Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Fathers, Sons, And College Football

The view from my dad's seats
NFL insiders cannot believe that Jim Harbaugh would want to take a "step down" to coach college football at the University of Michigan. Their myopic view ignores the passion of college football fans and the personal investment many of us have in our state universities.

My dad died in October, and sports are not the same without being able to share the elation of every victory and the pain of every defeat with him. My dad followed all of Detroit's professional sports teams, but he followed only one team with an almost religious devotion. Sundays were God's day, but fall Saturdays belonged to the University of Michigan football team.

My dad went to U of M in the late 50s when Michigan football was pretty much as mediocre as it has been the last few years. Everything changed in 1969 when a young coach named Bo Schembechler took over as Michigan football's head coach. Although most fans did not know how to pronounce "Schembechler" when he was first hired, his teams did what no one else did to Woody Hayes's Ohio State teams--took a punch and punched them right back in the mouth. My dad saw the fight in Bo's teams and was hooked. He bought season tickets in the early 1970s and kept them until he died.

For about 40 years, he had the same seats in section 8. From the first time my parents carried me into the stadium as an infant, I have been lucky to attend many classic games at Michigan Stadium over the last few decades. Except for the years I was a student at Michigan, I watched most of the games from those seats.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Poutine in Corktown

Corktown's Brooklyn Street Local
When the Detroit Tigers moved from their ancient home in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood to Comerica Park, Corktown's future was uncertain. Would the businesses that thrived off the traffic from Tiger Stadium shutter their doors? Would anyone want to move a business into a neighborhood that lost its cash cow? Luckily for Detroiters, businesses did move in. Fifteen years after Tiger Stadium closed its gates, the neighborhood is a foodie destination.

Brooklyn Street Local is one of many restaurants to open up in the last few years. The restaurant uses locally sourced and organic ingredients and carries a wide variety of breakfast dishes and sandwiches, including several vegetarian and vegan options.

The Works burger. Definitely not vegan.
I ordered "The Works," a burger with bacon, cheddar cheese, a fried egg, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. My wife ordered the spicy tofu sandwich (fried tofu, sweet and spicy sauce, kale, and pickled cabbage). We also ordered a spinach and feta omelette for our daughters to share. Our main courses were good, but our poutine appetizer made the meal memorable.

Spicy Tofu Sandwich
Even though the French-Canadian dish has taken over the Metro Detroit restaurant scene, I had not tried poutine until my visit to Brooklyn Street Local. The traditional French-Canadian dish consists of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds. I do not know what the English translation of "poutine" is, but my guess is "sublime artery clogger."

Brooklyn Street Local's poutine
Brooklyn Street Local serves a traditional poutine with a choice of mushroom or beef gravy, and they also have vegan and breakfast poutines. Since my wife does not eat meat, we went with the traditional with mushroom gravy. Since I have not had poutine before, I cannot compare Brooklyn Street Local's to other poutines, but I can say it was a great introduction to the world of poutine. With the first bite, I knew that I had found the perfect combination of salty, cheesy, and fried goodness.

My eyes have been opened to the world of poutine. Thank you, Brooklyn Street Local.

Brooklyn Street Local is located at 1266 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, MI 48226. It is open Tuesday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. It is closed on Mondays.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Twelve Michigander Days of Christmas

Bronner's in Frankenmuth is Michigan's home of all things Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a robin in a cherry tree.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two McClure's pickles and a robin in a cherry tree.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three coney dogs, two McClure's pickles, and a robin in a cherry tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four Shinola watches, three coney dogs, two McClure's pickles, and a robin in a cherry tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me FIVE PETOSKEY STONES, four Shinola watches, three coney dogs, two McClure's pickles, and a robin in a cherry tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six Michigan craft beers, FIVE PETOSKEY STONES, four Shinola watches, three coney dogs, two McClure's pickles, and a robin in a cherry tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven Herman Miller chairs, six Michigan craft beers, FIVE PETOSKEY STONES, four Shinola watches, three coney dogs, two McClure's pickles, and a robin in a cherry tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight Mackinac Island Fudges, seven Herman Miller chairs, six Michigan craft beers, FIVE PETOSKEY STONES, four Shinola watches, three coney dogs, two McClure's pickles, and a robin in a cherry tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine bags of Better Made chips, eight Mackinac Island Fudges, seven Herman Miller chairs, six Michigan craft beers, FIVE PETOSKEY STONES, four Shinola watches, three coney dogs, two McClure's pickles, and a robin in a cherry tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten cans of Vernors, nine bags of Better Made chips, eight Mackinac Island Fudges, seven Herman Miller chairs, six Michigan craft beers, FIVE PETOSKEY STONES, four Shinola watches, three coney dogs, two McClure's pickles, and a robin in a cherry tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven Stormy Kromers, ten cans of Vernors, nine bags of Better Made chips, eight Mackinac Island Fudges, seven Herman Miller chairs, six Michigan craft beers, FIVE PETOSKEY STONES, four Shinola watches, three coney dogs, two McClure's pickles, and a robin in a cherry tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve beef pasties, eleven Stormy Kromers, ten cans of Vernors, nine bags of Better Made chips, eight Mackinac Island Fudges, seven Herman Miller chairs, six Michigan craft beers, FIVE PETOSKEY STONES, four Shinola watches, three coney dogs, two McClure's pickles, and a robin in a cherry tree.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Singing Along with Santa in Ann Arbor

Santa reading 'Twas the Night Before Christmas
'Twas Santa's Night in Ann Arbor

'Twas several nights before Christmas, and all through the church, hundreds of creatures were stirring, for they had finished their search. Santa had arrived in old Ann Arbor town, with three giant elves who could really get down. Santa did sing, and the elves did dance, and the children sang too at Santa's entrance.
A trumpeter, jazz band, and pianist played, and the children's excitement never did fade. For Santa read them a story much like this one, and they listened in awe to the tale that he spun. They returned to their seats and their parents sang along, until Santa danced off to the very last song.

He did not fly away with his elves and reindeer but joyfully waited as each child bent his ear. Santa sat in his chair and listened with care as the children listed the gifts they hoped he would bear. After all of the children gave Santa their lists, there was no doubt in their minds that Santa truly exists.

With that last list, Santa flew into the night, and his voice echoed through Ann Arbor, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Thursday, November 27, 2014

8 Reasons I Am Thankful To Be Back In Michigan

For a few years, I tried really hard to find a way to move from Virginia back to Michigan that was financially feasible for me and my family. Now that I am back in the Great Lakes State, I am incredibly thankful to be a Michigan resident again.

I have countless reasons to be thankful for being back home, but I am especially thankful for the following:

8. The People

After a few days in our new home, my wife commented that so many people have been kind to her and welcomed her back to Michigan. Whether it was the checkout lady at the supermarket or a clerk at a paint store, people have been happy to suggest things for us to do in our new town. My daughter was only in school for two days before she received her first invitation to a classmate's birthday party. The little things matter, so thank you to every kind soul who has welcomed us home.

7. Beautiful Lakes Everywhere! 

My wife and I had a list of cities and neighborhoods where we wanted to live when we moved back, but we ended up living in a city we were not really considering because we found a house that fit us far better than anything else we looked at. The house is as warm and inviting as the comfy old sweater that you pull out of your closet on the coldest winter nights. Plus, we are surrounded by beautiful lakes, and I get to see views like this no matter which direction I drive:

Orchard Lake at Sunset
6. The Food

I have posted a lot about food lately and am planning more food posts because going out to dinner is all I have had time to do while unpacking boxes and starting a new job. I have had so many good meals at places like Vinsetta Garage, One-Eyed Betty's, Stage Deli, Jolly Pumpkin, Griffin Claw Brewing Company, Loya Organic, V&M Polish Kitchen, the Detroit Institute of Bagels, Bread Basket Deli, Shield's Pizza, and more.

A delicious burger from Jolly Pumpkin in Ann Arbor.
5. Seeing Detroit from Multiple Angles

My job placed me in a Detroit school for a month and I still head into the city frequently for work. I have seen the skyline from the East Side, driving up Woodward, off the Lodge, from Corktown, and other angles during the last two months. It has not gotten old. I have also spent time in neighborhoods that I have not seen before, and I have worked with Detroit school kids who give me hope for the future of the city and the state.

Detroit's Woodbridge neighborhood welcomes you
4. The Weather

I love the four seasons. I love an early snowfall that catches us off guard. Palm trees, sun, and sand year-round just seems boring. Give me changing leaves, a canopy of tree branches covered in freshly fallen snow, 70 degrees in the morning followed by 30 degrees in the afternoon, water that cannot decide whether it is rain, sleet, or snow as it falls from the sky, summer nights on a quiet lakefront, and the laughter of children as they race down an icy hill on a sled, jump into a pile of fallen leaves, or jump into their local river or lake. I have all of this again, and I am thankful for it.

Michigan lake after a November snow
3. The Beer

Some Michigan craft beers are available in Virginia, but most are not. Every time I go to the supermarket or a restaurant now, I have so many Michigan brews to choose from. Do I want a Greenbush Anger, a Short's Huma Lupa Licious IPA, a Right Brain CEO Stout, a Bell's Two Hearted Ale, a Founders Breakfast Stout, a Dark Horse Crooked Tree IPA, or something from one of the many other Michigan brewers?

A couple of brews from Griffin Claw
2. The Sports

I love being around Detroit sports fans and college football fans again. College football is not very big on the east coast, and it was not always easy to follow Detroit sports from 550 miles away. Michigan offers amazing college hockey, multiple college football teams, two of the best college basketball programs in the country, and of course the Lions, Tigers, Pistons, and Red Wings.

Comerica Park
1. My Family

I was able to spend a lot of time with my dad during the last month of his life. I miss him every day and would do anything to have him back, but I am eternally thankful for that month with him. Now, I am happy to be near my mom and my brother and his family and to have my kids grow up in Michigan, my state.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Fueling Up at Vinsetta Garage

Looking through an old garage door from a table at Vinsetta Garage
Holy F*%k! This Is Good!

Those were the first words that ran through my mind as I bit into the deep fried cheese curds at Vinsetta Garage in Berkley. I had heard a lot of hype about this restaurant and was hoping that it would not disappoint me as many over-hyped restaurants do. But with that first bite, I knew the hype level was appropriate, and maybe even inadequate.

The "holy" cheese curds
Vinsetta Garage uses an old garage/gas station's space on Woodward Avenue. Drivers passing by on Woodward who are unfamiliar with the popular restaurant might still assume it is an active garage. Words on the brick building's exterior advertise auto electrical and ignition work.

Once inside, diners will find the interior walls adorned with items that celebrate Detroit's automotive history. The windows on the garage doors, high ceilings, and skylights create a bright dining room during the day, not the dark and dingy garage that it probably once was. 

One of the pieces of old equipment inside the restaurant
The restaurant carries a good selection of bottled and draft craft beers, including several Michigan brews. Honoring its automotive past, the restaurant's wine list humorously separates its offerings into the categories of: 1) the higher priced "Packard" wines; 2) the mid-range "Oldsmobile" wines; and 3) the cheap "Yugo" wines. I ordered one of my new favorite beers, Huma Lupa Licious IPA from Short's Brewing Company of Bellaire, Michigan. I later tried Traverse City's Right Brain Brewery's Hawk Owl Amber to go along with my main course.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

He Was Our Captain

I lost my dad to leukemia two weeks ago. He battled hard against the disease for a grueling six months. We thought we were going to lose him a few months ago, but he fought his way out of the hospital and was doing better until the leukemia knocked him down again. He tried to get up from leukemia's last blow, but he had nothing left.

It was a horrible way to see a strong man die. It wasn't fair for man who spent his life healing others to die such a merciless death. In the end, his four living children were there for him in the hospital for the last several days of his life, and my mom, his wife of almost 50 years, sat by him as he breathed his last breath.

My dad shaped so much of who I am. He loved me and my siblings unconditionally. He was strict when needed, but always compassionate. He was prouder of our achievements than we were, but he never let us take ourselves too seriously. He was a father figure to our best friends growing up and a second dad to our spouses.

I've told my grandparents' stories on this blog and my other blog, but I do not know when or if I will be emotionally ready to tell my dad's story. He was everything I could've ever wanted in a dad. I am lucky to have shared this earth with him, and I am even luckier to carry his spirit with me for the rest of my life.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thank you, Virginia

On the George Washington Parkway, leaving Virginia
I am back in Michigan to stay. Yesterday morning, I finished packing up the car, loaded up the dog, and said goodbye to what had been my adopted home state for more than a decade. I still need to find a house and move the rest of the family (and all of our stuff) to Michigan, but my life as a Virginian is over.

Although I am excited to be home in Michigan, Virginia will always be a special place to me. I met many amazing friends whom I will miss dearly. I asked my wife to marry me in Virginia...though we did get married right across the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. (I will miss the many things D.C. has to offer too). Soon after we were married, we got a dog together, the first for both of us since childhood, from a rescue group in Virginia.

I became a homeowner for the first time in Virginia. I nervously rushed my wife from that home to the hospital twice and both times felt the pure wonder of holding a newborn daughter for the first time. I spent countless sleepless nights trying to get those girls to sleep so my wife and I could sleep for at least a few minutes and be slightly more human than zombie at work the following day. I saw first steps and heard first words in my Virginia home. I held hands, laughed, sang songs, told stupid jokes, danced silly dances, told tall tales, read books, wiped away tears, and did so much more in that home.

Although Michigan never stopped being home, Virginia was home too.

Thank you, Virginia...for everything.

Friday, August 29, 2014


It's official. I am moving back to Michigan.

I will be living and working in the Detroit area. I am excited to have the opportunity to spend more time in the city and to be near friends and family whom I have not seen enough during the last several years. I also am looking forward to taking weekend trips throughout the state. I will continue to write about Michigan and Detroit, and I am thrilled that I will have more experiences to write about.

In my very first blog post, I wrote, "Michigan is in my blood. It is who I am." No matter where I have lived, I always considered Michigan to be home.

I'm coming home.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Year in Review

Rediscovering the DIA
Lifelong Michigander started one year ago today with my first post.

With one year down, and hopefully many more to come, I would like to share some of my favorite posts/experiences while running this blog.

Most Popular Posts

These five posts had the most page views:

5. The Sugar House: A Thrilling Tale of Prohibition in Detroit

The Sugar House is a good read, especially for history buffs. As a Polish-American, I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the Polish immigrant experience in Detroit in the early 1900s.

4. Burn: A must-see movie

I have a special place in my heart for firefighters, so I am happy that this post reached a lot of people. Hopefully, some of them watched this great film and donated to the Detroit fire department (or their local fire departments).

3. The Little Things I Miss About Michigan

A list of a few things I miss about Michigan. It is by no means exhaustive. I am grateful that Getty Images allows free usage of most of their catalog now, so that I could find plenty of photos to publish with this post.

2. Detroit Is More Than They Say It Is

My response to all the unoriginal people who have made "Detroit is crap" and "Detroit is dead" into top searches on Google.

1. 104 Weekend Days in Michigan, Part I

I was crazy enough to come up with a list of 104 weekend activities throughout the state of Michigan (one for each weekend day of the year). Part I was the most popular blog post of the year.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Great Lakes Relay, Part III

by Jamie Stec

The author running the Great Lakes Relay. Photo courtesy of J. Stec
Day Three

There is an old saying: "If you don’t like the weather in Michigan, just blink." It can change from pleasant to catastrophic in an instant. The same could be said about the state of our roads. The combination of a long winter and aging infrastructure came together on day three to completely close a road.

We received this news as we arrived to drop our first runner at the start. Officials informed us that the first runner would also have to do the second leg, since no cars would be able to make it to the exchange point. Suddenly, all (poorly laid) plans were thrown out, everything changed, and we sent our runner off at 6:00 a.m., southwest of Grayling, and continued on to the exchange to pick up the third runner.

The next bit of the morning was a blur of waiting, cramped sleeping in the back of a Scion while friends snored, and more waiting. Our third runner took a bit longer than she might have, because she stopped and took off her shoes in order to cross a large stream. We picked her up, sent the fourth runner on his way, and continued on to another charming resort town, Fife Lake.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Great Lakes Relay, Part II

by Jamie Stec

Michigan farmland near Cheboygan. Photo courtesy of J. Stec
Day Two

The second day of the Great Lakes Relay began before 5 a.m., with three vehicles full of blurry-faced runners caravaning south on I-75 to the start, in the rolling farmland below Cheboygan. My car carried the runner for the second leg, and we arrived early to figure out our game plan, and to wait for the runner who completed the first leg.

We were so early that we decided to continue down the seasonal road to find a gas station, but after advancing only a half mile or so, we realized that we were bottoming out too much to go on. We turned around and headed back the way we came. We were stopped by two bikes, sitting perfectly in the road. “Oh,” I thought. “Someone just parked here to run off into the fields and pee.” I was wrong. Those were our bikes--that flew off of the back of our car on that terrible road.

We remounted our bikes and hurried on to the exchange to wait for the first runner, the one from our group that we would consider the most highly strung. More and more runners were arriving, and she was nowhere to be found. We contacted her by phone to realize that she and many others were lost. Her 4.7 miles of rolling hills had turned into almost six miles of panic.

We were about to take off to find her when the car wouldn’t start. Our battery was dead. Another runner’s support vehicle good-naturedly offered a jump, and their runner even waited to help before taking off. It was heart stopping and then immediately heartwarming. The Jeep was running, so we sent the second runner on her way, picked up our lost lamb, and continued down the road to find gas.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Great Lakes Relay, Part I

A Warm Welcome to My First Guest Blogger

I am very grateful to share a three-part post from Jamie Stec about the Great Lakes Relay. Jamie also writes an awesome blog about her experiences fighting breast cancer. Here are two of my favorite posts from her blog: 

Please visit Jamie’s blog.

Great Lakes Relay, Part I
By Jamie Stec

Trout Brook Pond. One of the Great Lakes Relay's locales. Photo by J. Stec
You’ve probably seen the stickers on the back of cars, denoting mileage. Reading 3.1 for a 5k race, 26.2 for a marathon, and 140.6 for an Iron Man triathlon. After this last weekend, I added a new one to the back of my vehicle: 295.95.

You see, this past weekend, my ten-person team completed the 23rd annual Great Lakes Relay. The GLR is a three-day relay race that began with a bunch of nutty runners racing from the St. Clair County seat of Port Huron to the foot of the Mackinaw Bridge at the tip of the Lower Peninsula. Over the years, the course has been altered depending on interest and the allowances of the local governments, and this year, for the first time ever, the race included a day in the Upper Peninsula. Ten people, three days, trail running from Tahquamenon Falls to Sleeping Bear Dunes? What was not to love?

I was soon to find out that, from the perspective of many of my teammates, there were many things not to love. The course was difficult, the accommodations lacking, the organization iffy. But I remained undeterred. Three days of trail running from Tahquamenon Falls to Sleeping Bear Dunes was, just like the state of Michigan itself, full of experiences to love.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Real Dream Cruise on Woodward Avenue

Mural made with bottle caps at One-Eyed Betty's. Photo by A. Burtka
I have made a few trips back to the Detroit area in the last month and a half and have made a few quick stops at restaurants on or near Woodward Avenue in Oakland County. I went to an old favorite that I had not been to in a decade, another legendary restaurant that I finally tried, and two newer restaurants that I had heard good things about.

The Old Favorite

I did not know there was such a thing as Detroit-style pizza until I left Michigan, because we just called it "pizza" when I was growing up. One of my favorites was Shield's Pizza, and I recently had it again for the first time in years.

I stopped at the Troy location on Maple and Crooks about a mile east of Woodward (Shield's also has locations in Macomb Township and Southfield). I have always had traditional pizzas with toppings like pepperoni and mushrooms at Shields, so I ordered something different. The Gold Medal pizza had generous helpings of spicy banana peppers and red bell peppers. Staying true to the Detroit style, Shield's pizzas are square, deep dish pizzas with marinara sauce on top of the cheese. 

I like spicy food, but I had never had the Gold Medal before. The peppers were a lot spicier than I expected, but a little water and beer cooled me down. The crispy, buttery crust was perfect. Overall, it was excellent, and I hope to get back to Shield's soon.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Happy Birthday, Detroit!

Happy Birthday, Detroit!

It's been 313 years since French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac pulled his boats ashore and declared that you would be Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit. You've changed nationalities a few times. First, you were French for about 60 years before falling under British control for almost four decades. Since 1796, except for that time the British captured you during the War of 1812, you have been a proud American city.

You loaned $50,000 to the state government to help raise troops for the Union cause during the Civil War. President Lincoln exclaimed, "Thank God for Michigan!" when the Michigan troops you helped finance were the first from a western state to arrive in Washington, D.C. During World War II, your auto industry built the tanks, bombers, and jeeps that helped topple the German and Japanese threats to democracy, and your women answered the call to arms by building these machines of war while your men were storming the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima.

You survived a great fire and grew from a small fort and fur-trading post to a cosmopolitan city of almost 2 million people. In the last few decades, a lot of people gave up on you. Many moved to the suburbs or other states and forgot about you. Many others say that we should give up on you, a city that has done so much to make our country the industrial and economic power it is today. These people have short memories, but do not worry about them. You have survived 313 years, and you will live much longer than all of us.

When you burned down in 1805, Detroiters did not give up on you. When riots tore you apart in 1863, 1943, and 1967, you lived on. When you have been alive for 313 years, you are going to have some rough patches. It's inevitable.

On your birthday, please remember your own motto:

"We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes."

And remember that this has been your motto during times of prosperity and times of despair because you are a city of invention and reinvention. Today, young entrepreneurs and wealthy business people are ignoring the naysayers and reimagining your future. Your riverfront is no longer an industrial wasteland, but a place where families can stroll on a beautiful summer day. New gardens arise from the ashes of your old buildings. There is a new energy within your boundaries that is becoming infectious. You will survive, as you have always done before.

So today, when you blow out your candles and make your wish, remember that there are countless people who share your hopes and dreams. You will live to realize better things.

Happy birthday!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Renovated Fountain Makes a Splash in Detroit

James Scott Memorial Fountain with the Detroit skyline in the background
Detroit's Belle Isle State Park is a beautiful 982-acre park in the middle of the Detroit River. It offers numerous outdoor activities, including athletic fields and a beach, and indoor fun as well, with the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Bell Isle Aquarium, and Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservancy.

The MacArthur Bridge connecting Belle Isle to mainland Detroit
One of the most beautiful spots on the island is the James Scott Memorial Fountain. Despite the abundance of water in Michigan, this famous Detroit landmark was often dry for the past several years. After significant renovations, it will flow freely every day this summer. The enormous fountain stands near the western end of Belle Isle and offers beautiful views of Downtown Detroit and Canada.

Scott Fountain
The center of the fountain is guarded by majestic lions
Cass Gilbert, who designed the U.S. Supreme Court and the Detroit Public Library Main Branch, designed the fountain, which was completed in 1925. The beautiful marble fountain stretches 510 feet across, and sculpted lions, turtles, dolphins, and human figures serve as its water spouts. In addition to repairing the fountain's plumbing, the recent renovations have included removing many of the stains on the white marble, allowing the fountain to reflect the sun as brightly as it did in 1925.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

First Game at Comerica Park

The entrance to Comerica Park from inside the stadium
Last summer, my wife and I took my two daughters to Nationals Park in D.C. to see the Detroit Tigers play the Washington Nationals. My youngest was still an infant, but I spoiled my older daughter with junk food. She had a hot dog, a ton of popcorn, and a giant pretzel...and she loved it. But it wasn't Detroit.

I remember the excitement of sitting in the back of my parents' station wagon while we rumbled over the brick paved streets of Corktown near Tiger Stadium. I was mesmerized by the enormity of the old ballpark towering above Michigan and Trumbull, the vendors peddling souvenirs and peanuts on the street, and the bustle of the pregame crowd.

Four-year-old me at Tiger Stadium in 1978
The ballpark was even larger on the inside, with its upper deck wrapping around the entire stadium with old, blue steel posts holding it up. It smelled old, but that was the odor of tradition. It wasn't just the tradition of great ball players like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, but also the tradition of fathers and sons (and mothers and daughters) who made pilgrimages to this stadium to cheer for their team.

Tiger Stadium in 1978
Tiger Stadium may be long gone, but I had to take my girls to the Tigers' current home, Comerica Park. We went to a 7:00 p.m. game on July 4. We parked in the lot outside the old Michigan Theatre, and walked through Grand Circus Park to Comerica Park. The area around the stadium was bustling, like I remember Corktown doing decades ago.

Friday, July 4, 2014

An Enduring Monument of Detroit's Achievement

The Detroit Public Library Main Branch
Last week, I visited the Detroit Pubic Library's Main Branch for the first time. It is located on Woodward Avenue across from what is probably the most famous tourist attraction in Midtown, the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Although the DIA is definitely worth a visit, the library is a work of art in itself. The white marble building opened in 1921, six years before the DIA moved into its current location. Architect Cass Gilbert designed the library and was a preeminent architect of his era who designed Belle Isle's James Scott Memorial Fountain, the United States Supreme Court Building, New York's Woolworth Building, and several other iconic buildings throughout the United States.

The Woodward Avenue side of the library is surrounded by trees and lush green lawns, which made it easy to forget that this land was frozen only a few short months ago. A large bust of Nicolaus Copernicus occupies the lawn to the right of the main entrance. 

The large white marble and limestone exterior rises above Woodward, but only a few steps rise up to the library's main entrance, unlike the large series of steps leading to the DIA's main entrance. Perhaps Gilbert wanted a street level entrance to give a sense that books should be easily accessible to the public.

Main Entrance on Woodward Avenue
I entered the library on the Cass Avenue side. The library's entrance and two wings on Cass Avenue were built in 1963. The entrance is not as grand as the Woodward Avenue side, but I did enjoy the combination of the 1960s architecture, rich grass, green trees, clear blue skies, and warm June air.

Cass Avenue Entrance
In addition to some special exhibits, like a room dedicated to legendary Tigers radio announcer Ernie Harwell, the Cass Avenue side has all of the services of a typical public library: computers, reading rooms, and a children's library room. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Looking for Guest Bloggers

Michigan is a big state with a lot of interesting people, businesses, etc., and I can only cover a small portion of the Great Lakes State on my own.

I am open to one or two posts per week from guest bloggers. If interested, please click here or on the "Write for Lifelong Michigander" tab above for more information.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Parachuting Into Detroit

A house in Palmer Woods
I parachuted into Detroit on Thursday.

I did not jump out of an airplane and pray for my chute to open before landing in the middle of Navin Field. Instead, I "parachuted in" in the way locals use the phrase to describe visitors (usually members of the media, but sometimes tourists) who swoop into Detroit to take photos of blight. However, I was not in Detroit to take photos of buildings in ruin.

I was briefly in town to take care of some family matters and had a couple of hours to kill. I planned to visit the Detroit Public Library's Main Branch on Woodward, but I still was fuming over yet another out-of-state newspaper, the Washington Post, publishing photos of Detroit's blight (see my rants here and here). The Post's photos of dilapidated Detroit homes made me want to show proof that Detroit has beautiful neighborhoods where people take care of their homes, lawns, and streets.

Since I was heading into the city from the north, I decided to visit Palmer Woods and Sherwood Forest, two Detroit neighborhoods between Woodward and Livernois just south of the 8 Mile Road boundary between Detroit and Ferndale. I had driven past these neighborhoods on Woodward when I was younger, but I did not even know they existed. Armed with only the camera on my phone, I drove through these two neighborhoods in awe of some of the most beautiful homes in Metro Detroit.

Palmer Woods. The streets and sidewalks are well-maintained
A beautiful house with a beautiful yard in Palmer Woods

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Beating the Washington Post's Dead Horse

Two weeks ago, I sent a letter to the editor to the Washington Post about its careless printing of Detroit blight photos. Realizing the Post probably would never publish it, I wrote a separate post for this blog called "Beating Detroit's Dead Horse." 

It has been more than two weeks since the Post published its photos of Detroit, and I am assuming other people who care about Detroit sent letters as well. However, the Washington Post has not published one letter to the editor about its Detroit photos.

Since it does not appear that the Washington Post will be publishing any letters criticizing its handling of the Detroit photos, I wanted to share my letter with my readers. 

Detroit Is More Than Blight

The Post accepted its invitation to the Detroit ruin porn festival about 10 years too late by publishing several photos of Detroit's blight in Detroit’s faded beauty. The pictures themselves, although they are visually stunning, tread the same ground that every hack with a camera covers when they visit Detroit: the Packard Plant, the Michigan Theatre, Fisher Body Plant 21, and abandoned schools, homes, and churches. The photos are not part of a larger story about Detroit. Instead, it appears the Post wants to elicit visceral reactions from readers without adding anything of value to the conversation about Detroit's past or future.  

I guess if a newspaper does not have the initiative to break a story, it can just borrow a tired narrative with the hopes of increasing its readership. They say sex sells, and publishing Detroit ruin porn is the dirtiest and most demeaning sex for Detroiters who are doing a lot of good things to improve their city. Their stories are the news, not retreading worn out ground. Detroit’s blight is well-documented. Put down the camera, and spend time with its people and document the parts of Detroit that are resurging.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Family's Hero

My grandfather in 1954
When our car passed the firehouse, two firemen stood, saluting my hero’s procession as it passed by. At their feet was a fireman’s uniform, with two empty boots and an empty helmet, now waiting forever to be worn again.

I had not known that my Grandpa Walter's funeral procession would pass this firehouse. I had been fighting back tears throughout the day, but the sight of those boots and helmet and the pride of knowing he was a hero to more people than his immediate family overcame me. The funeral procession continued to the cemetery, where we said our goodbyes, but my love and respect for my grandfather has never died.

Having a grandpa who had been a fireman was extremely cool for me as a young boy. I remember his old firefighter helmets and gas mask hanging on the basement wall and how I used to pull them down to play with. As a kid, he was a hero to me for being a firefighter, but when I grew up, I understood he was a hero for many other reasons. 

My grandpa with my aunt
I do not remember my grandpa telling any stories about being a firefighter. Despite serving the Wyandotte Fire Department for three decades, my grandpa was more interested in telling me stories about family, stories about him and grandma when they were younger and stories about my dad, aunts, and uncle. He embellished stories about his athletic endeavors, but he never once embellished stories about his work. My grandpa may have been willing to risk his life for others, but he lived for his family.

At a family party a few years before my grandfather died, I overheard my dad say to my grandfather, "You know, Dad, there's a little bit of you in all these kids here." My dad may or may not have been talking only about DNA, but our grandpa gave us a lot more than DNA.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Beating Detroit's Dead Horse

Detroit is beautiful
Anyone who lives in or near Detroit likely has seen the t-shirts with the slogan “Detroit vs. Everybody” printed on them. This slogan has always bothered me because the optimist in me thinks that the ideal slogan should be “Everyone with Detroit.” Then again, it’s not hard to understand the combative sentiment when the media has spent 15 years attacking the city’s image, as the Washington Post recently did with an “article” that featured unoriginal pictures of Detroit’s blight.

The ignorant comments from readers on the Post’s Facebook page and website are a sad commentary on the views that many Americans have towards Detroit. Unfortunately, many of these views are probably the result of years of negative images and stories about the city. How many times do we have to see pictures of the Packard Plant or Michigan Central Station to know they are abandoned? Yes, Detroit has problems, but stop beating us over the head with them. It's not all. Detroit's blight stopped being news long ago. 

Show these businesses or one of Detroit's thriving neighborhoods instead of abandoned houses
So thank you, Washington Post, and every other media outlet that has beaten Detroit's dead horse for 15 years, for creating viewpoints like the following from the Post's website and Facebook page:

The Political/Racial Blame Game Comments

“Detroit should be so proud it voted for Democrats.”

Another reader's direct response to the above: “It sure should, realizing how much worse off it would be under a Republican administration.”

At this point, blight photos no longer tell us anything new about Detroit, but they do allow Americans to play the blame game that we too often turn to when we do not have the answers. If something goes wrong, dig your feet in and blame the other side. Americans have become really good at pointing fingers, except when it comes to pointing them at themselves. 

“Headlines should read...‘The over demands of government Promises have collapsed the City’”

Or maybe the headlines should read: “More Detroit ruin porn elicits ignorant comments from people who’ve never set foot in the city.”

“No big deal---with all the union and minority votes in detroit, barack and the congressional black caucus will get the us government to bail out detroit with huge money---at least 100 billion---it's a matter of time.”

At least this racist is optimistic that Detroit’s blight is not a big deal. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Words of Wisdom From Detroit's Past

"Detroit did not have to be. Detroit is–despite every obstacle that had been thrown into its path." -Malcolm W. Bingay, Detroit Is My Own Hometown

When I visited Detroit's John K. King Books in October, I stumbled upon Detroit Is My Own Hometown. Published in 1946, the book is a collection of tales by former Detroit News and Detroit Free Press editor Malcom Bingay. The book is not really a history of Detroit or a memoir. Instead, the book reads as if someone recorded Bingay over many nights as he told stories of Detroit's most famous historical characters.

Although Bingay's writing style often feels dated, especially some racially prejudiced comments indicative of his era, he writes with an unabashed pride about the politicians, business leaders, and sports figures who helped make Detroit a metropolis that other cities envied. 

His stories include Detroit's contribution to the war efforts in both World Wars, the founding of all the major automotive companies, political corruption and race riots long before the 1960s, the founding of the University of Michigan, and the construction of many of Detroit's monuments and buildings. Serious sports fans should read Chapters 12 through 15 about the Detroit Tigers' early history, including the Tigers and Chicago Cubs players likely colluding to tie game one of the 1907 World Series so that they could earn more money from gate receipts.

In the end, the book is Bingay's love letter to Detroit. His predictions of a prosperous, late 20th century Detroit turned out to be wrong, but that does not mean that his predictions cannot be realized in our near future. Several quotes from Bingay's book are inspirational reminders of what Detroit always has been and what it can still be:

A little failure in Detroit is OK, so long as we learn from it.

"Men can be trained to be inventors by the simple process of telling them that it is not a disgrace to fail. In research work there is no such thing as failure in the accepted sense of the word. If an inventor does not get what he is after by one experiment he has not failed; he has made progress." -Charles F. Kettering of General Motors

True Detroiters are not afraid of a struggle.

"The true Detroiter accepts conflict as naturally as he accepts milk from his mother's breast. It is part of his life. He yields his opinions to no man's persuasion. The pioneer cast of countenance is upon him." -Bingay

Detroit should continue to welcome new ideas today.

"The people will climb out of their troubles on a ladder of new ideas." -Kettering

Detroit Public Library. Photo by Jason Mrachina

Spend time in the city to feel its spirit. Don't just parachute in and take pictures of blight.

"There is a stability and a strength of character in the town that gives it the undertone of which you speak. Detroit is full of thoughtful, serious-minded citizens....Hang around here long enough to meet the folks, and you'll begin to understand. You cannot learn the real spirit of Detroit by just stopping off between trains." -Bingay

Detroit Riverfront. Photo by Brian Mulloy

Always carry Detroit in your heart.

"The man who does not carry his city in his heart is a spiritual starveling." -Fr. Gabriel Richard

Detroit has always been more than the auto industry.

"Detroit was a city with a soul, an identity carved and shaped from a heroic heritage, long before the honk of the motor horn was heard on any hill." -Bingay

An oath of office needs to mean something.

"I took an oath of office. You know what I mean? An oath! That means something to me. I have not reached the age of fifty to begin breaking my word. I'm the mayor. It's my job to protect the interests of the people the best way I can." -Mayor Hazen S. Pingree (Explaining why he ignored the wishes of his financial backers to do what was best for the people of Detroit).

Detroit has been through bad times before. It will arise.

"Blow after blow has has rained upon this city throughout its history and always it has arisen from its ashes–cleaner and finer and better because it has conquered adversity." -Bingay

Honor Detroit's past by building a better tomorrow. It is home, after all.

"This is our home: Detroit. Our beloved ones are buried in its soil. Our children sprang from it. We are soil of this soil. Our streets are touched with sacred memories and traditions. Our dreams of a finer life to come are a hallowed heritage. As was written on the seal of the city when we were in ashes: 'We hope for better days.'" -Bingay

Monday, May 26, 2014

Happy Memorial Day!

Michigan Civil War Soldiers' Graves. Alexandria National Cemetery in Virginia
No words capture what Memorial Day means to me more than Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. We should read President Lincoln's words from time to time to remind ourselves that, despite our political, economic, and cultural differences, we are one nation and one people and that we must live with devotion to the ideal of a nation conceived in liberty and equality

If we live by Lincoln's words, then every day will be Memorial Day, and that is the greatest thanks we can give to those who died for us.

The Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Little Things I Miss About Michigan

I am a proud Michigander, even though I currently live out of state. Here are some of the little things I miss about the Great Lakes State:

The smell of burning leaves in the fall.

July fireworks in Detroit or over one of Michigan’s many lakes.

The return of baseball in the spring reminding us that, though it may still feel like winter most days, summer is right around the corner.

Driving on snowy roads with people who know how to drive on snowy roads.

Michigan lefts: If you miss your turn, there’s always another one soon after.