Monday, August 17, 2009

Reality Check on Gratiot Ave

I have lots to say about the impact of deindustrialization on rust belt cities when I'm teaching. If you are my student, I can assign you lots of readings, pose thoughtful questions, demonstrate a number of different approaches (highlighting why each failed, of course), but I have nothing smart, witty, or insightful to say about Detroit -- the shell of a city upon whose outer rim I live -- after my drive today.

Today I drove from the City Airport area to the edge of downtown (5 miles maybe?) and I found myself sinking into a sort of stupor at the sight of it all. A huge street, nearly deserted -- few cars, even fewer people (and no kids), no buses... There are pleanty of empty lots and buildings that have not had functioning businesses in them for decades, perhaps. Burned out buildings abound on the side streets. And not a single place, save a McDonalds and a Burger King, to buy a cup of coffee (which I desperately wanted). No diners, no Coney Islands. Certainly no coffee shops. Mostly concrete and weeds and peeling paint.

I know there are pokets of wonderfulness in Detroit (I brushed the corner of Eastern Market and I had a meeting with staff at Gleaners Community Food Bank) but I was overwhelmed to be in that urban landscape and realize (at least based on the streetscape) how little there was to glue this area together. There weren't even churches. At least from the outside, there seemed to be little to save and little reason to care. That downtown is clearly visible, that Ford Field is blocks away, seems to matter not from Vernor to 9 mile.

As someone who is usually quite tolerant of the 'cycle of life' in urban America (I do study porn shops and bars, after all), I will reluctantly admit I found myself thinking, "this is hopeless."

Care and Feeding of the Young

So... we have a childhood obesity problem in this country. Perhaps you've heard something about it? In my own town, the school district has decreed that there can be only one birthday party a month and that is the only day on which sugary treats may be had. I don't disagree with that policy (and considering the health statistics that are out there for kids in our area it would be hard to disagree) but I want more.

I'm working with a tiny number of staff and parents in my kids' schools to encourage biking and walking to school, but, beyond that, I would like to challenge restaurants to do better. Subway has apple slices and milk. Taco Bell has bean and cheese burritos. Okay, fine, but I realized the other night as I sat in an independent, non-fast food restaurant that "kids' menus" generally really suck. It feels like it doesn't matter where I go, there will be, for a couple of bucks, the following options for the precious small humans in my care: hot dog, hamburger, chicken fingers, grilled cheese, mac 'n cheese (Kraft-style), and spaghetti with meatballs/sauce. All served with a side of fries and a soda. Even my children, who love mac 'n cheese and grilled cheese, sigh at the lack of choices.

Since I have two kiddos, one might think they could split an "adult" menu item and that would be about right in portion and price. Yeah, it would, but we don't live in a world where siblings can agree on pizza toppings, let alone an entree. So here is what I want: I want the option to order kid-sized portions of the 'real' food that that a restaurant makes. If you are a Mexican joint that has awesome potato tacos (and locals know who I'm thinking of here!), let my kids order a plate and get one taco with beans and rice instead of three. You get the idea. C'mon, if they were going to eat PB & J, I could have stayed home!

This whole rant was actually inspired by a place that I went to today with the kids for lunch. I was happy to see (at first) that this chain restaurant had not-a-one of the typical items I listed above. But then I realized that what they do for kids is take "real" menu items and remove the vegetables and add chicken! When our food came (I had managed to get tofu subbed for the chicken), the kids' eyes drifted longingly from their plates of brown lo mein with brown tofu chunks to my plate with its vibrant and substantial ring of perfectly steamed broccoli. I shared, of course, and we were all happy enough (though we probably met our sodium intake for the month after just this one meal!) but I'm annoyed at the assumption that the way to appeal to kids is to feed them minimal variety devoid of the most nutritionally beneficial foods.

So, I guess I'm launching my own "double V" campaign. V for vegetables and V for variety for all of us. I'm going to start with my local joints, of course. Join me?

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Not eggs, but work. The last few days I've been on my game and made some real progress. I finished the anti-porn/Minneapolis article and sent it off, I nailed down the community partners and research projects for URS 450, I negotiated my way through a stack of readings on neighborhood activism -- putting some in the article and picking others to go on the 450 syllabus, I did a bunch of organizing for the WILL program, and now I'm working on the public toilets piece again.

It feels good. When school gets out in the Spring, I revel in the freedom to let my mind and work wander, range, and roam. Somewhere in the middle of the summer, that gets a little painful, though. It starts to feel useless rather than freeing. And that is is the headspace from which I have emerged this week... which means the 'gearing up for the start of term' activities and the need to produce finished research projects actually feels like a kind of a relief.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Time to buckle down

Hello August.

I'm going to do lots.

There's the house stuff. Lots of it. I tackled the bushes out front tonight with the kids playing in the clippings. What do you know? There is house behind there! There is the brick/gutter issue on the driveway side to be solved, some caulking, lots of painting, and, egads, won't someone please wash those windows? Ick.

There's work stuff, too. This week is the porn article (I love that I have a file called "porn to do list" on my computer) and URS 450 project. Next week is comfort stations/bathrooms/toilets and HIS 3695. The week after is HIS 370, more 3695, and more public toilets. Cottage week is writing, writing, writing.

But there will also be lots o' playing. July got away from me but I'm planning on skidding into September with sore bits from road miles and plenty of scrapes and bug bites from trail rides. I want one more camping trip. One more beer trip (combo Stony Creek and Dragonmead run anyone???). I'll be throwing in a couple more long silly evenings rolling around town and many more trips to the pool. It'll be a stretch to get O to pass the swim test this year, but he's getting the front crawl, now he just needs the distance. It could happen and he would be so happy to be free in the deep end.

And entertaining. I still need to have the already-promised dystopian book club meet on Lord of the Flies (get reading people... date tba soon). And euchre/hammock/badminton party. Won't someone come play euchre with me?

And cooking. Had the first eggplant out of the garden last night. The broccoli is close. E's cukes will soon drown us in yogurt and cucumber yumminess and O's melons look very promising. And the farmer's market is always there for serious hauls of tomatoes and corn and peaches. Mmmmm.... peach shortcake this weekend!!!! I'm going to teach those kiddos how to whip cream. Next year I'll teach them my secret shortcake recipe.

It'll be grand and all I have to say to those of you are making "fall is almost here" noises is pfft, don't bother me I'm still blissing out on summer and you can't stop me.