Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wanted: Chevy in the Hole Expert


Michael Hopkins, a master's student in the College of Architecture at UM, sent along these aerial shots of Flint. (Click on images to enlarge.)

He's working on a project and he needs an expert on Chevy in the Hole to help him out:
"I'm working on a project situated in the former Chevy in the Hole site. My approach is more about a dynamic model responding to ever-changing economic, environmental, and social needs as well as addressing the emotional connection that may have been lost due to the closing and removal of the factory and buildings.

"I'm interested in any information about Chevy in the Hole (i.e. what went on in individual buildings, what is happening in the immediate area around Chevy in the hole as well as the region itself, etc). Also, I'm very interested in finding any images of the buildings that were once on the site."
I've passed along the info I have, which wasn't much, so I'm hoping readers can assist Michael with his project. If you have any familiarity with the factory buildings — especially the ability to I.D. the various buildings — email him at mthop (at) umich (dot) edu.



Predicting the Past

Graphic via www.newyorkmag.com

Adam Sternbergh has a fascinating profile of Nate Silver, the so-called "Spreadsheet Psychic," in this week's New York Magazine. In addition to forecasting baseball games with great accuracy, Silver also calls elections. As of October 8, he had the electoral vote count tilting heavily toward Obama — 354.4 to 192.6.

Of special interest to Michiganders is his breakdown of who would have won the state's Democratic primary if Barack Obama had been on the ballot along with Hillary Clinton.

Obama by four percent, according to Silver.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Durant Hotel Renovation Confirmed

It's official.

The Durant Hotel will get a $30 million renovation to convert it into an apartment complex.

Thanks But No Thanks?

Obama's campaign was doing so well, and now this...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Flint Postcards: Harvest House Cafeteria at Genesee Valley Shopping Center

Recall Can Lead to a Nice Promotion

Flint Mayor Don Williamson shouldn't fret too much about the possibility of being recalled by voters. After all, it happened to Woodrow Stanley in 2002, and he's about to get elected to the State House for the 34th District.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fed Money Flows to Flint

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is handing out $3.9 billion nationwide to help alleviate the foreclosure meltdown. Genesee County's getting $11.7 million. You'd think the money might be used to assist homeowners who are facing foreclosure, right? Well, not exactly.

Joe Lawlor of The Flint Journal reports:
"Nancy Jurkiewicz Rich, the director of the city's Department of Community and Economic Development, said the city will use the money to focus on downpayment assistance and demolitions. The city plans to hire a consultant to help with the grant.

"'For Flint housing rehabilitation is not going to be the highest priority due to the age of the housing stock,' she said."
Wait a minute. Is this really the time to help people who can't come up with a downpayment buy a house? Isn't that one of the major factors that got us into this mess in the first place? Even better, the city's going to pay a consultant to tell them how to do it.

Wouldn't it make more sense to help the folks already in a house keep their home?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Flint Artifacts: Flint Polka by the Michigan Dutchmen

The Mayor Responds

Did anyone really think Flint Mayor Don Williamson would confront the recall effort to remove him from office in a calm, rational way?

The Flint Journal reports:

"They have tricked people into signing petitions under false pretenses. They have intimidated some of our citizens with the 'n' word. They used threatening tactics like the people over at ACORN and one knife-wielding individual was jailed," Williamson said from a prepared speech.

Williamson did take a break from his ranting to ask Circuit Court Judge Joseph Farah to "place a stay on any possible recall election while the mayor files appeals opposing the recall."

Historical Parking Decks

Flint's seemingly never-ending quest for unnecessary parking spaces has unearthed a field stone wall that just might date back to the era when fur traders hung out downtown.

Built for Speed

The Detroit Tigers' Curtis Granderson writes a $17,000 check to help fund a new track at Northwestern High School.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Flint Expatriates survives the first year

Has anyone noticed that Flint Expatriates is a year old today? I'm sure your gifts will be arriving in the mail any day now.

A birthday calls for a celebration of some sorts. Let's start with a little music.

Damn, I think I just ruined the party with that disturbing number. Regardless of the bad music, it's been a good year. We've covered everything from Village of Wolves to a brawl at Chuck E Cheese to the saga of Gypsy Jack, a legendary Flintoid whose legendary home may finally be safe in the hands of a well-meaning Canadian. There's even been a glowing profile of the site in The Flint Journal. (I'm still not quite sure how that came to pass, but I'm not complaining.)

And while blog posts are supposed to be short, snappy and nearly instantaneous, I think the best part of Flint Expatriates has been the longer posts that required some thought and reflection. Most of those items were written by someone other than myself, which should tell me something. Here are just a few of the longer items, in no particular order, that are well worth a second look:
Gerry Godin's tales of a river rat.

Stephen Rodrick's late-night adventure with conservative icon William F. Buckley.

John Mennear's return to Homedale School.

Bernard Rosenberg's friendship with Wild Bill the greaser at Southwestern High School.

Mary's journey from Flint to San Francisco and back again.

Rich Frost on Alice Cooper, snakes and Monkees.

Randy Gearheart looks back fondly on his dad and the family Grand Prix.

Redgirl's memories of love among the shelving units at Rollerworld.

Jeff Stork on the road with the Flint Generals.

Sarah Swart's rediscovery of Hidden Park, which wasn't a long post but required a true spirit of adventure. (And I spelled her name right this time.)

Mark Brewer learns to play the harp in Flint.

Pat McFarlane Young's sentimental journey. (Speaking of my mom, she's had quite a few interesting jobs.)

My thanks and appreciation goes out to Flint Expatriate readers for all the posts, comments and generous donations. It's been a lot of fun. Okay, let's be honest, sometimes it's been really depressing, but forget about that now. Instead, let's begin year two with some Boone's Farm and that Flintoid song:

Nude Photos of Robert T. Longway Planetarium

The amazing fifties photos by Mary Fisher, provided by her daughter Jane Hogan seem limitless. Here are two shots of the Robert T. Longway Planetarium before it got its familiar aqua marine outer layer. The Bucky Fuller-esque structural elements look suspiciously like the Mercedes logo. The Buick badge would have been more appropriate, although probably less reliable.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Taking their cue from the Lions

Just in case you're wondering how Flint schools are doing in high school football this year, here are the standings. And here's a hint...not a single Flint team has a winning record.

Flint Artifacts: 1963 AC Spark Plug Advertisement

Free Housing

When you have vacant homes, squatters are sure to follow.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Talk to The Experts

Michigan to the rest of the country: Been there, done that.


Sometimes it's hard to avoid the ghosts of Flint's industrial past, especially when they look this good. On a sunny Saturday in San Francisco's Mission District, with no wind and no fog, this Buick Skylark rolled by, a nice reminder that Flint produced some amazing cars.

Flint mayor a step closer to recall vote

Organizers of an effort to recall Flint Mayor Don Williamson have submitted more than 17,000 signatures. They need 8,004 valid signatures to force a recall vote on February 24.

The Final Four

Grand Blanc becomes the latest high school to abandon the Big Nine Conference.

"The mass exodus from the conference began when Clio joined the Metro League in 2005-06. Swartz Creek left for the Metro in 2006-07, Owosso left for the Capital Area Activities Conference in 2007-08 and Kearsley left for the Metro this fall,"
reports Bill Kahn of The Flint Journal.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gainful Employment

My parents, Patricia and David Young, at a party in the sixties. Aside from raising four kids by herself while my dad was flying jets for the Navy, this might have been one of the few times when she wasn't "officially" employed.

My mom, who is 77, has had roughly 50 jobs during her life. Probably more, but it’s hard for her to remember them all. “Does it count if you got the job and left after the first day?” she asks.

This peripatetic approach has rubbed off on her children. My sister, who is 46, has racked up at least 36 different jobs. My brother and my other sister declined to even guess, placing them in the too-many-to-count category. And at 42, I’ve shown admirable stability by only logging 22. (And yes, I’m counting two jobs I agreed to take and then never showed up for. Why? Hangover on both occasions. Excuse? I was a college student.)

The family can list carnival ring toss hawker, stewardess, golf caddy, gun seller, model, track coach, high school guidance counselor, horse groomer, professional cheerleader, mural painter, journalist, college professor, snow shoveler, movie extra, plastic factory worker, realtor, and bartender at the airport lounge in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on our collective resume. This cavalcade of gainful employment has taken at least one of us to New York, Detroit, Miami, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Little Rock, New Orleans, Havana, Puerto Rico, Paris, Seattle and various other far-flung locales. Oh, and one of us ended up in San Jose, California, for a two year hitch, which is not recommended.

Focused? Hardly. But I’m proud of our track record. Mom always emphasized the importance of hard work. And for a family that spent decades living in Flint, Michigan —a bastion of unemployment and industrial decay showcased in Michael Moore’s Roger & Me — we’ve shown a remarkable facility for just that. And we’ve managed to keep our jobs as long as we could stand them. Out of more than 120 places of employ, a family member has been canned just four times.
I’ve never lost a job, despite actively trying to get fired on more than one occasion. My sister’s dismissals are fairly prosaic. She was once 86’d as a cocktail waitress at Jimmy Lum’s Aloha Lounge (left) on Dort Highway in Flint when Jimmy discovered she was only 16. He found out because my mom called him up and demanded to know what the hell he was doing hiring underage high school girls to serve Mai Tai’s to autoworkers, affectionately referred to as “shop rats” in Flint.

But this is my mom’s story, and her hirings and firings tend to have long backstories, interwoven with convoluted plots that lead up to the numerous jobs she eventually gets and the few that she ultimately loses. Technically, her first job could be considered her first firing, although it’s more of a you-can’t-fire-me-I-quit situation. It’s 1946 and Flint is a far cry from what it would become when the General Motors plants started closing in the eighties.

“Flint was wonderful,” mom remembers. “The factories were going. If you went downtown it was like New York — there were people on the streets all the time. It was a big deal to go downtown to the Capital Theater on a date. There were good restaurants. There were beautiful dress shops. There were great little bars in the alleys. You could go downtown at night and you were safe.”

She was 16 and took a job behind the counter of a local drugstore on St. John’s Avenue in a predominantly African-American section of town. It was rumored that the white-owned drugstore sold “abortion pills” and overcharged its black customers. It would have been considered a wildly inappropriate job for a white girl in a very segregated factory town, so mom didn’t tell her parents about it.

“They wouldn’t have let me work there," she says. "You just didn’t do that then. I would have been allowed to have a job at the YWCA being a lifeguard or something like that. But you don’t think about consequences at that age. You just want to do what you want to do. I wanted money and I wanted to get a job.”

At the end of her first day working behind the counter, the husky, middle-aged pharmacist counted out the cash register. He shook his head and announced there was $5 missing.

“I knew that wasn’t right,” mom says. “I’d been careful. There was no way money was missing.”

He had a suggestion to clear the whole mess up: “Look, we’ll forget about the $5. Just stick around until we close. We’ll have a little fun, and I won’t have to call the police.”

Mom is not stupid. “Well, I knew what that meant. I waited until he turned his back and I just ran out the door and ran all the way home. I never went back and that was it.”

Welcome to the working world. But this introduction to the joys of low-wage labor didn’t seem to faze her. “Oh, it didn’t bother me. I just thought, ‘Well, I got out of that one.’ I was fearless at that time, as most young people are.”

A few years later, mom dropped out of Wayne State University in Detroit and returned to Flint.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I ran around with the musicians in Flint and the big thing was always, ‘We’re going to New York; we gotta get enough money to go to New York.’”

Finding a job was not a problem in Flint. She landed a spot on the assembly line at AC Spark Plug. It lasted three days.

The AC Spark Plug factory from the air.

“I just didn’t go back,” she says. “My favorite method — just disappear. I was too afraid underneath to be an adult and say, ‘I’m sorry but this is just not for me, and I apologize but I’m quitting.’ That thought terrified me.

“I wouldn’t have liked anything because I had this thing inside of me that just wanted to be a big band singer or go to New York or be a model. I can’t really describe it but I wanted something exciting. There was just no way I could work in a factory.”
The next few years are a blur. I can’t vouch for the order of things at this point. Mom and I sat down in the living room and tried to chart it all out, but it was too complicated, the scattered trajectory of a beautiful young woman looking for …something…in the 1950s. She made it to New York and went to Barbizon Modeling School, then worked as a model in the wholesale district, modeling clothes for buyers. She posed for art students, once as a gypsy, she remembers. And because many of her friends were black jazz musicians from Detroit, she immersed herself in Bebop. She hung out at Birdland and Minton’s Playhouse. Once, she hitched a ride with Charlie Parker to a gig in Philadelphia.

But New York was a sporadic experience. She went back and forth to Michigan, often when she wearied of a city that sometimes left her broke and depressed. She remembers sitting in her apartment one night, looking out at the lights of all the other apartments, and feeling as lonely as you could possibly feel. And there was the time she asked a roommate, who was a tough girl from Brooklyn, if she could borrow her radio when she was bedridden with the flu.

“Why?” the roommate asked.

“Because I’m sick, and I’m stuck in bed all day,” mom answered.

“That I should care if you live or die,” the roommate informed her with melodramatic finality. (It's still used as a funny line in our family on occasion.)

On one trip back to Flint, she met a guy named Ted, managed his beauty shop in the Patterson Building, moved to Miami with him and worked as a department store model at Burdines. Then it was back to New York, again, and modeling at Bergdorff Goodman’s. Then she got married to Ted, and ended up back in Flint. Again, she needed a job, and suddenly AC Spark Plug didn’t seem so bad after all.

“I was married and it was kind of a good thing, and I’d decided I really wanted a job. I was happy and Ted had a job and everything was better. So I was sincerely trying to make it work. I thought I’d gotten rid of the feeling that made me leave AC the first time, but it was really just submerged.”

She figured she could go back to making spark plugs because she was married now and had a new last name. They wouldn’t know she was the same person who walked off the line years earlier. She claimed she’d never worked there before on the application.

“My first day on the job, after I’d worked on the line a few hours, a supervisor came over and said, ‘We know you lied on your application. Please pick up your purse and come with me.’”

Mom was escorted to the factory gate, where she surrendered her badge. She remembered that Ted was going to the movies that day, so she went to the theater and wandered the darkened aisles looking for him. “I found him and just started crying. I was humiliated. He told me not to worry.”
The timeline continues to blur after that. The next time mom got fired, she’d been married and divorced three times. She had four children, including me, the youngest. In the interim, she’d been a stewardess (not a “flight attendant”) for National Airlines, shuttling between Miami, Havana and New Orleans. She’d worked for two car rental agencies and had a one-day stint as a “hostess” in what turned out to be a Mafia bar. She quit when she discovered the hostesses were expected to go to after-hours parties with the patrons. She’d taught modeling at the Barbizon branch in Jacksonville, Florida. Then she was back in Flint, working as an admitting clerk at McLaren Hospital, when she saw a want ad in a travel magazine for the manager of a hotel in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. She called the number and found out the owner dreamed of transforming an old hotel for miners into a ski lodge. This would be the first of many cross-country trips with my mom.

“It was a bad thing I did,” she says. “I packed up the car and just went off. I left the house for my parents to sell. Very bad. Very selfish.

“We got to Cloudcroft and it was beautiful; you drive up through the pine trees and everything. We drove up to the hotel and there was a pot-bellied wood stove in there. It was hanging off the side of the mountain and it had this big old rickety porch. I knew we couldn’t stay. One of the kids could have rolled off the porch down the hill. I was panicked, wondering what I was going to do. I’ve got my little kids out here.”

She turned to my 16 year-old brother, Matt. “He was older and he was my buddy, so I said, ‘Well, what are we going to do?’”
Matt had liked the white buffalo statue in the courthouse square in Snyder, Texas, when we’d passed through town on the way out.

“So we went back to Snyder,” she explains.

It was as good a plan as any.

Luckily, mom has an uncanny ability to bond with strangers. She’s just somebody that everybody likes. She met a woman in a restaurant, who called a friend, and we soon had a little house to rent. We were now officially residents of Snyder, Texas, then known as “The Star City.” Our neighbor had a steer, an oil well and an okra patch in her backyard.

And the next day, mom secured a job as a dental assistant.

“The dentist had been in the Navy, and I told him I’d been married to a Navy pilot, which was a mistake because everybody else in the Navy hates the pilots, probably because they get all the girls.”

She’d been training to be the dentist’s chair-side assistant a few days when he said he’d like her to attend a Wednesday night meeting. Mom asked if it was a meeting related to dentistry. He said no, it was a gathering at the local Church of Christ.

“I told him I was Catholic, and he just said ‘Oh’ and he let it go. The next day I came to work and he called me in and said, ‘I’m sorry but I just don’t think you’re dentally oriented.’

“I was crushed because I wasn’t used to being rejected. I always did a good job and I didn’t like being treated like that. I was walking out, and I was almost in tears and the receptionist said, ‘I don’t know why he did that. You learned faster than anybody.’”

Getting fired for being Catholic wasn’t surprising in west Texas. The Catholic church in town regularly had dances, and the local Baptist teenagers would secretly attend, begging the people at the door not to stamp their hand so their parents wouldn’t find out they had been fraternizing with the Papists.

But losing the dentist gig wasn’t all bad. It allowed mom to learn about firearms at her next job as a gun “sales lady” at Star Discount. And it led to her brief stint working with the carnival before she sold ads for The Snyder Daily News.

The family eventually made it back to Flint in 1971, give or take a few years. Mom quickly got her old job back at the hospital — remember, everyone likes her, even her old boss — and she worked there for 15 years.

As the youngest kid, I spent the bulk of my childhood watching her dutifully head off to work in a white uniform, dealing with demanding doctors, confused patients and petty admitting office intrigues. This was in the days when divorced women got the kids and little, if any, child support. (And despite taking a hit in Texas for the Catholic church, she wasn’t even allowed to receive communion at Mass.) There wasn’t much money, but we did have a huge jazz record collection. I’m sure I was the only 10-year-old in Flint who regularly listened to “Salt Peanuts” by Dizzy Gillespie. And while mom didn’t exactly find contentment with a steady job, she did achieve something admirable.

“I had kids and I decided I had to settle down and take care of them. And I did.” she says. “I’m proud of myself. I’ve had a lot of bad circumstances, and I’ve always found a job.”
She took an early retirement package in 1985, when Flint was in its economic death spiral, and moved to Jacksonville, Florida, of all places. My older brother had landed a teaching job in Jax, as the locals call it, a few months earlier, but there were deeper motivations for her migration. She had met my dad there when he was flying jets out of the naval air station in the early sixties; they had always loved each other, although cohabitation was out of the question. She remembered it as a “wild Navy town,” a fun, sunny place where she was young and happy, not the charmless Baptist enclave demarcated by strip malls that it had become. Or, perhaps, always was.

After a series of sales jobs, she ended up working as the fine arts manager at Jacksonville University, booking various acts into the school’s performing arts center. She got to talk to musicians and agents in New York — who loved her stories, especially the ones about Charlie Parker — and generally organized everything related to a performance. She could also talk to the talent in a way the Ph.D. types could not. At 70, she’d finally found a job she loved.

“I think that might have been the right job for me in the beginning,” she says “But I’m not sure any job would have been right when I was young, when I was chasing that dream. I’m still not sure exactly what the dream was.”

Pat Young working on dinner this summer at the family farm she's restoring in Iowa.

My Mom’s Jobs ( give or take a few dozen)

Babysitter — Various, Flint, Michigan
Cashier —Drugstore, Flint, Michigan
Usher — The Strand Theatre, Flint, Michigan
Record Store Clerk — Smith Bridgeman’s Department Store, Flint, Michigan
Scarf Saleswoman — Smith Bridgeman’s Department Store, Flint, Michigan
Record Store Clerk — Al’s Record Mart, Detroit, Michigan
Factory Worker — AC Spark Plug, Flint Michigan
Factory Worker — Unknown, New York City
Art Model — Art Students League and Columbia University, New York City
Model — Wholesale District, New York City
Factory Worker — AC Spark Plug, Flint, Michigan
Manager/Receptionist — The Coiffure Shop, Flint, Michigan
Department Store Model — Burdines, Miami
Department Store Model — Bergdorff Goodmans, New York City
Stewardess — National Airlines, Miami, Key West, Havana
Saleswoman — Avis Car Rental, Jacksonville, Florida
Saleswoman — Hertz Car Rental, Jacksonville, Florida
Instructor — Barbizon Modeling School, Jacksonville, Florida
Admitting Clerk — McLaren Hospital, Flint, Michigan
Hotel Manager — Cloudcroft, New Mexico
Dental Assistant — Snyder, Texas
Gun Sales Lady — Star Discount, Snyder, Texas
Ring Toss Hawker — Carnival, Snyder, Texas
Advertising Representative — Snyder Daily News, Snyder, Texas
Admitting Clerk — McLaren Hospital, Flint, Michigan
Admitting Clerk — St. Vincent’s Hospital, Jacksonville, Florida
Manager — Blue Cross Gift Shop, Jacksonville, Florida
Babysitter — Jacksonville, Florida
Saleswoman — Dilliard’s Department Store, Jacksonville, Florida
Saleswoman — Steinmart, Jacksonville, Florida
Fine Arts Manager — Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, Florida

Friday, October 17, 2008

Flint mocked, of course, on Saturday Night Live

The Flint Journal's Shannon Murphy provides the backstory:

"Kristina Pringle has a sketch pad filled with drawings of cartoons that she likes to do in her spare time.

"She never thought her hobby would help make her southside neighborhood a nicer place to live.

"In August, Pringle, 20, began sketching Winnie the Pooh characters on the boarded-up windows of a vacant home a few doors down from her Madison Avenue house."
Thanks to Daria and Lori for passing this along.

Flint's Swedish Connection

Flint Expatriate Mike Martin hard at work in Sweden.

Linköping, Sweden has been in the news since Flint teamed up with Swedish Biogas International to build a plant in the Vehicle City that will convert human waste from the city's wastewater facility into biogas for use as vehicle fuel, heat and electricity. The King of Sweden even stopped by Flint for a visit.
"Linköping, the fifth-largest city in Sweden, now operates public buses and trash-collecting trucks, as well as a train line and some private taxis on biogas [made] from methane produced from the entrails of slaughtered cows," writes Edward M. Gomez on sfgate.com.

Luckily, Flint already has its own representative in Linköping.
When he's not fly fishing and watching hockey, Flint Expatriate Mike Martin is working on a Ph. D. and conducting research at Linköping University. He lived at 118 Orville Street and attended Cody Academy, McKinley Middle School and later Swartz Creek High School. He went on to major in mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech and was able to study sustainable development on a project in Norway. That led to a master's degree in Sustainable Development and Technology at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

"Linköping can provide GREAT examples to Flint as I personally know," he writes on his blog, Mike in Sweden. "Much of the reports you'll see on TV are not made up, they are true. We recycle, use wastes, drive small cars with biogas and have heated streets and bike everywhere. Its just life here, period. It can be done! So, Flint, DO IT!"

Mike's research deals with making biofuel production better by "using by-products and energy to collaborate and make biofuels from other biofuels."

"There are so many ways the Swedes benefit from environmental technology, and it is a big money maker and earth saver. It doesn't have to be depriving anyone of anything, it helps everything. "

G.M. on the Ropes?

“This is the worst that G.M. has looked in nearly 50 years,” said David Healy, an analyst with Burnham Securities. “If auto sales stay at this level, they can’t survive for very long.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fashionable Food and Drink

Remember Blackstone's men's clothing store at 531 S. Saginaw Street? It's about to become Blackstone's Pub & Grill.

Custom tailoring will not be included with lunch.

House Beautiful

Flint's well-documented abandoned housing problem makes it easy to forget what an amazing housing stock the city still possesses. One way to remind yourself that Flint isn't just a collection of tear downs missing their copper plumbing is to check out the Flickr page of sarrazak6881, where you'll find an impressive array of great Flint houses. Here are just a few:

Flint Artifacts: G.M.I. Patch

Water Wars

Many have predicted a looming war over water in the U.S., a situation that could make Michigan and other Great Lake states very desirable locations. The battles over increasingly scarce water supplies are already being fought in Colorado:
"Drought and growth have intensified the fight over water. Some farmers and ranchers in northeastern Colorado have had their wells restricted or shut down after cities and others with surface water rights successfully argued the wells were illegally drawing down the South Platte River.

"Water for energy development and growth likely would be taken from agriculture."

Going home again...at least on weekends and major holidays

The New York Times takes a look at people buying second homes in their old hometowns. Flint doesn't really fit the pattern, but you never know:

“When I was growing up, I wanted to leave and move to New York as quickly as possible,” said Mr. Saathoff, 25, an agent at Wilhelmina Models, whose primary residence is a studio apartment in the East Village. “And now I find myself torn between the city and Louisville. I’ve got the easier life in Kentucky, and the metropolitan life here.”

“Considering the prices, I didn’t find buying something in the Hamptons or upstate New York feasible or even necessarily desirable,” he continued. “They’re not the places I’d go to rejuvenate or to recharge my batteries.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Flint Postcards: Hotel Dresden at Night

Flinn's Journal provides some background info: This hotel was later called the Milner and finally the Adams before it was destroyed by fire in 1963.

Humane Evictions

The Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell announced a two-week ban on evictions involving foreclosed rental properties. It seems renters might be getting evicted when their landlord's property gets foreclosed, even though they've paid rent. Pickell said the two week moratorium would provide an opportunity to come up with a "more humane" way to deal with tenants.

The Genesee Landlords Association responded by threatening to sue the sheriff's office if he didn't enforce the eviction notices.

After all, Flint's got such a hot real estate market that banks and mortgage companies want to get these desirable foreclosure properties on the market as soon as possible. Who cares if some renters get put out on the street?

Policing Public Meetings

When I was just starting out as a reporter in Springfield, Illinois I got to cover city council meetings. They were always pretty dull affairs. That doesn't seem to be the case at Flint City Council meetings, where the police sometimes get involved.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Golden Leaf

I was at a wedding party for my friends Keith and Kim at the Potrero Neighborhood Center, known as The NABE, last weekend in San Francisco. I spotted a guy in a Red Wings jacket who turned out to be Albert Johnson, a NABE employee who was born at Hurley Hospital and went to Clark Elementary (left) in Flint. His parents, Jerry and Jimmie, still live on Providence Street.

We ended up talking about The Golden Leaf, one of Michigan's legendary black clubs. It’s still in business at 1522 Harrison Street, just across the school yard from Clark Elementary. It’s a membership-only club, just as it was when it opened in 1921.

“My dad liked to play cards there,” Albert remembered, before our conversation turned to how glad we both were that Matt Millen is finally out as the Lions GM.

The Golden Leaf is a well-known Flint landmark in my family. One of my mom’s best friends from the old days in Flint is Adrienne (Wilson) Oliver, who is the mother of Notre Dame assistant coach Jappy Oliver (left). Although it wasn’t unheard of for a black girl and white girl to be such close friends at that time in Flint, it was rare. And it was even rarer for a white girl to visit The Golden Leaf. But Ardrienne took my mom, Pat (McFarlane) Young, on several occasions.

“We never looked at Pat as being white or black. Pat was just Pat,” Adrienne told me during a recent conversation. “She was with me and she was my friend, so nobody thought anything of her going to the Golden Leaf.”

Except, perhaps, the girls' parents. Sometimes a little subterfuge was needed.

“We did some of the craziest things,” Adrienne remembers. “Pat would say she was spending the night at my house, then we’d tell my parents we were both going to spend that night at another girl's house, then we’d sneak out.”

Adrienne and my mom both remember Central High, where they graduated in 1948, as having good racial relations. Blacks and whites interacted and formed friendships.

“I remember there being more economic prejudice than racial prejudice at Central,” my mom says. “Students seem to divide over their neighborhoods and how much money their parents had.”

Ardienne adds: “At Central, everybody was wonderful, but there was a lot of prejudice hidden in Flint. Nobody came right out and said it, but it was there.”

And there was prejudice built in to the structure of Flint life. When performers like Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole or Lionel Hampton came to the I.M.A., whites went to a separate early performance, while blacks were only allowed at a second midnight to 4 a.m. show.

“That was terrible,” Adrienne says. “It’s sick to even think about, especially when most of the performers were black.”

The Golden Leaf was a popular destination before the midnight dances at the I.M.A. “You know, it’s just a hole in the wall, but we thought it was the greatest joint in the world,” Adrienne remembers.

Today, the look of the Golden Leaf is relatively unchanged. It’s owned and managed by Lottie Reid, who told me on the phone that it’s still the same long, narrow brick building with a dirt basement, a bar, and several tables, much like it was when Adrienne and my mom went there, not to mention more famous visitors like Sammy Davis, Jr., Dinah Washington, and Malcolm X. The age of the members ranges from 21 to around 80.

But the neighborhood has changed, starting with the massive I-69 — I-475 interchange that obliterated much of the community that once surrounded The Golden Leaf . And like many Flint schools, Clark Elementary is boarded up.

“There’s really nothing around us now,” Lottie Reid said. “There’s nothing but us on this block.”

Let's talk about crime

Crime is a frequent topic on Flint Expatriates, but it is hardly mentioned by the national media these days. Part of the reason is that the rate of violent crime declined every year from 1992 through 2004. But since then, the per-capita violent crime rate has started climbing again. And in some areas, like Flint and Detroit, the rate has spiked.

"You can talk all you want about [falling] crime rates, but the fact is that 99,000 people have been murdered in this country since September 11, [2001]" says Gene Voegtlin, the legislative counsel for the International Organization of Chiefs of Police.

So why isn't crime a bigger national issue?

Ashby Jones of The Wall Street Journal explains why:

Dismayed local politicians, frustrated police chiefs and bewildered academics trot out a host of reasons, from media myopia to the fallout from 9/11 to a narrowing in differences between Democrats and Republicans. Some think the problem owes, at least in part, to the fact that crime has fallen so precipitously in the nation's media centers, namely Los Angeles and New York. "It's true," says George Tita, a professor of criminology at the University of California, Irvine. "If what's happening in Philadelphia were happening in L.A. and New York, we'd be hearing a lot more about it."

Others say crime has simply been overshadowed by other issues, including national security. "All eyes, all attention at the federal level, are on Al Qaeda and the war on terror," says Michael Nutter, Philadelphia's mayor. "Fact is, al Qaeda wouldn't last a day in parts of Philadelphia. I've got gangsters with .45s that would run them outta town."

On the political front, crime has fallen way behind issues such as Iraq, health care and gas prices, not to mention the meltdown of our financial system.

Flint Turns Purple

Purple States is a mini-documentary series about "a group of five randomly-selected American citizens following the campaign trail for the Washington Post." In this episode, "Elizabeth Gotsdiner, a college student, and Bert Sobanik, a displaced manufacturing worker, visit Flint...and get a look at an American town at rock bottom." It includes a "frank discussion of free markets and American safety nets. Elizabeth goes to a Michigan McCain rally and Bert meets Barack Obama, but neither come away uplifted by the experience."

The citizens' blogs and daily show can be found at www.purplestates.tv.

Thanks to Don for passing this along.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Flint Postcards: Michigan School for the Deaf

Unrequited Love

G.M. apparently courted Ford without luck before turning to Chrysler.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Before the Parking Lots

On a beautiful fall day in the fifties, Mary Fisher photographed the home of her grandfather, Frank D. Baker, who founded Baker Drugs in 1882 and also served as sheriff and postmaster at one time. The white house at 410 E. Third Street was in the heart of a leafy neighborhood near downtown. Jane Fisher, Mary's daughter, remembers her great-grandfather's house: "It had a massive front porch, and I remember a back staircase that had velvet curtains on either end so that it was completely dark in the stairwell. This house had a coal chute in the basement. It may have even had a Michigan basement, but I mostly remember the coal on the floor.

A view of tree-lined E. Third Street in the fifties.

The Baker house in 1973, shortly before it was torn down to make room for a parking lot.

View Larger Map

A satellite shot of E. Third Street today. The location of the Baker house is identified with a red marker. At least some of the trees are still there.

Flint Postcards: 1939 Buick's the Beauty!

Hotels Past, Present and Future

Here's an ABC12 News segment on the Durant Hotel renovation. It's a bit out of date, but it has some good footage of the hotel in its heyday, along with artists renderings of the completed renovation.

Thanks to JMack at HoodHype for passing this along.

Desperate Liaisons

G.M. and Chrysler...together?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Street Walkers

Care to take a virtual stroll down Saginaw Street? Check out walkingflint.com. It's already outdated — the old Vogue store is still standing — but very cool.

Next street to feature? May I suggest...Garland!

Tiger Stadium Hangs On

Tiger Stadium — or what's left of it — gets another reprieve.

Flint Postcards: Beach Street in 1908

Corporal Motors

Wondering how GM is doing amid the worldwide economic crisis? Do you have to ask?
"A dire new forecast for global vehicle sales battered the shares of auto companies on Thursday, particularly General Motors, whose stock plunged more than 31 percent and was the hardest hit of the 30 companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average," reports Bill Vlasic of The New York Times.

"G.M. lost $15.5 billion in the second quarter and ended the quarter with $21 billion in cash. However, the company is burning through more than $1 billion a month and has been unable to tap the debt market to raise additional money.

"The credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s put G.M. on “watch with negative implications” on Thursday, and one industry expert said the company was running dangerously low on cash.

"'I would have to say there is a possibility of bankruptcy, but the probability is low,' said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich."

As Flint Expatriate Rich Frost told me recently, a share of GM stock wouldn't get you a combo meal at Burger King. The fortunes of GM prompted this joke from Eugene Cappuccio: "Now that General Motors has become a $5 stock, its board members met in emergency session, but could not come up with a better plan than to call it Corporal Motors."

Hey, Corporal Motors, that would be pretty funny...if we weren't on the verge of another Great Depression.

Copper in the crapper

Just how bad is the U.S. economy? Even Flint's notorious copper thieves are hurting as metal prices plummet along with the stock market. Scrap metal stealers are doing even worse.

Flint isn't exactly embracing green technology, but at least that means Flint thieves can't get their hands on one item that is hot on the black market these days — solar panels.

Tyrell A. Lee, R.I.P.

"Police are continuing to investigate an early morning [Oct. 9] shooting that left a 32-year-old man dead," reports Shannon Murphy of The Flint Journal.

"Police were called to East York Avenue near Industrial Avenue about 4:45 a.m. for a shooting.

"Tyrell A. Lee was found in the street with a gunshot wound. He was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead."

The Flint Murder Map tracks homicides in the Vehicle City throughout the year. Please note that the map is incomplete and offers only a partial list of murder victims.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Flint Artifacts: Central High Letter Sweater

A living laboratory

Flint and Buffalo have a few things in common — cold weather, deindustrialization, and vacant houses, to name a few. So it's worth noting when some urban planners and local housing leaders in Buffalo propose turning the city into a "living laboratory" dedicated to solving the country's vacant-housing crisis.

“What are the alternatives?” asked Joseph Schilling, an urban affairs professor at Virginia Tech and founder of the National Vacant Properties Campaign, in an interview with Phil Fairbanks of The Buffalo News. “At some point, we have to realize traditional economic development approaches don’t work when you’re facing blight and abandonment that has become intractable.”

The idea that Buffalo could become a national laboratory dedicated to solving the vacant-housing crisis has its roots in Blueprint Buffalo, a two-year-old report developed by a team of experts and now touted by City Hall and local leaders.

Schilling gave new life to the proposal last month with a published article, “Buffalo as the Nation’s First Living Laboratory for Reclaiming Vacant Properties.”

Despite that endorsement, city officials see the living lab as just another well-intentioned idea without the money to make it happen.

“Good ideas are not enough,” said Brian Reilly, Buffalo’s commissioner of economic development, permits and inspections. “We’ve got a book of good ideas, but you can’t win a war with concepts.”

The fate of TAM

Flint Expatriate Kathy W. has a question:

"Do you remember "TAM" at the Sloan Museum? I think it was an acronym for Talking Anatomical Mannequin. It was a woman that talked about all of her parts. I looked on the Sloan site and I don't see any mention of it there. Do you think it was discarded? Just curious."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Drink your way to financial security

In these troubled economic times, are you looking for some investment advice that all Flintoids, current and former, can fully embrace? Here it is via How to Avoid the Bummer Life:

"If you had purchased $1,000 of Delta Air Lines stock one year ago, you would have $49 left.

"With Fannie Mae, you would have $2.50 left of the original $1,000.

"With AIG, you would have less than $15 left.

"But, if you had purchased $1,000 worth of beer one year ago, drunk all of the beer, then turned in the cans for the aluminum recycling REFUND, you would have $214 cash.

"Based on the above, the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle..."

Thanks again to Michael G. for this investment advice.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wading into downtown architecture

The wonders of Photoshop, courtesy of Randy Gearheart

I'm not thrilled with the look of the new Wade Trim Building — it seems a little soulless to me — but it's hard to complain too much about any upgrades to downtown Flint. And this Ryan Garza photo of the city's incongruous architectural styles makes Flint's emerging hodgepodge of buildings look sort of appealing. Sometimes no planning at all somehow ties together in a weird, unexpected way. Of course, the Genesee Towers aren't long for this world, so this mismatched triumverate will eventually be a duo. And that might not be such a bad thing either.

Update: Here are a few comments on this post from Flint residents:

slick says: My opinion is that to see it up close and personal it's actually not bad.

There is actually green grass in downtown flint. hopefully it will not turn to weeds.

I can't speak from an architectural point of view, but it certainly looks better than the run-down plywood covered edifice which preceded it.

Downtown is starting to come together...seriously....to hear comments from those residing afar doesn't give it justice imho.

Being one in the trenches here in the good old vehicle city, I can see the change.

Scottr says: I don't understand why people expect a city's downtown to 'blend'. It needs buildings of all ages and styles - new, old, and in between. Flint is finally starting to get that mix, yet out comes all the critics who want nothing but art deco or some such design. I love old buildings, but if all of them were from the early 20th century, downtown would be a very boring place, and no better than an aging strip mall in the suburbs.

Personally, I like it. I think it's got a classic look with a modern flair to it. It's honestly one of the most attractive new builds downtown has seen in 3 decades, including most anything at UM-Flint. And I'm very interested in seeing what the CFGF and Health Plus may do.

Correction: The original version of this post described the Wade Trim as a "refurbished" building. It is an entirely new structure. Thanks to Scott for catching this mistake.

Damonta L. Counts, R.I.P.

"Police continue to investigate Monday's [Oct. 6] slaying of a man on the city's north side," Bryn Mickle of The Flint Journal reports.

"Damonta L. Counts, 22, was found shot about 5:30 p.m. near the intersection of Fleming Road and Caniff Street.

"He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital."

The Flint Murder Map tracks homicides in the Vehicle City throughout the year. Please note that the map is incomplete and offers only a partial list of murder victims.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Post-Industrial Art

Kiwimomo, a 21-year-old art student, offers her interpretation of deindustrialization via her blog, Peachy BoomSHACALACA:

"Deindustrialization of America — this was my interpretation of it. I did this for my Digital Illustration class...I first did it in pen, then water colored it, scanned it and edited it on Photoshop.

"I interpreted the deindustrialization of America by referring to the opposite of it — the Industrial Revolution, in which America was known as the 'land of opportunity.' However, as the U.S. consumer culture grew, increasingly U.S manufacturing and facilities are done outside of the country, which in turn caused a few major decreases in jobs. I used China for [an] example, seeing that most of the objects Americans own are made in China...With deindustrialization, the U.S. is left with manufactured goods produced from outside of the U.S. for consumers to buy, rather than a load of job opportunities."

Flint Postcards: Sunset over Flint

I cannot imagine a more misrepresentative postcard of Flint. Where the hell was this shot taken?

Gary Flinn on Mr. Magic

Gary Flinn, Flint's historian extraordinaire, has a nice piece on WJRT Channel 12 in The Flint Journal that's worth checking out:

"In 1960, Earl Frank Cady (just Frank Cady on-air) began his fondly remembered run as 'Mr. Magic.' The show aired until the colorful "Bozo" replaced it on Labor Day 1967 — the day the station converted to full color. Cady played the role of Bozo, too.

"On 'Mr. Magic,' he'd played other characters, such as Clyde Clunker and his cousin Lulubelle — a homely woman who in one surviving black-and-white video lip-synched a performance by novelty singer Mrs. Miller. A popular ending on the show was Mr. Magic getting a pie in the face.

"Cady, as Bozo the Clown, had a 'peanut gallery' of children who participated in games for prizes from toy companies. He pitched products such as Bozo bread and Bozo milk. Cady also hosted Michigan Polka Party in the mid-1960s, featuring the local Michigan Dutchmen band and dancers from local high schools."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Flint Postcards: Flint Golf Club

Sadly, this postcard doesn't include the caddy shack, where I spent too many summer days lolling around and waiting for the chance to lug a golf bag around for one of the Flint elite in exchange for very little money and, typically, lousy tips. But I will give a belated shout out to Jerry Spickler (I may be getting the name wrong after all these years), who I remember as a smart, funny guy who also happened to be a generous tipper.