Friday, December 15, 2017

In Memory of Patricia McFarlane Young

Pat Young during her days as a department store model.


Patricia McFarlane Young, who lived an adventurous, unconventional life guided by her generous spirit and sense of humor, died on December 8, 2017 in Tacoma, Washington. She was 87. 

Pat was born and raised in Flint, Michigan when it was a thriving hub of the automotive industry. “I grew up on the Eastside and recall the unexplained pride I felt when the 3:30 Buick factory whistle blew and the roughly dressed workers poured out of the General Motors’ labyrinth swinging their lunch pails,” she wrote in an essay about her early life. “Some were headed for home and some for the corner bar, but all with the determined step of an army after a battle won. I somehow felt as if I were a part of this giant assembly line and the city it fed.”

But she also knew there was a bigger world beyond Flint, and she was eager to explore it. “Nostalgia, I’m sure, is the opiate of old age,” she wrote. “Memories over ten years old automatically become the ‘good ol’ days. We remember only the happy things and leave the shaded areas behind. And yet, faintly sifting through the sands of time, I seem to recall saying, ‘The day I’m 18, I’m leaving this town.’"

After graduating from Central High School in 1948, she lived in Detroit in the early fifties, where she fell in love with jazz and a jazz musician or two. She moved to New York and became a department store model at Bergdorff Goodman’s and a regular at clubs like Minton’s Playhouse when Bebop was exploding. She had great stories about seeing legends like Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie perform. She remembered loaning saxophonist Gerry Mulligan money to buy coffee and a newspaper early one morning in Harlem. “He still owes me a dollar,” she said.

Pat eventually worked for National Airlines as a stewardess — she wasn’t fond of the term “flight attendant” and refused to use it — and regularly flew out of Miami, Havana, and New Orleans. 

Later, as a Navy wife, she set up houses all over the country — San Diego, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Florida, and Olathe, Kansas, to name a few — but she eventually returned to Flint. There was a part of her that was disappointed to be back, but she wasn’t the type of person to mope. As a single mother, she worked hard to create a stable, happy life for her four children. She was an admitting clerk at McLaren Hospital for many years, earning money to send her kids to college. 

As a devout Catholic, she attended Mass at St. Michael’s and St. Mary’s. Her love of football was intertwined with her faith. She was a regular at Powers Catholic High School games when her kids were students. (The hot rum cider she brought to Friday night games in a thermos was legendary in the parents’ section of the bleachers.) And she energetically watched Notre Dame football after dutifully placing a small statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the television before kickoff. That didn’t stop her from berating the refs when calls went against the Fighting Irish. Expletives were not always deleted.

She loved her parents, who moved to Flint from the cornfields of Iowa in the 1920s. She described her father, Verne McFarlane, as “my gentle hero all my life,” and credited her mother, Leone, with giving her the determination to deal with life’s setbacks. “Their love, and growing up in Flint, made me into a person who could handle tough times and appreciate what really matters,” she wrote.

Pat worked at Jacksonville University, organizing performances for the School of Fine Arts, after moving to Florida in 1986. It was the perfect situation for someone who, by her own count, had around 50 different jobs during her life. She enjoyed talking to agents in New York and getting updates on the places she remembered. Many were long gone, but not all of them. And she had an easy rapport with the performers, making them feel welcome in a way that the college professors could not.

Cooking down on the farm.
After retiring, Pat put a lot of miles on a red pickup truck she called Bubba. She had taken more road trips in the last 20 years than most college kids, often driving from her home in Jacksonville to the family farm in Maple Leaf, Iowa. She slowly but surely restored the century-old farmhouse where her mother grew up. Pat had visited the farm for long stretches every summer as a child, so in many ways this was also home to her. She liked the solitude, and she looked forward to seeing old friends and relatives, people who had known her folks. She certainly wasn’t a farmer, but she understood the rhythms of life in small-town Iowa and liked being a part of it. 

When she visited her kids on the West Coast, she drove cross country, lately with her 90-pound dog, Rob Roy, by her side. (He was a lovable guy, even though he looked fairly menacing.) She listened to unlikely musical combinations on her cassette deck. Frank Sinatra might share time with country singer Dwight Yoakam and Rod Stewart on a stretch of highway. She relied on a dog-eared atlas with handwritten notes detailing where to get blueberry pie in Montana or a good burger in Missouri. She knew where obscure Frank Lloyd Wright houses were located on her northern route. And she knew how to find the Palm Court Jazz Cafe when her travels took her to New Orleans.

Pat made these trips so often she had friends along the way, people she had quickly bonded with over lunch at a diner or during conversations in hotel lobbies. She even exchanged letters with some of them over the years. She could easily turn strangers into confidants. She was someone people liked to be around, an open, unpretentious woman who had a way of understanding what you were going through, whether it was good, bad, or in between. 

She spent the last few years living in Tacoma, Washington, where she could be close to her son, Matt, and daughter, Martha, who lived on the same street. She often talked about how much she loved her daughter, Catie, who lives in North Carolina. She got to see her grandkids and great grandkids regularly. This summer, she got to hold her newest grandchild, Larkin, when her son Gordie visited from San Francisco.

Pat often described herself as a dreamer. She admitted that she was always searching for something in life, even though she wasn’t quite sure what it was. (That’s probably the case for most people, if they are brave enough to admit it.) But she never stopped trying, and she never let the search overwhelm her. She maintained her independence, her intense love of her family, and her kindness for those who were struggling until the end.

It’s hard for her children to imagine life without her. But she taught them that sometimes the hardest things in life can be the most meaningful, and that our memories of those we love can continue to guide us and comfort us. 

We love you, Big Mama.

Pat is survived by her daughters, Catherine and Martha (Patrick), and her sons, Matthew and Gordon (Traci). She is also survived by her grandchildren Claire, Grace (Michael), Hannah, Dylan, and Larkin, as well as her great-grandchildren, Violet and Cash. She was preceded in death by her parents, Verne and Leone McFarlane.


In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Luke M. Powers Catholic High School in Flint, Michigan.

Pat Young with her dog, Rob Roy, on the family farm she restored in Maple Leaf, Iowa.



Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Streets of San Francisco




Sunday, December 3, 2017

How to Fix Flint

Journalist Gordon Young tackles the question of how to fix his hometown of Flint, Michigan on Medium.com.
Flint — like other poverty stricken municipalities — has the vexing ability to resist broader economic upturns. Real growth, let alone bubbles, never seem to visit. The city continued to decline during the boom years of the Clinton administration and kept sinking during the modest but historically long-running economic recovery that President Obama orchestrated. Clearly, a rising tide doesn’t lift all boats. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, who is an exuberant practitioner of metaphor, describes these cities as “anchored to the bottom of the ocean.” 
“I don’t think we can chip away at the problem,” he told me recently. “We need a big, bold, and very significant effort to help areas where you have chronic poverty. Until we fix the fundamental problems, we are really just managing the decline.”


Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Flint Effect and Unsolved Homicides

Just when you thought there were no new ways to catalog Flint's decline...


murder in Flint Michigan
 “The Serial-Killer Detector," The New Yorker, November 27, 2017




Thursday, November 30, 2017

Flint Artifacts: AutoWorld Security Patches

Flint Michigan
Not to be confused with job security.



Flint Artifacts: The Shawn Chittle Flint Fashion Collection







Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Flint Artifacts: UAW Jacket Flint Truck and Bus


UAW Flint
Flint Michigan



Flint Artifacts: Flint Buggy Co. Invoice

Flint Michigan

flint michigan



Monday, November 27, 2017

In the Future When All's Well

"The role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors."
         — Wassily Leontief


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.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Streets of San Francisco: A Helping Hand




Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Flint Water Crisis: Dr. Eden Wells

What could possibly go wrong?

Steve Carmody of NPR's Stateside reports:
Gov. Rick Snyder has appointed a top state official criminally charged in the Flint water crisis investigation to head a new council tasked with improving Michigan’s response to emerging public health threats.
Perhaps the thinking is that if you helped cause a public health threat, you'd be good at spotting others?

The Streets of San Francisco: Chevy Van

Chevy Van




Monday, November 20, 2017

Flint Artifacts: O-Jib-Wa Laxative Herb Tea

laxatives



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Flint Artifacts: Uncle Bob's Diner Matchbook

books about flint michigan



Friday, November 17, 2017

Flint Artifacts: Farm Motel Mug

motels in flint michigan



Flint Artifacts: Arrowhead Riders Patch

Flint Michigan



Thursday, November 16, 2017

Flint Artifacts: Joan Rivers and Peter Marshall at the Michigan Star Theatre

Joan Rivers

Friday, November 10, 2017

Flint Photos: Deuce and a Quarter



Flint Artifacts: A.C. New Fuel Pump




Flint Artifacts: O-Jib-Wa Reducing Tea

history of Flint Michigan



Thursday, November 9, 2017

Body Language

Gordon Young Journalist

Love this photo. Jake May of MLive captures the "warm rapport" Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, left, and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Twp. must share with each other with this photo taken at the grand opening of the Ferris Wheel building on Saginaw Street in downtown Flint. You don't have to be a body language expert to figure this one out.

On a side note, I'm with Kildee on the clothing choice. If you're going to wear a suit, wear a tie. Otherwise, why bother?


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Election Day in Flint: Mayor Weaver Faces Recall Vote

books about Flint Michigan

It's election day in Flint, and Mitch Smith of The New York Times gives an overview of the recall vote:
Mayor Karen Weaver sailed into office two years ago promising to clean Flint’s lead-tainted water and to restore trust in government, after previous leaders brought poisoned water to the city and ignored residents when they complained. Ms. Weaver declared a state of emergency, met with the president and made the rounds on cable television, quickly becoming one of America’s most visible mayors. 
But as her celebrity grew, so too did a revolt within her own City Hall. She now faces City Council members accusing her of corruption, a court battle over Flint’s long-term water source and, on Tuesday, a recall election that could snuff out her four-year term at the halfway point.
Read the rest here.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

1970s Fashion: Purple Satin Jacket


1970s Fashion: Purple Satin Jacket


Books About Flint, Michigan






Wednesday, November 1, 2017

New Buicks for Sale

New Buicks for Sale
New Buicks for Sale


Flint Water Crisis: Long-term Health Issues Caused by Lead Exposure

Flint Water Crisis

Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who helped expose the Flint W
ater Crisis, talks to Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson about confronting the long-term health issues affecting Flint residents.
Hanna-Attisha says the city is building programs to help support children, so they can overcome future challenges caused by lead exposure. She says interventions like universal preschool and access to nutrition are key to reducing the impact. 
"We have a robust investment in early education," she says. "We have Medicaid expansion. We have mobile grocery stores, breastfeeding services, 24-hour mental health care. These are things that all children need everywhere, but these are things that we are putting in place for the kids in Flint."


New Chevys for Sale

New Chevys for Sale
Brand new Chevys for sale.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Flint Water Crisis: Curt Guyette on the KWA Pipeline Project

Flint Water Crisis

Photo Illustration by Robert Nixon via Metro Times.

If you are trying to understand how the KWA pipeline project is intertwined with the Flint Water Crisis, this story by the Michigan ACLU's Curt Guyette in the Metro Times is essential reading.
Last year, a task force appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to investigate the causes of the disaster urged prosecutors to do a "complete and thorough review of the development and approval of KWA and of the City of Flint's commitments to KWA water purchases." 
Since then, four officials — including two of the city's former emergency managers — have been charged for allegedly using false pretenses to obtain an $85 million loan needed to finance Flint's share of the new pipeline.
And then there's a report issued earlier this year by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, which spent nearly a year investigating the crisis to determine what role, if any, racism played in creating this completely avoidable manmade disaster.
Read the rest here.


Flint Photos: Greenway Avenue

Gordon Young Flint Water Crisis
Thanks to Jim Holbel for the photo.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Flint Water Crisis Event with Curt Guyette and Gordon Young

Flint Michigan



Wednesday, October 4, 2017

How to Fix Flint: Replacing the pipes in my hometown won’t revive the city. It will take the equivalent of a Marshall Plan to save it. By Gordon Young

How to fix Flint
P-Nut and Raevyn work on their Civic Park home in 2010.

My friend P-Nut was shopping at the Flint Salvation Army in March with Sherman McCathern, the pastor of his church, when he got a phone call. 

It was one of his buddies from Civic Park, a neighborhood of houses primarily built for autoworkers that is now one of the most blighted areas in a city often defined by decay and loss. 

“You know your house is on fire?” the friend asked.

P-Nut and the pastor headed for their car and rushed home. When they pulled into the parking lot of Joy Tabernacle Church on North Chevrolet Avenue at the corner of West Dayton, two blocks from P-Nut’s house, smoke was wafting through the neighborhood.

“So I knew it was bad before I even saw it,” P-Nut told me. “When I got to my house, it was blazing.”

Long before Flint had a water crisis, it had an arson problem. And decades before Cher and Snoop Dogg arrived on the scene with their PR teams, or the journalists and presidential candidates showed up, my hometown was vanishing in ways both large and small. Shifting global economic trends aren’t big on taking union industrial strongholds along for the ride, and Flint was left behind to fend for itself. Obviously, it hasn’t fared well. Decades of double-digit unemployment, population loss, and artless budget cuts equal crime, abandonment, and burning buildings.

All Flintoids — as we sometimes call ourselves — can catalogue the places that meant something to them that have disappeared. My personal list includes Homedale Elementary, the East Side school my mother and I attended less than a mile from the massive automotive complex known as Buick City. The school was torched and then demolished in 2010. The factory is long gone, too, along with thousands of G.M. jobs. My grandfather’s elegant brick office building downtown, where he earned the money that kept our family afloat, is a parking lot. And the pool where I learned to swim is a grassy field in Kearsley Park.

Now I have to add P-Nut’s house to the tally. Sure, it was just a two-story saltbox that needed a lot of work in a neighborhood that might not exist in twenty years. But it had a meaningful past and, I foolishly thought, a future. It was a symbol of hope for P-Nut. And for me. And hope is a tenuous thing in Flint.

When I got the news, I flashed back to a cold December morning in 2010. I was sitting in the lobby of City Hall in Flint, waiting to shadow the mayor for a story I was writing about my hometown. I was alone because the receptionist I had gotten to know over the previous year had been laid off, a victim of the city’s relentless quest for a balanced budget.


A disheveled guy with an armful of manila file folders tucked under his arm walked into the lobby. He had to angle his head toward the offices behind the desk and call out, “Hello, anyone home?” A staffer finally emerged and asked if she could take a message for the mayor.

“Well, I’ve given up on Flint,” the man said, “and I wanted to see if he could give me a reason not to give up on it.”

The staffer took his name and number, promising to pass his message along to the mayor. The guy left with his folders, more disappointed than angry.

I couldn’t really relate to his request at the time. I was cautiously optimistic about the city’s future. But after years of steady decline and the ongoing water crisis, I understand him a lot better. In fact, I think I’m becoming that guy now, desperately searching for some evidence that things will ever get better in Flint. And worried that I won’t find it. For someone who once naively thought he could help solve the city’s problems, it’s not an easy thing to admit.

As a journalist who has written about Flint for more than a decade, I’ve been lucky to meet dozens of smart, inspiring residents like Pastor McCathern and P-Nut who are fighting to save this troubled spot on the Michigan map. But I’ve also talked to enough economists, urban planners, and politicians to know that all their efforts will never be enough to pull Flint out of its socio-economic free fall. It will take a monumental national effort to reinvigorate Flint and cities like it. That means an investment of federal and state money that gives Flint a chance to prosper but might not pay dividends for years. And I fear our bitterly divided country does not care enough to make it happen.

I hope I’m wrong. I don’t like thinking that bad things are likely to keep happening in the city where four generations of my family lived. But I also know that Flint is a place where reality destroys the best laid plans, and optimism gets its ass kicked on a regular basis.



Saturday, September 30, 2017

Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young

Books about Flint Michigan

"One can read Teardown and go 'My, my, my! What a horrid town! Thank God I don't live there!' Oh, but you do. Just as the 'Roger & Me Flint' of the 1980s was the precursor to a wave of downsizing that eventually hit every American community, Gordon Young's Flint of 2013, as so profoundly depicted in this book, is your latest warning of what's in store for you — all of you, no matter where you live — in the next decade. The only difference between your town and Flint is that the Grim Reaper just likes to visit us first. It's all here in Teardown, a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once great American city."
— Michael Moore, filmmaker, author, activist

Purchase Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City here.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Streets of San Francisco: 1963 Corvair On Cortland Avenue

Flint



Monday, September 4, 2017

Happy Labor Day from Flint Expatriates


Fisher Body Plant #1 in 1937.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Strange Place


"It's not a mystery; it's just the past."

— Martin Cruz Smith, Gorky Park


Monday, August 28, 2017

Civic Park in Decline


A screenshot of Civic Park in Flint from the Flint Property Portal. The purple sections indicate publicly owned property, which frequently means parks and abandoned houses and lots.