Civic pride

Sep 17, 2003 at 12:00 am

Best team turnaround

Detroit Shock

Last year the Shock had the worst record in the league. This year they compiled the league’s best record and make it to the finals of the WNBA playoffs. From worst to (perhaps) first, they’ve staged one of the most amazing comebacks for a franchise in sports history. These gals have earned your support. Go Shock!


Best coaching change

Detroit Lions

OK, we’re not deluded enough to believe that the season-opening win against the hapless Arizona Cardinals is a sign the Lions have regained the greatness of yesteryear, but the dumping of Marty Mornhinweg in favor of Steve Mariucci is the smartest thing team president Matt Millen has done during his short career here. It was a no-brainer, really, The San Francisco 49ers were morons for firing Mooch. He’s a terrific coach, and the Lions are going to be a much better team with him at the helm. Bet on it.


Best renovation

Renaissance Center

Sure, the years of work and its effect on the People Mover and the blocked Jefferson Avenue entrances have been a pain, but in the long run it will be worth it. As part of GM’s $500 million makeover of its world headquarters, the ugly, forbidding three-story gray berm that made the RenCen’s towers seem like a guarded fortress walled off from the rest of the city is gone. The serfs are grateful.


Best sign that Detroit will rise again

Construction cranes and workers all over downtown Detroit. You can’t walk a block or drive a minute without hitting some doggone detour. Of course, there’s something animalistic and inviting about a bunch of sweaty, buffed-out workers tromping around in tight jeans and T-shirts, vibrating violently up and down while drilling holes in the pavement. … Oh, we’re sick. But downtown’s getting a makeover and we can’t wait to see the results.


Best sign that Detroit has a long way to go

An estimated 130,000 tax-delinquent rental and vacant properties covering miles and miles of the city’s expanse that city government refuses to take and sell. Come on, City Hall! Get these properties under control! Sell them! There are plenty of folks out there who’ll buy them — if they’re the right price, that is.


Best news preservationists heard this year

Book-Cadillac Hotel Renovation

For a while it looked as if the venerable B-C might go the way of the Hudson’s building, but in May a development deal inked between Detroit’s Downtown Development Authority and a subsidiary of the Dallas-based company that makes Huggies disposable diapers appears to have saved this gem from the wrecking ball. There’s much rejoicing among building-huggers.


Best news preservationists could hear next year

Tiger Stadium renovation

Don’t bet on this one. Instead of thinking outside the box, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick seems intent on leveling the landmark stadium to make way for some generic big-box store. That the people of Corktown see reuse as a way to revitalize their neighborhood by bringing a mix of housing, retail and entertainment venues to the site … well, too bad.


Best reuse idea for Michigan Central Station

Lots of folks have their fingers crossed that the Detroit Police Department will pick the abandoned train station for its new digs. The hulking structure has been a colossal eyesore for about two decades, but is worth preserving. Let’s hope Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Police Chief Jerry Oliver do what’s right — and soon.


Best idea that won’t happen

Metro Detroit light rail transit

Of course it makes perfect sense. Reduce traffic congestion. Stop expanding freeways that are clogged the first day the construction work is completed. Curb air pollution and reliance on foreign oil. But the road-building lobby is just too powerful, and our politicians too shortsighted for the perfectly sensible to occur. Chew on that the next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam crawling along at a brisk 5 mph.


Best political trajectory

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick

True, the guy has stumbled some. And he has to grow a thicker skin and understand that criticism is a healthy fact of life, a road to improvement. And as much as he demonizes the press, the national media likes the idea of a well-spoken “hip-hop mayor.” So, if he can learn from his mistakes and avoid major scandal, the horizon for our young mayor is vast indeed. Don’t let us down, Kwame. This city needs you to live up to the promise of your potential.


Best derogatory nickname for the mayor

Kwame Sutra

Although we’ve always been fond of “the Kwamster,” rumors of wild shenanigans at the “Boogie-an Mansion” make this new nick seem apropos. Oh, that’s right, we forgot: Those allegations were deemed completely untrue. Boogie on, Kwam-o.


Best batter

Carlita Kilpatrick

Legend has it that the mayor’s better half wields a baseball bat with more finesse and force than the Tigers’ best player … not that that’s saying much.


Best Detroit PR spin, possibly ever

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on Detroit during the blackout.

Despite later reports of looting at some public schools and shops, fights at gas stations and some firefighters who broke ranks to say things were chaotic, Kilpatrick convinced the nation and its press that Detroit was as angelic as Sleeping Beauty during the blackout. We hope he wasn’t lyin’, but he sure did make Detroit smell like a rose, for once, and you gotta appreciate that.


Best festival, ever, anywhere

Dally in the Alley

The annual end of summer festival keeps getting better, year after year. This year, the vibe was European, perhaps eliciting an idea of what it was like in the artists’ communes during turn of the century Paris. While a myriad of Detroit bands and artists entertained crowds at three stages, vendors hawked jewelry, food, vintage vinyl and photos, junk and Cass Corridor T-shirts. Bohemian performers twisted flaming batons in wild fire dances. Prices for the most part are reasonable at the free festival, and the weather, every year, is fantastic — sunny and not too hot. People of all ages, races, shapes and sizes, yuppies, hippies and artsy scenesters turn out in droves. It’s appalling that an uncorporatized festival with quality entertainment and food is such a rarity these days, but when you’ve got one, you’ve gotta cherish it.


Best spot for early morning hooker sightings

All wired at 5 a.m. with nothing to do? Take a little ride down McNichols east of I-75 and gawk at the assorted hard-working gals doing their thang. You can hardly miss ’em, but please do, because they tend to wander dangerously close to the road while eyeing every car that comes through. Keep your windows rolled up and your doors locked while pretending to mind your own business, and they won’t bite. Audience participation is optional — and illegal.


Best place to see stripped cars

Looking for a free family outing? Too rainy for the zoo? Always open and free of charge is the concrete lot located on Jos. Campau in Detroit between Carpenter and Hallack, where you and yours can join in the viewing of the finest assortment of car skeletons in town! Hey, kids, check out that Neon up on blocks! Gaze and wonder at what in the world happened to the doors on that Ford Taurus. Dozens of new additions arrive weekly for your viewing pleasure. Just watch out for the broken glass and shards of metal.


Best place for fish-fly watching

St. Clair Shores

San Juan Capistrano has the swallows. St. Clair Shores has the fish flies, those pesky little bugs whose sole purpose is to nurture fish and other small creatures. They take up residence on anything in their path once a year (early July or so), and it’s worth the drive to the east side to check them out in all their smelly glory. Often, whole storefronts are blanketed and have to be hosed off. While many cities along the waterfront get annual visits from the winged stinky ones, St. Clair Shores seems to be their favorite.


Best-kept urban park secret

Mt. Elliott Park

Lo, it was promised under the rule of Coleman the Young that the city on the straits would have three new parks to glitter like verdant jewels and bring harmony to the populace. Last time we looked, St. Aubin Park wore a decidedly off-green cover of grass and was in decided need of attention — an improvement over a summer visit when it could only be called a dump. Chene Park is less a park than a would-be DTE Energy Music Theatre by the water, mainly inaccessible between performances. But at the foot of Mt. Elliott we found a well-maintained (if a tad soggy) green space and a wonderful view of the east end of Belle Isle. It’s all easy on the eyes, a space that says, “Relax, stay a while.”


Best new way to see downtown Detroit

Seen from the north side of Jefferson, the new monument to Michigan labor could be a Ferris wheel rim gone AWOL. So make sure you come close to the soaring 63-foot-high circle (actually, almost-touching twin arcs) of David Barr and Sergio De Guisti’s Transcending. It’s both awe-inspiring and inviting, humbling and homey, with any number of makeshift sitting areas that suggest you stay for a spell and maybe appreciate the 40-plus progressive quotes (Miami Indian leader Little Turtle to Samuel Gompers to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) that dot its landscape. Before you leave, make sure you step to the river side of the monument and look back at the vertical capital of downtown’s skyscrapers through the ring that labor built.


Best downtown public art


A concrete panel sculpture at 411 W. Lafayette, it’s worth a trip to the west side of downtown, because W. Robert Youngman’s installation is an impressive sight indeed. While we totally dig the smashed-up car sculpture on Michigan and First in front of the Patrick McNamara Federal Building, Youngman’s complex sculpture exudes Detroit’s industrial roots. It almost looks like the artist pressed machine parts into blond concrete to come out with this sprawling, complex and utterly unidentifiable machine-like design.


Best place to sit and pretend you’re not in Detroit

Belle Isle

In the morning, sitting on the rocky western tip of Belle Isle is a gloriously quiet experience. The only sounds are the birds and waves lapping on the rocks. OK, so you’re looking at the city across the river, but you get the feeling, if only for a moment, that you are at a beach far, far away.


Best place to go when you’re stoned

Renaissance Center

If you can stand the security guards wandering around, a stroll in the Renaissance Center under the influence of marijuana might rival a trippy trot through “Star Trek”’s Enterprise. With turquoise-lit floors circling endlessly around the cylindrical building, it’s the perfect place to get lost watching people of all sizes, colors and shapes, from little ladies in nurse outfits to engineers in jeans to the business class taking fast walks in their suits and tennis shoes during lunch break, this is a futuristic space station to behold. It’s even got a basement food court replete with all the fast food you can imagine for when you get the munchies. When completed in 1977, the Renaissance Center had the tallest hotel in the United States at 73 floors and 720 feet.


Best replica of an acid trip

25 Christmas Lane, Frankenmuth

Bright colors! Too many bright colors! Despite the fact that Bronner’s, the Jerusalem of Christmas ornaments, is perhaps the tackiest thing in the state, it’s a must-visit simply for the kitsch factor. Have your photo taken with a gigantic, oddly evil-looking Santa Claus, or roam the endless aisles of lights, reindeer, elves, and lots of mechanical dolls that sing — all at once. It’s like Jesus and Willy Wonka became business partners! And it’s open 361 days a year, so you can celebrate this hopelessly commercial holiday year-round! Huzzah!


Best collective of locals on the Web

Fabulous Ruins of Detroit forum

Back in B.C. (before cyber), local cronies would gather in a favored watering hole, sipping brewskis and raucously debating political scandals, neighborhood issues, the city council’s latest screw up, etc. These days, Detroiters and those who love Detroit can debate and pontificate through cyberspace thanks to this highly active discussion forum. The regular posters can be a bit curmudgeonly at times, but many possess a wealth of knowledge about the history of the city. And despite occasional flame wars, it’s exceedingly clear all posters are bound by a true love for the Motor City.


Best Saturday morning escapade

Eastern Market

Possibly one of the best parts of Detroit: robustly fresh produce, sold dirt-cheap by colorful locals, in a delightfully big-city atmosphere. Where else can you get fresh mangos in the dead of winter? Eastern Market is a perfect date spot too; grab your cutie and go shopping for the ingredients for a gourmet meal you’ll cook from scratch — afterward you can head out to Bert’s and cozy up for some jazz.


Best event to cancel (tie)

Dream Cruise
The Budweiser Hoedown

Judging from the ballots, a few of you picked Dream Cruise as your favorite event — you must not live in Ferndale. Yes, it draws a million people, blah, blah, blah — it also puts a dent in local businesses, drives residents crazy, fills the streets with litter and obnoxious drunks, and creates traffic hazards. Furthermore, jackasses in Camaros are fond of drag racing down side streets where little kids are playing — or revving their souped-up engines at 4 in the morning. We side with Magic Bag owner Jeremy Haberman on this one: The worlds biggest “Redneck Traffic Jam” wouldn’t be missed by locals. As for the Hoedown, formerly known as the “Downtown Hoedown,” it’s like Dream Cruise with cowboy hats instead of Camaros. Same obnoxious drunks, same litter, same potential traffic accidents. Unlike the cruise, however, it only lasts a weekend, whereas Dream Cruise effects are felt for almost a week now.


Best vacation-in-a-day


Just a quick trip across the border lies a virtual paradise of great restaurants, quirky boutiques, theaters, strip clubs and more. Windsor’s a short trip, and the exchange rate is still in our favor, making it a cheap little escape for a day. It’s also perfect date material, with the surplus of romantic dining spots and strolling areas on the riverfront. Just be nice to the Canadians — our reputation as Yanks is soiled enough as it is.


Best penny pitch

Heidelberg Project

What used to be known as the OJ House (for Obstruction of Justice) is being prepared for a massive makeover, with the building undergoing structural work that will allow it to be covered with more than 675,000 pennies as it becomes “The House That Makes Sense.” In addition to creating a unique piece of art, this latest endeavor from Tyree Guyton has a broader goal: to completely renovate the structure into a warm, safe environment suitable for working with budding young artists year-round. You can help by sending a donation to Heidelberg Project, PO Box 19377, Detroit, MI 48219. For more information phone 313-537-8037.


Best valets

Flood’s Bar & Grill
731 St. Antoine, Detroit

They zip around in Jags and other luxury vehicles with ease. But they also take pity on the beleaguered journalists working next door and driving decade-old Ford Tempos and Toyotas, who would otherwise be trapped without the valets clearing a path out. Keep up the good work, guys — you are the best.


Best self-serving “Best Of Detroit” selection

See above.


Best fire-protected service drive

With the bustling old Hastings Street neighborhood, the People’s Bar and the Castle Theatre, there is a lot of history on this strip of pavement. The only problem is that — well — it’s history. It’s all gone, even the intersections, bulldozed under to create the Brewster Projects, then the Chrysler Freeway and finally the charmless Brewster townhouses. All that remains of the once-lively street is an eye-catching seven fireplugs along less than 500 desolate yards between Mack and Wilkins along the southbound service drive of I-75.


Best way to experience a zero-G environment while ruining the suspension on your mother’s K-Car

The Ashland Bump

Widely known to east-siders as the Ashland Bump, the concrete bridge over the Fox Creek on Ashland Avenue has been a questionable source of recreation for generations of teenagers. According to a Fifth Precinct sergeant, “It’s a quick, steep incline and if you hit it at much more than 30 miles an hour you’re going to go airborne for a few seconds.” And that’s precisely what countless aspiring Steve McQueens have been doing on the mother of all speed bumps.


Best cyber shop for all things Detroit

For those who don’t have time to drop in at the real Pure Detroit retail stores, point, click and spend at the virtual shop. You will find just about everything the downtown locations offer: Tiger baseball caps, Sanders Hot Fudge sauce, historic photos, etc. Deliveries take five to seven business days and it costs just a few extra bucks for shipping and handling.


Best Web site for local gossip

This fledgling online publication delights in taking potshots mostly at Detroit’s black elite, including Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The brains behind it is Chuck Bennett, scoop editor and chief. Scoop is the much-needed stiff drink Detroiters deserve. It’s hilarious, searing, and often right on the mark.


Best walking tours

Preservation Wayne
4735 Cass Ave., Detroit

For a mere $10, Detroit’s oldest preservation group offers fascinating and informative tours of the city’s historic sites. Sign up for the Albert Kahn tour, which includes 15 buildings designed by Detroit’s premier architect. The 170-year-old Eastern Market, theaters, homes and other gems are also tour options.


Best bus route


Stretching from downtown Detroit to Crocker Boulevard in Macomb County, what makes this route a kick is the ride along Lake Shore through the Grosse Pointes. With Lake St. Clair changing moods with each day’s weather, and the Gatsby-esque mansions lining it, this is a ride worth taking.


Best trend in graffiti


From cartoon characters to swans and political messages on U-M and EMU campuses, you no longer need artistic talent or a steady hand to deface public property.


Best graffiti

“Fuck Metro Times”

On I-75 northbound just across from the old Cass Tech, this nasty little epithet is inked in curling green letters. A disgruntled reader? A band that got a crappy review? One of our esteemed competitors? The identity of this scrawler remains a mystery. But, hey, we don’t mind — as Oscar Wilde said, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”


Best magazine

Found Magazine
3455 Charing Cross Road, Ann Arbor

Founded in Ann Arbor by Davy Rothbart and distributed throughout Canada and the United States, the magazine prints copies of cool documents — both lost and discarded — sent in by readers. Ranging from love letters, birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, photos and travel journals. Sometimes the stories of how and where the items were found are more interesting than the object itself. Items come from all over the world, but Found gets the most from metro Detroit and Chicagoland areas. Go figure.


Best local radio station

WDET-FM 101.9

Yes, it sounds a little slicker than it once did. But it’s still the finest place on the dial for comprehensive news the mainstream media ignores and music Clear Channel stations won’t touch. The addition of “The Tavis Smiley Show,” weekdays at 9 a.m., presents an African-American perspective lacking in most of the media outlets in town.


Best argument for the People Mover

The Joe Louis tube

There is perhaps no greater testimony to the utterly anti-pedestrian layout of downtown than the junkyard-futuristic series of elevated tunnels and silos that one must navigate if you deign to enter the Greater Cobo-Joe Louis labyrinth. Perpetually ajar/broken doors lead to the pigeon crap-infested silo located adjacent to the spot where Congress turns inexplicably into the Lodge. The tower boasts the absurd and piss-stinking corkscrew ramp workaday commuters, Red Wings fans, auto show plebs and other hoofers must first ascend to reach one of two over-highway tunnels leading to either their vehicles or their Hockeytown destination. It’s enough to make the People Mover seem sensible. It should be noted that many an aspiring and successful techno artist has seen fit to use the tunnel leading from the Pigeon Silo to Joe Louis as a appropriately retro-futuristic backdrop for publicity photos. Ah, futility!


Best place to scavenge

Annual multi-item trash pickup, Birmingham

You will know it by the throngs of minivans, trailer hitches and empty flatbed trucks. Once a year (though they have just added a week — as chance would have it, it is THIS WEEK) the City of Birmingham has a special week for trash pickup. Large items such as furniture, rugs and the occasional appliance are carted out to the curb, ripe for the pickin’. And if you can get there before the trash-haulers, it can be yours! In years past, unbelievable finds have been reported.


Best local song about scavenging

“Garbage Picker” by Blanche

“I find my own treasures/in other peoples’ trash/you measured your pleasure by my treasures/’til you measure them against my cash. Garbage picker, garbage picker, garbage picker…” Dan Miller sings of his love of roadside refuse. “We’re a proud people, aren’t we?” he adds. Revivalist performance artists Blanche can make rummaging through other people’s garbage sound cool.


Best children’s sing-along Family Hootenany

Xhedos Café
240 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale

The thrice-yearly Family Hootenany at Xhedos in Ferndale is one of the few forums where young’uns and their hipster parents can enjoy music together. With regular performances from some of Detroit’s finest rock ’n’ rollers, guitar-wielding mommies, and Fisher-Price xylophone-playing dads, an afternoon at this hootenanny always brings a little levity to the flocks.


Best place for a late-night skinny dip

Cranbrook Institute — Lake Jonah
39221 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills

Yes … it’s illegal to trespass, but if you can slide by the tough-looking guards at Cranbrook’s front gate, you’re in for a treat. For all those wacky exhibitionists looking for a mighty nipply good time, Lake Jonah in the heart of Cranbrook Institute is ideal for a night with several full moons. The manmade lake is a deep crystal blue complete with waterfalls, channels and private niches, perfectly made for one purpose. Don’t get caught! In Bloomfield Hills, you had better expect the maximum fine. Not to mention those scary security guards who’ll read this and be on the lookout.


Best movie shot

Michigan Theatre in 8 Mile

It’s one of the most beautiful and mysterious visions of Detroit in all its grandeur, yet you may not know about the old Michigan Theatre, which has been redone into a parking structure. The ceiling of the building recalls scenes from Detroit’s gilded age. The stately painted domes served as backdrop for Eminem’s rapper soiree in 8 Mile. This Detroit ruin is a must-see for those in love with the movies, the roaring ’20s, or maybe just adoration for things past.


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