The Brat Patrol | A Long Time Ago, In a Neighborhood Far, Far Away…

Posts filed under 'Good Times'

Detroit Public Television presents “Made in the Motor City”

Perhaps you know that Better Made chips and Vernors originated in Detroit, but did you know that Velvet peanut butter did too? (And that they invented peanut butter you don’t need to stir!) did you know that all of the Coney Island restaurants (famous in Detroit) can trace themselves back either by business or blood, to the first 2 Coneys on Michigan Ave., Lafayette and American? Growing up in Detroit, I have a lot of nostalgia for these brands and watching the documentary (hosted  by Erik Smith, local tv legend) brings it all back: watch it on their site!

Add comment March 29th, 2015 by duane

Cruising Gratiot

When you’re in High School, getting a car and the freedom it provides is a big deal. A lot of my friends had pretty nice rides… I can’t say the same about my 1984 Chevy Celebrity Eurosport. That was one of the most inaccurately named cookie cutter cars ever belched out by the big three (perhaps seconds only the the “Reliant”). It was a pig… but I was a car stereo guy. I built a bandpass-style subwoofer enclosure, bought a cheap amp and a second-hand (removable) Alpine head unit and replaced the stock speakers. It sounded decent… and was plenty loud. We would pile into my car and make the “Gratiot loop”: north from 8 Mile Road to around 14 Mile Road and back. We could spend hours just driving back and forth, talking to people in other cars, playing silly pranks, people watching and trying to get phone numbers.

Occasionally, I would meet up with Dave Damore and head out to Gratiot. He was the kind of guy that knew way too much about cars for a 16-year-old. He built up a pretty mean Chevy Malibu, spending every spare dime he had on the performance parts… and not caring much about aesthetics. It was loud and fast, and that’s all that mattered. For a little fun, he would talk trash to guys driving their parent’s Mustang GTs (the alpha car of the 90’s) and con them into a stoplight drag race. It was rarely a close race and even more rare for him to lose. Either way it was fun… and stupid… but mostly more of the former.

When Dave wanted to be a little more serious, he would look for some competition on French Road in Detroit. The stakes were higher and the area was more dangerous (at least to suburbanites like ourselves). Cruising took a back seat to flat out racing. This wasn’t a social exercise, it was a pure adrenaline rush. Looking back, I think a lot of my love for cars and racing started there, in a dirty beige Malibu that smelled of oil, race fuel, and hot rubber.

Right out of high school, I started a decent paying job doing AutoCAD work. It paid well enough for me to get a better car: a 1989 Chrysler LeBaron GTC. With 174 horsepower and 200 lb/ft of torque, it was easy enough to get into trouble. I didn’t have the car long enough to ever cruise in it. I was working nearly full time and going to college. Eventually, sleep deprivation got the better of me and I wrecked it on my way to work.

My next car was trouble: a 1989 Firebird Formula. Bright red, t-tops, V-8, WS6 package. I made a few upgrades and cruised Gratiot with my friends and/or girlfriend pretty regularly. It was a fair match for most of the other gas heads out there that were silly enough to street race. Luckily, I never really got into trouble with that car. I still own it, though it’s sitting in my barn in desperate need of attention. I keep calling it my “retirement project”... someday I’d like to clean it up and take it out on Gratiot again.

I still love cars… I own a 1999 Camaro and race (legally) a Spec Racer in SCCA national events. I’ve loved driving several sporty Subaru models: a 1998 Impreza RS, a 2002 WRX, and now a 2011 Legacy GT. All very quick and fun to drive. The catch is, there’s just not a cruising culture around me like that on Gratiot in my teens. Sure, there’s the Woodward Dream Cruise and Cruisin’ Gratiot events, but there barely more than a parade. Perhaps it’s not so much the lack of a cruising culture as I’ve just gotten older.

Someday, I’ll uncover my Camaro, uncork the exhaust and head out to the east side on a Friday night some time and test that theory…

2 comments July 12th, 2012 by duane

Remembering Bob-Lo Island

It’s fall in the Detroit area and commercials run regularly advertising Cedar Point’s “HalloWeekends.” While Sandusky, Ohio may be the closest amusement part to Detroit these days, it was all about Bob-Lo Island in the 80’s.

My grade school had annual outings to the island. Though I didn’t especially enjoy the boat ride at the time (approx. 80 minutes), I would love another chance to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the boat. Each had either a dance floor, arcade or both, concessions and of course an amazing view of the Detroit River. The park itself was relatively small with a couple dozen rides ranging from bump’em cars to full-on rollercoaster thrill rides. I was never quite old enough to enjoy the park to the fullest and regret having been afraid of the best rides.

The Screamer

These days, the entire island returned to its residential roots, housing private homes, vacation property, and marina space. Who knows… in another 20 years rides may return and ferries could carry excited Detroiters to that little chunk of Canada (yep… it’s really part of Canada) to appreciate local amusements… though I doubt it.

Here’s some more Bob-Lo Island resources:

2 comments October 14th, 2009 by duane

Detroit TV Flashback!

YouTube is a great way to go back in time find commercials and TV shows from the past (though I still can’t find any episodes of Kid Bits!). Here are a few for your viewing enjoyment:

If you can find a few more Detroit favorites from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s post a link in the comments!

2 comments March 30th, 2009 by duane

The Christmas Wish Book

X-Entertainment has a great article on the experience of waiting for that Sears (or JC Penny in the midwest) catalog to show up full of the year’s best toys. Usually sandwiched between the underwear and hand tools were the things dreams were made of. My brother (Christian), and I would negotiate which things we would each as for. You see, we would cut out the toys from the catalog and tape them to our wish list… since there was only one item per catalog, it was difficult to ask for the same thing. Usually, we would ask for complementary toys: He-Man for Christian and Skeletor for me. Be sure to check out the X-Entertainment Article, it’s worth the read.

Add comment December 11th, 2007 by duane

What is Balduck Park?

Balduck Park was the nearest public park to our neighborhood. During the summer, kites flew there and there was a “nature area (which we called “The Naych”) to hike and ride bikes, a hill provided some excitement and a few fields to play soccer, baseball, and football. My early memories of Balduck include an archery range, too, but I never had a chance to participate. Every 4th of July, the “big kids” would head over to the field at Balduck and launch the “good” fireworks into the sky. On the 5th, a group of us would pick over the scraps looking for cool shell casings and any remaining live fireworks. Usually, we would tape together the old casings of spent fireworks to resemble guns, swords, and rocket launchers.

The hill was a blast in the winter. We would go in small groups to sled down the hill. At one time, there were toboggan runs. They were great when iced over, but eventually grass grew in the cracks and they were removed. (Legend told of a little girl that wiped out on her sled and knocked all of her teeth out, but that was mostly local urban myth.)

Eventually, we outgrew playing war in the alleys and backyard bushes and moved to the Nature Area. We would have epic hunter/hunted battles. Days were spent building forts and traps throughout the single acre wooded lot. We mostly just sat there in our rigged-up base talking and eating lunch.

When were a little older (maybe between 12 and 16), we would venture to the Nature Area at night, dressed head to toe in military camouflage. Although it started as a chance to play “witch” (kind of like tag at night… more on that later) in the woods, it quickly evolved into “hey-let’s-scare-the-crap-out-of-drunk-highschool-kids.” Jocks and their prey would hang out at the picnic benches just outside of the Naych swigging on ill-gotten booze and ghetto-taxed beer. We found this practice despicable (at the time). So, what else was there to do other than shoot the drinks off of the table with BB guns and slingshots? Most of the time, this would send the offenders scattering, yelling all the way to their cars. (Balduck had a reputation as a dangerous place because a body was found behind the hill in the early 80’s.) Rarely, the letter-jacket wearing tough guys would venture into the woods to prove their manhood. Mistake.

By this point, the majority of us were 14, 15, and 16 years old. Some of us had a few years of high school wrestling experience and were in the best shape of our lives. The jocks would enter the Naych. 1 or 2 of the crew would then cover the entrance with a big branch of leaves. Then the biggest of the bunch would drop from the trees directly in front of them… dressed in full combat gear. Drunk and scared out of their minds, the Jocks would run back towards the entrance that no longer existed (once they figured it out and screamed “they’re trying to trap us… we’re going to die!”), freak out and turn around to run down a random path. At that point we usually uncovered the entrance and snuck around trying to find them without revealing our location. Awesome.

One time, however, they must have called the police, because Detroit’s finest showed up with a spotlight and some flashlights (on a night that we didn’t scare any drinkers). Although very scary, we managed to escape undetected. A huge rush, yes… but also pretty stupid. At around 6’ 2” and 180 lbs, I might have looked pretty scary dressed in camo, to both a jock and the cops.

As we grew older and spent more time at school or driving around with our newly earned licenses, we visited Balduck less and less often. I still remember that place very fondly. Every time I look out my window at the woods around our house, I think “hey, that would be a great place to build a fort and play witch.” Someday, I might do just that.

10 comments July 6th, 2007 by duane

The Lost Art of Block Parties

Hillcrest had the best block parties. Ever.

Everyone on the street knew each other. Every summer… usually late July, the block would put up a barricade at each end of the street, set up tables in the road and have a whole-block party. Early in the morning, our families would work on their agreed task: filling water balloons, making a dish for the potluck, getting ice for coolers, etc. The kids only had one task: clean up your bike. We would gather at one house and detail our bikes with concourse precision. It was the one day of the year that we could ride our bikes in the street and not get in trouble… our bikes had to be clean!

Meanwhile, the adults would form into smaller groups: the gossipers, the sports fans, the cops, and the beer drinkers. Gossipers took turns telling each other the dirt, carefully avoiding subjects involving other gossipers present. Sports fans would stand around and either complain about the Tigers or rave about their indestructibility, then change gears to talk about how the lions need to do either as well or better than the Tigers come football season. The cops would start as a separate group, but eventually merge with the beer drinkers… that group was self-explanatory.

The earlier block parties had 3 distinct groups of kids. The “big kids,” “older kids,” and “us.” The big kids liked to scare, intimidate and chase us. The older kids were nice, but quite obviously not interested in being around either of the other 2 groups… the kind of other kids that were most likely to be babysitters or tutors.

Around a week before each block party, “the word” would get out that the big kids were going to “get” somebody in the BRAT Patrol. The reasons were trivial, but the excitement was priceless. Everything came to a climax early during the block party with a big kid chasing someone home and a few water balloons being used before the official water balloon toss began.

After a little mid-street bike riding, somebody’s mom would organize the balloon toss. The balloon toss replaced the open fire hydrant that traditionally accompanied the block party. However, legend says that “Crazy Kers” (a mysterious man around the corner) complained enough to the city about the loss of water pressure when we did this that it was eventually discontinued… anyway, back to the balloon toss: The kids all got a kick out of the adults that dared to participate. Predictably, the toss would become a water balloon fight and everyone would be soaked to the skin. A little more bike riding and everyone was dry enough. The kids would take turns guarding the ends of the block, glaring at confounded drivers when they approached the block party barricade. Occasionally, we would let residents in by sliding the barricade over just enough. To an eight-year-old, that’s real power: complete control over who is allowed in and out of your world.

As the sun began to get lower in the sky, dinner would make it’s way to the lines of tables set up earlier in the day. Everyone would gather, pile up food, and sit together to eat. The adults took their time, chatted, and hoped the food would make the kids sleepy. No such luck. We all knew that the block party meant we could stay up past dark… and that meant we could play “witch!”

After dinner the adults would start up card games and drink coffee (or sometimes more beer). The kids (all three groups) would gather on a front porch and set the rules for the night’s game of “witch:”

  • One person starts as the witch, they will hide
  • Everyone else covers their eyes and counts the magic chant:

    One-O’Clock, Two-O’Clock, Three-O’Clock… Rock! Four-O’Clock, Five-O’Clock, Six-O’Clock… Rock! Seven-O’Clock, Eight-O’Clock, Nine-O’Clock… Rock! Ten-O’Clock, Eleven-O’Clock, Twelve-O’Clock… Rock! Starlight, moonlight… Hope to see the witch tonight!

  • Look for the witch (seeking). When found, yell, “Witch!” and try to get back to the safe zone (goal) without being tagged.
  • If you are tagged, you help chase down the fleeing seekers.
  • The person that found the witch is the witch next time.

    Block parties made this game possible. Normally, we would have to be in before dusk. But since the whole neighborhood was outside, we were allowed to play until we were exhausted… and we did. Sometimes I think I looked forward to block parties more than Christmas or birthdays. I’ve never seen or participated in a block party like those of my youth.

    2 comments August 21st, 2006 by duane

The Alley

During our regular adventures, we discovered that the over-grown vegetation in the alley at the end of the block made a great place to set up a “base.” We put on our best camouflage outfits, hopped on our bikes, and drove right into the bushes. I’m sure a half dozen 7-10 year-olds dressed as a special forces unit riding brightly colored Schwinns wasn’t especially inconspicuous, but we thought we were just about on par with a ninja squad. We fashioned tunnels through bushes, made an area to hide our bikes, and formulated an escape plan in case we were discovered.

Occasionally, one of the neighborhood dogs on the other side of the alley fence would discover us, bark a bit, and then be on it’s way. The real excitement happened when the people who’s garages lined the other side of the alley started backing out. We tried our darnedest to keep from being discovered. Occasionally, we would be chased off because it was “too dangerous” in the alley. However, minutes later, we would be back, planning world domination one alley at a time.

2 comments August 16th, 2006 by duane

The Neighborhood

Once of the great things about the BRAT Patrol was that each family had a different “attraction” at their house. Ryan had a fort built on 4 foot stilts, Mike and Ginny had a racetrack (initially for bikes, but later for RC cars) behind their garage… plus they hosted “Ghostbusters Central” in their garage, we had a pool, and Joe had a tree fort.

In the summer we would usually start the day with skateboarding or bike riding, then end up working on one of the forts or racetrack, then eventually cool off around mid-day in the pool. There was nothing quite like building a fort or digging a hole then jumping into the pool.

We al lived just a few doors from each other, all on the same block. That was our world. We rarely went “around the block”... especially when we were younger. It was the DMZ of the area. The overall area was better then. Not the stereotypical Detroit you hear about on the news.

Our neighbors were mostly police and firemen mixed with the average blue collar jobs in the auto industry and factories. We were all on the same schedule, starting with a 9:00 all clear to go outside and play…

Add comment August 9th, 2006 by duane

Brat Patrol

I grew up with a great group of friends on the East side of Detroit. We called ourselves the “Brat Patrol,” but were sometimes known as the Hillcrest gang.

Many years have passed since that time. Eventually, we all moved and went to separate high schools. Then all of us went to different colleges. We’ve kept in loose contact, and even had a reunion about 7 years ago. This site is an attempt to get reunited, tell our stories, and remember all of the good times we had.

The Brat Patrol Is:

  • Joe Boyd
  • Mike Fashoway
  • Ginny Fashoway
  • C.J. Peterzack
  • Ryan Plunkett
  • Christian Leinninger
  • Duane Alan Leinninger

Add comment August 4th, 2006 by duane


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