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.