Random act or publicity stunt?

By Heath Brandon via Creative Commons

When you witness something are you really seeing what’s going on?

The other day I was walking  a brick path lined with wooden benches. Perennial gardens and low shade trees flank the walkway, which connects a library, courthouse, municipal offices and a veteran’s memorial. Rising above all this is a bronze sculpture encircled by a splashy water fountain. It’s a peaceful, pretty area generally populated by teen boys rumbling around on  skateboards, seniors parked on benches, and children chasing pigeons. It also has a lot of homeless people.

On this day, the walkways were empty. As I followed the path, supervising Girl from the East’s balancing act on the garden wall, I noticed an attractive, well-dressed man walking toward us at a brisk clip. His mouth threatened a smile. His eyes and whatever story they might tell  were hidden behind dark glasses. He balanced a cardboard pizza box on one upturned palm. Mr. Well-Dressed passed us, turned and leaned over a white-bearded homeless man slouched on a bench. The pizza box exchanged hands. Mr. Well-Dressed  — was he a lawyer from the courthouse or one of the local business owners on a break — crouched to get at eye level with Mr. Homeless and began talking to him in a low voice.

At this point my attention shifted to Girl from the East, who was attempting a jump off  the wall. But I couldn’t get Mr. Well-Dressed out of my mind. It wasn’t his looks or his clothing. It was what he did. It really moved me.

When I worked in this town years ago, my co-workers and I occasionally (and by that I mean rarely) would leave food offerings on benches and in doorways. Generally it was a bag of bagels or takeout leftovers. I’ve never had the courage to hand food directly to someone on the street.

I looked back at the two engaged in quiet conversation. I tried to read body language. I tried to eavesdrop. Was this a random act? Did this guy pick a different person each week or each day to feed? Did the two strike some kind of deal earlier? Was this an attorney-client thing? Why the heck was I obsessing as usual about something that did not concern me.

As I walked toward my car, a breathless woman clutching a cell phone caught up to me.

“Did you see? It’s him, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Who?”

“That GUY! The one who just gave a pizza to the homeless man. He was on ‘The Sopranos.’ I can’t think of his name,” she said, clearly hoping I’d jump on her bandwagon.

“I never watched that show,” I said, shrugging and beginning to feel like I was on one of those candid camera shows.

I looked around for Mr. Well-Dressed. His good deed completed, he was now heading toward  the parking lot. Pinstriped lawyer? Incognito actor on a personal mission?  Weird set-up for ‘Punk’d’?

Ms. Enthusiastic was still going on about ‘The Sopranos.’  She said something about a cop show in Detroit. I shook my head, told her I really had no idea who he was.  Then she was off to follow Mr. Well-Dressed to his car.

I went home. I Googled. I looked at pictures online. I think Mr. Well-Dressed really was Mr. Actor Guy.

Maybe.

I’d like to think I witnessed something random and kind. I’d like not to think of this as some celebrity sighting, something that made its way around Twitter or Facebook. I don’t like the creeping cynicism that poisons my thoughts.

When you see something happen, do you really know what you’re seeing?

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Call it what you will

detour

Some call it the Nightmare Ride.

Some call it the White Trash Parade.

The official name is the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Call it what you will.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Dream Cruise, billed as the largest one-day auto event in the world.

It’s big. It’s more than a one-day event. If you happen to live near it, you know. It starts when July bleeds into August and continues to build momentum until the big day: the third Saturday in August. If you live near it, you either book a vacation, host a Dream Cruise party, or bar the doors and settle in with a stack of movies and a stock of alcohol.

If you live near Woodward, you have two choices: accept the fact that a trip to the market will take double the time or drive to a market in another town, taking the long way around. As the days grow closer to the event, the roads are so jammed that traffic comes to a standstill. The summer soundtrack adds a few guest performers: revving engines, roaring exhaust systems and squealing tires. This is the not-so-fun side of it.

The area transforms itself to accommodate the car lovers, who come from down the street or across the country to park their lawn chairs at the curb and settle in for an extended viewing. There are drink stands and T-shirt booths. Cities along the route take advantage of the event and offer Dream Cruise parties and festivals. Some businesses lease their parking lots to radio stations and other promoters for classic car shows and oldies-music parties. One nearby town set up a drive-in movie theater and showed Abbot and Costello reels. This is the festive, fun side of it.

The party girl in me enjoys the lively atmosphere, the excuse to get out and have fun. The grumpy side of me just wants to move about my neighborhood without all this hoopla. The nostalgic side of me can’t help getting excited when I spot a mint-condition Ford Mustang Mach 1 from the mid-70s, or a late ’60s Plymouth Barracuda fastback or one of those slick, black “gangster” rides from the 1930s with gleaming chrome pipes.

Call it what you will. It’s a dream to ride down memory lane. It’s a tribute to the glory days of the automobile and Detroit. It’s a flashback to the days when no one thought twice about  burning gas for hours in their father’s Oldsmobile or a Little Deuce Coupe. It’s a nightmare if you get tangled in the traffic on your way to the pharmacy or stuck next to the Right to Life “Truth Truck” with your children in the back seat. (Warning: link images are upsetting.)

It’s good. It’s bad. I’m glad it’s over.

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