Thursday, November 12, 2009

East Side Memories

What has become of one of those “showplace homes” on the east side during the 60s-80s. (Photo courtesy Google Earth)

I lived a good half of my life on the east side of Flint, Michigan – residing mostly in the working class Franklin/Dort Hwy/Leith Street area and not the more affluent East Village part of the east side.

The neighborhood that I lived in was definitely what you would call “working class” – where people had dreams about buying that cottage up north with all of the overtime money they were making at one of the General Motors plants in town. My neighborhood was a good neighborhood – where neighbors talked to one another and wouldn't think twice of coming to your aid in time of need. I can’t tell you how many times one of our neighbors mowed our lawn and never charged us – but it was many. And my Mom wouldn’t think twice about making an extra pumpkin or cherry pie for one of our neighbor’s Thanksgiving table.

Like any good neighborhood – there were characters like Mr. Marcel (not his real name) – an old man of Indian heritage who would come home at night and sit on the front porch in his boxer shorts. If was a hot enough summer night – Mr. Marcel would end up sleeping on the front porch. If Mr. Marcel was late coming home – the odds were pretty good that he was sampling the beverages on tap at the old Cozy Corner bar.

Then there was the German woman with two children that was getting a divorce from her husband who people loved to tease because of her thick German accent.

And when it comes to characters – you can’t forget about me – the first hippie in the neighborhood. Yup, I was the kid with hair that went down to the middle of my back who wore white bib overalls (that I tie-dyed with three different colors) and played Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” on his record player loud enough for the entire block to hear it. Needless to say – my hair, clothes and the music that came blaring out of my record player speakers made a statement and it’s a pretty safe bet that I was the talk of a few dinner conversations in that east side neighborhood in the 60s through the 80s.

The east side of Flint – there was no place like it. You could sleep at night with your doors wide open and actually feel safe. Neighbors would not only lend a helping hand – they would watch out for you and keep you informed of anybody who stopped by your house or even asked about you. It’s not like that any more and probably never will be again.

I feel sad when I drive though the east side of Flint today – homes that people once took pride in and were the showplaces of the neighborhoods are now either boarded up or are over run by weeds and garbage. People that lived in my old neighborhood felt safe – now they live in constant fear that their house might be burglarized or that a drive-by shooting could happen at any time.

If there’s one thing that I can point to that illustrates just how much things have changed on Flint’s east side – it was when I was driving by St. Mary’s Church on a Saturday about a year ago or so. I don’t know if there was a wedding going on at the church or if they were holding Saturday services – it’s what I saw happening in the parking lot at the church that surprised me. While people were inside the church worshipping – hired rent-a-cops were in the parking lot of the church watching over the cars. I couldn’t help but mumble to myself, “That’s just not right…that’s just not right.” Has it come down to the church having to hire people to protect the parishioner’s vehicles while they’re receiving the Lord’s word? It looks that way at St. Mary’s and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other churches in the Flint area that have to do the same thing.

Things will never be the same on Flint's east side -- but at least we have the memories.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sesame Street Remembered

Forty years ago – if someone would have told you that a television show featuring a big yellow bird, a Cookie Monster, a couple of guys named Bert and Ernie and a vampire that would teach kids to count would revolutionize children’s television – you’d probably think they were nuts. Well, kids – it was forty years ago that a little show from the Children’s Television Workshop called “Sesame Street” premiered on public television stations across America and it turned kids TV on its head and changed children’s television forever.

Forty years ago – most television stations popped on “Popeye”, “Bugs Bunny” and “Beany And Cecil” cartoons or dusted off the “Our Gang” or “Three Stooges” film shorts from the 30s and 40s and they called that “children’s television. The cartoons and films shorts were money makers for the TV stations and there was really no thought behind the programming that they were airing for children. TV stations figured that they were entertaining kids and the shows were attractive to the advertisers that wanted to sell them sugared cereals, candy bars and soda pop and that’s all that mattered to them.

Then there was “Sesame Street” – a children’s program that was unlike any other at the time. The people at the Children’s Television Workshop figured out a way to do a television program that not only entertained young minds – but educated them as well. While the commercial television stations aired old cartoons sponsored by toy companies tied to the programming that they were airing – “Sesame Street” was sponsored by the letters A, G, and P and the number 3. A children’s television show sponsored by letters of the alphabet and numbers – now that’s crazy – crazy like a fox.

By combining the talent of Jim Henson’s Muppets and children educators from around the country – the Children’s Television Workshop created a program that not only entertained children – adults like it as well and parents discovered that TV could be more than a babysitter -- it could be a tool in the education of their children.

When “Sesame Street” premiered forty years ago – my hometown of Flint, Michigan didn’t have a public television station at the time. There were public TV stations in Lansing, Detroit and at Delta College – but they were on the UHF band which wasn’t that easy to tune it and cable television had yet to really make any inroads – so, the only thing that we knew about “Sesame Street” was what we were reading about the show in the newspapers or weekly newsmagazines.

I was in 10th grade at the time when “Sesame Street” debuted on public television and I can remember stopping in to a friend’s house after school one day to watch “Sesame Street” for the first time. My friend had a antenna on his house with a rotor and he could pick up the signal of the Detroit public television station that was airing the show. Here I was a 10th grader in front of a television set watching show where a puppet monster ate cookies, another puppet lived in a garbage can, and another puppet sang a song about his “rubber ducky” and I’ll be damn if I wasn’t entertained by it all – but when will the rest of my hometown be able to see this show.

Because of the popularity of “Sesame Street” – a commercial television station (WJRT TV 12) did something unusual for a commercial television station at the time – they worked out an agreement with public television and the Children’s Television Workshop to air “Sesame Street” on a commercial broadcast station with no commercial interruption. “Sesame Street” continued to be sponsored by the letters of the alphabet and numbers – but TV 12 wasn’t allowed to sneak in any commercials for any hamburger chains or even promote their own “Bozo” show that aired later in the day. Imagine a commercial television today giving up five hours a week of air time to air a children’s television show from public television – it ain’t gonna happen – but things were a lot different forty years ago.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Byte Me -- You Gotta Love Them Computers

Can we talk? The odds are pretty good that if you’re reading this entry in my blog that you own a computer. It might be a top-of-the-line computers or one of the lower priced E models that you can get at Wal-Mart – but it’s a computer. The odds are also pretty good that no matter how much you paid for your computer – it has done something to piss you off. Whether its froze up on you and you had to reboot the damn thing to get it to work again or you hit the wrong button and you lost whatever you were working on in the ether of your computer or somewhere in the vastness of the world-wide web – your computer at one time or another has pissed you off.

I was literally tied to a computer when I wrote commercials and handled the production department for a group of five stations in Michigan. The computer made my job a little easier – instead of having to get my fat ass up and in the production room to get commercials recorded and in the studios – I could pretty much do everything from my office desk with a fresh cup of coffee by my side. It was nice – but there were those times when you wished that these damn computers never existed – like when your system crashes and you have to retrace your steps because everything that you had done that day is lost.

Computers – they’re not the most reliable invention ever made – yet we have accepted and embraced them and have made them a vital part of our life.

Now, imagine paying top dollar for an automobile that decides that it is only going to let you drive no faster than 30 mph on that day that you have to get that throbbing tooth yanked out of your mouth at the dentist office. On other days this car could run fast enough to qualify for the Indy 500 -- but on this day it's 30 mph and no fast – I’m sure you would get a little pissed. You want that tooth out now and this expensive car is making you wait a little longer.

At that point, you would probably take this car back to the dealership and say, “What gives?”

But what if he said to you, “Hey, they do that sometimes. All you have to do is turn off the car and restart it again – you know – reboot your car – and the car will work the way you want it to.” You would be so angry they would probably have to put you in restraints to prevent you from driving that car though the display room windows.

Why is it that we can accept a computer that occasionally freezes up or a computer that runs slow – even though you have a decent internet provider? We wouldn't accept a car (or any other product) that we had to reboot to get it to run the way it should – but with a computer – we embrace (and tolerate) all of their imperfections and we cherish those days when our computers run the way that they’re suppose to, because we know that tomorrow our computer can make our life a living hell.

Why am I writing all of this now? The answer is pretty simple. My computer is taking a break today from running slow, freezing up and popping up with messages about my installation and allowing me to share this with you – and tomorrow might be another story.