Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Hail Don Williamson

Former Flint mayor Don Williamson has been a seemingly endless source of material for Flint Expatriates over the years. There were the random firings of competent city employees. The useless "crack down" on baggy pants. Don't forget the time he used city workers to mow his lawn. And the very expensive plan to help the local economy by installing a drag strip on a city street. Of course there was the pricey lawsuit that the city had to settle after the mayor had a paper carrier arrested at City Hall. Oh yeah, what about the cop who got canned for daring to talk to the local media. Let's not even mention all the money the city lost because of Williamson's creative approach to the Genesee Towers situation. For his swan song, the convicted felon asked the cash-strapped city for back pay when he resigned to avoid a recall election.

Given his service to the City of Flint, it's only fitting that Williamson be honored with a statue. After all, Flint's other great leaders like Billy Durant and C.S. Mott have their memorials. It seems Williamson agrees and has erected a golden effigy of himself surrounded by a pride of protective baby lions at his new palatial estate outside Flint.

A reader stumbled upon life-size icon on recent trip home and passed along this report: 
I get back to Flint a few times each year, visiting family. In fact, my wife and I were there last weekend visiting her dad in Lapeer. Travelling back towards Flint via Davison Rd, we ran across an interesting sight. First of all, I should say that my wife's fancy new Garmin GPS flashed a "point of interest" on the screen as we approached the little crossroads berg of Elba. It showed a large area to the north of Davison Rd called the "Patsy Lou refuge" (not really sure if it said refuge or estate or something else). Needless to say that got my attention. No more than 1/2 mile west of the Elba crossroads (near Potters Lake), we were more than a little surprised to see the main entrance to what is obviously Don and Patsy Lou's grand plantation. It is a work in progress, but leaves no doubt that it goes for quite a long way north of Davison Rd. Of course, this alone wouldn't cause me to think of Flint Expats; it was the life sized bronze stature of the Don himself that caused me to write this note.As you can no doubt tell, the Don was standing tall and portly, greeting visitors. Anyone reading Flint Expats for any length of time is surely aware of the special place Don Williamson has with the readership, so I couldn't pass up this opportunity to contribute to the cause.
Is it just me, or does The Don's statue resemble the tribute to another controversial, strong-willed leader?

  Kim Il Sung

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Lost Logos of the Detroit Tigers


The Detroit Tigers uniforms are considered classics, but who knew they had such questionable logos over the years?



Monday, October 22, 2012

Flint Artifacts: Holmes and Wells Cigar Box

The Past Is a Strange Place

Of course, Flint's not the only place that's changed beyond almost all recognition over the past few decades. Author and musician Josh Garrett-Davis reflects on the death of George McGovern and the transformation of South Dakota for The New York Times:
It’s astonishing to think now, but South Dakota made sense as a destination for idealistic young liberals in the mid-1970s. Senator McGovern, who died Sunday at the age of 90, had run an inspiring but catastrophic campaign for the presidency three years earlier, bravely opposing the Vietnam War. The state’s junior senator, James Abourezk, was another liberal Democrat and the first Arab-American elected to the upper chamber. And Red Power activism was roiling the state’s Indian reservations; the Wounded Knee standoff on the Pine Ridge Reservation even captured the nation’s attention for several months in 1973.

I was born a few years later, in 1980, just months before Mr. McGovern lost his race for a fourth term in the Senate. It wasn’t yet clear that the Plains political winds were shifting to the right. My parents ran a record store, Prairie Dog Records, and we lived in a small house with a low-tech “solar collector,” a box that trapped the bright prairie sun under glass and blew its warmth into the house on frigid winter days. In summer, we tended an organic garden fertilized with sheep manure from my godparents’ farm. By the time I was 3, I had formulated (or parroted) the crowd-pleasing stump speech, “Ronald Reagan is mean; he gives money to rich people.” 
Now, he writes, South Dakota is a far different place: 
Yet as I came of age, so did a new political tradition in South Dakota. Senator Larry Pressler, who replaced Senator Abourezk in 1979, attacked Big Bird and PBS long before Mitt Romney found it useful to do so. (Mr. Pressler, a Vietnam veteran, recently endorsed Mr. Obama over Mr. Romney, citing the president’s positions on veterans’ issues.) The old prairie populism faded as family farmers loosened their alliance with union labor. I felt increasingly out of place in South Dakota, and steadfastly hid the secret of my mom’s sexual orientation.

Today, the old liberal Plains folk are tending a thinning row of populist Christian liberalism. Their social gospel has lost ground to anti-abortion and antigay politics. Today the State Senate has 30 Republicans and 5 Democrats. Pundits even suggested our Republican senator, John Thune, as a running mate for Mr. Romney.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Flint Photos: John Lennon Memorial at the Capitol Theater

December 9, 1980
Photo courtesy of Peter C. Cavanaugh

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Baby Barfly by Kris Bussell

Flint Expatriate Kris Bussell looks back on his first visit to a Flint bar when he was still in diapers.

Queue the spinning lights...swirl, swirl...Saturday, May 21, 1966, FLINT, MIEEECHIGAN! 800 block of S. Saginaw before Court St. Southbound lane.

He smooths back his greased jet-black hair and contemplatively strokes a sideburn as he leisurely takes in this lovely spring drive through downtown Flint.

Don drives slowly down red-bricked Saginaw Street, through the tunnel of tall spring elms. He likes the feel of his baby-blue Chevy Corvair, as those six flat aluminum heads just purr along. He had even watched this one come down the assembly-line as a foreman in Plant#2A. Chevrolet Avenue was still black-at-noon in those days from the shadow of the towering manufacturing plants, now it’s an empty parking lot of hot black asphalt. They drive past Smith Bridgman’s on the opposite side of the street. Cheryl, his gorgeous young bride, sits in the creamy leather upholstered passenger seat next to him and gazes past Don out the window at the huge department store on the opposite side of the street. She had spent the last Christmas season working as Santa’s Helper Elf in that store. Well, Santa’s big fat pregnant helper elf. Little did she realize her bundle-of-joy, safely lap-belted (pre-shoulder belt) into his bassinet, would only a short seventeen years in the future, be hunting through the remnants of that grand structure with his pack of droogs for treasures of a dying city being torn down around him.

Cheryl loved the people-watching, all the amazing lights and holiday window displays, downtown Flint is so very busy during the Christmas season! Cheryl especially loved helping the kids onto Santa’s lap. She had a way with kids and could coax a smile out of the most terrified three-year-old, even as the parents happily stood in line to sacrifice their offspring to the jolly fat man. Santas routinely drank bourbon in those days.

They keep driving down Saginaw Street. “I hope it doesn’t rain today. Daddy was going out to Miller Lake to catch some bluegill for supper this morning.”

“It won’t,” says Don confidently.

“How do you know, smart-aleck?” Cheryl says with a hint of a smile.
“The Weather Ball isn’t blinking,” Don says very matter-o-factly. The Citizens Bank Weather Ball has never been wrong, everybody in Flint knows that. Funny thing is, there is no control room for the Weather Ball and no one knows who controls its illuminated majesty, even unto this day.

The radio is on WAMM (!) 1420 as they continue through the middle of town past Kresge’s. The metal arch over the street proudly displays "FLINT." Saint Paul’s Church where the baby had received the Holy Sprinkle only a month before. The Temple Dining Room. Then Don caught the smell of Halo Burger.

“Halo Everybody, Halo!” Don starts to sing, “With a Vernor’s Float!” he adds as an after-thought when he catches site of the mural of the elves rolling out those barrels of creamy ginger goodness. “Come on?”

“We’re going to my parent’s for dinner.” Cheryl does not even bat an eye. “AND, you had a coney island.”

“Just one,” Don sulks, but only for a moment. The coney had been good…a fresh-skin Koegel, loaded with hot greasy meat, onions, yellow mustard, and Don likes his red-pepper flakes! Also, something about that bun at Angelo’s just seems to melt in the mouth. Little did Don realize that only a short seventeen year hop into the future his only male progeny would devour many a late night platter of fries and gravy at the very establishment over which he now dreamed and drooled.

That put an end to that idea but Don still thought a pre-dinner Supreme with Olives would be a perfect appetizer. "Oh-well," he thought, "I do like to go over to Chris and Bob’s for dinner! Christina is a great cook and Bob is good to have the UofM (Go Blue!) game on later. Plus, since they live on the golf course, I can pick up a Hamady-sack full of golf balls thanks to all the hacks at the 13th hole of Brookwood behind their house.




“Are you alright?” “Yes! Get the Baby!”

"He’s alright! Get him out of the back seat!” Don springs out the driver’s side door into the street.

“Oh Shit! Look at my car!” Don turns toward the driver in the car that rear-ended him with heat rising to his ears. “Dammit ALL!” but the old lady looks just like Cheryl’s little Scottish Aunt Meg Ramsey that came over on the boat with all the rest of her family, plus, she looks a bit shaken-up from the (relatively minor) fender-bender, let alone having a former Central High School linebacker jump out furious mad at you and strike you stone cold with that one look... Don eased up quick though, he is a softy underneath, but he’s also a hot head, a handsome hot-head…traits that he passed onto his only son.

“Do you have the baby?”

“Yes, I’ve got him out,” Cheryl starts to cry, not because she is hurt, but out of concern for her three-month-old son, Kris Patrick. She runs her hands over the baby's back, his arms, his legs. "Oh thank you Lord!" she breaths.

“Here Honey, let me take the baby. It looks like your man needs you."

Cheryl smiles at the kind lady as she wipes her anxious tears away. She recognized this woman, she knew her, but from where? "Oh!" Cheryl thought, “this is the lady that tends the bar down at the grill on the corner of Court St., The Genesee, or The Verdict or The Bailiwick?’ Either way, as seasonal help at Smith Bridgman’s, she had liked to sneak her sacked left-over half of King Arthur’s Pasty (with HP sauce!) in so she could sit with the make-up counter girls that were single and liked a two-martini lunch. Life was simpler then. She loved to listen to the girls talk, as they seemed to not only know everyone who worked at the store, but absolutely everyone that came into the store or anyone that lived, or had lived at any time, in Flint. Again, little did she suspect that the shining son-of-her-heart in the back, only a short seventeen years later, would also have a big thing for make-up girls on that very same block.

“Oh, thank you so very much!”

“Don’t worry hun, I’ll look after him. Hi Beautiful! Aren’t you the most gorgeous baby?”

“He won the ‘Most Beautiful Baby’ contest at Hick’s picture studio. They have a picture of him sitting in a metal bucket in their lobby.”

“Never mind hun, he’s safe. Go look after your husband.”

“Thank you,” Cheryl says over her shoulder and looks to see Don getting more agitated while looking at the Corvair’s wrinkled rear bumper and Aunt Meg (like) clutching her handbag and trembling on the sidewalk as at least a hundred eyes ogled the spectacle while enjoying their Heavenly sandwiches and cherry Cokes.

Long story made short; FPD, ambulances, fire trucks (no shortage of proud city workers that day, my friends). I ended up spending all afternoon sitting on top of the Bailiwick bar and being cooed over until my parents returned home later that afternoon, each believing the other had the heir-apparent safely stowed (Trunk? Where? Come ON!). I was finally tracked down and rescued from my expedition to Babylon.

There remains a picture in someone’s basement in Michigan of an extremely handsome smiling baby man-child wearing a conical party hat (left-over New Year's Eve '66, and a bit bar stained), no diaper, and cradling a bottle of Red Devil Rye in his bassinet. He is propped-up on top of a nice old wooden bar with about a dozen smiling anonymous happy drunk people standing over the little angel. Again, little did anyone realize that only a short seventeen years later…

People theorize that babies that young cannot remember details. However, from that day forward, for whatever weird reason, maybe they were singing at the barm but I can sing every word to Bill Doggett's "Honky-Tonk" — both Parts I and II and every now and then, I get a taste for cheap bourbon.

I am left wondering why there are so many quarters lying on and around me in that picture?

Smith Bridgmans print is courtesy of artist Bill Stolpin. For more information go here. Bailiwick photo courtesy of Joe Dennis.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

It's World Series Time

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More Bounce to the Ounce in Flint

Never a dull moment when the Flint Public Art Project is involved.

Behind the Wheel at I.M.A. Safetyville

Flint Expatriates has rustled up a collection of artifacts from I.M.A. Safetyville, once located in Kearsley Park, in the past. There was the brochure. There was the license and the ticket for a moving violation. And, of course, one of the souped up orange Chevys. There was even a post on the small lake that had formed on the spot where Safetyville used to reside. And don't forget the anecdotes from Flintoids who learned to drive in the miniature town. Now we have two new shots of Safetyville in all its glory, courtesy of Gerry Godin and the Sloan Museum.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cars G.M. Would Rather Forget

Gerry Godin Remembers Buick City

Gerry Godin and the Death of Buick City from Dude! (ironic) Productions on Vimeo.

Gerry Godin, who publishes the All Things Buick Blog, reflects on the now-demolished Buick City factory complex.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Check Out "Cash Out"

 Greg Bardsley, an old newspaper buddy of mine, has just published his first novel. Cash Out is a zany romp of a book with some serious themes underlying all the action. And although it's set in Silicon Valley and the life of a speechwriter for startup called FlowBid, I think Flint Expats would appreciate the narrator's lament that the place where he grew up has more or less disapperead:

You can purchase Cash Out here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Flint Photos: St. Marys Church in the Late Seventies

Friday, October 12, 2012

Little Libraries in Flint

Flint's got big problems. But there are small ways you can make the city a better place. Here's one of them:
Over the summer we opened Mott Park's first Little Free Library on a stump in front of our rental home. We see visitors every single day picking out a book, returning a book. We've seen children reading books while waiting for the bus, entire families riding their bikes to pick out a book, families going on walks to pick out books -- books! People are reading books!

Sadly, however, as renters, my husband and I had to unexpectedly leave this home where the Frank St. library resides, and were asked to take the library with us; however, not wanting the library to suddenly disappear on the dedicated patrons who use the library we were able to find the Frank St. Little Free Library a new home right across the street! (Hooray!) But, being the book lovers that we are, we are looking to raise funds to purchase a second Little Free Library to put in front of our new home in the 2500 block of Thomas St., which is about a half-mile away from the Frank Street LFL. I do have this not-so-secret goal of helping put a library on every street in Mott Park -- how cool would that be!
Make a small donation via Kickstarter here.

Detropia: The Past, Present, and Future of Detroit

If you haven't had a chance to see Detropia, you should check it out. I reviewed the documentary for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper:
The filmmakers capture the haunting beauty of Detroit as it transitions from an industrial powerhouse to a demimonde where the rural and the urban intermingle. A pheasant crosses a snowy city street at night, illuminated by flickering streetlights. A rusting jungle gym is surrounded by a sea of grass gently swaying in a summer breeze. You can feel the silence that engulfs the once-bustling corners of the city. There’s an otherworldly quality to the film.
Read the entire review here.

Alex Karras, R.I.P.

A High Point for Urban Decay

Is part of the appeal of the High Line project on Manhattan's West Side something Flint has in abundance — decay, abandonment and hazy nostalgia?

Sarah Goodyear of The Atlantic Cities writes:
But everyone knows that the ghost of urban decay is as crucial to the High Line’s appeal as fancy design, if not more so. And so, when the final section opens, there will be “an interim walkway wending through the existing landscape of self-seeded wildflowers, native grasses, and shrubs,” according to the press release. People will be able to gaze out on a vestige of what inspired the whole High Line project to begin with. This patch of entropy will be a ragtag object of curiosity in an otherwise well-groomed setting, the last buffalo on the urban prairie, to be regarded with fond nostalgia.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The "Shrinking City" Concept Made Simple

Flint Before the Demolition

A great photograph of the downtown Flint area before the buildings in the foreground were demolished. I believe this is a shot of Harrison Street looking south toward the Mott Foundation Building and Genesee Towers. The cross street at the light is Kearsley. (I think...was there a time when Kearsley was closed off and filled in with a park area?) Hat's Pub, formerly the Brass Rail, would be just around the corner on the north side of Kearsley. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Thanks again to Amy Peterson for the photo.

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A Sense of Place: The Sill Building

The demolition of the Sill Building in downtown Flint, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Amy Peterson)

A postcard of the Flint P. Smith Building, later renamed the Sill Building.

Downtown Flint during flooding in the 1940s.

Memories of another Flint landmark that is no more by Pat McFarlane Young, who has written about Flint bands, the I.M.A., old friends, and etiquette lessons.

I was puzzled by the recent photo of downtown Flint shot from the sixth floor of the Durant Hotel. The skyline didn’t quite look right. Then I realized the tall, narrow building that stood like a sentinel overlooking Saginaw Street near the river was missing. The Sill Building was gone.

The northern end of downtown always seemed more exciting to me than the rest, home to Thompson’s restaurant, the penny arcade and the Greyhound Bus station crowded with interesting characters, most of whom were not waiting for a bus. Across the street were the forbidden Rialto Theatre and an upstairs pool hall where boxer Jock Leslie hung out.

But my most vivid memories are of the Sill Building because my father’s office was on the third floor overlooking Saginaw Street. As a child my mother and I got to “visit” the office and view every parade from the windows of Darby & Son Realtors. Another not so pleasant memory was watching the historic Flint flood waters flow through downtown.

As a teenager I felt important going into the Sill Building. It was like I was marching to the Cheers theme song, headed “where everybody knows your name.” The elevator operator sitting on her little pull down stool greeted me with “Hello Patty, going to see your Dad?” I’m sure she probably guessed I was planning to ask him for a few bucks to go to the Honey Dell for a parfait and then catch the Lewis St. bus home so my mother would think I had walked straight from Central High School. Dad always came through with the parting words, “You don’t need to mention this to Mama.”

He never had to worry about that as Dad was my gentle hero all my life. I didn’t appreciate what my sometimes dour Scottish mother instilled in me until many years later. Their love, and growing up in Flint, made me into a person that could handle tough times and appreciate what really matters. I have faith that my hometown will now do the same.
Verne McFarlane hard at work in the Sill Building.

Rust Belt Reductionism

There's a lot more happening in Rust Belt cities than decline or revival. Much of the coverage fails to capture the nuance and subtlety of cities like Flint and Detroit. Richey Piiparinen and Anne Trubek of The Atlantic Cities report:
Many dispatches from the industrial north are written by writers who fly to report what they saw during a day or a weekend, and almost invariably, the memes get in the way, or more likely, were in the writer's head before she arrived. Looking around cities like Cleveland, it's easy to draw hasty conclusions, to either sentimentalize the old, gritty working class blocks now abandoned, or be all gobsmacked to find signs of modernity and life. The resulting picture looks too black and white: "this is where the good stuff is—the rebirth!—and this is where the bad stuff is--the ruin!" Truth is, the Rust Belt is a very gray place: it is both in ruins and reviving. It’s a fascinating time and place for the region, particularly for urbanists. But the ruin and revival memes flatten out complexity.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

After the Factory

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

WFDF's All Hit Music Survey for May 22, 1972.

WFDF 910 AM's All Hit Music survey for May 22, 1972. Heading into the Memorial Day weekend, "Troglodyte" by The Jimmy Castor Bunch is at the top of the chart. At #4 is Bobby Womack's "Woman's Gotta Have It", a song that didn't even get into the top 50 on Billboard. "Jubilation" by Paul Anka is #10. Under Giant 91 LPs:  J.J. Cale, Procol Harum, Four Tops.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Flint Photos: Hat's Pub in the Early Eighties

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fear and Hoping in Flint

Another thought-provoking essay from Flint writer Jan Worth-Nelson in East Village Magazine:
The week my husband fell, there were two pit bulls on the loose in our neighborhood.
Or were there?
They were said to be running around loose, "terrorizing some." They were brown and black. They had been captured alive. They had both been shot. Or one had been shot and another ran away. There was more than one pair. They had collars. They didn't have collars. They were on Kensington. Or they were on Court, and then they were on Windemere, and then causing trouble on Interstate 475. They roamed and threatened at 7:30 a.m. and after dark, literally dogging us and agitating our fears.
As one homeowner posted, "Grrr ... all these darn pitbull posts have me terrified."
And in response to a handful of break-ins and home invasions, a number of fine ladies of the 'hood signed up for gun training, an impulse I can barely stand to contemplate.
I do get the urge for revenge. I have my own fantasies of what I'd like to do to some of the petty thugs preying our streets, but REALLY? Is that how we resolve our neighborhood woes — to arm ourselves with little pink Derringers?
 Read it all here.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Commercial Memories of Flint and Detroit

Some TV memories of the seventies and eighties courtesy of Flint Expatriate David Mayton.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Model Memory

Many Flint Expatriates have an ongoing relationship with nostalgia, often struggling to reconcile the Flint of their youth with the Flint of today. Then there's the inevitable moment when you realize you may be burnishing the memory of Vehicle City a bit too much, turning it into a place that never existed in the first place. It's not always an easy process to work through.

So why not simply recreate a scale model of the Flint you remember — or the Flint you want to remember? Michael Paul Smith is not from Flint, but he did build a scale model of his hometown.

"What started out as an exercise in model building and photography, ended up as a dream-like reconstruction of the town I grew up in. It's not an exact recreation, but it does capture the mood of my memories," he writes on his Flickr page.

"And like a dream, many of the buildings show up in different configurations throughout the photos. Or sometimes, the buildings stay put and the backgrounds change.

"Visually, this is heading towards the realm of ART. NO PHOTOSHOP WAS USED IN THESE PICTURES. IT'S ALL STRAIGHT FROM THE CAMERA.

"It's the oldest trick in the special effects book:line up a model with an appropriate background and shoot. The buildings are 1/24th scale [or 1/2 inch equals a foot]. They are constructed of Gator board, styrene plastic, Sintra [a light flexible plastic that can be carved, and painted] plus numerous found objects; such as jewelery pieces, finishing washers and printed material."
Learn more about Smith from this interview at Man on the Move.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Flint Story Hidden in an Attic

Julia Meister, a Flint Expatriate once removed, discovers an unexpected connection to her father's hometown in the attic of their home in Oak Park, Illinois.

What's a monthly poker game in the seventies and eighties on Euclid Avenue in Flint have to do with a dusty attic in a house near Chicago in 2012? Throw in a harrowing World War II bombing mission and a chance encounter in Big Spring, Texas, not to mention a Quiz Kid from Longfellow School, and it all adds up to a story that reflects "the marvelous interconnectedness of modern life." Get the full story here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Flint Photos: Chevy in the Hole

Photo courtesy of Tom Pohrt.