Brenda Bentley

Brenda Bentley
walking enthusiast
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tottered on: 22 May 2009
Temperature: 62 F
Ceiling: sunny
Ground: re-sodded turf after utility work
Wind: NNE at 10 mph

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TT with HD: Brenda Bentley

Brenda Bentley
Totter 2.0 on location:
N. State & Fuller
In the background is the Gandy Dancer restaurant and the Broadway Bridge over the railroad tracks. There's a path that leads across the tracks in the right of the frame.

[Ed. note: This on-location ride was marred by HD's inability to unscrew the endcap of a pipe for assembly of the teeter totter. A set of pliers was delivered to the tottering location by publisher of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, Mary Morgan. That's HD's wife. Even with the pliers, the endcap would not budge--check the tottering portrait closely. The conversation below begins while BB and HD are waiting for arrival of the pliers.]

HD: No, I think it this is a good use of our time. So while we are standing here, waiting for the magic channel-lock pliers to arrive so that we can unbolt the stand, the base, so that we can actually assemble this thing, let's go ahead and get started. So I didn't realize that this street here, Depot Street--is it Depot Street or Depot Road ...?

BB: Depot Street. And I believe it ends at the Broadway Bridge, and then Fuller begins ...

HD: ... oh, okay so this is Fuller, then. Yeah. Anyway, it's busier than I thought.

BB: Yes.

HD: I thought that this was a quiet little, out-of-the-way street. And I think we're going to have to contend with some traffic noise with the audio recording. Not to mention the wind. But in any case, this is one of the paths, or one of the walks that you describe in the book?

BB: All of the walks go to the river. And all of the walks on the south side of the river in the downtown area patch across the railroad track.

HD: So this is one of those--we're on the south side of the river ...

BB: ... yes, and what's nice about this path is that it is the former State Street. It is where State Street used to go straight to the river.

HD: I'm trying to imagine here what it might have been like. They've changed the grade, I guess, quite dramatically? So the drop-off right across the street there, where you dive down into the--it's not "underbrush," but there's a path that goes through the woods. I mean, it's a really steep path--but you're saying that the Street used to go there?

BB: Yes. I would have to look at an old map to confirm this, but they move the boundaries of the streets sometimes a little bit. And also they were not afraid of steep inclines. I see that around town. Either the road was just a wide dirt space and you would go at an angle as you went down it, or the grade was different in the past. Of course it's easy to imagine how much can be changed with a bulldozer. So it's hard to say exactly how it was in the past. Now this path does go at an angle, the street could have done something similar.

HD: When you say "at an angle" it does kind of dive off to the left ...

BB: To the west, yeah.

HD: Right, and then it goes across the railroad tracks.

BB: Yes. Now, on the maps it shows it at an angle from this intersection straight to where it would intersect with the Broadway Bridge over the river. So it would be almost along the same line as the path.

HD: So now when you say the Broadway Bridge over the river, that's a different structure than the one that we can see right here? Because that's the Broadway Bridge, too.

BB: Yes, and that is the big, high curved part of the bridge, the part that goes over the railroad. The part that goes over the river is really just low and flat and unnoticeable really. But remember a few years ago when they were rebuilding this bridge, they were always referring to it as the "Broadway Bridges"--they always made it plural.

HD: Oh, you know, I didn't notice that at the time.

Hey, here's our channel-lock pliers! Let's see if they actually work! Alright we'll interrupt this part of the conversation. [Various attempt are undertaken by HD to free the end cap from the pipe.] Argh! Oh! Oh, crap. Not even this is going to work.

BB: I don't want to teeter anyway, Dave!

HD: ??

BB: I'm just kidding, I'm just kidding.

HD: Oh, man, crap.

BB: Actually I really wanted it to teeter totter, I've been looking forward to this. It's the neatest thing, I hate to use the word "gimmick" but what you're doing is just the neatest little--I love teeter totters!

HD: Okay, here's an idea. I'm going to recruit you to hold on to this [the pliers ]and I'll use both hands to grab the bar.

BB: 1, 2, 3 ...

HD: Aaaah, crap.

BB: See, it's going to take your skin off.

HD: Okay, here's my other plan, my backup plan. I think let's continue the conversation, we'll wrap it up, and I'll show you my plan. I don't want to deprive you of a ride.

BB: Yeah, I was thinking we could just ...

HD: Anyway, you were saying, it's always been "Broadway Bridges" that they referred to when they were constructing this project.

BB: Yes.

HD: To make a distinction between the bridge over the railroad and the bridge over the river.

BB: Yes.

HD: In the same way with the Stadium Bridge work now, they tend to talk about the East Stadium Bridges, because there's the railroad and then the State Street crossing. For that set of bridges.

BB: Do they always pluralize that? Because State Street runs right beside the railroad in that case, whereas here they have built an actual mound of soil between--planted with trees--between the river bridge, and the railroad bridge. And I'm sure that's completely artificial, because that's an outwash plain, a floodplain, and you would not have found that amount of soil there naturally.

HD: So let me ask about the cover of the book. It depicts these two women in what looks like something out of the 1890s, right?

BB: Right, this is a postcard from about 1900. We have lots of postcards. A lot of photographs like this were taken around Ann Arbor. Almost always with the river.

HD: So this is actually an authentic Ann Arbor photograph?

BB: Yes. This is a photograph that has been artificially colorized, because they thought black-and-white was boring back then. They artificially colorized it and sold it as a postcard. And the Bentley Historical Library has many of these postcards in their image bank.

HD: So was it difficult getting permission from the--you said the Bentley Library?

HD: Yes.

HD: Your last name is Bentley. So is there a connection there?

BB: I'm afraid I have to say, no, although I always chuckle when I answer, because of course there might be a connection.

HD: So that gave you no particular leverage in gaining permission to use them? So did you have to get permission?

BB: Yes, yes. Every single image--I used many from the Bentley Historical Library in my book--and I had to fill out a permission form. But it's freely available.

HD: So it's not like you had to pay a fee.

BB: No. I did have to pay a lot for high quality scans. Like this one for instance was from a similar situation--it happens to be from Minnesota instead of from the Bentley--but I had to pay $65 for this 1200 dpi scan of that photograph.

HD: Ojibwa woman with girls in a canoe. So that's from Minnesota?

BB: Yes.

BB: And there are many historical maps in my book that I got from the Bentley that I had to pay for because I had to pay for the scan.

HD: But not for the right to use it.

BB: Use was freely given.

HD: And they do the scans themselves?

BB: Yes, they do the scans themselves.

HD: On the back of the book you have a blurb from Frank Schwende. I ride--or I used to ride--every month with him on the Ride Around Town. The last couple of months I've missed. How do you know Frank?

BB: Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition.

HD: Okay, so you're actively involved in that?

BB: No, I'm not active anymore. I used to be very involved around town, but I'm not active anymore. Also one of the problems with any group like that--there are many of them all over the country--they combine walking and biking. You find they really are two different constituencies. They only partially overlap. So really ideally you'd have a walking group that ...

HD: ... so a pure walking advocacy group ...

BB: ... yes. And the bikers, you know, the bikers want to ride in the street with the cars, which is most of the time very, very reasonable. And other times when you're a walker and you're on a paved pathway, perhaps separated from the road a little bit, the bikers are one of your biggest threats. But on the other hand you wouldn't even have that paved pathway if it weren't for the bikers. Because the walkers tend to be non-existent as a force. Although we're now getting a lot more recognition--transportation on foot--than we ever have in the past ...

HD: So by recognition you mean awareness of that?

BB: Everybody who drives is also a walker. The thing about walking is it's so basic. Everybody walks, the biker walks. The biker parks his bike and walks.

HD: You know, this is a point that Susan Pollay often makes. The executive director of the DDA, she says, you know, everybody walks a little bit, even if it's from their car to the place they're going. Everybody is a pedestrian at some point. Actually I'm trying to think, Eli Cooper, who's the ...

BB: ... transportation program manager...

HD: ... right, when he talks about using the bus, he counts the bus as "active transportation." I think that's a particular category for grant applications--hey, there's a cyclist coming off the path! But part of his reasoning for counting riding the bus as "active" is that you've got to walk to the bus stop from wherever it is it going. And that's going to be longer distance than where you park your car, I guess. So how many walks are there in this book?

BB: I keep recounting them. On each walking map page, there is ideally one route, but very often I offer a secondary shorter walk. And then sometimes there are clearly two walks per map. Although that's not the ideal.

HD: So you have a favorite one?

BB: Let's see, I was just on that page. This, I think, is my favorite one in the whole book. It's called Postman's Rest to the River Landing. It begins on Vinewood Boulevard at this little pocket park called Postman's Rest. I did not name it--I have named other locations in the book just out of necessity, they had to have names--Postman's Rest, I did not name. It's a little pocket park on Vinewood Avenue near the corner of Wayne. And you walk straight north through the neighborhoods and then into the Arboretum and down to the river. At the main Arboretum landing at the main glen, and then back up, up, up, and through Regents Court by way of Orchard Hills and back to Vinewood. So it's a really beautiful loop, with huge elevation change, a beautiful neighborhood, a beautiful park in the beautiful river. It's a gorgeous, gorgeous walk.

HD: So are they all organized in the same sort of spirit of a loop that goes up and kisses the river and then comes back?

BB: Yes. What you want psychologically to go for a walk is, you want a destination. You want to feel like you've gotten there. So there is something that is an identifiable destination. Ideally it's the river. Most of these in this book, the river is the point where you arrive. You start at some place inland and then you walk to the river. And the walk back is by a different route, so that it's a loop.

HD: Right, got it. Okay, listen, here's my idea. I'm gonna suggest we see if we can't balance the thing without actually fixing it onto the bar, and we'll have to be careful, because we might get slippage. But I think we can actually maybe get a little bit of a ride in. We'll just have to be extra careful. Okay, I'll take the short side of the board because I'm going to be heavier than you. Wait, that's going to put you out into traffic! That's kind of rude! But if we scoot it a little way ...

BB: ... shouldn't it be more ...?

HD: ... well, it won't center up perfectly, because of the ...

BB: ... oh, all right. Should I get on?

HD: Yep. Ready?

BB: Wheeee! Oh, I love it!

HD: Okay, now let me grab my camera so we can do the portrait. Oh, we're getting slippage. See, we're going to have to be really careful. Let's dismount and we'lll get back on again. [photography ensues] Okay, we can teeter a little bit here, I want you to feel like you actually got a ride in. Open invitation to drop by the house. I still feel like you've been deprived of an authentic real ride. And I feel bad about that.

BB: Now, you live in the Spring Street neighborhood?

HD: It's over in the Old West Side on Mulholland.

BB: Okay, I live on Second Street.

HD: So it wouldn't be a far walk for you.

BB: Right. I always go either down Murray or Mulholland. Oh, teeter totters are fun!

HD: So Murray and Mulholland, are they in the book?

BB: No, I'm sorry I have many walks all over the city. I had to cull ...

HD: ... we didn't make the cut??!

BB: No. [laugh] But I've got two other books planned. I had planned to make a walking guide for the whole city. But it was too much, and too big. So I just culled it to walks that go to the river. I mean, I love the really long hikes, but for this book most of them are within a mile of the river. Murray and Mulholland might be a little bit more than a mile. It didn't make the book. It is included in many of the other walks that I do. This is a river walks. I have an idea to do creekways. In fact I already did all of the draft walks for it a few years ago. Where you follow all seven creeks of the city from as high up as you can get within the city limits and then go all the way to the river.

HD: You know I recall this must have been three or four years ago, there is a little snippet in the Ann Arbor Observer, I think, about a group of people who would walked literally every street in Ann Arbor. Do you know anything about that? Or maybe you were one of those people?

HD: No, I have walked every street of the city, just in my research to do the walking loops. But I occasionally meet some people who say they have walked every street. See, what it is they want to go for a walk, and they need a destination or a goal. If you just look at your neighborhood and walk in a circle you are bored to tears.

HD: You're doing laps.

BB: And when you get yourself out there, yes the garden is different every day and yes it's beautiful, it's fun to see your neighbors, but it's great to have a new destination and a new place to go, a new way of making a circle in a way that you just hadn't thought of. I stick with the psychology of the loop. For instance, if there is a really nice house, but it would cause the loop to be really zig-zaggy, forget the house. Because when you're walking you want to look to where you are going to turn next. You want to see it a few blocks in the distance. You don't want to zig and zag. You just want to walk to that point, and then make your turn. So if your street ends in a T, you are forced to turn, so you don't mind turning. But if the loop says, Oh, turn on that street, and then turn on that street, and then turn on that street, it's too psychologically ...

HD: ... you feel like you are solving a puzzle not going on a walk.

BB: Yeah. You want a gracious loop. You want an interesting walk. Yes, you want to go past the interesting house, but perhaps that could be for another walk. That could be the destination. If it's hard to get to otherwise, you would make it the destination, so you would get yourself there. Instead of making this big zig-zagging loop.

HD: You know, I'm just observing, this is actually working out okay. Do you think you got your money's worth out of the teeter totter ride?

BB: Yes, I do!

HD: Then I want to thank you for coming out here on an early--what day is it--Friday morning to read the teeter totter with me. Thanks a bunch.

BB: Thank you, Dave. It's been fun.