Earlier this year, I took a break from blogging to write for The Ann Arbor Observer. It was a lot of fun and much more work, in different ways, than writing A2RS or the book. With both of those, I mostly drew on previously recorded information and reindexing it. With A2RS, it’s frequently a social-media post for a recently opened or recently closed business; with the book, it was usually newspaper archives (thanks again AADL!).
On the other hand, the articles I wrote for the Observer, an actual printed publication with decades of history, demanded more than just reindexing information and posting my photos — more than what Tom Dodd, our newspaper advisor at Community High, called “butt reporting.” I had to go into stores and call people on the actual telephone. Sometimes this was a lot of fun, like ordering bubble teas as research; other times you have to ask proprietors uncomfortable questions, like what they expect to do now that their building has been sold. I feel like I grew as a writer and flexed some muscles I hadn’t worked since high school or college, I really appreciate the Observer giving me the shot, then letting me withdraw gracefully when my day job became busier than I could have imagined…
Last year I joined the training team for a company that makes a very popular system many colleges and schools use to hold classes online. (Look me up on LinkedIn if you care that much, suffice to say it is not the system AAPS chose for this year.) As stay-home orders took effect across the nation and it became clear that the pandemic would last into the fall, many school districts and institutions that were considering adopting my company’s solution suddenly threw those plans into immediate action. In an ordinary world, that would have meant a lot of travel and a lot of Trip Reports here, but being around strangers was suddenly a very questionable activity. My company went 100% remote (I already was remote, but they instituted the policy for all employees) and quickly repositioned all of my in-person trainings as virtual sessions.
This was great on one level, because it gave me a lot of practice much more quickly than if I had had to travel to each customer. It was exhausting, because this practice was four to six hours a day, five days a week, all conducted over Zoom. If you’ve been in a remote video meeting, you probably agree that one hour online is at least 90 minutes’ worth of concentration and fatigue.
With all this in mind, the Observer allowed me to step back from writing for Marketplace Changes, just as a wave of closings washed over Ann Arbor. It began with some longtime favorites like the Prickly Pear Café, and eventually led to a number of other businesses contracting. In some cases, several restaurants with shared ownership consolidated into a single kitchen for takeout orders during the early days; some of them didn’t reopen when indoor dining was permitted again in June.
Most recently, BTB Burrito announced they were closing their State Street location — which, while it didn’t have the history of its neighbors Mr. Spot’s or Pizza Bob’s, was a reliable, relatively cheap lunch spot and locally-owned alternative toTex Mex fast casual chains. BTB started out on State Street, eventually expanded to South Packard (where eat. is now), then opened the BTB Cantina on South University in a spot once known as Wherehouse Records and later occupied by an upper-floor of Good Time Charley’s. The Cantina brought BTB burritos together with a full bar and music in the evenings, and offered a number of large booths during lunchtime. The single long table in the State Street location’s dining room was cozy before the pandemic, but seems positively dangerous in a time before a vaccine becomes widespread.
Meanwhile, Pizza Bob’s (mentioned above) moved up the block to the corner of State and Hill — previously Red Light Rotisserie, and before that Quickie Burger. In fact, this is actually a return to a piizzeria for that space – it was Geppetto’s Pizza in the 80s when I first came to town. It’s definitely worth reading more about Pizza Bob’s here in the Observer, and reading further to hear about Underground Sounds moving to Main Street. (I did not write either of these profiles, though I adore Underground Sounds.)
Let’s make this really meta, and show you this storefront of Pizza Bob’s in 1974, thirty years before BTB opened in the same space. (C) The Ann Arbor News.
So as you can see, I’ve missed writing, and have some free time again, I can’t promise I’ll capture every single thing, especially with so much uncertainly, and especially as I am unwilling to spend much time indoors with strangers, But let’s try it. And f you made it this far and are still wondering what exactly I wrote for the Observer — here it all is.