Blind mowing contest helps clear overgrown Detroit lot

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Detroit — It probably isn’t a good idea to mix drinking and blindfolded mowing. Then again, mixing anything with blindfolded mowing doesn’t seem prudent.

But leave it to the Detroit Mower Gang, a volunteer group that helps take care of city parks and playgrounds.

When they get together, there will be mowing, there will be drinking (after the mowing is finished) and, most happily, there will be cutting of long overgrown lots.

The blindfold part came Wednesday night when, as part of trimming Hammerberg Field on the west side, they wanted to see who could drive their lawn tractors the straightest while blinded.

They called it Blindfold Mowing Olympics.

“Safer than a Blindfold Weed Whacker Competition,” said Stephen Cook of Detroit.

Did we mention the drinking commenced after the mowing was done?

First, the good news: No accidents, no injuries, no deaths.

The bad news: It’s really hard to drive straight while blindfolded.

Two of the six contestants mowed an X in the field as they crossed each others’ paths. Fortunately, they were moving at different speeds so they missed each other.

Two other drivers ended up moving perpendicular, which was, like, the exact opposite of going straight.

Most drivers said the same thing when they removed the blindfolds.

“I could have sworn I was going straight,” said Jim Coffman, a Brighton retiree.

Coffman went crooked but not as crooked as the others, so he won the first race.

The prize: a bunch of used blindfolds.

But the real winners were children living near Hammerberg, a 10-acre field owned by Detroit Public Schools that has a playground, football field and baseball diamond. Now the young’ns can scamper unimpeded across the lot.

The do-gooders left the site transcended, like a hermit whose long locks were shorn by a hairdresser.

“It’s one of the best things I’ve seen so far this year,” said resident Kaylah Brown.

Brown, who has three children, had brought her oldest, Kayden, 5, to ride on the swings.

She said she had stopped coming to the park because it was overgrown. Now she plans to return every day.

“Kids love to come outside,” she said.

Now that you have a feel for these laudable landscapers, we should introduce some of them.

They assemble every other Wednesday to cut or clean one of Detroit’s parks or playgrounds.

Detroit has 300 city parks but, because of its money crunch, can only tend half of them, said city officials.

That’s where the Mower Gang comes in.

They can’t do every abandoned park so they try to find ones with playground equipment and children who live nearby, said leader Tom Nardone.

Why do they do it? Let their Facebook page explain.

“Because people need us,” it reads. “Because no one else is going to get the job done. Because we like to use the word because.”

Nardone, who has a self-deprecating sense of humor, started doing it by himself in 2010 and eventually recruited other volunteers.

The biweekly trimming involves anywhere from a handful to several dozen volunteers, he said.

“I tried to make it sound like fun, and they fell for it,” he said about his marauding mowers.

On Wednesday night, a dozen volunteers turned up, armed with lawn tractors.

Coffman said he does it because he wants to be part of the rebirth of the city.

“I just want to make a difference,” he said. “I want to be a plus.”

That’s with, or without, a blindfold.

(313) 223-4186

Twitter: @francisXdonnell