Monday, December 30, 2013

Will Ferrell Heard of Flint

Charles Thomas, Jr. on the Real Flint


Charles Thomas, Jr., a Notre Dame graduate who was born and raised in Flint, reflects on media coverage of his hometown for Deadline Detroit:

When I read articles or hear one-sided renditions that portray us as second-class citizens who are deserving of such atrocities, a certain level of moral outrage and righteous indignation accompany my feelings. I do not like it one bit.

Flint residents are a hopeful people. In the face of insurmountable odds, we prevail. At the very least, we try.
Yes, it is undeniable that there are undesirables who cause problems, but I would submit that they would even do better if provided positive opportunities, alternatives and resources. No one, regardless of what they say, wants to be perceived as second-class citizens or inferior beings of lower status and significance. Everyone wants to be appreciated, loved, encouraged and have the opportunity to add value. Some people just do not know how.

I can offer a litany of people from Flint who are successful in their chosen endeavors and do what they can to make a difference in their small corner of the world. These individuals range from teachers, coaches, professors, businesspersons, authors, entrepreneurs, public sector employees, doctors and the list goes on.

Read the rest here.

JFK Heard of Flint

Gerald Ford Heard of Flint

Richard Nixon Heard of Flint

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Implosion Party


While this may look like the aftermath of the infamous New Year's Eve parties at the Capitol Theater in the eighties, it's actually an eerie post Genesee Towers implosion photo from Glen Fairweather.

Never heard of the raucous Capitol Parties? Go here.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Past, Present and Future of Flint



I want to comment on a recent article about Flint that was posted today on the PolicyMic website. Obviously, I didn’t write it. The author interviewed me for 45 minutes about Flint. I told her about my book — Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City — and my experiences growing up in Flint. As I always do, I emphasized that despite its well-documented problems, there are positive, hopeful things happening in the city where four generations of my family lived.  I pointed out that there are a lot of talented people working very hard to make it a better place. I suggested she talk to people like Michael Freeman and Perry Compton, who restored their home in Carriage Town, and Pastor Sherman McCathern of Joy Tabernacle Church, who is doing great things in Civic Park. I feel they represent the real essence of the city.

I also gave permission to use any photos I took from the Flint Expatriates website, but I didn’t choose the photos. Of course, I had no control whatsoever over the finished article, the angle, the content, or the headline. That’s a choice that’s left to the reporters and editors who interview me. But in this particular case, I wish the author would have devoted less space to all the negative statistics and old news about Flint’s decline, and more to the inspiring residents of my hometown who are using innovative approaches to improve the city.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merry Christmas from Flint Expatriates


As Flint Expatriates embarks on its annual holiday break, Flintoid Tom Pohrt supplies some Christmas memories from Sears in Flint, circa 1960:

As I recall I was just notified that I was on the "naughty list" for that year. Even under a whithering look I was always quick on my feet. I countered, questioning whether Santa was up on his union dues. Got your number Mr. P2 14207.... and I'm 'checkin' it twice. It was a tense moment in negotiations when this picture was taken. That was a bummer as the Sears catalogue toy section was the BEST! Can't recall the outcome.

My brothers on the other hand always fared better than I as evident in their classic mid 50's Santa photo.

Check out the sadistic Santa on another photo card holder from Sears. Bah humbug! Wow man, the artist they hired that year to illustrate this must have had a rough one. Those reindeer look absolutely terrified under Santa's whip. CHILL SANTA CHILL !





Genesee Towers, R.I.P.

The demise of Genesee Towers on December 22, 2013. (Image by Shawn Chittle)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Genesee Towers: Dead Building Walking

Okay, this is totally irrational and based on no real evidence. I’m sure the implosion crew knows what its doing. So why do I have this nagging, crazy worry that somehow Genesee Towers will manage to take the Mott Foundation Building down with it? GT is arguably Flint’s ugliest building, and it can’t be easy residing across an alley from what many consider the Vehicle City’s loveliest structure. How would you like to be a poorly maintained, watered-down example of the International Style hulking next to the soaring, Art Deco splendor of the most important building in Flint? There has to be some pent up resentment there.

I don’t want to get into a discussion of class warfare, but GT has always had money problems.  And let’s be blunt, the Mott Foundation building is loaded! We like to pretend money can’t buy you happiness, but come on. The years of constantly being reminded of how the 1% lives can’t be easy. It’s a little like driving a Chevy Aveo when your neighbor cruises around in a Park Avenue. (Sorry, for the dated reference, but I’m unaware of what passes for a luxury car in the Buick line these days.)

Then there’s the whole plural name thing. It’s Genesee Towers, with an “s”. See, it’s supposed to be two buildings stacked on top of each other. Yes, the lower-level parking deck counts as a separate building. Constantly correcting people has to get old after a while. And trying to laugh it off with “The building so nice they named it twice!” doesn’t help. Just not funny. The Mott Foundation Building doesn’t have to deal with that sort of thing. It’s above it all. It’s just one building and that’s more than enough. When you’re old money, you just don’t have to prove yourself.

Desperate buildings do desperate things. Is it so far fetched to think that the spirits animating Genesee Towers might be staring at their next-door neighbor and whispering, “If I'm going down, I'm taking you with me”?

Friday, December 20, 2013

A father, a Son, and a Grand Prix

Randy Gearhart with his Pontiac Grand Prix on the day he graduated from Northern in 1968. He used to cruise through the Clio Road Arby's and the A & W. "I guess that a good many of the miles on this car were 'Clio Road Crusin’ Miles,'" he says.


Randy Gearhart may live in Georgia now, but he is definitely a “Flint guy.” He lived at 2314 Ohio Street, a few blocks from the A.C., before moving to 2913 Mallery Street, just off Ballenger. He went to Washington Elementary and Longfellow before graduating from Northern in 1968. He was home from college in the summer of 1969 working at A.M. Davison’s when he met his future wife, Debbi Reburn, across the street in the Carriage Room at Smith B’s. She worked the counter where he often went for lunch or a Tall Texan, more commonly known as a chocolate soda.
 

Even his name sounds like Flint.
 

Randy has a story to tell about his father and growing up in The Vehicle City. It was originally posted on Flint Expatriates on August 14, 2008.

My dad, Robert Gearhart, was superintendent of labor relations at Fisher Body Plant #2. In late November, 1964, he told me that I could pick out our family’s next car. It would be replacing our 1962 Chevrolet Impala.

Wow! Really? I had just turned 14 a couple months earlier. What a responsibility. What an honor.

I started looking through our most recent issues of Look and Life to see the new season’s offerings. Turning the magazine pages, I suddenly stopped. There she was. I had to look no further. The Pontiac Grand Prix.



The original magazine advertisement that caught Randy's eye.

I told dad that this was the car I wanted us to get. We got in our Applegate Chevy and rode over to Superior Pontiac/Cadillac on Dort Highway. Dad put in the order. A few weeks later, we got “the call” that our new car was ready for pick up.
One week after we took delivery of our new Grand Prix, on a gray December day, my dad suffered a heart attack. He died in the hall outside his office at Fisher Body.

He was only 40.

He had purchased an insurance policy that would pay off the car in case of his death. That was a good thing. But, that shiny, new, paid-off Pontiac became so much more than just a car to me. It was a connection to a man who loved his family and a dad who trusted a pimply-faced kid to make one of the most important purchase decisions a family can make.

The older I get, the more that act of trust means to me.


Thanks, Dad.

Monday, December 16, 2013

James O'Dea on the Flint Label

 James O'Dea in Flint. (Photo courtesy of UM-Flint)

UM-Flint student James O'Dea, whose great grandfather was a Sit-Down striker, reflects on what loyalty to Flint really means in a compelling essay entitled "Hyphen Flint."
When I told my high school teachers my plan to revive Flint, the usual response was a grin and a chuckle—like how you’d respond to a little boy who promises to grow up to be an astronaut and a cowboy. But most of them at least seemed to admire my passion and optimism—the same lack of apathy that alienated me from so many of my peers. The good teachers were the one redeeming factor of a high school (and town) well known for being spoiled, snobbish and fake. In Grand Blanc, your GPA wasn’t as much an indicator of your future university as was the label on your clothes.
 Read the rest here. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Flint Photos: Buick Car Carrier

 Remember these car carriers roaring around Flint? Dan Doser passed along this photo. His dad hauled new Buicks out of Flint from 1950-1985.

Flint Artifacts: Buick City Paint Team Patch

Working together...with a paint robot. Thanks to Shawn Chittle for the Flint Artifact.

Staying Put

It may be hard for Flint Expatriates and the other refugees from shrinking cities to believe, but Americans are moving less.

Annie Lowrey of The New York Times Magazine reports:
This is in part a result of the decline of manufacturing and the rise of the service economy. Heavy industries like steel making tend to cluster in certain parts of the country, whereas services like fast-food sales, pool cleaning and day care tend to blanket it. Even in the heyday of American steel making, a smelter operator’s job search was rather limited geographically. Today, a day care worker can look for a job anywhere — and she would probably be able to find one close to home. 

Jobs by the Numbers

"In 1955 General Motors employed nearly 600,000 people. Today, in a much larger economy, Google employs fewer than 50,000; eBay employs about 20,000 people in the United States; Facebook fewer than 6,000."
— Jeff Madrick, Harper's Magazine.

The Economics of Community Space

While Flint continues to transform its struggling downtown into a place where residents can gather in community spaces, tech companies in San Francisco are taking a different approach that's reminiscent of the bunker mentality that defined projects like the original Renaissance Center in Detroit.

Allison Arieff of The New York Times writes:
Tech companies are scrambling to move into cities — there are rumors that Google is going to move here, to San Francisco, from Mountain View. VISA and Akamai have ditched the suburbs to come here. Tech tenants now fill 22 percent of all occupied office space in San Francisco — and represented a whopping 61 percent of all office leasing in the city last year. But they might as well have stayed in their suburban corporate settings for all the interacting they do with the outside world. The oft-referred-to “serendipitous encounters” that supposedly drive the engine of innovation tend to happen only with others who work for the same company. Which is weird.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Signed Teardown Bookplates for the Holidays



UPDATE: I have five signed bookplates left. Get 'em while they last.

I have a limited number of bookplates that I'd be happy to sign and mail to you if you'd like to personalize your copy of Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City. The plates are 4 by 3 inches and can be affixed to the title page of the book. Or your car bumper if that's what you're into. It's a nice touch if you plan to give Teardown as a holiday gift. (Hint, hint.) Just email me (gyoung(at)flintexpats(dot)com) with your address, and I'll drop one in the mail for you. Thanks.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Flint Artifacts: Wide Awake Club

Was the Wide Awake Club The Flint Journal's finest achievement?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years After JFK's Death

 JFK at Atwood Stadium in Flint, Michigan.

An anonymous comment from the Flint Expatriates blog reflecting on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago:
"I started kindergarten at Civic Park in 1959. Lived on Walter Street near Bassett Park. On November 22, 1963 I was on my way to class when another student came running down the hall yelling in a deep southern accent, "Yippee, they killed Kennedy." We filed into Mr. Jorgenson's science class, which was in the basement level. He was very solemn. After we were seated and quiet he said, "I can't tell you what has happened today but I can tell you that you will remember this day for the rest of your lives." Then we were all excused and sent home. My parents were already home watching the television. They both had tears in their eyes even though they had supported Nixon in the election. My father was a decorated combat Marine from WWII. I had never seen him shed a tear. This had a huge effect on me."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In Memory of Dave Starr, One of Flint's Best


My friend Dave Starr died on Tuesday at the well-kept Civic Park home in Flint where he and his wife, Judy, had lived since 1968. Dave had been fighting cancer, and it finally overwhelmed him.

Personally, it's hard to lose a friend. But I feel that Dave's passing is a bigger loss for Flint. He epitomized what is great about the city. And, yes, Dave still thought it was a great place, despite all the well-documented problems that afflict it. Dave was proud of his work, and he appended each of his emails with a line that summed up the dedication and endurance that defined him and the city where he lived most of his life: "Retired Shop Rat — 14,647 days in a GM Plant." Clearly, Dave was one of those people who always showed up. He was there, unfailingly, for his family, friends and neighbors. Life is not easy in Civic Park, but Dave never gave up. He never quit. And he never got bitter, even though no one would have blamed him if he had. I will miss him, and the hometown he loved will be a different place without him.

I met Dave for the first time in his backyard on a warm summer evening in 2009. He had gathered with his neighbors at dusk for a meeting of the Milbourne Avenue Block Club. Dave had set up a big industrial fan with an orange extension cord to chase away the humidity, and Judy served ice-cold lemonade. For a couple hours, the residents of the block talked about ways to combat blight, economic decline, and the weeds that looked more like trees springing up on the vacant lots that dotted the surrounding streets. We all had a good time. It was a welcome reminder that even though the national media seemed to have given up on Flint, many of the city's residents had not.

Although I'd grown up just a few blocks away on Bassett Place, I was a stranger to Dave that evening. I'd returned to Flint after living in San Francisco for more than a decade. I was a journalist working on a story and pursuing an ill-conceived plan to reconnect with my hometown by purchasing a house. I sensed that Dave thought I was a little nuts, but he was a kind, welcoming, trusting person with a great sense of humor. We were different in many ways, but we had a lot in common. We'd both grown up in the Catholic school system. I worked bingo with my mom in the St. Michael's cafeteria where Dave and Judy were married. We both loved Luigi's pizza. I became friends with the Starrs. They endured my endless visits and phone calls while I completed Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City. Dave even showed me how to make bullets and took me to a local shooting range. I managed to cut my hand on the gun, smear blood all over myself, and have an embarrassing anxiety attack, but Dave took it all in stride. After we left the range, he spread our targets out on the seat between us to reveal that most of the shots were close to the center, including mine. "You did good," he said, before offering me a Life Saver and launching into a great story about the time he shot an elephant gun and almost dislocated his shoulder.

The night I met Dave and Judy, it was impossible not to notice the major construction project underway in their backyard. I seriously thought Dave might be building a bomb shelter or some sort of panic room. It turned out that he was in the middle stages of creating a 3,000-gallon pond with a filtration system and a cascading waterfall. He'd been working on it since 2007 and planned to fill it with water lilies and other plants. He hadn't decided if he would stock it with koi or smaller, double-tailed wakin goldfish. "One of my neighbors suggested catfish," Dave said, smiling. "I think he's looking forward to a cookout or something. We may have to consider it if the economy keeps going like this."

His enthusiasm built as he detailed the work that was left to be done, but he finally paused as he surveyed the cement-block retaining wall, the deep hole, and the high mound of dirt near his garage. "I planned to get a lot done this summer, but this cancer thing might slow me down."

I asked how much the pond would cost from start to finish. He fig­ured about $8,000. I tried not to look surprised. I wondered if it was more than the house was worth. Dave looked at me as if he knew what I was thinking.

"Some people might think we're old-fashioned or strange, but this is not just a house where we live. This is our home, and we're going to take care of it," he said. "You can either run away from your problems or you can stay and fight."

Dave's fight is over now. I hope that he's gone on to a better place, the kind of place the nuns told us about when we were both kids at St. Mike's. And I hope that all of us who care about dear old Flint follow Dave's example. Now is not the time to give up.

Dave Starr's obituary and funeral information is available here.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

John Auchter: A Cartoon, a desk, and the End of an Era

(Originally published in the Ann Arbor News, Bay City Times, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Jackson Citizen Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, Saginaw News
November 10, 2013)

Cartoonist extraordinaire from the Flint area John Auchter weighs in on the demise of Delphi East. Here's some background on the cartoon from John's blog, Auchtoon!:
Growing up in Flint, there were many, many GM facilities scattered in and around town. But the four main complexes were Buick, Chevy in the Hole, Truck and Bus, and AC Spark Plug. Truck and Bus is the only one now still functioning (and actually doing quite well turning out Silverados). Most of what was AC Spark Plug has been gone for quite some time, but the last piece (which final name was Delphi Flint East) is no more. I thought it appropriate to draw a cartoon to mark the occasion. But I didn’t want to do the typical reminiscing of the good ol’ days or the lamenting of the loss thereof. No, the main reaction I had was to the folks not from Flint (or Detroit or Saginaw) who confidently chime in to tell us who was solely to blame: “It was the unions!” “It was General Motors!” “It was the lazy workers!” “It was the incompetent management.”
Yeah, sure. All that and more. But if you’re not from Flint, you have no real appreciation for the subtleties and complexities of how things turned out the way they have. And it’s more than a little annoying to have somebody tell you with great confidence how AC Spark Plug would be a humming beehive of activity if only they had been in charge. I don’t think so. There are historical reasons for why things turned out the way they did. There were some very bad decisions, but there were also some great successes, and we would be wise to learn from both.
So the two folks choking each other to death is more of a cautionary tale for those who have never been to Flint but think they know exactly what happened there. I purposely didn’t draw them as a blue collar guy with a lunch bucket and hard hat, and a rich guys with a top hat and monocle. That’s the past. Future problems are more likely to be caused by folks who appear relatively the same but are still playing the blame game.
Regardless of their content, all of John's cartoons have a Flint connection:
"The drawing table I use (and have used for nearly 30 years) was originally a drafting table from AC Spark Plug," John wrote in an email. "Joe Peltier was/is a friend of mine from Holy Redeemer and Powers days. His father (Hamilton) was an engineer at AC. When they purged the old wooden drafting tables in favor of the modern steel ones, Ham took one home and put it in his basement. I saw it at some point (and coveted it), and my father eventually made a deal with Ham to get it for me as a college graduation gift. (I think a bottle or two of booze was the barter.) It's pretty sweet."

MacLeese Unleashed


It turns out that the life of Alan MacLeese is even more compelling than his much-loved columns in The Flint Journal. Roger Van Noord, the former managing editor at the Journal, has captured MacLeese's peripatetic journey in a new book entitled Unleashed: A Storyteller's Odyssey:
An unforgettable storyteller, Al MacLeese delighted in recounting his escapades in the Navy and during journalism’s hard-drinking era, when bosses fired him with astonishing regularity. He counted 47 newsroom jobs in a 15-year stretch, drifting from Miami to San Francisco to Boston. In one forced migration after falling asleep drunk at a Golden Gate Bridge tollgate, he was jailed when he instigated confrontations on a bus and a fracas in the bus station. While being questioned by police, he blurted a confession to a triple ax murder. “Unleashed: A storyteller’s odyssey” tells the history of a man under the influence. MacLeese was awash in indiscretions until his fourth wife, Connie, stabilized his life. He became an award-winning columnist, merging funny with fearless, in writing about the good, the bad and the ugly of his life and the world around him. He introduced -- and jousted with -- a gadfly named Michael Moore, years before Moore reached stardom as a moviemaker. With Connie and his column, he experienced as many “driblets of happiness” as he felt he deserved before his career foundered after an editorial dust-up, nationally publicized by Moore. When his wife died, he found a new home and a new family of friends in Hallowell, Maine, while still captivating audiences with his stories, battling his demons and continuing to seek fulfillment, as a man and as a writer. In “Unleashed,” MacLeese’s distinctive writing voice tells much of his history through excerpts from his often earthy correspondence and his “MacLeese Unleashed” columns. An extension of a columnist’s career cut too short, his correspondence provides a window into his quirky persona and his life on the edge. In his emails from Hallowell, MacLeese combined the frankness of a letter to a friend with the quality of a column -- with his own flair, his self-deprecating humor and such delightful detail as his understated description of a meeting with the “Second Christ” and his frustration in waiting for a 106-year-old great aunt to die so he can collect an inheritance.
Peter C. Cavanugh, Flint's own rock 'n roll impresario, gives the book his seal of approval: "“Unleashed” offers an extraordinary reading experience and abundant opportunity for comforting introspective reflection as one ponders the amazingly inspiring words of Alan MacLeese – gone from us now — but never to be forgotten."

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Buick Literary Sighting

"Daddy swore out loud and rushed to the garage where Hilton kept the company limousine, a shiny black Buick. We had two of them — Dynaflows, with the chromed, oval-shaped ventiports along the front fenders. Daddy opened the garage doors and got in the car, but he didn't start it. He got back out and shouted up to the house, 'Annie! Where does Hilton keep the keys to this goddamn thing?'"
— Rachel Kushner, Telex from Cuba

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Final Act of an Industrial Icon


It's official. 

The final 287 jobs at Delphi Flint East have been shipped off to Mexico, bringing to a close the eventful and illustrious manufacturing history that took place on a stretch of N. Dort Highway in Flint.

The site began as a Dort Motor Company plant; became the world headquarters of A.C. Spark Plug; and, at various points, fell under the auspices of General Motors, Delco Systems, and Delphi. As Jeremy Allen of The Flint Journal explains, the site's confusing history was peppered with bankruptcies and strikes:
On June 11, 1998, Flint East followed in the footsteps of Flint Metal Fab, taking part in one of the longest strikes in GM history. The 54-day strike for which Flint East was a part almost stalled operations for the entire company within two weeks.

On July 28, GM agreed to the investment to Flint Metal Fab and to keep Flint East open until at least 2000.The union agreed to cooperate on efforts to increase productivity at both plants. The strike cost GM an estimated US$2.8 billion.
It's a confusing, chaotic trajectory, but the bottom line is that the place many Flintoids knew simply as Plant 43 is no more.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hoping for the Best in an Age of Uncertainty

Sherry Lee Linkon, writing about Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City in Times Higher Education, reminds us that there are no tidy, clear-cut solutions for shrinking cities like Flint:
While scholars and urban planners throughout the US and Europe debate strategies for revitalising former industrial cities that are “shrinking”, “forgotten” or “failing”, Young reminds us that storytelling, including the kind of inconclusive ending we might find in a contemporary novel, sometimes reveals more than the most careful study can. Better yet, a good story shows us why we should care, even if it doesn’t provide any solutions.
And she points out that while Flint may seem unique to me and those of us who grew up there, the city's plight is, in many ways, all too familiar:
Flint will survive, he tells us, because it has many “tough people fighting…in their own ways”. But it will be a long, hard battle without a triumphant conclusion: Flint will never again be “a bastion of the middle class”. At best, it might become “a different place that still had pride and dignity”. That may sound like a disappointing conclusion, but it’s an honest one. The economic and social challenges of the post-industrial austerity economy are complex, and we may never return to past prosperity. Like Flintoids, we need to keep fighting in our own ways.
Read the entire review here.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Flint Photos: Connor Coyne

Flint writer Connor Coyne arrives in Chicago via his minivan/chariot/objet d'art for the publication of his latest novel, Shattering Glass.

Flint Artifacts: 1977 IHL All-Star Game Button