Friday, August 31, 2012

Touch Boutique Remembered

The scene at the Touch Boutique in September 1972 From far left : unknown, Tom Coy, unknown, David J. Boyd, Bill "Woody" Woods, unknown, and unknown. Seated left: Sandy Rosen, unknown. Seated right: Jim Kitchen

This ode to the Touch Boutique has been updated several times as more info and photos have rolled in. It's worth another look. And if anyone has more photos or memories, feel free to send them my way.

Here's the original posts...

More photos of The Touch Boutique at 804 Detroit Street keep magically appearing. These are all courtesy of Flint Expatriate David J. Boyd. I've added these new shots to the original posts so we can keep the comment section intact. Feel free to give us your memories of The Touch.

Bare Naked Clothing

Co-Owner Ron Watson

Ron Watson and David J. Boyd

Middle Earth Books

Doug Boyd

Dick Dehlin "sells incense, rolling papers, specialty pipes, India imports, hippie gear, and all at a nice hip capitalist mark-up," remembers David J. Boyd.
More Bare Naked Clothing.

David J. Boyd, a Psychedelic Ranger at the 1972 Ann Arbor Jazz and Blues Festival

And now back to the original posts...

Readers have sent a few great photos and artifacts related to The Touch Boutique, so I'm adding them to the original post about this long lost Flint icon.

Mary Fisher and friends near the corner of Detroit and Fifth in 1940. The gas station and what was to become The Touch Boutique are in the background.

A more recent shot of the abandoned gas station turned pool hall by jar with most, complete with campaign advertising. To the right is the corner of the old St. Michael's School, which became Daniel O'Sullivan Model School and, eventually, Flint Schools of Choice.

Here is an ad for The Touch Boutique taken from the September 1, 1972 issue of the Flint Freedom Reader, an alternative publication created at The Touch. Thanks to jbing for passing along this great artifact.

And now back to the original post...

For the kids at St. Michael's in the seventies, The Touch Boutique was a mysterious place that most of us saw only from the outside. Here's how it looked then. It was right across Detroit Street from Merlin's Retreat. It eventually became a home to band members of Jesus Christ and the Superstars and Pincusion in the late 1980s. (Check out Aaron Stengel's Take No Prisoners for an archive of the Flint music scene.) Photo is by Jeff Holbrook and courtesy of Flintstoner80, who offers up some amazing Flint memories on his Flickr page.

A 1979 ad for The Touch Boutique courtesy of Jar With Most, who keeps the memory of old Flint alive with his photos and artifacts.

Jar With Most provides a more recent shot of what was once The Touch Boutique. The sign on the left near the roof reads: "Absolutely no God but Allah. Muhammad is His Messenger" in Arabic. You can see the edge of St. Mike's school peaking out between the trees in the middle of the frame.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Some Cities Shrink, Some Expand Before Your Eyes

Move-In Day at UM-Flint

The Bench Seat Gets Benched

The bench seats many Flintoids grew up with are fading fast. John Pearley Huffman of The New York Times reports:
The 2013 Cadillac XTS comes with only front bucket seats, unlike the DTS it replaced, leaving only one new passenger car in the United States with an available front bench seat. That car, the current-generation Chevrolet Impala, will go away in a few months, too. 
Front bench seats — essentially a door-to-door couch — were the default seating mode for most of the American car industry’s history. Benches were cheaper to make than individual chairs, and they provided space for the most passengers. The column-mounted gear shifter, which freed space for a third passenger in the middle of the front seat, was a breakthrough when it appeared on Cadillacs and Pontiacs in 1938. 
But as affordable European sports cars arrived in America after World War II, individual seats gained cachet; they spread to sporty American cars, including the first Chevrolet Corvettes, and contributed to the glamorous image of luxurious performance cars like the 1959 Chrysler 300E. In the ’60s, most American brands offered sporty trim packages, like Chevy’s Super Sport option with a bucket-seat upgrade. In the decades since, buckets spread to cars of all sizes and types.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Buick City Mystery

A post that originally ran way back on December 25, 2007. But it's worth revisiting...

Some mysterious photos, an elusive blonde who appears to be blissfully stoned driving a car that isn't all there, a hazy reflection in a chrome hubcap...It all adds up to a Buick City mystery:
"This is a story that began with a dozen or so interesting-looking 8-by-10 glossy prints bought from a New York auto literature dealer. Taken in 1951 and 1953, they show 1952 and 1954 Buicks on the roof of a large building in an industrial area. Some of the cars are perched on a turntable, surrounded by white reflectors. Many of the shots feature models of the flesh-and-blood variety, mostly Size 2 girls with a few guys thrown in. But with an almost complete absence of backdrops, the pictures obviously weren't intended for publication."
Don't worry. All is revealed courtesy of the intriguingly bizarre website Plan59.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Diplomat Pharmacy, headquartered in Flint, has been named one of the fastest growing companies in the nation by Inc. magazine for the fourth year in a row. Jeremy Allen of mlive reports: "After a three year growth of 185 percent — going from $270.8 million in revenue in 2008 to $772 million in 2011 — Diplomat ranked 1,585 out of the 5,000 businesses to make the list. To qualify, companies apply by providing relevant financial records and a general description of their business."

(My apologies for that headline.)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Durant Hotel in the Fifties

Another great shot of Flint in the fifties by Mary Fisher, originally posted September 3, 2008. In addition to the Hotel Durant, the Flint Tavern Hotel, boasting "400 Rooms/Air Conditioned Restaurant," is visible on the left, behind a sign urging Flint to "Vote Republican/Vote IKE all the way!" and promoting "Fred M. Alger for Governor." Note the streetcar electric lines overhead.

Ben Hamper: Dealing with Monotony

It's always good to start a Monday out with a little Ben Hamper:
"The one thing that was impossible to escape was the monotony of our new jobs. Every minute, every hour, every truck and every movement was a plodding replica of the one that had gone before. The monotony gnawed away at Roy. His behavior began to verge on the desperate. The only way he saw to deal with the monotony was to numb himself to it. When the lunch horn sounded, we'd race out to his pickup and Roy would pull these enormous joints from the glove box. 'Take one," he'd offer. Pot made me nervous so I would stick to the beer from his well-stocked cooler or slug a little of the whiskey that was always on hand."
                 — Rivethead: Tales From the Assembly Line 

Flint Photos: McLaren Hospital in the Fifties

Photo by Mary Fisher. View some of her other photos of Flint in the fifties here and here.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Rare Footage of the Flint Sit-Down Strike and Flood

Reader JWilly writes: "Sometime after the introduction of 8mm movie cameras in 1932, my grandfather bought one, along with a projector, screen and the other equipment needed for that early technology. 8mm film didn't have an audio track then, but that didn't matter because he could narrate as he projected. Certainly he was no cinematographer--he didn't tell picture-stories or plan his shoots, he just pointed the camera at whatever was of interest, or directed his assistant of the moment to do so. Nowdays we'd say his shots were too short and his pans too fast, but that was the home movie style of the doubt influenced by the significant cost of film and developing.

"Much of the film he shot was kept by my parents, and we've finally gotten most of it converted to video."

"This brief film about the 1947 Flint River flood, in mostly-faded color, shows parts of the downtown area near the river. This was after the peak of the flood had passed. My grandfather's store then was at the corner of Beach Street and First Street, about two blocks from the river. The surface water didn't get quite that far, but the store's basement and the bottom of the freight elevator shaft were flooded several feet deep. At first it wasn't clear how high the flood might go, and probably shooting film of the flood had lower priority than getting as much as possible of the inventory and store fixtures to upper floors, then working to salvage what had gotten wet. Once the water clearly had stopped rising, then there was time to go sightseeing." 

"My dad had just turned 15 when the 1936-37 Sit-Down Strike began. I think he was the cameraman as my grandfather drove, for some of this short collection showing National Guard troops outside Fisher Body #1 on South Saginaw, and bivouacked alongside (I think) the IMA near downtown. Having strikers and police engaged in pitched battles that sent people on both sides to hospitals, and police cars burned and wrecked, and troops in town with fixed bayonets was quite shocking to the ordinary citizenry, for whom Organized Labor, Socialism and Communism all were new, strange and — according to many leaders — dangerous."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Flint, Meet Morrissey

Charles Bradley Channels Flint

Decay on an Olympic Scale

The decaying Beach Volleyball Stadium from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

If you want a sure fire way to add even more abandoned buildings to Flint, simply have the Vehicle City host the next Olympics. FLAVORWIRE has a fascinating post on abandoned Olympic sites that makes me even happier that San Francisco has never managed to land the Olympic Games. Developers usually clean up but taxpayers in the host cities lose big.

Flint Photos: Travels to Vehicle City 2

My first batch of random travel photos from three years of research and reporting trips to Flint got mixed reviews. One viewer called them "odd and grotesque," while another complained that they were "ruin porn" that failed to capture some of the positive aspects of my hometown. So our team of highly paid photo archivists at Flint Expatriates went to work and came up with another batch of photos that won't ruin your weekend. (There's a bonus nostalgia shot of three Flintoids at their 8th grade graduation from St. Mary's in 1980.) It's a reminder that, despite all its problems, Flint is still a friendly, welcoming place filled with people who haven't given up.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Should We Be Worried?

Reuters reports: The world's largest auto maker, General Motors Co, is in talks with lenders to double its line of credit currently worth $5 billion in a bid to consolidate its balance sheet and shrink its pension obligations, The Wall Street Journal said quoting unnamed sources.

Flint Artifacts: Al Hibbler at the IMA

Fighting Crime with Concertos

Want to lower crime in Flint? Classical music may be part of the solution. Erin Rose reports in Positive Detroit that it worked in various cities, including London, West Palm Beach, and Lancaster in Los Angeles County:
Mayor R. Rex Pariss had 70 speakers installed along a half mile of Lancaster Blvd and for five hours a day, played a blend of classical music and bird songs (birds chirping). Mayor Pariss believed the bird song and music combination would calm citizens and essentially deter crime. 
Results: After 10 months of playing the bird song/classical music combination: Minor crimes fell 15%. Major crimes fell 6%. Maria Elena Grado, who runs the Lemon Leaf CafĂ©, says the area was "crime infested" when she opened in 2006. "Everybody laughed at the idea, but people don't even realize the things that make them tick."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Organic Architecture and Decay

As Flint struggles with blight and the creeping return of nature to the city, it may have accidentally stumbled onto a new architectural style. John Metcalve of The Atlantic Cities reports:

You have to love Shahira Hammad for envisioning a train station where your principal concern wouldn't be getting there on time, but whether you could find your way out at all.
Hammad's proposal to revamp Vienna's staid Westbahnhof station draws heavily from natural processes like growth and entanglement: It looks like an immense rootball sprouted dozens of legs and started mating with a building. The structure is supported by thick, brown tendrils akin to mature poison-ivy vines. Peeking through these is an internal system of webs and membranes that appear to have been inspired by the thatched roofs of a shantytown, dimpled pig tripe and spindly rib cages.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Do You Speak Michigan?

While there's no denying that I pronounce pillow like pellow, and milk like melk, and get pretty nasally when I'm excited, I always thought the average person in the lower peninsula of Michigan was distinguished by having close to no accent or dialect at all. It seems that, in general, that used to be the case, but not anymore. At a time when most people believe American English is being standardized, the northern Midwest is diverging in a big way.

In a fascinating article, Rob Mifsud of Slate reports:

But American linguistic diversity as a whole isn’t dying—it’s thriving. Despite our gut-level hunch about the direction of the language; despite the fact that 70-cent, three-minute, off-peak, coast-to-coast long-distance calls that cost four inflation-adjusted dollars in 1970 are now free; despite cheap travel, YouTube, and the globalization of film and television, American dialects are actually diverging.

There are multiple examples of such divergence. But none is as dramatic, as baffling to linguists, and as mysteriously under the collective radar as what’s happening in the cities that ring the Great Lakes. From Syracuse, N.Y., in the east to Milwaukee in the west, 34 million Americans are revolutionizing the sound of English. Linguists first noted aspects of the change in the late 1960s. In 1972, three linguists, led by William Labov of the University of Pennsylvania, christened the phenomenon the Northern Cities Vowel Shift or, more simply, the Northern Cities Shift (NCS). What they observed may be the most important change in English pronunciation in centuries.
And studies show we don't even know we talk differently. Mifsud explains:
...most American dialect regions are oblivious to their quirks, but NCS speakers show a particularly striking lack of self-awareness. In one experiment, shifters were asked to write down a series of words, some affected by the NCS, some not, but all dictated by someone with an NCS accent. The expectation is obvious: Shifters should ace this test. But, amazingly, NCS speakers frequently did not understand their own speech. When they hear the word cat in isolation, for example, they seem to flip a mental coin to decide whether the speaker is talking about a common pet or a folding bed. 
In a separate experiment, Nancy Niedzielski, an associate professor of linguistics at Rice University, told 50 NCS speakers that she was going to play a recording of a speaker from Michigan saying the word B-A-G, which she spelled out for them. She then asked the test subjects to identify whether the signal they heard sounded like byag (the NCS pronunciation),bag (the “standard” pronunciation), or baahg (a vaguely British pronunciation). Not one of the 50 subjects said that they heard the NCS pronunciation. “There’s just an incredible deafness to the local pronunciation,” Preston says—adding that the reason, in his opinion, is clear. “They believe that they are standard, normal, ordinary speakers, and when they’re confronted with evidence to the contrary, they reject it. They reject it in their daily lives, and they reject it even experimentally. They don’t even understand themselves.”

And like many aspects of life in Michigan, there's a racial divide.
One boundary the NCS rarely crosses: race. While a linguistic segregation of black and white is typical in American dialects, “it’s especially true of the NCS,” according to Dinkin. “There are much bigger differences between white and black speakers in the NCS region,” he says, “than in, for example, the South.”
Of course, there was a time when a lot of folks in Flint talked a little like this...

It's really worth reading the entire Slate article here.

Flint Photos: Travels to Vehicle City

Over the past three years I've traveled to Flint numerous times and taken a lot of photos while I was writing about the city. Here's a small sample, in no particular order. Some of these have appeared on Flint Expatriates in the past, some are new.