MichiganRadio.org has a wonderful article on the origin of the “Michigan s” in business names (Meijer’s, Ford’s, etc.). The article itself is great, but there’s gold to be found in the comments. Check it out and enjoy: http://michiganradio.org/
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!
I still vaguely remember the Pontiac Silverdome. As a kid, our Boy Scout troop would visit on “Scout Day” and I could feel the pressure difference when we entered the stadium (positive air pressure kept the roof in place). Sadly, this landmark has fallen into severe disrepair. I came across this video on Tested.com. Ford Field and the Palace of Auburn Hills have replaced the Silverdome… but it still seems like such a waste of an established facility.
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…
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.
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.
Updated! Eileen let me know that this content is actually from her (rather excellent) site: DetroitMemories.com. Rather than duplicate some of the content, check it out and share your Detroit memories with her visitors! (DetroitMemories.com is regularly updated, so be sure to check back often!)
I grew up with a lot of great products made right here in Michigan… in fact many of them were made right in Detroit! Sadly, some of them are no longer native to our great state, but I’d like to share them anyway:
Faygo Pop – A delicious variety of flavored pop (or soda if you’re from other states). While some consider it to be a value brand, I still think Rock and Rye, Cola, and Frosh are some of the best tasting soft drinks on the planet.
Vernor’s Ginger Ale – I can’t believe I forgot this Detroit icon! (Thanks to “Mom” reminding me about it in the comments!) When my friend (Joey Ford) visited his grandparents each summer, his mom made sure he brought some Vernor’s Ginger Ale home to California with him. These days, Vernor’s is owned by the Dr. Pepper/Snapple folks and can be found in most states, but it’s real home is Detroit.
Better Made Snacks – Driving by the Better Made factory is torture. The smell of fresh potato chips is enough to drive you mad. During Halloween, it wasn’t uncommon to get a small bag of Better Made potato chips from many of the houses in or neighborhood. You can still get cases of chips from nearby distributors and even directly from Better Made themselves. Some people may think that fresh chips aren’t better than those shipped across the country… they’re wrong.
Stroh’s Beer – In 1999 Stroh Brewery was sold to the same folks as Miller/Pabst. Though they’re still an American beer brewer (unlike some more “regal” brands), Stroh’s is no longer made in Michigan. Stroh’s was definitely the brand of choice for the adults in my neighborhood during the 80’s. Block parties looked like television commercials for the stuff…
Stroh’s Ice Cream – Why would a brewery make ice cream?! One word – prohibition. When other breweries were going under, the Stroh family changed with the times and made some of the most creamy delicious ice cream on the planet… but they did have competition:
Sanders Confections – My grandmother worked for Grandpa Sanders (pronounced San-Ders, not Saun-ders… that always drove my grandma nuts) and there was nothing quite as close to heaven as a Sanders Hot Fudge Cream Puff Sundae. Today they’re still known for hot fudge and carmel ice cream toppings, but they’re chocolate is darn fine, too. Speaking of chocolate:
Morley Candy – The Morley Candy Company has since taken over the Sanders line of confections using the family’s original recipies. Once local rivals, Sanders and Morley are now one in the same. Our parents always filled our Easter baskets and Christmas stockings with goodies from Morley and Sanders.
Honeybaked Ham and Dearborn Brand – I love a great sandwich. Part of that is because my dad always made legendary sandwiches. Post-holiday leftovers often included ham sandwiches… man, I’m salivating just thinking about them. Honebaked became famous for their pre-applied glazing while Dearborn Brand has been making great sausage and seli products since the 1940’s.
Kellog’s – Battle Creek’s own Kellogg’s company defines cereal and wholesome breakfast options.
I’ll continue to collect more lists of other famous Michigan brands, foods, products, and celebrities. If you have suggestions or contributions, please leave a comment (below)!
Today, the demolition of Tiger Stadium began. I’m no sports fan (apart from autosports), but I still feel the loss of this landmark… and part of my childhood.
Papa Thomas, my friend Joey’s grandfather, would sit on his front porch and listen to the Tigers game on his handheld AM radio. We would crowd around him and get the translation of Ernie Harwell’s play-by-play (we didn’t know a lot about the sport at the time). Papa was a diehard fan. On the hot summer nights most of the neighborhood could be found outside, on a porch, in a pool, or in each other’s driveways talking. In 1984, most of that talk was about our soon to be champion Tigers. When Joey flew in for the summer from California he proudly wore his Tigers ballcap. He was the first person I knew to have a fitted cap. Impressive. Tigers baseball was all I knew and Tiger Stadium was the Mecca of it all.
I went to my first ballgame at Tiger Stadium with my Dad and my cousin’s husband: Rich. I didn’t really know any of the players or what was going on. When everyone started cheering “Lou, Lou, Lou, Lou” for Lou Whittaker, I misheard them and joined in: “Boo, boo, boo, boo!” (I thought we were taunting the other team.) Rich and my Dad straightened that out pretty quickly. Rich tried to explain the scoresheet in the back of the program to me, but defaulted to just the simple score. The guy sitting in front of us figured out it was my first game and introduced himself as “Jose”... and told me that they start every game by singing to him: “Jose, can you see?...” I wonder how long he was saving that one… Rich passed away unexpectedly last year. I can count the number of times I visited Tiger Stadium on one hand. Yet, the only time I remember anything about was my first trip with Rich and my Dad.
Tiger Stadium had a genuine feel about it. I’ve only been to the new park (named after a bank that gave up on Michigan a few years ago…) two times. It’s big, impressive, and commercial. The view is a little better… even from the cheap seats… but it’s a sellout: designed to make families happy and sell watered-down beer and overpriced hotdogs.
Today we loose Tiger Stadium. We loose a legitimate part of Detroit history. We loose a landmark. One thing I (and many other Detroiters) will never loose are the memories of good times with our families and friends at Tiger Stadium.
(Sorry if I seem to be rambling with this update… I’m a bit out of sorts thinking about the stadium…)