Remember when I wrote about the amazing summer my good friend Linnea and I bought season passes to Cedar Point? (AKA The “Amazement Park?”) Well here’s another amusing anecdote about that summer.
An interesting thing we discovered after going to Cedar Point several weeks in a row was, it was actually possible to get kind of bored with it! So one morning when I showed up to collect her, it was somehow concluded neither of us felt much like riding coasters that day, so why not go check out Grand Rapids instead? (Why not indeed!) Grand Rapids. Michigan is a sizable urban sprawl on the western side of Southern Michigan and was a city neither of us really knew much about, other than it was enormous, (the second most in the whole state of Michigan in fact) and therefore was sure to be littered with all kinds of cool stores in which for us to spend our hard earned dollars. Ballet supply stores were Linnea’s primary objective, comic book stores were mine, and both of us were interested in thrift stores, used music stores and book stores. We were quite certain we would find a plethora of such establishments in such a wide spread metropolis as Grand Rapids.
The drive there was uneventful, and actually took just a little longer than it would have taken to drive to Sandusky! I stopped at a gas station just outside town to get a street map. I was hoping to score a phone book, but struck out on that endeavor. I figured with those two simple tools I would be able to locate all of our targeted shopping locations and navigate an easy route to them. (That was what I thought.) So without knowing a damned thing about Grand Rapids we exited into the business district and from there just started driving around. Our search got off to an excellent start. First we found a cool looking used book store and entered. It was just what a used book store should be: cluttered, dusty and full of books. The store had hard wood floors, few windows, and shelves and shelves of books reaching almost all the way up to the ceiling. Behind the counter was a friendly looking elderly female clerk who asked if we needed help. (We didn’t.)
After visiting every portion of the store I walked up to the counter with a large Foxtrot comic strip book. As I was paying I asked if by any chance she had any old phone books she would be willing to sell me. I explained our objectives and she gave me a brand new phone book free of charge! Just up the street from there we discovered a little used video game store. It, much like the previous establishment, was nothing more than a two story house with a sign in the front window and a little dirt parking lot in front of it. The place had cheap wood paneled walls, like you would find inside a trailer home, and many shelves of old Nintendo and Sega games. I actually had a working first generation Nintendo and purchased, under Linnea’s advisement, a game called Burger Time. (I recognized it as having been advertised on the backs of comic books in my youth.) It turned out to be a pretty fun game, but neither of us could get very far past the third level.
When we left that place we did so with the feeling that we had discovered the Treasure of the Sierra Madre, (whatever the hell that means) and both vowed to return many times. (We never did.) It seemed our Grand Rapids adventure was going well. At this point it was decided that the time had come to consume various foodstuffs. I of course, required a cheeseburger and fries and we drove around for hours discussing and dismissing several options. (We did that a lot) Eventually we found a place that served Coke and didn’t look too awkward or busy. (All of which we required) This appeared in the form of a little family diner in an extremely narrow and elongated wooden building. We walked in and found that there were very few other patrons, which was the way we liked it so we selected a booth and sat down. (There were little individual jukeboxes at each booth, but they did not work.) We ordered food and while we waited for it I spread the GR map out on the table between us and began to peruse the phone book. In this manner I found several comic book stores, dance supply stores, record stores and thrift stores and marked their locations out on the map. (The excitement built) We consumed food, paid our bill, and walked out the door… into…HELL. (Vergil did not accompany us.)
Up until this point there had been a light cloud coverage which had offered protection from the relentless July weather but when we emerged from the diner all such cloud cover had completely dissipated, and the sun was now beating directly down on us in all its radioactive glory. It may in fact have been one of the hottest days on record in Michigan. The temperature was probably close to 135 degrees, the humidity close to 99.99%, and still our moods were unfazed. We had pocketfuls of money, full bellies, a whole day ahead of us and were absolutely 100 percent certain that somewhere out there, in the sprawling labyrinthine bustle of this place called “Grand Rapids,” there just had to be innumerable shops of varying degrees of awesomeness that had been designed just for us. (And WHY hadn’t we thought of this before?)
We first headed towards Division Street, which wasn’t hard at all to find. It’s sort of like the North/South Main Street of Grand Rapids. After investigating (and dismissing) a sort of dingy thrift store near downtown, we soon came across a veritable Mecca of used retail: The Downtown Grand Rapids Salvation Army. It is three stories tall and has a basement,meaning there were in fact FOUR levels of thrift store shopping enjoyment. Now what we should have done, in retrospect, was loaded my car up with tons of cool shit, drove back to Jackson, bought a pizza, and spent the rest of our day hanging out in comfort digging through all our new stuff and eating delicious pizza. We didn’t. We bought a couple things but figured, now that we knew about this place, we could go back there any time. (We never dd.)
And so it was that we ended up spending the rest of our precious day just aimlessly driving from one end of Grand Rapids to the other, through blistering heat, infuriating traffic and a seemingly endless array of confusing detours and one way streets, none of which were indicated on the map. In spite of the difficulty, I did manage to locate almost all of the places I’d marked out, but here’s the thing: they had all gone out of business. Every…Single…One. And recently, it seemed, as we found, in each location, faded posters of Spiderman, dancing ballerinas, or Led Zeppelin concert posters lingering in the mostly boarded up windows, mocking us. (…Mocking…Us.) It was like some massive city wide conspiracy set up just to frustrate us.
At long last I had the presence of mind to pull into a gas station where I had spotted numerous payphones lining the parking lot. (Remember those?) I went into the store to buy a coke, so I would have change for the phone. (As usual, I didn’t want to be That Guy That Just Came in to Ask For Change.) There were still a couple possibilities left on the list. The plan was for me to call the numbers to see if any of the businesses still existed before continuing to waste our time and gas. I collected my change and headed back to my car, which had no idea that it was about to experience the worst moment of its existence. I pulled up to the first payphone and inserted the requisite 35 cents. I poised my finger to begin pressing buttons. I said “OK gimme a number.”
D: “A phone number!”
L: “A phone number for what?”
D: “A phone number for anything! A Dance Store, a Comic Book Store! Whatever!” (Hadn’t we discussed this?)
L: “All right all right. Don’t get violent!” (Apparently I get violent.)
As the number was being recited it was then that I realized the phone had no dial tone. I was also unable to retrieve my 35 cents. I kept my cool, however. I pulled up to the next payphone, which was apparently meant for people to pull up to in large trucks, which meant I had to open my car door, and kind of stand up between my car and the phone. I put in 35 cents and prepared to dial.
D: “Ok give me a number.”
D: “A phone number!”
L: “For what?”
A phone number was produced. I punched it in. A voice said, “Please deposit 35 cents” (Even though I had already done so.) I foolishly deposited 35 more cents, The dial tone continued until eventually a voice said “Please deposit 35 Cents.”
And this, my friends was the precise moment when I lost my cool. The first thing I did was send whatever change I had remaining in my hand scattering all across the parking lot in every direction. (Didn’t need it! Fucking payphones weren’t working!)
I then plopped back into my seat and proceeded to slam the door closed with every ounce of strength in my body. The door did not open again for several weeks. At some point (weeks later) I did finally manage to force it open, at which point it would not latch. (Ever again, in fact.)
Did you know I once had a really nice car? It was one of these.
From that moment on I looked real stylish driving around in my almost brand new Chrysler Sebring Convertible with the driver’s side door bungee corded shut!
Thus ended our Grand Rapids adventure. We headed towards home. We did find one really scummy mall, where I purchased a couple of For Better or Worse Comic Strip Books, and a stereo cord of some kind that I wanted from Radio Shack. (there were only like five stores open in the whole place. out of what had once been about a hundred. It was one of the most depressing places I’ve ever been in my life.)
Other than that not much happened. I seem to recall us arguing about a roadside Denny’s on the way back, as in whether or not to go in. (That might have been some other day.)