Sunday, July 26, 2009

6 Things To Love About Detroit. (Because 5 Isn't Enough. Seriously.)

1) The abandoned Michigan Central Station. Beautiful even in decay.
2) All America vs. Lafayette. In this battle for coney dog supremacy, there are no losers.
3) Fake City, Real Dreams podcast. A Utopian vision of Detroit as imagined by a mass transit employee of same. Why did the rebuilding project stop at casinos, again?
4) Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Seen in person, the dread sets in at about the 30 second mark. But it feels good.
5) Gators.
6) Detroit, 1984. Painter's caps. Prodigious hair above the upper lip. Boy George, Magnum, P.I. Only one force could bring these elements together: Tiger baseball. Bless You Boys, indeed.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

The Prevalence of Vern

From Bill Bryson's "The Lost Continent," on driving through Iowa:

Every fourth or fifth community will be a country town, built around a square. A handsome brick courthouse with a Civil War cannon and a monument to the dead of at least two wars will stand on one side of the square and on the other sides will be businesses: a five-and-dime, a luncheonette, two banks, a hardware store, a Christian bookstore, a barber's, a couple of hairsdressers, a place selling men's clothing that only someone from a small town would wear. At least two of the businesses will be called Vern's.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Your Town in Six Words

Seemingly out of nowhere, telling stories in six words has beccome all the rage. Blame the Internets (all of them).

A nobler beginning can be traced to Ernest Hemingway's famous six word short story, For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn ... which then percolated for 40-50 years to the present moment, where everything from love to one's life story is being told in short bursts.

Is it possible to abbreviate a place in six words? Imagine all the history and personality you'd need to pack in. I tried it with a few towns I've known well. How'd I do?

Berkley, MI: Just far enough away from Detroit.

Santa Monica, CA: Not unemployed. "Working on a screenplay."

Brooklyn, NY: The sidewalks are paved with strollers.

Now, you go.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

What Lies Beneath (Your Town)

If you've ever sat a stop light and wondered, Why won't this change? What the eff is going on? WHO'S BEHIND THIS?? You need Kate Ascher's, The Works. This amazing book explains, among other things, how mail is processed, how manholes are formed and why an 800-pound robot submarine was built to probe the Delaware Aqueduct. Think The Way Things Work for the urban set.

If The Works is New York City-centric, that's because NYC is the greatest city on earth. No. Well, maybe, but there's more to it. Ascher worked for NYC's Port Authority, and, as she mentions in this blog post, 9/11 and the subsequent infrastructure emergency inspired her to write the book. Regardless, it's sure to shed light on the many invisible machinations at play in your town.

If words about parking meters and mines aren't your thing, you can glean oodles of helpful info from the many colorful charts, graphs and diagrams. This book does for railroad classification yards what this video did for flow charts.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Chicago: Sin City?

W.T. Stead, British journalist and minister, came to Chicago in 1893 and convened a civic meeting to discuss the question, "What if Christ came to Chicago he wouldn't find anything in Chicago he would have altered?" You know the answer. Capitalizing on the subsequent outrage, later that year he published a pamphet, If Christ Came to Chicago! (emphasis his). This map was the frontispiece. We can assume it wasn't always used as intended. Which begs the question: why doesn't Google maps have this functionality?

Lest you think W.T. put a stop to the evildoing in Chicago ... he didn't. Check out these great bathroom scrawls on the Univ. of Chicago campus, courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski, a new tech. staffer and researcher there. (Via Jacket Copy, LAT). Sample:

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

In Case You Forgot Who Invented Cleveland

This "tourism" video has been making its rounds (around?) the Interwebs. I found it here, for example, at Kansas City Star sportswriter Joe Posnanski's wonderful blog of Curiously Long Posts. A good go-to site, as it happens, for all kinds of minuitae on Cleveland. You may have found it elsewhere.

The vid toys with the Cleveland-as-armpit-of-the-Midwest idea by panning through much of the gloom and ick the city has to offer and setting a soundtrack to it. A very literal soundtrack. It reminded me of those jokes that never seem to die among close friends. The kind of jokes that, when heard by outsiders, would sound unduly harsh but are softened by proxy of being on the inside.

I imagine Clevelanders have warmed to this video. Or, they enjoy the fact that no matter how bleak Cleveland gets, it isn't Detroit.

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Authors Define Towns (in one sentence or less ... )

We define towns -- ours, others, imaginary -- using all means at our disposal. Norman Mailer, in Miami and the Siege of Chicago, defined and then levelled Los Angeles in a matter of three words, calling it a "constellation of plastic." Not one for a succint turn of phrase, Mailer nonetheless nails the essential thing about that place, or what we imagine the essential thing about that place, a large vacuum of dreams, to be.
I wanted to start off this blog-project with a broad gesture, even a stereotype, toward place. From there we can move on, and in, ever narrower and more personal. Because we are the authorities on the places we live in, the places we've known and loved.
Or, like Gerturde Stein, the places we couldn't run from fast enough. Because, "when there is no there there," we'd rather be anywhere else. For fun: which "there" was she talking about? Hint: it's pictured.

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