G-Sync: Analog in the city

When that giant summer sun is high in the air, if you are like me, then you’re seeking less time under the glow of your handheld screen as you seek those more analog moments in the city. This is Tommy Allen's suggested list of activities to consider.
There are no shortages of online distractions these days. However, when that giant summer sun is high in the air, if you are like me, then you’re seeking less time under the glow of your handheld screen as you seek those more analog moments in the city.

And in keeping with the chill attitude of summer, I want to suggest we pull back a bit from our always “on” digital culture and recommend a few of my favorite unplugged activities within our city’s urban landscape that affirm our humanity but also increase one’s happiness via the connections these can produce within us.

These are a few selections from Analog in the City—my summer of 2017 edition. 

Be an urban explorer.  

Getting off your well-worn path will not only shake up your routine, but the change of scenery will most certainly awaken your brain as the rush of new experiences flood your cerebral cortex.

And while the concept of getting lost or simply wandering in the city is foreign to many in a world comprised of packed schedules and familial obligations, starting smaller with just a few destinations can often be enough to produce something fresh for the mind.

For starters, we all have to eat, so why not upend our path to our favorite markets and spend some time in a store that has a more ethnic focus unfamiliar to us.

Chef Jenna goes shopping.

I understand this can be tough because, as you wander the aisles, you may not want to appear confused or lost. That is why it is important to not be afraid to ask questions of those you encounter. You will be surprised at what you learn once you start this practice of being a food explorer. Need a suggestion? Consider a visit to Kim Nhung Superstore profiled in this video produced by Rapid Growth of a chef’s adventure in the city.

Scavenger hunting for black gold

From garage sales to secondhand shops to record stores, there are no shortages of places to discover the analog beauty (and cheap prices) of black vinyl. In more recent years, the act of placing the needle on the record and sitting back to stare into the album's artwork has been like reconnecting with an old friend as your focus shifts to the warmth emitting from 33 RPM. 

The Guardian reported earlier this year that “more than 3.2 million LPs were sold last year, a rise of 53% on last year and the highest number since 1991 when Simply Red’s Stars was the bestselling album.” In fact, vinyl sales were so high that they outstripped what folks were spending on digital downloads. 

Spinning records at the Monarch Club.

What was once considered a dying form of music delivery, records are now enjoying are a healthy comeback.

There are even plenty of options in the city to listen to this medium in a public venue, from The Meanwhile’s turntable tucked behind the bar, to Eastown’s Harmony Brewing Co.’s Thursday guest artist series, where a DJ showcases a private or finely curated collection, to the Horseshoe Smokehouse’s new vinyl focused events on a floating stage. 

One of my favorite vinyl events in the city as of late has been the Sunday afternoon patio parties hosted by Vinyl Fetish at The Monarch Social Club on the westside. 

Each time they have hosted this special afternoon of music, you can expect a literal who’s who of our local DJ scene as folks are encouraged to join Joe Moon and the gang on the 1’s and 2’s.  

And unlike when these DJs are in a club creating flawless mixes, the patio event is a chance for them to showcase those often forgotten gems or freshly reworked tracks within a casual setting. The whole scene on a Sunday has a Chicago neighborhood vibe I recall from the early 90s. 

Adopt new challenges

Often I pass the Lions and Rabbits Gallery on Plainfield and am reminded not just of the massive amount of talent in our region on display here, but of the recent appearance of the white macramé art piece that evokes 1970s glory when, as a child, I discovered the joy of houseplants.  https://www.facebook.com/lionsandrabbits/ 

Macramé art from Lions and Rabbits Gallery.

In fact, houseplants are so big again that recently in a New York Times Magazine piece it was reported that “Five million Americans between 18 and 34 took up gardening for the first time in 2015; in all, 37 percent of millennials are growing plants and herbs indoors, placing the pastime somewhere between 'vaping' and 'drowning in student debt' in terms of popularity.” (Letter of Recommendation: Pathos by Jazmine Hughes.)

Maybe adopting a houseplant is too massive of a leap for those who think they are green thumb-challenged. Lucky for you, it is still not too late to secure a potted vegetable plant to nurture and later enjoy the fresh produce it brings…and often only a few steps from your kitchen. You can’t get more (urban) farm-to-table than that.

Maybe house or vegetable plants are not your thing, so how about visiting any one of the many farmers markets to hang with a local farmer. Now, I am not advocating this is some new form of singles’ bar for picking up farmers. 

But, through casual conversations with those tasked with nurturing food from the earth, you might garner some tasty insights as to what to make with your heirloom tomatoes, onions, basil, and goat cheese. (Here’s a hint: add a good crust to your baking list and you’ve got the beginnings of a fabulous sweet and savory tart.)

Rolling Slow

You can always count bike lanes within the city to get you where you want to be as we have more than 80 miles to explore in Grand Rapids. 

And there are nearly as many activities and events each year committed to cycling in the city, from neighborhood-focused bike tours to special themed events from She Rides Her Own Way—a local start up committed to getting women (and others) out on the road in a fresh-from-the-runway but always in your own, style. 

And no worries if you don’t have a bike because we have places like The Spoke Folks—our local cycling co-op—who often have a fine selection of bikes and priced for every budget. 

Park It.

Take a stroll in the park and not just because of the health benefits. Make it a destination where you can, quite easily with the aid of a portable hammock, create a window seat to the sunset in places like Riverside Park nestled on the mighty Grand River. 

You could even continue on the tradition that Super Dre started many years ago with her weekend summer afternoon pop up parties, where folks play music at an enjoyable (but not too loud of a) volume adding to the joys and excitement of wandering within a city park. They have begun to happen again, adding to the excitement of some venues like our very own DIY skateboard park at Clemente on Godfrey.  

If you host one, be mindful of the neighborhood, always pointing your speakers away from residential areas for the most success. Again, this is not an opportunity to create a festival, but rather a “happening” activated with good friends who understand the need to also be good neighbors. 

Other analog activities include rollerblading to longboarding on any of the many paths we have around the city that provide an uninterrupted-by-traffic experience in a stunning setting. 

For those looking for a much quieter and intimate experience, how about reading poetry in a foreign language that you do not know to a person who speaks the language? I guarantee from my personal experience that you will thoroughly enjoy this activity because of the conversation it is sure to spark. 

Who knows, if you get really good at mastering your poem, you can recite it aloud to those who pass by as you practice a new language in an artful format. Might I suggest starting with something by Pablo Neruda?

And of course, if you have a guitar, then just skip the poetry and head straight for the park for some ambient strumming.

Learn to stretch with dialogue

Each year I make an effort to connect with my neighbors more and one of my favorites is Miss Mona, a retired educator on our street. 

Miss MonaOver the years I have lived in my Creston home, I have enjoyed spending time with her as she ages in place. But when I do not see her outside, I jump into our garden, cut some fresh flowers, and stroll down the street to ask how she’s doing. 

This intergenerational dialogue is so important for a host of reasons, but most of all, because it gives me a chance to listen to another’s life and perspective from being in the city for so many years before me.

And this could be my most favorite analog thing to do since the conversations happening within our neighborhood increases our sense of place and connection to one another as we build understanding about what we do not know nor have experienced. 

If you live in a place where your community is walkable, then feel free to adopt a favorite watering hole in your neighborhood and invite friends and neighbors to join you there.

Years ago, a group of us adopted The Pickwick Bar in East Hills, where I lived at the time, showing up each and every Wednesday for pitchers of beer and conversation. 

The experience not only deepened my friendships via this once-a-week activity, but we discovered many other people in our neighborhood as a result. I miss that time because of the role the good and lively conversations our weekly gatherings produced. 

Be the author of your own story

If you are one, who, like me, has been moved by an experience in our city or on your journey outside of it, then feel free to drop a line to a friend via a postcard. I have friends who have discovered how much I enjoy this activity and to this day send me missives from the road. 

And should the act of addressing and mailing notes is too much, then a handwritten letter or journal entry crafted as you sit in a public space will produce a record I know you will enjoy reading later in the future. It may not seem like much at the time, but upon reviewing previous journals I have created through placing ink to paper helps quiet the mind as you begin to see a new picture of your city emerge with you in it.

And while my list is slanted toward what I would recommend to the hyper-digital version of me, any analog list you create will be all your own. In fact, if you have a few recommendations, jot down your favorites below to share with me. 

Thanks for reading Rapid Growth, enjoy your Fourth of July, and remember….The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Rapid Growth

For a curated look at the diverse entertainment happenings within this region, please visit G-Sync Events: Let's Do This!
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