Purple prose and power brokers 


As the autumnal equinox draws near and the swallows return to Capistrano, the hipsters and aging hirsute hippies alike return to the Cass Corridor (more specifically the Dally in the Alley) for the annual last rites of summer (never mind that the swallows return in March ... and to California … just allow me some poetic license here).

Where else but the Dally can you drink Motor City beer, peruse revolutionary manifestos sprinkled amid quirky vinyl LPs, choke on pungent air filled with too much burning incense, sample a potpourri of live musical offerings which traditionally cover the best and worst (more often than not) of what Detroit has to offer and, best of all, run into all the people you’ve been trying to avoid for the past five years? Actually, that sounds like the Fourth Street Fair, but with more territory to cover and no 50-cent shots of Crown Royal.

That’s right, folks, this past weekend was Dally time, a return to a surrealistic (ab)normality, where I can always count on slugging back a few Motor City Ghettoblasters while having my chicken bones read by an urban soothsayer.

Dissuaded by the shaman’s ominous yet puzzling warning sign (“you toucha my roots, I breaka you face”), I eschewed the foreboding fortune-telling and instead purchased a WWCD T-shirt (“What Would Coleman Do?), a curious homage to our former mayor and HMFIC.

As always, the Dally featured a virtual cross section of all left-leaning political demographics, including the ubiquitous Green Party presence, whose clipboard-toting members can be found at virtually every Corridor event ranging from the Dally fest to a third-grader’s lemonade stand.

I also bumped into a campaign button-bedecked trio of wayward Downriver delegates who made the trek up from the convention taking place at Cobo Hall. Dennis Gronda, Clint Turland and Don Titus had more Democratic buttons and stickers plastered on their clothes than you could shake a placard at; when they started babbling about the need to avoid deficit spending, I started thinking about deficit beer spending, and went in search of some refreshments. I did spot part-time beat poet Jerry Peterson (né Vile), never a stranger to beer deficits, as he was careening out of the party store at the corner of Third and Forest with a hefty 40-ounce load wrapped in brown paper.

Also spotted in the throngs (a term I frequently use when describing the Dally) was environmental attorney Tom Wilczak and partner Steve Quinkert, as well as Eastern Market spice peddler and Union Street bar appendage Randall Fogelman, who was offering up the latest zippy seasonings from the Detroit Spice Co. (check it out at a local specialty store near you or www. detroitspiceco.com).

Obviously, the NCCU (North Cass Community Union) must be raking in the big bucks on the beer and T-shirt sales, as they have announced plans to devote their profits from the Dally toward the restoration of the 1905 Dodge Carriage House at the corner of Second and Hancock, a project which will include a garden park as well. Given that the carriage house was heavily damaged in 1989, leaving behind a pile of bricks, it’s a safe assumption that this will be a fairly comprehensive restoration project.


The Wild West free-for-all mentality of Detroit in the 1920s is well represented in Royal Oak author Paul Kavieff’s recent book, The Purple Gang. I ran into Kavieff last week at the Waldenbooks in the RenCen as he was signing copies of his tale of Detroit’s storied Jewish Mafia, a veritable Cosa Nostrami of organized crime.

He indicated that he was fascinated with Detroit’s crime history, and is working on his next book, about various other organized criminal elements in our city’s checkered past.

The current book is a bloodletting page-turner, filled with anecdotes about Prohibition-era Detroit and the powers that controlled the hooch. Kavieff confirmed for me that the gang used to hang out at what is now the Town Pump, as well as numerous other spots about town, including The Schvitz, a still-functioning steam bath on now-decrepit Oakland Avenue just north of Grand Boulevard. The Schvitz is near the former site of the Oakland Sugar House, a veritable epicenter of Prohibition-era bootlegging activity. Filch a copy at your local bookstore now.


In the laughingstock-of-the-world department, the recent pre-Labor Day Detroit power failure resulted in yet another catty bout of finger-pointing betwixt the mayor’s office and the City Council.

Back in July, the mayor and the Department of Public Lighting had requested $51 million to upgrade and revamp the power system’s antiquated infrastructure and avoid the type of embarrassing power-outage incidents that have been occurring on an all-too-frequent basis of late. Nothing like news footage of darkened streets and people trapped in city-powered elevators to set Detroit’s national reputation back 25 years.

According to city government insiders, however, the City Council reportedly sat on their collective hands when presented with the upgrade proposal and were more concerned with the plight of 80 employees displaced by the new equipment as opposed to solving the city’s immediate power problems.

In the meantime, however, both sides are obviously overlooking some critical players in the whole equation. Somewhat underreported in the media was the fact that, approximately 15 minutes after the initial failure on August 31, a squirrel leaped onto a 24,000 volt transformer which caused a substation explosion, thereby “complicating” matters. The wayward rodent’s charred remains were later discovered by city investigators.

What has gone unexplained, however, is how the high-flying rodent escaped the treadmill that was previously powering the city’s substation in the first place. Clearly, the city may want to look into shifting away from the skittish and flighty squirrel power and toward something more sedentary, such as hamsters, to avoid such problems in the future. Somebody set up the Habitrails.

Casey Coston writes here every other week. Call the Loose Lips tip line at 313-962-5281. Press * then dial

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