Friday, November 25, 2016

101 Books About Where and How We Live

Illustration by Paige Vickers via

I'm obviously a little biased because Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City is on it, but this is a great list from Curbed of books on the concept of home...and the past, present and future of where we live.
53. Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young 
Young’s tale of returning to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, couldn't be more timely, and not just because of the city's ongoing infrastructure crisis. Equal parts entertaining and engaging, Young's story of leaving the San Francisco bubble for the Rust Belt showcases people and perspectives who are often left out, and who demand more attention than ever after this election season.
Read the whole list here

Sunday, October 23, 2016

William F. Buckley Jr. Comes to Flint by Stephen Rodrick

In honor of
William F. Buckley Jr., journalist and Flint Powers graduate Stephen Rodrick looks back at our encounter with the man who, according to The New York Times, "marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, famously arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse." And endeared himself to many people, including me, who disagreed with his politics.

Take it away, Steve...

In another time, guys hung the heads of dead mammals on their walls. Apparently, they thought this impressed the ladies. But as time passed, proving that you were a hunter lost its aphrodisiac powers with the gatherers. Nowadays, sensitive men have replaced Bambi’s mom with Godard posters, Picasso lithographs, and/or vintage, preferably pre-1979 Debbie Harry shots at CBGB’s.

On my mantel is the key to the City of Flint given to me by William F. Buckley Jr.

This might explain why I am chronically single. It was the spring of 1984, my senior year at Powers Catholic. I had already made a series of fundamental errors: There was the year playing freshman football under the Darwinian Dan Duncan who would have been right at home at Gallipoli. Then there was the time I volunteered to run up to 7-11 and buy Mr. Winchester some smokes only to get my brand new yellow Lands End shirt covered in grass stains and blood after getting picked off like a gimpy antelope by three kids from Flint Northwestern.

Still, my favorite mistake was passing on a chance to see a triple bill of The Who, The Clash, and Devo at the Silverdome but making time for, uh, Spandau Ballet at the Royal Oak Music Theatre. The show was quite entertaining with lots of foppish hair and frilly shirts. I completely disregarded the fact that a middle-aged balding man playing synthesizers provided most of the band’s sound. I forgave a lot because I’d become an Anglophile, which in early 80s Flint made me a jackass.

I blame it on my friends Gordon and Jim. Despite the fact that they both grew up on the not always happy-making streets of Flint, the two of them had developed an obsession with the United Kingdom. Gordie even looked like Sebastian Flyte as played by Anthony Andrews in the BBC production of Brideshead Revisited. Well, except he wasn’t gay — dude was a playa! — and it’s doubtful Sebastian ever placed his face against a yellow legal pad and said, "Man, look how greasy my face is!" Jim’s take was more rock 'n’ roll, perhaps most tragically summed up by his insistence on wearing a Clash T-shirt from their Cut The Crap tour, which was actually just crap.

Somehow the American version of Anglo mutated into preppiness. We all sort of wished we went to a prep school. They just seemed cooler. I remember Jim and I almost picking up two Carman girls at an Our Lady of Lebanon dance by saying we were lacrosse players from Cranbrook. (This was slightly less entertaining than the OLOL Dance held on the night of the Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney fight, where I drank an entire bottle of Mad Dog and then proceeded to tell everyone that I was, in fact, Gerry Cooney. Ah, so many memories.)

No human being better personified the American-as-Englishman than William F. Buckley Jr., Firing Line host, spy novelist, and former New York City mayoral candidate. He spoke in a clipped, hesitating manner accentuated by excellent arching eyebrows. In the spring of 1984, the Flint glitterati laid off some more Buick City workers, pooled the savings, and announced that Buckley was speaking at the Whiting Auditorium and then attending a cocktail party at the University of Michigan-Flint (or maybe it was Mott Community College.)

Luckily, we had a friend named Jon Kells who had a really hot sister, but more importantly in this context, a dad who taught at Michigan-Flint. We scored tickets to the speech and reception, but that wasn’t enough. We gamed the extremely limited flights arriving at Bishop from New York City and cut our afternoon classes to meet Buckley at the airport. Some guys blew off class to get blow jobs or smoke pot, we cut out of Mr. K’s choir torture so we could accost a middle-aged man at the airport.

It seemed right at the time. The best thing was this was celeb-free Flint and three camera crews showed up at the airport! WFB, as his friends called him, made some brief remarks, none of which, I swear, touched on his 1960s support for segregation. After a few minutes, he was rushed away, declining our offer of a ride. We barely touched the hem of his Brook Brothers suit.

I don’t remember much from his Whiting speech. He used a lot of words I never heard of and there were some empty seats; I mean it wasn’t The Nutcracker, what do you expect? The reception was held in some prof’s drafty, vaguely gothic house that probably could be bought for $127,000 back then and could probably be bought for $126,000 now. It was a momentous night for me: my first cocktail party. Now two decades later I know every cocktail party is exactly the same—intolerable made bearable by creeping drunkenness and the idea you’ve been there long enough to split without pissing off the hosts who you probably don’t even like, and hell, the alternative was staying home at watching Homicide: Life On the Street on DVD—but at the time it seemed like something, well, out of an Evelyn Waugh novel. Buckley was pounding vodka and grapefruit and had a frozen look on his ruddy face that I now realize was half public persona, half get me the fuck out of here. Waves of assistant professors shook his hand and asked him what he really thought about Gore Vidal, who I didn’t know. Well, I don’t know him now, but I at least know of him.

I don’t know if it was the early spring weather or middle-aged smart folks starved for a little intellectual glitter, but all the grown-ups got stinking drunk, like stinking straight-night at the Copa drunk. After an hour or so, Buckley had enough. His blue eyes began searching for his designated driver. Alas, he found him, but the hapless or happy prof was wasted beyond even the lax Michigan DUI standards of the mid-80s.

He then turned to us, and stage-whispered, "Say, are you boys still good for that ride (pronounced rhiiide)?" We nodded yes. Then Buckley grabbed his Mackintosh and muttered, "Let’s get out of here, then." He said goodbye to no one, which seemed quite British and awesome.

We went out to my car. Buckley blanched for just a moment when he noticed it was a two-tone Chevy Chevette. He piled into the passenger seat and placed his black loafers down on a sea of Taco Bell wrappers and a boom box holding the first Smiths cassette. I lurched the car into drive. Someone asked a complicated question about Reagan and Thatcherism that Buckley answered with a bon mot so heavily accented in alcohol and an American accent not known to common men that I floored the Chevette through a blood red light on Saginaw Street. Buckley didn’t lose his cool, offering just a cautionary stuttering of, "Ah, ah, ah," as he pointed his patrician forefinger toward the next potentially lethal intersection.

It’s a moment I thought of recently after the death of the writer David Halberstam who perished after a Cal Berkeley journalism student ferrying him to an interview with Y.A. Tittle turned left on red with tragic results. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was Buckley’s Yale-educated and old school Catholic God waving off the traffic, but we didn’t get broadsided by a Chevy Blazer.

Buckley was staying at the recently opened and soon to be shuttered Hyatt Regency. As we pulled into the circular drive, I screeched the Chevette to a stop and shut down my V-4. "Now, now, that was an adventure," said Buckley with a smile. I asked him if he could sign something as a memento for me. "I, I think I can do better than that." He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small, blue velvety case. His manicured finger popped the case open. Inside was a gold key. The inscription read, “From the Citizens of Flint, Michigan.” Buckley pulled out a fountain pens and signed, "To Stephen, Best Wishes, William F. Buckley." He gathered his trench coat and disappeared into the revolving doors.

Within a few years of the encounter, I stopped buying Buckley’s novels and sailing books and became, quite frankly, ashamed at my earlier conservative leaning, over-compensating with votes for Jesse Jackson and Ralph Nader. (I still am a bit of an Anglophiliac, I’m listening to "The Kinks Are The Village Preservation Society" as I write this.) For years, the Buckley note remained buried in a drawer, a reminder of a not so happy time in my life. I took it out a few years ago, and thought about it in a different way: here was a famous man who, when confronted with three slightly insane teenage fans with varying hygiene and acne issues, treated us with grace. I work as a journalist in New York now and sometimes cover politics. I thought I might run into Buckley at some similarly lame cocktail party. It never happened. Perhaps it was just as well. Not even Evelyn Waugh could write a better second act.

Flint Artifacts: Buick Podium

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Flint Artifacts: Food Stamp Credit Tokens

Is there anything that someone won't collect? Apparently not.

Via CoinWeek, Bruce Smith writes:

Though there has been little collector interest in them, most food stamp tokens are actually RARE. Why? When the tokens were discontinued, Neil Shafer in Milwaukee went to the manufacturer in LaCrosse and purchased all the samples kept by the company for reference. All uncirculated and mostly in full sets, thousands of these sets were sold around 1980 through auctions by Christensen & Stone (Temple City, CA) and later by other token dealers. I tried to buy every Missouri set in the C & S sales, but I missed a few — and never saw them offered again until the past year or so. 
Back in the 1980s these tokens were generally only sold in full sets, for $2 to $3 a set. The ones I missed that’ve turned up on eBay in the past year I was unable to buy at $15 to $20 a set. The reason most of these tokens are rare is because most of them only exist as samples from the manufacturer — who was unlikely to have kept more than two or three sets from each issuer. The stores most likely threw away the ones they had on hand. Many store owners believed, incorrectly, that the tokens were also illegal to own (or collect) if you were not registered in the program.

Flint Artifacts: 1957 St. Matt's Yearbook

Another yearbook for another school that no longer exists in Flint, Michigan.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rich Frost, 1954 -2016

I just learned that Rich Frost, who was born and raised in Flint, died in March. Rich and I corresponded via email and our blogs for nearly ten years, bonding over our shared experience of growing up in the Vehicle City. We never actually met in person, but I feel like we had a connection, even if it was via cyberspace. I'll miss him and my heart goes out to his friends and family.

Rich was a regular contributor to Flint Expatriates over the years, often letting me post items from his blog, called What the Hell. It's filled with his thoughts on life, growing up in Flint, and, especially, his work in the radio world and his thoughts on music.

I've included below just a few of Rich's essays that appeared on Flint Expatriates. You can also check out a fairly accurate rundown of all the comments and items on the blog that Rich logged by going here.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Rich created the most popular post in Flint Expatriates history. There are lots of "You know you're from Flint" lists floating around out there, but Rich started it all with a list that I shared on Flint Expats. He wasn't delusional about the place where we grew up. But like many of us, he loved Flint despite its well-documented problems.

Rest in peace, Rich. You will be missed.

Art and Commerce at Sav-More Drugstore
By Rich Frost
December 30, 2008

When it comes to drug stores in Flint, Sav-More could not compare to any Herrlich’s or Cook’s Drug Store, especially their downtown Flint locations. Sav-More was on Second Street across from the Capitol Theater in the building that was later to house Grandmother’s Kitchen. It was a little bigger than a shoe box, but that’s not to say that its didn’t have a lot to offer customers.

There was a period after my parents divorced that my mom worked as a short-order cook at the restaurant in the Greyhound bus station nearby. Occasionally, I would hang around the bus station while she worked and we’d go home together.

Well, one day we noticed something different in the window at the Sav-More. An artist by the name of Jesse Fowler sat in the window doing chalk portraits of people for something like five bucks. It was 1964. I was ten years old at the time and the odds are pretty good that my mother and I only shopped at the Sav-More because it was near the stop where we’d catch the Franklin Avenue bus home.

At that time in my mother’s life, $5 was a pretty decent hunk of change, especially for a woman working a minimum-wage job and raising two kids on her own. But she wanted an artist rendering of her youngest child and she was willing to part with the five bucks to get it.

For about a half hour, I sat in the front window of this drugstore with people looking on as Mr. Fowler sketched out my portrait. I still have it today and I sometimes wonder how many other people had their portrait sketched my Mr. Fowler in the window at Sav-More drugs in downtown Flint.

Five and Dime

By Rich Frost
May 17, 2008

I have some great memories of living on the east side in the '60s and '70s. The Franklin and Utah Street area where I lived was definitely working class, and there was a sense of community that you don't find in urban areas these days. You could sleep with the doors unlocked and your neighbors looked out for you. The neighbor across the street, for example, would mow our lawn on hot summer afternoons, and my mom would bake an extra cake or a pie for our neighbors to show her appreciation for all their help.

One of the great things about living on the east side was going to O'Connor's Drug Store and the Ben Franklin. I can close my eyes and still see the TVtube testing machine next to two pay phones to the right of the door as you walked in the front entrance of the drug store. (Yup, TVs once had tubesand you needed a place to test the ones that went bad;O'Connor's was the place to go to test them.) If I walked through the front door and turned left, there was the counter that had the peanuts and cashews that they kept warm under a light bulb. I can't tell you how many times I purchased a ten cent bag of cashews from the O'Connor Drug store, usually on the same day that I purchased the next week's TV Guide at a bargain at just 12 cents an issue. I was surprised by an announcement one week that they were forced to do something that they didn't want to do — raise the price to a whopping 15 cents. Imagine a magazine feeling bad about having to tell their customers that they are raising the price of their magazine by three cents...that wouldn't happen today, would it?

If you had to pay your Michigan Bell telephone bill or your Consumer's Power bill, all you had to do was walk to the back of the store and the people atO'Connor's were happy to serve you. If you had to wait in line, you could always check out their great selection of paperback books and magazines that was near the bill-paying window.

Now, if you couldn't find what you were looking for at O'Connor's, there was always the Ben Franklin store next door. Naturally, the bins of candy were the first stop for any kid — chocolate covered peanuts and raisins, orange jells, those pink spearmint discs, jawbreakers, red and black licorice. Everything had to be weighed and priced before you took it to the counter to get rung up. Imagine being a kid and going to the Ben Franklin store and coming home with a twenty-five cent bag of chocolate covered peanuts. Those were the days.

And if it wasn't candy you were after, there was that great section in the back with toys! One side was filled with the "guy stuff" like balls and model airplane and car kits, and the other side had all of the "girl stuff" like dolls, doll accessories and toy dishes.

Another unique thing about Ben Franklin was that it was the only place where they sold the hits of the day by no-name, sound-alike artists that nobody ever heard from. The company was called "Hit Records" and they sold 45 rpm's with a black label. Each record was a two-sided hit and the sound-alike artists did the best job that they could to sound like the original. At just 39 cents a record, it was a bargain.
By Rich Frost
August 27, 2008

Growing up in Flint, I got a chance to see a lot of great Michigan rock n' roll bands as I was a part of the "behind the scenes" production team at Sherwood Forest for Wild Wednesday and all the other concerts that Peter C. Cavanaugh staged there. I also got a chance to work some rock concerts at the IMA, Delta College and the Saginaw Civic Center.

If you're into stories about rock n' roll and Flint's IMA, here's one for you:

Alice Cooper did a warm-up concert in Flint before doing a big tour. It was one of those concerts where the band could get the kinks out of the show and make it better before taking it on the road. The band was based in Detroit at the time, so they were able to drive up to the IMA Auditorium in the afternoon to get ready for the show.

As soon as they got into town, Alice requested several top hats to wear while he performed, so I was put in charge of going out to get them with his girlfriend at the time — a model whose name I can't remember. We drove all around town to secure some top hats, eventually finding them at H&D Tuxedo. With top hats in hand, we drove back to the IMA where sound checks were in progress. By all appearances, it looked like the concert was going to be just another rock n' roll show, but the appearance of another celebrity in town changed all of that.

Just before the show started, none other than Micky Dolenz of The Monkees showed up. Dolenz was in town to do a live appearance at the South Flint Drive-In where the movie he was appearing in — brace yourself…the R-rated Linda Lovelace for President — was showing.

Once Micky and the Alice Cooper crew met backstage, they started to party, and they worked out something to surprise the audience at the IMA. The final song of the show was Alice Cooper's "School's Out," and if you remember the song there's a long guitar note/semi-feedback noise at the end. But on that night the long guitar note went into another familiar song — the theme to "The Monkees.”

Once they went into the theme song, Micky bolted out on stage and sang the song with the band. Well, that was how it was planned, but Micky had a hard time doing anything because he was completely plastered after consuming mass quantities of alcohol backstage. They did the song, sort of, but Alice literally had to pick Micky up and carry him off stage. He was that plowed.

Now, that's rock n' roll at the IMA that I remember!


By Rich Frost
July 25, 2008

Anyone who has grown up in Flint knows that the first thing that you want to do when you're old enough is to get out of Flint. But once you get out of Flint the first thing that you discover is how much you miss the city.

When I lived in Flint one of my biggest bitches about the town was how lousy The Flint Journal was, but it didn't take long to discover that the Journal was like reading The New York Times compared to the daily newspaper in the city that I moved to. Even with the Journal in the lousy shape that it's in today, I miss the old hometown rag.

No matter how much Flint civic leaders try, Flint will never be a tourist destination, but there will always be a sense of pride about the city for anyone who has or is still living there. I look at Flint like having an ugly sister — you know she's ugly and everyone else knows she's ugly — but you still love her and you don't take kindly to people talking unkindly about family.

When it comes right down to it, I'm from Flint (Damn It!!!!) and proud of it! Flint, where a brown grocery sack is still a Hamady bag, where a coney island is still a meal and, even though many of us now live miles away from her, Flint is the place you still call home."