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You have found the detroitblog. This is about my wanderings and debaucheries in Detroit, as well as observations, news, commentary and ramblings about the city itself. I love Detroit, even the old Detroit of blight, waste and emptiness. Hockeytown. Motown. I grew up here, had my best times here. It's my town.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Illness and summer don’t mix well at all, I’m learning. The oppressive heat drags the situation to an awful new level of humid misery, leaving one with as much life as the Sharon McPhail campaign. Yes, only six days until the primary election, something obvious by the saturation of local TV with odd homegrown political advertisements.

For Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s latest ad, his staff seems to have toured the old folks’ homes lining East Grand Boulevard for opinions. A handful of ornery old codgers is shown prattling on about Kwame doing a good job, using slow, old-person speak. Rarely do you see an ad so narrowly target the senile citizen vote. It indicates that his staff can come up with no rational reason for people to vote for him, and have to resort to appealing to the frail heartstrings of people who might not make it to the November election.

Kwame’s other new ad ominously shows Freman Hendrix’s photo while noting, inaccurately, that the Detroit Housing Commission lost $18 million during former mayor Dennis Archer’s two terms (it was $8 million), though the ad neglects to note that under Kwame’s watch, the department was run so poorly that the federal government took it over, another example of outsiders seizing something from Detroit because it was managed so incompetently. You have to have huge balls to pick on Hendrix for his boss’ alleged mismanaged funds when you lose the whole freakin’ department to the feds.

McPhail too targets Hendrix in her latest ad, suggesting he is culpable for the state takeover of the city’s schools. That has been her sole mantra throughout the campaign, her one-note campaign slogan - Hendrix led the state takeover board. And this is why she’s going to come in a distant third in next week's primary.

For this terrible and bizarre strategy, her organization, hands down, wins the “worst campaign staff” award of 2005. Though in fairness, you can only work with what you’ve got, and what they have is a candidate who for many people doesn’t seem quite right in the head, someone prone to erratic statements and behavior who is still remembered for her bizarre accusation that Kwame tried to electrocute her, though she could produce no evidence to back up her claim. Flaky events like that become epitaphs on a political career.

Poor state Sen. Hansen Clark. He’s loud, enthusiastic, sunny and earnest. And doesn’t stand a chance in hell. But at least he livened things up in a high-volume manner late in the campaign. His TV ad shows him once again shouting, this time while standing near the abandoned east riverfront, pledging not to destroy whole neighborhoods if elected. Hey - thanks! It's nice to hear that sometimes - you really can't take it for granted in Detroit that the mayor won't level whole residential or business areas for some reason or another.

With all this going on, no wonder Freman Hendrix is in the lead, both in polls and in fund-raising, the latter generally unheard of for a challenger. Hendrix does the smart thing in his ads, which is to appear calm, rational and adult-like next to his pimping, shouting and electrocuted opponents, two of whom will lose badly, leaving Hendrix and Kilpatrick to slug it out for another three months, with Kwame portraying Hendrix as a white suburbanite, and Hendrix portraying Kwame as Kwame. The election campaign should be illuminating, dignified and classy I'm sure!

Friday, July 22, 2005

It's amazing how much something as small as a tooth problem can bring normal life to a screeching halt. Add to that an unfortunately timed illness, and you have the makings of a living hell. This is where my existence stands. It's hard to know whether to pass out or vomit at this point. Hence, no blogging lately. And no living. And no beers. And no meals. And no socializing, And certainly no fun whatsoever. So it might be a few more days before posts begin again. But soon, the blog will be cleaned up, so those maddening formatting issues will vanish. Give me a few days to get going again.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

What an odd coincidence. A day after I went roaming through the Jeffries Homes housing projects (the header photo on top), or what's left of them, on my own help-yourself photo tour, part of it went up in flames.

When I was there, a lone person sitting on a chair eagerly waved me into the complex as I initially lingered on the perimeter; apparently I had stumbled into the "pharmacy" section of the housing units.

The Jeffries Homes public housing complex was built in the 1950s, largely to replace whole neighborhoods demolished by the expansion of freeways throughout the city, in this case, the Lodge, which cuts between two halves of the projects that sit where hundreds of homes had been. The sprawling complex used to contain 13 high-rise apartment complexes on its north side, most of which were razed in the 1990s and are being replaced with the Woodbridge Estates homes, a rather curious experiment involving putting low-income and upper-income housing side by side. The remaining high rises were converted to senior housing. The projects were most famous as the birthplace of Young Boys Inc., a notorious gang of drug dealers who used little kids to sell heroin in the 1970s. The south end was built in later years, and features the standard public housing misery architecture so popular in urban areas in the 1960s and 70s.

Not much to see there nowadays, with a lot of the units abandoned and boarded up, though it was one wild place when I lived nearby. Gunshots rang out day and night. Hookers and drug dealers seemingly comprised the majority of its residents. I remember a story circulating at the time about a bicyclist going through and not coming out - our eager Wayne State student-type was reportedly set upon by some of the projects' residents, who beat him into an unconscious pulp and took the bike, leaving him in a heap. All I got on my recent visit, though, was offers to purchase various drugs. Why, how very helpful! Thanks! I'll get back to you on that.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

All-Star

Note that the following post took until about 4 p.m. today to get done despite me having a light load at work today. That’s a reflection on the number of $8 beers I consumed last night to celebrate my free entry into the All-Star Home Run Derby, and the havoc said beers are causing in my brain today.

Parking for events like these isn’t daunting to me, because I know every square foot of downtown. I never pay for parking, because I know a hundred potential spots. And sure enough, right off the bat, I found one. Unfortunately the cops didn’t approve; this they demonstrated with wild gestures and loud whistles in my direction. OK, we turned the corner and found another spot one minute later, as suburbanites and tourists in dirt parking lots got fleeced by crooks and by bums pretending to be crooks.

There were more cops out last night than I’ve ever seen in my life. Groups of two and three cops stood on every corner, and others stood every mid-block. Helicopters hovered overhead. Mounted police stood sternly in a row in front of the ballpark. It was clear that something unusually big was going on.

And even the hobos and junkies come out for the special occasion. They were out in full-force, standing dazed on corners, speaking excitedly to passersby. “They’ve got police and fire-rockets!!” one insisted to me. “Fire-rockets!” Others glared while leaning against walls, trying not to fall. Others chased people down, not wanting to waste the rare opportunity of having actual tourists in Detroit.

A call went out from the City for volunteers to help during the All-Star week, and a number of helpful citizens answered the call. Unfortunately, many of them were addled, confused and slow-witted. A volunteer at the left-field entrance insisted to us that it was right field. I heard someone ask a volunteer direction-giver where the Elwood Bar was. The volunteer replied “the what?”He never heard of it, though it stood right behind him.


Events like this also bring an odd assortment of B-level and C-level celebrities. Seated a few rows in front of us was baseball commissioner Bud Selig, a few rows ahead of conservative commentator and baseball fanatic George Will, who reacted to my drunken photo-taking with the expression he usually reserves for Democrats on “ABC This Week” on Sundays.

A few rows over was NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, broadcasting the evening news from the riverfront, now understated and elegant in a blue suit, not a hair out of place, next to attention-hog WDIV sportscaster Bernie Smilovitz, peacocked in a loud pink shirt. An unlikelier pair of buddies couldn’t be found. They were chowing on junk food.

A Home Run Derby turned into a real contest and brought out Detroit fans’ loyalty unexpectedly, at least not expected for some All-Star contest. And nothing symbolized Detroit last night more than Ivan Rodriguez, who improbably made it through two tough rounds of the Home Run Derby to get to the finals against home-run record-shatterer Bobby Abreu. Pudge was the metaphor for Detroit – tough, wounded, yet scrapping his way to the finals, where he didn’t really belong and where nobody thought he’d be, and for a moment the improbable seemed possible, that he might actually win it all. It was a meaningless contest, obviously, but nobody expected a Detroit hitter to get that far anyway. Suddenly it had all sorts of meaning, and everyone was watching intently, realizing he had a real shot.

Ultimately, he fell short, but the crowd gave him an ovation for what he managed to accomplish. He was up against a home-run machine in Abreu and lost, but not without showing some Detroit spirit and energy, grinding away against impossible odds, still finishing with a respectable showing. How can living in Michigan and rooting for some other city's team like the Yankees, for example, compare to the visceral pride of rooting for your hometown guy on a warm summer night like this? I cannot imagine.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Was all ready to post something, then had All-Star tickets fall into my lap for tonight, so I'm in! I didn't even have to abuse my press pass to do so. Thus, the posting will come tomorrow, written in hangover prose, complete with observations of tourists, mockery of security personnel, conversations with hobos, and maybe even a word or two about baseball.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Work is busy busy busy, so here's some random babbling:

The Red Wings fired Dave Lewis as head coach today. What’s most remarkable about this story is that it’s actually news about hockey, something we haven’t seen in a year, apart from discussions about the NHL lockout, also known as the Worst Failure of a Labor Strike in History. Yes it was technically a lockout, but a lockout only because the players refused to play because they thought a marginal sport should have NFL-type salaries.

The players not only lost on every issue, they lost, then held out in order to lose even more, causing their teams to be whittled down to $37 million salary caps, down a full $6 million from the proposed salary cap just this spring, when they could’ve not only made more money, but had somewhat of a season last year. As Jerry Seinfeld once said to George Costanza, “you held out for less money?!?”

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The stench from the burned Studebaker plant (seen at left) had apparently grown so bad it’s drifted as far as WDIV, which discovered the story today after weeks of reeks. I remember when neighborhood garbage pickup in the alleys wouldn’t happen for a month at a time, and rats and flies would swarm as everyone’s discarded meats began rotting in the summer sun as they overflowed from dumpsters. It smells just like that, but for blocks and blocks. Ah, brings back warm memories! Luckily the neighborhood around the Studebaker plant is so residentially decimated few people will be affected.

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The mayoral candidates held a televised debate last week, which revealed above all that Sen. Hansen Clarke is brimming with positive energy. For Clarke, it’s not just Morning in America, it’s Morning in America after drinking a full pot of coffee. Kwame was charming and sensible, so much so that you for a moment forget he’s a failed scumbag. McPhail was herself, which is to say she spent more time obsessing over Freman Hendrix than actually saying anything of value about herself. And Hendrix, who seems to be the front-runner for now, has front-runner's disease, which causes one to be overly cautious so as not to mess up their status as frontrunner, to the point where you come off as somewhat dull. Step it up, Freman, you're the front-runner by default at this point because nobody else is qualified. Earn that status.

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There are formatting issues galore happening with this freakin' blog, but they are being worked out slowly but surely. You'll see. No, I swear. Why do you always doubt me? OK, that's it, discussion over.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Busy weekend. Packed in several Tastefest visits, an impromptu Saturday stop at Comerica Park to watch the Tigers give up a 4-1 lead to the Yankees and lose, late-night movie watching in Campus Martius, Mexican dinners in southwest Detroit, fireworks at Greenfield Village, and luckily nothing involving walking on the ledge of a skyscraper trying to dodge security guards looking for me. And I ended it all by driving my car over a concrete barrier, the kind used in parking lots to separate spaces, and spent my evening in the rain trying to get it unwedged. It’s not so easy when everything is wet and the damn thing is lodged against my car’s underside. And no alcohol was involved, so I have no excuse for getting stuck in the first place. Had to jack the car up, wiggle the damn thing out an inch at a time, lower the car, etc.

This was perhaps my 15th Tastefest, and it was probably the most crowded one I’ve ever been to. I remember going in the early 90s, and there were virtually no lines anywhere. Now, thousands of people paid lots of money for the privilege of getting small portions of food that have been sitting out in the sun all day and jostling with each other in 92-degree heat.

The way it works is, you have to buy tickets to get food samples, and they price the food in a way that you always wind up with an odd number of tickets left over and have to purchase more to get another taste. Ten tickets cost $6, but meals usually cost 12 tickets. So you buy 20 tickets and then have eight tickets left. You can get another sample for six tickets, but then you have two left and the cheapest taste is three tickets, so you have to get more tickets, and so on.

We had plans to shoot off mammoth amounts of illegal fireworks at a small-yet-spirited Eastside party, but the steady rain put an end to that, as of course did the fact that my car was trapped on a concrete parking divider. By the time I got the car free, I was too tired to do anything else. End of weekend.

I know this is lame. More photos and such coming this week, plus an even bigger surprise coming this month sometime.

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