Thursday, 3 July 2008


Next time I come over to the US I’m going to get a better map. Or better still Sat-Nav I’ve decided after thousands of miles of nothing. As the population centres are not so far apart, (comparatively speaking), I’m relying more and more on the cars compass and I’m finding myself on roads that aren't marked. Whilst this is all part of the voyage of discovery it does mean that it is sometimes difficult to achieve your objective. I thought a nice gentle drive down the peninsular would be nice meandering down some back roads sniffing the pines and lake spotting.

As I screamed down the Interstate once more I felt that a bit of culture was called for - so I headed for a town that I’ve known of for years. I've dozens of CD's in my collection in the spare room which contain the words ‘Recorded live at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival’ or some such. There was bound to be something moving in town.

There was…so I went. But first off I had to find somewhere to stay and, as most of the motels are miles out from the centre of town, I headed in and drove round and round and round and round….then round and round some more until found one. It was slap bang in the middle just off the University Campus. Big with students this place so much so that you feel incredibly ancient creaking along the streets surrounded by ‘Skaterboi's, Goths, Punks, Hippies and Frat Rats’, oh and the occasional nerd - but they can be any age I suppose.

Not sure if you’re born into geekdom or develop it like disease? No, that can't be true, as I haven't seen any adverts for its cure: ‘Are you suffering from chronic Nerd? Do you find yourself repeating old Monty Python routines whilst alone in your bedroom playing computer games? You need 'Geekbegone'!’

Booked into the hotel and a young man, who went into "Sir" overdrive took my keys and hid my car somewhere. This is my first valet parking experience of this trip. It always feels strange giving your car keys to a stranger who then drives off in it. The same stranger then gives it back on payment of $5 or thereabouts. The hotel also had a proliferation of "begging messages" thinly disguised as services. I usually leave a few dollars for the housekeeping people and this place posted a "turn down service". When I asked what this was I was told that at 11pm someone would come to my room and turn the bed down and put the light on for me. "A bit like Mummy coming to tuck me in?" I beamed. There was a silence as another shaft a devastating "Briddish Humor" fell to the floor - to be vacuumed up by "housekeeping" later on.

As luck would have it the hotel was only a stones throw from the venue which was the ‘Top of the Park’ – part of the Ann Arbor Summer festival and sponsored by the local Public Broadcasting Station WEMU 89.1

Before the main event there appeared to be a ‘School of Rock’ thing going on as several impossibly young bands played a couple of numbers each. It’s funny and also enjoyable watching earnest 12 year olds wrestling with the intricacies of Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper and the standard was quite high. The young guy in the middle who didn't look much older than about 18 himself appeared to be their teacher as he was in charge and performed with all the bands.

It was a beautiful summers evening and before the main event I wandered over to look at some of the stalls. Well in truth I went to see the guys at WEMU 89.1 (I think I’d better pop down to Walgreen's pharmacy in the morning to pick up a pack of 'Geekbegone'). They were very friendly and invited me into their ‘Friends and Sponsors’ tent. They also gave me a ticket for a free beer. YESSS!!

Chatted to Linda Yohn WEMU's music director who was also doing the on-stage announcements and we compared notes about the sort of formats we had and the state of radio in the UK and the U.SZZzzzzzzzzzzz! She made her excuses and left, possibly worrying that she may have been infected with 'Dork'.

On came the 'Cadillac Cowboys'. They were workmanlike country and Western Swing and enthusiastic enough and suddenly I noticed....older people. They were dancing. My foot tapped in its usual unbridled devil- may- care, let-my-hair-down, wild and crazy British guy way.

All that dancing had made me thirsty so I decided to head into town to see what was on offer. Downtown is very pretty and with the sort of shops you'd expect to find in a university town. There were also a couple of nice neon lit cinemas one showing ‘Harold and Maud’, which is a favourite of mine from years ago.

The Monkey Bar was empty when I walked in. I checked with the barkeeper that it wasn't about to close as it was 9pm by then. He assured me that he had in fact just opened and they would shut up shop about 2am. So I sat and read the paper and listened to the Blues on the sound system. Watched yet more baseball on the TV.

Gradually people drifted in and started to play pool and gather in groups to drink "shots". Our pub culture doesn't really embrace this aspect of boozing. Plus we're not really into cocktails as the Americans are. There was a lot of shaking of mixers and jiggers and jugs and stuff going on. Things have obviously moved a long way from "Gimme a Beer" or "Whiskey". I don't remember John Wayne ever lurching through the bat wings and shouting; "Margarita!" or "Manhattan!" at the cowering barman.

When the full signs had gone up in my head I headed out into the warm evening. As I walked back to the hotel it suddenly occurred to me what had been a bit odd about the "Monkey Bar". Every single person who had come in had been asked for their ID to prove they were over 21 and old enough to be served alcohol. Every single one.....ME!

I felt very, very old as I made my way past the 13 year old receptionist. It was gone 11pm when I went into my room. There was a note on the floor which read: "As you had your ‘Do Not Disturb Sign’ up on the door handle we weren't able to provide our turndown service" – so I missed being tucked-in and a goodnight kiss from Mummy as well.

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