Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You Know You're From Flint....Part Two

It’s been awhile since I stared at the blank screen of my computer all night thinking of  new and different ways to fill in the preverbal blank space after those famous five words: “You know you’re from Flint…..”  Well…it’s time to fill in the blank again with a brand new edition of “You Know You’re From Flint….”

….when you have to explain to someone that 7-Up isn’t just a soft drink – it can also be an additional coney in a bag of a half-dozen. 

…if you can remember taking driving lessons at either Southwestern or Northwestern and having to wave your hand out the window when the instructors called you out over the loudspeakers for not stopping at a stop light or stop sign.

….if you can remember before HBO – the cable system offered a movie service called “Channel 100”.  

….if you can remember when Channel 5’s logo was the outline of a hand.  

…..when you can remember that even before there was something called the Crim Race – there was a sporting event called “the Canusa games” that young people could look forward to  every summer.  

…..if you can remember grocery stores with such names at Mansour’s, Feke and Yott, Mitchell’s, Hamady’s, Hickory Meat Block, Thompson’s and Double D Supermarket.  

….if the first car that you ever own had the nameplate of “Blain”, “Knickerblocker”, “Al Bennett”, “Superior”,  and  “Vern Parsall” somewhere on the car .  

….if you ever had to sell something at Julie’s Pawn Shop just to have a few bucks in your pocket.  

….you can remember bringing a quarter into school each week for your teacher to put in your Citizens Bank Christmas club account that the bank set up all the classrooms in Flint

….if you can remember the owner of the Ponderosa Steak Houses surrounding himself with kids in his television commercials.  

….if you remember shopping for a television or an appliance at Greenley’s, a mattress for your bed at Pearless and by living room and dining room furniture from one of the many companies owned by Ron Ralston.  

….if you can remember when Bill LaFave was “the magic carpet man” in his Karen’s Carpets television commercials.  

….if you ever attended a Carl Casper auto show at the IMA Auditorium.  

….if you went out for pizza at Ruggerio’s on Chevrolet Avenue, Lugi’s on Davison Road, Little Ceasar’s in the South Flint Plaza, or Roma’s Pizza on N. Saginaw.  

….you bought your pet food and pet treats from Dotty’s.  

….if you can remember when the Small Mall was Flint’s first mall and Miller Road with filled with trees and forest.   

…if you ever visited the main branch of the public library to view what happened on the day your were born on microfilm of the Flint Journal   

….if you can remember “The Music Warehouse” upstairs in the Bronson-Fisher building or the practice rooms where many of Flint’s rock n’ roll musicians jammed before their paying gigs.  

….if you can remember Kinnee’s Cheesecakes on Corruna Road.  

….if you can remember renting a movie for your Betamax from Rainbow Video 

….if you ever attended a Citizens Bank Christmas Carol Sing-A-Long or listened to a live broadcast of it on WFDF  

….if your car was ever searched by police before you entered Sherwood Forest for “Wild Wednesday” or “Super Sunday”.  

…if you ever joined a softball league and played a game under the lights at Whaley Park.  

....if you ever joined a bowling league and have trophies to prove it. 

…if you know someone who raced their car over the weekend at Auto City Speedway.  

…if you can remember the Burger King restaurant on the corner of Second and Saginaw.  

…if you can remember Question Mark of Question Mark and The Mysterians living in a house on Miller Road (near where Target is today).  

…if you had a reverb installed on your car radio or your first eight-track player installed at Duke’s Tape Shack on Dort Hwy. 

…if you or someone you knew painted something on “The Rock”. 

...if you can remember when Mott Jr. College was Flint Jr. College

…if you ever had to get a used auto part from one of the auto junk yards on Dort Hwy. 

…if your first one or two years of school were spent getting an education in a primary unit in your local neighborhood. 

…if you cheered for a friend or co-worker that was fighting in one of the Toughman fights at the IMA Sports Arena.  

….if you ever arranged to meet someone that you connected with during the weekend on WTAC’s “Dateline”. 

…when you can remember the only twenty-four hour drug store was the Herrlich’s store on Detroit Street and you were a little afraid of some of the people who you might meet there in the middle of the night.  

…if you ignored your parents warnings about all of the thugs and hooligans that hung out downtown and went there anyway.  

…if you ever helped your friend or had your own Flint Journal paper route (and knew how to fold the paper properly – before rubber bands and plastic bags).

…if your summer was spent making extra money selling ice cream from one of those white Hav-A-Bar ice cream carts.  

…if you can still remember Federals department store in the North Flint Shopping Center and South Flint Shopping Center or the Woolco store in the Eastland Mall. 

…and your choices of where to go to get wasted on Dort Hwy was either Conto’s or The Light…or you went downtown to Doobie’s or The Phone Booth for an evening of folk music. 

….you can remember when Flint didn’t have a public television station and “Sesame Street” actually aired on Channel 12. can remember when Luke Choate did the news and Dick Bing did the sports on Channel 12 news.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

TV: The Best of the Bad and the Best of the Best

(The cast of "Parenthood" -- photo courtesy of Imagine/NBC-Universal)

When it comes to television – my taste are somewhat weird – which you’ll soon find out when I reveal some of my likes and dislikes. Although I don’t fit the channel’s demographic – which is basically female – I will admit to watching and enjoying the Lifetime cable channel (and it’s sister channel – the Lifetime Movie Network). The clue to watching either of these channels’ original programming is to never place high expectations on quality. The writing is going to be weak and the acting is sometimes just a hair above that of a community theater group – but occasionally Lifetime will really surprise you. On one hand – you have the funny and charming series “Drop Dead Diva” about a beautiful model who dies and comes back to life in a big girl’s body and then you have “Army Wives” – which is one of Lifetime’s most successful original series and one of my favorite all-time bad TV shows.

One of the first things that you notice about “Army Wives” is how damn cheesy the production values are on the show. I have seen better set design for a junior high school play than I have on this prime-time cable drama. The “Army Wives” sets look like they were hammered together with drywall and filmed in filmed in Sgt. Bilko’s auto garage. I mean, you would be hard press to distinguish a difference in the look of what’s suppose to be a hospital room to what is suppose to be an office of one of the Army officers on this show – this show is never going to win any awards for set design – but that’s part of what makes this show good bad TV.

Then we have the actors who must put some kind of life into the lamest script writing in television today. Kim Delaney (who some might remember from “NYPD Blue”) is suppose to be the heart of the show – but it’s hard to get past her lips. It looks like Delaney got a one of those lip jobs from some Hollywood nip/tuck doctor after her NYPD Blue run and it definitely doesn’t look natural. Then we have Brian McNamara, who plays Delaney’s husband in “Army Wives”, and he tries to over compensate the lousy scripts with acting so phony and over the top that you have to laugh…because you can’t take him serious.

“Army Wives” is so bad…it’s actually fun to watch and that’s why that I’m looking forward to the premiere of Season four on 10 pm, Sunday, April 11th on Lifetime. (Be sure to check your local listings for cable channel.)

NBC has surprised me. The network that gave us Jay Leno in prime-time, only to replace him on one of those nights with “The Marriage Ref”, has given us a show that I think might be the best television show of 2010 – “Parenthood”.

“Parenthood” is based on a 1989 movie that Ron Howard produced and directed and it’s the second time that this movie has been made into a television series. (The first attempt at turning “Parenthood” into a TV series was in 1990 with Ed Begley Jr in the lead role, but it didn’t click with the viewing public and was cancelled after twelve episodes were aired).

“Parenthood” is about the Braverman family and all the things make a family a family. You’ve got the daughter and her two kids who has to move back in with Mom and Dad after her marriage and life goes south. Then you have the one son with the perfect family – that is until their youngest son is diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Then you have the other daughter – who’s a successful lawyer, but still can’t quite get the “career and marriage thing together” and then there’s the youngest Braverman son who’s single and lives on a houseboat and just recently found out that he has a son from a previous relationship. You have enough story lines in this show if you just stuck with the Braverman children – but were soon going to find out that Mom and Dad has a few secrets about their marriage that they’re holding back from their children. Got you interested yet?

I’ll admit right off that I have never been a big Ron Howard fan. I know that he’s a talented director and everyone loves Ron Howard, but his movies have never been my cup of tea, but I have to give the man credit for his persistence in breathing life in this new version of “Parenthood” and trust me – it hasn’t been easy.

“Parenthood” was originally scheduled to premiere on NBC’s 2009 fall schedule – but one of the original cast members -- Maura Tierney (“E.R.”) – was diagnosed with breast cancer, so NBC rescheduled the show to begin as a mid-season replacement. Tierney announced that she would be leaving the show to allow for the scheduling of medical treatment and her part was later recast with Lauren Graham (“Gilmore Girls”) – who’s one the show’s shining stars (and it’s incredible how much her fictional daughter actually looks just like her in this show).

When it comes to good TV – you can’t get any better than “Parenthood” (Tuesday nights at 10pm on NBC).

Bad TV/Good TV …it’s all TV….Turn out the lights and enjoy it. Until we meet again – keep the grin above your chin and the TV remote nearby.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Memories Of Food

It’s one-thirty in the morning and what am I doing? I’m sitting in front of this god-damn computer thinking about food. Not just any kind of food. Food that I will never be able to enjoy again – because either the people that made it are gone or the restaurants that I enjoyed them at no longer exist.

Memories of Food

I love ribs! Especially pork ribs drenched in barbeque sauce with meat that falls off the bone. In Port Huron, Michigan there’s a restaurant called “Chicken Shack” and they got pretty decent ribs and their fried broasted potatoes are a treat in themselves – but neither of them can compare to this rib dinner that I use to get at this bar/restaurant on the corner of Hill Road and Saginaw in Grand Blanc, Michigan. (I wish I could remember the name of the place – the restaurant was also located at one time on South Saginaw Street just past where the light was at Center Road). What made these ribs so damn good was the sauce – it was thick – but it sweeten the taste of the ribs oh so delicately and they would place your slab of ribs on the top of their cottage fries and the juice from the ribs and the sauce took these thinly sliced fries to a whole new level. I have had some pretty good ribs in my time – but nothing that could compare to the ribs at this restaurant. I know that there’s going to be someone from the Flint area that will tell me that nothing could compare to the ribs at the old PX and they’re probably right…but I never had a chance to enjoy a slab of ribs from the famous PX – which is my loss.

Man can not live on just meat alone -- that’s why there’s salad. My Cousin Shirley’s first husband, George, use to own Broadway Coney Island on the east side of Flint, Michigan. For a long time – George’s restaurant was located on Broadway and Franklin, just a block away from Flint’s most famous Coney Island restaurant – Angelo’s. He eventually moved Broadway Coney Island to the corner of Leith and Franklin and that was the location where I would go and enjoy one of George’s Chef Salads. Let me tell you right from the get-go – this salad was nothing fancy – but it was good and I have never been able to duplicate that taste – but I can remember it like it was yesterday.

George would take one of his standard dinner plates and plop a couple fistfuls of lettuce and chopped onions on top of it. Then he would take out a piece of the roast pork and roast beef that he used for his dinners and sandwiches and slice them into strips. Then he would take a slice or two of your standard American pasteurized cheese and slice them into strips and then serve it to you with that orange colored French dressing that you seem to find in every Coney Island restaurant in every city. I know that it doesn’t sound like much -- but damn was it delicious and I have never been able to find another salad like the one George would serve at Broadway Coney Island.

My memories of good food aren’t limited to just restaurants – because if you’re lucky – the best food that you’ll ever eat will always be at home. When it comes to good food – Sunday dinners should be in a category all by itself. My Mom and her second husband, Steve Rosa, really did Sunday dinners proud and it was usually centered around chicken. Most of the time it was fried chicken and other times it was Hungarian chicken and rice – and if you know the Rosa family – they never made just a “little bit of red rice” – they made enough rice to last for days.

My Mom and Steve’s fried chicken is another one of those items that I have never been able to find anywhere or see duplicated anywhere. The both of them made the chicken and it was a team effort all of the way – from cutting up the chicken, skinning the chicken, dipping it in egg and then rolling it in bread crumbs before they placed it into a pan of hot bubbling Mazola oil to cook. I think part of the good flavor of the chicken came from the pan – they always used this one oval shaped pan and the bread crumbs weren’t just any bread crumbs – it was dry bread crumbs that they made and seasoned themselves from loaves of dried Mother’s Bread from the Balkan Bakery.

(It should be noted that after we attended Sunday mass at Sacred Heart Church – we would drive over to the Balkan Bakery in Flint where my step-father would pick up maybe 8-10 loaves of Balkan Bread each week. A few of the loaves we would eat throughout the week….a few more loaves were placed inside of our oven to dry and then be ground down into bread crumbs…and the rest of the loaves he would share with his brother.)

There was something about my Mom and step-father’s fried chicken. I love to eat the skin on fried chicken – but you didn’t miss the skin not being on my parents’ fried chicken – you just enjoyed it!

I also have great memories of some of the baked goods that my Mom use to make. Everyone in our family was a big fan of my Mom’s carrot cake and there was a running joke that if there was any kind of family get-together, event, etc., my Mom had to make the carrot cake. I like carrot cake – but the cream cheese frosting on the top of it was too sweet for me.

When it comes to my Mom’s baked goods – I was a sucker for her frosted cinnamon rolls. My Mom never made small cinnamon rolls – each one of her cinnamon rolls was about the size of the upper peninsula of Michigan and each one of them were delicious. The dough that she made the cinnamon rolls with was sweet and the thing you had to do was to put it in the microwave for about fifteen seconds and then eat them. Slowly unraveling the roll until you got to that center which usually was filled with a burst of cinnamon and sugar. If you could eat two of these cinnamon rolls with a cup of coffee – you were doing good – and if your sugar levels didn’t go bonkers – then something was wrong with you.

I’m looking at the clock and it’s damn near two-thirty. Time goes by fast when you think of food. It also makes you hungry….so….I might as well wrap this up and grab a peanut butter sandwich or something.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Tribute To My Mom On Her 83rd Birthday

Gone, but not forgotten.

Today is my Mom’s birthday. Had she survived her prolong fight eight years ago against the cancer that was taking over her body, she would be celebrating her eighty-third birthday today. If she was still alive, we’d be celebrating her birthday with cake and ice cream – and anyone who knew my Mom will tell you – she would have insisted on making the cake. Nobody was better at making cakes, cookies, cinnamon rolls and pies – and she could make a pretty mean meatloaf and pans and pans of tasty fried chicken – but it was those baked goods that she was known for.

I am in awe when I look back at my Mom’s life and it's only since I have been “getting up in years” that I have come to appreciate all that my Mom went through in her lifetime. My Mom didn’t have life easy – but you never heard her complain. My Mom was not a rich person – but that didn’t stop her from giving to others if it made their life a little better – that was just the kind of person that my Mom was.

My parents divorced each other when I was about seven or eight years old. I look back at all of the things that she had to do to make sure that my sister and I had a roof over our head, clothes on our backs and food in our stomach and I don’t know if I could have done it – but she did. I use to laugh about it then – but I can remember her coming home from work and literally falling asleep on the couch while watching television – now I can understand why. She was an incredible woman!

A lot has happened in the eight years since my Mom’s death. I’m sure that she wouldn’t be happy that my sister and I no longer speak to each other, but deep down inside I think that she would understand and she would continue to love us equally despite the flaws in the both of us, because that’s what Moms do.

Happy birthday, Mom!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Junk Food and Television: The Perfect Combination

It’s time to talk a little bit about this and a little bit about that…..and we’ll begin with….

Junk Food

I am the perfect consumer. If I see a commercial on television for a new this or that at some fast food place – I want to go out and try it – and if it’s good – I want to tell the whole world. Right now, Wendy’s is advertising a new Bacon and Blue burger – which is their standard one patty burger, kicked up a notch or two with bacon and blue cheese. I love blue cheese in a salad, but I never thought of putting it on a hamburger, but I’m grateful that Wendy’s has….what a burger! The hot hamburger melts the blue cheese and gives your hamburger a taste you never thought possible. The only problem that I have with Wendy’s bacon and blue burger is that the size of the patty should be a bit bigger – maybe a 1/3 pound burger instead of their standard 1/4 pound patty. It’s a bit pricy ($4.55 for the burger alone in the Port Huron, Michigan area – with tax), but its well worth the price.

Tired of the same old candy bars and you want to try something different? Leave it to the folks at Mars/Milky Way to save the day with a couple of new M and Ms (Wild Cherry and Coconut) and a new Milky Way bar. The Milky Way bar is called “Simply Caramel” – no nugget or nuts – it’s as the label says “real milk chocolate surrounding nothing but rich delicious caramel.” If you love caramel – this is the chocolate bar for you – because “Simply Caramel” is simply delicious.

I’ve been sharing my breakfast cereal with the grand kids lately and have come to a conclusion. When it comes to Lucky Charms – forget about the milk – eat them straight from the box. It could be me – but Lucky Charms straight from the box tastes like popcorn with marshmallow bits and like peanuts – its addicting as hell, too. You can’t stop at just one handful…you keep going back for more.

Long John Silvers, any one? If anyone has tried their new shrimp taco – you got to tell me what you think. I’m a big fan of their Baja Fish Taco, but haven’t been in to try their shrimp taco yet – I’m hoping that it isn’t one of the items that they’re featuring for people observing Lent.

TV: Everything Old Is New Again

There are a bunch of old television shows that are coming back soon – some on the big screen and some on the small screen. One of the TV shows that put the ABC television network on the map in the 60s and spawned a top 40 hit is coming to the big screen – with Warner Brothers producing a period piece based on “77 Sunset Strip”. The TV show was a star vehicle for Roger Smith (who later married Ann-Margaret) and Connie Stevens – but it was Ed “Kookie” Byrnes’ character that spawned the 60s hit, “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb”.

Here’s a TV show that I never would have expected a new movie version of – “Gilligan’s Island”. Believe it or not, Hollywood producers right now are in the process of casting a movie version of “Gilligan’s Island” – I can imagine a new Gilligan – just as the late Bob Denver will always be Maynard G. Krebbs on “Dobie Gillis” – he’s always going to be the skipper’s little buddy to me on “Gilligan’s Island.”

Remember Jeff Bridges’ brother, Beau Bridges from the movie “The Fabulous Baker Brothers”? Beau has just been cast by NBC for their remake of “The Rockford Files” where he’ll be playing Jim Rockford’s father, Rocky – which was originally played by Noah Beery, Jr.

And guess who wants to return to TV? Daytime TV? None other than Rosie O’Donnell! Rosie once had a successful daytime talk show and left the show at the height of its popularity to concentrate on her family. Then Rosie came back to Barbara Walter’s little ABC chat fest known as “The View” and we all know what happened there….and now she feels like she’s ready to come back to TV again. The route that she’s taking to coming back to daytime TV is a little unusual, too – she isn’t looking for a major syndicator to distribute her show – she wants to syndicate the show herself. If anyone can do it…Rosie can….but is daytime TV ready for another turn with Rosie O’Donnell?

Well…that’s going to be it for now. Until we meet again – keep that remote close to your side and remember – hey, it’s only TV.

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's My Buddy's Birthday!!!!

A much younger Van VanDeWalker and Rich Frost

Happy birthday, Van VanDeWalker!

Yup, my old buddy Van (who works for Animal Control in Macon, Georgia) is turning fifty-six today (which is something like three-hundred and ninety-two dog years, but who’s counting?). Van is probably going to be bombarded with birthday wishes from friends and family all day and who knows how many more people in the Macon area, that he has met in his day-to-day journeys with his famous dog, A.C. Pup, will shower him with even more love and birthday wishes. But, you wanna know something? If there’s anyone anywhere worthy of that love and attention – it’s Van VanDeWalker – who like me is proud is proud to say that he’s “from Flint, Michigan, damn it!!!”

What kind of guy is Van VanDeWalker? Well, let me put it to you this way – Van and I met each other some twenty-five plus years ago at WTAC Radio in Flint. We were both hired to work there when former newsman (now Genesee County Prosecuting Attorney) David Leyton purchased the station and switched the station’s format from country to talk. I arrived at the station at around 5:30 in the morning to find VanDeWalker already there preparing for his first newscast. After he introduced himself to me, Van asked me if I would like a cup of coffee from the pot that he just brewed up in the station’s mini-kitchen. When I told Van that I can’t drink caffeinated coffee (because of what it does to my blood pressure) and that I only drank decaf, he went on to compare decaffeinated coffee to female genitilia and it was then and there that I realized that Van and I were going to be friends forever.

Van and I have gone through a whole lot in the last twenty-five plus years. We have probably shared more good moments than we have bad and despite the fact that some eight hundred and eighty-one miles separate us -- our friendship continues to grow – thanks in a large part to the Internet. Both his wife, Traci and my girlfriend, Marty think that we are both a little nuts because we love to play Scrabble and have played it online for nearly nine years – talking trash with each other on the audio chat on Yahoo Instant Messenger as we play. And I will admit that Van is the better Scrabble player – and although I may bitch that I’m a lousy at the game – I wouldn’t mind losing every game, because it gives me a chance to be able to bond over the Internet with my buddy, Van.

Although we have never talked about it – I think that Van and I are a lot alike. If we could wave a magic wand – we would both be sharing our lives with the people that we love today but living in the town that we love and remember (Flint, Michigan), but know deep in our heart that our old hometown will never be like we remember it. And, it’s kind of frustrating that we can’t show our love ones just how great it was to live in Flint – because that city doesn’t exist anymore -- but Van and I remember and every so often it helps the both of us to keep that Flint connection going – because we’re from Flint, damn it! We feel more comfortable with a couple of coneys and a side of fries with gravy on it from Angelos than we would if we had to dine in some fancy four star restaurants.

Van and I both came from neighborhoods where people cared for each other and they watched each other’s back. We lived in neighborhoods where you knew everyone on your street and the street behind you – and if someone needed a hand – you extended yours and you helped them no questions ask. I’m sure that a lot of what Van experienced from living in the kind of neighborhoods in Flint that he lived in, has made him a better person and an even better animal control officer in Macon, Georgia.

You can’t deny it, Van….today is your birthday….and you’re from Flint, damn it! I wish I could be with your personally to celebrate your birthday and I hope you accept my virtual birthday gift of a basket filled with Koegel hot dogs, a week’s worth of Halo Burgers with olives with an endless stream of Vernor’s Crème Ales, a couple of Big John Steak and Onion barbeque steak and onion subs, and some Ya Ya chicken. And, I if you look deep in the virtual birthday gift box – there’s also all the Flint Journals that you have missed reading since you moved to Georgia and, although it’s not from Flint, I threw in a couple of can cases of Tim Horton coffee – only to satisfy your “Hockey Night In Canada” lovin’ taste buds.

Happy birthday, Van!!!