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.

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?

Maysan Haydar is Cool

My friend Maysan Haydar has always been cool. She introduced me to Bratmobile and Swing dancing back when such things were hip. She got a tongue ring before everyone else. She was the first person I knew to dye her hair purple.

She escaped from Flint, majored in Linguistics and moved to NYC to write for The Nation. Now she’s a social worker. Oh. And she wears the hijab. Here’s an excerpt from an article she wrote for the book Body Outlaws about why she wears the veil, and what it’s been like.

Ivy

First, I would like to officially apologize to Peter for talking his friendly Minnesotan ear off at the I.T. thing yesterday. Low blood sugar almost inevitably leads to leftist political rants. I’m sure I read this somewhere in the New England Medical Journal.

The window ledge skateboarders have not returned today.

Someone once pulled a gun on my friend Erin and demanded her skateboard. This was back in Flint, MI. She ran away, and now runs marathons in San Francisco.

At this point I would like to emphasize the Not-Flintness of Ithaca, NY. I feel confident that my library window skateboard boys are back in middle school today, snapping bra straps and setting off stink bombs.

I’ve been reading this book:

This fine place so far from home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class

Speaking of which, there sure is a lot of ivy in the Ivy League. It all turned red over the weekend, and it looks just glorious. Ivy can cover a great number of architectural flaws. Someone might consider planting some around Olin Library