There's a bar in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan, where, instead of a window, there's a huge flat screen television. And instead of pointing in toward the barstools and indoor patrons, the screen faces out onto the street toward the bar's sidewalk patio seating and, by default, everyone else who happens to be nearby.
It's created a kind of community television where, it seems, the only thing that's worth tuning into is Detroit Tigers baseball games. Despite the unshakable Big Brother-ness of this huge TV screen, it's actually a nice addition to the public realm on this corner, offering a central connector where bar patrons – and non-patrons outside the official patio space – can gather in public to jointly support their local team.
It calls to mind a story I'd heard from a Detroit native about being able to walk across an entire neighborhood a few decades ago and not miss one play of the Tigers game because there was someone sitting on the porch listening to it on the radio at almost every house along the way.
In this busy world, it's not often that a singular event is appealing enough to a large enough number of people to watch or experience it at once, together. Sports still has that power to some degree, though it's almost certainly no longer the case that every other house on the block is listening to or watching the game.
The huge TV on the street brings a little bit of that shared experience back. For some, it's a real public amenity.
On a recent night, the TV was on and the Tigers were playing against the Texas Rangers. A few people were having drinks and food on the patio, and the announcer's voice blended in with the sounds of evening traffic and conversation. Across the street, out of earshot but not out of sight, two guys were just standing on the sidewalk, staring over.
"They need to put a bench over here!" one of the guys says when I go over to watch with them. He's leaning against a conveniently placed bike rack that puts him center, if not front, in view of the screen across the street. It's no Barcalounger, nor is it the metal patio furniture paying customers are able to enjoy much closer the screen, but it's something, and it's free.
Both these guys have been watching for about 20 minutes, and they tell me the view's great. I say it's not a bad way to catch the game, and they agree. The sun's going down but it's warm here, and it's not hard to imagine staying outside to watch the whole thing. I'm not much of a baseball guy, so I don't stay. I tell the guys to enjoy the game, and they say they will.
"Hey!" one of the guys calls out as I'm leaving. "Another base hit!"
Photo credit: Nate Berg