Saturday, December 17, 2016

Non-Fiction Flint: Books about the past, present, and future of American cities


If you're looking for the heart, humor, and spirt of Flint, Michigan — and cities like it all over the country — look no further than these four non-fiction books.

I was assigned to the Cab Shop, an area more commonly known to its inhabitants as the Jungle. Lifers had told me that on a scale from one to ten — with one representing midtown Pompeii and ten being then GM Chairman Roger Smith's summer home — the Jungle rates about a minus six.

"It wasn't difficult to see how they had come up with the name for the place. Ropes, wires and assorted black rubber cables drooped down and entangled everything. Sparks shot out in all direction — bouncing in the aisles, flying into the rafters and even ricocheting off the natives' heads. The noise level was deafening. It was like some hideous unrelenting tape loop of trains having sex. I realized instantly that, as far as new homes go, the Jungle left a lot to be desired. Me Tarzan, you screwed.

But on November 4, Americans are taken hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Iran. I fold my papers and stare at pictures of blindfolded Americans. I don't connect the dots. Then, two weeks later, in the middle of a November night, Dad calls from the officers' club in Subic Bay. Mom says he wants to talk to me. I rub the sleep out of my eyes and cradle the phone. He says he's sorry. The boat is being turned around, off to the Persian Gulf, as a show of strength. I don't know what that means. I just know there will be no trip to Hawaii. 
Dad's letters continue to arrive from somewhere in fits and spurts. They used to be marked on the back with the number of days until his return. Now he just circles the seal on the envelope with a question mark and an unhappy face. 
Soon, it's the morning of November 28. Mom sleeps in; Chrissie has been up with the croup. By 11 am, I'm trying, unsuccessfully, to skate backward at the Roller Barn for eighth-grade gym class. I can tell you the electoral-college breakdown of the Carter-Ford presidential election and the status of Kenny Stabler's wobbly knees, but when it comes to the things that confer acceptance upon boys – hitting a baseball, building a catapult for Webelos, roller-skating backward – I'm hopeless. I need someone to show me how, someone to tell me that it really doesn't matter anyway. But that man is always 8,000 miles away. 
So I fall on my ass. The cool kids snicker. My gym teacher calls me over. I'm relieved at first because it stops the laughing. But the teacher's permanently upbeat face has gone flat. She points to a man standing by the snack bar. He wears a black uniform and carries a white hat in his hand. It is Lieutenant Commander Laddie Coburn, Dad's best friend. I slowly skate over and sit down on a bench. He hesitates, sits down next to me, and puts a hand on my knee. 
"Your father has been in an accident."
Demolition Means Progress: Flint, Michigan, and the Fate of the American Metropolis by Andrew Highsmith 
Back in 1945, when Americans celebrated the conclusion of World War II and looked forward to a future of peace and prosperity, Buick historian Carl Crow claimed that the United States consisted of a thousand Flints. Even though many decades have since past, Crow’s words still ring true. From coast to coast, the America of the twenty-first century is, in fact, a thousand Flints, but not at all in the whiggish capacity that Crow envisioned. There are Flints in the economically depressed neighborhoods of Decatur, Illinois; Camden, New Jersey; Erie, Pennsylvania, and other struggling cities once renowned for their industrial might. Flints also exist in hypersegregated ghettos on Chicago’s south and west sides, in Miami’s Overtown district, and in struggling suburbs such as Yonkers, New York; East Palo Alto, California; and Ferguson, Missouri, where the legacies of white supremacy and legal, popular, and administrative Jim Crow continue to abridge civil rights and economic opportunity. However, there are also a thousand Flints in the booming, affluent bastions of suburban capitalism surrounding high-tech metropolises such as San Francisco, Boston, Raleigh, Seattle, and Austin—places like Cupertino, California; Redmond, Washington; and Round Rock, Texas, all of them defined more by fragmentation and exclusion than by cooperation and inclusion. There are Flints on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts as well as in the so-called Rust Belt and Sunbelt, for the conditions of racial, spatial, and economic inequality that took shape in the Vehicle City during the twentieth century know no regional boundaries. Indeed, Flints can be found anywhere in the world where the eternal quest for metropolitan growth and revitalization has buttressed social inequalities. Because it took the full weight of government at all levels along with the efforts of untold numbers of ordinary Americans to construct and fortify the walls that still surround the nation’s Flints, it will require an equally concerted movement of millions to demolish them all and build anew.


Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young
I was headed to a vacant house owned by a friend of mine named Rich. Like me, he had grown up in Flint and eventually moved to San Francisco, where we met. He owned three “investment” properties in Flint, although the fact that all of them were empty indicated they weren’t exactly generating a lot of income. He had happily agreed to let me crash at one of them. “It’s good to have it look like there’s someone actually living there,” he had told me. “It keeps the thieves from steal­ing the plumbing.” 
It took me a while to find the house because downtown still had an inexplicable number of confusing one-way streets, an unnecessary rem­nant of the days when growth and good fortune meant traffic congestion. I’d also never spent much time in the Carriage Town neighborhood. It was unfamiliar terrain when I lived in Flint, a neighborhood to avoid unless you were in the market for drugs, hookers, or an ass kicking. 
Rich’s sister, Berniece, was there to greet me when I finally arrived. She still lived in Flint. Although we’d never met, she showed me around the house like I was an old friend, presenting a very practical house­warming gift—a four-pack of toilet paper. She seemed worried about me, offering advice like “Don’t let anybody you don’t know into the house” and “Be careful who you talk to on the street.” I tried to reas­sure her that I knew how to take care of myself. I was from Flint, after all. But I sensed that my San Francisco pedigree, the new Patagonia shirt with lots of snaps and pockets that I’d bought for the trip, and my teal-striped Pumas were undermining my street cred. 
Before I try to pawn myself off as a minor-league George Orwell writing a Rust Belt version of Down and Out in Paris and London, I should point out that Rich’s house wasn’t as rundown as many in the neighborhood. It was the well-preserved former home of Charles W. Nash, the president of GM in 1912 and founder of Nash Motors. It was just across the street from the Durant-Dort Office Building, the beautifully restored birthplace of GM. Unlike many of Flint’s empty structures, the Nash House had luxuries like plumbing and electricity. The water heater was broken, but a cold shower would be better than nothing. Inexplicably, the place was painted pink, destroying any chance I had of establishing myself as some kind of tough-guy writer, a Buick City Bukowski. 
The wood floors, wraparound porch, handsome stained glass win­dow, and high ceilings oozed Victorian charm. There was no sign of habitation other than an awkwardly modern glass table in the dining room, a couple of folding chairs, and an expensive-looking Persian rug in the living room. Our voices echoed in the empty space. The bulk of the tour was devoted to the house’s four doors and eight locks. The kitchen door had been nailed shut from the inside with a two-by-four after a break-in. The side door was locked and seldom used. If there was a fire, Berniece advised, the front door was my best option, other than the windows. 
“I’ll try not to burn the place down,” I joked. 
“It’s not you I’m worried about,” she answered. Like any city with a lot of abandoned property, Flint houses regularly went up in flames. 
I decided to bed down on the nice rug. Besides adding a little padding, it was close to the fire exit.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Flint Artifacts: Georgia & Ed Funk QSL Card

A Park, an Ice Rink, and a Different Era

David Wilson, a Flint Northern grad, remembers the Ballenger Park ice rink on his Five by Five from the 457 blog:
The memories are as diverse as they are endless. I was actually in Flint a couple of years ago and drove to the Park. I immediately saw that the tennis courts, the fence, the buildings, the sidewalk… they are all gone, the entire area now covered with grass. No matter, getting out of the car and venturing onto the grass was like stepping into a time machine. Closing my eyes, I “saw” the green boxes near the street, I heard the music, I smelled the popcorn. Looking through the fence I saw (and even heard) the hundreds of kids, young and old, circling the rink, laughing, playing tag, standing in the middle. I recalled the smiling face of a beautiful young blond girl named Brenda whom I absolutely adored, yet to whom I probably never spoke more than a single word in four years. I think I might have stammered out “Hi” to her a couple of times (we fellas learn young that some girls are simply unapproachable).
Read the rest here.

Friday, November 25, 2016

101 Books About Where and How We Live

Illustration by Paige Vickers via curbed.com

I'm obviously a little biased because Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City is on it, but this is a great list from Curbed of books on the concept of home...and the past, present and future of where we live.
53. Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young 
Young’s tale of returning to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, couldn't be more timely, and not just because of the city's ongoing infrastructure crisis. Equal parts entertaining and engaging, Young's story of leaving the San Francisco bubble for the Rust Belt showcases people and perspectives who are often left out, and who demand more attention than ever after this election season.
Read the whole list here

Sunday, October 23, 2016

William F. Buckley Jr. Comes to Flint by Stephen Rodrick



In honor of William F. Buckley Jr., journalist and Flint Powers graduate Stephen Rodrick looks back at our encounter with the man who, according to The New York Times, "marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, famously arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse." And endeared himself to many people, including me, who disagreed with his politics.


Take it away, Steve...

In another time, guys hung the heads of dead mammals on their walls. Apparently, they thought this impressed the ladies. But as time passed, proving that you were a hunter lost its aphrodisiac powers with the gatherers. Nowadays, sensitive men have replaced Bambi’s mom with Godard posters, Picasso lithographs, and/or vintage, preferably pre-1979 Debbie Harry shots at CBGB’s.

On my mantel is the key to the City of Flint given to me by William F. Buckley Jr.

This might explain why I am chronically single. It was the spring of 1984, my senior year at Powers Catholic. I had already made a series of fundamental errors: There was the year playing freshman football under the Darwinian Dan Duncan who would have been right at home at Gallipoli. Then there was the time I volunteered to run up to 7-11 and buy Mr. Winchester some smokes only to get my brand new yellow Lands End shirt covered in grass stains and blood after getting picked off like a gimpy antelope by three kids from Flint Northwestern.

Still, my favorite mistake was passing on a chance to see a triple bill of f time for, uh, Spandau Ballet at the Royal Oak Music Theatre. The show was quite entertaining with lots of foppish hair and frilly shirts. I completely disregarded the fact that a middle-aged balding man playing synthesizers provided most of the band’s sound. I forgave a lot because I’d become an Anglophile, which in early 80s Flint made me a jackass.

I blame it on my friends Gordon and Jim. Despite the fact that they both grew up on the not always happy-making streets of Flint, the two of them had developed an obsession with the United Kingdom. Gordie even looked like Sebastian Flyte as played by Anthony Andrews in the BBC production of Brideshead Revisited. Well, except he wasn’t gay — dude was a playa! — and it’s doubtful Sebastian ever placed his face against a yellow legal pad and said, "Man, look how greasy my face is!" Jim’s take was more rock 'n’ roll, perhaps most tragically summed up by his insistence on wearing a Clash T-shirt from their Cut The Crap tour, which was actually just crap.

Somehow the American version of Anglo mutated into preppiness. We all sort of wished we went to a prep school. They just seemed cooler. I remember Jim and I almost picking up two Carman girls at an Our Lady of Lebanon dance by saying we were lacrosse players from Cranbrook. (This was slightly less entertaining than the OLOL Dance held on the night of the Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney fight, where I drank an entire bottle of Mad Dog and then proceeded to tell everyone that I was, in fact, Gerry Cooney. Ah, so many memories.)

No human being better personified the American-as-Englishman than William F. Buckley Jr., Firing Line host, spy novelist, and former New York City mayoral candidate. He spoke in a clipped, hesitating manner accentuated by excellent arching eyebrows. In the spring of 1984, the Flint glitterati laid off some more Buick City workers, pooled the savings, and announced that Buckley was speaking at the Whiting Auditorium and then attending a cocktail party at the University of Michigan-Flint (or maybe it was Mott Community College.)

Luckily, we had a friend named Jon Kells who had a really hot sister, but more importantly in this context, a dad who taught at Michigan-Flint. We scored tickets to the speech and reception, but that wasn’t enough. We gamed the extremely limited flights arriving at Bishop from New York City and cut our afternoon classes to meet Buckley at the airport. Some guys blew off class to get blow jobs or smoke pot, we cut out of Mr. K’s choir torture so we could accost a middle-aged man at the airport.

It seemed right at the time. The best thing was this was celeb-free Flint and three camera crews showed up at the airport! WFB, as his friends called him, made some brief remarks, none of which, I swear, touched on his 1960s support for segregation. After a few minutes, he was rushed away, declining our offer of a ride. We barely touched the hem of his Brook Brothers suit.

I don’t remember much from his Whiting speech. He used a lot of words I never heard of and there were some empty seats; I mean it wasn’t The Nutcracker, what do you expect? The reception was held in some prof’s drafty, vaguely gothic house that probably could be bought for $127,000 back then and could probably be bought for $126,000 now. It was a momentous night for me: my first cocktail party. Now two decades later I know every cocktail party is exactly the same—intolerable made bearable by creeping drunkenness and the idea you’ve been there long enough to split without pissing off the hosts who you probably don’t even like, and hell, the alternative was staying home at watching Homicide: Life On the Street on DVD—but at the time it seemed like something, well, out of an Evelyn Waugh novel. Buckley was pounding vodka and grapefruit and had a frozen look on his ruddy face that I now realize was half public persona, half get me the fuck out of here. Waves of assistant professors shook his hand and asked him what he really thought about Gore Vidal, who I didn’t know. Well, I don’t know him now, but I at least know of him.

I don’t know if it was the early spring weather or middle-aged smart folks starved for a little intellectual glitter, but all the grown-ups got stinking drunk, like stinking straight-night at the Copa drunk. After an hour or so, Buckley had enough. His blue eyes began searching for his designated driver. Alas, he found him, but the hapless or happy prof was wasted beyond even the lax Michigan DUI standards of the mid-80s.

He then turned to us, and stage-whispered, "Say, are you boys still good for that ride (pronounced rhiiide)?" We nodded yes. Then Buckley grabbed his Mackintosh and muttered, "Let’s get out of here, then." He said goodbye to no one, which seemed quite British and awesome.

We went out to my car. Buckley blanched for just a moment when he noticed it was a two-tone Chevy Chevette. He piled into the passenger seat and placed his black loafers down on a sea of Taco Bell wrappers and a boom box holding the first Smiths cassette. I lurched the car into drive. Someone asked a complicated question about Reagan and Thatcherism that Buckley answered with a bon mot so heavily accented in alcohol and an American accent not known to common men that I floored the Chevette through a blood red light on Saginaw Street. Buckley didn’t lose his cool, offering just a cautionary stuttering of, "Ah, ah, ah," as he pointed his patrician forefinger toward the next potentially lethal intersection.

It’s a moment I thought of recently after the death of the writer David Halberstam who perished after a Cal Berkeley journalism student ferrying him to an interview with Y.A. Tittle turned left on red with tragic results. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was Buckley’s Yale-educated and old school Catholic God waving off the traffic, but we didn’t get broadsided by a Chevy Blazer.

Buckley was staying at the recently opened and soon to be shuttered Hyatt Regency. As we pulled into the circular drive, I screeched the Chevette to a stop and shut down my V-4. "Now, now, that was an adventure," said Buckley with a smile. I asked him if he could sign something as a memento for me. "I, I think I can do better than that." He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small, blue velvety case. His manicured finger popped the case open. Inside was a gold key. The inscription read, “From the Citizens of Flint, Michigan.” Buckley pulled out a fountain pens and signed, "To Stephen, Best Wishes, William F. Buckley." He gathered his trench coat and disappeared into the revolving doors.

Within a few years of the encounter, I stopped buying Buckley’s novels and sailing books and became, quite frankly, ashamed at my earlier conservative leaning, over-compensating with votes for Jesse Jackson and Ralph Nader. (I still am a bit of an Anglophiliac, I’m listening to "The Kinks Are The Village Preservation Society" as I write this.) For years, the Buckley note remained buried in a drawer, a reminder of a not so happy time in my life. I took it out a few years ago, and thought about it in a different way: here was a famous man who, when confronted with three slightly insane teenage fans with varying hygiene and acne issues, treated us with grace. I work as a journalist in New York now and sometimes cover politics. I thought I might run into Buckley at some similarly lame cocktail party. It never happened. Perhaps it was just as well. Not even Evelyn Waugh could write a better second act.

Flint Artifacts: Buick Podium


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Flint Artifacts: Food Stamp Credit Tokens


Is there anything that someone won't collect? Apparently not.

Via CoinWeek, Bruce Smith writes:

Though there has been little collector interest in them, most food stamp tokens are actually RARE. Why? When the tokens were discontinued, Neil Shafer in Milwaukee went to the manufacturer in LaCrosse and purchased all the samples kept by the company for reference. All uncirculated and mostly in full sets, thousands of these sets were sold around 1980 through auctions by Christensen & Stone (Temple City, CA) and later by other token dealers. I tried to buy every Missouri set in the C & S sales, but I missed a few — and never saw them offered again until the past year or so. 
Back in the 1980s these tokens were generally only sold in full sets, for $2 to $3 a set. The ones I missed that’ve turned up on eBay in the past year I was unable to buy at $15 to $20 a set. The reason most of these tokens are rare is because most of them only exist as samples from the manufacturer — who was unlikely to have kept more than two or three sets from each issuer. The stores most likely threw away the ones they had on hand. Many store owners believed, incorrectly, that the tokens were also illegal to own (or collect) if you were not registered in the program.


Flint Artifacts: 1957 St. Matt's Yearbook


Another yearbook for another school that no longer exists in Flint, Michigan.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rich Frost, 1954 -2016

I just learned that Rich Frost, who was born and raised in Flint, died in March. Rich and I corresponded via email and our blogs for nearly ten years, bonding over our shared experience of growing up in the Vehicle City. We never actually met in person, but I feel like we had a connection, even if it was via cyberspace. I'll miss him and my heart goes out to his friends and family.

Rich was a regular contributor to Flint Expatriates over the years, often letting me post items from his blog, called What the Hell. It's filled with his thoughts on life, growing up in Flint, and, especially, his work in the radio world and his thoughts on music.

I've included below just a few of Rich's essays that appeared on Flint Expatriates. You can also check out a fairly accurate rundown of all the comments and items on the blog that Rich logged by going here.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Rich created the most popular post in Flint Expatriates history. There are lots of "You know you're from Flint" lists floating around out there, but Rich started it all with a list that I shared on Flint Expats. He wasn't delusional about the place where we grew up. But like many of us, he loved Flint despite its well-documented problems.

Rest in peace, Rich. You will be missed.


Art and Commerce at Sav-More Drugstore
By Rich Frost
December 30, 2008

When it comes to drug stores in Flint, Sav-More could not compare to any Herrlich’s or Cook’s Drug Store, especially their downtown Flint locations. Sav-More was on Second Street across from the Capitol Theater in the building that was later to house Grandmother’s Kitchen. It was a little bigger than a shoe box, but that’s not to say that its didn’t have a lot to offer customers.

There was a period after my parents divorced that my mom worked as a short-order cook at the restaurant in the Greyhound bus station nearby. Occasionally, I would hang around the bus station while she worked and we’d go home together.

Well, one day we noticed something different in the window at the Sav-More. An artist by the name of Jesse Fowler sat in the window doing chalk portraits of people for something like five bucks. It was 1964. I was ten years old at the time and the odds are pretty good that my mother and I only shopped at the Sav-More because it was near the stop where we’d catch the Franklin Avenue bus home.

At that time in my mother’s life, $5 was a pretty decent hunk of change, especially for a woman working a minimum-wage job and raising two kids on her own. But she wanted an artist rendering of her youngest child and she was willing to part with the five bucks to get it.

For about a half hour, I sat in the front window of this drugstore with people looking on as Mr. Fowler sketched out my portrait. I still have it today and I sometimes wonder how many other people had their portrait sketched my Mr. Fowler in the window at Sav-More drugs in downtown Flint.


Five and Dime

By Rich Frost
May 17, 2008

I have some great memories of living on the east side in the '60s and '70s. The Franklin and Utah Street area where I lived was definitely working class, and there was a sense of community that you don't find in urban areas these days. You could sleep with the doors unlocked and your neighbors looked out for you. The neighbor across the street, for example, would mow our lawn on hot summer afternoons, and my mom would bake an extra cake or a pie for our neighbors to show her appreciation for all their help.

One of the great things about living on the east side was going to O'Connor's Drug Store and the Ben Franklin. I can close my eyes and still see the TVtube testing machine next to two pay phones to the right of the door as you walked in the front entrance of the drug store. (Yup, TVs once had tubesand you needed a place to test the ones that went bad;O'Connor's was the place to go to test them.) If I walked through the front door and turned left, there was the counter that had the peanuts and cashews that they kept warm under a light bulb. I can't tell you how many times I purchased a ten cent bag of cashews from the O'Connor Drug store, usually on the same day that I purchased the next week's TV Guide at a bargain at just 12 cents an issue. I was surprised by an announcement one week that they were forced to do something that they didn't want to do — raise the price to a whopping 15 cents. Imagine a magazine feeling bad about having to tell their customers that they are raising the price of their magazine by three cents...that wouldn't happen today, would it?

If you had to pay your Michigan Bell telephone bill or your Consumer's Power bill, all you had to do was walk to the back of the store and the people atO'Connor's were happy to serve you. If you had to wait in line, you could always check out their great selection of paperback books and magazines that was near the bill-paying window.

Now, if you couldn't find what you were looking for at O'Connor's, there was always the Ben Franklin store next door. Naturally, the bins of candy were the first stop for any kid — chocolate covered peanuts and raisins, orange jells, those pink spearmint discs, jawbreakers, red and black licorice. Everything had to be weighed and priced before you took it to the counter to get rung up. Imagine being a kid and going to the Ben Franklin store and coming home with a twenty-five cent bag of chocolate covered peanuts. Those were the days.

And if it wasn't candy you were after, there was that great section in the back with toys! One side was filled with the "guy stuff" like balls and model airplane and car kits, and the other side had all of the "girl stuff" like dolls, doll accessories and toy dishes.

Another unique thing about Ben Franklin was that it was the only place where they sold the hits of the day by no-name, sound-alike artists that nobody ever heard from. The company was called "Hit Records" and they sold 45 rpm's with a black label. Each record was a two-sided hit and the sound-alike artists did the best job that they could to sound like the original. At just 39 cents a record, it was a bargain.
By Rich Frost
August 27, 2008

Growing up in Flint, I got a chance to see a lot of great Michigan rock n' roll bands as I was a part of the "behind the scenes" production team at Sherwood Forest for Wild Wednesday and all the other concerts that Peter C. Cavanaugh staged there. I also got a chance to work some rock concerts at the IMA, Delta College and the Saginaw Civic Center.

If you're into stories about rock n' roll and Flint's IMA, here's one for you:

Alice Cooper did a warm-up concert in Flint before doing a big tour. It was one of those concerts where the band could get the kinks out of the show and make it better before taking it on the road. The band was based in Detroit at the time, so they were able to drive up to the IMA Auditorium in the afternoon to get ready for the show.

As soon as they got into town, Alice requested several top hats to wear while he performed, so I was put in charge of going out to get them with his girlfriend at the time — a model whose name I can't remember. We drove all around town to secure some top hats, eventually finding them at H&D Tuxedo. With top hats in hand, we drove back to the IMA where sound checks were in progress. By all appearances, it looked like the concert was going to be just another rock n' roll show, but the appearance of another celebrity in town changed all of that.

Just before the show started, none other than Micky Dolenz of The Monkees showed up. Dolenz was in town to do a live appearance at the South Flint Drive-In where the movie he was appearing in — brace yourself…the R-rated Linda Lovelace for President — was showing.

Once Micky and the Alice Cooper crew met backstage, they started to party, and they worked out something to surprise the audience at the IMA. The final song of the show was Alice Cooper's "School's Out," and if you remember the song there's a long guitar note/semi-feedback noise at the end. But on that night the long guitar note went into another familiar song — the theme to "The Monkees.”

Once they went into the theme song, Micky bolted out on stage and sang the song with the band. Well, that was how it was planned, but Micky had a hard time doing anything because he was completely plastered after consuming mass quantities of alcohol backstage. They did the song, sort of, but Alice literally had to pick Micky up and carry him off stage. He was that plowed.

Now, that's rock n' roll at the IMA that I remember!

Post-Flint

By Rich Frost
July 25, 2008

Anyone who has grown up in Flint knows that the first thing that you want to do when you're old enough is to get out of Flint. But once you get out of Flint the first thing that you discover is how much you miss the city.

When I lived in Flint one of my biggest bitches about the town was how lousy The Flint Journal was, but it didn't take long to discover that the Journal was like reading The New York Times compared to the daily newspaper in the city that I moved to. Even with the Journal in the lousy shape that it's in today, I miss the old hometown rag.

No matter how much Flint civic leaders try, Flint will never be a tourist destination, but there will always be a sense of pride about the city for anyone who has or is still living there. I look at Flint like having an ugly sister — you know she's ugly and everyone else knows she's ugly — but you still love her and you don't take kindly to people talking unkindly about family.

When it comes right down to it, I'm from Flint (Damn It!!!!) and proud of it! Flint, where a brown grocery sack is still a Hamady bag, where a coney island is still a meal and, even though many of us now live miles away from her, Flint is the place you still call home."

Thursday, July 7, 2016

This Is Our Neighborhood, and We Refuse to Give Up by Megan Crane


This is our neighborhood, and we refuse to give up.

We live on a quiet little street in south Flint. Our small bungalow is nestled into the shadow of the now-defunct McKinley Academy. The neighbors are working-class and quiet, the lawns are well-kept, and most of the houses have at least a few perfunctory tiger lilies gracing the front steps. There are only two rental houses on our block, and we reside in one of them, my fiancé and I. The other house is on the opposite side of my next-door neighbor’s place.

Until last week, the only neighbors we were acquainted with were the guy across the street, Jeff, and our neighborhood watch guy, Joe, who lives on the corner of our street and Camden Avenue. We pay Joe’s son to mow our lawn – in fact, most of our block does the same – and my fiancé Zach has been known to stand in the driveway talking to Joe for a couple hours. We’re from Up North, after all, and we believe in community. For the most part, however, the people on our block mostly kept to themselves, and we did the same.

It’s strange the way an isolated incident can change things, is it not?

At 7:30 one night last week, I was sitting in my living room. My feet were up on the coffee table, my fat old diva of a Norwegian Forest Cat was embedded in her usual spot on my lap, and I was sipping a coffee and studying for my abnormal psych final the next day. It was a balmy, warm afternoon, and I had the windows open. Zach’s cat, a tuxedo-print Maine Coon, likes to lie in the windows and survey the neighborhood. When I heard a tearing sound coming from our bathroom, I assumed it was Leonard sharpening his claws on something and paid no mind.

A few minutes later, a series of random rapid thumps started coming from the bathroom. My first thought was that the cat had somehow gotten stuck in the bathtub, despite the fact that he can leap into the windows with ease. I stood up, placed my cat on the chair, and went to investigate. Leonard was nowhere to be seen.

I’m only five feet tall, and the bathroom window is level with my forehead. The thumps sounded as though they were coming from directly outside the window, so naturally, I stood on the edge of the bathtub and peeped out to see what was up. I looked to the right first; my next-door neighbor’s screen over her kitchen window was torn and flapping. I looked to the left. Her air conditioner usually rests in her living room window. However, it was gone. It had been replaced by broken glass and a pair of men’s legs sticking out the window.

Maybe Ashley locked her keys in the house and this is one of her friends trying to help her out, I thought. Wait, if he’s a friend, why would he shove her air conditioner through the window? Wouldn’t he have gone through the back? And when did that screen get ripped? My mind immediately answered itself.

“Hey, can I help you?” I called through the window.

The man immediately began wiggling back through the window. His feet made contact with Ashley’s trash cans, crushing them. He maneuvered his way back to the ground, and turned to grin at me, dead teeth leering in his mouth like rotten fenceposts. “Hey, I live here,” he responded.

I recognized this guy as the creepy guy on our block – and every block in Flint seems to have one these days. This particular creeper lived in the other rental house, the Section 8 property on the other side of Ashley’s.

“No, you don’t live there!” I yelled, making my voice as loud and aggressive as I could.

“I live here,” he repeated, still grinning at me, and stepping toward my fence and my face in the bathroom window.

This guy had been acting strange since he moved in. I didn’t know Ashley, except to nod at her, but I was fairly certain she hadn’t given this guy permission to be in her house, and if she had, well then, fuck it, I’d apologize later.

“You don't fucking live there!” I screamed, full-force. I darted back through my house, checking to make sure my ¾” steel pipe, about the length of a Louisville Slugger, was in its place by the front door, then flew out the front.

By now, two other guys I recognized as living down the block had heard me and come running. They had the guy cornered, and as I ran up to them, Joe the neighborhood watch guy came jogging across the street, yelling to us that he’d called the cops already. The intruder started mumbling that he’d thought Ashley had stolen his air conditioner, so he was going into her house to get it back. One of the neighbors, an older gentleman named Paul, immediately “called bullshit” and told the guy his air conditioner was still in his window and he needed to get gone now. Joe repeated that he’d called the police, and told the guy we didn’t want that shit in our neighborhood. The guy staggered off.

Now, under normal circumstances, I could understand if the man was drunk and somehow got his house confused with Ashley’s. They’re the same color, with similar trim. Both places have tiger lilies at the front, and the man had only been living on our street for two months. However, as Paul and Joe and I stood there talking, it came out that only that morning, Paul’s son Eric had caught the same guy in their back yard trying to boost the air compressor over the fence. Eric had had to threaten the guy with physical force, and when that didn’t work, he’d had to use that CCW permit of his and draw down on the guy to get him to quit advancing on him.

Jeff across the street came outside to see what was going on. Joe filled him in, then called Ashley at work. She came flying home, and since we were still waiting for the police to show up, we all ended up hanging out in Ashley’s front yard. We remained there, getting more bits and pieces of the story from each other. The same guy had tried to get into Jeff’s and Joe’s houses the same day. I can only assume he ignored my house due to the ugly purple Saturn with the ungodly-loud motor that I take to school every day. What’s more, he’d knocked on Ashley’s door the previous night, in the midst of a horrific storm, to “borrow” her phone, then pushed his way inside the house and looked around. He tried coming back again later, but that time, she refused to let him in, since it was well past one in the morning.

So after four more calls to 911, Flint’s finest finally sent an officer to take a report. He arrived around 1:30 am, five hours after the break-in, took our statements, told Ashley that the most they could charge him with was unlawful entry, and left.

The next day, we assumed it was back to normal. The car was extremely low on gas, so Zach caught a ride to his cooking job down in Fenton, and I shouldered my backpack and caught the bus over by Kings’ Lane Apartments. I went to school, sat for my exam (96%), and caught the bus back home. It was another gorgeous day, so I got off a few stops early, up by Fenton and Atherton roads, and walked home. I cut across Fenton, walked a block down Campbell, and turned onto Brunswick. My earbuds were in, I was listening to my favorite song by Buffalo Springfield, and I had nothing more in my head than going home and putting the final touches on my Creative Writing class portfolio.

As I got to the street just north of my own, Ashley and her boyfriend Ken came driving up and flagged me down. They informed me that they’d found the guy’s wallet in their backyard, with all of his personal information and a few other people’s names and driver’s license numbers as well. They dropped it off to the police, but we have yet to hear back.

I tell this story not in search of praise, but to comment on the aftermath. Since the break-in, I’ve taken to sitting on my front steps every day. I have severe general anxiety disorder, and the woman who lives behind me is a screamer. I can’t sit in my back yard; she gives me panic attacks. So I sit in the front. I write, or I work on my little craft projects, or I tend to my flower and herb garden. And without fail, Jeff across the street will come out to his front steps. He places his hands on his hips and surveys the neighborhood like a contented monarch looking over his kingdom, then will wave or yell, “Hey, baby girl, how you doin’?” Larry from the end of the block will walk by with his little pug dog, wave, and ask me what I’m working on today. Paul will wander over and talk for a few minutes, or Joe will come across the street to see if I want some cuttings from his wife’s flower bed. Ashley or Ken will lean over the fence that separates my yard from their driveway, and we’ll swap stories about life in the restaurant industry or plants we’re growing or whatever.

Our neighborhood was serene before this incident, and it has gone back to its status quo. We watch each other’s houses, we know each other’s routines. Things have gone back to normal on the surface. The difference is now, we’re invested in our neighborhood. Those roots have sunk a little deeper into Flint soil, and our street feels to me like any of the hundred different small-town streets I lived on before I moved to Genesee County. The police response time might be terrible, but our neighbors have our backs, and we have theirs. The people on my block are good people, hard-working, quiet homeowners who are just as invested in keeping our neighborhood safe as we are. We live in a small oasis of tranquility in the midst of one of the rowdier south-side neighborhoods, and we’re okay with that.

This is our neighborhood, and we refuse to give up.

Megan Crane


Monday, June 20, 2016

Centuries of Carriage Town in Flint


There is a Zone whose even Years
by Emily Dickenson

There is a Zone whose even Years
No Solstice interrupt —
Whose Sun constructs perpetual Noon
Whose perfect Seasons wait —

Whose Summer set in Summer, till
The Centuries of June
And Centuries of August cease
And Consciousness — is Noon.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Flint Photos: Pastor Sherman McCathern and President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama meets Sherman McCathern, pastor of Joy Tabernacle Church, on his 2016 visit to Flint, Michigan.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Gordie Howe, R.I.P.


George Vecsey of The New York Times writes:
“He was at the right side of the net on a power play and started to shoot the puck,” Picken recalled. “Joe Daley was in net for the Sabres. Howe saw he couldn’t score because of the angle, so he switched from his right-hand shot to his left hand and fired the puck into the far side of the net — left handed.” 
Hockey sticks are slightly curved, to enable the player to better control the puck. By suddenly switching grips, from left hand on top to right hand on top, Howe had given up some power and control, but he furnished surprise, as well as hand-eye coordination and power, backed up by an ability to either skate over a defender or flit around him. Mickey Mantle could bunt. Michael Jordan could flick a game-winning pass. Like that. 
“There was stunned silence, and suddenly the entire crowd went, ‘Oohhhhhh’ at the same time,” Picken recalled of the fans from Buffalo and Ontario.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Flint Artifacts: Flint Golf Club Caddie Vest

Patiently Endured



"Evils which are patiently endured when they seem inevitable, become intolerable when once the idea of escape from them is suggested."

— Alexis de Tocqueville

To Fix the Flint Water Crisis, You Have to Fix Flint

Flint is a far different place than the city where four generations of my family lived. But there is still hope for the place once labeled the “Happiest Town in Michigan.”



The national media, along with various activists and celebrities, are suddenly obsessed with my beleaguered hometown of Flint, Michigan, after it emerged that state officials ignored clear signs of lead poisoning in the city’s water supply. Rachel Maddow is outraged. Erin Brokovich is on the case. Jesse Jackson is there to offer spiritual guidance. Cher—yes, Cher—called Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder a “murderer” on Twitter for his alleged crimes against the former factory town that Michael Moore put on the map with Roger & Me.

I don’t blame them and the rest of the country for being angry. I’m angry, too. Who wouldn’t be? But I have to ask: What took you so long? I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I feel like people should have been reaching out to help about 30 years ago.

While the water crisis may be the most-high profile catastrophe in the city where General Motors was born, prospered and then skipped town, it’s certainly not the first that should make your blood boil. Consider that Flint has had one of the highest violent crime rates in the country for decades. Then there are the thousands of abandoned houses—many of them once home to middle-class autoworkers—that sit empty, acting as ramshackle crime incubators. As a result, arson is commonplace.

Oh, by the way, if you include the folks who have given up even looking for a job, the real unemployment rate is in the double digits. And Flint has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation—41.4 percent overall and 66.5 percent for children—so thousands of residents drinking poisoned water were already marginalized.

Unfortunately, I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

And what happens in Michigan when a city teetering on collapse encounters the inevitable budget shortfalls? The governor sends in an emergency manager to relieve democratically elected officials of their duties and supposedly put things in order. But in a place like Flint, there are limited ways to balance the books. Ultimately, draconian layoffs and budget cuts are seen as the only solution. So many cops got pink slips—the police force has been cut in half in the last decade—that there are times when not a single officer is patrolling the streets. Numerous fire stations have been shuttered over the years. And, of course, decisions like switching to Flint River water are made to save money, with disastrous results.

Perhaps irrationally, I’m still hoping that some sliver of good can come out of the water crisis. But simply dealing with the latest calamity without having a national conversation about why these bad things happen to places like Flint—and coming up with systematic, long-term solutions to stabilize the city—ensures that in five years we will be right back where we started.

Flint’s problems may seem outsized, but they are not isolated and hold dire lessons for the rest of America. A growing number of places throughout the country look a lot like my hometown, defined by persistent poverty, a crumbling infrastructure, and a populace that feels betrayed and abandoned. If you think your community is immune from these problems, I’d ask you to reconsider. A familiar line I’ve heard more than once around town is a warning we should all heed, regardless of where we live: “Flint, coming to a city near you.”

Donate to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint to help solve the Flint Water Crisis.
Learn more about the past, present, and future of Flint through the eyes of the residents who have not given up on their city: Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City.