It’s a tough town.

How fitting, the weekend that Detroit takes its rightful place atop yet another list of Most Dangerous Cities — please, let’s save the “We’re number ONE!” chant for later in the morning, shall we? — that this story is the hey-Martha talker in our household:

The two gas stations had rivaled for years. They stood across an intersection from each other on Fort Street in Detroit, where even a penny’s difference was enough to lure customers.

And so came the price war: One station dropped a cent or two, and the other grudgingly followed.

But the seemingly petty back-and-forth escalated Friday, ending with a fatal bullet in BP station owner Jawad Bazzi’s head over what police say was a 3-cent difference in the cost of regular gas.

Nice bit of scene-setting there; that’s the story in a few sentences. But the details are so rich:

The two stations are holding firm at $2.96 a gallon, this when the prevailing price elsewhere in the area is in the $3.15-$3.20 range. From what little I know about gas-station economics, those are loss-leader prices; you’d best sell a lot of cigarettes to make up the difference. So it’s probably fair to assume the situation is tense already. And then the Marathon station owner, Hussah Masboath, drops the price to $2.93. Three cents! They might as well give it away free.

And then:

Bazzi walked across the street with a couple of employees to confront the Marathon owner and his posse.

“His posse.” I like how hip-hop slang is now creeping into sober newspaper reports.

The confrontation turned physical. Punches were thrown. A baseball bat appeared on the BP side, and connected with a Marathon employee. That’s when the gun was drawn. Two shots later, Bazzi, the BP owner, is dying on the ground. The police arrive, the Marathon station becomes a crime scene, and the yellow tape goes up and business is over for the day.

Are you ready for the punchline?

After the shooting, with the competing station closed, BP’s price per gallon increased to $3.09 for regular.

The Freep story, linked above, is better-written, but the News gets the name of the Marathon owner and this precious detail:

During the brawl, someone swung a baseball bat and the pole that Masboath used to change the numbers on his sign.

The pole! They didn’t even have time to put it away. Some stories you don’t read as much as watch unspool on your mind’s theater screen.


Could it have been a coincidence that, the day I finally got to see “Idiocracy,” I learn this unwelcome news?

cash advance

As for “Idiocracy,” I have mixed feelings. There’s not much of a story there, the plot is thin; it really only exists to serve as an angry argument against stupidity. But who can’t be on board with that? I laughed out loud more than once; how can it possibly be worse than, say, “Deuce Bigalow?” This Esquire story gives you the gist of the film’s pathetic history, but I’d say you should see it just for the thousands of sight gags, throwaway lines and other details that will be with me for some time. (Let’s put it this way: I will never be able to watch “America’s Funniest Home Videos” with Kate again without thinking of “Ow My Balls!,” a big hit in 2505, apparently.)

As usual, YouTube is on the case. The movie’s setup is here.

An exhausting weekend, capped by Kate’s birthday party Sunday. I always think of the last eight weeks of the year as the Three Hurdles of Fall — Halloween, Dual-Birthday Fest and then the biggie, Christmas. I’m two-thirds done, but the last one is always the one most likely to send you sprawling.

On Saturday, a packed freeway sent me off onto surface streets, and for the first time since I’ve lived here, I saw the famed ruins of the Packard plant:

packard plant

It’s one of the best-known urban-exploration sites in Detroit, because yes, folks, it is wide open, and people trek through it all the time. If you’re a Flickr member, search “packard detroit” in tags for a truly remarkable set of pictures. (No, I didn’t go in. I was alone, for one, and someone told me a story not long ago involving a photographer falling through a piece of rotted floor there and breaking both legs. I’d love to explain that one to my husband.)

Final bit of bloggage: A hung jury/mistrial for the cat assassin. With his peers hopelessly deadlocked at 8-4, the outcome prompted this comment from the defendant:

“I’m not surprised,” said the defendant, James M. Stevenson, founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society who was charged with one count of animal cruelty for shooting the cat last November with a .22-caliber rifle. “It reflects the attitudes of people in the United States — there are cat lovers and others who love biodiversity, including birds.”

I doubt he’ll be stashing his ammo in the future.

And so the week commences. Have a great one.

Posted at 9:25 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' |

12 responses to “It’s a tough town.”

  1. John said on November 19, 2007 at 9:59 am

    Undercover Black Man is High School Level. Nance, you dumbing this down for the fly-over folks?

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  2. Cosmo Panzini said on November 19, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Judging by your comments, Nancy, “Idiocracy” sounds hilarious. Thin plot? Feh. Some of those Preston Sturges gems from the Forties were a little light too. I’ll get back to you on this one, eh?

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  3. LA mary said on November 19, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    Idiocracy is kinda crummy. There are lots of small moments or sight gags as Nancy said, but overall the movie is not so great.

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  4. ashley said on November 19, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Hey, Nance, you can buy this t-shirt!

    I saw ididocracy on saturday night as well, and well, it was better than I thought it would be. Helps to have low aspirations.

    Here are some more pix I googled up years ago about the Packard plant.

    I got the same Junior-high rating on my blog, FWIW.

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  5. Julie Robinson said on November 19, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Based on what I’ve heard from friends, I’ll skip Idiocracy, but I love the title. Reminds me of a favorite word: kakistocracy (kak·is·toc·ra·cy) n. Government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens. ‘Nuff said.

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  6. Kirk said on November 19, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Kakistocracy is a good one, as is pornocracy: rule by harlots or prostitutes.

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  7. Michael said on November 19, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    I especially like how the reading level widget’s suggested HTML code includes a link to get a cash advance. Nice way to get your link spammed out far and wide. Quite a scam.

    Fwiw, my blog came in at Junior High, but my auto-generated blog at has Genius level. I guarantee you, you won’t understand that one even if you’re a genius, because there’s nothing to understand. But it’s funny anyway…

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  8. michaelj said on November 20, 2007 at 6:09 am

    That Packard building looks like a backdrop in 12 Monkeys, a seriously underrated movie, but, hell, if you’ve got a job as a critic, I suppose admitting that Bruce Willis was seriously good in something Quentin Tarrantino didn’t do feels like it’s beneath you.

    Does anybody really believe Reservoir Dogs was a good movie? Mediocre gag drawn out waaaaay looong, I think. Not as good as A Boy and His Dog, for a one-off based on an old joke. Movies take time. Blade Runner was trashed, but it’s brilliant. There’s Chinatown</i. There’s </iBlade Rummer Treasure of the Sierra Madre and everything else.

    I’d like to see Waterworld on IMAX. Kevin Costner’s ego?
    I’d say Costner sublimated his alleged ego and provided ahtleticism Errol Flynn wouldn’t have put down a smoke for. Anybody that doesn’t think that the way that catamaran works is genius is a sol-free idiot. I say it’s a great movie, and not just because Dennis Hopper is <insanely funny and the kid <isn’t cute.

    In the long run, for lifelong swimmers like me, maybe this was another sports movie. He didn’t get baseball as well as R. Redford, but he got as close as you could without bringing in J. Henry Waugh. He nailed golf, to the wall, with the help of tremendous performances performances friom both Don Johnson and Cheech Marin (only Jack Nicklaus comes close, and I’m part of Arnie’s Army.

    I’d go in there, in the haunted building, because it’s haunted for sure. I grew up in Detroit. We went all sorts of places not safe for white boys, and didn’t think much about it. I find it amazing, and sort of depressing, that car theft and burglary count against my city as violent crimes. Stealing am Escalade off the street is violent crime? Burglary, done right, is obviously non-violent. Violence against Beemers, unless its carjacking, hardly seems to fit this racially tinged ‘study’l. I can hear the lambs crying. One thing the social engineers seem to miss entirely is violence committed by people drawn to the city but not from the city.

    I understand not going in that Packard building alone, but I don’t think I buy fear of a broken leg. You were skeert. Detroit’s dangerous and always has been. Even around the edges. One thing left out by the alleged study is who comes to the city and commits crimes. I realize that doesn’t take the city off the hook for where things happen, but I’d say the source is more important, even in such a poorly framed study.

    When I was 17, I had a girlfriend who lived in Rapid City. Rapid, to the cognoscenti. She had a very fine 442 and we drove up into the Black Hills and found an abandoned mine that this picture of the remains of riches and gigantic Packers reminds me of. There was actually a table set out with a ledger book, where they’d apparently been paying the miners. Maybr they died Ithere. It was too creepy to spend much time. and I think I may have been reading The Stand at the time. Spooked us both, and that was in the widerness, not in the most damgerpuscity where there were wild blackberries and water to drink from gelid streams. Like breaking a spell.

    Well. As usual, there’s room for thought here. I doubt Detroit’s so dangerous. I may prove it by taking a walk down Woodward through numbered streets, and getting filled, next time I’m staying at the Pontchartrain. I once got manhandled by Detroit’s finest here. Up against the glass after hectoring Geoge Corley Wallace. He seems to have proliferated like roaches, but at the time, we seemed to be the dangerous citizens somebody was warning you people in the Grosses about. It was dangerous. in those days.

    The photo is stunning. Ozymandias comes to mind, but it’s like slouching toward Bethlehem. Which makes me wonder. Does Nancy Nall have a favorite poet? In her serious, or not so serious moments? If the notable drug addict Percy Shelley wrote Ozymandias, does that mean maybe still-cocaine-addled W has intimations of mortality? Well, on the subject of his presidential legacy, he told Bob Woodward (and you could trust that fly on the wall far as you could swat him), We’ll all be dead.

    So who is the Nancy Nall poet laureate? Ogden Nash? Well, she’s quick and witty. Mordant? William Butler Yeats (Cast a cold eye). Iggy? Ray Davies? I kind of wish Christina Rossetti. I think, in the end it’s somebody with snow on woolen shoulders and a forward attitude, like Robert Frost or Auden. Like Ray Davies, actually.

    Those ratings are based on vocabulary. Bloggers (oh,I hate that faux-logism) that seem to need ill-used big words are loneilier than the number one, and more ubiquitous than Daughtry. The rating system doesn’t take into account misusing those words, even after spellchecking (gnarrh). That’s the emoticon for me grinding my teeth. Nancy writes well. Other b loggrers cant’ claim the same. In the end, there is much to be said for grammar, logic and diction. (And don’t look for that comma before and diction; it doesn’t belong there.)

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  9. Kim said on November 20, 2007 at 9:38 am

    Am I the only one who wonders if MichaelJ is always as intense as his posts? It’s fun to read you, but I feel exhausted at the end. Sorta like driving with my brother-in-law all the way from Santa Cruz to San Jose without once touching the brakes.

    Ozymandias is a good fit for the Packard, I think. Slouching, not as much. I think of our country when I consider that poem, esp. the phrase “The best lack all conviction/while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Maybe that explains voter turnout, or LaMary’s experience with the gang-member-in-training.

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  10. basset said on November 20, 2007 at 9:42 pm

    looks to me like michaelj is about half in the bag when he starts each post and several big swigs further along by the time he gets to the end of it. (I can say that, I’ve done the very same thing here and elsewhere.)

    in this most recent one, for example, the first graph makes pretty good sense in spite of the reference to some piece of pop culture I haven’t seen, but by the time he gets to the last one, we’re down to stream-of-consciousness structure, seemingly random spelling, and comments about things only michaelj seems to see… who’s Daughtry, anyway?

    and if you’re gonna brag on your grammar skills…

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  11. brian stouder said on November 21, 2007 at 9:33 am

    Basset – I find the trick to reading mj’s posts is to do it the same way one would enjoy a Spongebob cartoon (and those shows, incidentally, can be surprisingly incisive, if one breaks the rule and thinks about them) –

    in the moment

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  12. basset said on November 21, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    believe it or not I have never seen a Spongebob cartoon. not to say that mj’s not entertaining at times, I just have a theory about how he gets that way.

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