Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tell Us Something We Don't Already Know

Ryan Avent of The Economist writes:
"Cities that had relatively skilled populations in 1980 have become more skilled and more productive, and have generally featured fast-rising wages and housing costs. Places that were relatively less skilled, by contrast, have stayed that way and have mostly experienced a growing wage and productivity gap with the high flyers."

Paul Spaniola of Paul's Pipe Shop Turns 100

Obviously not the best shot of Paul Spaniola, but this photo captures "old Flint" better than anything I've seen in a long time. It's the city as I remember it. Some things don't change in the Vehicle City. (Special thanks to Sammy Jo Hester of the Flint Journal, a great photojournalist, for the shot. See her other work here.)

The ultimate survivor, Paul Spaniola, is 100 years old. Paul and his family have managed to keep the venerable Paul's Pipe Shop in downtown Flint going, despite Flint's well-documented socio-economic swan dive. And as a Catholic school kid, I have to admire his cordial relationship with the local nuns, as evidenced by the photo above.

Speaking of Paul and nuns, the Flint Journal's Scott Atkinson relates this story in an excellent piece on Spaniola's birthday:
At the party at the pipe shop, his children recounted the story of when Spaniola was in the sixth grade at Catholic school and the nun told him he had to spend the rest of the day in a closet. There was one problem with her plan -- the closet had a window.

Spaniola jumped out the window and took off, making it back just in time to be let out by the nun, who, as the story goes, had no idea.

Now 100, Spaniola may stand as a living testament to those who want to break all the rules -- like staying in school and not smoking.

Flint Postcards: Mar-Jo Motel, Restaurant and Service Station in 1960



Monday, January 28, 2013

Morrissey Lands in Hospital After Canceling Flint Concert


I know Flint can be a stressful place, but is it really this bad? Billboard reports:
Morrissey has been diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer after being hospitalized in Royal Oak, Mich. last week. According to a rep for the singer, the 53-year-old is expected to make a full recovery, but has rescheduled six upcoming tour dates due to the ailment.

MSU Medical Students Coming to Flint

Here's a little good news. The old Flint Journal building in downtown Flint will soon be home to an estimated 100 third- and fourth-year medical students from Michigan State University, along with MSU public health researchers.

Shaun Byron of Mlive reports
MSU's College of Human Medicine had announced plans in late 2011 to expand its medical education and public health programs in Flint, utilizing a $2.8 million grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

The property consists of 200,000 square feet of building space and more than 5 acres of land.

The lease includes about 40,000 square feet of office and teaching space in the building, according to a press statement from MSU officials.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Have College Degree, Will Travel

If you're hoping for something positive when New York Times columnist David Brooks references Flint, you're bound to be disappointed:
The highly educated cluster around a few small nodes. Decade after decade, smart and educated people flock away from Merced, Calif., Yuma, Ariz., Flint, Mich., and Vineland, N.J. In those places, less than 15 percent of the residents have college degrees. They flock to Washington, Boston, San Jose, Raleigh-Durham and San Francisco. In those places, nearly 50 percent of the residents have college degrees.

Buick Electra 225

This is how Flint used to roll...1970 Buick Electra 225.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

Flint Artifacts: Makuch's Red Rooster Plate


This is a pewter salad plate from Makuch's Red Rooster. The Flint landmark closed Oct. 1, 2012. It was the last of the linen-tablecloth-and-tableside-cooking restaurants left in Flint. Thanks to Bob Garrison for this artifact of old Flint.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Morrissey's Sick...Again


It seems Flint is not destined to be graced by the presence of Morrissey, former lead singer of the influential eighties band The Smiths. The Mancunian cancelled tonight's concert at Whiting Auditorium. This cancellation comes after he was a no-show at the original date in the fall. So that makes the score Morrissey 2 — Flint 0. Don't feel too bad. El Moz bails on a lot of shows. He's a delicate flower.

As I wrote in SF Weekly in 2009, after yet another canceled show that I had planned to attend, Morrissey fans are used to this sort of thing:
It's the third Bay Area performance that Morrissey has canceled over the years. Fans arriving at his Golden Gate Park gig in 2004 were greeted by a burly usher shouting "The Morrissey's sick. No Morrissey today," which isn't a Smiths lyric but should have been.
This time the excuse was simply "illness." Well, you can't say he didn't warn you.

So, no more apologies
no more apologies
I'm too tired
I'm too sick and tired
and I'm feeling very sick and ill today

  What Difference Does It Make?/The Smiths 


UPDATE: It appears it was the illness of two band members, not Mozzer, that led to the cancellation. All is forgiven!


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

1973: The Tipping Point for Flint?

It's hard to pinpoint the year that Flint reached the point of no return, the juncture when the city's post-war prosperity ended for good. There's no definitive answer. But the tipping point may have been 1973, when I was a seven-year-old student at Saint Michael’s on the edge of downtown. That’s the year C. S. Mott died at the ripe old age of ninety-seven. His foundation would live on, continuing to generously fund local initiatives and projects around the world, but it was hard to imagine the Vehicle City without the paternalistic guidance of "Mr. Flint." It was also the year when the OPEC oil embargo caused a spike in gas prices, followed by fuel shortages and lines at service stations. GM was near peak employment in the Flint area, with roughly eighty thousand workers at the time, but the crisis triggered a round of layoffs, a trend that would plague the city for decades as “Generous Motors” abandoned its birthplace in search of cheaper labor in right-to-work states and foreign countries. It's also the year that the Durant Hotel, named after G.M.'s flamboyant founder, closed its doors. Flint would never be the same.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Flint Postcards: Flint from the Air

Here's a not-so-fun game, can you identify the buildings that are no longer with us?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What's in a Name?

Are people from Flint known as Flintoids? Flintonians? Flintstones? Flintites?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Barnett Jones: Working for a Living?


John Wisely of The Detroit Free Press reports:
Flint’s administrator of public safety resigned this morning after the Free Press raised questions about how he could work there while also working as the head of security for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Barnett Jones, a longtime lawman in southeast Michigan, was earning $273,750 at the two jobs, which are almost 70 miles apart. He had been working both since May.

Flint Photos: The Old YWCA and YMCA

The old YWCA on 1st Street. (Photo by Mary Fisher)


The old YMCA on Kearsley. Note the phone booth in front. (Photo by Mary Fisher)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Howie Makem: Alive and Well and Looking for Love in Reno

With "a head the size of a Datsun," Howie Makem prowls the line looking for quality in this illustration for a 1986 Mother Jones article on Ben Hamper. (Photo supplied by Shawn Chittle)

Howie Makem, the legendary G.M. Quality Cat who was lionized by Ben Hamper in Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line, is apparently alive and well and living in Reno.

Scott Atkinson, the Flint Journal reporter who seems to get all the good stories these days, reports:
He disappeared from the General Motors shop floor a long time ago, but the Quality Cat is back -- at least in digital form.

Howie Makem, the one-time mascot of General Motors who roamed the shops cheering on workers, recently started his own Facebook page.

(Okay, so it might not actually be Howie, but it's far more fun to pretend.) 
Here's Hamper's description of Howie:
Howie Makem stood five feet nine. He had light brown fur, long synthetic whiskers and a head the size of a Datsun. He wore a long red cape emblazoned with the letter Q for Quality. A very magical cat, Howie walked everywhere on his hind paws. Cruelly, Howie was not entrusted with a dick.
Howie would make the rounds poking his floppy whiskers in and out of each department. A "Howie sighting" was always cause for great fanfare. The workers would scream and holler and jump up and down on their workbenches whenever Howie drifted by. Howie Makem may have begun as just another Company ploy to prod the tired legions, but most of us ran with the joke and soon Howie evolved into a crazy phenomenon.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Joel Rash Brings Music to Downtown Flint



There's a great story on Joel Rash and Flint Local 432, the music venue that's breathing some life into downtown, in The Atlantic Cities.

Michael Seman reports:
"It was a ghost town down here when we started out," Rash recalls. He opened his first Flint music venue back in 1987, in the basement of the historic but waning 2,000-seat Capitol Theater. Chris Everson, general manager of the Flint Downtown Development Authority, recalls the time after a show when the singer of his former band rode naked on a moped for half an hour through the streets of downtown. "No police, nothing," Everson muses. "Nobody was here."
Rash's efforts show that Flint's revival will be spurred by a series of smaller, grass-roots efforts that build into real change for the city:
"Coinciding with Flint Local 432’s success, in the 2000s the city and nonprofits alike coalesced around a renewed interest in the potential of Flint’s downtown, resulting in streetscape improvements, building renovations, art walk events, and successful summer festivals. "It was organic, not top-down," Rash says. "It was laying the groundwork for a more sustainable, active, diverse, functional downtown."

Flint Photos: Dan Kildee Sworn Into Congress


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Flint Profiles: Sarah Carson


I was happy to discover the poetry of Flint Expatriate Sarah Carson over the holidays. She has two chapbooks — Before OnStar and Twenty-Two — both available on Amazon.  

One of my favorites is In Buick City:
GG inherited the Buick when Mrs. Sacco died, though she hasn't driven it in years. The last time was the morning that little boy followed her home from the grocery store, acted like he had a gun in the lining of his jacket, and told her to hand over her pocketbook. Since then she's kept the car in the garage between the tool bench and the riding mower, climbing in every so often to turn on the radio or admire the chrome around the speedometer. There's a sticker inside the driver's side door says it was made downtown on Leith Street before OnStar, before the hundred thousand mile power train warranty. When Uncle Robert has nothing else to drive, he’ll come pick it up and use it to run his errands. He says he’s surprised how smooth the ride still is.  He thinks it’s cause the car gets so little use, doesn’t drive downtown on the cobblestones or around the potholes on the freeway. I think it’s just cause some things aren’t ever really as bad as they seem.
Although it's not always explicit, her experiences in Flint heavily influence her work."I was born in Flint, but raised in Flushing," she said. "Both my father and grandfather worked at General Motors, and seeing my father's experience with the factory had a huge impact on me. Many of my most vivid childhood memories revolve around the factory — whether it was waiting in traffic on 475 to pick up dad from work or visiting the factory on Take Your Daughter to Work Day or watching my dad deal with the loss of his friends who died or were seriously injured in accidents on the factory floor. After college, I moved back to Flint and lived on the South Side in the Cody School Neighborhood. I left in 2007 and moved to Chicago where I still live. My mother and I, though, are now fixing up a house in Carriage Town — Mayor Ray Brownell's old house across the street from Atwood Stadium!"