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 | 1 Comment

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:


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

Another sub-60 degree weekend.

The weekend is over and not a lot of fun was had — work and errands and the usual seemed to pile up a bit higher this week. But I did some reading and walked the dog and got some exercise. The Metro Times Blowout was this weekend — it’s a local-music festival, the loud kind — and I got to one show Friday but happily turned my wristband over to Kate the next night. Saw some friends, drank a couple of beers and finished off with the final concert of Kate’s jazz season. One of the mothers called for a group picture but couldn’t get her camera to work, so I did her a solid and emailed her mine:


As stated before in this space, they really put the “creative” in Creative Jazz Ensemble, what with having three violins and all. They also have three guitarists, but two were no-shows for this show. Good thing my little girl was there to be the bottom, as one of the numbers was “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” and you really can’t do that without a bass.

One other thing from Saturday: Watched “Her,” which immediately became my favorite movie of 2013. It won best original screenplay at the Oscars, and no other nominated film of the last year came close to it. It’s about a lonely writer, Theodore, in some vague future version of Los Angeles who falls in love with the disembodied voice of his computer operating system; think Siri after about 20 more generations of improvement. The story is great enough, but what I really fell in love with was the setting of a smoggy Los Angeles where everyone walks around talking, but not to the people around them. Computers have pretty much replaced human contact — the scenes of Theodore’s interaction with his flesh-and-blood friends don’t look like nearly as much fun as his playful chats with Samantha, his OS. Even lonely bedtime masturbation can be done online with a partner with just a few voice commands. His job is writing customized letters for others, to others. The world is entirely a service economy, and this is what we’re selling — canned emotions and disembodied love.

Seriously, I recommend it to anyone who considers these things, and given that we’re a disembodied community here, most of whom don’t even know what other members look like, it almost suggests a virtual movie club.

So, I’m going down to make a simple dinner and see what Sunday-night TV has in store. A little bloggage today:

Jazz hands! A Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter embeds at a high-school musical and files a report.

God, I hate circuses.

Meanwhile, back in Detroit, the Cinco de Mayo parade is cancelled after someone is shot to death pretty much smack in the middle of it.

Happy Monday, all.

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

Meet the DVAS.

Because I believe my little girl should be free to have her own life, and write about it someday, I mention her less here than I might be inclined to. But it seems noteworthy to mark milestones when they come along, and we had one this weekend.

Around Christmas, Kate and two of her friends formed a band. They call themselves the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, a reference you Quentin Tarantino fans should pick up on. Their vision was clear from the beginning: All girls, playing their own brand of psychedelic punk, not just a cover band. They worked hard through the long winter, practicing at one’s house (not ours, but the one whose guitar-playing father had already turned the garage into a studio). The search for a singer took a while, but eventually they found someone, and through this connection and that connection, they had their first gig Saturday.

It was a venue that appears in no Google searches, probably because it barely exists. It’s a brick building with one room and a boarded-up storefront, probably a former mom-and-pop grocery or barbershop or what-have-you. The neighborhood is terrible, as in your-car’s-safety-is-in-God’s-hands terrible, and there was enough light in the sky to see just how terrible as we drove up. These are the neighborhoods in Detroit that freak me out — the ones where the blight is well-entrenched and mostly still standing, but there are still many occupied houses. Imagine living next to a standing burned shell, or between two of them, for years on end. It might leave a person with a bad attitude.

“If only we had a film crew to capture this milestone in your early career,” I mused as we drove past a house with a collapsed front porch roof. Well, at least it’s pretty damn punk.

But we found the guy who runs the place, and with many, many misgivings, left the girls to do their own setup and sound check while we went to the Northern Lights Lounge for a drink and some hummus. We returned as the DVAS were just about ready to take the — well, it wasn’t quite a stage. More like a clearing in the corner.

And they did great, with a tight little set of originals, and two covers — the Jimmy Neutron theme song and, because we are where we are, some Stooges.

The place was so murky inside even my flash pictures couldn’t penetrate it. We’re going to have to go with arty here:


With all due respect to the venue, I hope they don’t play there anymore. They’re already good enough that they shouldn’t have to.

It was a busy Saturday. I drove to Lansing to meet with one of the Bridge columnists I edit, who was signing copies of an Upper Peninsula literary collection called “The Way North,” which I can recommend to any Yoopers looking for a taste of home. I’m still in the poetry section, but I’m liking it quite a lot.

Sunday? A 14-mile bike ride into the teeth of a chilly wind. WHERE IS WARMTH? WARMTH I REQUIRE.

Bloggage, then:

I’ve really become a fan of Neil Steinberg, who puts a lot more effort into his blog than I do. This one in particular.

As long as we’re talking Bridge, one of my faves of the weekend — a Vietnam-era vet objects to the word-inflation of “hero.” I totally agree.

Living paycheck-to-paycheck on $90K a year? You bet. Another great deep dive from the WashPost.

Hello, Monday. I’ve heard you can’t be trusted. But I hope everyone’s week is fine.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 58 Comments

Fine weather for a resurrection.

I know bad weather happens on Easter, but honestly, I can never think of any in my recent memory. Maybe it just doesn’t register, or fades quickly, like the pain of childbirth. Whatever the reason, we had a pretty glorious Easter, weather-wise, and most of the other -wises, in that we had good food and chocolate and ham and eggs. I’m sure Jeff was working overtime and then some, but it is the busiest day of the year in his line of work.

As for me, I saw a Muslim girl at the Eastern Market, wearing a hijab, with a pair of bunny ears on top. Our wonderful country of weirdness.

We went to Toledo to meet my sister-in-law for Easter lunch — it’s about halfway between us. Somehow we got to talking about this and that, and she said her employer-paid health insurance offers a rebate for people who exercise four times a week for 30 minutes. It’s self-reported, she said.

And how much of a rebate do they get? Fifteen bucks per quarter. It’s hardly worth lying on the reporting forms.

I was wondering about this because I read something recently about “the internet of things” — all the interconnected devices that make our lives easier. I think we’ve discussed the Next thermostat here before, but there are also all these fitness trackers like the Fitbit and Nike Fuel Band, et al. I got one of these for Christmas, the Misfit Shine, and I really like it. It meshes narcissism with tech geekery with data analysis. I cannot deny that I check it several times a day, and that it motivates me to walk more often in pursuit of the points that make it blink and send me attagirl messages via my phone. I’m on a long-term, low-pressure quest to chip away a few pounds, and stupid stuff like this makes a difference

I don’t have to spend much time on the website, though, to see a definite dark side — the bundled packages “ideal for office groups,” where everyone gets a wearable tracker and competes to reach fitness goals. Is it so crazy to imagine a time when your insurer wants to know how often you’re making the 1,000-point standard, and determines your premium based on it?

I think it’ll happen. And I think the technology will advance, but also the shadow economy that will collect your tracker and attach it to a dog for 45 minutes or so before dropping it back in your mailbox.

Honest, boss, I don’t know why I can’t lose these extra pounds. I’m working my ass off at the dog park.

Let’s not let fear of surveillance put a pall on a gentle Sunday night, fading into golden light with a dog nearby and a single hot dog on the grill. (After that midday feed, I don’t feel like eating much.) Time to skip to the bloggage:

A friend of mine here in Detroit is one of those urban farmers you’ve heard so much about — the one with the ducks. She had her annual Easter Eggstravaganza, and I know a few of you threw her some money so she could make it free for all the neighborhood kids. Here are the event photos, at least the series where every kid in attendance got his or her picture taken with a duckling. Don’t know if that was the same duck in every picture, but you get a sense of the fun that was had. Lots!

I liked parts of this essay about Elmore Leonard, which ran last week in Grantland’s Detroit series. The writer understands which books were the best (at least, he agrees with me). Other parts, not so much, but it’s a fine effort.

And that’s enough for a day when we’re all recovering from chocolate poisoning. Happy week ahead, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 49 Comments

Another reason to stay open all night.

Again, sorry for the day off. I was out until after 9 — clear until after 9 — at a journalism awards banquet. Yes, like all but the top j-awards banquets, it was too long. Not as long as the Hoosier State Press Association, thank God, which had something like six or seven circulation categories and enough award classifications that the actual plaque-passing was like my high-school graduation, with its 750-strong senior class. I recall “Pomp & Circumstance” playing and playing and playing.

But Bridge did OK. And the boss bought the drinks.

And I got home too late to blog. There are nights when I think I have flat run out of everything there is to say about everything in the world, and think I should just pull the plug on the whole thing. Usually it’s on nights when I’m tired. So let’s get going, then.

I was not much of a Walmart fan from the very first time I set foot in one, before I knew much about the company at all. They always struck me as overcrowded and aggressively ugly, the sort of place where there’s not even a polite nod toward the idea of seduction in sales, the attractive arrangement of a $6 T-shirt on a mannequin or something. No, it has all the charm of GUM, the Soviet Macy’s: Here is shirt. You buy shirt. Is cheap shirt.

So it’s obvious what the target market is for Walmart’s latest brand extension: Wiring money. Could there be anything more depressing than this?

Lower-income consumers have been a core demographic for Walmart, but in recent quarters those shoppers have turned increasingly to dollar stores.

“Walmart-2-Walmart leverages our existing footprint and the large-scale systems that our company can bring to bear to enable a low-cost service such as this,” said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Walmart United States.

More than 29 percent of households in the United States did not have a savings account in 2011, and about 10 percent of households did not have a checking account, according to a study sponsored by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. And while alternative financial products give consumers access to services they might otherwise be denied, people who are shut out of the traditional banking system sometimes find themselves paying high fees for transactions as basic as cashing a check.

What a country this has become, when this one demographic bloc can support a chain as enormous as Walmart. Meanwhile, those aforementioned dollar stores are everywhere in Detroit.

Let’s skip to the bloggage:

First, one of mine, a profile of a rising gay public intellectual who actually engages his opponents with respect and moderation. Friend of a friend.

With the start of “Mad Men” comes Tom & Lorenzo’s Mad Style posts. I admit I hadn’t thought of the blue dress/black “Zou Bisou” dress connection. I’m surprised they haven’t pointed out how much Lou Avery, the temporary creative director, resembles Duck Philips, the headhunter who hired him.

It’s Detroit week at Grantland. Personally, I think nostalgia like this is not a healthy thing, but it’s a good story: Saving Tiger Stadium.

Watch some Real Housewives cry: “I never said you were a stripper!”

Have a good weekend, all. I hope the well refills.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life | 44 Comments


Every time we have computer trouble, I find myself both irritated (haven’t we reached the point in the internet that it should just flippin’ work?) and — if I solve the problem — amazingly satisfied. Problem-solving has never been my most marketable skill, so it feels good to do deductive reasoning from time to time. Is it this? Let’s take it out of the chain and see what happens. Is it this? Yes.

It was the router, the ugly-ass Cisco that wanted me to install all its stupid software, added a Guest network and couldn’t find the damn printer until J.C. passed through town and brought it to heel.

The new one’s an Apple. Yes, I paid the premium. My reward? I plugged it in, and it worked. The lagniappe? It’s pretty. Good enough for me.

So, on Wednesday I experimented with what the urban planners call “last-mile” bike commuting. That’s where you ride your bike to the bus stop, put it on the rack on the front of the bus, commute to the urban center, take the bike off and ride to your office. It worked swimmingly both ways, unless you are the sort who would be bothered by the raving homeless guy who lingered at the downtown stop for a time. Bonus: I had a bike for lunch, and a friend and I rode down to Eastern Market for a slice at Supino’s, the best pizza in this or many other towns. The crust is so thin you can eat it entirely without guilt, because they don’t lard the cheese on, either.

And then it was back to the office, passing between a major-league baseball park and the housing project where the Supremes grew up, now abandoned and undergoing demolition. All under china-blue skies. That is what I call a lunch hour.

The only potential sour note in this is the lack of a rack at my office building, and the management’s refusal to let me bring it upstairs. I can’t even lock it in the vestibule, which meant I had to secure it to a parking meter outside the front door. I invested in a bomb-ass lock, but nothing works all the time. That’s when I rely on my time-honored strategy of never having the nicest stuff. Today, a woman rode past me on a racing bike that looked like it had been imported from the 23rd century. If I recognize her blond ponytail, she’s a local amateur racer and probably needs it, but I wouldn’t want to leave it anywhere without a 50-pound anchor secured to, I dunno, maybe a car.

OK, so bloggage for the weekend?

Here’s the WashPost Wonkblog thing I posted in comments Wednesday, for you non-comments people. It explains why ophthalmologists are among the highest-billing Medicare doctors out there. Spoiler: Pharmaceuticals.

I guess some people won’t be watching Stephen Colbert when he takes over for David Letterman.

And then Jesus said, “Take my wife. Please.” Can’t wait to see how this plays out.

Great weekend, all. And happy birthday, J.C. Burns! You make this thing happen every single day.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol', Television | 53 Comments