Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City

I am from Flint, Michigan.

I was born and raised in a crappy little city perched on the edge of a dying industry. The ominous creaking sounds coming from below sounded like a pretty clear warning, so I got the hell out. I graduated from a halfway-decent suburban high school in a district that my parents fought like hell to keep me in, renting claptrap houses on the edge of the boundary line. I left with a few AP credits, a 1986 Chevy Nova, and a seriously fucked up attitude. Being from Flint was important to me. I thought it conveyed important information to the outside world, information about my work ethic, my disappointments, my belief in the higher power of Buick Automotive.

Flint had helped win the War. My grandpa dropped out of school to help design the M18 Hellcat Tank for Buick, trading in a career as an architect for the promise of a pension and a world free of Nazis.

Flint had started the labor movement. My dad was a proud union representative, joining generations of men and women inspired by the Great Sitdown Strike to restore the power balance between owner and worker. He would sing Woody Guthrie’s song down the echoing hallway during tense negotiations. Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union. I’m sticking to the union, till the day I die.

My family stayed. Flint crumbled. Everyone who could afford to moved away. My suburban school district installed metal detectors. I went to graduate school and met people who had never heard of a carbureted engine. I’d come back home for holidays, dragging bemused boyfriends and waving around my new words, new ideas, big opinions. I’d come home to re-hear the stories that had defined me. Funny stories of disasters too big not to laugh at. People doomed by their own stupidity. Companies collapsing from their own greed. Fights at basketball games. People shooting out the lights on cop cars. Things falling off of trucks. Apocalyptic decisions made by people entrusted with our public good. Flint stories.

Recently, one of my neighbors wrote a book filled with his own Flint stories. Gordon Young lives a few blocks away in my new hometown of San Francisco. Oddly, we have never met. He went to the other suburban school district – those southside swine that were always beating us at quiz bowl – and left about ten years before I did. He’s been writing a blog called Flint Expatriates, and a few years ago he did this weird thing. He tried to go home.

The book is called Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City. Gordon writes about life in Flint and San Francisco, often through a lens of real estate. He has gone through the process of trying to buy houses in both cities, a testament to his tenacity and possibly some kind of undiagnosed brain injury. Anyway, you should read it because it’s awesome and it says many of the things that should be said about Flint. The ending is really strong, and I found myself saying “hell yes” out loud a few times. Leaving Flint seems to have given him the perspective he needed to make some peace with the goddamned place.

You may have noticed, I’m still searching.

South Detroit

The 70’s band Journey is kind of a big deal out here. Apparently they are from the Bay area, and there is a San Francisco civic statute requiring all radio stations to play Journey songs every three hours. Or, so I gather.

While doing a deep textual analysis of the song Don’t Stop Believin’ (sic) this morning, I noticed the phrase “Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit.”

As a Michigan native and Flint Expat (good blog, btw) my librarian senses began tingling. South…Detroit?
South Detroit.
Huh.

Let’s just check the map.

Detroit mapDetroit…
Yep, there it is. Suspicion confirmed! South Detroit is Windsor. Also known to Geographers as Canada.

I guess that Midnight Train going Anywhere was the Via Rail, huh?

(cue guitar solo)

Library Tourism

bernallib.pngI visited my local Bernal Heights library branch this afternoon, in search of a place to sit and read. It turned out to be one of the last weeks the building is open before it closes for an extensive renovation. On a kid-filled sunny spring Saturday, the current building gives the impression of being a community center rather than a library, with more conversations, computers, and chaos than visible books.

I’m looking forward to the new design. The neighborhood obviously is drawn to the location, which swirls with families out walking dogs and babies.

— — — —

Things I’m currently researching…

  • Wedding venues in the Detroit area that are:
    • Non-religious
    • Interesting-looking or unusual
    • Cheap, cheap, cheap!
  • Things to do in Brighton, UK
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Cat grooming (did you know you can use baby powder to make your cat less itchy?)
  • Better WordPress plugins (I’m playing with a new Twitter sidebar)
  • Management jobs in SF for my sweetie Chuck this summer

Four…

FOUR JOBS YOU’VE HAD IN YOUR LIFE
Historical Reenactor (1800s)
Historical Reenactor (Renaissance)
Waitress/Bartender (Dublin)
Designed a website for a group of Butterfly Researchers

FOUR MOVIES YOU WATCH OVER AND OVER
The Quiet Man
A Room With a View
The Commitments
Standing in the Shadows of Motown

FOUR CITIES YOU’VE LIVED IN
Flint, MI
East Lansing, MI
Dublin, Ireland
Ithaca, NY

FOUR TV-SHOWS YOU LOVE TO WATCH
The I.T. Crowd
Veronica Mars
Father Ted
Colbert Report

FOUR PLACES YOU’VE BEEN ON VACATION
Budapest, Hungary
Ada, Oklahoma
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Shepherdstown, West Virginia

FOUR WEBSITES YOU VISIT OFTEN
Popgadget
Mimi Smartypants
Lifehacker
Cute Overload

FOUR OF YOUR FAVOURITE FOODS
Fried wontons from the Cantonese Gourmet in Flint, MI
Anything from the Earthen Jar in Ann Arbor, MI
Obnoxious cheese
Beer

FOUR PLACES YOU’D RATHER BE RIGHT NOW
Frank’s in Ann Arbor for Sunday breakfast, the newspaper, and friends
Sailboat in Georgian Bay, Ontario, getting sunburned and listening to the radio
In bed with the cat on my chest
In a canoe on Town Lake in Austin, TX with water moccasins

Michigan Alumni Nostalgia

I’m alone in the University of Michigan Science Library, enjoying free wireless (thanks to my alumni account) and a wealth of power outlets. I’m sitting in a window-alcove that overlooks campus, level with the green copper towers of West Hall.

During school, I came here to watch the University’s resident Peregrine Falcon as he perched on the tile roof and disemboweled pigeons.

It’s snowing in Ann Arbor, and I’ve got a big cup of mint tea. Below, a stream of overdressed undergraduates walks to class, wearing Uggs and fashionable backpacks. westhallsnow.jpg
photo credit: kwei

There are things I want to accomplish, but the luxury of a full day stretches ahead. Snow drops past the windows that surround my table. My favorite professor has her office hours this afternoon. I’d like to tell her that her two geeky research assistants are getting married.

I enjoy Ithaca, but it’s good to be in a place that feels more like home, if only because of the frequent sleepless nights I spent here churning out papers and code. I might run errands today and call old friends. I might just put my head down and sleep on this table.

I wish you all a peaceful snowy morning, full of potential.


ps. SI alums: The door scanner on the DIAD is still pissing people off after all these years. Good to know some things don’t change.

Escape from Flint, MI

77028410v1_240x240_Back.jpgI returned to work this morning and jumped straight into an application QA test. It was one of those 10 emails a minute, every-tester-pointing-out-the-same-bug days. It was great. We got tons of feedback, and our application didn’t explode and leak metadata all over the desk.

In other news, there is an inch of mold in the bottom of my tea stein.

Hope you all had a good Labor day break. Here are my photos of Flint, for your morbid pleasure.

Labor Day

I’m going to Flint tomorrow. I’ll be in town through Tuesday.

I hope to visit my mom’s library on Friday, assuming I don’t expire from the cold I have developed.
For your envy and amusement, my itinerary: I’m getting up at 4am so I can leave Ithaca at 4:30am so I can get to the Syracuse airport at 5:30am so I can fly at 6:30am so I can tranfer in DC at 8am so I can arrive in Detroit at 9:30am.

All to get to Flint.
Has mankind ever made such efforts?
Has anyone ever had to work so hard to get to Flint?

Take my Comics…please

feazellcat.gifI’ve started a library at work. My cataloging system is the whiteboard over my desk. My patrons are co-workers and student employees whom I bully into taking books. My material? Comics. I’m on a mission from Groo.

When I was a young Librarian Avenger, I spent many happy years working in the world’s largest cataloged collection of comic art, located at Michigan State University. There I met some majorly kickass librarians who were kind enough to allow me to shelve books, type tags, sort through boxes, occasionally catalog (ah, young dorkiness) and induge in a whole lot of secret in-the-stacks comic-reading.

As a result of this intensive training, I can now walk into any fluorescent-lit basement-level industrial-carpeted D&D-riddled comic shop and pick a fight. Ghost Rider vs. Punisher? No problem. Spawn eats them both. First edition copy of Watchmen? Own it. Portrait of myself inked by David Mack? Got it. Personalized CynicalMan convention souvenir by Matt Feazell? On my wall. Every issue of Scott McCloud’s Zot, stolen from an ex-boyfriend? Yuppers.

If I had several lives to live simultaneously, I would take out a loan and start a comic shop. I believe that some of the best art and writing of my generation can be found in the pages of comics. Transmetropolitan. Sandman. Optic Nerve. La Perdida. Dykes to Watch Out For. Fun Home. Understanding Comics. Kabuki. Y The Last Man. Zot.

So, lately I’ve been biking my trade paperbacks up the hill and distributing them. I need someone to talk to about this stuff. It’s lonely here at the top.