Monday, March 31, 2008

Flint returns to the stone age



Retired construction worker Wally Wallington exhibits Flint's can-do spirit by building a replica of Stonehenge. By himself. For his next feat, he'll make GM profitable.

I am a retired carpenter with 35 years experience in construction. In my work experience, over the years, many times I had to improvise on tools that were not at hand in order to get the job done.

At one of these times, about 12 years ago, I had to remove some 1200 lb. saw cut concrete blocks from an existing floor. The problem was that we did not have a machine that could reach some of the blocks. The only obvious answer was to break the blocks into smaller pieces with a sledgehammer and load them into a wheelbarrow. To me, this seemed to be too much labor at the time, so I improvised.

Using a few rocks and leverage, I removed the blocks from below the floor to an area that the machine could reach them for removal. After doing this several times, the technique became very easy and quick. This experience had me consider the possibility that people may have used this technique before modern day equipment was available.

For more details head to Wally's website.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Don Knotts of sportswriters

Sean Brennan, a very nervous basketball writer for the New York Daily News, gets absolutely terrified at the thought of covering the NCAA Tournament in Detroit. And he's even more squeamish about Flint:

"You want assaults? Hey, we got ‘em, ranked second in the nation. Murder? Got that, too, with Detroit also landing the silver medal in homicide. Want your car ripped off? Give it a minute or so. Guess who’s No. 2? We are!

"Apparently, Detroit criminals are more into working outside than inside, as burglaries came in at an anemic 17th place.

"But if that’s not enough mayhem for you, nearby Flint, Mich., can supply you with your fill of felonies. In an attempt to show up Detroit, Flint apparently went on an assault binge to come in first in the country. And while it only took the bronze in murder, Flint does receive a silver medal for burglary.

"But at least you can park your car in Flint - for a little while anyway. It ranked a mere 28th nationally in car theft.

"I’m not sure what I’m going to do here on my free time. Maybe visit the Drive-By-Shooting Museum. Or maybe I’ll just sit in my hotel room, push my big dresser in front of the door and watch documentaries on TV.

"Maybe one on Beirut."

I think it's safe to say Sean won't be signing up to be a war correspondent anytime soon.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Flint, Oregon


I'm just back from a road trip to the Pacific Northwest, where the Michigan reminders are everywhere, even in Portland, where I ran across this Buick Electra 225, complete with whitewalls, the day I arrived.

I also met up with Kara Tambellini, another Flint Expatriate, and got a chance to gossip about Flint in general, and our old friend Mark Sanford in particular. Then I started spotting Michigan plates all over town and encountered somebody from Ann Arbor in the grocery store.

Is everyone in Michigan moving to Oregon? Well, a lot of people are leaving the Wolverine state and a lot of people are showing up in the Beaver state, so there must be some overlap.

According to United Van Line’s 30th annual 'migration' study, which tracks where its customers are moving, "a strong mobility pattern continued in 2006 as many Americans packed up their belongings and headed to the West and Southeast parts of the country, while the Central Northeast region of the country experienced an increase in residents departing.

"Supporting the idea that Americans still believe there is fortune to be found in the West, the Western portion of the country emerged as a top migration spot. Capturing the No. 2-inbound ranking, Oregon (62.5%) sustained its 19-year, high-inbound trend.

"States in the Central Northeast generally showed an outbound trend, according to United’s records. Ranked No. 2 on the high-outbound list last year, Michigan (66.0%) moved up a spot to tie for the top outbound state on this year’s list. Michigan saw a 2.1% increase over its 2005 numbers."

Even the weather in Oregon seemed like Michigan on the way back to San Francisco.

Gas is expensive! Who knew?


The Flint Journal reveals the shocking news!

At-home truck and SUV sellers...are finding out first-hand the same thing that new and used car dealers already have -- that demand for gas guzzlers (those getting far south of 20 miles per gallon) is dropping sharply as the price of motor fuel rises.


This is the kind of investigative journalism that America needs!

Lonnie Rushin Jr., R.I.P

Flint logs its second homicide of 2008. Ron Fonger of The Flint Journal reports:

A 19-year-old Flint man became the city's second homicide victim of the year after he was gunned down during a large house party on Lawndale Avenue, not far from Haskell Community Center.

Lonnie Rushin Jr. was dead on arrival at Hurley Medical Center after the 2:15 a.m. Saturday shooting, according to a Flint Police Department news release.

Police said they found Rushin unresponsive with a gunshot wound after responding to shots fired in the area, but released no other details of the shooting.

The department is asking anyone with information about the homicide to contact Sgt. Mike Angus at (810) 237-6920, (810) 237-6800 or (800) 422-JAIL.

Walking to the bank


Take a spill on one of Flint's sidewalks and you can expect a decent payout from the city, according to Joe Lawlor of The Flint Journal:

City of Flint payouts for defective sidewalk claims


1999: $359,543
2000: $18,000
2001: $242,500
2002: $74,500
2003: $170,300
2004: $147,000
2005: $59,500
2006: $89,157
2007: $138,500
2008 (year-to-date): $15,000

Just don't assume you can just stroll into a local hospital to get medical care if you need it after the fall:

The county's three hospitals have been closed to incoming ambulances for more than 384 hours combined since Feb. 1, according to Genesee County Medical Control Authority statistics.

Hurley Medical Center and McLaren Regional Medical Center both shut their doors to ambulances early last week due to a packed ER.

And for about 2 1/2 hours last week, all three hospitals were reported closed to incoming ambulances -- at which point patients were transported to the nearest hospital available, despite overflowing ERs.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Flint Photos: The Book Stall and The Torch in 1977


A 1977 view of the corner of South Saginaw and First Street from the parking structure of Genesee Towers. Smith-Bridgman's looms in the background to the right, behind a wall of bricks. The Book Stall is visible in the lower right corner. (Photo courtesy of Jar With Most.)


Buckam Alley complete with a dusting of snow, a couple nice vans, and the Torch in 1977. (Photo courtesy of Jar With Most.)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Flint Portraits: Dee Dee Bridgewater



Jazz great Dee Dee Bridgewater talks about growing up in Flint at rockwired.com:

Well, my father was a trumpet player and we listened to a lot of jazz, and I think the fact that I grew up in Flint Michigan, which is a very industrial town, helped to develop my artistic side because I had nothing to do so I fantasized a lot. I love to say that Flint is a good city to be from.

It's very sad what's happened to Flint now. General Motors was basically the backbone of that city. It was factory town. Most of the blacks in Flint moved there from the south because
General Motors was employing blacks in the factories. My father was a school teacher and my mother was a secretary and later became a junior executive with General Motors. Most of my friends families worked in the factories and then a lot of my friends who stayed in Flint also worked in the factories. I remember I even went over to GM to one the factories to get a job but they told me I was over-qualified and they didn't hire me. So that was a blessing!



Thursday, March 20, 2008

More Flint Memories


Here are some more memories of Flint from readers:

Anonymous: My other Flint memories are of the Montgomery Ward restaurant facing Second Street in downtown. I remember they had the best cheesburgers. What about pop from The Soda Pop Shoppe? Eastside memories are those of the Hamady store at Frankiln and Davison before their expansion in 1986. At one time the building housed four tenents simultaneously:
Detroit and Northern Savings Bank, Irvin Hersch Jewelers, Eastside Pharmacy, and finally the grocery store. I also remember when Broadway Coney Island at Broadway and Franklin, and the Nite Owl Coney Island at Davison and Dort were competeing with Angelo's (when it was worth going to), and lastly shopping with my folks at the A&P on Dort Highway near Delaware. I always remember the smell of fresh ground coffee as soon as we'd enter the building.

Susank: You remember taking class field trips to the
Sloan Museum to see the anatomically correct Tammy. You remember shopping at Comber's Market.

UPDATE: redgirl has a few more items:

You remember ice-skating in the winter at Ballenger Park.

You remember the animals and rides at Flint Park (or Dewey Woods, later called Forest Park).

You remember the stories about the sunken lumberyard and quicksand that would suck you in and suffocate you at "Devil's Lake," by Stewart Ave. and Dupont St., not far from Forest Park.

You remember George & Emily Solomon's lunches at "Harrison House" on Harrison St. downtown.

You remember the cafeteria you took the escalator to at Smith Bridgeman's where you had grilled cheese and hot chocolate after your mother was done shopping.

You remember the Balkan Bakery over on Dayton St.

You remember Herriman's ice cream parlor out on Clio Rd.

UPDATE: I can also remember visiting
Kearsley Park, driving in the small cars at Safetyville while taking the trip across the "Little Mac" bridge, and afterwards attempting the daring walk through the wooded area around the park, the area known as Bumwoods. I remember my parents saving S&H Green Stamps from buying groceries at the Kroger store on Robert T. Longway and Dort, and visiting the Top Value Stamp store directly next to Kroger, redeeming the stamps to buy a lamp set. I remember when gas was 39 cents a gallon at either the Bay or Valvoline gas stations on Dort Highway between Woodrow and Delaware Avenues. I remember shopping at the stores on Davison and Dort, which included Wrigley's grocery store, Arlan's department store, and Kilbourn's pharmacy I remember Thompson's Shopping Center on Richfield Rd. and Averill Avenue. I remember Gil-Roy's Hardware when it was named Glen-Roy's. I also remember Feke and Yott Supermarkets before they sold out to Hickory Meat Block. We shopped at the store on Franklin and Thom for the fresh meat from the huge counter and homemade pies. Does anyone remember the fire which destroyed the Feke and Yott at Covert and Richfield in the mid 1970's? I could go on, but will give someone else a chance to share their memories...Thank you.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lay Me

Photo by Jar With Most

Salays Meats, like many Flint residents, still retains a sense of humor and, apparently, a healthy sexual appetite despite being broke and abandoned.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Jonathon Joseph Stevens, R.I.P.

I guess we all knew it was only a matter of time. Shannon Murphy and RoNeisha Mullen of The Flint Journal report on the city's first murder of 2008:

The city's first homicide of the year occurred (Saturday) morning when police said a 72-year-old man shot his 37-year-old housemate in the stomach.

Police were called to the scene about 7 a.m. and found Jonathon Joseph Stevens dead on the sidewalk next door to the home where he'd been living.

Police have not released the name of the accused shooter.

Flint police Sgt. Roderick LeGardye said Stevens and the older man got into an argument early this morning inside the home at 2518 Bagley St. During the fight, Stevens allegedly hit the elderly man with a large wooden stick.

The 72-year-old then pulled out a gun and shot the victim at least once in the stomach, LeGardye said.

Stevens tried to run away but collapsed on the sidewalk. The suspect was taken to Hurley Medical Center with head injuries.

"Right now, we're unsure what they were fighting about," LeGardye said.

Flint Beecher falls short

Photo courtesy of The Flint Journal

After an amazing season, Flint Beecher lost in the Class C state basketball title game to Kalamazoo Christian 54-51.


Powers loses state title

Photo by Jeana-Dee Allen/The Flint Journal

Flint Powers lost a close game 54-53 against Lansing Catholic for the Class B state basketball championship on Saturday.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Blogging about the Flint Journal blogging about cats blogging about me


With revenues plummeting and readers flocking to all things online, newspapers are obsessed with harnessing new media — and blogs in particular — to somehow wring some profits out of the internet. As a result, newspaper reporters across the land have been saddled with blogging assignments by their cranky editors, who are being hassled by their surly corporate overlords to provide something the public appears to want. (Let's set aside the fact that nobody except pornographers and gossip-mongers have actually made any money online; desperate times call for desperate measures.)

This trend has led to some strange material appearing on daily newspaper websites. Case in point: I read a Flint Journal article about the lack of murders in Flint so far this year; I blogged about the story, comparing Flint to Iceland; The Flint Journal, in turn, blogged about me
blogging about the Flint Journal article; and now, as you can see, I'm blogging about the Flint Journal blogging about me blogging about the Flint Journal article.

Stop the madness!

The only sure thing about all this crazy blogging is that no one is making any money off it, not me, the Flint Journal, the shivering people of Iceland, or the lucky citizens of Flint who have not been murdered (yet).

It's all beginning to resemble the Infinite Cat Project, but instead of cats looking at cats looking at cats...it's bloggers blogging about bloggers blogging about bloggers...


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ice Ice Baby


A few readers have written to point out that the lack of murders in Flint this year may be attributable to the cold, snowy winter, not some upturn in Flint's civic fortunes. That got me thinking in a very unscientific fashion...do people in really cold places commit fewer murders? With all the time spent buying snow tires, trying to apply Chapstick without taking your gloves off, and drinking Rumplemintz to stay warm, you might not have time to kill someone. So lets find a place that's even colder than Michigan for a quick comparison. After reviewing the crime stats for Iceland, a nation of more than 300,000 whose very name advertises its chilly temperatures, I can only conclude that the answer is a resounding yes! Here's the homicide tally from 2000-2005:

Flint (kinda cold): 193 murders
Iceland (really cold): 16 murders. That's right, 16! In six years!

And just what are these non-violent Icelanders doing with their time? They apparently enjoy floating around in hot thermal pools and listening to Bjork, which just isn't conducive to committing murders.



Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Your own private Idaho

Was it possible to attend an Our Lady of Lebanon dance in the early '80s and not hear this song?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No news is good news

It could be good luck, bad aim, more police, emergency room expertise, or a sign of things getting better, but something unusual happened in Flint during January and February; nobody got murdered.

Flint Homicides
January 2008: 0
February 2008: 0

January 2007: 5
February 2007: 6

January 2006: 9
February 2006: 4

January 2005: 3
February: 2005: 3

January 2004: 1
February 2004: 5

January 2003: 2
February 2003: 0

January 2001: 1
February 2001: 1

Stats courtesy of The Flint Journal

From Flint to San Francisco...and out of a job

Jessie Evans, who coached the Flint Northwestern basketball team from 1973-1976, finds himself in a strange predicament in California.

Debra Gore-Mann,
the athletic director at the University of San Francisco — where Evans had coached since 2004 — announced on December 26 of last year that Evans had requested a "leave of absence" for the remainder of the 07-08 season. When asked why the leave was necessary, USF clammed up, and Evans was quickly replaced on an interim basis by coaching legend Eddie Sutton.

That was a little weird. Then SF Weekly ran a story showing that things were even weirder:

Evans says he neither requested nor consented to a leave. He suspected his job was in jeopardy on Dec. 22, after receiving a message from one of Gore-Mann's subordinates while he and the team were in South Bend, Indiana, to play Notre Dame. The message instructed him to be in the AD's office at 8:30 a.m. the day after Christmas.

That meeting lasted only a few minutes. Evans says that Gore-Mann opened it by telling him that he was relieved of his duties as head coach.

"I said, 'Huh?' And that's when she presented me with a piece of paper and gave me an ultimatum," Evans recalls. "She said I could either take a leave of absence, saying that it was due to health or personal reasons, or that I would be fired with cause by 4 o'clock that afternoon."

Evans says Gore-Mann never said what cause she had to fire him, and that as far as he was concerned, he left her office as USF's basketball coach. He learned otherwise an hour or two later, he says, after news of Sutton's acceptance of the job scrolled across his TV screen as he watched ESPN.


Now that the season is over, USF officials are claiming Evans committed several "secondary" NCAA violations.

"When you have multiple NCAA violations, even if they're minor, the problem you have with the NCAA is called 'loss of control,' " USF attorney Michael Vartain told Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle. "That means they don't trust that your coach is accountable for the program."

Evans has no comment on the alleged violations, and he's lawyered up to fight the Jesuit university over the balance of his contract or a negotiated settlement.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Pimp my Model K

March 5th marked the 100th anniversary of an obscure, yet significant, day in Cadillac history. Phil Patton of The New York Times looks back at the important journey made by three Model K Caddys:

The cars were first driven 25 miles from London to the Brooklands racetrack, where each one was taken apart inside a brick shed. Three piles of parts — some 720 parts per car — were jumbled together. Then they were reassembled from the resulting shuffle and driven another 500 miles.

This was only possible because the Cadillacs were made from interchangeable parts — a first in the auto industry and an important step leading to the development of the modern assembly line.

The idea of building automobiles with interchangeable parts is usually associated with the Ford Model T — celebrating its 100th anniversary later this year — and the assembly lines used to build it. But it took several years before the Model T could be put together on a line and without fitting files and other tweaks. Before the assembly line made sense, parts had to be machined with enough precision they could be easily swapped one for another.

Those Model K's are a far cry the Cadillac's we have come to know and love, like Snoop Dogg's 1974 Snoop Deville, celebrated on Ridin' Dirty, a blog out of Detroit dedicated to hip hop rides.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Third-World American Workers


Jobs returning to the United States from overseas is a good thing, right? Except when the companies come back because certain states like Idaho and Georgia are "less advanced" than foreign countries like India. Translation: some Americans are so desperate for any work at any wage, they're more attractive than workers in developing nations. This trend reveals just how bad the employment prospects are for many Americans. Salon.com's Andrew Leonard looks at the pattern:

In 2006, AAA executive vice president David Hughes told NPR that roadside assistance was too sensitive to outsource to India. Does that include the ├╝ber-operators who connect you to the local operators? I don't know. But it doesn't really matter, because according to an article in Time Magazine this week, the era of the India-accented call center operator may be coming to a close. India's economy is growing so fast that those who once might have seen a call center job as desirable now have other options available to them.

The industry is... facing "intense competition" for workers from the retail and airline and hospitality sectors, where wages are now closer to what call centers pay, said Kiran Karnik, president of NASSCOM. As India expands its share of more sophisticated outsourcing like financial analysis and product research and development, Karnik said competition for choice employees is also growing. "As recently as four years back, the choice was pretty clear," Karnik said. "Either you got a high-paying, good job at a call center or no job at all. Today, not only are there other options, but they are pretty close to the call centers [in terms of salaries]."

The Time article dovetails nicely with a related piece published in the Guardian over the weekend, "India Outsources Outsourcing," which documents a growing trend in which the big Indian infotech companies are moving portions of their outsourcing operations overseas, often to nations that are conventionally considered more economically "advanced" than India. Again, the drivers are rising wages and competition for skilled employees. (Thanks to the New Economist for the link.)

Wipro, another hi-tech titan, has been on a spending spree, buying up companies in America, Finland, Portugal and Europe for hundreds of millions of dollars. Azim Premji, Wipro's chairman, raised eyebrows on Wall Street when he talked this year of setting up divisions in Idaho, Virginia and Georgia -- U.S. states he said were attractive because they were "less developed."


Will Ferrell made a movie and all I got was this lousy t-shirt...and embarrassing headband


A few readers have chided me for my condemnation of Semi-Pro, the Will Ferrell comedy allegedly filmed in Flint. They have pointed out that you can't get too picky when it comes to movies about the Vehicle City, and that Semi-Pro just might be the last major Hollywood production ever set in Flint that isn't produced by Michael Moore.


And things could be worse, right? Anyone remember the extremely short lived 1977 TV show called The Fitzpatrick's?

Blue-collar worker Mike Fitzpatrick worked hard to raise his family in Flint, Michigan. His wife Maggie worked part-time as a waitress to help put food on the table for their kids: teens Sean, Jack and Maureen and ten-year-old Max. Kerry was the cute neighbor girl who was interested in the two older Fitzpatrick boys.

Sounds fascinating doesn't it? And it was very realistic; Mike Fitzpatrick's blue-collar job was at a...steel mill. God, think of what Flint would be like now if we lost two major industries instead of just one.

So what the hell, let's all go out and buy a Semi-Pro t-shirt.


Available at Printfection










Available at Pride "N" True (Warning: Wear this getup to any basketball court in Flint and prepare to die.)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Housebound

Is home ownership increasing unemployment in states like Michigan? This week's New Yorker magazine suggests a link:

"Homeowners are much less likely to move than renters, especially during a downturn, when they aren’t willing (or can’t afford) to sell at market prices.
As a result, they often stay in towns even after the jobs leave. That may be why a study of several major developed economies between 1960 and 1996, by the British economist Andrew Oswald, found a strong relationship between increases in homeownership and increases in the unemployment rate; a ten-per-cent increase in homeownership correlated with a two-per-cent increase in unemployment. (In the U.S., it may be worth noting, the states that have the highest unemployment rates—states like Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi—are also among those with the highest homeownership rates.) And reluctance to move not only keeps unemployment high in struggling areas but makes it hard for businesses elsewhere to attract the workers they need to grow."


Twilight

Is this a hopeful or an ominous shot of Flint from photographer Isaiah Mays?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Welcome to Burton, Spice Girls!


BURTON, Mich. (AP) -- A 911 call from the driver of a Spice Girls' tour bus about a possible drunken driver led to the arrest of a suspected carjacker.

The bus was heading south on Interstate 75 on Saturday night when its driver noticed a man weaving in and out of traffic. Police in suburban Detroit later arrested a 36-year-old Burton man.

He was turned over to police in Burton, about 50 miles northwest of Detroit, in connection with a carjacking at a gas station. Authorities say he also had been stopped earlier in the day on suspicion of shoplifting.

The man was being held in the Genesee County Jail pending arraignment.

The Spice Girls were in the Detroit area to perform at The Palace of Auburn Hills.



Flint Artifacts: Buick Electra


My grandparents and my siblings pose in front of the monumental Buick Electra near the Flint Cultural Center. All five could probably fit comfortably in the front seat of that 225.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

We are not alone in our love of Chuck E. Cheese and wrasslin'


All you people — including myself — who thought "This could only happen in Flint" when the news broke of an all-out, booze-fueled brawl at Chuck E. Cheese on Miller Road a few weeks ago need to apologize to the Vehicle City. Apparently, Flint isn't the only place where alleged adults take their children out for a night of fun, buy them some pizza and spring for a few game tokens...and then start swinging.

NATICK, Mass. - A child's birthday party at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant was cut short after a fight broke out between two mothers. Natick police said the mom of the 9-year-old birthday boy apparently became enraged because the other woman's son was "hogging" an arcade game.

Sgt. Paul Thompson said Catherine Aliaga, 38, and Tarsha Williams, 33, both of Boston, would be summoned into court to answer charges of simple assault and battery stemming from the scuffle.

Thompson told the MetroWest Daily News that police received a number of 911 calls about the fight Saturday night.

He said what started as a birthday celebration turned into a "birthday melee."

Wait a minute. Just two women were fighting and the Natick PD is calling it a melee? That's known as a quiet night in Flint. Natick may have technically tied us for the Chuck E. Cheese Brawl Capital of the U.S., but the Massachusetts town has a long way to go before it catches up to Flint in the major crimes competition.



Flint, MINatick, MANational




Murder:45.707
Forcible Rape:120.9212.4532.2
Robbery:530.212.4205.8
Aggravated Assault:1899.3127.6336.5
Burglary:2585.9292.5813.2
Larceny Theft:2991.81717.82601.7
Vehicle Theft:1286.2124.5501.5
Latest 2006 Crimes per 100,000 People:


Thanks to Aaron for passing this tidbit along!


Take No Prisoners

Brotherman in 1993 (Photo via takenoprisoners.info)

Do you miss the downtown Flint punk and alternative scene from the '80s and '90s? Do you hanker for Ben Hamper's "Take No Prisoners" show on the old, non-commercial WFBE? Do bands like Political Silence, Dissonance and Bloody Coup mean more to you than the corporate monoliths like Foreigner and Styx that once dominated Live 105?

Don't worry. Aaron Stengel has done you a huge favor:

For years, downtown venues like Churchill's and Flint Local 432 have nurtured a strong local music scene, providing a haven for plenty of eclectic bands and their fans," writes Timothy Flynn in The Flint Journal. While most of those groups are just memories these days, some of their performances were captured on tape for posterity. And now they've all been gathered in one place.

The Flint Underground Music Archive Web site is a treasure trove for those who've spent any time in the downtown punk and alternative scenes, and serves as a good primer for those who haven't. The extensive site...houses a seemingly endless collection of vintage band recordings spanning more than 20 years, as well as some recent live shows filmed by site creator Aaron Stengel.

A longtime participant in the downtown scene, Stengel was inspired to create the site after reading some online conversations about local music. When he found a general lack of Internet information about Flint favorites like the Need or Medulla Oblongata, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

"Flint-related discussion groups began popping up, and they were filled with references to obscure local bands that no one seemed to have any recordings of," Stengel said. "With my background in Web development, music collecting, cultural research and a natural tendency over the years to document the scene by recording the shows, I decided to follow through on the archive site as a pet project."

Flint Hip Hop

JMack at HoodHype remembers Flint hip hop back in the day:

"Any time I get a chance to listen to some old Flint hip-hop joints, I think about rolling down I-69 at dusk, chillin’ with a few old coworkers over on DuPont St. (what up Antwan and Charles!?) and driving up and down the streets with nasty ass Buick City in the background churning out smoke and kicking out cars you rarely saw in the city that actually produced them. Long nights of ball with friends (my boy D and our other friends would school the shit outta me religiously) and the summer. Rollin’ up and down James P. Cole Ave when the “Cruise” was lit up in my 84′Cutlass Supreme....Cars with dayton and LA wires and neon lights were the hot shit of the moment. Summer nights like that people would park and pop their trunks on the side of the road and just chill. Everyone would crowd around who was bumpin’ the hottest shit at the moment...damn I miss being a kid."

GM's Brilliant Strategy

GM clearly has no shortage of problems, but one of the most enduring and idiotic is the corporation's insistence on creating various models that are basically identical and having them compete against each other for buyers and GM marketing money. As The Wall Street Journal
explains:

For example, GM has four mass-market midsize sedans. The Chevy Malibu is backed by a ubiquitous ad campaign and is a top-seller. Meanwhile, the Buick LaCrosse, Pontiac G6 and Saturn Aura have struggled to build the awareness and recognition needed to compete. Toyota Motor Corp. has one model to compete with those offerings -- the Camry -- and last year it alone outsold GM's four models, 473,308 to 386,024.

A year ago the Aura was named "Car of the Year" at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, but now, with Malibu marketing in full swing, Saturn dealers are struggling to move the Aura. In some parts of the country dealers are offering rebates and 0% financing on the car. Mr. Maguire said he had to line up an Aura financing package on his own because GM's marketing support for the car wasn't boosting sales enough.

Pontiac could run into a similar problem this year when it introduces a new rear-wheel-drive sedan, the G8. Although it is Pontiac's most important launch since 2004, GM marketing barely mentions the car.

Even when GM does spend on its smaller brands, it often sees little return. In past years, television ads have promoted Saab's sports cars as "born from jets," but in 2007 Saab dealers sold just 32,711 vehicles -- not much more than a single month of sales for the Camry or Honda Motor Co.'s Accord.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Merlin's Retreat


When I was an altar boy at St. Mike's, my mom and I used to eat at Merlin's Retreat, an unexpectedly vegetarian restaurant at 5th and what is now MLK. I remember the "Happy Tuna Sandwich...happy because it's still in the sea!" No idea what was in the Happy Tuna. When I was older, I used to run into the couple that owned Merlin's at the Copa. The last time I ate there was with Sari Failer after having my wisdom tooth pulled by Dr. Sam Sorscher on Davison Road near Angelos. (My Grandma McFarlane was supposedly his first patient, and he was lovable but tough; no painkiller for fillings unless you asked.)

I hadn't thought about Merlin's in years until I saw these photos by Jar With Most. I have a lot of happy memories of this neighborhood. There used to be a candy store nearby called Sweet Marie's that the St. Mike's kids would run to before they caught the bus home. I bought Peanuts books at the nearby Readmore bookstore.

It wasn't the greatest neighborhood then, but seeing these photos shows me it must be a lot worse now. Even the telephone poles look like they're struggling to stay upright.

UPDATE: Aaron Stengel offers up more info on Merlin's Retreat. "It was a popular hangout for Flint music scenesters during 1981-1983. Many shows were held about a block away at 909 Detroit St. (MLK). The Touch Boutique (also about a block away) was a legendary head shop in the early/mid 1970s. It eventually became a home to members of Jesus Christ and the Superstars and Pincusion in the late 1980s."


Monday, March 3, 2008

Free-Market Mediocrity

Many Americans embrace free-market economics. They argue that if consumers were allowed to pick and choose unfettered by unions, government regulations, and social engineering, the best and the brightest would naturally emerge and our great nation would flourish as never before!

I could attempt to make an elaborate economic argument to counter these claims. I could even break out a few charts and graphs. But I have an easier method to show that consumers don't always make rational decisions. Allow me to present one simple fact:

Semi-Pro was the number one movie at the box office this weekend.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Shabby Chic

Photo: Dwight Eschliman of The New York Times

While Flint fights urban blight, Atlanta architects David Yocum and Brian Bell use it as decoration. Must be nice to have the option.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Layoffs in Flint

General Motors shut down the Flint Truck Assembly Plant on Friday after an auto parts supplier went out on strike.

The Corrections

Freefromeditors has an insider's look at the Flint Journal's mystifying approach to reducing errors in the paper:
Just this past Sunday (Feb. 24), again, the Journal editor wrung his hands publicly in his column and told his readers how hard the paper was working to eliminate mistakes. Heck, when I was there he offered a semi-annual drawing for a $20 gas card among reporters who had gone six months without having to post a correction.

At the meeting where this "carrot" was announced I told him I thought the offer was demeaning and that any good journalist should avoid mistakes out of professional pride and that vying for a $20 gas card was insulting. But the offer remained and the only winners (so far) have been a woman who compiles the wedding announcements and a graphic page designer. Now that's really fair! You take people who handled pre-written copy into the mix of reporters dealing with complicated interviews, facts, figures and working under deadling and consider them equals.

Semi-Slow

I had such high hopes for Semi-Pro, and it wasn't simply because the pre-premiere festivities began at San Francisco's Gold Dust Lounge at 2:30 on a Friday afternoon with Traci, Meredith and Michael. The trailers for the movie are reasonably funny, and I figured I'd get to see plenty of shots of dear old Flint.

The glitterati settle in at the Gold Dust Lounge.

The prospects looked even rosier when we got free Semi-Pro headbands! (Retail value: $2. But it was a nice gesture by the Hollywood marketing machine, even if they weren't Flint Tropics colors.) Fueled by our visit to the aforementioned Gold Dust, we donned our headbands in a festive manner in the theater lobby, drawing disdainful looks from the local teenagers and blank stares from the ushers.



Alas, reality set in almost immediately after the movie began.

Not much humor, and not much Flint.

The scenes of the Capitol Theater are on the cutting room floor. There are a few brief panoramic shots of downtown, including a lame shot of the Flint River that prompted Traci to ask: "What's that culvert running through the middle of town?" The outside of The Torch makes an appearance, along with a few alleys and exterior shots. But if you want a hilarious movie that captures Flint, this ain't it. I was left wondering why they bothered to shoot any scenes in Flint at all. I get the feeling the Vehicle City was used primarily because it's a perfect fit for a movie about a depressing place that everyone wants to escape. Flint deserves better.

It's no surprise that critics aren't treating the film kindly.

An orgy of disco-era excess, it's also an interminable exercise in beating a dead horse.
— LA Times

Will Ferrell's latest comedy splits time between being a goofy basketball movie and...a whole bunch of other stuff, none of it particularly interesting.
— Arizona Republic

Aside from Kicking & Screaming, this is probably Ferrell's weakest comedy to date.
— Chicago Reader

My friend Michael, who is very tall and not to be trifled with, seemed almost angry after the screening. And he seemed to blame me for organizing the entire outing.

Michael offers his critique of Semi-Pro via a menacing glance.

Luckily for me, everyone's disgruntlement over the movie was worked out calmly and rationally over margaritas at the Velvet Cantina.
Now if we'd just had a Chuck E. Cheese-style brawl in the theater lobby to settle our differences, the evening could have ended on a very Flint-like note.

Post-screening scene at the Velvet Cantina