Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Counting Cars

Anyone interested in a little anecdotal, totally unscientific auto industry research? Today when I was walking from my office at a Silicon Valley university to the train that would carry me very slowly back to San Francisco, I decided to count the number of American-made cars entering the campus through the main entrance. Those of you partial to "Made in America" t-shirts won't like the results. I thought it was going to be a shutout until an ancient, repainted Caprice Classic rolled into campus to make it 23-1.

That was worse than I thought, although most of the cars were probably owned by students in the night MBA program clearly partial to BMW's, so I decided to count cars in the Caltrain parking lot. Again, bad news for American automakers — 19-1 with a single Chevy truck. And yes, at this point I'm beginning to look very suspicious as I wander around the lot shaking my head and counting on my fingers.

When I get back to SF, I take a stroll down my block and it is another near shutout with a single new Ford Focus competing with 16 foreign cars. And the Focus is owned by neighbors whose other car is an Audi. There's even an old Alfa Romeo sedan on my street, proving that San Franciscans will buy an unreliable Italian car before they'll consider buying American.

I'm not questioning anyone's choices. After all, I drive a 1990 Camry that's been stolen and, unfortunately, returned three times. But the tabulations make me wonder what the count is in other parts of the country.

So if you feel like it, head out on the street and give me some numbers along with your location.

Handmade in Flint

Don't be fooled...people are still making things in Flint.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Buick City Aftermath

The Truth About Cars blog has a post on the Buick City cleanup:
Michigan Radio reports that GM’s plant in Flint, Michigan, has contaminated soil and ground water and environmental officials are currently investigating what the decommissioning clean up costs could be. “So this stretch of roadway is over a mile long of different factories, so the Buick City portion that we’re talking about is 200 acres,” said Keith Edwards of the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rumor Alert: Powers High and G.M.

Here's a rumor that's been floating sources claim that Powers High School is eying the General Motors Service and Parts Operations World Headquarters in Grand Blanc as a possible new location. Allegedly, Powers officials have visited the location at 6200 Grand Pointe Drive southeast of East Hill Road and I-475. There's even an unconfirmed report that the bishop paid a visit.

Notice the careful use of the words "rumor" and "allegedly" and "unconfirmed" in this post. But I have to say it would be a sad day if Powers had a street address that combined Grand Blanc and Grosse Pointe. I know it's a good location, but you can't get much more un-Flint than that.

Is the Flint school board positive it doesn't want to let Powers take Central High off its hands? There's still time.

Go here for a Flint Journal Story on the status of the GM building.

Have I mentioned that this is just a rumor?

Singing with the Sit-Down Strikers

A video on the Flint Sit-Down Strike featuring Dan Hall singing a strikers song written by David O. Norris.

Food for Flintoids

Not one but two grocery stores are slated for downtown Flint.

Flint Postcards: YMCA

Sunday, September 27, 2009


The Detroit Lions win!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Flint Postcards: Industrial Savings Bank

Gerry Godin, author of the All Things Buick blog, has come to the rescue again with more photos and information about the Industrial Bank pictured above, which was once located at the corner of Hamilton and Industrial. This was the second location of the bank; the first was in the nearby W.F. Stewart factory.

Here's a close up of the original location.

Another shot of the bank at Hamilton and Industrial that includes the surrounding Oak Park neighborhood.

A new bank building was constructed at the corner of North Saginaw and Second Avenue in 1923. It's now the Northbank Center.

This 1930 Ariel view of Flint shows the Bank in the upper left corner,across from the Durant Hotel.

A more recent shot of the Northbank Center by Sarrazak6881, who has a great collection of Flint photos.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Straight Talk

The New York Times profiles Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who apparently isn't willing to pretend that Motown can go back in time:

“We’ve got to focus on being the best 900,000 populated city that we can be and stop thinking about ‘We can turn the clock back to the 1950s and ’60s,’ ” he said, referring to a time when the city, still the 11th most populous in the nation, was nearly twice as big. “That era is gone.”

More Moore

Michael Moore is returning to Flint on Sunday to hang out with Sit-Down Strikers and screen his new movie, Capitalism: A Love Story.

Growth Industry

Mike Brown, who was the interim mayor after Don Williamson resigned, has a new gig that's vital to the Flint economy; He'll be trolling for Federal and state money for the Flint Area Reinvestment Office.

Joe the Quilter

I've always wondered how someone becomes a professional quiltmaker, and I know many readers have as well. Lucky for us, Flint Expatriate Joe Cunningham, who now lives in San Francisco, is here to tell the tale. Take it away, Joe...

I was born at McLaren hospital in 1952 and graduated from Swartz Creek High in 1970. Played guitar all over mid-Michigan in the ‘70s. Had a band called Two Steps Higher that acted as a sort of house band at the old Rusty Nail for a couple of years. I used to run the amateur night at Doubie's. Had a band in the early '80s called The Suttle Family, played a lot at Hat's Pub and other places downtown.

I got started making quilts in 1979 when I had returned to Flint after a couple of years on the road and a friend of mine, Larry...Larry...what the hell was his last name? Oh, right Larry McCarthy, an artist who used to live in lofts downtown, told me he knew a woman who needed a guitar player for some folk gigs she was doing. (Larry was a wonderful artist who made grotesque landscapes of faces, etc. with a ball point pen.) Anyway, the woman—Gwen Marston—had a house full of boxes of quilts. She had a grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation to document the collection of Mary Schafer from Flushing, a great quiltmaker, collector and historian. She liked doing the documentation and collecting all the info on the quilts, but dreaded writing the actual catalogue.

I myself had just finished my only year of college, studying English. I wanted to be a writer. So I offered to write the catalogue. "Fine," she said, "But first you would have to learn about quilts." So I read all the available literature: only about a half a dozen books at that time had any scholarly content. Then one night she came over to my apartment—in a house owned by the infamous John Kotarski—and brought me a small quilt, a thimble, and needle and thread, and showed me how to do the actual hand quilting, so I could write with conviction.
We played some gigs together; I wrote the catalogue; then I started to sit at the quilt frame with Gwen and quilt. Then I wanted to make my own quilt. Then I had the idea of becoming a professional quiltmaker. You don't need a license, a diploma, nothing. Just a business card. We got some gigs talking to quilt groups, then I wrote some magazine articles, then I got a book contract, then the next thing you know, we were professional quiltmakers. We bought some land and built a house up on Beaver Island and started the annual Beaver Island Quilt Retreat, attended by quilters from all over the world.

I returned to Flint in 1989 to start a musical production company with the late great John Johnson, a local composer and musician who died in a car wreck with Bruno Valdez in Feb, 1991. Gwen and I then moved back to the island. We split up, then I went off on my own and ended up in NYC for a year, then in Vermont, as host of a radio show. In late 1993 I was hired to move out here to San Francisco to write all the materials for some international exhibitions of quilts from the ESPRIT quilt collection. It was just a five-month job, but here I met Carol LeMaitre and got married and started a family. Now I travel all over the country to perform my one-man musical, Joe the Quilter, and teach classes. I wrote an essay for the upcoming quilt show at the deYoung Museum and will be doing some lectures, seminars and docent training for the exhibit.

To learn more about Joe and his work go here.
And find out about Gwen Marston and her work here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Flint, OH...not to be confused with Flint, MI. (Photo courtesy of Forgotten Ohio)

Flint: Cloudy With a Chance of Cinematic References

Matt Bach, the energetic and funny public relations manager of the Flint Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, is paid to keep a vigilant eye out for any connection to the Vehicle City. And after seeing the movie Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, he's really on to something:
I saw this new children's movie over the weekend and couldn't help but draw some comparisons between what happened in the film and our own history in Flint, Michigan. First, the title character is named Flint Lockwood. And Flint lives in town that once flourished due to the booming "sardine industry." The whole town was centered around sardines, but it went in decline after the rest of the world realized sardines are "super gross." Then the mayor gets this great idea to build an amusement park centered around the town's rich sardine history. But just as the museum is getting unveiled it's accidentally destroyed by the inventor, Flint Lockwood.

And I'm not the only person seeing the similarities. This review of the movie actually mentions Flint, Michigan: "Unfortunately, the well-meaning Flint’s ambitions have a tendency to outreach his grasp and not only does the machine not work during his big test, it winds up destroying the sardine-inspired amusement park that the suspiciously Blagojevich-esque mayor (Bruce Campbell) has sunk the town’s remaining funds into (presumably figuring that if it worked for Flint, Michigan, it would work for them) before launching itself into the sky."

Alleged: A Different Kind of Shooting

Nathan West and Ashley Johnson in a scene shot at the Stockton House in Flint. (Photo by Ryan Garza/The Flint Journal)

Brian Dennehy, Fred Thompson, Nathan West and Ashley Johnson are in the Flint area shooting the feature film "Alleged" about the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Aside from giving Flintoids a chance to mingle with celebrities, Liz Shaw of The Flint Journal reports that the movie is bringing in some cash for the Flint area.
"The film's $4.1-million budget might be small by Hollywood standards, but nearly a quarter of it will go directly into the pockets of businesses right here in Flint and southeast Michigan in less than eight weeks' time -- and that's just for the most obvious, basic expenses."
Shaw gives a nice rundown of the more than $1 million that will be spent in Flint and southeast Michigan:

Housing: $320,000
Caterers' food supplies: $48,000
Set construction materials: $120,000
Antiques and other set dressing and props: $150,000
Dry cleaning: $12,500
Wages for 1,000 locals: $75 per day (20 days shooting total)
Lighting rentals: $40,000
Camera rentals: $88,000
Trucks: $46,000

Let's just hope Fred Thompson's acting is more compelling than his run for the presidency.

Monday, September 21, 2009

G.M. Invests in Flint

Tim Higgins of the Detroit Free Press reports:
General Motors Co. will invest more than $21 million in the Flint Assembly Plant to produce the 2011 Chevrolet light-duty crew cab, the company announced this morning.

The investment will include renovating the existing heavy-duty assembly process and new machinery and tooling for light-duty trucks.

Saab Story

A random selection of great old Saabs.

I lived in Charlevoix for a stretch during the summer of 1987 with a few guys from Flint. They did all the planning and I just sort of showed up and slept on the floor of this tiny three-room house they managed to talk Joe the landlord into renting them. We jokingly called it "the Condo," which allowed us to hold our own with the rich dilettantes in Charlevoix who actually had condos and summer homes, provided, of course, that they never actually saw our place.

Joe lived right next door in a much larger house. We heard he had his license revoked for several drunk driving incidents, but through a quirk in the laws was able to legally drive a moped around town. Sometimes we’d see the moped ditched in the driveway or the yard when Joe couldn’t negotiate parking it in the garage. I vaguely remember that he had been a pilot, and if you were talking to him outside — usually about some loud incident that had occurred at the condo the night before — he'd often stop, peer up into the sky, spot a minuscule jet, look at his watch, and say something like "Oh yeah, that'd be the 8:29 out of Toronto." It was impressive, although I later realized he could have been making all the information up, which would have been even more impressive.

One of Joe’s lone requests was that we not have a lot of guests stay overnight. According to my sporadically kept journal, there were occasions when as many as 13 people slept at the place. Two of the guys even constructed a bunk bed in the lone bedroom in an attempt to accommodate the crowds. It collapsed sometime in late June. There were no injuries.

I was driving my grandma's old Buick Electra 225 at the time. It came in handy because it functioned as a camper on some of our road trips out of Charlevoix. It could comfortably sleep three — one in the front seat, one in the back, and one in the spacious trunk. It was much more luxurious than the floor at the Condo.

My friend Jim was driving the first of what seems like several dozen old Saabs he has fixed up over the years. Jim has always been able to find great deals on cars and, later, houses. (He managed to buy his first home in Ann Arbor at a rock-bottom price after he casually struck up a conversation with the owner at the Del Rio bar.) The first Saab fit right into my sad and misguided attempts at the time to be the Great Gatsby of Michigan, so I liked to borrow it.

It was an exciting car to drive. It didn’t have great power or superior handling. Instead, it had six inches of play in the steering wheel. When you wanted to turn right, for example, you had to spin the wheel for half a foot before the tires would actually start turning. As you can imagine, this revolutionized the driving experience. A lot of the lessons I learned at Southwestern High’s driver’s training program went out the window. You had to do some serious advanced planning on turns, and you had to have strong arms and quick reflexes. Driving with anything in one hand — like a Stroh’s bottle — was out of the question. I know I personally scared the hell out of numerous Fudgies and locals alike when I crossed the center line making the right turn from Michigan Avenue to Petosky Avenue heading north out of downtown. Between Jim’s Saab and Joe’s moped, I sense the thoroughfares of Charlevoix could be a very unsettling place that summer.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I have a nostalgic attachment to Saabs. I’m not sure you could call the classic Saab profile beautiful, but it’s certainly distinctive. When I look at the latest Saab on display at the Frankfurt Auto Show, I can’t help wondering what went wrong. Is this bland, indistinguishable sedan really the offspring of the car I grew to love while terrorizing the populace on the roads of Charlevoix?

The Saab flagship sedan at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. (Photo: Hannelore Foerster/Bloomberg)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Flint Photos: St. Leo's For Sale

A little piece of heaven for the right price. (Photo courtesy of Rich Frost)

Flint Expatriate Rich Frost recently returned home to discover the church he grew up with was for sale. Read about Rich's experience here.

Flint and the Healthcare Debate

At the risk of touching off one of those silly battles in the comment section that I try to avoid, I can't help but pass along two news items that I ran across today. In the midst of the healthcare debate, Flint is cutting medical services in response to budget shortfalls.

Ron Fonger of The Flint Journal reports:
The new director of the Genesee County Health Department says he won't be able to save the McCree North Health and Human Services center after all.

Mark Valacak, named county health officer less than one week ago, had said it was a mistake to close the East Pierson Road clinic and vowed dig deeper in his proposed budget to find a way to keep McCree open.

But on Thursday, Valacak told the county Board of Commissioners that he could not find the money to make needed repairs to the building and provide staff to keep programs operating.

"I looked up and down in the budget," Valacak said. "There's just not a way without drastically reducing other services."

Regardless of your political persuasion, I think it's safe to say the country does have a problem when it comes to healthcare. (How's that for stating the obvious in a blandly apolitical manner?) Susan Heavey of Reuters reports:

Nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year -- one every 12 minutes -- in large part because they lack health insurance and can not get good care, Harvard Medical School researchers found in an analysis released on Thursday.

"We're losing more Americans every day because of inaction...than drunk driving and homicide combined," Dr. David Himmelstein, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, said in an interview with Reuters.

Overall, researchers said American adults age 64 and younger who lack health insurance have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who have coverage.

You read stories like these and it's hard to believe we're the richest nation on Earth.

UPDATE: A reader points out a local effort to help the uninsured in the Flint area:

"I believe about 4,000 individuals enrolled in the Genesee Health Plan receive their primary care at the UM-Flint Wellness Center, where nurse practitioners (under the direction of a physician) provide routine medical care. Others are under the care of private physicians. The health plan protects working poor, students and a variety of struggling county residents – of course it isn’t a solution – it covers very rudimentary services, but it is effective in linking people to primary care, where diseases such as diabetes can be caught and treated before they become life-threatening. It isn’t a solution for everyone, but it does demonstrate – I think – how Flint continues to innovate, despite our many challenges."

Go here for a story about the plan on the Mott Foundation’s website.

Flint Photos: ?

So you think you're an expert on all things Flint? Okay, I challenge you to identify the location of this photo.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Inside I.M.A. Auditorium

The late, great I.M.A. Auditorium frequently comes up in comments from readers who remember everything from dances to Alice Cooper concerts. I just realized I have some interior shots of I.M.A. by Mary Fisher, who has provided numerous other great images of Flint. The photos below are from the 1979 Carman High School graduation ceremony.

Flint Photos: Patsy Lou and Don Williamson

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Flint Postcards: Water Street Pavillion

Monday, September 14, 2009

Flint Photos: Unknown Brewery

Thanks to Rich Bennett for a second photo.

More info from Gerry Godin: "Here is another photo of the brewery. This is from the postcard history of Flint. This building was built in 1899 and was used as the Flint Brewery. When Genesee County voted to become dry in 1915, a group of churchmen had an idea: 'What better way to show the victory of religion over drinking than to convert a brewery into a church?' Lakeview Methodist Episcopal Church remained at that location for about five years until the congregation left to construct a smaller church building nearby. After that time, the building again became a brewery, then an office for a trucking company, warehouse, electric motor repair shop, welding shop, and a casket and woodworking shop. The building burned, and what remained was razed in 1992.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Restaurant Trivia

El Rancho postcard from a book of Genesee County postcards via Gerry Godin.

A reader is hoping someone can help her remember the name of "an upscale restaurant on the corner of Dort and Bristol in the '60s." Can anyone help her out?


El Rancho

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mark J. Perry on the Service Economy

I recently had an email exchange with Mark J. Perry — a professor of economics and finance at UM-Flint and author of the Carpe Diem blog — about Flint's economic situation. Prof. Perry writes:
What [the graph above] shows is that Flint has gradually become a service-based economy, and now has more service jobs and fewer manufacturing jobs, as a percent of total jobs, than the U.S. as a whole. So as much as we and the country think of Flint as a manufacturing-based economy, it’s no longer true, and hasn’t been true for a long time.

Consider that in 1990 about 1 in 3 jobs in Flint (Genesee County) was in manufacturing, and today it’s only 1 out of 11 jobs in manufacturing. So the Flint area is now more of a service-providing economy than the rest of the country. Which is good I think in general, because a) we aren’t so dependent on one industry and one employer (GM), and b) have a more stable, diversified economy.

Perhaps Flint is ahead of the rest of the state, or SE Michigan, in making the transition from manufacturing to service. Because the majority of the manufacturing job losses here took place in the past, Flint is well on its way to re-inventing itself as a service-based economy. Employment growth in the health care and education sectors have replaced some of the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Here's an interesting fact: Ann Arbor now has more manufacturing jobs as a percent of total jobs (6.5%) than Flint based on July data! In fact, Flint has a lower percentage of manufacturing jobs than any of the 12 metro areas in the state of Michigan.

Of course, this analysis is of the percent of total jobs in various sectors, and doesn’t directly account for the overall loss of total jobs. But the job composition issue is important.

I had this recent post on the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment; it’s now at the same level as 1941, and below 9% of totals for the first time ever.

One way to think about this decline is to compare it to the same decline in the farming sector of the U.S. economy, going from probably 50-60% of all jobs in the 1800s to 3% today. Most would agree we are better off to have “lost” all of those farming jobs. Likewise, we are probably better off losing jobs in manufacturing. After all, keep in mind that service includes accounting, legal, healthcare, education, consulting, advertising, banking, brokerage, insurance, engineering, architects, computer programming, web design, etc., most of which are highly paid professions.

Also, a decline in employment is not the same as a decline in output. We produce more food today with 3% of the population working on farms than we did 100 years ago when 50% of the workforce were working on farms. Likewise, we produce more manufacturing output today with fewer workers than we did 20-30 or 50 years ago. Reason: Increased productivity, just like for agriculture.

Flint Beecher Impressive in Class C Football

With their 28-14 victory over Northwestern on Friday, the Beecher Bucs are 3-0 and have outscored their opponents 105-27. Southewestern is going in the opposite direction. They're 0-3 and have been outscored 117-32.

Yes, this is part of my entirely random coverage of Flint high school football.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Flint Photos: Dave Barber Interviews Topless Georgina Spelvin on May 6, 1977

nude radio

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Flint Photos: Kewpee's

Randy Gearhart provided this scan of a picture of Kewpee’s at 415 Harrison Street, which appeared in The Flint Journal on April 23, 1989. The photo was taken in ’29 or ’30. According to the caption, the building was originally built in 1923 and was razed in 1979. It's now part of a UM-Flint parking lot. Randy frequented this location often, back in the ‘60s.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Spending Versus Saving

Flintoids are no strangers to confusing economic pronouncements, but the rest of the country has gotten a dose contradictory messages courtesy of the Great Recession. Take the recent news that Americans are breaking records for saving money and eliminating debt:
The Federal Reserve reported Tuesday that consumers ratcheted back their credit by a larger-than-anticipated $21.6 billion from June, the most on records dating to 1943. Economists expected credit to drop by $4 billion.
That's good news, provided we aren't too rattled by
the unsettling feelings that come with knowing that our top economists were off by a mere $17 billion. Haven't we heard for years that we spend recklessly and don't save enough, especially compared to more thrifty countries like Japan? Well, don't get too excited:
Economists expect consumers will continue to spend less, save more and trim debt to get household finances decimated by the recession into better shape. However, such action is a recipe for a lethargic revival, as consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.
So if we simultaneously spend and save, everything should be just fine. What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Real Rate of Unemployment

The New York Times has a good story that explains why the official unemployment rate in cities across the nation, including Flint, doesn't capture the true extent of joblessness in America.

Michael Luo reports:

The official jobless rate, which garners the bulk of attention from politicians and the public, was reported on Friday to have risen to 9.7 percent in August. But to be included in that measure, which is calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from a monthly nationwide survey, a worker must have actively looked for a job at some point in the preceding four weeks.

For an increasing number of people in this country who would prefer to be working, that is not the case.

It is difficult to assign an exact figure, because of limitations in the data collected by the bureau, but various measures that capture discouragement have swelled in this recession.

In the most direct measure of job market hopelessness, the bureau has a narrow definition of a group it classifies as “discouraged workers.” These are people who have looked for work at some point in the past year but have not looked in the last four weeks because they believe that no jobs are available or that they would not qualify, among other reasons. In August, there were roughly 758,000 discouraged workers nationally, compared with 349,000 in November 2007, the month before the recession officially began.
Flint's official unemployment rate was 28.6 % in June.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Flint Artifacts: Official Manual Flint Junior Fire Department

Thanks to Toprat1 for this artifact.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Always Something There to Remind Me

Don Williamson may not be mayor of Flint anymore, but residents still have the memories...and the lawsuit settlements.

Kristin Longley of The Flint Journal reports:
The city of Flint will have to shell out more than $300,000 from a discrimination suit related to former Mayor Don Williamson's controversial Citizens Service Bureau.

The amount owed by the city has more than doubled from the $131,000 in damages awarded earlier this month to police Officer Keith Speer.

In addition to that judgment, the city also will have to pay $167,500 in attorney fees plus interest, Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Judith Fullerton ruled Monday.

When Cars Were a Family Affair

Peter Bourque (front row) and family in Flint. (Photo courtesy of Jacques Bourque)

Flint Expatriate Peter Bourque, a retired high school teacher living in Tuscon, remembers his hometown in an article published in the Arizona Star. He writes:
At family gatherings, talk among the men, to my disinterest, was invariably about "the shop," "the line" and "tool-and-die makers," a trade which I never understood. One brother-in-law, Art, had gotten a college degree and was white-collar at Buick. Another, Stan, worked for Oldsmobile in Lansing. My brother Jacques chose Ford in Detroit for his lifelong employment, but no one seemed to hold that against him.
Read the entire story here.