Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cultivating Community

Anyone wandering around the Diag this week should keep an eye out for the Cultivating Community banners advertising our benefit dinner. My efforts making these banners, though minimal, required more of a commitment in an extracuricular activity as a non-student than I ever made in my four years as a student (excluding water polo). That's pathetic.

Talk to Brent or I if you're interested in attending or learning more about the project.

Riverfront Development

Over the last month there's been a lot of exciting news about Detroit's riverfront. Two of the three former cement silos are now slated for redevelopment that will include condos, retail, and restaurants, creating a walkable/liveable community along the river. This announcement comes just a month after GM selected a development firm for property just east of the Ren Cen, and construction is set to begin on the new Asian Village development in the same area. It looks like this neighborhood is well on it's way to taking off and becoming a downtown destination. I wish it could happen overnight.

Detroit's Super Bowl success, riverfront news, and news that the city leads southeast Michigan in new housing permits should finally give some skeptical suburbanites legitimate reasons to get excited about their city.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Rivers Cuomo is a strange bird. I hope he's listening to Puccini now, writing something even remotely close to as good as Pinkerton.

I'm not sure what's stranger to me...thinking about the lead singer of Weezer living underneath a freeway in Culver City, CA in a black apartment with the windows covered with fiberglass insulation, or realizing that the Blue Album came out 12 years ago when I was 11 years old.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Super Super Bowl Weekend

It started on Thursday. The Super Bowl weekend. The weekend Detroit had been planning for and working towards for five years, and I wanted every part of it I could get my hands on as a downtown street ambassador volunteer and as a "cast member" for the Super Bowl halftime show.

I've been to Detroit almost once a week since late summer, admiring the improvements made each week in preparation for the Super Bowl. Just last week, the week before the Super Bowl, I was impressed with some of the last minute changes that were happening. But, even arriving with high expectations on Thursday for my first shift as a street ambassador, I was wowed by how good Detroit looked. The lights, the throngs of people, the temporary store fronts, the facade improvements...this wasn't the Detroit I saw a week earlier.

My partner, a 65 year old sassy black woman and life-long Detroiter named Jo-Ann, and I were assigned a route behind the Fox Theater that was mostly parking lots, but also required a convient walk past the Town Pump Tavern, one of my favorite bars downtown. On our second walk past the bar, Jo-Ann, without really asking, grabbed my arm and said, "Let's go in here. I really want a Crown Royal on the rocks." Good. I've never had a Budweiser taste so sweet than while in that bar, wearing a red Super Bowl volunteer coat, sharing a drink with my new friend, and basking in Detroit's glory, knowing that my weekend was just starting.

After our first drink, we didn't really spend much time on our "route." We wandered around all of downtown checking out the Winter Blast tents and markets. We stopped in a couple more bars along Woodward and otherwise just enjoyed being in the thick of it all. It was still hard to believe how good everything looked.

After my shift was done, I met my brother and two of his friends downtown and drove up to Midtown's Bronx Bar. Even outside of downtown it was packed...was this really going on in Detroit? First far, too good to be true.

Friday, I worked the early shift from 10am-2pm which was hard to get up for after staying out until 1:30am Thursday night, but like I said earlier, I wanted every bit of Detroit that I could get this weekend. I was paired with Wilma, a late thirties accountant who grew up in Detroit, moved to Washington D.C., and had just returned to Detroit a year ago. She was so impressed with downtown after her first shift on Thursday, that she brought her family back that night to the Winter Blast. Again, we didn't really stick to our route, instead wandering around the main attractions and even stopping in the new downtown YMCA long enough for Wilma to open a family membership and tour the facility. (I had been meaning to do this since the building opened in December, so this made my day. It was the nicest YMCA I've been in, and one of the nicest health club facilities I've seen.)

After my shift, it was time for the halftime rehearsal at Ford Field. For the most part, the rehearsal was a lot of waiting and trying to organize 2,000 or so "cast members" and stage hands, but it was exciting to run onto the field and be a part of the "dress rehearsal" where the Rolling Stones performed their three song set to our small crowd. I also found out that we were going to be part of the pre-game show with Stevie Wonder...did you want to be on the Super Bowl field twice during the game? Is this some sort of joke!?

When we finally were done with the rehearsal, my brother and I met up with one of his friends who lives in the Lofts at Merchants Row, along Woodward. Again, I had been meaning to tour these lofts for awhile, so when this opportunity presented itself I decided that this day was damn near the best day of my life. The lofts were definitely the nicest I've been in. The Kales Building has the best view, but the Merchants Row lofts, you could tell, were down very well, with quality in mind.

Downtown was crazy busy now (11:30pm or so) and I caught the tail end of Clint Black's performance on the Winter Blast Sprint Stage before meeting up with Ann Arbor friends. Mike and I roamed around downtown looking for a bar that didn't have a line outside--they were hard to come by--and finally stumbled into Foran's Irish Pub. The bar was more of a house party than a pub. All of the taps were out, and they were serving bottles of beer out of the boxes. Miscellaneous fifths and half gallons were behind the bar with trash, bottle caps, and two liters. We liked it. More friends met us there and luckily got into the bar before two people were shot two doors down from Foran's. Everyone was kept inside the bar for awhile while the police barricaded the area. When we were allowed to leave, we headed back to Ann Arbor. It was a sad ending to an otherwise perfect day. If they find the man responsible for this shooting, I'd like a judge to sentence him to public humiliation--strap him into a pillory and let the 3,000 or so members of Detroit Synergy shit on him for embarrassing Detroit.

Home at 3:30am and back in Detroit at 9:30am Saturday morning (need coffee!). I had the 10am-2pm shift again and I was working with Wilma and one of Wilma's coworkers, Annie. We rode the packed People Mover (it's normally the Person Mover) over to the RenCen and wandered around the crowds there. It was a cool atmosphere inside with a lot of fans roaming around looking for sports stars. We saw Emmit Smith giving an interview downstairs and passed by Shannon Sharpe on the second level.

If you've ever been inside the RenCen you know that it is far from user-friendly. It's more of a maze than anything else and we helped plenty of people that had gotten lost wandering around. On the second level concourse a man in a suit approached looking for where he parked his car, "I'm really lost in here. I need to find where I parked my car, but I forget what garage it's in." Just like they taught us in training, "Sure, we can help!" with a big smile on our faces. Then, for the next twenty minutes we help Steve Mariucci try to find his car! We take him to where he points on the map..."No, no. I was on the other side of the building." Okay, we'll walk you back that way. The whole time while roaming around with him, Mooch is being bombarded by fans for autographs and pictures. As we turn around to go back into the thick of the crowd, he looks at all of us and says "We have to go back in there! Alright, I'm going to keep my head down. Walk quickly." He probably would have been better off without three red Super Bowl coats surrounding him, but his sense of direction required it and we finally got him into the parking structure he was looking for. We helped him find his car (he wasn't sure if it was on the first or second level) and bid him farewell.

After my shift, my brother and I went to Detroit Beer Company for a couple of over-priced beers before heading to Lafayette Coney. What's a Detroit Super Bowl weekend without a coney island? The line was out the door but we got to see the cook make coneys with machine like efficiency. Once seated and served, I bit into the best damn meal I've had in awhile. All was right in the world sitting in a coney island in an alive downtown Detroit.

Super Bowl Sunday. My brother and I got downtown around 1:30pm and it was nothing but yellow and gold--it could have been Pittsburgh. We got a ride up to the State Fairgrounds where the pre-game and halftime cast were meeting. Checked in, ate lunch, got some last minute reminders, and then the pre-game cast filled twelve Taylor Schools buses. A police escort took us right down Woodward to a security check-in outside of Comerica and Ford Field. More Pittsburgh fans! The cast moved inside of the Comerica Park tunnel and then waited for the first show. All of the pre-game cast was in the tunnel. The dancers, choir, and armed forces walked by on their way to Ford Field, and each group was met with school children like shrieks of excitement. Doug managed to get the 500-600 people chanting "USA!!" as the armed forces paraded by with Old Glory.

Finally, it was our turn to move out. We started in a slow walk that once outside of the tunnel and at the front entrance of Ford Field turned into a run. Into the Ford Field tunnel that sloped down for a quarter mile or so with production workers begging us to "RUN!" Then, the light, the field, the fans hanging down from the railings as we entered. It was so cooool. It looked like everyone in the stadium had a Terrible Towel. We ran to the front of the stage where Stevie Wonder waited for us and the show started within a few seconds. We danced, cheered, twirled around to breathe it all in. Then, as quickly as we entered, we exited. Production workers again yelling "Run!" as we moved from the field into the tunnel and back into Comerica Park. It was awesome.

We got to watch some of the first half of the game on TVs they had set up in the tunnel, but most of the time was spent getting everyone back in line and organizing the other 1500 people that were part of the halftime show. At the two minute warning, we started to move out. More excitement, everyone buzzing. We waited outside of the front entrance to Ford Field and caught the last minute of the half on the jumbo-tron you could see through the windows. We watched the stage roll into the tunnel in front of us, and we walked closer to the tunnel. Then, "RUN!" We were dashing down the tunnel again with more and more people trying to head for the front. Down the tunnel, onto the field, over the cords, and into the tongue at center field. The giant sheet that covered the middle was already out and we had to climb around underneath it to our "assigned spot." The lights went out, you could hear the crowd. We waited under the giant dutch oven for the Rolling Stones to start their set and our chance to be a part of one of the largest live television events of the year. Fireworks. Guitars. Crowd. Mick Jagger. The cloth tongue starts to move its way forward and we wait...then, light...revealed! Jumping up and down--how'd we get this close!--to "Start Me Up." Yes!!!!! Jagger parades around the tongue over to his left and moves to our area. We could nearly touch him, everyone in the tongue going nuts.

At the end of the first song we were all trying to catch our breath. Keith Richards stands up at the front of the stage and lets his guitar pick fly. It moves to my left, sailing away, then takes a right turn and heads towards me. Is this happening? Very few people around us notice that he threw his pick, let alone that it's being drawn close to our area by the blanket of good luck that had been wrapped around me since Thursday. The pick floats in slow motion, hits a man in the chest, falls slowly to the ground. A girl to the left of me sees it fall to the ground. She moves for it. I move for it. We look for it. Legs, shoes, socks, more legs...pick!!! I reach through a pair of legs and cover it with my hand, feeling it with both hands to make sure it's real. I return standing up and show it to everyone around. No way! I put it in my pocket and through the rest of the performance reach in to make sure it's still there. That this actually happened.

We jump, scream, dance. The crowd is huge. So many cameras and photographers. Clothe banners fall from the rafters, fireworks ignite behind the stage. The end of "Satisfaction." The Rolling Stones bow and exit. We wait for the first part of the stage to be disassembled and then, "RUN! Go, Go, Go!! Watch the cords! RUN!" Up the tunnel, a herd 2,000 strong running up the tunnel so that the large stage doesn't catch up with us and have to stop or worse, start rolling back down the hill and onto the field. Out of breath and into the cold air. We're all done. The best twelve minutes of the weekend.

I'm not sure what I did to deserve all of this, but it was the coolest weekend of my life. I couldn't ask for a better four days. Detroit, all dressed up and on center stage, gave me more than I asked for. I'm still having a hard time believing it all happened.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Detroit in the news

This list was compiled by Detroit Synergy although a number of people (Tom Campion, Matt Lapinski, Brian Emeott, Troy Jackson) have passed along a few of the articles to me over the last week.

Culturally Speaking, Detroit is Hopping (Seattle Post Inquirer)
Detroit doesn't deserve it's Reputation (
Detroit gussies up for Super Bowl XL (Toledo Blade)
Detroit shows off a Super new side (USA Today)
Getting Revved Up about the Motor City (Boston Globe)
Motown ready to play its best defense (
New Detroit (Dallas Fort-Worth Star- Telegram)
SBXL: Fresh sets of eyes on Detroit (Crains Detroit Business)
Weather is cold, but the reception is not (Miami Herald)