I’m biking up Third Avenue to Jefferson, down Jefferson to Belle Isle, around Belle Isle, and back. Easy 10 miles. Not bad for a well-seasoned geezer (or, more aptly gay: in Yiddish: an alte kokker).
Making the island loop I pass dozens of Canada geese that as loyal aviary citizens gather on the shore facing Windsor. These ring-necked, velveteen beauties take us Americans for granted (a mistake I’m sure). They honk! hiss! honk! nibble car-tossed crumbs, and singly or in fine-feathered chorus lines strut grandly stage center. (I inwardly applaud.)
My $70 secondhand 10-speed Schwinn rides with enough gear resistance to give me a hearty calf-and-thigh stretch, an energetic gluteus-maximus goosing. Enough coasting smoothness to make me feel that life at my crank-it-up age can still be a pumping breeze.
(I got my first Schwinn for my 13th birthday. Red and black. Silver and shiny — with delicate, wavy air-current piping. It had a battery operated horn with loud blat-blat-blat to let neighbors know I was one lucky kid.)
Belle Isle,Aeos empty of celebrating crowds. No hip-hop music. No teenagers rapping — yo-man! — carefree. No body bronzers or muscle-bound showoffs for me to stop, pause for visually intoxicating minutes and do a let’s pretend I’m not checking out pecs, abs, attitudes.
(I was 25 when I took my 13-year-old nephew to the crowded Detroit beach side. He wanted to scorecard my opinion against his own novice rating of bikini girls on parade. I, skirting my role model duty, deferred to his just-turned-pubescent judgment.)
The island’s changed much since then. Gone are the one-track-mind saddle horses. Deer are missing. The aquarium’s drained. Slips in both boat clubs empty of sail and power boat. The golden decades of Belle Isle are tarnished, or so at my age it seems.
Yet, traveling Jefferson away from the downtown city, I saw new buildings going up with brass-band determination: offices, condos, lofts. (Where I wonder will tenants and customers come from? Is Detroit on the verge of revival? Will there be lots of disappointed landlords, strip mall merchants, gay and straight young professionals?)
I bike back leisurely, taking shortcut St. Aubin across town, passing weedy lots, wooden-frame dwellings here and there, a humble storefront church or two; and before I know it it seems I,Aeove biked somehow into land of the lost. 125 years ago.
I’m time-warped in front of St. Albertus Church. The historic marker reads 1872. Renaissance Revival architecture. The Polonia landmark’s been closed since 1990. Sold for a widow’s mite. Across the way there’s an apartment complex. Nailed shut. Waiting for rescue.
The sunlight dances hypnotically through the green shadowy trees of slumbering St. Albertus. There’s no traffic. I pause; look north and south. The narrow street is pin-drop silent. Strangely, I feel that at any moment a carriage will drive up. A horse will softly whinny. Parishioners from a bygone era, carrying their Sunday missals, will wave at me with mild who’s he? curiosity as they hurry inside for eleven-o’clock Mass. Tint-type images . . . Once living . . . Now gone . . .
Nearby there’s an empty school. Built fortress-like. 1916. It’s name is scripted in Polish. Fading letters. Grime covered. I imagine sixth graders day dreaming, eager for summer break. Nuns in starched blue habits wiping their sweaty, sin-free heads. Suddenly the world’s too much with me. And I, sadly with it. Like a kid hurrying home for a welcoming meal, I peddle for all I’m worth. One day at a time.