As a long time Royal Oak resident I have been witness to one of the unique behaviors patterns of certain mammals over the last 20 years. Capistrano has its swallows and Hinckley, Ohio has its buzzards but Royal Oak has the Great American Curb-Monkey Migration.
Each year beginning in early summer and gradually peaking during the third week of August these interesting creatures, who come in in many different shapes, sizes and colors, arrive right on schedule. With their lawn chairs, coolers, canopies and blankets we see them start to emerge along Woodward Avenue often arriving in groups of 3 or 4. Some bring their offspring so it is widely believed that this is not part of the mating ritual although the origins of this event are rumored to have included just such behavior. For the past 19 years there seems to be an affinity to gather in packs of males, who can be readily identified in several ways.
The largest and often the oldest of the species has less hair on its head, indeed some are completely hairless, with a protruding midsection. The arms and legs can often be adorned with engraved markings and symbols in various shapes and sizes identifying loyalties to a female of the species including its own mother. Others proudly display the “brand” of its favorite carriage maker or random dragons, serpents and other animals.
The younger males can be observed in larger packs and are often accompanied by younger females. They often consume vast quantities of liquids derived from various grains, which leaves them in a somewhat lethargic and confused state. When accompanied by young offspring they seem to be attracted to the structure near 13 Mile and Woodward that is identified by its golden arches and greyish smoke emitting from the stack on top. It appears to be some sort of temple.
Once they arrive to their desired location – and it should be noted that many return each year to the exact same patch of grass along the side of the roadway – they will settle in for the day. The curious behavior of these creatures includes staring glassy- eyed at the passing carriages, while seated in a small canvas or nylon covered throne and occasionally shouting out a particular name or year. Experts seem to agree that this is part of the overall ritual of proclaiming their intelligence and ability to recall memories of events from thirty to fifty years past. The accuracy of these memories however, is widely disputed by both the experts and the creatures themselves.
Of course the arrival of the Curb Monkeys also attracts many different observers from both the scientific community as well as the news media. In their trucks and helicopters they circle the area taking videos and commenting on the gatherings at different locations along a 15 mile stretch of Woodward Avenue from Ferndale to Pontiac. The concentration just along this one roadway seems to be related to a particular habit known as “cruising” and means different things to each male member of the species depending on age and which carriage he traveled in during his youth. Occasionally a female member will also have these same recollections.
Throughout the days and weeks leading up to the third Saturday in August the numbers steadily increase until hundreds of thousands gather on the big day to stare, smile, inhale exhaust fumes and seemingly enjoy each other’s company.
And then they are gone. Suddenly and completely. They return to their native lands to resume normal existence and begin planning for next year’s migration.
We eagerly anticipate their return.