The throwdown weekend.

Every so often you have to go out and have yourself a time. A pound-the-table, pound-some-shots, sing-karaoke-at-the-top-of-your-lungs, another-round-for-all sort of time. I had one Saturday night.

Probably shouldn’t say too much more about it, except that at some point I posted this photo on Twitter with the caption FUCK ALL Y’ALL:

karaoke

Not quite sure what I was thinking, there.

This was at a bar that’s going to close at the end of the month, a victim of the new hockey arena. It looks like a wino dump from the outside, but inside? Ohsomuchfun. I have no doubt the Applebee’s or whatever the hell will replace it won’t be nearly as good a time. Nor will it have multiple Wu-Tang Clan albums on the jukebox.

(And have no fear, I paced myself admirably. By nursing beers, palming the vile butterscotch shots and slipping an occasional Vernor’s in there, I drove home with nary a fear of lights in the rear-view. I’m an adult now.)

That was Saturday. On Sunday, on four hours of sleep and still hoarse from kicking out the karaoke jams on “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” a friend and I rode bikes to John’s Carpet House, recently reopened after a brief shutdown by the authorities. The Carpet House has no house and no carpet, but it does have a stage and a small generator, enough to power a live blues jam on Sunday afternoons throughout the warm season. If you’re a Detroiter and you’ve never been there, what are you waiting for, and if you’re an out-of-towner, you should check it out, because it is awesome.

Once we arrived, I called Alan to come with lawn chairs and some beers, and after a couple of those, he was kind enough to give us a ride back and spare us a 10-mile pedal in the heat of the late afternoon, belching craft-beer fumes.

The Carpet House is an opportunity for entrepreneurs – food vendors mostly, but also this guy:

john

No drama.

All of which adds up to a great weekend, although I’m guessing I’ll be going to bed early.

A little bloggage? Sure:

The Freep did a nice job turning around a localization of the Ferguson fiasco — looking at the militarization of Michigan police. Mercy:

Michigan police departments have armed themselves with grenade launchers, armored vehicles, automatic rifles and other equipment — 128,000 items in all, worth an estimated $43 million — under a federal program that allows police to obtain surplus gear free from the U.S. military.

A Free Press review of items transferred from the military since 2006 shows Michigan law enforcement agencies have received 17 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles or MRAPs, built to counter roadside bombs; 1,795 M16 rifles, the U.S. military’s combat weapon of choice; 696 M14 rifles; 530 bayonet and scabbards; 165 utility trucks; 32 12-gauge, riot-type shotguns; nine grenade launchers; and three observation helicopters.

And the situation in Missouri has led to a miracle of the stopped-clock variety: I agree with Ross Douthat.

Abortion isn’t always a difficult decision. Someone had to say it.

A busy, busy, busy week awaits. Expect gaps and maybe some photos. But let’s enjoy it, eh?

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life | 45 Comments
 

Seeing the forest, and paying.

One of the things that drives me nuttiest about the anti-government movement in this country is its easy assumption that all those who do work for the public are, at heart and at the root, Evil. Exhibit A: The woods of Huntington Woods.

Here we have a tiny (1.6 square mile) suburb that would likely be called “leafy,” mainly because it is. It’s Huntington Woods, after all. See if you can follow this: In 2007, the city does a survey to develop a community master plan. How do you feel about trees? the city asks. Ninety-six percent — 96! percent! — says yay trees. The next question: Would you support an ordinance to protect them? Ninety-one percent says hell yes. So in June the city passes an ordinance that discourages people from removing trees that aren’t diseased or dying. It’s patterned after one that already exists in 13 communities. Requires inspections and fines. And…

On June 17, Huntington Woods’ five-member city commission unanimously passed the new tree protection ordinance, Sullivan said.

It amended the city’s code of ordinances to require permits for cutting down trees — something that previously wasn’t on the books, she said.

The city only keeps permit fees of homeowners removing mature, healthy trees; it returns fees for removing dead or dying trees, according to the city manager.

I know you know what’s coming next: A citizen who says, like Madeline, “something is not right!”

“My personal feeling is they shouldn’t be able to tell us that we can’t take down any tree on our property,” said Iversen. “It’s ridiculous.”

Yes, it’s a property-rights activist who had determined that if she should want to take down her sycamore, it would cost her a lot, even though the sycamore is fine and yadda yadda principle of the thing.

It’s stories like this that make me heave a deep sigh. There’s a lot of this sort of thing locally — the endless surveys, the consensus-building that sometimes turns an entire administration into a finger in the wind, stripped of leadership. But I get why they do it, and when you get two surveys that show more than 90 percent of respondents are Pro-Tree, it shouldn’t be this complicated.

And yet it is. And somewhere out there, an eagle-eyed citizen is ready to upset the apple cart.

You wonder why anyone runs for a local office, with rewards like this waiting for them.

And so another week has collapsed under the collective weight of the work we’ve done, and a weekend awaits. Wait, did that sound grim? I didn’t mean it to. It’s just been a week. A little bloggage:

It’s not the Trayvon Martin Trial, part 2. This thoughtful Brian Dickerson column explains why.

Why do we say “big brown dog” instead of “brown big dog?” The semiotics of adjectives, for you language geeks.

Finally, oil and gas drilling (tries to) comes to the last, 49-acre stand of virgin white pine in Michigan.

A good weekend, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life | 40 Comments
 

A Fellini movie, every day.

Sitting at a Detroit office of the Secretary of State – an office people in most parts of the world think of as the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or, in Indiana, the license branch – is a strange experience. A guy across the aisle looks exactly like Slim Charles from “The Wire.” Another is dressed, head to toe, hat to sandals, in orange. (And I doubt he’s a Tigers fan. Not a stitch of blue.) There’s a grandma tending a fussy baby who, you can tell from the look on her face, is working his way up to a blowout.

A woman clears her way though an aisle, claiming loudly, “I’m just looking for a place to sit.” Ninety seconds later, she goes back the other way: “I’m just going to get a smoke.”

I’ve been told to use all the online tools — the check-in, the text alerts for when your place in line is coming up — and I do, because if there’s one thing that will ruin your day, it’s sitting that waiting room for longer than 20 minutes.

One thing I forgot: To lie about the purchase price. Damn, I forgot they were the ones who collect the sales tax.

But now the car is fully insured and legal, and woo. Time to start pouring more money into it.

The conversation yesterday about factory farms reminded me to post this story and video, about a guy I wrote about for Bridge a couple of years ago, who’s still struggling to close the deal on his urban amoeba farm, all organic. It was written by a former student, so win-win, etc. It gives me a little hope for the future.

Besides, what crisis? Toledo is free to drink the water again. What fertilizer runoff? Oops. Spoke too soon.

This doesn’t happen often around here, but often enough that it doesn’t really surprise anyone:

Harsens Island — While a woman fights for her life after being injured in a boating accident that killed her husband and another person, police said Monday they are releasing a man connected to the accident Sunday evening on Lake St. Clair.

Authorities said Monday they expected to release a 32-year-old Chesterfield Township man, whose name is being withheld because he has not been charged. He did submit to a blood test to determine alcohol levels given that police say drinking and high speed may have been factors in the collision.

…Algonac resident Alan Block, who is a local sailboat racer and senior reporter for Sailing Anarchy, was sailing in the southbound channel and was about 200 feet from the collision when it occurred.

“I came to a stop because I knew something was going to happen,” Block said. “There were two large boats — perhaps 40 footers — headed southbound and they were leaving large wakes. One of the boats looked like a fishing vessel and the other was a cabin cruiser with an upper deck. A third boat, a 25-foot Baja, which is a very fast speed boat, was headed northbound in the shipping channel doing about 45 to 50 mph.”

According to Block, the Baja failed to slow down for the large wakes caused by the bigger boats.

Here’s a headline that says read me: Kid Rock: I don’t have glass sex toy sought in Insane Clown Posse case.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t deliver.

Good Tuesdays all around.

Posted at 12:32 am in Current events, Detroit life | 20 Comments
 

Lavender lake.

What am I doing here? It’s one of those hurrier-I-go-the-behinder-I-get sorts of weeks, but we all need a fresh thread from time to time.

At least I’m making time for exercise, y’know? Today was a crisp morning, very unseasonable for July, but I was out early on the bike and rode as hard and fast as I dared for 50 minutes. The reward was this:

dawn

Seconds before this shot, the rising sun was peeking out of the clouds, reflected in a pink stripe on the water. In the time it took me to fumble my camera out of my saddlebag, it was gone. Still, a very pretty morning. Not one regret about getting up at 5:45 a.m.

So, you’re a millionaire rock star, playing a triumphant sold-out show at a beautiful theater in your hometown, where the fans love you and all the rest of it. So what do you do? If you’re Jack White, complain:

Having launched the evening with a typically scorching roar, depositing hot, gnarled guitar into the one-two punch of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” and the new “High Ball Stepper,” White soon became visibly displeased with the standing crowd’s lack of intensity in what he wanted to be a symbiotic affair.

Road manager Lalo Medina had already pleaded the case before show time, taking the stage and asking fans not to sit down or distract themselves with cell phone cameras.

Sure enough, just a half-hour in — after trying everything from a galloping “Hotel Yorba” to an acoustic reading of “Temporary Ground” with Lillie Mae Rische on harmony and Dominic Suchyta on upright bass — White summoned his stagehands. And with a quick “Thanks, God bless you,” he had the curtains pulled.

Several restless minutes passed before White and his five-piece band returned, ripping into “Fell in Love With a Girl” as White gestured at the crowd to engage. He soon paused to alternately tease and cajole the audience in the ornate room.

“I know as Detroiters you can overcome comfortable seating and beautiful lighting to make something as real as possible,” he said.

I guess it got better from there, but man, what a control freak.

Open thread today, obviously. (What am I saying? It’s open every day.) And happy Wednesday. I remembered this time.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life, iPhone, Same ol' same ol' | 63 Comments
 

Summer snapshots.

I said expect some photo posts this summer, so here you go.

I found this video on my phone, having utterly forgotten it from a couple of weeks ago. It’s from Port Huron, at the start of the Mackinac race. When the boats start to make their way out of the river to the starting line, the Port Huron Yacht Club hosts a troupe of pipers to send them off. Sort of cool. Click here if you want to watch it.

The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad had a big weekend — five gigs in four days, one of them on the University of Michigan student radio station. It was to promote some local-music festival. They made the Metro Times listings:

justin

Look at Justin Timberlake, checkin’ out my girls. Step off, pop star. You can’t handle the DVAS.

The best gig of the weekend was Thursday’s, at the Magic Stick. The theme was Space Jam, so decorations were in order:

DVASatMagicStick

They were very energetic. I will say, that after years of dragging Kate around to jazz gigs and other music lessons, six months with this band has done far more for her confidence than all that sophisticated repertoire she played with various ensembles. She’s having a ball, and so a ball she will continue to have.

How was y’all’s weekend? I spent it working on the book, and was rewarded with a strongly ass-smelling Mitch Albom column. The past week included Detroit’s 313th birthday, and if you’ve ever called someone here, you know that’s the city’s area code. So there were a number of parties, festivals, throwdowns and the like going on all week. These included: A “body-positive,” i.e. semi-nude bike ride, a street-band festival, about a million other things. A guy I know who’s involved with the people who own and operate Gon KiRin, aka the dragon art car that shoots actual fire out of her nostrils, got her out and about. They got pulled over by the cops. Let me just set up the punchline by sketching out what this thing offers:

The beast is 22-1/2 feet tall and about 80 feet long, weighing in at 8 tons. It’s an “art car,” built onto the frame of an old Dodge W-300 Power Wagon with a 318 engine. There’s a 1,500-pound second-story DJ booth encased in steel wicker, mounted on a Marine Zodiac attack boat under the monster’s spine. The whole contraption can carry more than a dozen riders, with seats in the mouth and in a party couch on the back, where riders can make the tail sway back and forth.

So guess what the offense was? One of the artists had his 2-year-old son with him, and he wasn’t in a child safety seat. On a dragon.

With all this going on, with this vast buffet of snacks and bonbons to choose from, here’s part of Mitch’s offering on the 313 celebration:

What we are — what we remain — is a place that celebrates things like its 313th birthday. A place that immortalizes an annual car cruise down Woodward Avenue. That treats Opening Day of the baseball season as a religious experience. That considers walking around new cars in tuxedos and black dresses the biggest party of the year.

We are resilient in our traditions. Fiercely proud of own. We act as if Tim Allen still walks down our streets and Bob Seger is releasing a top 10 song this week, as if Motown is a thriving business, not a museum, and Gordie Howe could lace them up and play a few shifts if he wanted to.

Tim Allen. Bob Seger. Motown. The Dream Cruise (which doesn’t come near Detroit). If this guy were any more out of touch, he’d be living in California. All of the above details about the goings-on could have been gleaned from a cursory run through the free weekly’s listings. I can’t stand it.

OK, then. I just sent this David Carr column to my colleagues. It’s about the use of immediate social-media technology to report on breaking news, and the complications and rule-bending it brings with it:

Tyler Hicks, a longtime photographer for The Times, was at a hotel in Gaza City across from the beach where the four Palestinian boys died. He tweeted the news immediately, took a photo that was hard to glance at and then wrote about what it was like to be standing there.

He said that he felt horrified, but that in a clinical sense, he also felt exposed. “If children are being killed, what is there to protect me, or anyone else?”

The act of witness, a foundation of war reporting, has been democratized and disseminated in new ways. The same device that carries photos of your mother’s new puppy or hosts aimless video games also serves up news from the front.

Are you middle-class? Feeling poorer today? There’s a reason.

OK, I’m outta here. Have a great week, everyone. Expect more spotty service.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments
 

Cliff’s Notes theater.

I’ll give Mitch Albom this: The guy has no shame whatsoever, and a nearly Oprah-perfect common touch. Another writer, tasked with a play about a beloved baseball announcer, might have searched for a little chiaroscuro, a few shadows, something, anything to give all that lovin’ a little dimension. Not Mitch. For “Ernie,” his tribute to Detroit’s late and beloved Ernie Harwell, he will have no truck with shadows, nor shades of gray, nor anything that might taint the rosy picture so many Detroiters have of their late hero. The worst thing “Ernie” says about Ernie is that he worked very hard, and his beloved wife Lulu had to spend a lot of nights alone.

And so it was that my friend Dustin and I took in this dose of Albom, something I never thought I’d do. But I park in the garage attached to the theater, and when the posters went up for this annual cash-extraction exercise for sentimental Tigers fans, conveniently scheduled on game days, now in its four year, I had a change of heart.

“Dustin,” I said. “It’s time for us to see ‘Ernie.’”

“OK,” he said.

I was hoping he’d put up more of a fight. But I bought the tickets.

The play, like Mitch’s books, seems a bare minimum of effort (85 minutes; you get the idea it was kept short to eliminate the need for embarrassing bathroom breaks by its elderly audience). It’s set on a nearly-bare stage, with two characters – Ernie and “the boy.” The boy wears knickers, knee socks, high shoes and a newsboy’s cap. I think of him as the personification of the author’s belief that everything was better in the world when times were simpler and boys wore knickers. He’s played by TJ Corbett, with lots of jazz-handsy, run-around-the-stage energy. Ernie is played by Peter Carey with a Georgia accent and an old man’s shuffle that keeps threatening to reveal the younger one beneath.

It’s set in a tunnel at Comerica Park, just offstage, as Ernie prepares to receive an accolade from the organization that employed him for so long. But there’s a rain delay, and the kid in knickers shows up to prompt Ernie through “a broadcast of his life” in “nine innings,” and no, I’m not kidding. So we’re basically talking a monologue, interrupted by the knickers kid, and that’s a heavy lift for an actor, so respect.

Along the way, and this should not surprise you, we learn a lot about the playwright. The phrase “kids today” is repeated more than once. There’s a sneering reference to “Faceplace,” i.e., that website my daughter wouldn’t be caught dead on. The World Series-winning ’68 Tigers “really pulled us all together,” after “the racial strife and riots,” which are given exactly that much attention – five words. There’s reference to fans doing the wave, something I’ve only seen at football games, but what do I know? I’m no sportswriter.

I started jotting down random platitudes lines: “Never judge a man by what others say about him.” “None of them are texting.” “Believe in yourself; God has a plan for everyone.”

I have a friend who reveres Harwell, and on any given day, he can summon up half a dozen lines of his radio patter, the pitcher who “kicks and delivers,” the batter walked for “excessive window shopping.” The ones that turn up in every nostalgia story are the ones we hear here: “Loooong gone,” and the one about “standing like a house by the side of the road.” Similarly ignored is any mention of how the game changed toward the end of Harwell’s career; while Mark Fidrych gets in there, the story about him having sex with a girl on the pitcher’s mound, needless to say, doesn’t make it. Hey, family audiences. Even his firing, during the Monaghan era, is glossed over.

There’s nothing new here, no particular insight into the man’s character, no message about the human condition you could name, other than here was a really nice man and we all wish he were still alive, so here’s a guy to impersonate him for 85 minutes. It’s theater for the Faceplace age.

So at the end of an hour and a half, what you’re left with is an extended version of the Albom obit that is helpfully included in the program, all sweetness and light and puppies and goo. We were probably the youngest people in the house.

A little bloggage to get us into the weekend? Well, OK:

The director of the Ohio State marching band gets cashiered after an internal investigation showed the place featured only slightly less over-the-top, sexually themed harassment than a strip bar next to an oil field. If your team ever played Ohio State, you’ll want to check this handy songbook and learn what they were singing about your band in the locker room.

Tom & Lorenzo do the important work of summer fashion blogging, i.e., putting together a few snaps of Taylor Swift leaving the gym.

Dahlia! Dahlia! Dahlia takes on the two-hour execution in Arizona this week.

On Wednesday afternoon, in a ritual that has become increasingly—indeed almost numbingly—familiar, the state of Arizona administered a secret drug protocol that took almost two hours to kill a man. Joseph R. Wood III was sentenced to death in 1991 for shooting and killing his ex-girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene. The murder was gruesome, and Wood was guilty. He shot his victims in the chest at close range. The only question that remains, as yet another state botches yet another execution, is whether the two hours of gasping and snorting by the accused before he finally died is excessive, or whether it sounds about right to us.

Love me some Dahlia. And now I love me some weekend, and I hope you do, too.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life | 76 Comments
 

Come and sit by me.

How do we feel about “co-working,” friends? Or has the hyphen been dropped entirely by now? In which case: How do we feel about coworking?

I think we need to keep the hyphen. Autocorrect tried to make that “cowering.”

I ask because co-working is the new dance craze that’s sweepin’ the nation. When Bridge was setting up its Detroit office, we looked at a couple of them. My boss asked only that it not be a place where if you stepped away from your desk for a minute you risked being run over by a hipster on a skateboard. We went through a couple, and they were beautiful places, but we couldn’t make them work, or co-work.

For starters, we needed at least a little privacy, and this seems to run contrary to the ethic of co-working. While there were lots of cubbies and cul-de-sacs and other places where you could make a phone call demanding the abortion money without too much risk of being eavesdropped upon, the co-working office where you can lock away your computer monitor, keep a private copier and a file cabinet or two wasn’t easy to find. No one really wanted to modify their lovingly restored reclaimed-wood loft into cubicles with locking doors, because hey! It’s CO-WORKING, not a bunch of veal-fattening pens. Get with the program.

The program, as near as I could tell via direct observation, was sitting at long tables staring into a laptop, feeding off the collective energy in the room. Bikes parked right next to your desk. An office kitchen with a few local craft brews in the fridge, takeout menus in the drawers. Funky signage. Funky everything. Maybe some old photos from the ’20s silkscreened, in heroic scale, on the walls. A few office dogs.

We ended up in a plain old traditional office with a locking door. I still park my bike near my desk. But every time a new co-working space opens, and the local Curbed website runs a shitload of photos, I feel a little bereft. I bet I’d like hanging there.

What am I thinking? In a month, they’d hold a vote and kick me out, after my third announcement to the room: SHUT DOWN YOUR COMPUTERS AND GO MEET SOME GIRLS, PEOPLE.

It does make you wonder how the office of the future will look. I’d much rather work in one of these places than in most of the offices I’ve endured, including the one in my spare bedroom. Cube life isn’t good for anyone.

So. Today the big time-waster on social media was the remarkable photos of ex-Tiger Prince Fielder, nude, published in ESPN magazine. I found myself poring over them, for no reason even approaching prurient. I just liked marveling at the size of the guy’s legs. There was a lot of talk of “eye bleach” and “things you can’t unsee” from the guys, a few clicks will take you to Venus Williams and her astounding booty. Plus many other sculpted athletes, all tastefully nekkid. Go waste some time of your own.

Me, I’m going to bed. I had a class tonight called Yoga Flex that taught me an important lesson: Yoga and weight-lifting are both fine workouts, but they really shouldn’t marry. It’ll never work out.

Happy Hump Day, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life, Popculch | 66 Comments
 

A short fuse.

Two years ago, apparently seized by a desire for FREEDOM, not to mention revenue, our state legislature eased restrictions on all sorts of fireworks. They imposed licensing and a 12 percent tax on sales, with the proceeds split between firefighter training (really) and the general fund, then said, “Have fun, kids!”

The law says people have a right to shoot pretty much anything the day before, the day of, and the day after federal holidays, and as you can imagine, the one that gets the most action is not Martin Luther King Day.

So I have this neighbor. I already knew he was a jerk; he likes to shoot squirrels with his pellet gun, I guess for target practice. I haven’t spoken to him about the dead ones that have fallen into our yard, but I scooped the corpses up on a shovel and dumped them over the fence. I know he saw me do it because he was standing in the back doorway one time, and shrank back into the house.

Whatever. I know he’s also fond of fireworks, but this year was a cake-taker. He invited people over and shot shit off from nightfall to after 11 p.m. July 3, 4 and 5. One night I don’t mind and two nights is pushing it, but by the third night I was feeling hostile. That third night is a Budweiser-scented belch in the face, followed by, “It’s a free country.” We adopted Wendy last year about this time and our vet agreed she was about a year old, and she came through 2013′s fireworks season like a champ, so we decided her birthday would be celebrated on July 4. (Yes, we celebrate animal birthdays in our house; don’t you?)

This year I spent her birthday jury-rigging a Thunder Shirt for her out of a hand towel and Ace bandage. She was so scared Alan could hear her teeth chattering.

I should add, these weren’t normal backyard fireworks. I have seen less impressive displays at civic celebrations, and keep in mind, these were going off in a densely populated area, flying into mature trees, raining sparks over roofs and lawns and parked cars. Our driveway was littered with cardboard from the shells after the first night. The dog next door was so upset he voided both his bladder and bowels, and barking resounded throughout the neighborhood. I cannot be the only one who is growing tired of this shit, I thought as the clock ticked close to midnight (the legal shutdown hour) on July 4. The following night, that became clear.

We had a friend over for drinks and a fire in the back yard, and close to 11, in between blasts, I heard a woman screaming in anger: “Who’s going to clean off my car? Who?” I asked my friend to call in a possible disturbance to 911 and we went around the corner. The cops were just arriving, got out and proceeded to yell? At the complaining neighbors. “Take it up with the state legislature,” they said before threatening to arrest the group for public intoxication, which seemed odd, as no one appeared to have been drinking all that much. (Except for me, and I only had a delicious Michigan sour-cherry Manhattan early in the evening and two glasses of wine afterward.) The biggest complainer, the woman with the car, asked quite reasonably why she could be arrested for making too much noise at 5 p.m. on any other day of the year, but this guy could essentially turn a multi-block area into a war zone for three nights running. The answer: Take it up with Lansing. The guy making all this noise had a simpler reply — his middle finger.

I really, really don’t understand someone like this. I certainly understand the appeal of fireworks, but this campaign — every night for the whole legal three-day period, in the face of open revolt from one’s own neighbors — suggests a level of hostility that makes one unsuited for urban life. And the fact this is happening all over the state only makes me wonder why we haven’t had a few shootings already.

And that was our weekend! Well, plus some sailing and grilling and yoga and all the rest. FREEDOM.

Bloggage? Sure:

“Rolling coal” — proof there really is no bottom to some people’s stupidity. (I bet these guys LOVE fireworks, the louder the better.)

This is a very good analysis of reactions to the Hobby Lobby decision, and the fact it came from Cosmopolitan magazine seems like a damn miracle.

More Dahlia. Sigh.

And with that, the week is off and running. Hope it’s good for you.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life | 39 Comments
 

One million stories in the Naked City.

A few little Moments in Detroit ™ have befallen me lately. I should share:

Since the weather turned warm, I’ve been doing some so-called last-mile commuting, which is what urban planners call it when you ride a bike to a transit stop, load it onto the bus or light rail or whatever, then unload it at your destination stop and finish the last leg to your office. It’s great so far; the building manager overruled the security guard who told me I had to leave the bike chained to a parking meter outside, so I take it up to the office. At lunchtime, I’m no longer confined to the Subway and Rub Pub on either side of our building, or even the places farther away — I can ride to the Eastern Market and get a slice of Supino’s pizza or a sandwich from the Russell Street Deli, which has Subway beat by a unit so large, it no longer makes sense to measure it in miles.

Last Friday I was cruisin’ into work on the bus, looking forward to the weekend, when an alarm started beeping in the engine compartment. The driver got on the horn with HQ, then pulled over and told us we’d be waiting for another bus or a repair, whichever came first.

This was the point when I realized just how important last-mile commuting is. I took the bike down from the rack and announced it was time for Plan B. I rode off Jefferson and into a terrible neighborhood, one burned-and-blighted house after another. And then, as though into Emerald City, I was in Indian Village, a stately neighborhood of older homes. A few blocks of this and back into the dodgy districts. Five men walked toward me, spread across the road, and I wondered if it was wise to stay on course. Decided to smile and wave, and they smiled and waved back, just a pod of local rummies getting their morning drink on, it looked like.

Then, huzzah, a bike lane. And a cemetery, final resting place of Sonic Smith. Some deteriorated light industrial, a new high school, this, that, a casino, downtown and my office. Five miles, roughly. I should do this more often. A perfect morning for a little bike ride.

Then today I had to appear on a local radio show, to discuss this story. I walked into the lobby, and who should be there but Sixto Rodriguez, the “Searching for Sugarman” guy. He’d just stopped by to make a cash donation.

“I really like your show, Craig,” he said. I guess he didn’t want to wait for another pledge campaign. A guy I know who used to work at the station says he does it all the time — just swings by from time to time to drop a fifty into the tip jar. Now that’s what I call public-radio support.

Rodriguez gives away a lot of his money. His daughter quotes him as saying once you have the food-clothing-shelter part handled, all the rest is icing. He shares the icing.

So, now I’m watching a few days of 80-degree weather blow out with a thunderstorm, with a 25-degree drop ahead for the next few days. We put the boat in Friday. Balls.

Some good bloggage today. Let’s start with a category called Fiery Oratory. Emily Bazelon reviews Glenn Greenwald’s new book in Slate:

A million jokesters have invited the NSA to listen in on their calls about feeding the cat or picking up the kids, noting that most Americans aren’t doing anything exciting enough to interest the government. You are missing the point if you’re in this camp, Greenwald urges:

Of course, dutiful, loyal supporters of the president and his policies, good citizens who do nothing to attract negative attention from the powerful, have no reason to fear the surveillance state. This is the case in every society: those who pose no challenge are rarely targeted by oppressive measures, and from their perspective, they can then convince themselves that oppression does not really exist. But the true measure of a society’s freedom is how it treats its dissidents and other marginalized groups, not how it treats good loyalists. … We shouldn’t have to be faithful loyalists of the powerful to feel safe from state surveillance. Nor should the price of immunity be refraining from controversial or provocative dissent. We shouldn’t want a society where the message is conveyed that you will be left alone only if you mimic the accommodating behavior and conventional wisdom of a Washington establishment columnist.

…Reading about all the disclosures again, woven together and in context, I couldn’t decide which was worse: the NSA’s massive, grim overreach, in the hands of Director Michael Hayden—or the complicity of almost every other entity involved, private as well as public. “PRISM is a team sport!” trumpeted one NSA memo. Too true: Other memos and slides show Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Microsoft easing the way toward surveillance of their users. (Twitter was the exception in this case.) When the Guardian and the Washington Post broke that news, the tech companies tried to argue otherwise based on a technicality. But looking back, the documents “give the lie to Silicon Valley’s denials of cooperation,” as Greenwald writes.

I will be reading this, most likely. Eventually. After I read everything else I’m supposed to read. Someone recently recommended “Hellhound on His Trail,” the story of the manhunt for James Earl Ray, describing how great it was, etc., and all I could think was, dammit, another one.

More fiery oratory, from Gene Weingarten, speaking at Joe McGinniss’ memorial service:

Listen:

When a writer enters into an agreement with a source to tell his story, there is always an accompanying covenant. This will be acknowledged by, you know, every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on. In return for fair and objective reporting, the subject is promising to tell the truth. If the subject lies to the writer, all bets are off. The degree to which this principle attaches is directly proportional to the enormity of the lie that was told.

He’s speaking of the teapot tempest that followed a New Yorker piece that was about “Fatal Vision,” called “The Journalist and the Murderer.” The writer, Janet Malcolm, implied that McGinniss had betrayed Jeffrey MacDonald somehow, and… Just read the link.

I was in a group looking at some data regarding Michigan’s charter schools when someone recollected that charters were supposed to be educational trailblazers, and that’s why they were freed from many of the constraints traditional schools have — so they could run ahead and blaze a trail.

Not so much anymore. Not in New York, anyway:

A primary rationale for the creation of charter schools, which are publicly financed and privately run, was to develop test kitchens for practices that could be exported into the traditional schools. President Obama, in recently proclaiming “National Charter Schools Week,” said they “can provide effective approaches for the broader public education system.”

But two decades since the schools began to appear, educators from both systems concede that very little of what has worked for charter schools has found its way into regular classrooms. Testy political battles over space and money, including one that became glaringly public in New York State this spring, have inhibited attempts at collaboration. The sharing of school buildings, which in theory should foster communication, has more frequently led to conflict.

And some charter schools have veered so sharply from the traditional model — with longer school years, armies of nonunion workers and flashy enrichment opportunities like trips to the Galápagos Islands — that their ideas are viewed as unworkable in regular schools.

Finally, I know Christopher Columbus long ago lost his luster with most people, but I was raised in Columbus, Ohio, and I will always read a story about the old Genoan. And this one is pretty interesting; scientists think they might have found the wreckage of the Santa Maria.

A lot for a Wednesday, I know, but hey — eat up.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life, Media | 22 Comments
 

The kids are back.

College graduation in Michigan was last week, which means summer-intern season is underway downtown. And while it’s still a bit chilly (grrr), Thursday is supposed to be nearly 80, which means all the pieces are clicking into place for another fabulous summer in Fun City.

A couple of the development firms have gone whole-hog into summer internships, which they see as an opportunity to shape young minds to love Detroit, not the regular, non-summer Detroit, but a special enhanced Detroit, its pillows plumped just for them.

They poured a bunch of white sand at Campus Martius park a couple weeks ago, so the kids can have a “beach.” One building with a second-floor overhang has installed outdoor seating clusters, not lawn chairs but living-room style, separated by dog topiaries. There’s a private bike-sharing service for them. One building has an outdoor chess set, with pieces the size of trash cans.

It so happened I was out and about today, at one of the new-style “co-working” places that are all over town — usually a raw space fitted out in reclaimed wood with cubicles and lots of fun add-ons, like full kitchens and employees’ dogs. We looked at one for Bridge when we were moving downtown, but opted for something a little more traditional — journalists sometimes have to make phone calls in privacy, although we were the original co-workers, in my opinion.

My walk there took me past a high-rise apartment building with more living-room seating arrangements out front and that most essential detail of new-urbanist life: Bike racks. Lots of them.

One can be heartened by the new life flowing into downtown Detroit and still find a lot of this stuff silly. I suppose everyone dreams of landing a job in a free-food, bring-your-dog paradise like Google, but realistically, only a lucky very few ever will. So what is this Playskool-colored, toys-toys-toys summer-fun interlude for?

I remember my first real job after college. I spent the first weeks walking into walls, wondering where the fun had gone. We used to sit around the Ohio University Post scrawling graffiti on the wall and re-enacting light-saber battles using a pile of discarded fluorescent tubes the physical plant guys never took away. At the Dispatch, half the staff was a thousand years old and worked on the editorial page, writing six-paragraphs welcomes to spring and St. Patrick’s Day.

So I hope the new summer interns have fun here this summer, digging their toes in the sand and eating sandwiches under the dog topiary. For whatever casualness they have brought to the workplace at large, I’m grateful — it’s nice to have pantyhose more or less permanently off the work-wardrobe budget. And I hope they all get jobs when the internships are over. Maybe some will be in Detroit. Sorry to say it, kids, but: The winters suck.

Not a lot of bloggage today, but this was satisfying in a mean way: Pete Coors can’t understand the kids and their fondness for craft beers, aka beer that doesn’t taste like chilled urine:

Coors said he is baffled about trends that show the more expensive craft beer market growing by about 7 percent, the light premium beer market staying flat and the economy beer market with brands such as Pabst Blue Ribbon and Keystone dropping by 7 percent or even into double figures.

“In this economy that is difficult to understand,” Coors said. “But people are staying at home now, not buying cars or houses. They have money to spend. They want to spend it on something that they think has more value. … You talk about the millennials. The world is very different.”

A while back, Kate’s bass teacher and I were chatting about the use of guns in self-defense, and we agreed that as irritating as it is to have your stuff stolen, neither of us were willing to kill another human being over a television set. Not so in Montana. Good lord, but I’m growing to despise these lunatics.

And now we’re sliding toward the weekend. Every week, this miracle happens.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life | 46 Comments