Archives for posts with tag: Detroit

A friend send me these two pictures of a barbershop in Detroit from many years ago called “We Be Cuttin Hair (and stuff)”. It’s a great name and the storefront art is pretty amazing also.

He also sent me the less awesome Google Street view pic of what’s there now.

On Tuesday, I was four days into post-op convalescence for having my ACL repaired. Laid up on the couch, immobile, and in constant 6 on a scale of 10 pain with no real indication it was going to improve. I was in a bad mood. And it got worse.

Of course, this was when the Detroit Tigers decided to culminate a potentially dominant season by losing enough games to tie for the division with the Minnesota Twins. As you know, we lost in spectacular fashion over 12 innings. I was flipping out on the couch after watching the lack of run support, defensive gaffes, and leaving Rodney in for a million years. It quickly became worse than the knee pain. In fairness, the Twins outplayed us, but it was yet another game where a Detroit sports team comes close but just short.

This was best summarized by my friend Nirav’s email to me that night, subject line “I Hate Hope”:

I’m so physically and emotionally drained right now.  I don’t think I have the energy left for any more of my teams to be good but then lose in close games/playoffs.  I was thinking about it on my ride home and decided to make a list.  I think right now I’m jealous of those fans whose teams are simply mediocre year after year and don’t keeping getting their hopes up and shattering them like taking a sledgehammer to a glass window.  That was the nice thing about this past Michigan basketball season — unexpected success with no real sense of disappointment when we lost.  More of a just happy to be there kind of feeling.

2005 Pistons: Finals Game 7 loss by 7 points
2006 Pistons: Conf. finals loss to Miami
2007 Pistons: Conf. finals loss to Cleveland
2008 Pistons: Conf. finals loss to Boston

[2003 Tigers: nearly worst record of all time]

2006 Tigers: World Series loss
2009 Tigers: Game 163 loss in 12 innings

2006 Red Wings: President’s Trophy, then 1st round loss to an 8 seed
2007 Red Wings: tied for most points, conf. finals loss
2009 Red Wings: Finals Game 7 loss by 1 goal

2006 Michigan football: #1-#2 Ohio State game; Rose Bowl loss
2007 Michigan football: Appalachian State [preseason ranked #10]

[2008 Michigan football: 3-9 record, first losing record since 1967]

2009 Michigan football: last second wins (2); last second losses (1)

Michigan hockey: NCAA tournament every year, no title since 1998

(Note: Bracketed comments mine)

What becomes clear is that the last half decade of sports, we have some contenders but they rarely convert into real championships in recent history. To complete the view, the Wings won in 2008, 2002, and 1998, the Pistons won in 2004, 1990, and 1989, and Michigan football won in 1998. If we stretch, we can get back to 1984 for the World Series Tigers win, and before that, it’s a big drought. This list also mercifully omits the Lions 0-16 season in 2008.

The picture that emerges is one of high and dashed expectations. I’ve always joked that Michigan football is taking years off of my life, but the margins of victory are always slim and decided in the last few minutes. To say it’s straining relationships and stress levels across the country is a vast understatement. It’s tough to watch your teams get to the big stage, get your hopes up, and then fall short. It’s even tougher to watch that happen over and over, while your local economy dissolves and your friends/family go through the hardest possible times. Sports can help draw cities together and heal wounds deeper than you can imagine (see the 1968 Detroit riots and the role the Tigers played – captured beautifully in HBO’s “City on Fire”)

But here’s the thing: Detroit is not a city of losers. We have (Lions aside) a long history of solid sports championships and really dedicated sports fans (Lions included). What people don’t realize is that it’s really a football town that constantly hangs its head. If the Tigers winning the World Series in 1984 led to rioting, the Lions winning the Super Bowl would cause everyone’s brains to explode simultaneously. We are tough fans who expect a lot from our teams and each other, so disappointment is normal when you expect a lot.

Keep in mind, Michiganders, we are not Philadelphia, who before the Phillies won in 2008, hadn’t had a championship since the Sixers won in 1983. Now *that’s* a drought. We don’t have it so bad, sports-wise.

Interesting blog post on the question of the day: Will you be Detroit or Pittsburgh

The analogy has been made a bunch of times, notably by the New York Times in November. The analogy goes something like this: The steel industry is another heavy capital-intensive business with little room for change and only once they faced complete bankruptcy were they able to restructure and run profitably. 

This blog post describes how Pittsburgh moved from 10% to less than 1% of the workforce in the steel industry:

“Detroit should take a page out of Pittsburgh’s playbook. In the 1980s, the state used local universities to pour funds into technology research. What blossomed was a thriving entrepreneurial community. The largest industries? Computer software, biotechnology, education and health care, all of which have held up well of late.

To be sure, Pittsburgh reinvented itself during a run of prosperity. It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen without a tremendous amount of federal, state and local support and vision. Skilled workers who couldn’t make a living in Pittsburgh moved elsewhere, to thriving cities like Phoenix and Vegas.”

All good things to do for any city and Ann Arbor is the most likely place for this to succeed. However, there is a big difference between the steel and auto industries: cars are not commodities. To make a car, you need many more skilled creative and technical workers to design, architect, and sell the cars. It’s a different industry and other than the big decline and the high capital required, it’s quite different. 

The big advantage that Detroit has is an abundance of these skilled technical workers who are now likely to work for a lot less money in a place with a pretty low cost of living already, laying fertile ground for Detroit to become the next cleantech hub. 

Some argue, like the WSJ that there isn’t any inherent need for an American auto industry, which is a fair criticism. However, if the auto industry goes down, the effects will be felt throughout the country and would prove disastrous for our economy largely. Which is not to say it’s okay to bail them out (I’m on the fence on this issue), but rather the consequences of failure are pretty drastic.

So much like my feelings about Kanye West, I can’t stand The Sports Guy personally largely as an extension of my hatred for Boston sports generally and his inability to contain how cool he thinks he is. However, his writing is solid and occasionally writes something I enjoy as seen in this week’s column.

Preface: I was watching football last week and almost choked on snack foods when the NBC in-studio commentator was revealed to be Matt Millen for the day. I spazzed out and wrote a bunch of angry texts then proceeded to listen to him for some reason. This more or less captures my reaction.

The Bernie Madoff Award for “Studio host who made you feel as if you were watching Bernie Madoff hosting ‘Mad Money'”
Like everyone else, I did a quintuple take upon seeing that NBC had trotted out failed Lions GM Matt Millen as one of its pregame studio guys. Like everyone else, I was confused about what NBC thought my reaction should be — should I be nodding intently as Millen broke down the Cards-Falcons game and saying, “That’s a great point, Guy Who Single-Handedly Murdered The Lions?” Like everyone else, I felt bad for Detroit fans, who had just put the 0-16 season behind them and probably looked forward to a pain-free playoffs … and suddenly, there was the John Wilkes Booth of their franchise staring at them in HD. Like everyone else, I remembered Millen was good enough on TV that it made you think, “So yeah, maybe that’s how he got hired.” Like everyone else, I wondered what kind of tranquilizer NBC had to give Keith Olbermann to keep him from making a snarky Millen joke. And …

(Wait, this deserves its own award.)

The Bird Who Crapped On My T-Shirt Right Before the 2004 Baseball Playoffs Award for “Best omen heading into a game”
… like everyone else who backed the Cards, I couldn’t have been happier when Millen picked the Falcons to win. He didn’t just pick them, either. He was adamant about it. I think I broke my personal record for “Fastest time calling in more money than I already had on one team.” I was like the Usain Bolt of gambling; I think I banged out another Cards bet in 9.85 seconds. Let’s add this to Playoff Manifesto 5.0 and make it the new No. 1 rule: Any time Matt Millen inexplicably appears on a studio show, picks a playoff team to win and seems confident about that pick, bet the house on the other team as fast as you humanly can.” And you thought Millen couldn’t bring joy to football fans.

http://proxy.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/090109

Article from the Weekly Standard on the slow death of Detroit. My favorite excerpt:

But with millions of jobs on the line, including their own, the Detroit Three honchos went to Washington to endure the kabuki theater, first in their private jets, then in their sad little hybrids. All to get their slats kicked in by Congress (and who has been more profligate than they) in order to secure a bridge loan to withstand an economy wrecked by others who’d secured no-strings bailouts before them. The absurdist spectacle was best summed up by car aficionado Jay Leno: “People who are trillions of dollars in debt, yelling at people who are billions of dollars in debt.”

Looks like Jay Leno can be witty afterall. 

 

EDIT: Also this fun view into the long roots of the auto industry

Like many Detroiters (he lives in a posh suburb, where houses on his block have remained unsold for six years), he’s bracing for one or all of the Big Three going down. He predicts millions will be thrown out of work, right down to the diner owner in Utah who serves lunch to the people who produce the screws which are bought by the widget manufacturers who produce a component that goes into a seat of a Ford automobile. The diner owner thought he wasn’t in the auto business. “But he was,” says Vines. “He just didn’t know it.”

http://www.weeklystandard.com/content/public/articles/000/000/015/945aynyk.asp?pg=1

Okay, let me say something up front. I am not a blogger, but I have a blog. I am a Detroit fan born and raised in The D, but I don’t live in Detroit now. I’m a walking contradiction who shouldn’t be believed or have any credibility, but I have something to say and I don’t care who hears it.  

After the historic election of Barack Obama, I didn’t write an effusive note about how happy I was, even though it gave me hope that my children would live in an amazing country with leaders we can be proud of for a change. When the economy nosedived in the scariest way possible, I wasn’t that compelled to say anything publicly although it is tearing my hometown to the ground and putting friends and familiy out of work all over the world. But now that the Lions have gone 0-16, and have failed to win a game for the entire season, I think it’s time to speak. 

Detroit, this is the lowest moment in our history. This is worse than the next three worst moments, two of which occurred this year: the race riots in 1968, the Big Three automakers getting bailed out, and Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick going to jail. 

Think about that – the worst moment until this year was the city erupting in hateful race-fueled riots ending in beatings, death, and uncontrolled fires. And now, after years of neglect, horrible leadership, economic decline at the hands of a slowing ancient industry, we’ve scored a hat trick. Kwame, Bailout, Lions. That’s what 2008 will be remembered for in the future – a terrible year for the country, but felt so much worse in Michigan.

Kwame – this goes beyond words – Detroit suffered under one of the worst mayors in history, running the city for his own personal purposes, holding down economic development, the education systems, and running a “machine” style council filled with cronies and supporters. He did nothing about police brutality, fathered children out of wedlock, and was the subject of FBI scrutiny for kickbacks. And his name was Coleman A. Young. And he left office in 1993. And we elected someone worse than him. WORSE. So much worse that we jailed him while he was in office, something which hasn’t happened to a sitting major American mayor as far as I can find. 

Bailout – The industry which had long supported our metropolis rode high after the war and excess drove the big three to become enormous, bloated dinosaurs trying to compete in a world in which they no longer belonged. Jobs declined, communities suffered, and blame was attached to the Unions. Guess what? The Big Three were quite cozy with the Unions and ran shitty companies with products no one wanted to buy (Pontiac Aztek? Really?) with no sense of innovation, connection to customers, or foresight (hybrids considered for production only after the Japanese found success – how did you not see this coming?) doesn’t help either. 

These are terrible companies in a mediocre industry with almost exclusively fixed costs. The general auto decline can only shoulder about 10% of the problems. For all of that, you grew into a massive presence tied entirely to one community and now are tipping over to be crushed under your own weight. It is the most irresponsible and shitty thing any one industry can do to a town. These are lives, families, and hopes all drowned in bad business. 

To be clear, government did little to try to manage this impending doom (we all saw it coming, let’s be honest). Blame would lay at the feet of the Mayor if he were not so inept, the governor if she weren’t so interested in being governor, and at the representatives/senators if they weren’t so cozily in bed with Big Auto [Debbie Dingell, wife of US-Rep John Dingell (Who owns $1m of GM stock) is an employee of General Motors].

We should have been diversifying the industries which fed our tax base, doing something real about building a creative economy, an IT base of innovation, or the absolutely most logical eventuality, a Green Engineering center to rival all others in the world (come on – we have the most engineers and technical workers per square mile. We should be building the majority of green cars, solar panels, and windmills)

And once the real catastrophy hit, the answer was to go to the government hat in hand and beg for help, perhaps during the period when it was least responsible to do so, and when the taxpayers could least afford to shoulder the burden. Embarassing. 

Our city had no real chance. 

Lions – But here is the representation of all of the worst parts of the city’s history. The Lions. The Detroit Lions. The team which some refer to as one of the most storied in NFL history, one of two teams guaranteed to play a game on Thanksgiving on a national stage. One of the Original Six of the NFL, if such a thing existed. 

They had one of the most explosive running backs in history and mismanaged him so badly, he chose to retire early, shy of NFL records he could have easily broken, and give back millions of dollars rather than play for the Detroit Lions organization. Think carefully about that. A player on track to be the greatest throws away everything because your boss is that shitty. How badly must he have been treated to quit before training camp and leave us in the lurch with no offense in 1998? 

They are a joke in 2008 – having not won a game all season. A feat not accomplished, ever. Last year the Patriots won all their games and were lauded as geniuses, and athletes for all ages. This makes our team the inverse of that. 

They have a terrible owner whose single biggest failure is the lack of performance management (if you do your job well, we’ll take care of you. If you don’t, we’ll find someone else). But its even worse than that. He’s from an automotive family where performance management, efficiency, strategy, or foresight are as foreign a language as Esperanto or Klingon. 

The Lions are bad for the same reasons the auto industry doesn’t run well in Detroit. Bad executives who fail to listen to critics, experts, and customers/fans and see the landscape for what it really is. 

And remember, this is in the salary cap era. The NFL has grown and been successful because for the most part, each team spends the same amount of money on players which gives an even playing field, parity of teams, and basically puts success at the price of hard work, good coaching, and smart players. Given the same resources as other teams, the Lions have failed to win a game for an entire season. 

So 2008 is undenyably the worst year yet for Detroit. There is much work to do and many ways to take advantage of the regional strengths to turn the economy around, but its hard to keep hope in a time filled with it. I just hope we can forget this year and make 2009 at least a one-win year and work towards rebuilding my town.

In Detroit, I met some old friends who recently had twins. Seeing old friends is something I never tire of, and I got to spend dinner with them and their parents whom I’ve known now for over 15 years as well as (literally) bounce their babies on my knee. After this I went to visit our close family friends who experienced a death in the family a few days ago of my Lila Ba (grandmother) to whom I’m not related but has been like family to me for over 20 years. She was suffering greatly in her final days from lung problems, so her passing was somewhat of a relief. She also was very particular and had made all arrangements for her services as well as her belongings well before her passing. She is survived by a husband of 55 years who doesn’t really know what to do with himself, but is surrounded by family and very strong as well as maintaining some small amount of humor amidst the sadness. I’m glad she went peacefully and was emotionally prepared. We should all be so lucky. So in one evening there is birth and death and the wheel turns.