Monday, August 31, 2009

Propane, Cut-Offs, and Tube Socks

Tom Wirt — a.k.a. Jar With Most — appears to have been just about everywhere in Flint with his camera in the seventies and eighties. He recently posted these shots of a memorable liquid propane explosion in 1976. The photos not only capture the disaster, but they chronicle Flint fashion in the seventies as well.

Here are the details from Jar's Flickr page, which has several more photos:
On Thursday, August 19, 1976, at about 7:30 p.m., a tanker truck carrying liquid propane crashed over a guardrail on the I-69 entrance to northbound I-75 just south of the Miller Road exit in Flint Township, Michigan, and exploded. Police speculated that the propane truck driver may have fallen asleep at the wheel.

The propane truck driver, an auto haulaway truck driver, a Flint woman, and a mother and daughter from Grand Blanc, were seriously burned in the accident. As many as 25 other cars were burned, but none of their drivers required hospitalization.

The propane tanker hit a guardrail on the I-69 entrance ramp to northbound I-75, tumbled over it, and exploded. The rear portion of the tank was blown a quarter of a mile away. The truck cab and the driver were blown back to the I-69 entrance ramp to I-75, about 50 feet above the gully where the tanker exploded.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Fake Flint Conference

Speaking of high school football, does the Flint Metro Conference really deserve the urban street cred that comes with the name Flint? Yes, Metro is short for metropolitan, which has come to include a city along with the surrounding burgs and burbs in urban planning lingo, but who are we kidding here? Does anyone seriously claim that places like Linden, Holly, Oxford, Fenton, Lapeer, and some strange place called Brandon really deserve to be associated with the Vehicle City? (Does Brandon really exist or is it a fictitious locale included to make the conference look bigger?)

My suggestion: The conference should get a new name or start paying Flint some royalties.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Powers Versus Northwestern

This is hard to believe but Powers and Northwestern — two high schools less than a mile apart on Carpenter Road — will play a football game against each other for the first time since 1983 on September 3.

UPDATE: Thanks to an inexplicably detailed website on Michigan high school football, which lists the results of every game going back to 1950, I think I figured out why Northwestern and Powers stopped playing each other. It wasn't the violence referenced in the comment section; there were violent altercations at almost every game. It may have been the results. Powers beat Northwestern six times in a row between 1978-1983. With the old playoff system, losing the first game to a smaller school was probably a good way to ruin your season. But things might be different this year. Northwestern beat Southwestern 32-6 in the first game of the season on Friday.

UPDATE: Rich Frost points out that this rivalry is renewed just as the biggest rivalry of them all in Flint — the fabled Northern/Central matchup — disappears.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Flint Photos: YMCA

With the best of intentions, I got a temporary membership at the YMCA when I was back in Flint this June. The place is exactly the same, and I mean that in a good way. Same gym, same locker rooms, same weight room, same immaculate pool where I learned to swim as a kid. One morning I went in and realized I was probably a little dehydrated after a night at The Torch, so I forced myself to drink about two gallons of water from this fountain. I went info the gym to embarrass myself on the basketball court, and when I came back this sign had been taped up. The torrential rains that flooded Kearsley Park had apparently caused some concerns. I lived to write about it, so it must not have been too bad.

Football at MSD

Flint's Michigan School for the Deaf gears up for eight-man football in the fall.

Gregg Krupa of The Detroit News reports:
If all goes well, amid an exceedingly tight schedule, they will play eight-man football this year. But, first, they need financial support to buy their equipment, including helmets and pads and even goalposts to help convert their old soccer field to a gridiron -- all within the next few weeks.

Welch Blvd. Fire

Photo courtesy of Oscar Durand/The Flint Journal

Arson is suspected as the cause of a fire at the Discount Dollar store on Welch Blvd. The store is located near the spot of the old Della Theater and across the parking lot and drive-thru lanes of the old Genesee Bank branch.

A 1950s photograph of the Della and other Welch Blvd. stores by Mary Fisher.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More Trees in Bondage and Distress

A recent post comparing the lives of trees in Flint and San Francisco inspired me to do a little more tree monitoring in the Mission District today and elicited this reply from Erin:
"Flint actually has one of the most extensive urban forests, however it is most neglected. We have not had a forester employed by the city in over a decade. USDA money for Ash removal was misspent by the previous administration. I could have taken you to many streets [in Flint] that look worse than your examples."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Spray Paint Memorial

Photo courtesy of Kristen Longley/The Flint Journal

Friends of a shooting victim memorialize him by spray painting graffiti on his family's Eastside home.

Flint Photos: Tropicana Bar

The Urban Forest

I've written before about how the loss of housing in Flint as the population shrinks has left parts of the city looking downright pastoral. This house in Carriage Town (above) looks a bit like the Little House on the Prairie.

Another lot in Carriage Town with only a checkerboard of cement to remind us this used to be the site of a home.

Some Carriage Town yards rival suburban lawns in size and splendor.

I can't help contrasting Flint's increasing woodsiness with San Francisco. The City by the Bay is fairly leafy compared to most urban areas, but it's often a struggle to get a tree to grow on a sidewalk, where they fall victim to cars, bad soil and general drunken buffoonery. All of the photos below were taken on Alabama Street in the Mission District.

A chicken coop protects a fledgling tree.

Tree protection sometimes doubles as a family memorial.

This tree requires maximum security.

Nature's splendor in the city.

Nature and metal sculpture take a backseat to one of San Francisco's many "art cars."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Flint Photos: Downtown Skyline

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

FYI: I just removed an earlier post on the new IRS building and the old Regent Theater because I had the wrong location of the Regent. It was on the opposite side of Saginaw Street from the proposed IRS building. Further proof you can't trust blogs! Thanks to readers for pointing out the error.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Flint Photos: Absolutely No Weapons

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tearing Down the Past

Flint is getting a new IRS building. Melissa Burden of The Flint Journal reports:

The U.S. General Services Administration in late July awarded a contract to Elba Road Development LLC of Lapeer for a new IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center. That group will construct a 14,470-square-foot, one-story building at 901 N. Saginaw St., said David Wilkinson, a regional spokesman for the GSA.

The IRS and its 44 employees have outgrown its leased office, 815 S. Saginaw St. at Court Street, its home since 1995. The office is one of six such centers across Michigan.

"The IRS really needed more parking and accessibly," said Donald Schaffer, a sales associate for Siegel Realty in Flint Township, who added there is a bus stop near the front of the new site.

But like many Flint building projects — especially when it involves the need for "more parking" — this one has a catch. Two vacant brick buildings that have a lot of potential at 901 and 915 N. Saginaw Street just north of St. Michael's will be demolished.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Michael Moore and Capitalism: A Love Story

The 50 Worst Cars

It's no secret I'm not a big fan of "List Journalism." I've never seen the point of lazily reported "Worst Of" lists that are fun to make up in bars but shouldn't take up space in newspapers and magazines.

Having pompously made that declaration, I'll now backtrack and admit I love Time's list of the 50 Worst Cars of All Time. In my own defense, this list is actually insightful and has great detail. It also targets single cars, not entire cities.

Here's the review of the 1982 Cadillac Cimarron:
The horror. The horror. Everything that was wrong, venal, lazy and mendacious about GM in the 1980s was crystallized in this flagrant insult to the good name and fine customers of Cadillac. Spooked by the success of premium small cars from Mercedes-Benz, GM elected to rebadge its awful mass-market J-platform sedans, load them up with chintzy fabrics and accessories and call them "Cimarron, by Cadillac." Wha...? Who? Seeking an even hotter circle of hell, GM priced these pseudo-caddies (with four-speed manual transmissions, no less) thousands more than their Chevy Cavalier siblings. This bit of temporizing nearly killed Cadillac and remains its biggest shame.
How about the 1984 Maserati Biturbo:
"Biturbo" is, of course, Italian for "expensive junk." At least, it is now, after Maserati tried to pass off this bitter heartbreak-on-wheels as a proper grand touring sedan. The Biturbo was the product of a desperate, under-funded company circling the drain of bankruptcy, and it shows. Everything that could leak, burn, snap or rupture did so with the regularity of the Anvil Chorus. The collected service advisories would look like the Gutenberg Bible. The only greater ignominy was the early 1990s Maserati TC, a version of the Chrysler Le Baron (a flaccid, front-drive, four-cylinder loser-mobile) with the proud Mazzer Trident on the nose. Finally, sir, have you no shame?
Go here for the entire list.

The Best — or Worst — of Both Worlds

The Flint Journal has adopted an intriguing editorial style. The Ed Board takes a news story and inserts editorial comments in italics into the copy. Here's an example from a story/editorial on possible cuts in Flint Amtrak service.

FLINT, Michigan -- It looks like the state budget battle could derail our local Amtrak service.

As the Legislature hammers its way out of a multibillion-dollar deficit, a proposed 20 percent cut could mean drastic changes to two of the state's taxpayer-funded routes.

FJ: This would be a mistake, even for a service that is a chronic money-loser. That's because the key word is "service," which the dictionary defines as "a system supplying a public need, such as transport, communications or utilities. ..."

Even the brightest budget scenario slices $1.4 million from Amtrak -- which requires about $7 million to operate the local Blue Water line from Port Huron to Chicago and the Pere Marquette line from Grand Rapids to Chicago, said John Langdon of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers.

The governor also proposed removing the seven-day-a-week service requirement, he said.

FJ: Compromise on traditional service plans is a bitter pill sometimes, but it beats not being in existence. Take it from a former seven-day institution that is building its future around three days a week in print, and a creative mix of other media.
Strange. Very strange.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Carriage Town in The New York Times

My story on the Carriage Town neighborhood in Flint is up on The New York Time's website, along with several amazing photos like the one above by Fred R. Conrad. It will run in the paper edition on Thursday. Here's an excerpt:
In a worldwide recession, development projects with more than $47 million in public and private financing are in progress or recently completed in the 30-square-block Carriage Town area, including the conversion of the derelict Berridge Hotel into lofts and the ongoing renovation of the long-vacant Durant Hotel into 93 apartments and commercial space. There are even plans for a neighborhood grocery store.

But there’s no denying that Carriage Town is a work in progress, and that those who call it home must deal with challenges like speculators, abandoned houses and lack of code enforcement by the cash-strapped city.

While it is racially and economically diverse, there are few African-American homeowners. Many empty houses sit beside pristinely restored homes. Residents also remember AutoWorld and other once-promising redevelopment failures immortalized two decades ago in Michael Moore’s film “Roger & Me.”

Ken Van Wagoner owns two houses and runs the Good Beans Cafe, which has served as the primary gathering spot for Carriage Town residents since it opened in 2000.

“I’m excited about all the new projects, but I’m also a little wary,” he said. “I can’t help wondering if it will all last. In the same breath, I want Carriage Town to succeed more than anybody.”
Read the complete story here.


In the discussion of the Detroit Lions new logo, I forgot to highlight my favorite version. It has a childlike simplicity mixed with a hint of seventies-era automotive badging, despite the fact it was dropped as the primary logo in 1969. And unlike the most recent incarnation, this lion doesn't look like he needs to lose a few pounds. Not sure it would work on a helmet, but I still think this is the best of the bunch.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Looking Ahead in Flint

New York resident and Flint Expatriate Shawn Chittle reflects on Flint's past and future:
It's more than our hometown. It's a place that made us who we are. I'm always struggling to achieve a good balance of Flint native and New Yorker, and you know what? The more "Flint" I try to be, the more ahead I get. People say to me, "Midwest is best, don't lose that."

Flint made us what we are, whether we like it or not. There's a lot of rust in our blood, but with that comes a lot of immunity to the constant stream of bad news. There are some pretty tough and resilient people in Flint. But the new ideas to fix age-old problems haven't emerged. It's as if Flint is stuck in its own version of "Groundhog Day."

Read the complete story here.

Growth or Bloat?

Apparently there is job growth in one sector of the Vehicle City — the administrative ranks at UM-Flint. Prof. Mark J. Perry examines the trend at Carpe Diem, his economics and finance blog:

Chart courtesy of Dr. Mark J. Perry and Carpe Diem

G.M. is apparently too determined to succeed

Ed Wallace at BusinessWeek points out what he considers yet another GM mistake:
There's a fundamental rule of a successful business: "underpromise and overdeliver." That concept has been around since the Studebaker Brothers were building wagons for the Civil War. After the war ended, they codified their business ethic in Studebaker's motto: "Always give a little more than you promise." Nothing better sums up GM's wrongheaded thinking than its execs' promise that the company will return to technological superiority once they finally bring the new Chevrolet Volt to market.
This may be true. The Volt has been so hyped at this point that it's bound to disappoint. At the same time, if G.M. tried to take a low-key approach, I can envision a lot of coverage claiming that a downtrodden G.M. had lost faith in its own products. I'm not sure the automaker can do anything right in the eyes of the mainstream media at this point.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Detroit Lions: Shimmering Silver Glitter

Hey, the Detroit Lions have a new logo, which looks more like a wolf or a San Jose SabreCat than a Lion to me. (For the record, I've worked in San Jose and I can safely say that no matter how bad things get in Motown, it will never be as bad as San Jose.) The new proprietary font is cleverly called “NFL Lions” and, as you can see above, it is one ugly ass font. In fact, that font is far more offensive to me than last year's 0-16 season.

Now it's easy to poke fun at the Lions, like the folks at Real Clear Sports did with their suggestion that the team adopt a new Cowardly Lion logo.

But I'm trying to be constructive when I suggest that the Lions should take the opportunity to connect with Detroit history (Stroh's Brewery) and a favorite pastime of seemingly all Michiganders (drinking beer) and simply adopt the Stroh's Beer lion as their official mascot. As you can see below, the Stroh's lion has a cool crown and what appears to be either a pair of nunchucks or two lead pipes, which the Detroit football team can obviously use. Granted, later versions of the Stroh's lion indicate he traded in the weapons for a college diploma and some sort of butter-churn implement, but let's ignore that.

Of course, even if you don't like the new redesign, it can't be as bad as the 1980-81 upgrade: "The Lions changed the dull silver stripes and trim on their uniforms to a shimmering silver glitter. This only lasted two seasons because of complaints by other teams about the glare."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Flint Native

George Ensinger, a Flint Expatriate now living in Fresh Meadows, New York in the Borough of Queens, shows off his plates.

Flint Photos: Riverbank Fishing

Flint Photos: Masonic Temple

Tony Rasmovich, R.I.P.

Northern High School teaching legend Tony Rasmovich dies.

Marianne Moore and the Utopian Turtletop

What happened when Ford Motor Company called on a famous writer to name its cars?

As you might guess, the writer's work was more creative than some of the unintentionally titillating names auto exec's have come up with all by themselves.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Flint Photos: The Public Restroom Challenge at Kearsley Park

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bank Failures

Is this as scary as it sounds, or is it not such a big deal in today's economy?

The New York Times reports:

As the economy has soured -- with unemployment rising, home prices tumbling and loan defaults soaring -- bank failures have cascaded and sapped billions out of the deposit insurance fund. It now stands at its lowest level since 1993, $13 billion as of the first quarter.While losses on home mortgages may be leveling off, delinquencies on commercial real estate loans remain a hot spot of potential trouble, FDIC officials say. If the recession deepens, defaults on the high-risk loans could spike. Many regional banks hold large numbers of them.

Eason in as City Administrator

Mayor Dayne Walling is expected to name Greg Eason as the new city administrator. You may remember that Eason finished a distant fourth in the primary, then threw his support to Walling instead of Brenda Clack.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Grand Fountain Flows Again

Remember the modestly named Grand Fountain at Riverbank Park? It hasn't been flowing since 1992, but now it's back in business thanks to Dave Johnson.

Kristen Longley of The Flint Journal reports:

The innovative Flint resident cobbled some parts together so that on Wednesday -- for the first time since 1992 -- the repaired pump hauled river water into the picturesque fountain.

It took Johnson, who's a consultant for the Downtown Development Authority, and his team three years of reverse engineering, scouring the Internet for parts and plain ol' trial-and-error to get the waters flowing again, he said.

Now, the fountain that once was a potential target for demolition is drawing spectators as people flock downtown for Back to the Bricks.

"Whenever I could scrape up some parts I worked on it," said Johnson, 54. "It still needs some funding to run permanently, but for now we get to enjoy it."

All photos courtesy of Matt Bach at the Flint Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Flint Photos: Mott Foundation Building

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bloggers Vs. Reporters at The Flint Journal

The Flint Journal, like many newspapers, is demanding that its reporters also be bloggers. The problem is the management types at the paper don't seem to understand the difference between the two.

Reporters are trained to be objective and scrupulously keep their personal bias out of a story. There's an old journalism adage that if your mama tells you she loves you, back it up with another source. The best bloggers blend facts with opinion. They are passionate about a subject and that comes through in their posts. They frequently use the hard work of real reporters as fodder for their riffs and digressions on a subject. At times, they can act as unofficial ombudsmen for newspapers, calling them to task for mistakes. At other times, bloggers can come off as wacky cranks — fun to read but not exactly reliable.

As you can imagine, it's hard for a reporter to play both roles at the same time. In many ways, the role of blogger and reporter are mutually contradictory, although good bloggers do some reporting of their own. As a result, the Journal's blogs often read like hard news stories that should be in the news section of the paper, wherever the hell that is. (It's really hard to figure out what's what on the Journal's website.) And when the blogs are more blog-like, for lack of a better term, the comment sections are filled with confused readers wondering why a particularly frivolous topic is considered "news."

Please don't take this as a criticism of the hardworking reporters at the Journal. My sources tell me that they are constantly complaining to the higher ups that readers often don't even know they're reading a blog. They've requested photos to differentiate the blogs from real news, or info boxes that explain to readers what they're reading, all to no avail.

Here's a few suggestions to improve the situation:

1. Hire one or two actual bloggers to aggregate and comment on the work of the real reporters instead of asking the reporters to wear two hats. Give these bloggers the freedom to be critical, funny and opinionated.

2. Clearly delineate the blogs as separate entities from hard news. Give them better names. Let the bloggers personalize their sites. Hell, run a paragraph that explains to readers what a blog is supposed to be so they aren't confused.

3. Stop running hard news — like details of Dayne Walling's victory speech or lists of school closings — in the blogs. Use the hard news reporting to inform the blogs, but give them an opinionated edge that you don't find in the news section.

4. Let the bloggers use info from all news sources available to them — not just material from the Journal — in their posts.

Again, from the people I've talked to this is not a problem with the current reporters/bloggers. It starts much higher up at the paper. The decision makers need to fix this problem. Right now, readers are confused and reporters are disgruntled. But why listen to me? I'm just a blogger writing about Flint from San Francisco.

Rating Hybrid's Miles per Gallon

Efficiency window sticker for Mini E

G.M. announces that the Chevy Volt will get 230 miles per gallon in city driving. Bill Vlasic of The New York Times reports:
The rating is based on methodology drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency, and most other automakers have not revealed the mileage for the electric cars. Nissan, however, announced last week that its all-electric vehicle, the Leaf, which comes out in late 2010, would get 367 m.p.g., using the same E.P.A. standards.
But readers raise some valid points in the article's comment section about mileage ratings and the true environmental impact of hybrid and electric cars:
As near as I can tell, this is essentially an electric car. Its gasoline consumption is projected to be very low. Where are the mileage figures that factor in the electricity consumption? The Volt may indeed be a remarkably efficient vehicle. But when fuel is burned to generate electricity, and over half of it is lost in transmission to the customer, and then it's used to charge this car's batteries, there's going to be more than one gallon of fuel consumed when driving this car 230 miles.
HybridCars has a post that reveals just how complicated it can be to come up with an accurate rating system that consumers can understand:

When plug-in cars hit the US market in the next year or two, consumers will need a lot of help deciphering the efficiency figures of vehicles that carry electric fuel by the kilowatt hour rather than liquid fuel by the gallon. Nissan’s upcoming yet-to-be-named electric car, according to some tests, will get 367 miles per gallon. The Tesla Roadster is reported to get 135 miles per gallon. And the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid…that depends.

If the EPA uses tests designed for electric cars to evaluate the Chevy Volt, the ratings could exceed 100 mpg. But if the government agency classifies the Volt as a hybrid and tests it as such, the EPA rating would drop to about 50 mpg. The difference could mean success or failure in the marketplace. Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency and sticker numbers for plug-in hybrids, which use gasoline and electricity in various degrees and ways depending on the specific vehicles design, have not yet been determined.

Flint Photos: United Way Building

Rich Frost took these photos in 2002 as the United Way building, located just south of the main Post Office on James P Cole Blvd., was being demolished.