This was a very boring main street that linked St. Clair Shores and Detroit; to me, it was pure adventure. I knew the street well because during the summer, when I was old enough, I would ride my bicycle five miles from my home to Immanuel Lutheran Church in Detroit in order to practice on the pipe organ. My memories of Mack Avenue do not coincide with today’s Google pictures, which are of very wide streets and large lawns with low houses.
I remember some of the food-related businesses: the little Greek grocery store where I ate my first anchovy pizza. I discovered how special a Sicilian style pizza can be—bubbly crust, cheesy and crispy, with sharp, salty anchovy fillets that have melted into the tomato sauce. Across the street was a Sicilian bakery where high school students bought cannolis. Some of these frequently ended up on the surface of the stop sign at the corner of Avalon and Mack Avenue. I never bought a cannoli and didn’t discover how good it could be until I made some years later in one of the bakeries I worked in.
At the corner of my street, Sunnyside, and Mack Avenue was a small farm. Right in the middle of suburbia. It consisted of maybe two acres, usually devoted to growing pumpkins for the Halloween market. I passed it every day and admired the persistence of its owners. After we left the Detroit area in 1966, the pumpkin farmers finally succumbed to the temptations of profit and sold the land to the Catholic church across the street. The land became a black-topped parking lot.
Farther down Mack Avenue was a take-out Chinese restaurant. We often bought dinner there. I especially enjoyed the Chicken with Almonds. Somewhere in between was a store that specialized in phosphates—soda water with chocolate syrup and ice cream. Also in that vicinity was a candy shop where you could buy candy dots stuck to strips of cash register tape.
Yes, although it looks extremely ordinary today, Mack Avenue was a treasure trove of experiences for the boy on a bike. In those days, kids rode their bikes everywhere. During the hot summer months, we enjoyed riding all over, and it never occurred to us or to our parents that there were perverts out there waiting to suck us into their lairs.