Advice from an Alumnus

20 Apr

Allie Ontell has been described by her friends as a “renaissance woman.”  As one member of the class of 2010 said, “she was a member of so many different clubs and organizations and took advantage of absolutely everything.  If you wanted to go on an adventure or explore Ann Arbor, she was the person to do it with.

I was lucky enough to be able to talk with Ontell on the phone about what she thinks it is most important to do in Ann Arbor before you leave and she gave me some great advice.

“Zingerman’s is obviously someplace you need to go, even if you’re in Ann Arbor for 12 hours.  It’s famous nationwide- Oprah orders sandwiches to Chicago from Zingerman’s.  It’s an entire empire.  They come out with books on customer service, have multiple businesses in Ann Arbor, and their sandwiches are out of this world.”

I agree with her.  I’ve been to Zingerman’s many times and it’s always the first place I take visitors when they come to visit.  My dad, who owns a cookware store, owns and sells many of their books.  It’s a great model for business and everyone knows what it is.  You definitely have to get a sandwich before you leave.

“The other thing I’d say is definitely the art museum,” she continued, “I never really went before the renovations but I went all the time during my senior year.  They have amazing exhibits, even if you’re not really into art, which I’m not.  It’s also a hidden-gem study spot.”

The Art Museum is also something I’d have to agree with.  Having parents, uncles and grandparents who are serious art collectors, my family got on me about getting to this museum the day it opened and it is NOT to be missed!  They have several Picassos, a Cara Walker, and many other temporary exhibits.  It’s an incredible museum with incredible stuff.  The new building is amazing looking, and doing all of these things should definitely be on your list!  I’m glad I got to talk to Ontell before I wrote this!


Paint The Rock!

11 Apr

If you’re a wolverine, you know the rock.  You’ve seen it.  It’s that enormous, colorful boulder at the corner of Hill and Washtenaw.  It’s painted pretty much every night- sometimes more than once.  I have a friend who was there painting it and as he was leaving another group was already on their way to paint over what he had done.  The Rock is an icon on University of Michigan’s campus.  Merely refer to it as “the rock” and students will know what you’re talking about.  I actually have a theory that it started out as a pebble but now has so many layers of paint on it that it’s absolutely enormous.

For every special campus event, club, greek organization, etc. the rock is painted.  Sometimes before big games Ohio State and Michigan State fans try to come to our campus and paint the rock in their school colors but most of the time wolverines are their to defend their rock.  People also use the rock to pay tribute to and garner support for natural disasters and other conflicts.  For example, people have painted the rock in honor and memory of September 11th, and recently a group of students painted the rock reminding people to donate to the Red Cross to help victims of the earthquake in Japan.

Students wake up at night, sometimes as late as 2:00 in the morning to get to the rock before sunrise.  Below are pictures of my sorority painting the rock!  Our pledge class theme was “one love,” so the Monday night before we all left for thanksgiving, we went to the rock at 1:00 AM and painted it, and then went to the sorority house to wake up the older girls to come see it!  It’s one of my best memories from my four years here.

SDT Pledge Class 2007

Our Artwork on the Rock

The Rock is one of the most important parts of student life at the University of Michigan.  It is representative of the passion and diversity of the student body and painting the rock is definitely something you should do before you leave Ann Arbor!

Skip the Multiplex, See a Movie on Campus!

11 Apr

On a rainy day or a Sunday evening there’s nothing better than going to the movies.  Over the past four years, I have felt so lucky to have both the Michigan Theater and the State Street Movie Theatre within walking distance of my home.  Both theaters play reputable blockbusters as well as quirky independent films, and sometimes old classics.

What’s cool about The Michigan Theater on East Liberty St. is that it has a great history.  The theater first opened its doors in January of 1929 during the silent film era and because these silent films included live music accompaniment, the theater is still home to a 1927 Barton Theater Pipe Organ, which somebody often plays before the previews of a film.  Because of this, the auditorium was made with excellent acoustics, and often concerts are held in the Historic Auditorium.  I was lucky enough to see Regina Spektor perform here in the fall of 2009.


photo: /Features/Issue_20/MichTheatre.jpg




The theater seats 1700, and although they have high quality and modern screening equipment, not much else about this auditorium has changed.  The walls are gilded in real gold leaf, there is a real red velvet curtain, and there is a balcony.  It is truly a beautiful place and makes for an experience unlike any other.  Going to the movies here makes me feel sophisticated and cultured–even if it’s a Disney-Pixar 3-D movie.


photo: mons/b/b9/StateTheatreAnnArborMarquee.jpg

The State Theatre was built in 1942 and was the last commercial building to be completed in Ann Arbor after the start of World War 2.  It’s on the second floor of the same building that houses Urban Outfitters.  If you walk up the stairs through the small door to the side of Urban Outfitters, you’ll get to the theatre.  It looks like an older theatre, the screen sitting far away from the first row of seats.  What’s fun about this theatre is that in addition to showing both big and small movies, they often show midnight films, including the Rocky Horror Picture show.  I’ve been to this theater before, but never to see a midnight film.  I’ve always wanted to but so far haven’t managed to cross that one off.  It’s definitely on my list, though, and hopefully before I leave I’ll get to go!

Kerrytown Farmers Market/Sparrow Market

10 Apr

When I was at The Ark talking to the patrons, many of whom have lived in Ann Arbor for many years, I asked them what they think are the most important things to do in Ann Arbor before I leave, they had a different take than most students.  Most students have told me that I need to have a chipati from Pizza Bob’s, and that I need to smoke pot in the Arb, or that I have to drink a boot of beer at Heidelberg.  An older crowd and seasoned Ann Arbor veterans, they gave me some places to go and see that I otherwise probably would not have gotten around to and I’m glad I did!  I’ve been to Kerrytown before, but I never really stopped to look anywhere other than Zingerman’s or No Thai.  I’ve seen the Kerrytown Farmers Market before but never gave it more than a cursory glance, but after talking to more people, I realized it was somewhere I should go.  I developed a real love for outdoor markets when I was in South America and thought I should give this one a try.

(photo: rvices/ParksandRecreation/FarmersM arket/Pages/WhatsInSeason.aspx)

I was impressed!  So many different people from so many different parts of Michigan bring their crafts, produce and other goods to sell to those passing by.  Last weekend when my boyfriend was in town and it was a nice Saturday, we went to have lunch at a place I’d heard of called Sparrow Market, and stumbled upon the farmers market on our way.  I had previously thought that it was just produce but there were all different kinds of food and other sorts of crafts, with many of the vendors offering samples.  What’s interesting about this particular market is that it’s a producers-only market, meaning that everything you buy comes straight from the person who grows or makes it.  We didn’t want to taste too many things because we were on our way to lunch, but we didn’t pass on a few delicious cheeses and one of the best low-fat-yogurt I’ve ever tasted! (I ended up buying a pint of it.)  Though this stop wasn’t originally very high on my bucket list, I think that exploring the Kerrytown Farmers Market is one of the most important stops to make before leaving Ann Arbor, even if you’re only here for a short time!

The next stop was Sparrow Market.

I knew it was a lunch place, but Sparrow Market was so much more than that.  It was almost like a mini-mall, or at least a huge department store.  In the front section is a Sweetwaters Café, (Sweetwaters only has locations in Ann Arbor) a gourmet market, and a place to order sandwiches and salads for lunch, with seating.  Walk to the back of the market and you’ll find a station for Asian food, seafood, and even a whole wine store with wines from all over the world.  Upstairs were more parts where you could buy a wide variety of other goods.  They also sell absolutely beautiful looking fresh produce and have a large selection of meats.  Everything in the store was fresh and delicious.  Beyond that, the price was right!  For $7.00 I got a delicious fresh salad with fresh beets, goat cheese and chicken- this is much less expensive and for much better food than most lunch places around Ann Arbor.

These two places were a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in Ann Arbor.  At the top of any person’s bucket list should be to make sure to get to the Kerrytown Farmers Market, and Sparrow Market.  They’re two unique places and it’s a great way to meet people from Ann Arbor and to see the best of what the city has to offer!

Breaking Into The Big House?

9 Apr

A few weeks ago I sent out a survey to some of my fellow seniors that I connected to through various organizations and friends of friends.  An overwhelming number of seniors, about 90% say that they have not accomplished everything they wanted to while they were in Ann Arbor.  Of that 90%, more than half of the participants said that breaking into the Big House is at the top of their bucket lists.  I’ve heard of it happening, I know people who have done it, and if you scroll down a few posts, you’ll see that it’s on my list too.  Being the scaredy-cat that I am, though, I decided to do some research on this phenomenon, which to me almost seems like a milestone at this point.  It can’t be legal, since everyone I know has done it late at night and very sneakily.

I contacted Diane Brown, the Public Information Officer for the Department of Public Safety at the University for an interview and learned a lot about breaking into the Big House.  “It’s a very iconic location,” said Brown.  “It’s obviously one of the most globally recognized landmarks for our university.  We also have a very passionate student following for the football team, and I think those might be the contributing factors.”  With regard to the legality she said, “It would be considered breaking in because there are no longer public hours for the stadium to be open.  Years ago before they did all the construction, some of the gates were open during the day.  People would go in to take pictures, and people also used to run up and down the bleachers for exercise.  Now, because the Big House is closed to the public, anyone caught gaining entry (climbing over the fence) and then found to be there would be subject to arrest, and could be charged with illegal entry which is a component of the burglary statute.  It’s a felony.”

The punishments could vary depending on the person’s record and on the nature of the break-in.  If you don’t have a police record and are just hanging out with friends, it will likely be a misdemeanor, but if you have a record and are vandalizing or behaving in another inappropriate or disrespectful way, the punishment could be much more severe.

Do I think that this information will stop people from breaking into the Big House?  No.  Will it stop me?  Probably not.  A friend of mine went the other night, actually.  He said it was totally exhilarating, albeit a little scary.  I still hope to be able to stand on the football field with my friends before I leave here.  It’s a classic bucket list goal and before I kick the proverbial Ann Arbor bucket, I’d like to complete my goal.

Blimpy Burger

9 Apr

When I told my friend Alex Pop a few months ago that I had never been to Blimpy Burger, she looked at me with complete incredulity and asked, “Do you go to this school?”  I never even knew that Blimpy Burger was a thing you had to do until one of my roommates (the only Michigan resident in our house) insisted that we go before the end of the year.  After a few more weeks of being scoffed at when I asked my friends if they’ve been, my roommates and I ventured to South Division street to see what this burger joint is all about.  I was told though, by my friends, before I went that I had to learn and understand the proper procedure for ordering, how many patties I wanted, and the appropriate way in which to ask for condiments.  So I got researching.

I learned quickly that Blimpy Burger is not just an Ann Arbor thing.  Two popular television shows – Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and Man vs. Food – have featured Blimpy Burger in episodes:

Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives

Man vs Food

After watching these videos several times, I went to the Blimpy Burger website to learn about the way to order.  I learned that there are absolutely no visible cell phones allowed while on line.  I learned that the patties are pretty thin, so only someone too small to see over the counter can get a “single.”   Here is the proper way to order:

1. Say what you want from the deep frier (french fries, onion rings, or fried veggies).  I shared fried veggies with some friends.

2. Say how many patties you want, and what type of bun. (I got 2 on a plain roll)

3. Say which grilled toppings you want- there are nine options all together including fried egg, banana peppers, and salami.  I got onions, mushrooms and banana peppers.

4. Say which kind of cheese you want.

5. Choose and order your other condiments, like lettuce and tomato, or ketchup.  You MUST order the wet toppings (ketchup) before the dry ones, (lettuce, tomato or onion) or you’ll be yelled at and ridiculed (in an endearing, yet stern way) by a member of their staff.

The burger was everything it was cracked up to be.  I don’t even like red meat very much but this was absolutely delicious.  All of the condiments blended together perfectly, my swiss cheese was melted to perfection, and their beef, which they grind fresh every day, was delicious.  I completely understand why this is an Ann Arbor staple.  I forced my boyfriend to watch both videos I posted above and when he came to visit a week or so ago he wanted to try out Blimpy.  So I brought him.  He had a really great experience, too, and his friends came along.  One of his friends got:

Four patties.  Salami, bacon, fried egg, sauteed onions, mushrooms, banana peppers, feta cheese, provolone cheese, cheddar cheese, ketchup, mayo, lettuce, tomato, raw onions.  It was unbelievable.  I thought he might have a heart attack on the spot.  With every different number of patties, different types of buns, and possible condiment combinations, the possible number of different burgers, as calculated by a Michigan math student is 2,147,483,648. As stated on their website, the only number that exceeds the possible number of combinations is the national deficit!  This place is delicious and worth every calorie and penny.  I would HIGHLY recommend stopping by before leaving Ann Arbor- but the fried-food-induced stomach pain makes it a once-a-year kind of activity.

The Ark- Where Music Lives

8 Apr

One thing it is absolutely necessary to do before you leave Ann Arbor is go see a concert at The Ark.  Located on Main Street, The Ark is a a not-for-profit music club in Ann Arbor which features mostly acoustic artists.  It is a small, intimate club which seats just 400 people and has live music on more than 300 nights of the year.  You’ve probably seen it.  It sits right near the Chop House and many of the other popular restaurants on Main Street, and you’ve probably noticed it because almost every night there is a line around the block.

What I find really interesting is the fact that it is a nonprofit club.  Since ticket sales only pay for 70% of the cost to keep the club open, The Ark depends on individual memberships and corporate sponsors to keep it running.  Individual memberships are available for between $5 and $5,000 and each membership comes with distinct benefits. (Only members are allowed to purchase alcohol, among other privileges.)  Furthermore, all employees of The Ark are volunteers.  I have been hoping to volunteer for almost two years now, but every time I try to do it they are not accepting people!  I can imagine that it’s a coveted position- you show people to their seats and get to see a free night of music!

I have been to The Ark three times in my four years here, and I will be going to see Matt White, Brendan James, and Lauren Pritchard on Monday, April 11th.  It will actually be my second time seeing Lauren Pritchard at this same venue- my Sophomore year I saw her perform with Duncan Sheik.

Though the club is small, it brings in many already popular and up-and-coming artists.  I already mentioned Duncan Sheik, but I have also seen Jackie Greene and Richard Schindell.  They also have a folk festival every year, during which many different bands play, but since a lot of the bands are more famous and tickets are in higher demand, they hold the concert in Hill Auditorium.  This year, big names like Citizen Cope and The Avett Brothers were there.

What I love about The Ark is its intimate feel.  The room is small, the people are friendly, and everybody, volunteers and patrons alike, are passionate about the music and The Ark.  I didn’t expect there to be so many people who felt so strongly until I was there a week or so ago.  Greg Simon who has lived in Ann Arbor for twenty-two years says that he has been a member for nearly all of that time.  “This week alone, I’m going to be here Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday,” he said.  “There are just so many great artists coming this month.  I had to pick and choose who was the most important.”   The environment is warm and welcoming, the acoustics are great, and the music speaks for itself.  I would definitely recommend putting a concert at The Ark at the top of any Ann Arbor bucket list!