I cannot help but listen to what people say (I don't mean to, but I can't help do mental processing of voices I hear around me, or at least try to), which is part of the reason why I started typing. However, I noticed that they were joined by a third woman, and then moved to the booth behind me in order to ensure that the high-chair was brought out wouldn't block traffic. Then the tree women - minus the one bringing the baby - went through the process of ordering. It seemed to me that they had never been to the NorthSide, and possibly hadn't been to too many American diners, either, since they asked questions about kind of "standard" terminology, like "short stack" vs. "full stack" and "sausage vs. "sausage gravy." Who knows, though, they could have just been going through the process of ordering and felt a need to ask questions instead of just jumping to the order (although this seems more obtuse-than-necessary to even me).

Eventually, they were joined by the fourth woman - with her baby - and they are all now sitting behind me, talking in hushed-followed-by-elevated tones. The interesting thing to me is to listed to the tones and pacing of their voices; the rhythms falling into a pattern that is common of Japanese talk-and-respond and of an age (and possibly maternal) hierarchy into which their tones and interactions fall. The youngest takes on the tones of a girl - higher and tittering - apologizing for showing up after the initial two (older-than-her) women. The mother (although apparently no older than the original two women) was given more social leeway with her 30-minute delay in showing up, and (as far as my passive eavesdropping could tell) was given no behind-her-back disparagement. Too, her baby received a lot of fawning as she put up his and her coats and sat down. Of the four, she seems also to be the most acculturated to the United States - she ordered easily off the menu with no questions and in a more close-to-Midwest accent - and (if this indication is true) may (in addition to her obvious motherhood) be senior to the other in this condition as well.

This whole thing - Japanese social hierarchy - is something that I am sure has been studied through anthropological and sociological lenses in academia. I'm sure, too, that the concepts do not translate into the American English usage and mental framings that so define "everyone's" day-to-day lives, because not would a lexicon be necessary, but also a cultural frame-of-mind, and a grammar and conversational structure that allows (or encourages) such social interactions.

But now - after a fulfilling amount of coffee and a stomach full on breakfast sandwich - I must get to work.

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