Unicorns, King Kong and blown-up pals march through Ferndale
Members of the Ferndale T-Rex Walking Club put on their inflatable costumes and get exercise while walking around the south end of Ferndale, Friday The Detroit News
Ferndale — It's probably safe to say that a sidewalk on Spencer Street was the only place on Earth Friday afternoon where a disbelieving King Kong asked a puffed-out Scooby-Doo, "Are you on the phone?"
Chances are it was also the only place where a Doberman puppy backed nervously away from a large gray shark.
And you'd bet heavily that nowhere else save southeast Ferndale was a perspiring zebra struggling home to the sounds of "Walk Like an Egyptian."
The Ferndale T-Rex Walking Club was on the move — nearly two dozen friends, most of them Elks, dressed as penguins or pterodactyls or just about every other inflatable costume China and Amazon have to offer.
It was the fifth unannounced pick-me-up from the Walking Club, formed spontaneously during an online happy hour and dedicated to giving locked-down Ferndaleganders something to leave the house for, if only out to the curb, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the head of the parade was Sarah Ignash, in a pink unicorn she chose instead of the T-Rex that gave the group its name because the unicorn has comfortable shoulder straps and it offers a slightly less awful field of vision.
It was a successful trek, she declared when it was over, meaning "we all made it back in one piece."
Kids clapped and squealed, adults laughed, and if Ignash had a dollar for everyone shooting video on a cell phone as they ambled past, she could order a $60 hippo in a pink tutu — though she probably wouldn't, since her friend, Kate Reynolds, already has one.
Reynolds' house was the staging area. She is the Ferndale Elks Lodge's chaplain and hall director, and most important where the Walking Club is concerned, she's the host of the nightly coronavirus cocktail session.
Ignash, 42, had purchased an inflatable Tyrannosaurus rex three years ago on the theory that "it was the greatest thing I'd ever seen."
She trotted it out periodically to amuse friends, colleagues or herself, then decided her suit and a few more like it might be the perfect pandemic pick-me-up. She floated the notion on a Ferndale community forum, drew an unexpected 200 responses in two hours, and reconsidered: too hard to manage, too contrary to COVID-19 safety.
She mentioned the idea during that night's Zoom session, and the immediate clicking sound in the background was her pals ordering inflatables of their own.
A video of one of their early jaunts was posted online, and it's been viewed more than 1.7 million times.
Jeff Collick, the 55-year-old zebra, said it's hard to stop peeking as the number climbs.
"We text each other: 'Did you see the latest count?'" he said. "It's fun stuff. It's moronic stuff."
In his case, it's also family stuff. His wife, Michelle, walks like a penguin, or at least as one. Son Brendan, 17, is a Minion.
Brendan had equipment problems Friday: He forgot to wear long socks, and air escaping from around his ankles deflated his costume and his afternoon. The Mr. Potato Head also had to drop out, discovering that his new outfit restricted his legs to the point where he could only take tiny steps.
Collick's $80 ensemble had issues as well, making his 1 ½-mile stroll in a vinyl sauna even more difficult than usual.
"I lose 15 pounds every time we do this," he said, and he grinned. "Let's do it again in an hour."
The family that inflates together, dehydrates together.
It can also stumble together.
Eric Buckstad, 51, an Oak Park lawyer and devoted Elk, had to unzip his black unicorn head when the viewing window fogged over, which allowed him to notice that he was coming to a choppy section of sidewalk.
"Little bump coming," he called out, and the alarm was passed backward, polar bear to three-eyed alien to Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
Social distancing, Ignash noted, is not a problem when costumes have six-foot tails. What might become an issue is excessive popularity.
The sight is infectious for kids of all ages — a parade of inflated absurdities, stretched half a block long.
"They're all dressed up!" said 3-year-old Henry Gray, taking a break from searching for worms as his parents gardened.
"Baby shark! Hey, baby shark!" called out a 44-year-old who said his name was Kebbie Smooth. "Black unicorn! You remind me of my mama!"
Part of the appeal is that the walks are unannounced. To Ignash, it's also important to stay close to home. But she said she's had 50 requests for appearances from Westland to St. Clair Shores, most of them birthday parties.
Ignash owns a boarding kennel, day care and grooming center for dogs in Roseville called All American Pet Resorts Lakeshore. She's been closed by the coronavirus, and she tries to be careful wherever she goes.
Being a party favor would mean stopping and interacting, most likely with children while wearing costumes with fans that blow inward — and wait a minute, who's throwing birthday parties during a pandemic?
For now, she's declining the offers. As befits a bunch of people who can't see their feet, they're taking it slow.