Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Best of the Net 2/18-2/24

I have been battling a nasty cold/cough the last several days, so here is an abbreviated "Best of the Net." As always, these are just a few of the many good stories coming out of the Great Lakes State.

Grand Rapids is Healthy

Grand Rapids always seems to be on lists of healthy places to live. MLive reports that the city ranks in the top 10 nationally for places to get healthy and to stay healthy according to Livability.com.

Wolverine Merits Recognition

Michipreneur reports that former University of Michigan basketball team captain David Merritt has started a fashion line, called Merit, that gives 20% of every purchase to fund college scholarships for underserved youth. Merit has one store in Ann Arbor, and shoppers can also visit the company's website at meritgoodness.com.

A U.P. Revolution

Upper Peninsula's Second Wave features Revolutions, a program in the Marquette area that aims to inspire kids to enjoy biking, snowshoeing and skiing. Revolutions is open to children between the ages of 11 and 18.

Inspiring Girls in Grand Rapids

BitCamp is a program in Grand Rapids that hopes to inspire young girls to pursue careers in science, technology, and computer science. Rapid Growth features the program's efforts to give hands-on technology experiences to girls here.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ivy and Coney Turned Out to Be Heaven

Bathroom Graffiti at Ivy and Coney
As a native of Metro Detroit who lived near Wrigley Field in Chicago for about 8 months, I was excited to hear about the opening of Ivy and Coney, a bar that celebrates both Chicago and Detroit, in the Shaw neighborhood of D.C.

I had read about this bar being a dive, but that description is too polite. This place is a complete dump. As Stevie Wonder states in an “autographed” photo hanging on the bar’s wall, “Even I can see this bar is a shithole.” However, for this Michigan expat who craves Coney dogs and an unpretentious Midwestern bar feel, it is a wonderful shithole...just like the shitholes back home.

My wife and I visited the bar on the Sunday night before President’s Day. The bar is pretty much unfindable unless you are looking for it and have the exact address. Even with the address, we drove by twice before I stopped the car, got out, and tried the disheveled door of what appeared to be an abandoned storefront.

The front door
The door opens to a dark entryway with a stairway that ascends to what I could only hope was the bar. Looking to the left I noticed a sign that is shaped like the famous marquee outside Wrigley Field with the words "Ivy and Coney Home of Good Dogs Mediocre Beer" When I went back out to let my wife know that this was the right place, I looked more closely at the outside of the door and noticed the words “Ivy and Coney” buried in a display of random words on the door.

The sign that I needed
As we ascended the stairs we passed a quote from D.C. native and Motown star Marvin Gaye: “Detroit turned out to be heaven, but it also turned out to be hell.” As someone who defends Detroit on a daily basis, the “hell” part made my hairs bristle, but I knew this place is supposed to celebrate Detroit, so I gave the quote a pass. Continuing up the stairs, we passed a map of the Chicago ‘L’ system and found a mural of the eternal voice of the Cubs, Harry Caray, staring at us at the top of the steps (although if you are going to honor Harry Caray, how could you not have a mural of the eternal voice of the Tigers, Ernie Harwell??).

Harry Caray: Holy Cow!
To the right of the top of the stairwell is a small room with several seats around a modest bar, and just a few tables. The room is dimly lit by small lamps covered by lampshades painted with images of Detroit and Chicago. A single television hangs above the bar, and on this night it was showing the replay of an Olympic hockey game. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Best of the Net 2/10-2/17

Traverse City Is For Lovers

Michigan has its share of romantic spots for Valentine's Day, and Travel + Leisure has named Traverse City as the 10th most romantic town in the United States, noting its romantic outdoors attractions. Travel + Leisure ranked cities based on the number of "romantic" spots, like romantic hotels, brunch spots, and picnic-friendly parks.

Run Kalamazoo

USA Today has named the Kalamazoo Marathon as one of 14 spring races all runners should try. The publication commends the marathon for its unique course through "the area's parks, trails, neighborhoods and downtown mall."

A Tree Farm In Detroit

Detroit has vacant land and blight, but instead of seeing failure, some entrepreneurs see opportunity. Hantz Farms LLC plans to open the nation's largest tree farm on 15 acres on Detroit's east side between Mack and Jefferson avenues near Pennsylvania Street. Crain's Detroit Business describes the company's struggle to start the farm and its ultimate plans for approximately 150 acres on the east side.

Making Films In Lansing

Major motion pictures have been shooting in Detroit over the last several years, but other areas of Michigan have growing filmmaking scenes as well. Capital Gains highlights the movie industry and the the growth of independent filmmakers in the Lansing area. The article also features the Capital City Film Festival and Fortnight Film Contest's contributions to Lansing's filmmaking scene.

Making A Difference In Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids Urban Innovative Exchange features local artist Hugo Claudin's efforts to help his community and to increase graduation rates for local high schools. Claudin works as a Natural Helper for the Believe 2 Become program that tries to "help children succeed through summer enrichment, after-school experiences for students, and workshops and mentoring for parents." Claudin also hopes to help his community by using his gallery to highlight and encourage local artists.

Spring Is In The Air

The boys of summer are back in action, as the Detroit Tigers have reported for Spring Training. The Tigers are hoping to make another run to the World Series and are staying warm in Lakeland, Fla., until Detroit thaws. Opening Day is on March 31, when the Tigers host the Royals.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Pride of the Lions

The Lions won their last championship here. Photo by MrMiscellanious
At Briggs Stadium in Detroit on December 29, 1957, the Detroit Lions won their third NFL championship in six years, and their fourth all-time, with a total dismantling of the Cleveland Browns. After watching their team win 59 to 14, Lions fans surely must have thought that their team would reach the top of the NFL again and again.

Briggs Stadium later became Tiger Stadium and has since been torn down, and the Lions moved to Pontiac and then back to Detroit, but they never reached the pinnacle of their sport again. They have never really come close, with only 10 playoff appearances and one playoff victory since 1957.

The NFL has expanded multiple times since 1957, and the Super Bowl was created in 1967. Nineteen franchises have won Super Bowl championships while the Lions are only one of four NFL teams, and the only current team that was in existence in 1967, to never have played in the Super Bowl.

Despite this futility, Lions fans keep coming back for more but with different levels of dedication.

The blind optimists (and there is a surprisingly large number of these people) believe every year that "this year is going to be the year" until the Lions are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The Lions could be 0-5 with a defense that is surrendering 30 points per game and a quarterback that has thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdowns, and yet they will still think that the Lions are incredibly close to putting it all together and winning out to earn a spot in the playoffs.

The realists are not as crazy as the optimists. During the offseason, they think there is maybe a chance if we draft this guy or make that trade or fire this coach or hire that general manager. When the season starts, they might have some hope if the team looks to have the right players, but the realists are usually brought back down to earth by the midpoint of the season. Unlike the optimists, an 0-5 start does not kill them because they were kind of expecting it in the first place based on years of shattered expectations. Plus, they can survive because hockey and basketball seasons usually are starting to heat up right about the time the Lions appear to be doomed.

The pessimists, and I include myself in this group, have no hope for a Super Bowl in their lifetimes but still support the Lions because of their stubborn pride for Detroit sports. These fans will scream "Same old Lions!" after the first interception or fumble of the season, even if the Lions are up 28-0 in the fourth quarter. They also relish the ability to always tell other NFL fans, "You think you've got it bad. I'm a Lions fan!" with the hopes that the other fan will buy them a drink out of pity. These fans want to believe, but will not let themselves be duped after so many disappointments. Someday though, they may find a coach and team that will let them believe.

Despite the hopelessness of the Lions, and my own pessimism, I still support them because they are my hometown team. Living in the D.C. area now, I wear my Detroit colors with pride and enjoy running into other Detroiters who are visiting or now live in D.C. during football season. It feels like I am home again to be able to agonize with a stranger over the most recent missed kick, bumbled call, or inconceivable safety that cost the Lions a win.

One of many plays that would be unbelievable to anyone who is not a Lions fan. He just keeps running as if he doesn't even know he is out of bounds. They lost this game by two points by the way.

Recently, a neighbor of mine who is from Massachusetts told me that he decided to change allegiances to the the Washington Capitals and Nationals from the Bruins and Red Sox because his young son liked going to Caps and Nats games. I was appalled because I could never imagine giving up on Detroit's teams because I live somewhere else. Once a Lions fan, always a Lions fan...no matter how soul-crushingly painful it may be.

Being a Detroit fan, for better or for worse, is part of my identity. My grandfather was a fan of Detroit sports teams, and so is my dad. My 5-year-old daughter already knows that the Old English D means Detroit Tigers. I want my kids to know that there is something special about cheering for Detroit, even if it means laughing outwardly, while crying on the inside, as the Lions fumble away another season.

Detroit Tigers Old English D in sidewalk chalk.
Being a Lions fan is difficult because only the most loyal fan could support something as incredibly flawed as the Detroit Lions. It is that undying loyalty that makes it worth it though. It's easy to be a fan of a winner, but you must really love your hometown to root for a perpetual loser.

Even as a huge pessimist, I know that someday they will surprise us and win the Super Bowl. It will be glorious, and if does not happen in my lifetime, hopefully it will happen when my kids are alive. They may not be huge sports fans like me, but they will know that I would have been happy because I never gave up on my team for convenience or to back a winner.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Best of the Net 1/27-2/9

Chief For A Day

Huffington Post Detroit tells the story of Jayvon Felton's one day as chief of the Detroit Police Department. Jayvon is a 9-year-old cancer patient who dreams of being a police officer one day because of his desire to fight crime and help people. He was able to be the highest-ranking officer thanks to the efforts of the Children's Hospital of Michigan and the Detroit Police Department. Click here for the story.

Michigan Universities Foster Success

MLive reports that the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) named two Michigan universities to its list 15 programs "making a critical difference" for foster care youth. Western Michigan University's Center for Fostering Success and Michigan State University's FAME program made the top 15 from a list of 130 nominees nationally.

Detroit Is Well-Read

In October, I visited John K. King Used and Rare Books for the first time and was overwhelmed by the building's four floors overflowing with books. Apparently, I am not the only one impressed by John K. King. Business Insider named it as one of the 18 Best Bookstores in the World.

Michigan Beers Impress Again

Michigan breweries continue to receive accolades. Ratebeer.com recently compiled world rankings of beers and brewers in several categories, and Michigan's craft brewers performed admirably. Rate Beer named Bell's Two Hearted Ale the best IPA in the world, Kuhnhenn Bourbon Barrel French Toast Mead as the best mead in the world, and Founders KBS as the best stout in the world and best overall beer in America. Michigan also placed seven breweries on the list of the top 100 breweries in the world.

Science Center Surviving

I remember childhood field trips to the Detroit Science Center, now known as the Michigan Science Center, and am happy it is still alive after briefly closing in 2011. Thanks to donations, the center has survived, and now the DTE Energy Foundation has announced a $1 million donation to the science center to be distributed over a period of five years according to this report by Michigan Radio. Hopefully donations like this will keep the center open for years to come.

Michigan Olympians

If you watched the Olympics during the first day of skating competitions, you probably heard the announcers mention Michigan several times. Several skaters train in Michigan, including skaters representing countries other than the United States. Many speedskaters, snowboarders, and, of course, hockey players also claim Michigan as their home or have Michigan ties. Additionally, with strong college hockey programs throughout the state and the Detroit Red Wings, Michigan has several ice hockey players in the Olympics with Michigan ties.

Detroit Teen Makes A Difference

TeenNick named DeQuan O'Neall, a high school senior from Detroit, as its February HALO Effect honoree. The HALO Effect recognizes young people who make a difference through helping and leading others.

DeQuan is an advisory board member of the Neighborhood Service Organization's Youth Initiatives Project, a representative of the "Hugs Not Bullets" campaign, the only youth member on the Advisory Board for the Chief of Police of the Detroit Police Department, and a founding member of the "Grads Not Inmates" campaign. TeenNick's interview with this impressive young man can be found here.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Bob Dylan's Off-Key Commercial

I remember watching the 2011 Super Bowl and being absolutely floored when Chrysler's commercial featuring Eminem played. The commercial was for the Chrysler 200, but anyone who loves Detroit felt like it was a love letter to the city. It was gritty and beautiful at the same time, kind of like Detroit.

It called out people who had never even been to Detroit for writing and saying ignorant things about the city. The marquee of the Fox Theatre reminded us to "Keep Detroit Beautiful." And Eminem defiantly pointed at the rest of America and said, "This is the Motor City, and this is what WE do!"

Chrysler came back the next year with a Clint Eastwood commercial that may have not been as forceful as Eminem's, but it still pulled at the heartstrings of Detroiters. Clint's raspy voice reminded America that Detroit had seen hard times but was bouncing back with a vengeance. He told America that if Detroit could come back from behind, so could everyone else, if they followed Detroit's lead.

This year, Chrysler used Bob Dylan as a spokesman for their cars and for American automobile manufacturing. I am a fan of Bob Dylan. His music has inspired millions of people for more than 50 years, but his Chrysler commercial fell flat.

The commercial begins with Dylan asking this ridiculous question: "Is there anything more American than America?"