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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Thursday, March 18, 2021


Washtenaw County Health Department vaccination sticker

Like many Ann Arborites, I was frustrated this winter in securing an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine. I had no luck with Michigan Medicine or St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, never heard back from Meijer, and I couldn't nab a time at a local pharmacy.

But in early March, I obtained a vaccine appointment through the Washtenaw County Health Department. I was directed to show up at the EMU Convocation Center, where the health department operates a vast clinic (another has since been set up in Chelsea).

Here's how my experience went.

Appointment: I was assigned an 11:05 am time slot and told to arrive three minutes in advance. Since I'm a prompt person, I showed up 15 minutes early, only to find a line forming outside the center's south door.

A volunteer who was directing traffic sent me back to my car to wait. I wasn't alone. All around me, patients were arriving 30 minutes, even an hour sooner than their times.

There is no need to arrive early, and the clinic does not accept walk-ins. If you don't have an appointment, you will not be allowed in line.

The first line: At 11:05 am, I got back in line, with about a dozen people ahead of me. Soon, more people piled up behind me, with our volunteer arranging us by appointment time. It took about 10 minutes to get inside the door.

The second line: Inside the door, the line splits in two directions. The left side is for people who need assistance, such as wheelchair users or those with walkers. I went to the right, lining up to check in and get paperwork.

Across the arena: Here's where you realize that there will be a lot of walking involved. Patients travel across the mezzanine of the arena to a hallway on the other side (the EMU Women's Basketball team was practicing on the floor, which was fun to watch while we waited).

Fill out your form: In the second hallway, chairs are set up in a socially distant fashion so that you can sit down and fill out your paperwork. You answer a series of health questions, such as whether you are displaying any symptoms.

You sign the form, and signal to a staff member that you're ready. You are sent to a second check-in desk, and cleared to proceed.

Watch the video: Big screen monitors are set up with an informative video about the vaccine. Once you're finished, you head down the corridor to be dispatched to a vaccine station. Along the way, you may pass uniformed members of the Michigan National Guard.

Getting your shot: I counted about a dozen vaccine stations along the front corridor outside the arena. Mine was staffed by a nurse from the St. Joe's system. The shot itself is like any other flu shot or vaccine: it goes into the top part of your arm, and stings for a second, but it isn't otherwise painful.

Information: After your shot, you receive several pages of information about possible side effects, and a piece of paper with a QC code that you aim at with your smartphone so that you can make your second appointment.

Since I received a Pfizer shot, my appointment was scheduled for three weeks later. For this shot, you can choose a different time than the one you were originally assigned.

The last stop: Finally, you wind up in a large waiting area outside the arena, with socially distanced seats for about 100 people. You're advised to wait 15 minutes, in case you have an adverse reaction.

It was the largest crowd I'd been in since the pandemic began, and even though we'd all been vaccinated, I felt some anxiety at being in a group that big. But there is a booth staffed by EMS technicians, in case anyone falls ill (an ambulance is parked outside).

I was discouraged from taking a selfie during my shot, but the waiting area has a selfie spot, where you can pose to capture the moment for your social media accounts. It's a festive atmosphere, with people laughing, and presumably smiling under their masks.

Just like at a polling place, you can pick up a sticker. This one reads, "I got my COVID-19 vaccine!" and "Protect yourself, protect others." My fifteen minutes over, I walked back to my car.

Side effects: I felt just fine on the day of my shot. Fatigue set in the day afterwards. I'm normally not a nap taker, but I needed a two-hour lie down to get my energy back. I'm told that people feel even more tired after shot number two, so I am factoring that into my schedule.

Conclusion: dress according to the weather for your outside wait. Wear comfortable shoes (my counter showed that I covered about 1,200 steps). If you can't stand or walk, ask to use the assistance line. Plan on spending about an hour, start to finish, including the 15 minutes of post-shot waiting.

Posted by John Hilton at 3:47 p.m. | 1 comment Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

SHOPPING IN MY CLOSET by Nancy Harrington

photo of closet

After a trip to the basement to store my summer clothes, I realized that most of them had not even been worn this year. Some were on hangers with tags still attached from shopping trips last March before the shutdown.

It has been a summer like no other with us socially distancing, quarantining and ordering our food online. Since we were eating mostly at home, not going to restaurants, gyms, or visiting friends’ homes, my lounge or exercise clothes have been my outfits of the day.

As life begins to normalize hopefully in the new year, I realize that my weekly shopping excursions will not be necessary. My closet looks like it contains everything I need for various life functions. I’m now treating it like a store and asking if I really do love a piece of clothing ala Marie Kondo. Supposedly we only wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time. So I’ll be donating many of the rejects to the Salvation Army, the Ann Arbor Thrift Shop or a local charitable group.

Another idea which has been successful in the past is a Clothing Swap Party. Friends will be Invited and encouraged to bring items to swap in a party atmosphere. Refreshments will be served and everyone will go home with something new. Leftover items can be donated to charity.

Shopping will be on my to do list and I will still visit the mall and favorite stores. I’m now looking at my closet as not just a storage place but as a whole new experience into fashion. It’s a treasure trove of my own preferences and tastes, and I will be able to browse to my heart’s content. Some of us haven’t exercised as much as usual during the shutdown, so we hopefully haven’t changed sizes. But that’s a whole other story.

Posted by John Hilton at 2:40 p.m. | 7 comments Bookmark and Share

Sunday, August 30, 2020

B-17: A FLYING FORTRESS, by Meghan Prindle

B-17 Yankee Lady Yankee Air Museum

She's beautiful, our Yankee Lady.

Her wings huge and wide and low,

Chrome that shines on a clear fall day,

And a four-engine hum - distant, rumbling, penetrating, exhilarating.

We run eager to the yard, the deck, the window - anywhere - to catch a glimpse as she soars overheard.

But what horror she once delivered to those on the ground or those releasing her rounds.

How could something so brutal, so calculatingly crafted, be so beautiful?

And how can the sun dance and reflect on her chrome and our ears delight in her hum?

I don't know.

But as I sit here quietly alone, I find refuge in her peaceful path;

For are we not all part of history's one long and imperfect and unbroken chain?

And in our own time we'll learn lessons hard and sacrifice to earn our part.

So take heart, have courage, and look up;

The Flying Fortress, here she comes 'round again.

Posted by John Hilton at 3:40 p.m. | 1 comment Bookmark and Share

Thursday, July 2, 2020

DANGER AT THE DOG PARK: What Every Visitor Needs to Know.

Swift Run Dog Park sign
Inspired by Kathleen Perry and written by Nancy Drubel

Let me first say that we’re PRO dog parks. The Swift Run Dog Park (corner of Ellsworth and Platt roads in Ann Arbor) is 10 acres of fenced grassland where dogs can run and play in a protected environment. It’s a great place to take your dog for exercise and social interaction.

The five of us have been meeting at Swift Run for over 10 years. We are older women, from very different backgrounds, who have bonded over conversation and the mile walk we take each morning with our dogs.

A founding member of this women’s walking group is Kathy, a 71-year-old great grandmother who’s raising three small children under the age of 10. Frail and helpless she is NOT, in fact she’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.

All that said, this article is about a hidden danger of the dog park and what happened early one morning.

Kathy never saw him coming (none of us did). In an instant, an 80-pound dog running at full speed plowed into her body from behind, tossing her into the air and throwing her to the ground. She was hit so hard that the fall fractured and dislocated her right ankle.

With Kathy writhing in pain on the ground, we called 911 and waited for the EMTs to enter the park and carry Kathy out on a stretcher. After an ambulance ride and a trip to the emergency room, she eventually had to have surgery to put a plate and pins into her ankle and she’s looking at months of pain and rehabilitation.

This was supposed to be a fun visit to the dog park, just like the ones we’ve been making every day for years. Who knew something like this could happen?

Yet in all probability, the dog that hit Kathy has done this before. There are dogs who use people’s body parts (e.g., shins, knees) to stop themselves. It is sometimes called "charging."

I used to have a sweet, gentle, 60-pound-dog, aptly named Teddy Bear, who had a nasty habit of running into the back of my legs. If you think that a dog running full force will veer off before hitting you, think again. Some don’t.

If your dog has been known to charge people, think twice before bringing them to a dog park. If you do go, watch your dog carefully and alert others to his/her charging habits. (I used to yell out frequently: "Teddy’s here, watch your knees!")

As a responsible owner, you have an obligation to let people know what to be on the lookout for, similar to letting people know if your dog has been known to bite. A dog does not charge once and then stop – most have a history of the behavior.

Here are a few suggestions to make the dog parks safer for all:

1) Be aware that some dogs charge.
2) If your dog charges people, you should consider skipping the dog park.
3) If your dog charges and you’ve still decided to go to the dog park, don’t go during high-use times (go early or late instead) and stay with your dog so you can announce the danger and intervene if necessary.
4) If a dog charges you, try and move to the fence line (though too frequently the dog comes out of nowhere and there’s no escape).
5) Do not bring small children to the dog park; if Kathy had been a child, the blow she took could have killed her.
6) Do not put your children on your shoulders – if you go down, they will fall far and hard. And remember, sometimes you just don’t see it coming.
7) If your dog charges someone and that person gets hurt, offer to pay medical expenses.If your dog bites someone, you should offer financial support; charging casualties are no different.While the owner of the dog that knocked Kathy down was distraught, we didn’t get his name and haven’t seen him since.

This accident has changed the trajectory of Kathy’s life. It could have been avoided had we known the dog was prone to charging.

Who knew something like this could happen? Now you do.

Posted by John Hilton at 9:55 a.m. | 4 comments Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

A DAY IN A MASK, by Erin Fedeson

barista Erin Fedeson wearing a mask at work, Ann Arbor, MI, May, 2020

What is it like

A day in a mask

At a coffee

Shop in this crisis?

We fill our day

With daily tasks and

Waiting out time

From clock in to out.

We smile behind

Our masks, hoping it

Reaches our eyes.

Music fills silence

But not the void,

Missing our friends,

Our families,

And our regulars.

We miss seeing

New faces coming

In with wonder

Shining in their eyes.

So we stay strong.

We put on our masks.

We brew coffee.

We await the day

The masks come off,

So we smile once more

With whole faces.

Posted by John Hilton at 11:56 p.m. | 0 comments Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Michigan Creamery, Ann Arbor, Michigan, April 2020

What do people ponder in this pandemic?

We are sharing in this status of social distancing.

Yet what is our story?

How is yours different from mine?

I was here in Ann Arbor before the pandemic.

Ann Arbor's streets bustled with student life.

Tourists strolled, taking in the sights and sound.

The homeless' small voices whispered, "Spare some change," from the city's nooks and crannies.

I am here in Ann Arbor during the pandemic.

The streets are silent.

Students and tourists ghosted from the streets.

The homeless' words, "Spare some change," speak louder as humanity is absent from Ann Arbor's streets.

As a barista, people are my work's life line.

COVID-19 dried out the waters that sustained the business.

My boss valiantly struggled to balance safety and business.

She partnered with initiatives to help her employees out.

She regretted she couldn't give more.

In these times, her drive and dedication to her staff is worth more than a check's weight.

One fine day, I took to the streets as a runner.

All my activity is taken from me.

It leaves me seeking structure to my day.

On Palmer Field, runners like me jog.

A mother pushes her stroller.

A handful of people play tennis on the courts.

A few days later, signs appear, saying there's a fine for those using the field and courts.

But does it mean that the runners have no place to go?

Businesses along the streets advertise carryout.

Businesses etch love out to the city on their windows.

Anxiousness of unemployment, did I get the paperwork done?

Unable to talk to a human being makes worry gnaw my insides.

Co-workers struggle to get unemployment.

I have so many blessings.

At this time, I seek peace through the written word.

It is here I share a glimpse of my pandemic ponderings.

Posted by John Hilton at 9:55 p.m. | 0 comments Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

ANN ARBOR, a poem by Meaghan Prindle

Mid-morning dawns slow over arbored lawns,
Where collegiate airs mix with quirky town affairs.
Now traverse Washington & State, downtown cosmopolitan and quaint;
Breath stilled at the view long west ‘cross avenues,
Sun’s sleepy rays slant through Midwestern haze
To glaciated hills, painted leaves, fertile till.
Lo, I confess! Rooted deep in my breast
There’s a fervent, enduring love that I harbor,
My city, my home, my beloved Ann Arbor.

Posted by John Hilton at 3:00 p.m. | 1 comment Bookmark and Share

Friday, June 28, 2019


David Swain at the Ann Arbor Skate Park,  September 2014

When my family moved to the new Westaire Terrace subdivision near Haisley School in 1958, Vet's (Veteran's Memorial) Park was still known as the fairgrounds (it had replaced Burns Park in the 1920s as the site for the county fair). A few old buildings still stood on the high ground near Jackson Road where where the fire station, pool and ice rink are now.

There weren't any softball or baseball diamonds yet on the northern, lower area. In their place stood an old harness-racing oval track, though it hadn't been used for a few years. My older sister (who was quite the horse-fancier) was rather disappointed that there had been plenty of equestrian activity in the area, but we got there too late (we had moved from the Burns Park neighborhood, but we didn't know at the time about the relationship between Burns Park and Vet's (you can still see the outline of the track from the way the trees were planted at Burns Park).

I was never any good at most sports, but while still at Haisley School, I decided to try playing golf. My father also took up the game and for many years, we enjoyed playing together about once a week. After my father died in 2014 at age 90 (he scored his last birdie at age 89), I couldn't afford to keep up the membership at Radrick Farms, so I needed to find an alternative sport/activity.

My dad had been living at Hillside Terrace on Jackson Road for a few years and I was nearby in the Hollywood Park subdivision near Abbot School, so I would drive by Vet's Park quite often. The Ann Arbor Skate Park was under construction and would open on the first day of summer in 2014. My first contact with skateboarding (or "sidewalk surfing" as it was then known) was in 1963 when our family took a trip out west in our 1959 2-cycle, 3-cylinder SAAB.

I got a skateboard two years later from Beaver's Bike and Hobby on Church Street (where the Brown Jug back room is now). When M-14 (then called "Northbelt") was first built, a friend and I rode from by the Newport bridge down to the river before it was open to traffic. Coming home, we skated down Wines Drive where my erstwhile sixth-grade teacher, Bill Browning (Mr. B) saw me and remarked on how graceful I was on the skateboard, in contrast to any other physical activities that I had ever engaged in.

I continued to skate through the years. There is a brief film clip of me skateboarding in the legendary Ozone Parade (probably the second one [1973?]) streaming a big American flag behind me. I broke my elbow in 1992 rolling around during a break at my band's gig.

I had never even seen a skate park before one was built right in my neighborhood.

On opening day, I was down there with my bike helmet, garden kneepads, thick-soled Reeboks and my 20 year old skateboard (my "new" one). One of the many great things about the AASP is that no matter what your ability level, there are things you can do there. After going down a few of the gentler ramps, I got the courage to try one of the swimming-pool shaped bowls. I figured (incorrectly) that the more westerly pool (the "kidney bowl") was better for beginners because it had steps going down into it.

I descended the steps and got on my board and gingerly pushed off. The board (and I) accelerated down into the depths and when I got going as fast as was comfortable, I stepped off by kicking the board backwards out of the way. I stood and thought to myself "This is great! So far so good."

Skateboarding isn't rocket science. But it does share some characteristics with NASA including ballistics, and Newtonian physics. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Also, what goes up, must come down. Unbeknownst to me, my board had rolled up the concrete surface, paused ever so briefly, and then reversed its direction. Like the movie shark bent on revenge, the board silently and with ever increasing speed homed in on its target.

In Homer's "The Illiad," Achillles was the very personification of youthful strength, beauty, and valor. He was killed by Paris's arrow that struck him in the heel of his foot, his only vulnerable part. The tendon connecting the calf muscle to the heel bone is called Achiles tendon. The term "Achilles heel" refers to a person's weak spot.

So, I'm standing in the bowl, savoring my modest success, when suddenly I collapse in a heap with a searing pain in my ankle. The board ricocheted off me, rolled up and back again, then nuzzled up against my prostrate form, like a beloved pet trying to console me.

In an example of hope over experience, I look forward to having that pain go away sometime in the future.

Posted by John Hilton at 12:37 p.m. | 0 comments Bookmark and Share

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