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)!
One of the most formative experiences in my childhood: my early exposure to an Atari 2600. My older cousin, Kyle had a few different video game consoles. Joey, a friend that traveled to Detroit from California every summer to visit his grandparents had a 2600 in both states! Enough of our friends had Atari consoles that we had regular opportunities to “rot our brains out” (as our parents put it).
The actual game itself wasn’t the main attraction. Heck, most games were merely a square darting around the screen avoiding other squares. When we played games as a group, it became a production. Alternate storylines to the game evolved: Activision’s Space Shuttle game grew to include mission control, mission specialists, and technicians, Missile Command became a life and death struggle between the US and the commies… which one should note was un-winnable.
Many early games relied heavily on the printed instruction manual packed with each cartridge wherein the back story was established and the difference between the all-too-similar bad guys was explained. The Nintendo Entertainment System was the first home console that actually had recognizable characters on the screen and a developed storyline that played out on your screen. However, we managed to establish one of the most critically panned games as our favorite: Gumshoe.
In the fall, we would go into hibernation mode. Sure, we would spend some time hiding in leaf piles, playing army, and digging up each others’ yards. But as the outdoor temperatures dropped, we found ourselves inside more often. One of the youngest members of the “Brat Patrol”, “C.J.”, had a Nintendo (which was still a relatively new gaming system). He had a few sports games for it, but the title that we all marveled at was “Gumshoe.”
The Nintendo “Blaster” was a light gun that had a simple camera that was able to detect flashing signals sent from the T.V. when the trigger was pulled. You would aim the blaster at the hapless “Gumshow” and shoot him to make him jump, as well as shoot oncoming projectiles, cars, bad guys, and (oddly enough) floating balloons. The game was horrible. It was the only Nintendo game I ever remembered to randomly lock up the console. We were luck if we made it through a few levels. However, we were held captive by the implied story line (we read the manual while waiting for our turn to play) and the prospect of firing a “gun” at the television.
We never spent much time playing video games, but when the weather was too hot or too cold, we would sneak inside for a few minutes of R.C. Pro-Am or Duck Hunt. Today, many kids spend far too much time isolated from each other or making “virtual friends” online via World of Warcraft or Halo. They let their game consoles do the imagining for them. Old school games forced you to imagine that a blinking triangle was your spaceship. Video games were novel enough that 6 or 7 of us could crowd into a den and just watch each other play Pitfall, then after 30 minutes-or-so, we ran outside and played it in real life… except with sprinklers for crocodiles
and each other for logs!
If you lived in (or near) the city of Detroit in the 80’s, you knew that the day before Halloween was a scary time. Though Devil’s Night was most notorious for setting abandoned homes on fire, it was a much more innocent event for the kids in our neighborhood. We weren’t allowed to stay out much past dusk, but we tried to squeeze in a game or two of “witch” (see the block party article for a description), followed by a few harmless pranks.
Usually, we would ring a neighbor’s doorbell, then run and hide in the bushes. Never the same house more than once and we were always called home for the evening before it was late. One time a rogue faction of kids decided to toss eggs at cars despite our protest. Those that chose not to participate watched the action with a mixture of fear and excitement from a safe distance. One driver pulled his car over, got out, and yelled at the rebels. They threw a few more eggs in his direction, but, luckily, none of them had good aim. The usual running and dodging through alleys and secret paths ensued and we all regrouped in Joe’s tree fort to trade stories. Though most of us didn’t throw any eggs, we enjoyed sharing in the excitement.
I remember a few years when (presumably) the “big kids” on the block soaped a few windows and egged cars in driveways, but this is all still pretty minor in retrospect. The next year we stood on guard with walkie-talkies linking our guard posts… theoretically… the models most of us purchased from Radio Shack really didn’t have enough range to cover the block. We walked up and down the block in groups of three of four in our denim jackets wielding flashlights. We really thought that we were the reason no more eggings happened… it was likely pure coincidence.
What’s not a coincidence is that Devil’s Night is gone. Former Mayor Dennis Archer started the Angel’s Night initiative in 1995 that organized community patrols and enforced a curfew for minors. The first year, incidences of arson plummeted… in fact, I can’t recall a single reported Devil’s Night-related fire.
We loved our bikes on Hillcrest (as most kids do). We could spend an entire day lapping the block over and over again. Most of the kids in the BRAT patrol had a BMX style bike, complete with pads covering all of the dangerous parts of the bike. My brother and I? We had the legendary Schwinn Stingray. The only complication? It wasn’t “cool” by the time we were aware of the concept of “being cool.” A yellow banana seat atop a metallic red frame might have cut it in the 70’s, but by the 80’s a banana seat would just get you chased by “the big kids.”
Christian (my brother) and I would try anything to make our curvy bikes more BMX-like: replacing the seat, different handle bar grips, pedals, tires… anything. Looking back though, I really loved that bike. It provided my first tastes of freedom, danger, and excitement… banana seat and all.
Eventually, most of us upgraded to multi-speed bikes. A few folks got 10-speed street bikes, but just about the time it was my turn to get a new bike, mountain bikes were becoming the new standard. They could take more abuse and looked a lot more like the BMX bikes that I longed for when I was younger, but they really never replaced the spot in my heart occupied by that old yellow and red Schwinn.
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…)
I’m not much of a morning person these days. I would much rather stay up late and write odd bits of code than get up early and start my day. When I was younger, that was not the case. My brother, Christian, and I would wake up early… especially on Saturday morning, build a fort and prepare for hours of (mostly) animated entertainment. I’ve written about Saturday morning cartoons before, but no Saturday would be complete without a proper start: educational programming.
If I’m not mistaken, the major TV networks had to provide a certain amount of educational programming content (which is why G.I. Joe had their “knowing is half the battle” segment at the end of each episode). Metro Detroit’s Channel 4 (WDIV) began their Saturday morning programming with Kidbits which was filmed at the Detroit Science Center and hosted by Gary Ed Mach
Kidbits detailed science experiments that most kids could do at home with the help of their parents. I credit my early interest in science to this show. Gary Ed Mach was a great host that didn’t dumb down the content but still made it easy to understand. He appeared genuinely excited about simulating muscles with straws and balloons. Instead of commercials, public service announcements ran between segments. They explained the difference between TV and reality, what you should eat to be healthy, and why drugs are bad. The catch was, some weird white guy with a ‘fro starred in these service announcements. If I learned anything during the 80’s it’s “never trust a white guy with a ‘fro.”
What’s the point of all the rambling? Simple: where is Gary Ed Mach?! Why can’t I find any clips of Kidbits online. I know it has to be out there somewhere. So here’s a challenge to everyone reading this: find Gary Ed Mach or Kidbits. If there’s a tape or DVD to buy or a petition to put episodes back on TV, tell me! Something this great cannot disappear forever!