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Chapter 9

Recently I landed at Detroit Metro one week to the day after Detroit’s landmark bankruptcy filing, then spent a couple days in the city. They were great days. On my first morning I walked around to check out a couple landmarks, just to make sure they hadn’t been sold off:

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That’s the Spirit of Detroit, the Joe Louis Fist, and the city’s two most famous coney dog places. That night I gave a talk to a group of bankruptcy attorneys (hey, they invited me) at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra building. It was a great event, as were drinks afterwards. One of the ironies of the many conversations I had was this: everyone says they haven’t seen so much business activity in downtown Detroit in years. The Chapter 9 filing seems like a step forward–or at least a way to escape the past.

Still, it’s not without pain. The next day I ran into a group of firefighters picketing in front of Comerica Park (more on baseball in a moment). There’s an idea in the press that Detroit just couldn’t keep paying those lavish pensions. Well, that’s only half right–the pensions are not lavish. The average for a firefighter or policeman is $30,000 per year, or about half what a cop or firefighter gets in, say, Los Angeles. Furthermore, the Detroit firefighters have been paying into this system instead of social security, to which they are not entitled. The public pension is all there is. You can imagine the riots we’d have in the streets if the federal government told social security recipients their payments were going to get cut by a third to a half.

Still, there was a ballgame in town that night, with the National League Phillies coming to town for what would be a three-game sweep by the Tigers. I should also mention that Detroit pensions are twice as well funded as those in Philly–no joke. Detroit just doesn’t have the current tax receipts to keep going.

But, back to baseball. Check out the photo below, taken at 9:15 at night. Living out of state, I miss that Michigan sky:

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Detroit is west in the time zone, and north. It gets dark late in the summer. The Tigers won this game 2-1.  Below are some more Detroit shots:

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Skiing Independence Pass

There are a lot of downsides to doing a blog–having to actually write something, the pay–but every once in a while you get to share a cool experience, like the one I had today.

About eight this morning my son and I got in the car and drove to the top of Independence Pass, east of Aspen. Indy Pass is closed all winter, and for good reason; it crosses the Continental Divide at over 12,000 feet after a series of switchbacks that are not for the feint of heart. In places the road narrows to one lane. Eventually we got to the top, parked, put on our gear, and started hiking.

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After 30 or 40 minutes we came to the top of 4th of July Bowl. It felt like full-on winter, with a hard wind. Here’s my son at the top:

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And down a bit:

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Finally, we hiked out to the highway and hitchhiked back to the top. I was back at my desk at 10:30…

 

The Funk Brothers

It was a long time coming.  Too long.

Still, yesterday (3/21/13) the Funk Brothers got their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As many of you know, the Funk Brothers were Motown’s house band (‘garage band’ might be a better term if you’ve ever peeked into Studio A in the old Motown building on W. Grand Boulevard), a group of musicians that collectively played on more number one hits than the Beatles.  Many of the members, like the great bassist James Jamerson, have died, but yesterday a few hobbled and scootered onto Hollywood Boulevard to get some small portion of their due.

As I headed to Hollywood I was worried there wouldn’t be much of a crowd, and I was happy to find I had that wrong. I’d estimate 150 people, at least. Stevie Wonder kicked things off, making a plea for less gun violence, more music in the schools, and appreciation for the musicians, two of whom–Jack Ashford and Eddie Willis–sat before him:

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Next came other dignitaries, such as Ray Parker Jr, seen below, shaking hands with Ashford and Willis:

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While Parker was speaking a man came up beside me and asked to stand in front of me to take a photo. Sure, I said. I’m from Detroit, he replied, I’ve got to get this. Me, too, I said. We talked. He was a professional guitarist from the west side, there with his buddy, a saxophonist who played for Parker (Parker later waved to him, so I took this as truth).  We stood there in the 70 degree sun sharing in Detroit’s glory (it was 30 in Detroit, with snow flurries, according to my phone), when finally drummer Jack Ashford got the mic and talked of his faith and the great opportunity he had to be at the right place at the right time:

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And then came guitarist Willis, whose resonant voice got it just right. He choked up as he talked of being part of a brotherhood, admitting he chokes up every time he talks about “these guys.”  It was a memory of being young and together and playing music, of doing what they loved, and though they didn’t have much money (a point of bitterness lightly touched upon this day), Willis said, “We were happy.”

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Things broke up. My new friend, the guitarist, said his goodbye and moved from my right side to my left, and I caught a glimpse of a tattoo on his neck, hiding behind the collar of his jean jacket. Hey, I said, let me see that. He pulled down the collar and there, written in script, was the word “Detroit.”

Hey, he said, gotta represent.

Indeed.

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2012 Finale

So…it’s been more than three months since my last entry. Let me say right now that I stand in awe of guys like Ken Levine, who write everyday and do it well.  Since my last entry a few things have happened.  The president was re-elected, an elementary school was shot up with a shocking and revolting loss of life, the economic health of the country still hangs in the balance as one of the most dysfunctional congresses of all time tries to function.

But let’s forget all that.

Rather, I’m going to include some of my favorite photos of the year.  Here they are:

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Yeah, a couple dogs running in the snow. Notice how happy the shepherd looks. Makes me smile every time. Here’s another:

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This picture was taken at the University of Michigan-Iowa football game.  That’s me on the left, my good friend Iuppsi on the right, and in the middle…well, I don’t know her name.  At the time this picture was taken, she probably couldn’t have said it, either–not that there’s anything wrong with being blind drunk at 1 pm with 110,000 other football fans. If you recognize her, send me her email and I’ll forward her the picture.

How ’bout a shot of a helicopter dropping water on a fire that flared up on Sepulveda Pass in LA? Expand the photo for a better look. How did I time this? Pure luck:

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Then there was this, taken on fall morning in Colorado, about a month later:

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Finally, there’s this one, of the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit:

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These shots make me feel rather lucky: I was at some interesting places at interesting times.  Of course, my guess is that we all are; we just need to be sure to look. Till 2013…