Posts Tagged ‘bicycle’


Dearborn, Michigan, along Schaefer Highway, photo by Skip Schiel

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016.


September 10, 2016, Saturday, Detroit

Biking in to Dearborn yesterday [September 9, 2016] I stopped at the bicycle shop on Schaefer that I’ve frequented earlier, to pump air in my tires. A voluble employee (at first, from the way he acted, so forthright, I assumed he was the owner), short and curt, felt the tires and declared, your tires are full, pumping more air into them might make them burst. Then he spotted my camera, which I always carry around my neck, fully exposed. Wanna take some pictures here? he asked. Sure thing, what would you like?

Is this gonna cost something? he asked. No, is this gonna cost me anything? I replied. Everyone in the store chuckled.


Eddie’s Bike Shop, photo by Skip Schiel

That led to portraits of him outside the store, inside the store, the storefront itself from outside, and then the owner, Mr. Eddie Merhi, and two customers, Black women, mother and daughter, who were having their tricycles adjusted.

The daughter, Woody, and I chatted awhile about the pleasures of biking. She, like many here, admired my folding bike, inquired about it, and said, I’d like to eventually ride one like that. She invited me to visit them at their home near me—she was ecstatic when she learned where I live (as if to think, wow, this is some kind of White guy, living where he is, probably the only White guy in milespretty fuckin brave, or insane.) I find living where I do builds credibility.

She asked me to photograph her on her bike, which I did. She lacks email and we couldn’t figure out how to transfer the file from my camera to her phone with Bluetooth. So she snapped a photo with her phone from my camera screen, decidedly inferior.

Mother and daughter, Detroit residents, buy tricycles

Woody and her mother, Detroit residents, have their tricycles adjusted, photo by Skip Schiel

I had a thought about a daring next step for my Detroit project: photograph on public buses, compare city bus riders with suburban bus riders, and photograph at different times of the day. I’ve long felt that one can gain a quick impression of one aspect of Detroit by riding the city bus at night. Riding the same bus during the day might create a different impression. And riding the suburban buses yet another.

The big question is how to do this? Sneak photography (aka, hip pocket), ask permission, carry a big sign announcing the project? It may involve some risk, especially at night, me alone. I’ll consider this. Maybe I can find a colleague, preferably Black and from Detroit. (Like George a few years ago who toured me to different neighborhoods.)

A sequel to A Summer Bus Ride in Detroit. A movie by Skip Schiel & Teeksa
Photography, October 2010

A precedent is the photo series of South African workers riding at night to reach their work sites on time. David Goldblatt did this with his series, The Transported of KwaNdebele. I recall phoning him in the 1990’s while setting up one of my South African trips. I heard a dog barking in the background, rendering the call very personal even tho at such a great physical and cultural distance.

25 After a day’s work they take the bus from Pretoria to KwaN

9:00 p.m. Going home: Marabastad-Waterval bus: For most of the people in this bus the cycle will start again tomorrow at between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., 1983 from David Goldblatt’s, “The Transported of KwaNdebele: A South African Odyssey (1983–84)”

Maybe I’m getting too old to pursue all my dream projects, like Detroit metro busing. How many more years remain for me and my work?


Biking home to Detroit from Dearborn, photo by Skip Schiel

To be continued


Bike Detroit

A bike ride thru Dearborn by Skip Schiel, 2010


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Downtown development

Downtown development

Ghost Bike, with my folding bike in the background

Ghost Bike, with my folding bike in the background


One should avoid picturing a land which can never be reached, and arousing hopes never to be fulfilled, for the indulgence only makes existence harder.

– Haniel Long, Notes for a New Mythology

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016


September 11, 2016, Sunday

Yesterday was another day off, either the first or second of this trip. The weather was windy and wet, my destinations such as the refineries and Capuchin farm were distant, I debated the risks of bicycling, and finally, reluctantly, decided to remain home and do: house work. (I biked only to the liquor store for a pint of Stout.)

Yesterday I did not attend or photograph the following:

A street fair in Midtown (AKA Cass Corridor)

An auction in Indian Village which would have provided entrance to homes

An exhibit of antique cars at Greenfield Village

The refineries

Eastern Market

A Greening of Detroit Farm

The Earthworks Farm of the Capuchin Franciscan Monastery

Did any of this significantly affect my project? What would I have photographed if I’d persisted? Would volunteers be working in the garden and farm? Would the street fair have been fun and exuberant? Would I have been drenched or driven back by strong winds?

I will never know. This is one of the minor mysteries of my project—the places, people, events, issues, things that I missed.

The days before my last in Detroit close in. What might surprise me today, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, what remains of this trip—and for the rest of my life? And which of these surprises will be important?

Here are a few surprises thus far on this journey, some or all I told Karen about yesterday as we sat on the front porch eating fish, stir fry veggies, and Basmati rice, while watching the sun descend:

Bike accident (she noticed the bright red glaring gash on my knee)

Visit with Latoyia, the principal at Noble School  (and with this a discussion of whether the blue shirt Karen lent me that I wore to the visit resembled a prisoner’s shirt)

Johnny inviting me to photograph him—and his horse, both in costume

The ghost bike (she’d asked to see recent photos, they included the bike, I did not tell her about my fears concerning bicycling)

Gloria’s aunt dying and Gloria going to Arkansas for the funeral (how Gloria is such a reliable neighbor)

And possibly a few others.

Are any of these significant?

I forgot to tell her about Kitty inviting me to give a forum about our Palestine-Israel process at my Quaker meeting in Cambridge Massachusetts. That the process represents a major surprise for our community, a form of unity around one limited aspect of that explosive situation.

Billy L wrote, in response to my short description of my Detroit project:

Sounds very “safe” skip. I understand your motivation on the ” radical” end by allowing folks who are not close to the Motor City happenings a look at what is going on but what about the entities on the other side of the line? The perspective of negativity  experienced by the working poor? I hope you are successful with your assignment and wish you the best.

Safe? Which aspect of my project did he refer to? The entire project? Safe? I must consider this.

As a general description of my Detroit project I’d written:

As most people now realize, Detroit has become an icon of the failed post-industrial city in the United States—suffering poverty, racism, corporate dominance, and corruption. However, as always, there is another side: resurgence through urban agriculture, grass-roots politics, arts activism, and the high-tech auto industry. With my photography I strive to expose the seeds of the new Detroit miracle. 

To be continued

Other than that, Icarus, how was the flight?

– W. Eugene Smith (about his Pittsburgh Project)


“It’s boom time for developments in heart of Detroit,” by Louis Aguilar (January 2016)

“Detroit Resists fires back at Venice Biennale’s U.S. pavilion curators over community engagement”

Suspect arrested in gas station shooting caught on high-definition surveillance video

Detroit Street Watchers—”I’m doing what people think is crazy,” said Walter Gildersleeve (the founder). “I go through these abandoned houses, I go in the back of these yards.”

Ghost Bikes

“Fatal bicyclist crashes surged 57% in Michigan last year”


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Excerpts from my journal during a 3 week sojourn in Detroit Michigan, late winter 2014, searching for the seeds of the New Miracle of Detroit

Hart Plaza

Hart Plaza

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.

―Ernest Hemingway


March 29, 2014, Saturday, Detroit

Cooler, high 30s, overcast, still

Yesterday [March 28, 2014] mainly a 16 mile group bike ride organized by Farmada with the North American Bicycle Week, one of the week’s 5 or so group rides. The westerly wind was strong, tiny water droplets periodically fell on us, the temperature was not too cold, in the 50s. Possibly this curtailed participation because only about 50 at most rode, all but a few young, most seemingly from Detroit or nearby, I might have been the only one from a distance. An array of bikes, some fancy, some plain, mine the only folding. One young Black man asked me, what do they call that type of bike? Suggesting the paucity of folding bikes in Detroit on bike rides.

Our route began at Hart Plaza, progressed to the river, along the river walk, up “the cut” (an old rail line made into a linear park, S would love this) and then circuitously thru an old cemetery where many brewery magnates are buried, across a bridge to Belle Isle Park, to the statue (organizers shortened the route because of the strong winds on the island, blowing down the river), a break for photos and snacks (I peed in the fountain—scandalous!), and reverse the route, stopping at Andrew’s for lunch.


Dequindre Cut, once a rail line


Belle Isle Park

There, eating Cajun fried fish with fries and coleslaw, I sat with a Black man, the one I thought had been with a very attractive young Black woman. I sat with him partly expecting she would join us—she never did. This guy, missing a number of upper front teeth, spoke incessantly about the many rides he’d made in North Carolina up and down mountains, his strategies for winning races, all the while gesticulating wildly with his hands and arms. When I told him about Mt. Washington (in the White Mountains), he exclaimed, jubilantly, I want to climb that mountain! Later I realized this was not the Black man I thought, with the handsome partner, but more a loner. I positively identified the 2 when I examined my video footage.



I made numerous photos, most of them lame, and about 5 video clips, some perhaps useable. I suspect 2 guys I spotted with single lens reflex cameras, able to turn around and photo people from the front rather than the back as I mostly did, produced better results. One guy, dark black, used a Nikon D700, full frame camera. As we rode, we discussed the relative advantages of the D600 which I usually use (not on this bike ride) and the D700. He told me, I no longer worry about high ISO, at 3200 there is no noise. I felt, zooming around Detroit by bike, I’d made a photo buddy. I only wish we could join together later and compare photos—maybe online later [never happened that I found, except for the stupendous one below].


Courtesy of Farmada Free Ride


Indian Village


Leaving the restaurant early, believing the ride effectively over, I pedaled as much as possible along the river back downtown to retrieve my car. I’d parked it in a lot with other cars opposite the Motor City Casino, near the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) headquarters. I worried. Ah, happily, it was still there and intact.

I have to wonder about Detroit as Motor City. Maybe Detroit has lost its earlier distinction and now, with the times, found or is discovering a new one: Detroit as Bicycle City.


At Eastern Market where I expected more bike week activities I found only a group of men huddled beneath large blue blankets conversing. Asking where the bike week activities are, they told me many had been canceled because presenters had cut out, numbers were definitely down, they suspected because of the weather. I thought, what a bunch of wimps.

So I wandered the Market alone, not looking for bike events, but searching for a fine cup of coffee and something sweet. I found precisely what I needed in the large Gratiot Central Market amidst its myriad meat, poultry and fish—a heavily sugared cruller and a large cup of cheap black coffee. After depositing 2 quarters in the hands of “my brother” waiting by the main door for likely benefactors, I sat outside because there was no seating inside. I sat opposite a series of graffiti on a hardware store that might be abandoned. Poor sign.




Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race. 

—H. G. Wells




The Wind Blew With Us/Against Us (video)

Farmada Freeride

North American Bicycle Week

Bike Detroit

Detroit Women Bike

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Excerpts from my journal during a 2 week sojourn in Detroit Michigan, late summer 2013


September 17, 2013, Tuesday

Cold, low 40s, 50% cloudy with altocumulus, still.

Ah, Slow Roll, what pure joy. Easily 200 bikers, all forms of bikes (mine the only folding that I noticed, and no one commented to me), thru the downtown area, whistling, hailing, shouting, boom boxes booming, along the river front (stopping for a group photo, some holding their bikes over their heads), and around the near East Side. Light waned, bike lights blazed, spokes lit up, bikes glowed in ways I’d never seen before. I only hope my photos show a portion of this magnificent extravaganza.


Blacks and whites together, all congenial, or seeming so, mostly young, me perhaps the oldest (altho I felt young and gay), bystanders gawking and laughing and smiling, into the evening and back to where we started, St Andrews (which might be an old hotel, now restaurant). Earlier I’d eaten fish and chips (delicious) at the Greek restaurant where I’m sure I’ve eaten before. I ate outside (the only one outside) in the chill air (so I could guard my bike).


This might have been my longest day yet biking. My butt is sore, perhaps I’ve grown blisters there again, and my knees ache. Arriving home around 10 pm (started out a little after 1) I was exhausted. Brush teeth, dive into bed, think, oh what a grand day. Tomorrow I will rest. (maybe)

Lit bikes-Detroit-bicycling-9523

In the afternoon, near the river I met the only other folding bike rider I’ve met so far: older, black, somewhat heavy, with helmet and other gear. He told me he bikes to increase blood circulation in his legs where he has problems. Bikes alone, would never join Slow Roll, rides an Adventurer bicycle (which I’ve never heard of), guaranteed but with multiple problems that caused him to return the bike for replacements twice. He bikes only on sidewalks, and usually only along the river—and definitely always alone.

The only other folding bike I saw in my two weeks in Detroit (other than mine).

My bike-Detroit-bicycling-9279

My bike, a Dahon

Beginning my long adventure I noticed a small garden along Grand River Avenue that I’d not seen before. Stopping, I photographed it amid the debris of Grand River.

And biking home last night I noticed men entering and leaving liquor stores, their forms dark against bright security lights—for me an ultimate image of desperation, despair, and suffering. This might make a good photo, I thought. So I tried several times, standing as much as possible in shadow to not be noticed. I constantly checked over my shoulder to make sure I was not about to be ambushed in the dark.

Along Grand River Ave on my way home.

Coda: a few days ago while preparing the photo set about Slow Roll I discovered that the theme of the ride had been Prom Night. The following week, September 23, the ride theme would be Literacy and the ride would tour to selected literacy training sites in central Detroit. I also learned that Boston (I live in Cambridge, near Boston) this summer initiated a mass ride called Boston Bike Party, on top of a pre-existing and highly controversial ride called Critical Mass. Unlike Slow Roll, allegedly Boston’s Critical Mass often deliberately creates road chaos and alienates motorists. Not so with Slow Roll—disciplined, respectful of motorists and pedestrians, well received by most.






Slow Roll

Mass (as in Massachusetts) bike

Detroit liquor stores

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Along Grand River Ave

Johnny, my next door neighbor

Eastern Market

Felicia in an urban garden, part of Team 313

Excerpts from my journal while on the road for 3 weeks to the hinterland of the USA, with photos to show and photos to make.


We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.

—Grace Lee Boggs

June 22, 2011, Wednesday, Detroit, K’s

Warm, low 70s, partly cloudy, turning to overcast, hazy, still—after an evening and night of heavy rains, with electricity. could rain again today.

This morning on my morning walk 3 dogs greeted me as I strolled south on Washburn toward Grand River. They lumbered toward me, I continued toward them on the sidewalk, I hoped they’d diverge. They didn’t. They challenged me, they snarled at me, they came very close to my legs. I thought they might bite. I tried talking sweetly to them. They didn’t listen. They weren’t like the Palestinian dogs who give ground when approached, despite their vicious appearance. I startled, turned away, watched them, prepared for them to bite.

Would I kick them, flee, or—as I ruminated later—whack them with my camera on a strap, really laying into them to hurt them, drive them off? I gave them the sidewalk, took the street, and they lost interest. Were they trying  to protect some turf? Were they simply mean? Perhaps from a background of abuse? I wish I could ask them. The little shits.

Remarking to Anne about my use of McDonald’s I noted to her that McDonalds’s and other large eatery chains can help remake blighted areas. They have financial backing and experience to open a store in a neighborhood that is not friendly to such enterprises. Like the one I live in with its McDonalds’s. My McDonald’s is thriving, its drive-thru service open 24 hours, the main part from 7 am to 10 pm. There is always a large group eating when I’m there working with the internet (my main reason for attendance), and many are also conversing together across tables. Occasionally a large group sits around one table. Good for business and good for the neighborhood? Yes. Good for the world? Not so sure.

Returning from McDonald’s yesterday I stopped at the Grand Price Foodland store for bananas, orange juice, greens. I noticed the produce person looked Arab. I noticed another worker looked Arab. I noticed the man at the customer service booth looked Arab. The cashier was black, she looked to be the only black employee. Does this signify a change of ownership? Are Arabs the new Koreans, taking over local businesses? Part of urban renewal? If so, how are they received by local people? I should ask my neighbors, Johnny and Gloria.

Biking home yesterday on a hot muggy day, not too long before the rains hit, I came upon a movie being made: Have A Little Faith. Perfect title for Detroit. At the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr and Grand River, using an old dilapidated church as a set, well over 100 people were preparing a scene. The scene might have been about roof repair because a truck with a large crane was parked in front of the church, the roof definitely needed repair, and they were rehearsing with a crane-mounted camera. I was amazed at the amount of equipment, people, and preparation for what might be only a few moments of film time—and the cost.

Trying to find a good position for my camera, honoring the restriction of barriers, I set up, only to be confronted by 2 large black security guys who insisted I move off the sidewalk and down the street. Is this not public property? I asked, pointing to the sidewalk and street. It is but we rented it and have full rights to its use. Which may be correct or not. I’d like to check. Initially I resisted, just stood there after my brief conversation, and then relented after I’d made a few photos and thought maybe I could find a better spot. More security men insisted that I move again. With the same rationale. I managed to make a few photos from a distance, unsure what I was photographing. Was the camera merely recording the condition of the church? Or rehearsing for an actor perhaps to repair? I learned that one of the stars from Matrix is in the film.

I compared this operation with our recent movie-making in Gaza. Gaza very simple: small crew, one camera, one boom mike, no tracks or cranes. No security either which seemed to make up a large portion of this crew. One take, virtually no scenario. Will Have A Little Faith be a better movie because of its elaborate infrastructure and financing? Will Eyewitness Gaza be a better movie despite the lack of infrastructure and its slender budget, or partly because of it?

Yesterday’s 4 hour plus bike ride on a miserably hot and sweaty day brought me several gifts: urban art in the form of Mr. Dabls who paints and applies broken glass to abandoned exteriors—and constructs an outdoor museum which rivals Heidelberg, the better known one in Detroit, and even that of Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont. Also Felicia who I met digging thru the soil near Mr. Dabls, planting and weeding a patch about 10 by 10 meters. She told me she is part of Team 313 (after the local area code), serving the people of Detroit, all the people she stressed. She is also widely traveled, living in South Africa for some years and other parts of Africa.

Mr. Dabls accepted my portrait invitation, but smiled as he peered at me while on his ladder. Felicia believes that she is not photogenic so she initially declined my invitation. As I was walking away she said, but an action shot would be OK. I photographed her weeding the onion patch.

Dabls means beads and his Mali ancestors were beaders. He is also and uses them in his constructions.

In photographing the outdoor museum with its many mirrors I noticed myself in one distorted mirror. I wanted to believe that my chubby, varicose-veined legs were a product of the mirror. But I suspect what I saw reflected what others see: chubby, varicose-veined elder legs. Not at all the appealing legs I once had. Years ago biking transformed my legs from sticks into strong and muscled works of art. And now? Deterioration.

Leaving yesterday morning for McDonald’s, Johnny greeted me as he often does, asked where I was headed on my bike. He allowed me a portrait, what I think might be a good start in this neighborhood series. Next, Gloria across the street.

My main goal yesterday was to explore the Detroit Eastern Market, and finally I did, taking once again the wrong path but thereby extending my exploration. Turning left onto Rosa Parks Drive (liking the name) from Grand River Ave, having located MLK Boulevard and might take that east to the market, I thought I was heading east. No, I was traveling north, away from the market. Into a zone of new housing, amidst old abandoned churches.

Belatedly I discovered my mistake, reversed, and finally found the market. What makes navigation tough for me is the Detroit’s skewed layout: often a grid, the streets are usually not oriented north-south and east-west but north is more northwest. The basis is the river, northwest-southeast, not east-west and north-south. In addition some streets like Grand River radiate out from the city center. Grand River is west-northwest, not northwest as I once supposed. Complicating the mess is that some streets are north-south, east-west, like Wyoming St. And then there are the maps. The bus map is absurdly unreadable, the tourist map doesn’t list all the main streets, the AAA map cuts off just when I need it.

The market was not exactly thronged on a Tuesday, that happens only on Saturdays so far. My first stop was an outdoor grocery where I made no photos but bought walnuts and dates. Next a flower shop, outdoors, myriad flowers, and I happened in while a postal worker was choosing her plants. This allowed me to photograph her and the proprietor, a well-tanned fellow (I’m here 24-7, he told me when I remarked about his skin tone.), with curly hair graying slightly and a gray goatee. Noticing the small fridge inside the building I surmised that he might sleep there to protect the plants.

I also surveyed the Gratiot Ave market (pronounced gra-shit) for possibilities, found none, lousy lighting, and I’d have to struggle for good person access. Maybe later. Best on a Saturday, but both my remaining Saturdays might not be good. Next Saturday is the Allied Media Conference, and the following Saturday is the weekend of July 4th. Which might be perfect—or might be a rotten choice. I will check.

My bike is perfect for such perambulations. Around and around the vicinity, stopping and dismounting easily for any possible photo. Much easier than walking surely and even driving. To exit and enter a car many times a day is tiring. Much simpler to jump off the saddle onto the sidewalk. Photo and remount, zoom off.

I used my big SLR camera for the first time on this trip, and the wide-angle lens might have been perfect for the outdoor art photos. For the movie set I missed my telephoto lens.

Where to bike today? River and refinery area maybe too far. It also looks like rain. What might work that is closer?

Dreamt: I had set down my small khaki shoulder bag with many of my valuables as I walked around with a few friends. I was to leave on a long trip the next day. Where had I left the bag? Would I be able to find it? Was it in that wooded spot we just visited?

A young man invited me to speak briefly to a large group of young adults who were making pasta with noodle machines. I was naked except for garden work gloves. The young man noticed and mildly inquired, why naked? I had no answer. I felt deeply troubled by the potential loss of my bag—coming one day before I was to leave. I desperately needed my wallet, notebook, date book, maybe even the camera if it was in the bag. While waiting for the group to take a break to hear me I wandered off to a large lecture hall where I vaguely remembered we’d visited. It held classes about medicine. No bag. What to do?

I woke, thankful that this was dream.



Detroit Eastern Market

Team 313

Dabls bead museum

“Detroit Arcadia: Exploring the post-American landscape,” by Rebecca Solnit

“Detroit’s Grassroots Economies,” by Jenny Lee and Paul Abowd

Eyewitness Gaza Preview

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Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories (itinerary). The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel.


VIDEO: South Miami Settlement

November 2, 2009, Monday, Miami Florida, guesthouse of X and Y

In one dream I was tending a child about 4 years old who seemed a conglomerate of Cid and Ella. The child, androgynous, was difficult, aggressive, and most noticeably feigned vomiting each time I tried to guide or discipline it. The suggestion was it hated me and would resist any order or suggestion from me. Its mother was present, resembling Katy, and she just seemed to sigh and express resignation.

During the night, in real life, as I moved the second pillow that elevated my head too high, I knocked over my night drinking glass filled with cold tea. It shattered, making further sleep a problem.

The nights are very warm and sticky, reminding me of Gaza.

Providentially I made my Quakers in Palestine/Israel presentation on the day beginning the 50th anniversary of the building used by Miami Friends Meeting. Mine was during the meeting for learning, in which I learned that Mustafa Bourghoti’s daughter graduated from the Ramallah Friends School and may have influenced her parents toward non-violence. I’m told a relatively large group attended my session, probably because of the anniversary celebration, and I believe the show went very well. I’m learning that show intimately. Makes all the difference.

Meeting itself drew about 35 (maybe 25 attended my show), which also was said to be a large number, and most importantly it was lively and hearty with strong messages. One ended in a robust sung solo. Andrew’s girl friend/partner gave an odd message that ended in what I thought was the statement, afraid to be happy. I was prepared to add to it about people in Gaza afraid to be happy. I didn’t. And later asked her what she meant. She corrected my hearing by declaring, I said “dare to be happy.” I might have crafted a message around that assertion. Other messages were about loss, a husband, a sister, the sister endlessly suffering, as do many I’m afraid. No way out other than dying.

Meeting for worship was followed by meeting for eating and schmoozing, always fun. I was confirmed in observing that this meeting is highly politically active, compared with some. They recently opened a Quaker peace center across the street, essentially one room. From its budget they gave me a very generous honorarium, more than I’d expected (expectation = zero). Warren told me as he handed over the check, you may not receive anything from the other Miami venues (2 university shows sponsored by student groups). Before meeting several discussed the case of a woman who might be deported back to Central America, how they might help. This reminds us of the sanctuary movement in the early 1980s, protecting Central and South Americans from deportation.

Miami is ethnically diverse: not only Cubans, but many from the other Americas make this their home. And some have become affluent. For a photographer concerned about subcultures, as was someone I met in Miami, this is Mecca. It also sprawls, and has lousy public transportation. But at least one good public school which is what brought my host here initially.

I passed a milestone: last blog and subsite entries from the Palestine/Israel summer trip posted. Now what? Photos and writing from this trip?

Daughters Kate and Joey both wrote about Halloween with the weenie ones, Cid as a pirate with a red headpiece (was it?) and Ella as a pink pig. Rex took a pass for this year. There is now discussion about a family Thanksgiving in NYC, maybe renting an apartment for the 3 families, Kate and family, Lynn and Chuck, me. Elaine also wrote with a brief update. And I’ve been in touch by phone with my cousin Bob Schiel who now is a prisoners’ advocate in an institution, reporting that he loves his job. Y leaves for her cross-country drive on Wednesday, I must write her today.

November 3, 2009, Tuesday, Miami Florida, guesthouse of X and Y

Nearly a nightmare situation last night finding the venue at the Florida Atlantic University, and finding my home site later. The ride there, coordinating with Andrew and Mohammed, took about 3 hours, passing at least 3 accidents, and returning required a cool 3.5 hrs. Admittedly the first journey was during rush hour, 3:45 to 7, but the 2nd began at 10 pm.

Partly this is my fault for assuming Mohammed who’d set up the gig knew where I’m residing (he had had a phone discussion with one of my hosts), and partly his seemingly native ignorance of travel and directions. He couldn’t find his car, twice, aimed at the wrong Old Cutler Road, but luckily he and I remained calm, trying our best to laugh this ballooning debacle away. Net result was we arrived at the last minute for the show and I crawled into bed at 1:30 AM.

I resist writing details of this painful journey so I can move to the veggies of the evening: a family of 7 Palestinian women and girls attended, learning about it on Facebook at the last minute (I must remember to learn how to use Facebook more effectively for announcements.) Some had rich backgrounds, others seemed less knowledgeable but equally eager to learn. The family has roots in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp, knows Al Rowwad Cultural Center, knows Abed, the director, but the children had attended another summer camp in Aida, which I promised to research to see if I might volunteer someday.

Otherwise the audience was miniscule, some 5 others, in a hard to find conference room, which Susan Koppelman recently used to make a presentation about Lifesource.

A highlight of the day was biking. Aas I mentioned to my host yesterday that I was going for a walk in the nearby park, he responded: why don’t you borrow one of our bikes.

Great idea. I landed what he calls a “Comfort Bike,” large with a high seat and high handlebars, effective shock absorbers, many gears, and wide tires. The machine hums along. It brought me for a ride thru a golf course, something I’ve never done before, up and down rolling hills on a path used by the carts. No one shooed me away. Other than the maintenance personnel, I was alone—no golfers. Periodically I spotted white signs stuck in to the green announcing a certain synagogue along with what I presume are supporters of the golf course or an event that happened on it recently. Also a marina, apartment or condo complexes, waterways, a myriad of Florida-specific landforms that present the traditional Florida face. They challenged me to show it in some slightly or dramatically different way. Have I succeeded?

I later tried 2 other branching roads. One led me to a horticultural research station exploring sub tropical plants. Told to leave. Another to a park past a recycling center and ball field into a construction site. Told to leave. But I’d managed to choose the right path first, the golf course.

Taking advantage of the phone rate structure which does not differentiate between local and long distance calls, I phoned Y on a lark to wish her goodbye (she leaves tomorrow to drive cross country.) and Katy to just drop in. Ella said a robust hello grandpa, lighting my day considerably. At this moment Ella is really the only person intimate physically with me, an irony—and intimate only in the sense of holding hands, sitting on my lap, the sort of intimacy that is a major part of what I miss while single.

Returning from the bike ride I swam, another highlight of this 3-day drop in to South Miami. I don’t recall being in any city with more highways, more private vehicles, a more convoluted and spread out landscape. We drove endlessly yesterday and nearly always on 8 lane highways past malls. What could be uglier? Mohammed who can’t be more than 35 years old told me he remembers when one of the roads we drove on, Rt 1, the main road south, going to the Florida Keys, was mostly farms. (Is this the road Jack Kerouac took when traveling south, later to write about it in On the Road?)

A bright spot in all the driving is conversation. And since relationships are one of my favorite topics, I turned to A to ask him more about his relationship with S who sat next to him at meeting, the two of them caressing each other during the silence. Knowing each other for 10 years, sort of partners for 7, he initially suggested marriage, she demurred, saying where would we live, how would we share? She is reasonably content where she is, he where he is, not only the physical arrangements but the life styles. Which is what Y and I faced when considering living together and marrying: too different, too set. So A and S co-exist, share overnights, have a sort of commitment (again like Y and me) with a big difference about extra partner sex. One favors, one does not.

November 4, 2009, Wednesday, Orlando Florida, on the bus between Miami and Tallahassee

I begin this after an 80-minute layover in Orlando. It is now 6:30 AM.

Having slept most of the first leg of this 12 hour bus journey (which began at midnight in Miami), I am now poised for a journey across the first part of my Gulf Coast route to New Orleans. On the bus with me are about 20 others (about 1/4 full), mostly black, mostly young, a few with small children. Legroom is ample, service is decent, air is cold (I wear my mid weight fall jacket). Cost is $45, station facilities adequate (altho they closed the café within 15 minutes of me sitting down to drink my coffee and eat my yogurt with banana). I saw virtually nothing on the first portion, sailing thru the night under a full moon.

The Gaza show last evening to a class in the sociology of the Middle East (Florida International University in Miami) went exceptionally well, judging by the length and intensity of the discussion. It continued for more than one hour, with many questions, none of them hostile, most thoughtful and well articulated. Besides the usual issues raised, I learned of 2 other countries that are now united after decades of division, or once were —Germany and Yugoslavia. Another vexing question that recurs is what explains the pattern of oppressed people turning into oppressors? One answer given by the prof is that while individuals may possess historical memory, societies don’t—there is no societal memory. Evidence for this is how as nations we usually learn little from history. Vietnam into Afghanistan, Johnson into Obama. Otherwise humanity would have evolved much further than it has. So he claims.

This was a mixed crowd of about 40, standing room only (small room), mostly the class’s students, but some from outside, including about 5 young Muslim women. At the last minute (one of the virtues of slide shows) I’d inserted a photo of the local federal representative, Ileana somebody, a Cuban exile with right wings tendencies (common among that class) who’d authored House Resolution 867 opposing the Goldstone report on Gaza. It had been voted on yesterday, the day of the show. I’ve not yet heard the results. [overwhelmingly approved, meaning the US House overwhelmingly condemns the report]

I’m learning the show intimately; I’ve tailored what I say. I have nearly memorized some of the narration, and I can anticipate much better the slide sequence. A problem remains: how vividly do the visuals alone, sans words, show the politics of the issue? I’d referred to this problem while introducing the show and a young man, the only Jew present, asked me specifically about how can photography better express politics. Which launched me into a discussion about the relationship between words and pix. I believe I fail to brilliantly utilize visuals; here I need to learn technique, maybe by closer observation of the work of masters such as Smith, Lange, Selgado, and younger photographers.

To try to answer that young man I mentioned my use of portraits, photos of things only, not people, and sequence. I used the portrait of Raghda as an example, stating, some (thinking of X’s heartening response to the photo) might find this evocative of Raghda’s true nature, her suffering and struggle, while others might see merely a beautiful woman, or an exotic woman, or a Palestinian, or nothing at all. (Not stated was do you see my love for her?) Later at dinner (delicious Japanese, a treat from Mohammed to Carlos and me) I admitted my love for her. She is among the most important ties I have with Gazans, one of my dearest connections.

One way to improve my Gaza show is to deepen the portraits, concentrate on key people: Raghda, Ibrahem, Amal, Yusef, Belal, Reem, Adham, and if only I had better photos of Mohammed, how he suffers.

Who is Carlos, mentioned earlier? A young man with Venezuelan roots who we drove to the show, friend of Mohammed’s, and part of the organizing team for a group of immigrant rights’ workers who plan to walk from Miami to DC between January 1 and May 1. We discussed this extraordinary effort in the car driving to the university—and I invited him to outline the walk during the discussion. The group of 3 key organizers has contacts in national organizations, seem very knowledgeable, are all students who are going on leave for one semester. They have some financial backing, Mohammed promised to help with resources from his organization, the Islamic Council, and they risk arrest and deportation. This walk is more daring than any I’ve undertaken. I hope to stay connected, having offered Carlos the Atlanta Buddhist dojo Nipponzan Myohoji contact.

Carlos seems astute, articulate, committed, and brave, I hope I’m fair to consider him a fellow traveler. Once again, a side benefit, an important benefit of this tour, unpredictable but expected, is meeting such as Mohammed and Carlos.

I had my second bike ride, on that special bike, the Comfort bike, generously lent me by R. This time to an upscale housing development where I made videos while biking, one of my favorite modes of making visuals. I was stimulated while observing the construction of a mammoth house. Then I headed back to the Deering Bay complex and biked along the cart trail in the gulf course making video. Humming and talking to myself, I spontaneously narrated the video, much fun. This time I was warned that biking is not allowed—warned by a woman with skinny legs—in a golf course. The paradox of bikes forbidden, carts OK, once again speaks to the ethics of this country, our priorities.

Following the bike ride, a swim, following the swim, lunch, following lunch, a nap, following my nap, cottage cleanup and packing, following that, more computer work.

I struggle to recalibrate my system, one aspect of my essential being: less dependent on attention from women (or anyone), and more independent while working and traveling. In a practical sense this means less disappointment when no one corresponds with me, or the correspondence is fragmentary, sporadic, pithy to the point of being formulaic, and more appreciation for my solitary state of being. Why moan about loneliness and miss the pleasure and privilege of roaming the earth out of eyesight of others? Why not revel in my isolated existence? Why not more fully engage the mystery of being alone? Why not cultivate being incognito? How about becoming a present day Ambrose Bierce, who vanished from the earth and in vanishing became more visible?

It is now 7:08 AM, and I am northwest of Orlando, heading to Gainesville and then Tallahassee. This route revisits some of my earlier sites on this tour.

I inquire: am I the sort of grandpa that my father was to me, always traveling, not fulfilling family duties, missing the growing up phase of my youngers?


“Culture and language: for more than half a century cultural diversity has been a hallmark of Greater Miami. Today its population mix is a mirror of the Americas”

Deering Bay Yacht and Country Club

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