Saturday, July 23, 2016

Vintage Rides in San Francisco

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!


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 fiancĂ© 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 fiancĂ© 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