Thursday, July 31, 2008

The auction has ended

For those of you keeping track, the house at 2406 Bassett Place for sale on eBay went for $12,600. There were 51 bids. For a sense of Flint real estate trends, here's the past sales figures going back to the seventies:


Le Zoop

How can you not love an electric car that's designed by the the Paris fashion house Maison de Courréges and can do 120 m.p.h.?

I got this from the website. In addition to this Zoop Car, they have a list of other "Weird and Unusual" cars that no one would ever actually insure.

Life in the slightly less fast lane

Writer Miriam Axel-Lute sings the praises of smaller, post-industrial cities like Albany, New York, in a post on EquityBlog:

"While being acutely aware (as a journalist and resident) of Albany’s many challenges — and the challenges of our sister cities — I have become a bona fide small-city booster. (My daughter, who is now 2, knows all the local shopkeepers from her daily neighborhood rounds and can say proudly “My city Al ban ee.”) And in the months after I moved here, I met others who were moving to one of the Capital Region’s cities from Boston or New York for the same kinds of reasons.

"And so I jumped at the chance to work on the PolicyLink report on smaller industrial cities, To Be Strong Again. As I worked and learned more about what people were doing in other small cities—out of the limelight, and often against tremendous odds—I joked that while some people dream of making a tour of European capitals, I was starting to fantasize about a road trip with stops in places like Binghamton, Scranton, Flint, and Youngstown. Knowing the potential strengths of places like this makes the quest for solutions to the very real aftershocks of deindustrialization, shrinking population, and fiscal crisis that they face feel that much more urgent to me."

A visit to Flint will probably make her appreciate Albany all the more. But it's good to remember that other troubled cities have made comebacks. And by comeback, I don't envision a Flint with the population and prosperity of the 1950s. I'm thinking more of a smaller, stabilized city where younger residents could grow up, find a job, and stay put.

Photos by Grumkin

An eclectic batch of Flint-related photographs courtesy of Grumkin.

Bishop Airport sometime in the 1950s, back in the days when you could, apparently, ride your bike out to look at the planes.

The dashboard of a Buick with 99999.9 miles on it.

One of Faygo pop's area-code billboards. When I left Flint, it was still 313.

The music-filled tunnel at Detroit Metro Airport.

St. Matt's at the end of mass.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Daniel Alan Thompson, R.I.P.

Dana DeFever of The Flint Journal reports:

"A 20-year-old man died Wednesday morning after he was shot.

"Daniel Alan Thompson, 20, was shot in the upper torso about 1:25 a.m. Wednesday morning on Kermit Street south of Pierson Road.

"Sgt. Mitch Brown said Thompson was inside a vehicle when he was shot. One other occupant was in the vehicle with him, he said. Thompson was taken to Hurley Medical Center, where he later died.

"Brown said Thompson is originally from the Grand Rapids area, but was living in the Flint area.

"Police believe the incident could of have been a possible robbery attempt."

For a map of Flint homicides, go to the Flint Murder Map.

The Deer Hunter

For future reference, when flying out of Flint's Bishop Airport, or even going anywhere near it, always wear hunter's orange, or a 1972 Powers High School graduation gown.

The Detroit News reports:
"A public safety officer trying to shoot a deer on the grounds of Flint's Bishop International Airport fired a shot that went astray and whizzed by workers at a nearby business.

"Airport Director James L. Rice tells The Flint Journal the airport is developing new rules on how and when wildlife will be cleared from airport property following the shooting the afternoon of July 18.

"Rice says he's apologized, and the airport may limit shoots during local business hours.

"United Auto Workers Local 659 shop chairman Jack Cannon was outside auto parts supplier Android Industries with other workers at the time of the shooting. He says workers thought someone was trying to kill them.

"Wildlife such as deer at the airport are considered a safety hazard for flights."

George Edward Green, Jr., R.I.P.

ABC12 News is reporting that George Edward Green, Jr., a 14-year-old boy who was shot in the head on July 26 while a passenger in a car near Jane and Iowa Streets, has been removed from life support at Hurley Medical Center.

For a map of Flint homicides, go to the Flint Murder Map.

Church closings and memories of St. Luke's

First communion at the soon-to-be closed St. Luke's in 1968.

The final masses at three Flint Catholic churches scheduled to close are fast approaching:

Sacred Heart: 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 31
St. Luke's: 10 a.m. on Sunday, August 3
St. Agnes: 11 a.m. on Sunday, August 17

Grumkin, a Flint Expatriate who was born on McClellan Street across from the current site of St. Luke's Church and school, provided these photos of her old parish.

The neighborhood kids watch St. Luke's construction in 1966.

The church weathers the snows of 1967.

Black pants, white shirts, or else at first communion in 1968.

Flint mayor emerges as comic genius

You have to admit that Don Williamson can be pretty entertaining. If only he were an oddball character on a sitcom, or a colorfully corrupt small-town mayor on The Sopranos or something. Sadly, he's in charge of a city that desperately needs competent leadership.

Flint has made the national news recently for all the wrong reasons. First there was the baggy pants "crack down." Then there was the adopt-a-surveillance camera debacle. You may be asking yourself what Williamson can do next to maintain his lofty status as Clown Prince of American Mayors?

Well, how about if the leader of a city with the worst economy in the nation issues a press release offering advice on how to eliminate high gas prices and save the entire the U.S. economy?

"Mayor Don Williamson today urged Gov. Jennifer Granholm to 'declare a state emergency' and eliminate state gasoline taxes," reports Joe Lawlor of The Flint Journal.

"Williamson, in a news release, also said the federal government should eliminate federal gasoline taxes, drill for oil in Alaska and offshore and create more oil refineries. Williamson said he believes gas prices will be reduced to $2.75 per gallon if those measure are taken, and the economy will improve."

Apparently, the mayor is unaware of just how much state and federal money from these gas taxes flows into Flint. Or that a chorus of economists has already determined that these measures wouldn't do much to lower prices and would probably hurt the economy in the long run.

But hey, given President Bush's track record, Williamson just might find a sympathetic ear in the White House.

Even Flint has lofts

The Wade Trim Building on the 500 block of S. Saginaw Street is nearly open for business.

The Wade Trim civil engineering firm is leasing the 8,500 square-feet second floor, and WNEM Channel 5 is expected to take over space on the first floor by mid-September, according to Melissa Burden of The Flint Journal. Three of the four loft apartments have been leased and negotiations are taking place to lease the remaining retail spaces in the building.

The 500 block of S. Saginaw as envisioned by Uptown Developments.

Danger: Good News!

Who says nothing good ever happens to Flint?

Joe Lawlor of The Flint Journal reports:

"General Motors confirmed that it intends to make Flint the manufacturing home of the engine for the much-touted, battery-powered Chevrolet Volt, according to paperwork filed with the city.

"The Volt, hailed for its potential to reduce the world's reliance on fossil fuels, would run entirely on a battery charge for about 40 miles and use a gasoline engine -- apparently to be built in Flint -- to keep the vehicle powered for longer trips.

"The engine for the Volt would be built at a new plant announced by GM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner in June. The new documents indicate the facility would be located on Van Slyke Road adjacent to Flint Engine South and Flint Truck Assembly."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This invasion of privacy brought to you by...

Flint's only Portable Overt Digital Surveillance System (PODSS) is located near Cecil and Jewell Drives, but it's hoping to have some friends soon.

What's the best way for a Flint Expatriate to help the old hometown out? You could donate to a local charity. Or set up a scholarship so deserving kids could go to college.

Or, let's see, you could adopt a police surveillance camera.

The Associated Press reports: "The city and a private security firm, Asset Protection Specialist, are looking for businesses and individuals willing to pay $30,000 to have their names or corporate logos placed on one of the pole-mounted boxes, which also feature a police shield and a flashing blue light."

As of today, no one has jumped at this opportunity to make Flint a better place.

Thanks to Jim Holbel for passing this along.

From the ground up

If you need to create a new city with the population density of Manhattan on a fake island just off the Persian Gulf, Rem Koolhaas has a plan for you. (Photo via Archinect)

Flint Expatriates talks a lot about cities in decline, but what about cities on the rise? Archinect has an intriguing piece on designer cities — complete with futuristic photos that are more reality than fantasy — emerging in Waterfront City, Dubai; Kartal, Turkey; Sergovia, Spain; and Orestad, near Copenhagen.

"We are seeing an emergence of a new industry," says Dennis Frenchman, director of the city design and development program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's urban-studies department. "It's not real-estate development; it's not architecture; it's not city planning. All I can do is name it 'the city-building industry.'"

Flint Artifacts: Dudley Electric Works Matchbook

Monday, July 28, 2008

Missing persons

There's a reader that needs some assistance.

Anyone have any info on a man named Darrell Head or, maybe, Darrell Moore. He would have been born in the late '30s in Flint and lived on Warner Street. His mom was named Mildred and his dad was Floyd Head. Also looking for descendants of Laura Moore or Irene Rodabaugh who both lived in Flint in 1953.

Flint Artifacts: Buick Employee Badge

Can immigrants improve Flint?

We've been wildly speculating in the comment section of The River's Edge post on demographic and economic trends that might help cities like Flint. I know many readers don't venture into the comment section, so I'm bringing this discussion above ground.

Here are a few thoughts from readers:

Smurfs, inc: "What most mid-sized Midwest cities would benefit from is a massive influx of immigrants. People with kids, hope, reasonable expectations, and motivation. I'm sure they exist out there in the third, fourth, and fifth worlds. In fact we Americans have made millions of 'em in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Open the floodgates I say. Educated whiteys won't salvage urban America, but I'm pretty sure given the opportunity a few million Sudanese would. I can see it now: Little Missouri is usurped by Little Darfur. St. Michael's becomes the Al-Haji Mosque. Issa's Party Store is converted into a Halal market.

"So bring it on Barrack Osama and the Demopublican congress, we need MORE immigrants not less. Immigrants will save urban America."

Jim Holbel: "So there is a town, Lewiston, Maine. Not a lot to offer, but due to a strange set of circumstances, ends up with a (relatively) massive influx of Somalis.

"The interesting thing is the Somalis had been settled by relief agencies into big US cities, but in crap neighborhoods within those cities. Disappointed, they networked among each other. What they were after, they found in Lewiston: 'Lewiston had good schools, a low crime rate, and cheap housing.' So take a gander at the article, and let me ask:

1. Can you see a town like Linden, Davison or whatever appealing to immigrants? What about Flint Proper?

2. Does anyone feel the part about about the influx of immigrants versus upset mayor/locals/opportunist out-of-town nazis would play out anywhere near as progressively in the Genesee county?

"Ready... set.... BLOG amongst yourselves..."

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The river's edge

Ever wondered what the old homestead in Flint is worth these days? It's easy to find out on the city's property tax website.

Simply go to the parcel lookup page and enter the address. That will get you the parcel number. Just click on the parcel number and you'll get a page with the tax valuation and a description of the property. Then click on the link for "Sale Information" on the right side of the page near the top for a history of recent transactions and prices.

The process gives you another way to get a handle on Flint's economic if you needed another one.

And while it provides plenty of numbers, you're left wondering about the real stories behind various properties.

Take this 770 sq. ft. house at 2418 Riverside. It's located just across the Flint River from the now-demolished Buick City factory, so it's about as close as you can get to ground zero of America's deindustrialization. But from the photo, it could almost be a nice little cabin Up North that needs some work. You can probably hear the river from the backyard.

It's inexplicably owned by the Department for Veteran's Affairs, and it sold in 1980 for $18,000.

It's yours now for just 900 bucks, about the cost of a new iPhone.

One Buick, please

On this date in 1904, Dr. Herbert Hills of Flint purchased the first Buick ever sold.

Here's a little history from

"Founder David Buick (left) initially made his mark as an inventor and mechanic in the plumbing industry, but had sold out of his business in order to pursue building motor cars. Buick was a man with an innate gift for inventing and tinkering, but who cared little for financial matters. He reputedly was unable to sit still unless he was concentrating on some kind of mechanical problem. None of his contemporaries would have been surprised that his company eventually became more successful than he did.

"In 1902, after years of fiddling with an automobile design, Buick agreed to a partnership with the Briscoe Manufacturing Company, wherein Briscoe would write off Buick's debts while in turn establishing a $100,000 capitalization for Buick's car c
ompany. Buick ceded $99,700 of the company's stock to Briscoe until he repaid his standing debt of $3,500, at which point he could buy controlling interest in the stock. Still, Buick had yet to complete an automobile.

"When it became clear to Briscoe that Buick would neither be able to pay his debts nor complete his vehicle soon, they sold their interest in the company to the Flint Wagon Works for $10,000. Buick and his son were given stock, but their managerial roles shrunk.

"Finally, in July of 1904, the first Buick made its initial test run. During the test run, the Buick averaged 30 m.p.h. on a trip around Flint, going so fast at one point that the driver "couldn't see the village six-mile-an-hour sign."

"Sixteen Buicks were sold in the next few months, but Flint Wagon Works remained troubled by the Buick venture. They had purchased the company in order to help the city of Flint adjust to a new economy of automobile production, but Buick was already heavily in debt to a number of Flint banks.

"At this point, David Buick owned only a small share of stock and held none of the business responsibilities, and the Wagon Works decided to bring in Flint whiz kid William Durant to turn the business around. Durant kept Buick on as a manager, a position he held with little impact until 1908. Durant turned Buick into a major player in the automotive industry before incorporating it into his General Motors project."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

When gas prices didn't matter

One headlight and two tons of chrome works just fine on the 1951 Buick LeSabre concept car. Warning: Pedestrians beware!

If you're interested in vintage cars and automobile advertising, look no further than than the boldly named John's Old Car and Truck Pictures website. The Buick pages alone are worth a visit.

Look out you little punks, the 1959 Buick Electra Convertible doesn't take kindly to alternative transportation sources like bicycles.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Howdy, neighbor

This is 2406 Bassett Place, the former home of Art Bowden, the founder of King Arthur's Pasties. My old house is next door. You can see our garage on the right. I recently had a chance to reconnect with two of Art's daughters, Darcy and Lori, out of the blue. And now their old house is up for sale on ebay. The current high bid is $3,050.

The listing features a highly idealized (i.e. false) description of the Civic Park neighborhood and the rest of idealized it claims that Michigan State University is just two miles from Bassett Place and that there are practically more churches than houses in the hood. It also indicates that the ideal buyer would be a proud, church-going college professor who loves to golf:

"This home is located on a residential street in the heart of Flint's historic Civic Park neighborhood, where the homes are well maintained and where neighbors and residents take great pride in their homes and their community...Additionally, the home is also located across the street from Bassett Park, a large community park in Flint with a community center and recreational activities and events for residents. All of these neighborhood amenities make this an ideal home for a family with young children...The home is also close to several colleges, and Universities, for example, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan at Flint, Kettering University and Mott Community College are all located within 2 miles of the home, making this an attractive location for students and professors alike. Additionally, within a mile of the home you will find 34 churches! — a testament to the character of the neighborhood. For golf aficionados, the attractive Mott Park Golf Course, a picturesque and well maintained course is just a mile and a half away."

For those of you keeping track, the house went for $12,600. There were 51 bids. For a sense of Flint real estate trends, here's the past sales figures going back to the seventies:



Rich Frost, who has blogged about the long-lost eastside and provided some artifacts from his work at WTAC, gives us a few thoughts on life after Flint:

"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."

Flint Artifacts: Progressive Flint

La dolce vita

Flint definitely has a bond with Italy. Look no further than Italia Gardens restaurant for proof. But if you want more evidence, watch this odd 1966 commercial that equates the Buick Riviera from "the sunny slopes of exotic Flint, Michigan" with la dolce vita in Italy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Beauty contest

Here's the 16-story Mott Foundation Building, built in 1930 and captured in all its Art Deco splendor in a 1954 postcard.

Of course, this was long before the elegant mini-skyscraper's hulking, wide-bottomed younger brother — Genesee Towers — was built.

I've always wondered exactly whose idea was it to throw up the city's ugliest building right next to its most handsome structure?

UPDATE: I found this photo in The Flint Journal that offers some clues.

Are these two guys responsible for Genesee Towers?

I can just imagine what the powerful finger pointer is saying: "It's ugly as hell and seems structurally unsound. Build it! NOW!"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Flint Artifacts: 1977-1978 Civic Park Yearbook

How about some help with the names in the comment section? Just click on the class photos for a larger image.

Basketball, guns, rabbits and moving vans

I had to highlight this anonymous comment from a reader because it sums up a lot of conversations I've had with people when they discover I'm from Flint. I'm sure many expatriates have had a similar experience:

"I remember in the '70s it was, 'Oh Flint, that's where all the great basketball players are from.' And then in the '80s it was, 'Flint!? Do you own a gun? Have you ever seen somebody shot?' And then in the '90s it was, 'Flint? Do you know the Rabbit Lady?' And then I moved...."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kenneth Dickerson Jr., R.I.P.

Rescue workers attempt to save the life of Kenneth Dickerson Jr. as a young neighbor looks on. (Photo by Thomas Simonetti/The Flint Journal)

Kenneth Dickerson Jr. was shot and killed on Tuesday, July 22, 2008 on Francis Avenue near Hamilton Avenue in Flint.

The Flint Murder Map tracks homicides in The Vehicle City for 2008. Please not that the map offers an unofficial count of murder victims and may not be complete.

Flint Portraits: Peter C. Cavanaugh

A WTAC live remote broadcast of the Peter C. Morning Show at Eastland Mall in 1970 draws a crowd.

Peter C. Cavanaugh, a Flint radio icon at WTAC from the sixties to the early eighties and the man who organized the Sherwood Forest concert series in Davison, is often credited with introducing Michigan and the rest of the country to the likes of The Who, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, and The MC5. Michael Moore credits him with "saving a generation of Flint kids from the likes of Pat Boone."

If you want the full story, he has a book out that manages to capture the spirit of both Flint and rock 'n' roll. Here's an excerpt from Local DJ: A Rock "N" Roll History:

"Atwood Stadium is an old high-school athletic facility in Flint. In August, Herman's Hermits were scheduled to headline a major show. Among the opening acts were several young British musicians who had banded together in 1965, and had been introduced to U.S. airwaves over WTAC later that year with their first Decca single. It was called, "I Can't Explain." It is well known and acknowledged in Rock `n Roll history books that WTAC was the first radio station in America to ever play The WHO. By cosmic convergence, August 23, 1967, was also Keith Moon's twenty-first birthday. At least according to his testimony at the time. Subsequent investigation would later indicate that honoring an exact score of years would have been more precise, yet, conferring 'underage status' in many states, '20' might have presented certain geographic inconveniences. It matters not. Keith and the group brought a birthday cake to our WTAC studios in celebration of the momentous event and in appreciation of our earlier efforts on their behalf. We thought it was pretty wild. It was his birthday and we got the cake. 'Far out!'

"We interviewed the group and pushed the show. Ticket sales had been slow. Nobody knew who the WHO were. This was their first major tour of The States with little attention being yet paid by the trades or in "teeny-bop" magazines which now flourished seemingly everywhere. The promoter had been counting on Herman's Hermits for drawing power, but they were on a bit of a fade. "Mrs. Brown, You Have a Lovely Daughter" only sounded good under the influence of bubble-gum. I arranged to get the night off in honor of Keith's birthday. We had been promised an extraordinary treat. The promise was understated.

"Under cloudy skies, and with only several thousand in attendance, the sponsors didn't break-even. The Blues Magoos were introduced and did a nice thirty-minute set, closing with their biggest hit, 'You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet.' How prophetic. After 20 minutes of equipment changes, the WHO took charge and exploded.

"Take no prisoners. Balls to the walls. It can't get any louder. Yes, it can. He's setting fire to his guitar. Shit. He's breaking everything up. There go the amps. He's kicking-in the bass-drum. What? Everything's blowing-up! Feedback's screaming!! They left the stage completely destroyed!!! The show's over!!!! ROCK `N ROLL!!!!! The crowd reacted with proportionate appreciation. Hope I die before I get old. Backstage, every member of Herman's Hermits was ashen-faced. They had to go on after that and sing twinky little tunes about some fat king with eight wives? Fuuuuuuuck."

You can order copies of the book from Peter C.'s website, which is also a great source for photos, including all the shots featured here.

Bob Seger rocks Mt. Holly in July, 1970. And if you're wondering about the pants, I'm guessing they're some ski pants he swiped from the pro shop.

Stroh ball

How many Stroh's do you have to drink before you resort to bunting in a softball game? (Watch the first batter in this commercial for an example.) And how long would it take the drunken members of the opposing team to pummel you for it?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Marcus V. Moore, R.I.P.

Shannon Murphy of The Flint Journal reports:

Police are searching for a man they said fatally shot another man over the weekend.

Flint police were called to 117 W. Eldridge Ave. about midnight Saturday [July 19] on reports of a man shot. Upon arrival, police found Marcus V. Moore face down in the street.

Witnesses told police that Moore got into a quarrel with another man and was shot as he was walking away.

For a map of Flint homicides, go to the Flint Murder Map.

Flint Artifacts: Bright Stars Album Cover

From Flint to Paris

How often does Flint earn a mention on, the celebrity gossip website inspired by the antics of Paris Hilton?

Thanks to Nicole Harris for passing this along.

Less-than-total recall

As Morrissey once said, "The past is a strange place."

And it can be a tricky, unreliable place, as well. Flint Expatriates tends to traffic in memory and nostalgia, which means you should probably bring a healthy dose of skepticism with you when you read it.

Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert points out in his book Stumbling on Happiness that we don't store intact memories of complete events. We rack up little snippets and piece them back together, as needed:
"Remembering an experience feels a lot like opening a drawer and retrieving a story that was filed away on the day it was written, but...that feeling is one of our brain's most sophisticated illusions. Memory is not a dutiful scribe that keeps a complete transcript of our experiences, but a sophisticated editor that clips and saves key elements of an experience and then uses these elements to rewrite the story each time we ask to reread it."

And editors, as we all know, make mistakes. In his new memoir, The Night of the Gun, New York Times media writer David Carr details how the mistakes magnify when you add drugs and alcohol — two staples of Flint. Watch this video of Carr recounting one emblematic night and the slippery nature of memory.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bassett Place

Jim Holbel's recent visit to Flint brought back a lot of memories of the old neighborhood. I wondered if I had any photos of my house at 2402 Bassett Place. I did a little digging and found this shot from June 1972, taken the day my older brother, Matt, graduated from Powers.

Whose idea was the orange graduation gown? Rumor has it there was a rigged election at the high school that led to the color selection. Can you say "voter fraud"? My brother asked me not to name any names. The good news is that the gowns could also be worn for deer hunting, highway construction work or Denver Broncos games.

That's me in the left corner, acting up in the looming shadow of my 6' 5" brother, and sporting a classic seventies outfit — red pants and a purple shirt. My grandpa, Verne McFarlane, is in one of the suits he wore every day except Saturday. My mom is in front with my grandma, Leone, in one of her many stylish sweater ensembles. And the house itself features the green aluminum siding that I've heard it still has today.

You might also notice the lawn chair in the lower left corner. This was back in the days when you could sit on the front lawn in the shade and watch the baseball games across the street.

Flint chic

Get in the retro Flint spirit with this from Malaysia.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

G.M. turns 100

G.M. showed its gratitude to Flint by footing the bill for a lavish 100th birthday extravaganza in the city! The corporation wanted to show residents a really good time after everything that's happened.

Just kidding.

Catrin Einhorn of The New York Times reports from Flint:
A 100th birthday party, one would think, is cause for special celebration.

But here in Flint, the honoree is the company that both built the city and left much of it collapsed. And so, like generations of a family recognizing a controversial patriarch, people here are taking note of the centennial of the founding of General Motors with a complicated mixture of respect and anger, pride and hurt.

“It’s still good they’re doing something for Flint,” said Fred Morse, 34, a self-employed construction worker whose father worked for G.M. for 36 years. “But people need jobs more than they need entertainment and free hot dogs.”

But General Motors disappointed some of its staunchest supporters here by contributing little. A public relations representative attended some meetings, but eventually stopped coming. (G.M. officials said she was transferred to another job.) Organizers dreamed of a finale with two concept cars representing G.M.’s future, but one was already booked and it cost too much to ship the other. So the Flint organizers will content themselves with 2008 models from a local dealer.

General Motors officials said that Flint was one of many cities with a historical connection to the company, and that faced with its own financial uncertainties, it could not pay for events in each.

“This industry is in tremendous change, and the world economy is in tremendous change,” said Bill O’Neill, a G.M. spokesman. “It’s important for people to understand that as the industry changes, what they understand as General Motors will change.”

Thanks to Dave McDonald and Tom Larsen for passing this along to me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Flint Artifacts: Citizens Bank Matches

Calling all tourists!

Despite the layoffs, the crime, a mayor with a rap sheet, and the fact that its most famous native son — Michael Moore — is actually from Davison, there's one thing Flint's leaders have never really lost, and that's the naive belief that someday, somehow, someway Flint will be a tourist attraction.

All I can say is keep dreaming that dream, you crazy dreamers!

From the folks that brought you Autoworld and the downtown Hyatt comes this news, courtesy of Joe Lawlor of The Flint Journal:

"New radio ads are hitting the airwaves today with poetic lines recited by comedian Tim Allen promoting a tourist destination: Flint, Michigan.

"The radio ads and accompanying billboard campaign will hit key Michigan, Ohio and Indiana cities and air for three months as part of the statewide Pure Michigan campaign promoting tourism.

"The $200,000 tab is being split by the state and Flint Area Convention & Visitors Bureau."

Care to give a listen to this masterpiece? Just click here. And you must give it a listen. But be forewarned, once you hear this, you'll be scrambling to book a flight to Flint for a two-week vacation, so have your Visa ready.

"Bureau President Jerry Preston said the advertising agency talked about changing Genesee County's image from the state's 'most distressed community' to a 'vibrant getaway.'

"'We're trying to move the needle a little bit, from rock bottom to something above that,' Preston said."

Ah Jerry, such lofty goals. (What exactly is just above "rock bottom"? Low down? Piss poor? Really yucky?) This will certainly be money well spent. If you need any other ideas, Jerry, check out this video about Stoneybridge, Scotland, provided by my friend Keith Laidlaw, who hails from Edinburgh. The accents are a little thick, but all we need to do is change the word "Stoneybridge" to "Flint" and get Ben Hamper to redub the voiceover, then we'll have more tourists than we'll know what to do with. Let's hope they're well-armed.

Mike Holzer — Superstar!

Readers are clamoring for another photo of Mike Holzer, Burton's Public Utilities supervisor, who is willing to get down and dirty to illustrate the dangers of stealing manhole covers. There's no denying he's gained celebrity status on Flint Expatriates.

Mike, if you're a reader, drop us a line. And keep up the good work.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Summer vacation

Reilly and Emilia Holbel outside Balkan Bakery. Look closely and you can see the bakery's high-tech security system. (Just click on photo for a larger image.)

Jim Holbel, a Flint Expatriate now living in Atlanta and the former member of Dissonance, recently visited the old hometown with his family and paid a visit to one of Flint's amazing survivors — Balkan Bakery on Dayton Place across from Civic Park School.

Here is Jim's report from the field:

Our kids think Flint is kinda neat, mostly because it seems like a small town to them compared to Atlanta.

We conducted an informal test to determine if the taste for chili dogs is learned or genetic. (I know... Coneys, but that’s not what they are called in ATL.) My son, Reilly, ate a chili dog at Atlanta's legendary Varsity before leaving. During the visit we took him to Angelos. (Have they poured even a penny into that place since 1980?) It was as close to a 'side-by-side' comparison test as one can get. Reilly voted the Angelos Koegel Coney superior, scientifically proving that hot dog appreciation is genetically inherited. I'm thinking I can get a grant for that one.

The visit to Balkan Bakery was just a whim during our drive through. I'm telling you that place is EXACTLY the same inside — same paneling, same display case, same news clippings taped to the wall. Barbara has been there for 38 years. She has pretty good recall of all the old business in that strip, their demise and replacement. I didn't take notes, but if ever you need a bar bet settled she could help.

We drove by all my old schools (Civic Park, Walker, Whittier, Central, Northern, GMI), which bored the kids to tears.

We stopped by Hidden Park, and it appeared to be completely overgrown. It looked abandoned. I didn't go in, mostly because there was a fair amount of people hangin’ on the street corners and I wasn't real comfy leaving my wife, Dayna, and kids in the car, nor bringing them with me, so off we went.

The kids highlight was stopping by the D&R market on Mackin and Chevrolet — the other end of 'strip mall' from the old Ruggero's — where our friends Steve and Rick have been working forever. Steve let the kids pick out any treats they wanted 'on him' and they got some candy and Faygos. I must admit they have never seen plexi-glass walls in a store before, so there were some questions in that area.

Beyond that my wife and I mostly played 'look what got torn down' as we drove around.

Oh…I think weeds are some kind of protected species in Flint. What else could explain the fervor with which they are preserved?

Emilia and Reilly meet Barbara at Balkan Bakery. The bread is fresh; the wall decorations were there in the eighties.

Emilia and Reilly hang out in front of the weed and concrete savanna that was once Comber's and, later, Double D Market. The garage in the background to the left, now being reclaimed by the urban forest, was once a staging area for pelting cars with snowballs. Delmar Street is directly behind them, and the houses in the background are on Humbolt Street.