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Best way to see Detroit
From the river
Native Americans and European voyageurs paddled it. Slaves escaped across it. The city grew because of it. Now, freighters power through it. Industries have polluted it. Anglers fish it. Boaters play on it. The Detroit River is the single constant in our beloved and challenged city's existence. And despite its complex relationship with industry, government and development, being on or near the river remains the best way to see and appreciate this city. Peaceful waters on a quiet morning offer tranquility just a few blocks away from a frantic downtown or a dilapidated neighborhood. Whitecaps and boat wakes remind us that life has disturbances but those pass. The vacated industrial parks testify to the need to better protect our world for the future. Visit Belle Isle, get out on a boat, walk the shores and watch the boat traffic. Feel the sun, hide from the wind, wonder where the current may take you. Those flowing waters provide hope we can get there from here.
Best New Tag
It don't exist
It don't exist It don't exist It don't exist It don't exist It don't exist It don't exist It don't exist It don't exist It don't exist It don't exist It don't exist It don't exist.
What does exist is this example of the most pervasive tagging since or perhaps even before the turtle of several years ago. Up, down and around southwest Detroit, someone has written the cryptic phrase incessantly in yellow, green and red spray paint, as if to say the more we see this spiritual mantra, the easier we'll believe it. "It don't exist" is second only to "Gas Dead Fred," reputedly tagged by an unknown DTE rep who has fun on the job as he checks on abandoned homes.
Best Reuse of a Space
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-6622
A couple of years ago, no one noticed the less-than-impressive 22,000-square-foot former car dealership on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Garfield Street in Detroit's Midtown area. Late last year, thanks to an effort led by former Free Press art critic Marsha Miro and gallery owner Susanne Hilberry, the brick-and-concrete slab became the home of Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Architect Andrew Zago, who divides his time between here and New York, designed modest renovations and has plans for more substantial alterations. For now, MOCAD uses the gigantic scale to its advantage. In exhibitions, indoor sculpture reaches a warehouse's height, and yet there's also a diverse array of programming for intimately sized crowds, from poetry readings to late-night punk shows. The hardworking folks who run the day-to-day operations deserve props for sweating the small stuff you know, stuff like changing light bulbs, setting out chairs, writing press releases, building walls ... stuff like that.
Best 19th Century Asset Being Put to 21st Century Use
The Dequindre Cut
The long-unused railbed cutting through Detroit's near east side is emerging from the thick cover of brush as contractors whack back the wilderness and prepare to turn the old sub-surface rail cut into a bike path. This "rails to trails" project, due to be complete in May, will link Eastern Market with the new parklands set on the Detroit River. Though many of the bridges spanning the trench will likely have to be replaced, much of the spectacular graffiti on the concrete bridge bases is to stay. And the restored overpasses would remove one more boundary, linking long-separated neighborhoods, which should change the area's tone for the better.
Best Way to Watch your Tax Dollars Disappear
Detroit's light pole protection program
In 2004, we took snide note of the city's $1.2 million effort to protect streetlights from wire-stealing scrappers by installing easy-to-lift plastic covers, called "shrouds," on 21,000 light poles in the city of Detroit. At that time, Al Fields, the city's deputy chief operating officer, told us the shrouds were intended to both improve the look of street lamps and thwart scrap thieves who crave the copper wiring inside. Those familiar with the "shrouds" know they posed no deterrence to scrappers whatsoever. In fact, along with being easy to lift, the shrouds ain't all that durable, either. And, as the years have rolled by, we have watched the "shrouds" slowly disintegrate, turning into battered and busted chunks of plastic at the base of the lampposts, finally falling off altogether and littering the roads.
Best Judge Dressed Like a Player
Judge Craig Strong
Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Craig Strong once said that he'd like to have a TV court show like former Detroit Judge Greg Mathis. We're thinking that some other kind of reality TV show might be more in order to get the judge out of the boring black robes and into those bright colors he wears so well and often. We spotted the judge last summer striking his typical sartorial pose at the Detroit auditions for the Flavor of Love show. We snapped him with Pam Thomas, who danced on The Scene back in the '80s and said she believed Flav needs a mature woman.
Best Place to Get Lost
I-696 and its service drive between I-75 and Woodward
Sure, those who've lived here for years may disagree. That area is probably second nature to them. And there are a few places downtown especially during summer construction that seem like an unfathomable maze. But if you're new to the city or returning to the city after a long absence, this place where several major traffic arteries entangle, leading to the Detroit Zoo, can be impossible to navigate. "How the hell did I end up on Woodward?" "How the hell did I end up on 10 Mile?" are common cries from newbies driving in this area. We know one person who just gave up looking at possible rentals in this area because he got lost every damn time, even with a Google map by his side.
Best Brick Thoroughfare
Michigan Avenue between the Lodge Expressway and Rosa Parks Boulevard
When motorists fear compromising their suspension in front of old Tiger Stadium and talk about taking up all that beautiful brick, we can only shake our heads. The brick is relatively smooth, at least compared to the uneven blacktop patch jobs and the corduroyed asphalt that covers the old DSR tracks down the center of the thoroughfare. And, in a neighborhood that's smartly capitalizing on the depth of its history, it provides a sense of continuity. So when we heard that new plans proposed stripping the street of brick and laying out pumped-in concrete with a brick pattern, we couldn't help but wonder: If brick thoroughfares are good enough for Eastern burgs and European cities, why not for the former Paris of the Midwest?
Best Innovative Public Works Opportunity Taken
The "football" bridge at I-94 and Telegraph Road
Metro Detroit leaders don't have a reputation for innovation. So when bold new plans called for routing I-94 over a big blue bridge spanning Telegraph Road, even we had our doubts. And the design of the thing was debated from the get-go. The project whacked away acres of wilderness to reroute an old "diagonal" interchange, but produced some important symbolism. No, we aren't talking about the football-like design flourishes in the bridge. We're talking about I-94's importance as a link from our city center to our international airport. And, amid all that Super Bowl mania, people recognized the importance of making a good impression and linking ourselves with the world. In a region dominated by deep divisions, it's a refreshing change of pace.
Best Innovative Public Works Opportunity Missed
The bridge-underpass at Eight Mile Road and Woodward Avenue
A few years ago, when regional transportation planners were re-evaluating this massive bridge-underpass, we said to tear it down. Yes, we know it's technically "safer" as a bridge-underpass. Yes, traffic whizzes right through and doesn't cut through sidestreets to beat the lights. But where the feds and neighbors see safety, some local leaders, including former Ferndale City Manager Tom Barwin, saw a barrier. Some proposed putting the intersection back at grade, saying it would spur economic development and help link Detroit and Ferndale. But, alas, we'll never know. The feds said the bridge-underpass was safer, rebuilt it stronger, and now we're stuck with it for another 50 years or so.
Best Urban Prairie
As parts of the city decay and leave empty lots, some blocks have been so decimated by neglect that not a single house remains. Long stretches of St. Aubin reveal whole blocks where nothing remains except the utility poles where the alley once pierced a crowded city block. But long stretches of Moran Street, north of Gratiot Avenue, are open prairies in various stages of wilderness. Some are mowed regularly, looking like parks. Some are mowed seasonally, looking like lush prairie. Some blocks have stands of ailanthus, the tree of heaven, with the faint smell of burnt peanut butter wafting from them in the summertime. Biking through the narrow streets, it's almost like the city in the country, and often more restful for the soul than many of our crowded public parks.
Best Downtown Busker
Sure, he's studied with the late jazz saxophonist Jackie McLean and recorded with James Carter, but when you're lucky you can hear him tearing through an eclectic repertoire on downtown streets formerly under the Greektown People Mover station, more recently on corners near Compuware and the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. He's sometimes accompanied by his percussive partner in crime, drummer Keith Glass, and usually more concerned with following some musical quest of his own than in entertaining you. New York, once upon a time, had Sonny Rollins on the bridge. Detroit, just now, has Cassius Richmond on the corner. So give him a tip.
Best Meeting Place Near Downtown With Free Parking
1533 E. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit; 313-446-9520
This is hardly a universal problem, but let's say you happen to work in downtown Detroit, as do your faithful scribes at this rag. And let's say you want someone to come downtown to meet you but don't want to burden them with the cost of parking. Our solution is the Paris Café in Lafayette Park, specifically, in a little strip mall at the corner of Lafayette and Orleans. To quote our food writer Jane Slaughter from these pages, the Paris connection may go only as far as the name, but it's "a perfectly good coffee/dessert/soup and sandwiches place, American to the core, with reasonable prices and a friendly atmosphere." And did we say the parking was free? Near downtown.
Best Chance For Detroit To Get Its 'Do (Again)
Hair Wars Book
It's a quintessential Detroit yarn. A struggling DJ named Hump the Grinder starts throwing theme parties and invites D-town hairdressers to show off their wildest stuff with live models. It catches on. The idea is to see "how wild" things could get and the hairdressers take the challenge. Wild it does get. The events go nationwide and eventually catch the spotlight on The Tyra Banks Show and elsewhere. Look for the next round of media attention next month with the publication of Hair Wars (powerHouse) by New York photographer David Yellen. Meanwhile, Hump's next Detroit-area event is set for Jan. 20, 2008, at a venue to be determined.
Best Excuse For the Tigers Not Making the Playoffs
There is no excuse
You could blame it on the injuries (Rogers, Zumaya, Sheffield, Rodney). You could blame it on lack of good play (Monroe, Inge). And sure, Magglio hit .360 and Polanco hit .340, but that's not enough. Perhaps the magic that the Tigers had in '06 traveled a few hundred miles away to another Midwestern rival in Cleveland. But when it comes down to it, the only place the Tigers should look is in the mirror. Yeah, we know, it stings. It's a deep burn. Last year we had a little taste of glory only to be washed away by the sourness of this year. With that said, Tigers in '08!
Best Athlete From Ann Arbor
Gymnast Rebecca Bross
Nope, not a maize-and-bluer. And you won't see 14-year-old Bross at next year's Olympics age restrictions make her too young to compete but this Ann Arbor native is among the world's best in women's gymnastics. She won the all-around and three of the four events in the junior national championships this summer and then blazed to a team gold and all-around second at the Pan American Games in Brazil. There she also won the floor exercise defeating eventual world champion and teammate Shawn Johnson. Bross will miss next year's media-fest in Beijing, but she deserves to be there. Patience, dear fans.
Best Bollywood experience
26085 Town Center Dr., Novi; 248-465-SHOW
Moviegoing in India is without parallel: Behemoth auditoriums are jammed to capacity. Vendors walk between aisles, hawking spiced popcorn and peanuts. Men catcall and throw rupees at the screen when a busty heroine jiggles her jiggly bits. The audience reacts with every turn of plot ooohs and gasps, furious cursing at the villains. Sadly, moviegoing in the Midwest is a tad more sedate patrons are ordered to keep their mouths shut and their eyes glued to the screen. But nestled in a suburban strip mall in Novi is SR Movies, which plays a variety of Indian films daily. You can munch on samosas and chutney, order a chai and drink in the Bollywood experience (even if you have to rely on the English subtitles to follow the story). And though the patrons generally remain quiet, there's an indistinguishable smell of coconut oil and curry powder wafting through the air that, coupled with the song-and-dance numbers seen in virtually every Hindi film, transport you a few thousand miles east.
Best Splash-friendly getaway
Red Oaks Waterpark
1455 E. 13 Mile Rd., Madison Heights; 248-585-6990
Like many things in Madison Heights, you might never notice the Red Oaks Waterpark unless you're looking for it. For a mere $7 ($12 if you live outside the OC, but every brochure has a "family deal" coupon in it too) you can hit the wave pool (totally extreme!!!), the lazy river (totally not extreme!!!), the kiddie splash area and a trio of water slides. Or, you can picnic your ass off under blue suburban skies. (The joint is BYOB with the latter "B" signifying "barbecue grill" if you're so inclined.) The flesh parade can be daunting for the weak of constitution and the views from the top of the waterslide are truly astounding (rooftops of industrial parks have never looked quite so scenic). But you'd have to be a real cynic to keep that aesthetic shortcoming from letting your breath get taken away by the wild whips, turns and luge loop-de-loops that deposit you giddy and breathless into a chilling 4-foot- deep wading pool.
Best Excuse to Drink and Pedal
Annual Velo Bar Crawl
For the last five years, a bunch of beer and bicycle lovin' folk have been getting together for the Annual Velo Bar Crawl. Set in the heart Detroit every June, this bar crawl covers about five miles and nine bars including such favorite downtown pubs as Harry's and the Detroiter. Velo starts at 2 p.m. and usually ends around 9 p.m. or whenever you look down and notice your pedals starting to blur together. A $20 registration fee covers a brightly colored Velo T-shirt (helpful for identifying fellow tipsy cyclists) and dinner at the midpoint of the crawl. For info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best Proof Rupert Murdoch Wants To Control Your Mind
FOX2's new news set
It sure is colorful, isn't it? The pastel-splashed studio unveiled last month that serves as home to every newscast from the early-early FOX2 Morning to the new 11 p.m. News Edge (although anchor Huel Perkins would rather stand than use the massive new desk for the late report) was constructed in New York and imported to Detroit as part of a corporate commitment to ensure that eventually all Fox-owned and -operated stations will look exactly the same on their newscasts. Jawohl, Herr Murdoch! But could you please, please do something about that revolving FOX icon in the left corner of the screen? It's either got to move faster or not at all. At its present speed, we're pretty certain it's trying to hypnotize us!
Best TV News Names
It's actually a toss-up as to which moniker is more memorable: Deena Centofanti, Kam Carman, Simon Shaykhet, Andrea Isom, Woody Woodriffe, Kerry Birmingham (Kerry Royal Oak would have been much cooler) or the leader in the clubhouse, Fanchon Stinger. On the other side of the coin, if you were writing a novel about a TV newsman, wouldn't you lean toward a name like Alan Lee, Al Allen or Lee Thomas? We wish several of them were stronger on the air, but one thing's for certain: They're hard to forget.
Best Oldies Station
CKWW (AM 580)
It's hardly "revolutionary" these days, billing itself as "Motor City memories" in its station IDs. But CKWW appears to use the same playlists as the old CKLW, which a lot of baby boomers remember as the greatest AM rock 'n' roll radio station in the history of history. The station is indeed located in the original CKLW studios on Ouellette Street in Windsor (thus, its emphasis on Canadian obscurities; Edward Bear, anyone?) and programmed by Charlie O'Brien, a former Big 8 jock. Oldies stations in most major cities are programmed like modern rock stations, which means you hear the same songs repeatedly. Here, though, you'll hear all kinda eclectic gems from the '50s, '60s and '70s, an exquisite mix that might jump from, say, the Yardbirds to the 1910 Fruitgum Company to Johnny Cash to the Supremes to Buffalo Springfield to Dean Martin to the Doors. Just like the good old days. If they'd program some like-minded modern music, this could be the best rock station in the Western Hemisphere. Who needs Sirius or XM when Detroiters get this for free on their AM dial?
Best Radio Sports Talk Host
Mid-days, WDFN-AM (1130)
Unlike almost everybody else in this town who babbles about Detroit sports teams, Baligian never tries to give the impression he knows infinitely more than you. Listen to the listeners who call his 9 a.m.-noon It Is What It Is chatfest and it's clear they all embrace him as one of the boys. Comfortable, excitable, relatable, and a self-proclaimed geek when it comes to fantasy football, the hardworking Baligian may be the only broadcaster in town who's not afraid to air his heart on his sleeve in unbridled passion for hockey in general, the Red Wings in particular. And please keep that hip-hop intro to your show, now that we've memorized every word.
Best reason to turn on the radio during the day
Motown's public radio station is hitting on all cylinders following the return of two real pros. After juggling hosts on its excellent Detroit Today news and interview program (weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon), station honchos had the good sense to bring Craig Fahle back into the fold, putting him at the helm full time. He's been doing a stellar job. Also returning to the station after leaving for elsewhere is Jerome Vaughn, now the station's news director. Vaughn's a guy who needs to add an extra room to his house just to hold all his awards. Both these voices were much missed. Welcome back, guys.
Best Guess About When the Regional Economy Turns Around
There's been plenty of good news around here in recent years, from the Super Bowl to Google, from premier local hospitals being recognized nationally to Oakland County's Automation Alley. But overall ... except for "a temporary pause" in 2005, the seven-county region covered by SEMCOG has seen nothing but net job losses, some 126,000 total, since 2000. A slow recovery is expected in 2009 and thereafter. "The region does not return to its peak job level achieved in 2000 until 2022."
Best Sign That the Regional Economy Isn't Tanking for Everyone
Two new Nordstrom stores
Metro Detroit got its first taste of the high-end retailer with a rep for obsessive customer service a little more than a decade ago with a store at Troy's Somerset Collection. One new store at the renovated and expanded Twelve Oaks Mall opened late last month. Another new Nordstrom store at a new $155-million Mall at Partridge Creek in Clinton Township opens this week, putting the D in the select company of 12 other metro areas nationwide with three or more of the Seattle-based stores. In fact the only other stores in the Midwest are in Chicago (with four of them).
Best Local Ringtone
An instrumental by J Dilla
With bebop, Motown, Bob Seger, MC5, White Stripes, Carl Craig, etc., where else can you have so many choices for the ultimate hometown ringtone? But the city also has a strong hip-hop scene, popular and underground. The longtime voice of that underground hip-hop scene was James Yancey, better known as J Dilla or Jay Dee. Often referred to as "the producer's producer," Dilla, who died in 2006, worked on neo-soul tracks for Common, A Tribe Called Quest and Slum Village, among others. And something about his off-key and off-kilter, groovy, choppy and almost futuristic-sounding beats makes them sound perfectly synthesized for right now the era of cell phone ubiquity. We suggest either "Time: The Donut of the Heart" or "Two Can Win" from the all-instrumental Donuts album.
Best Local Court Watcher
No, we don't always agree and his claim that invading Iraq was somehow like cutting down a rotting tree in his yard, "a job we can't put off much longer" ... that was George W. Bush-league boneheadedness. But we wish there were more eyes on the Michigan court system as perceptive and forthright as the Freep's Brian Dickerson. We need more paragraphs like this column lead from last July: "Cliff Taylor is the chief justice of Michigan's highest court. He's also a zealot operating under a tight deadline, which may explain the reckless haste with which Taylor and other members of the state Supreme Court's Republican majority are laying waste to decades of consumer-friendly legal precedent." If we've got to get wasted in Michigan, let's keep it in the public eye.
Best Web site/Blog Covering Local Music
Although we also love motorcityrocks.com (not to be confused with motorcityrock.com, which primarily concentrates on Detroit rock bands of the '80s), we find ourselves looking at Web Vomit on a daily basis for news, events and opinions. The pseudonymous Jasper absolutely loves the local music scene and appears to be on top of what's happening around town. He's also an irreverent smartass who gets in his readers' faces, with the various commenters on the site following along with the same attitude. He's taken potshots at the Metro Times music section, and complimented us at times ... and we respect him for both.
Best Excuse for Flaunting Your PJs
La Dolce Vita's pajama brunch
17546 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-865-0331
Every second Sunday pajama clad patrons go out and dine at La Dolce Vita in Detroit for their infamous "pajama brunch." During each brunch, a contest is held for the most beautiful pajama set. Known for its extravagant prizes, La Dolce Vita has given away cash, trips and the occasional diamond necklace. As an additional bonus, the a la carte brunch is served with all you can drink mimosas or Bloody Marys. Reservations required.