Father Michael.

There are people in your life who are entirely happy with things as they are, and bless ’em, that’s great. There are others who are happy but are still restless, still looking for the next thing, still focused on moving forward.

My friend Michael is one of those. And he’s had quite a journey so far. He attended a seminary high school, thinking he might become a priest, ended up a lawyer, married once, divorced, married again, worked with Coleman Young, served on the Wayne State Board of Governors, did this, did that, came out as gay, divorced again (but remained, and remains, BFFs with his ex-wife), etc. and added a lot more accomplishments and interesting turns to the journey. Let me put it this way: We met in a digital filmmaking class. That should tell you something.

And on Saturday, he did this:

Yep, Michael is now Father Michael, having prostrated himself before God and being ordained in the Cathedral Abbey of St. Anthony, home of the Ecumenical Catholic Church of Christ, informally known as independent, not Roman, Catholics. (Here’s a story about the church from 2016, and it’s pretty good.)

I was raised Catholic, but this was the only Mass of Ordination I’ve attended. There was a small choir that sounded much bigger, thanks to the operatic voices within; the leader had a basso like Paul Robeson. The homilies were personal and casual; I learned that Michael had been the straw buyer when the archdiocese refused to sell the closed church to the ecumenical bishop, among other things. But it was a joyful, moving occasion, and I’m so glad I went. And now I have a new place to donate clothing, something I’m overdue to get moving on.

Sunday was lovely, sunny and warm, so my friend Bill and I made what will almost certainly be my last trip of the year to St. Clair for some river swimming. The water was about 67 degrees — bracing for a pool swimmer, but as we told everyone who gaped in astonishment from the boardwalk, not bad at all once you got used to it. The current seemed stronger than usual, and the autumn light on the water as a cold front rolled in was stirring. We watched the Lee A. Tregurtha pass, upbound, from the water, and when we signaled for a salute, the pilot gave us one! Just a short toot, but it counted. That is one big ship. I just checked its location on Boatnerd, and it’s closing in on Drummond Island, headed for Marquette.

“This is a very Great Lakes kind of experience,” Bill remarked, and it certainly was.

And that, friends, is one reason we’re putting off our European trip until March/April of next year. So much happens in the fall around here. You don’t want to miss it.

Some bloggage? A little:

Headline: Anti-abortion activists worry they’re on the wrong end of a Faustian bargain. Ha ha ha ha ha, she chortled bitterly. Fuck you.

Ron DeSantis is a horrible, horrible person, who has destroyed a quirky public college in Florida, trying to make it into a southern Hillsdale. However, even Hillsdale has higher standards:

Gone are gender-neutral bathrooms, hallway art that in some cases featured nudity and student murals that had been completed in February and were expected to remain for several years. Student orientation leaders had to remove Black Lives Matter and Pride pins from their polo shirts. A student government election this week pitted a returning student against a new student backed by a newly formed campus chapter of the conservative organization Turning Point USA.

Dan Duprez, a former New College admissions officer, said he was troubled by the tactics used to grow the incoming class, noting that the grade-point averages and standardized test scores of new students were lower than those of past freshman classes. He recalled a colleague showing him an admissions essay that was a screenshot of cellphone notes, “riddled with incorrect spelling and grammar, saying, basically, ‘I just want to play ball.’”

Finally, here’s Vivek Ramaswamy, the only presidential candidate the Michigan GOP was able to lure to its biannual leadership conference on Mackinac Island, promising the moon and stars:

“How are we going to find our way out of this, to win the war that we are losing? First step we have to take on the managerial class,” he said. “As your next U.S. president, if you all put me there, we will shut down the unconstitutional fourth branch, 75% headcount reduction in the administrative state in Washington, D.C. Rescind unconstitutional federal regulations. That’s a majority of federal regulations on day one that we are done with.”

Promising that those unprecedented cuts would “unlock the U.S. economy,” Ramaswamy said they would also clear the way to fully embrace fossil fuels, despite the impact on climate change.

“When you get the administrative state out of the way, we will drill, we will frack, we will burn coal. We will embrace nuclear again in this country without apology. That is how we grow our economy,” he said.

Yeah, sure, he can totally do that. What a winner! Snort.

OK, then, let’s have ourselves a good week, eh? I’ll do my best.

Posted at 8:44 am in Current events, Detroit life | 63 Comments

A sunny day with one cloud.

Today was a good day. Walked out to go to my early swim workout and saw a vivid star in the east, which I assume is Venus. Decided I’d try my new iPhone 14 and see if Alex is correct that it can capture starshine:

Affirmative, although a pretty crappy photo overall. Shoulda turned out the back yard light, done a better job of holding still, etc. Well, I was on my way out.

Afterward, a little work, then downriver for something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: Catch a closer look at the under-construction Gordie Howe International Crossing, and whaddaya know, it is coming right along.

It’ll be open by the end of next year, we’re told. It struck me, looking at it, that other than road-building, it’s hard to find an under-construction engineering marvel in my part of the world. But this bridge is 100 percent paid for by Canada. That’s how little they care for the Moroun family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge farther upriver. Much of the work is being done on this side of the river, and the paychecks are signed by Johnny Canuck. Best thing about it? It’ll have a bike lane. I can’t wait to commute to Canada on a bicycle.

Also spotted today: The Detroit-to-Windsor truck ferry.

I’ve seen signs for it, read about it in the papers, but never actually seen it at work. So there you are.

Then I met up with a friend and set off for a photo tour of lovely Delray, but the roads around there are so littered with debris that my bike got a flat 15 minutes in. So it wasn’t a perfect day, but it was an excuse to stop for a taco and Topo Chico at the Mexican cantina nearby. Which we did.

Then pizza for dinner, because why not. I’ll fix the flat tomorrow.

Have a great weekend, all.

Posted at 9:04 pm in Detroit life | 60 Comments

Covering Taylor.

I took this photo as I returned to my room in the Marriott during the jazz festival. Those of you who follow me on Instagram have already seen it:

Contrary to the popular belief that Detroit is deserted and desolate, Jefferson was hopping that night. A large motorcycle was idling at the light as I strolled by, with a bumpin’ sound system aboard, blaring “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” And it only occurred to me later that the opening line of that song is, “It was the third of September,” and this photo was taken on September 3. That’s either an amusing coincidence or a reflection of an exceptionally well-curated playlist.

Anyway, also of note with reference to pop music: The “musty old hall in Detroit” where mourners of the Edmund Fitzgerald prayed in Gordon Lightfoot’s song? That’s it on the left. Old Mariner’s Church. Never been inside, but I bet it’s not musty.

So! Midweek, almost! What’s going on? Well, in Tennessee they’re looking for a Taylor Swift reporter, no seriously, they are:

USA TODAY and The Tennessean/tennessean.com, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK, seeking an experienced, video-forward journalist to capture the music and cultural impact of Taylor Swift. 

Swift’s fanbase has grown to unprecedented heights, and so has the significance of her music and growing legacy. We are looking for an energetic writer, photographer and social media pro who can quench an undeniable thirst for all things Taylor Swift with a steady stream of content across multiple platforms. Seeing both the facts and the fury, the Taylor Swift reporter will identify why the pop star’s influence only expands, what her fanbase stands for in pop culture, and the effect she has across the music and business worlds. 

The successful candidate is a driven, creative and energetic journalist able to capture the excitement around Swift’s ongoing tour and upcoming album release, while also providing thoughtful analysis of her music and career.

We are looking for a journalist with a voice — but not a bias — able to quickly cultivate a national audience through smart content designed to meet readers on their terms. This reporter will chronicle the biggest moments on the next portions of Taylor Swift’s tour, offering readers of USA TODAY, The Tennessean and more than 200 local news sources an inside view.

This journalist must be willing (and legally allowed) to travel internationally.


It so happens I’ve been able to live my life almost entirely unaware of Taylor Swift’s output. When her tour barnstormed the country this summer, I dialed up a best-of playlist on Spotify and listened critically over the course of a few days. My verdict: It’s no surprise why she’s so successful. She has sunk a taproot deep into the hearts and minds of women and girls, ages 14-32, and speaks directly to them. And she, or she and her co-writers, or she, her co-writers and her producers, manage to package this communication in almost flawless pop songs. She’s also social-media savvy in ways that only a digital native can be, and projects a persona that says, “I’m not the one who steals your boyfriend. But I could be your best friend.”

I’ve added one song to my Liked playlist, “Anti-Hero,” and will take it off eventually, but for now, it’s fine.

There. Do I get the job? Yeah, didn’t think so. Not video-forward enough.

Want to know everything about Tim Scott’s love life, such as it is? Interesting and amusing WashPost Style story (gift link):

For months, Scott explained, a friend from church had been trying to set him up with a woman the friend knew. Scott had told him that he wasn’t ready for a relationship. Then, late last year, the friend texted Scott the woman’s photo.

“You know what?” Scott recalled telling his friend after seeing the picture. “I’ve prayed on it. Tell me about her again?”

He got the woman’s number. They started talking, hitting it off with discussions about God and using a phone app to do a Bible study together. Scott said he loved her laugh. They had dinner at a downtown Charleston restaurant. She got the steak, he got the swordfish, and they shared even though, as Scott would later learn, she didn’t care for swordfish. They played pickleball, and Scott was embarrassed to find out that he was the “weak man on the court.”

He wouldn’t tell me her name, and the campaign declined to make her available to chat, even off the record. Technically I can’t verify that she exists, except to note that for a presidential campaign to essentially reverse-catfish America would be insane. (By way of corroboration, DeCasper offered that she’s personally hung out with her at the zoo.)

Scott said he had theories about why other campaigns might want to draw attention to his being single. It’s just a way to “sow seeds of doubt” about his campaign, he said, a way “to say that, ‘That guy isn’t one of us.’”

“It’s like a different form of discrimination or bias,” Scott said. “You can’t say I’m Black, because that would be terrible, so find something else that you can attack.”

I wonder if she lives in Canada.

With that, I’m outta here. Happy Wednesday.

Posted at 7:34 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 32 Comments

Twenty-five days of summer.

Boy, do I owe you guys a blog. I just put the last huge work obligation of summer in my rear-view mirror, and am looking forward to a very relaxed September. It is…my summer. I don’t care if it’s not as warm as August. It will be perfectly pleasant and it will belong to me.

My huge work obligation? I was working, through a contractor, on the social-media team for the Detroit Jazz Festival this past weekend. What that meant was up early and grind, grind, grind out content for all the channels, trying to cover three stages with 60 performers, drop the sponsors’ names, tag the performers so they share, etc. As someone who spent her career basically answering one question – What can I write that people might want to read? – it’s a little dizzying to consider the dozens that come with this hybrid of journalism, marketing and diplomacy. So I didn’t consider it (too much) and just tried to enjoy the music, which was pretty great. The artist in residence this year was a jazz drummer and hip-hop producer, and his three day-closing sets got progressively more hip-hop as the festival went on. I absolutely respect his vision that jazz and hip-hop have more in common than not, but I was also amused that at his closing-night show, he put a rapper on stage who introduced her new single, “Drunk AF.” I’m sure Billie Holiday was laughing somewhere on the astral plane.

The gig came with perks, including four nights’ lodging at the hotel in the RenCen, the hulking skyscraper complex at the foot of Woodward Avenue (and next door to the festival venue). It’s been a local joke since the day it opened that it’s almost impossible not to get lost there, and it took me about 24 hours to get my bearings. Just to give you an idea: The hotel’s “motor lobby” was on the first floor. The actual lobby was on the third. You took different elevators depending on whether your room was on the east or west side of the tower. Also, there are floors below the first which are not basement levels. But I figured it out well enough to guide an elderly couple to the Panera, so: Win.

You step out the back door and hello, what’s that:

Yes, cruise ships – one cruise ship, anyway – have discovered the Great Lakes. It’s so weird to see the Octantis go by on its voyages up and down the lakes. The ports of call leave something to be desired; I mean, there’s a few cities with halfway-decent downtowns, Mackinac Island and…I’m stumped. But, and this is something else I learned this weekend, via the TV in my room, tuned to CNN: Viking’s market niche is well-to-do seniors who don’t want to see children running around, nor onboard casinos. So the Great Lakes cruises, which are very expensive, concentrate on education and relaxation. I hope the guests enjoyed the jazz festival.

Here’s something else I saw wandering the de facto GM showroom on Level A (the RenCen being GM’s corporate headquarters):

That’s a pickup truck, and I was standing directly in front of it. The hood was about at my nose level, and I am not a short person. It boggles the mind that people who don’t need to haul around landscaping supplies or anything heavier than a laptop want vehicles like this, and yet: They do. Trucks and SUVs are the profit engine of the American auto industry. I mean, imagine parallel parking that thing. (Shudder.) And I’m an excellent parallel parker.

I have some more thoughts, including about Jimmy Buffett, but I’ll save them for another day. For now, it’s time to enjoy summer. Also, do some laundry.

Posted at 9:22 am in Detroit life | 32 Comments

A filmy dip.

I just looked at the weather forecast for the week ahead, and it is…grim. Starting to climb tomorrow, then topping 90 at midweek. It’s our turn in the barrel, which I realize may fall on unsympathetic ears for you guys in the southwest, but trust me, it’s pretty miserable. Although it’s also…summer weather, so you can’t complain too much. That said, I will. Complain, that is. It’s my right as an American, and as a senior citizen.

But a good weekend, all things considered. Made some time for friend relationships, and got in an otter swim with Bill. A freighter went by as we were getting dressed to leave.

The St. Clair River was bracing (70 degrees), but left me feeling a little…filmed, if you know what I mean. A shower took care of it, but you gotta wonder what the hell was doing that. There have been some gully washers lately, and those tend to scour the grosser parts of an urban infrastructure. Whatever. I showered, and that was that.

Speaking of showers, I felt like I needed one after reading this thread, by a young reporter who left the biz earlier this year.

The precipitating incident she obliquely refers to is this, when a state senator made a crude remark to a 22-year-old reporter. She wrote about it, and the usual happened: Other women, including his colleagues, had similar stories. As it turned out, it was a nothingburger, consequence-wise — he lost his committee assignments, but he was term-limited, so he played out his string and ran for Macomb County prosecutor. Which he won.

The 22-year-old, however, didn’t do so well. The usual happened to her, too: Rape threats, FaceTime calls where the caller was masturbating, and — this is particularly galling — “a woman on a livestream making a call out to get people to send me porn,” and there’s a special place in hell for that one, eh? That’s a lot for a 22-year-old to handle. God, what a hideous movement.

And with that, I’m commencing a busy week. I hope yours is cooler and less so.

Posted at 9:49 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 30 Comments

Visit. Stay a while.

The other day Alan remarked that The New York Times needs to employ more people who don’t live in New York. He was carping about some illustrations in this story – “that isn’t a come-along, and who wants Blundstones to wade through disaster debris?” – that for the record, I consider fairly minor quibbles. But I’d been thinking the same thing after listening to a podcast they did about the affordability crisis in large coastal cities.

Totally valid story, that one, and something we’ve been discussing in the comments here, of late. But their suggestions of the “affordable” cities young educated people are allegedly fleeing to? Austin. Phoenix. Miami. Atlanta. Um, hello? And the episode started so promisingly, with a young woman who’d left Brooklyn because she realized she’d never be able to own anything, much less the bar she aspired to run, if she stayed in New York. She’s now in Birmingham, Alabama, with not one but two bars, a big house with a yard, a car and four dogs. But those other four cities? All have median home prices above $500,000, with the exception of Atlanta, where it’s $400,000, but you’d happily pay the extra $100,000 to escape from its typical traffic jams.

I waited to hear mention of…well, why not Columbus, Ohio? Indianapolis? St. Louis? Or are they all lost to us, too? When we drove to Nashville in March, we stopped for the night in Cincinnati, and found a hotel on the Kentucky side of the river. The desk clerk informed us that we probably couldn’t get a house there, either, at least not in a nice area close to the river, for much less than half a mil.

So I guess we’re staying put, at least until Michigan comes fully into its own as the Saudi Arabia of fresh water. This column is paywalled and the Detroit News doesn’t do gift links, but it tracks precisely with my thinking after the census showed Michigan again failing to grow very much, and the powers that be announced a study group to come up with a growth strategy. I’ll quote more liberally than I usually do:

During her annual address at last week’s Mackinac Policy Conference, Whitmer said Michigan “will be a climate refuge” in one breath, but then in the next said the state shouldn’t make that the strategy to address the fact Michigan has leaped from the 29th oldest state in 2000 to the 13th oldest state in the 2020 Census.

“But our population goals cannot be cynically fueled by climigrants — these are people who migrate to Michigan because of climate change,” Whitmer said. “It’s got to be driven by our ability to address global challenges and what we have to offer.”

What Michigan has to offer climigrants is water and mostly predictable four seasons of weather. (Yes, it snows. Get over it, folks. Nature is beautiful.)

The global challenge is going to be access to fresh water. Michigan has got 21% of it — and 80% of North America’s freshwater is contained in our Great Lakes, our thousands of inland lakes and rivers, and our deep underground aquifers.

Whether it’s for human consumption, growing food, sustaining forests or building electric vehicle batteries, Michigan has the water to sustain our future and the other states won’t — and state and other officials should not be omitting that from the sales pitch of why people should move to Michigan.

Bingo, although I’m a little concerned about referring to the Great Lakes as “ours.” (Swim across all but one of them, and you come ashore in Canada.) Not only that, you can still get a house here for less than $400,000, or even $300,000. Plus we have great music, friendly people and reproductive freedom now embedded in the state constitution.

Meanwhile, Axios informed me this morning, two major insurers are no longer writing homeowner policies in California, and new-home construction is being restricted in Phoenix for, guess why, lack of groundwater.

So, Phoenix as the bolt hole for fleeing Angelenos? Miami — ha ha! Miami! with hurricanes and rising sea levels! — for New Yorkers? I don’t think so.

Waiting for a firestorm or hurricane to get you? Try Michigan. You can sprinkle your lawn here, even though we, too, are in an extended dry spell. All we have to worry about are occasional tornados. And the housing is (relatively) cheap. You can be my neighbor.

Posted at 7:29 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 52 Comments


This is Movement weekend, Movement being the three-day techno music fest at Hart Plaza downtown that kicks off summer in Detroit. Tickets aren’t cheap, but there are related parties in lots of clubs that cost far less to enter. On Sunday was the by-now-traditional sunrise rave at a local art park, and that was free. So I went with two young friends, who I sometimes call my surrogate sons:

That was 7:30 a.m., and all three of us had slept the night before, which wasn’t true of many other attendees. I did have a single beer, and a single hit of a preroll going around. In the druggy world of techno, that’s like sipping a small glass of sherry at a three-day bacchanal. Plus it’s legal, and what the hell, I ain’t dead yet.

As it was, a beer on an empty stomach and one tiny hit of today’s supercharged weed was just enough to put my head in a weird, dreamy space, not high, just ultra-relaxed. We had breakfast afterward and a wonderful, loopy conversation about everything, including a few moments on photojournalist Don McCullin, who specialized in war zones and was seemingly unafraid of anything. (I guess I should say “is,” as he’s still alive, at 87.) He went to Africa, the Middle East, Vietnam, but it’s his pictures of street fighting during the Troubles in Northern Ireland that are my favorites, if images of such violence can be said to be favorite. I still like looking at them, because you have to respect photographers this crazy, because otherwise, how would we know?

Also, if we have another civil war in this country, it’ll be fought like the one in Northern Ireland, i.e. house-to-house and block-to-block. Ain’t no north-and-south anymore. I tell my friends with cottages in rural areas, “Let me know when you have to shoot your way into your vacation home,” and sometimes people chuckle, but mostly not.

The best way to experience techno is to be there when someone is spinning live; it’s not great music for idle listening, at least for me. Any attempt to upload video would end in tears, so accept this frame to give you an idea:

The theme of this party was Sunday gospel, and the DJ was layering beats over gospel rousers. It was quite fetching. I saw a guy dancing in a Tushy T-shirt; the front read Ask me about my butthole. The art-park venue has lots of regulars, one of whom shoots fire:

As I left, I passed a man my age who had introduced himself, mentioning a mutual acquaintance. I said goodbye on my way out, as he was stenciling a quotation about justice, in Arabic and Hebrew, onto an art car that looked like a giant cockroach. And there’s a sentence you don’t get to write every day, and another reason I’m happy to live next to this nutty city.

I hope you’re enjoying your holiday weekend, if you are fortunate enough to have one.

Posted at 4:59 pm in Detroit life | 31 Comments

Rose-colored glasses.

Gonna be doing a little traveling, again, this weekend. On (to) Wisconsin for a friend catch-up plus baby shower. Both of the friends I’ll be visiting are Covid-sensitive, so I’ll be packing some tests for everyone’s peace of mind. Whenever I think of Covid, I’ll check current case numbers, which continue to fall and fall. Covid is not done with us, but for now — FOR NOW — the worst is over.

Sometimes, when I’m checking numbers, I’ll think about the early days of Covid, when nobody knew anything, some people were wiping down their groceries with bleach and it was sanitize-sanitize-sanitize. One thing I cannot tolerate in 2023 are people who believe everything we’ve learned since then was widely known in 2020. “The virus only killed old people!” “You couldn’t get it outside!” And so on. I saw a Guardian story about a woman, Naomi Klein, who is often confused with Naomi Wolf, and used that to spark a book about conspiracy lunatics. That reminded me that Wolf came to Michigan two years ago and testified before the Legislature, so I looked up what she said then, and: Whew.

I have no doubt another pandemic will wipe us out, because apparently we learned nothing at all from this last one. Can you tell I’m reading “Station Eleven” now, and loving it? Because I am. It’s wonderful and haunting, and a very different read today than it would have been when it was published in 2014.

Yesterday I went to the Schvitz with a friend. It was hot, hot, mega-hot. Like hell’s-waiting-room hot. I went in and out for a couple of hours, then came home feeling utterly wrung out, which is good, although I needed another couple tankards of water to even gather the strength to make dinner. On the way there, WDET played Shadow Show’s new single and the host speculated it could be this year’s “Detroit song of the summer,” which was very nice.

Speaking of Kate, she went to the Tigers game yesterday and was caught on the fan cam:

I used to date a guy whose father would write a one-page roundup of all the family news, kind of a weekly Christmas letter, using multiple carbons and sending them out to any close relative who lived out of town. He always, always ended it this way:

That is about all the news for this week.

Seems to work here. Happy Wednesday.

Posted at 11:37 am in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 62 Comments

Cabin fever.

The weather rarely gives us a break at this latitude. We had one week — a single week — of glorious, sunny, summertime weather earlier in April, and since then? Cold garbage. Finally my reserve cracked, and I ran some errands, taking the long way there and back. For some reason, I ended up near Camden Street in Detroit, where I shot this photo in October 2008, while escorting a pair of French journalists around town on a two-day pulse-of-America visit:

They wanted to see the famous $1 houses that were flooding the market, a story written by my old colleague Ron French that went all over the world. They were going through one across the street from this one, which was being stripped of its bricks by a couple of raggedy men. Note the professionally wrapped pallet of bricks to the side; someone was making money off this project, probably pretty good money. Old bricks are in demand for new housing. Luxury housing.

In Detroit, wave after wave of foreclosure, much of it due to mortgage fraud, was leaving neighborhoods like this rapidly emptying, and arsonists and scrappers did the rest. America was about to elect its first black president, and the agony of financial-crisis Detroit notwithstanding, optimism was in the air. It was a very strange time.

This was shot with my first iPhone, and thanks to the geotagging, I was able to pinpoint the exact spot it was taken. Which is good, because on Tuesday, there wasn’t much left:

The vacant lot to the left is where the men were working. The house on the right is still standing, but barely. Spindly volunteer trees reach the second story. The porch steps are in pieces. And the $1 house the French guys were so eager to document is gone, too. The whole neighborhood is pretty much toast, but for a few stubborn hangers-on. I went around a couple blocks and found this, too:

Ah, memories.

You know what I remember most from that visit in 2008? The realtor brought along his handyman, the guy who went through these wrecks and decided whether they could be brought back. He looked around and said, “This used to be a neighborhood.” Only a year before, he said, it’d been more or less fully occupied, with poor people to be sure, but they were hanging on. Now it’s urban farmland and construction debris.

For some reason this sent my brain cartwheeling back to the ’90s, working for Knight-Ridder, the newspaper chain. The editors had been tasked by corporate with coming up with a mission statement (yes, really) and a so-called master narrative for each city. We sat in meetings for this project and asked perfectly reasonable questions: “A mission statement? For a newspaper? Isn’t it, ‘cover the news in our city?'” To his credit, the editor running the meeting seemed as baffled as we were. And Fort Wayne’s master narrative, which we were instructed was the overarching story of the city, was only a community-theater version of Detroit’s grand opera: Once-thriving industrial city struggles to find its footing in new economy.

And to think, that was probably some vice president’s quarterly project. And they kept us inside for those meetings, when we could have been outdoors, looking for stories in houses just like that.

That’s really a non sequitur, I know, but like I said: My cabin fever is bad this year.

I guess I should say a few words about Gordon Lightfoot, recently departed. He was part of the aural landscape of my youth, but I paid little attention to lyrics. In recent years, I corrected that. “Sundown” fascinates me as a song about a man who’s thinking of hurting his cheating girlfriend, and still might. The woman in question was, of course, Cathy Smith, the background-singing, drug-dealing bit of bad news who sold John Belushi his fatal speedball. I think lots of men might be tempted to hurt her, but she did the damage herself. (Went to prison, deported to Canada, died a few years back.) As for the song everybody knows, about the ore carrier known around these parts as the Fitz, well, it’s a great song. A friend and I were discussing how often people who have never been to the Great Lakes can’t believe how big they are, once they see them. Imagine being in a ship, 729 feet long, that’s losing the battle with a storm, and not only that, an ice storm, a hurricane of sorts, the lake treating it like a toy. It must have been terrifying, the waves turning the minutes to hours, and all that.

But I snickered when a journalist friend noted on his Facebook today that he once “heard a folksinger at the Old Shillelagh, weary of endless requests, abridge the Lightfoot song as follows: ‘There was a big boat, and it sank.'”

And they’re all still down there in Lake Superior. Which never gives up its dead, but you’ve already heard that, many times. Ah, well: Rest in peace, Gordon. It was a great life you had.

Posted at 5:52 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Media | 66 Comments

Three long years.

You guys! I’m so sorry I’ve been such a sluggard here. I don’t know where last week went. But let’s soldier on, anyway:

I generally dislike anniversary journalism, but Monday is March 6, which sticks in my head as the beginning of Covid in Michigan. The first cases wouldn’t be diagnosed and announced until the 10th, the day of the primary election, but on the 6th the chill was definitely in the air. Kate and the girls had a show at Third Man Records, the beginning of what they hoped would be a victory march down to SXSW in Austin, but by then, SXSW had been cancelled. “Just go anyway,” I told them. “People will be getting together and playing anyway, with or without the festival’s backing.” They were afraid no one would come out to Third Man that night, but once the Bernie Sanders rally at the nearby TCF Center concluded, they had no problem filling the place. I noticed one guy standing way off by himself in a mask. Huh, I thought.

Within days, the governor would start issuing shutdown orders, and within weeks, those orders would be the genesis of a new right-wing movement here, which led directly to…well, a lot of things. The utter delamination of the state GOP, although pockets of strength remain. The shenanigans in Ottawa County got their start then. There are others.

I wrote a story for Deadline on the one-year anniversary, presented oral history-style, which means it’s too long, but oh well. I’ve reread it around this time the last couple of years, because I don’t want to forget anything about the early days – the fear, the panic, the way people one block away would cross the street when they saw me coming, walking the dog. (I, on the other hand, would only step off to the curb line. That was my comfort zone.) The way some people wiped down their groceries. The homemade masks, the Karen tantrums in grocery stores, the toilet paper hoarding, all of it.

The New York Times magazine had a Covid oral-history story last week, and one quote in it hit me between the eyes:

In the final set of interviews, most of which were conducted last summer, some people said the pandemic was over while others insisted it absolutely was not. Or that it was “sort of queasily over.” Or that it had been over, but then “it stopped being over.” “I think we all, as a society, became better,” one nursing-home aide concluded. A nonprofit worker confessed, “I used to think that we lived in a society, and I thought that people would come together to take care of one another, and I don’t think that anymore.”

That last quote, especially, echoed some of the way people talked in my story. Here’s a state legislator who lost her sister early on:

After Isaac (Robinson, a member of the Michigan Legislature) passed, (the legislature) didn’t go back immediately. We had some votes, mainly to extend the Governor’s executive order powers, and Democrats wanted a joint resolution allowing virtual voting. (The Republicans) didn’t take the resolution up. I was of the mindset that the Republicans weren’t starting from a place of “how do we deal with this crisis,” but “how do we jam the governor.”

And the funeral director:

It hit my community so hard, and we were screaming and it’s like nobody heard us. I’d hear these people saying, “We have to open up. I can’t go to my restaurant anymore,” and I’m having trouble getting gloves because of the hoarding. Without gloves, I’m out of business.

That’s kind of where I am, three years later. To be sure, the ER doctor and epidemiologist said she came away with optimism about the power of people working together, but she was mainly talking about her medical colleagues. I’m no longer confident, or even optimistic, that faced with an existential public-health threat, people will do the right thing. Here’s something I hear a lot: “I am just so over Covid.” Aren’t we all, but it’s still with us. To be sure, my masking is less common than it was. I went to a densely packed show a while back, mask-free. I eat in restaurants again. But I mask on planes, and I still watch case numbers. If they go up, I mask up. I’m still a No-vid, but I don’t worry that I could die, if I got it. I’ve been vaccinated five times; if I get it, I expect mild symptoms and long Covid to be far less likely. But I don’t want to get it in the first place.

My faith in my fellow citizens, though? That’s in the toilet. Maybe that’s why I’m enjoying “The Last of Us,” the post-zombie apocalypse show on HBO now. It posits a future where the thing you most have to fear is not the zombies, but your fellow healthy American. Everyone is armed to the teeth; busting a cap in someone’s ass is considered totally acceptable to protect one’s food or vehicle or whatever. The government is a dominating fascist force. There’s a thriving black market in the human settlements that remain. That, I regret to say, is what I expect the next time a pandemic hits.

Not that I wish to start the week on a bummer note! After a wet, sloppy snowstorm Friday night, we’ve had two days of snow-melting weather, and spring is most definitely on its way.

Posted at 12:08 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 49 Comments