Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pontiac, Rock City?

Driving through downtown Pontiac may give you the impression that it's a dead city - a ghost town. Aside from people going in and out of the courthouse during the day or the clubs at night, there's not a lot of human activity - at least, of the non-shady variety. But recently I saw a glimmer of hope amidst the cracking concrete, maybe something like Pontiac used to look.

A few weeks ago I saw NeedtoBreathe, one of my favorite bands, perform at The Eagle Theater, which is on Pike Street in downtown Pontiac, and is part of the Crofoot entertainment complex. 600 other people saw them too - on a Tuesday night. Did I mention this was in downtown Pontiac?

Now, the draw for the concert may have had something to do with the $15 ticket, which is practically free compared to most shows at DTE, or the incredible live show that NeedtoBreathe puts on, but I still think it's pretty significant that something happening in Pontiac on Tuesday night (that wasn't Arts, Beats and Eats) drew such a sizable crowd.

And the Eagle is a cool place. A plaque outside the door said the theater was built in 1925 (check out this sweet old photo), and some of the old architecture and decor is still visable. Inside, it's been given a fresh coat of funky orange paint. It's general admission, so no assigned seating, but there are different levels where you can stand and view the stage (this is important when you're only 5 feet tall and like to get up close and personal with the band), and small seating areas on either side. For the averagely-proportioned person, there really isn't a bad spot in the house.

Maybe it's just my bias towards the band, but the show was incredible. The stage set-up, lights and sound were great. I could actually hear the lyrics over the instruments, which often isn't the case at small theater concerts. At the end of the encore, the band got the whole room quieted down enough that they played a couple of songs entirely unplugged (they usually do at the end of their shows), and you could actually hear them. It still gives me goosebumps to think about it!

Procuring tickets for the show was a bit tricky, as The Crofoot/Eagle doesn't really have a physical, staffed ticket office, but they're easy enough to buy online.

Back in the good ole days, Pontiac was a happenin' place - a place people drove TO, not just around or through. Maybe with a little help from the Crofoot and the Eagle, it can be again.

*The above photo is from Paul Hitz's photostream on Flikr.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I love my town

This is the kind of afternoon that reminds me how much I love living in my town, Rochester. My husband and I have rented an apartment here for the last three years, and it's been a perfect match for our needs and lifestyle. We're considering moving to the Berkely area in the next few months for work reasons, and I'm definitely going to miss all the benefits of living here.

Today I jumped on my bike with a backpack full of books and the intention of selling them to The Downtown Bookstore, as well as running a few errands. From our apartment, downtown Rochester is a five-minute bike ride through through the Municipal Park on the Paint Creek Trail, which smelled fresh and earthy today. As soon us the weather turns warm, my husband and I try to do as much travel as is possible and practical by bike, and living in Rochester has made this easy and pleasant.

While the store was too full to take my books, a few of them found a home across the street on the book shelf at the Bean and Leaf. A ran into a few friends, including one of the employees and a woman whom I know only from our conversations at the coffee shop. She offered to buy me a cup of joe - talk about old-school hospitality - and we chatted about her daughter's plans to backpack the Pacific Rim trail and the new car I'm thinking about buying, which she happens to drive.

This is why I love the Bean and Leaf. Who has a hometown coffee shop anymore? How often do you walk into a business and know half of the employees and a quarter of the customers? How often do we pause to have a conversation with the person in line, longer than "I wonder why they're taking so long?" This is the stuff of movies, of old men at diner counters asking Sue for a warmer, hun (which, by the way, can be seen at Knapp's donuts, right across the street. Delicious treats, small-town feel). Maybe it's all in my mind, and maybe it's because I was a barista there for a brief stint, but I walk into the Bean and Leaf and feel as though I belong there.

I left the coffee shop and rode to Kroger to pick up yeast - I'm attempting to save money by baking bread in my bread machine, which has been mostly unused for the past three years - again, a five minute ride by bike. I smiled at the girl at the check-out, who knows me from last-minute ingredient runs and late-night ice cream trips. Again, I was struck with that feeling of belonging, as well as ownership. This is my Kroger. She is my check-out girl. Maybe that's a self-centered thought, but honestly, I think that's how a good town should feel. Like it can be owned by it's residents.

I rode back home, with the aid of a great pedestrian cross-walk system. The apartment complex we live in is old, but well-maintained, and the roads are lined with tall willows, oaks, pines, and all kinds of flowering ornamental trees. I love watching the seasons change here.

I could go on - we're totally spoiled with restaurants, quaint shops, a huge library, active DDA, and close proximity to parks - but I'll just leave you with this little snapshot of life in our friendly little town.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Case for Optimism

Today it seems that cynicism is the new black, and optimism is nearly taboo. We take one look at the world, with its recessions, wars, scandals and crises, and proclaim "Anyone who sees this glass half full must be blind."

I'd beg to differ.

What I'm hoping to make with this blog is a case for optimism, specifically in our home county. While we Oakland-ites certainly have a laundry list of things to make even the sunniest disposition a little jaded — unemployment, government scandals, and those darn April snowflakes, to name a few — we've also got plenty to be positive about.

Spring has sprung, and our home towns offer bountiful opportunities to get outside and smell the daffodils. The Paint Creek Trail is starting to green up, and if you stand at the intersection of Ludlow and the trail, just outside of the Rochester Municipal park, and take a deep breath, it's like walking right into a bouquet.

And like spring flowers, new businesses are popping up around town. Did anyone else do a little dance in their car driving past the new Just Baked cupcake place in Royal Oak? No, just me? Okay … Well, anyway, I love the smell of commerce and frosting in the morning!

While I'm sure to be inviting threats of bodily harm by suggesting that the recession may even have a bright side to it, I'm going to do it anyway. Across the county (and the country for that matter), people are taking their economic futures into their hands in new, adventurous, creative ways. My dad's former General Motors coworker is now the proud owner of a Coldstone Creamery in Rochester. Scores of my recent college graduate friends have turned to sites like Etsy, which help you sell your hand-made creations online, to generate some extra cash. A family friend is making and selling paddleboards with his son. Sometimes the best creativity flows out of necessity.

In 1805, the city of Detroit burned to the ground. After the fire, the city established this motto: “Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus,” meaning “We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes.”

Right now, many metro Detroiters look at their lives, their jobs, their families, and see a pile of ashes. I’m here to tell you that better things are on the horizon.

So go ahead, call me a rose-glasses-wearing, tree-hugging, naive hippie. In my opinion, optimism isn’t about being out of touch with reality. Optimism is taking a good hard look at reality and saying “How can I adjust my actions and attitude to get the best possible outcome for myself and those around me?”

And if you can’t do that, then you’re just a cynic. And the last thing the world needs is another cynic.