Weekly Wanderings: Random Things I’ve Read Edition

United States time zones in 1913

A bunch of things I’ve read and want to share, with a bit of commentary here and there …

▪ Wait inside the McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and you’ll notice the same announcement playing every ten minutes or so: a reminder (first in English, then in Japanese and Chinese) that Detroit is in the Eastern time zone. The announcement, I suppose, is necessary because geographically Michigan might seem like a time zone toss-up, a border state that could just as easily pledge allegiance to the Central time zone as the Eastern one.

And in fact, as I learned from this blog post by Detroit writer Amy Elliott Bragg, Michigan was once on Central time, before switching to Eastern time after an extended campaign by a group known as the More Daylight Club. It’s a really interesting read that drives home how constructed allegedly “natural” things like time zones really are. I love Michigan’s late-evening summer sunsets (now starting to happen noticeably earlier as we limp into August) and thank the More Daylight Club for its efforts.

▪ Last week I read a blog post by historian Megan Kate Nelson that discussed how lessons from The Great British Bake Off could be applied to the writing process. I linked to the essay on Twitter, adding a comment that I had never seen the show but the blog post had made me curious to watch it. I discovered that many of my Twitter friends are GBBO fans as a chorus of tweets urged me to tune in.

So I started watching and have just finished the first of the three seasons available on Netflix. GBBO is indeed a lot of fun—I’m not much of a baker and am amazed at the skills that contestants bring to the competition. But surprisingly, I’ve also found the show a bit stressful to watch at times because everyone is so nice. Though the bakers are competing with each other, you’d never know it: they chat and joke during moments of downtime, and no one is secretly swapping out a competitor’s baking soda for baking powder or committing some other dastardly deed in the drive to get ahead. They’re all just normal, average people who genuinely love to bake and do it exceptionally well, so I dread the moment at the end of each episode when one of them will have their dreams crushed and be told to go home.

This Lithub essay by Wake Forest professor Susan Harlan about the solitary pleasure of reading in public really spoke to me:

When I lived in New York, I would go out by myself and read. It was one of my favorite things to do, to camp out in a café or a bar for hours. Now I live in a small city in the South, where I moved for a job at a university seven years ago, and if I go out by myself to read, people talk to me. They won’t leave me alone. This is true when I travel, too—when I drive around North Carolina and Tennessee and Georgia and Virginia. What are you doing here all alone? they say. Shame that you’re all by yourself, they say, insisting that you talk to them, join them, come sit with them.

But it’s not a shame. They don’t understand.

I am genuinely confounded by the number of people who look at me sitting by myself reading a book and see this as an invitation to strike up a conversation. But, like Harlan, it happens to me all the time.

▪ Geographically speaking, my relationship to Michigan is much the same as mine to Pennsylvania was growing up: it’s a rather large state and I’m all the way down in the southeast corner. And there’s so much to do just in this little part of the Mitten that I really haven’t thought about other places in the state I’d like to go. Lansing-area author Erin Bartels is helping me out with ideas via a series of blog posts covering a road trip she and her young son took to “the U.P.,” or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’ve been lingering over her photos and stories from Sault Ste. Marie, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and most especially the Keweenaw Peninsula, the very northernmost tip of the state. (How big is Michigan? When I checked the drive time from Ann Arbor to Keweenaw, it was nearly nine hours. Eep.) I don’t anticipate having time for a similarly epic road trip in the near future, but the U.P. is certainly going on my travel wish list.

▪ I am not a fan of bananas. In recent years, I’ve forced myself to start eating them because they’re cheap, filling, and available absolutely everywhere when you’re on the road—from airports and hotels to 7-11s and food carts. How do bananas get everywhere, you ask? Read this New York Times article on “The Secret Life of the City Banana” and you’ll learn about the immense effort that goes into getting the fruit from ship’s cargo hold to bodega counter. It’s a lot more complicated than I ever imagined (and the article also covers a short history of the banana in New York, which is interesting as well).

Image via Wikimedia Commons and used under the Creative Commons license.

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