Back to the Classroom, Slide Projectors, Mountains & Mole Hills

Four years ago, my intended formula for this blog was pretty simple–pick a form of media (TV show, movie, billboard, cat footprints) and let it take you down a path or two.  But the last path I took was in August, before I returned to the high school classroom for my 26th year.  Being in an office setting since 2012 certainly gave me more physical and creative energy for activities like blogging as well as producing a documentary series, but it also pulled me a bit away from some basic reality-check questions that I’ve always enjoyed from teenagers–beyond “Can you give me passing grade and a pass to go home?” The days following Election Day produced some poignant conversations for this English major turned video production teacher–with just a minor in US History. Q.  How can the losing candidate can have 3 million more votes–and what the hell is an Electoral College? It’s certainly a… Read More…

The Legacy and Questionable Power of My Father’s Puns

My dad had three puns that were so bad, they were only permitted on his birthday–and one was pretty challenging to employ on June 28th. Jim Walsh would have been 76 years old today.  He came from a long line of punsters and its with mixed emotions that his grandchildren also subject unsuspecting audiences to his legacy. At his funeral, 19 years ago, we passed around two leather-bound green books for folks to jot down their favorite memories of my dad, a precurser to the amazing testimonial strings found on Facebook at the passing of a loved one. My college buddy Dan added two of his favorite groaners from my dad’s visit to campus on his tri-state route, often in the South Bend area selling windshields to RV companies.  (“I’m like Lenin–I’m in glass.”).  He’d not only take me out for pizza, but invited me to bring along some pals–nothing like a… Read More…

Recipe for a Great Mom – Reflections from One Outnumbered Male

I was sifting through my students’ essays when I came across this undeniably true thesis statement… “If it weren’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.” I resisted the urge to add to the margin in snarky red ink, “No kidding.”–maybe even with a little smiley face.  After 25 years, that line is still is one of my favorites along with “UFOs are possible” (which is true, they are unidentified) and “Mr. Walsh, you don’t really read these journal entries, do you?” (to which I added, “No”). But on Mother’s Day, I’ll borrow a bit from my student’s paper and tweak it a bit… “If it weren’t for the mothers in my life, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.” When my wife laughs that I’m often more of a feminist than she is–I observe it’s not from any noble ideal, it was simply self-preservation–growing up with my dad traveling 3 days a week… Read More…

Prince – December 10th, 1981 Cobo Arena Detroit. The first time I heard music.

Originally posted by Lee Patrick Sullivan for DiggingDetroit.com. Like most kids growing up in Suburban Detroit, I was first introduced to Prince by The Electrifying Mojo, the legendary underground DJ on WGPR. I was a card carrying member of the Midnight Funk Association. Mojo had been going on for hours about this 19year-old kid from Minneapolis who was going to take over the world. Then shortly after Midnight, and after I raised my hand and “Pledged Allegiance to The Funk”, Mojo played “Soft and Wet” – I was hooked. From that day on, I have bought all of Prince’s 47 albums the day they were released. Many years, waiting in line at The Music Stop in Clawson Center, or Harmony House at the Oakland Mall before they opened, so I would get the first album out of the box. Over the years, I have gone to 46 Prince concerts. Each one… Read More…

Two Brothers Swimming Against the Amazon: Rochester’s Village Lamp Shop

Don’t tell me you haven’t done it–found something in a store, then guiltily taken out your phone to find a better deal on Amazon, Craig’s List or eBay. You could argue with your guilty ol’ self and say that in the days before apps, it was similar to heading into the tire store with a newspaper add of a competitor’s price and asking them to beat it.  But now, you just have to click the little button and the over-stressed Amazonians are already whisking down their sweatshop canyons of shelves to get your order out the conveyor belt before you reach your car–with the retail owner, like your dog at the beginning of your work day, watching and your “Buy American” bumper sticker roll away. In the early 1960s, Tom Beuthien was called in for the unheard of–an exit interview at Ford Tractor.  “Nobody ever leaves Ford,” he was told by the bewildered HR guy…. Read More…

New Podcast: “Detroit in World War II” with Author Greg Sumner

Note:  This podcast was co-produced with Digging Detroit and can also be found at this link. A look inside the “Arsenal of Democracy” as Professor Gregory Sumner of University of Detroit Mercy joins Digging Detroit’s Thomas J. Reed Jr. and Detroit History Tours‘ Bailey Sisoy Isgro at Detroit’s historic Abick’s Bar.   Sumner previews his upcoming book-signing, Detroit in WWII, at Abick’s on November 10, 2015. Thanks to our Abick’s host, Eric and Kit, we visit with Prof. Sumner in the cigar room–formerly a barber shop.  Amazing eats was provided once again by Andy Surowiec of Smokin’ Pole BBQ! Topics include: Advantages of being an Hoosier looking in at Detroit Coming out of isolationism with the $1 men and patriotism of Joe Louis and  Edsel Ford Warren Tanks and Willow Run–designed by the son of a German rabbi Soldier Hank Greenberg’s home run–“hitting one against Hitler” The third shift–and loosening of conventions for women and children Female pay disparity greater… Read More…

“Me too!” – Graduation of a Kind Soul

“Me too!” My mom actually had a dress decorated for my three year-old daughter with her all-inclusive expression painted above a daisy. Abby came into my life five weeks before my father left it.  She was kind enough to arrive ten days early, at the respectable time of mid-afternoon for Patrice, who doesn’t mind a good night’s sleep.  Abby’s is a good old soul and today she’s done with high school. We were worried that her kindness would make her vulnerable, the same happy-wherever-she-is spirit that endeared my father to so many people.  But our fears were eliminated one day while driving with both kids in their car seats behind us.  (I still believe a wonderful baby shower gift would be one of those Plexiglas barriers found in squad cars and taxis.) “Aidan took my bear!” she screamed in protest to the universe. “Aidan…” I reasoned, invoking my inner Mike Brady. “What?”… Read More…

Grass-Clippings, Transistor Radios & Ernie Harwell – Summer Memories of Tiger Baseball

“On summer nights, before anyone had air-conditioning,” recollects my friend Tony Shaieb, “you could walk down the street and listen to Ernie Harwell call the entire ball game through the open windows.” Tony’s memories are quite a bit more romantic than the eerie bluish-glow from my neighborhood’s 60″ plasmas tuned to Fox Sports Detroit My wife and I were taking the dog for a walk last night and I had a similar flashback to the legendary Tigers broadcaster. A few of my more enthusiastic neighbors who foolishly believe in fertilizer found themselves already mowing the young grass—and what better time to run the Toro than 8:30 pm?  (When our kids were toddlers, our considerate neighbor Thad would wait another 90 minutes before he’d begin.) A breeze blew to me the perfume of lawn-harvest and gasoline fumes. Despite my allergies I was in heaven– I only needed a tall thick Pepsi bottle and my dad’s transistor to… Read More…

New Podcast: GM’s “Google Years” with Ken Pickering, former Director of Engineering

Ken Pickering, GM’s retired Executive Director, Engineering and Design Services, joins Digging Detroit’s Kevin Walsh and Pete Kalinski to discuss his career in the exciting years of design in the 1950s and beyond. Moving from western Pennsylvania to WWII to GM Hard work combined with some great breaks Harley Earl & Bill Mitchell How long a car takes from design to production Women in design via Harley Earl The Corvette SR2 created in 5 weeks for Earl’s son Henry Ford, Willow Run and the Arsenal of Democracy Motorama—Harley Earl’s Manhattan Runway Man’s love-affair with cars David Temple’s new book Motorama:  GM’s Legendary Show & Concept Cars (below) Photos from Ken Pickering… The first is my personal 1956 Corvette that I purchased used for $2150 in 1958.  I had an “alligatored” black paint job and was a mess but it had a 265 CID V8 with dual 4 Barrel carbs.  My friends in the… Read More…

New Podcast: Fathers, Daughters, Wedding Songs & Horse Racing with Ladd Biro

Ladd Biro has loved music and been a performer his entire life–but never wanted to be a starving artist either.  For 40 years he has worked in the entirely non-9-to-5 world of the track–and been in bands and created albums. He contacted Kevin Walsh about creating a music video for “In Days Gone By,” a song that a friend of his wrote for his niece’s wedding–dedicated to the special relationship between a father and daughter. Ladd joins Kevin as they discuss: The world of horse-racing Loving music–and keeping it as part of your life The creation of “In Days Gone By” Raiding photo albums of family and friends The universal appeal of daddy/daughter dances What makes a band work Mars and Venus–and editing a video for both Ladd’s album, Transition, from Roscoe Records Check out the video of “In Days Gone By” on YouTube.

“Let Jim Run His Own Funeral” – Irish Laughter Through Tears

At the end of the 98-hour day that my father died, it surprised me that the hardest part wasn’t hearing “He didn’t survive surgery,” but instead having to tell others–the slow pressing of numbers of the phone, knowing that someone’s life is going to be changed right after, “Hi Kev.  What’s up?” In a strange twist of fate that afternoon, my three sisters, Katie, Colleen and Maureen were all en route to Detroit Metro within an hour of one another.  When they had left Chicago and New York, after our call from the hospital, they knew only what we were told—“Dad’s been in a bad accident—he’s in surgery.”  By the time they were air-born, my mom and I were told of his passing and taken upstairs to see his body.  My mom’s friends Anne and Betty volunteered to drive us to the airport so we could meet the girls—we were cutting it close, so we just hopped… Read More…

New Podcast: Digging Detroit – Dodge, Detroit & Women in Industry

Digging Detroit’s Tom Reed and Pete Kalinski discuss the early days of Detroit’s automotive history with historians Bailey Sisoy Isgro and Madelyn Rzadkowolski. Topics include: Advertising’s current portrayal of the Dodge Brothers Dodge’s famous dependability—and fix-it-yourself car kits General Patton and the Dodge military contract Women and Detroit’s cigar industry as a vehicle for entry into the workforce (and why Detroit was a cigar center) Using campaigns of conscience to get women into the workforce during WWI Detroit’s African American 600% population boom between 1910-1920 Detroit as the “Paris of the Midwest” More campaigns of conscience to force women out of the workplace after WWII Dodge’s role in the arsenal of democracy Fear of women earning too much–and gaining political clout) Promoting the myth of the non-communist “nuclear family” in the nuclear age For more information on the Dodge Brothers go to MeadowbrookHall.org. For more information on Bailey’s Detroit History Tours  go to… Read More…

Faded Snapshots & Time Travel: Unfogging the Past with PhotoShop

Take a minute and flip through your phone’s pictures taken this Thanksgiving weekend–now zoom-in to something in the background.  Do you notice anything interesting–or something that <em>might </em>be interesting in a few decades? The new Stephen Hawking bio-pic, The Theory of Everything, can drive you a little crazy if you are one of those people who needs to straighten a picture frame in a friend’s house.  Hawking’s glasses are always crooked and always needing cleaning. The color-correction folks in film know what they’re doing when they choose their palettes.  It’s hard not to get nostalgic with a shot like above–and if you add in string instruments and piano you’re already reaching for the Kleenex for memories you didn’t even have.  Flashbacks in film often have an orange or yellow tint to them and, like the world through Hawking’s dirty specs, are generally fuzzy as well.  I wonder who in Hollywood decided this was what nostalgia looked like…. Read More…

Ken Burns-on-a-Shoestring: Creating Buzz to Launch Mini-Doc “Digging Detroit”

“The Joe,” the battleship-gray windowless box on the Detroit River, is slated for 2017 demolition, making way for high-rise condos, a hotel and shopping as part of a pay-back to creditors owed $1 billion.  For a few months in-between wrecking-ball and ground-breaking, Detroiters will once again have an unobstructed view of the river at the corner of Fort and 3rd–as if looking back in time and seeing the Purple Gang hijack another bootlegger at the docks, before moving its haul up the street to the speakeasy beside the church. And that same little brick building on the left will probably still be standing when the condos are torn down in 60 years–perhaps making way for the next home for the Wings. When the 1974 picture above was taken, I was probably immersed in Channel 50’s after-school reruns of Get Smart, Gilligan’s Island or deeper in the way-back machine, The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals.  Inevitably I’d have to endure the “Let’s put on a show” moment as Alfalfa or Darla would… Read More…

And you may tell yourself/This is not my beautiful house!

Everyone has a “first place” story (except those of you who never moved out of your parents’ basement). My definition of a first place is that it’s where you were in charge of your fate and rent for the first time, rather than your school or your parents. I maintain that whether you loved or loathed your first place, you never forget it. There is a special tribe of “first place” survivors, and it’s those who were bold enough to venture to New York City—often with nothing more than hope in their pockets. Some had lived on their own in other cities; some were going out on their own for the very first time in NYC. Some lived in their first NYC apartment for 3 months; some for 30 years. To capture these stories before they’re lost in time, I decided to start a little “story website” called MyFirstApartmentNYC.com, much like Kevin’s My… Read More…

Superhero Halftime: What “Guardians” Says About Our Galaxy

We live in an absolutely ridiculous time for geeks. If you were to create an historic timeline of superhero films, you could try and pinpoint the turning point with X-Men or Spider-Man. Around the turn of the century, when those films were released, the blockbuster world slowly began to turn on its head. In the 90s, the basis for most action movies was one of the following: (1) CIA agent, (2) rogue cop, (3) two unlikely cop partners teaming up for an action-comedy. After Sam Raimi’s success with Spider-Man, everyone and their uncle had to get their hands on some hot superhero action. But it wasn’t always pretty. For whatever reason, the studios knew that there was a market out there for all and everything superheroes, but they just couldn’t seem to nail it. Because where Sam Raimi and Bryan Singer found a formula that worked, other films like Fantastic Four, Daredevil and The Hulk failed to do… Read More…

Garage Sale Ethics: Lessons Learned Over 40 Years

It’s like a slow-motion drive-by shooting, only less friendly.  They are the dealers—the arch-enemy of the true garage-saler. You’re sitting on your lawn-chair beside three coffee makers, two toaster ovens and half an illegal lawn jart set. Your garage sale just opened at 9 AM. You know it’s 9 AM because the dealers have been knocking on your door for a solid hour. “Do you mind if I take a quick look?” “I’ve got to take my son to daycare, but I’d love to see what you’ve got.” “Come on, you’re up anyway! Open up!” For the rest of that Friday morning and into the afternoon, you’ll get to relive that wonderful grade school feeling of being passed over for the kickball. Cars crawl by and decide if you’re worth choosing or not. Some drivers might politely nod, some avoid eye contact. Some just stare at you like you’re trying… Read More…

Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence: What’s in a Smile at Graduation Time?

I hadn’t seen this smile from my son in a long time… As you might expect, we don’t dress this formally around the yard most days. It was prom night last Thursday and Aidan and his date Katie had just finished twelfth grade two days earlier. And, aside from the $200+ to rent the tux, we also got this pretty rare expression thrown in with the shiny shoes. In fact, perhaps the last time we’d seen that smile was right before Aidan started his career as a student… We were heading down to Indianapolis to visit some friends and stopped at a rest stop to find one of those trees that you’ll spend the rest of your life just walking by. I grabbed Aidan and stuck him up in the branches and you’d think he’d just been taken to Disney World. One of my favorite Mark Twain nuggets is: “Why… Read More…

You’re Pregnant, You’re Fired – Why Teachers Have Unions…For Now

Dr. Ken Noble followed his Depression-era parents into the teaching profession in Royal Oak, Michigan four years before Governor Romney (R) signed a law permitting collective bargaining for public workers.  In 2010, Ken shared his perspective with teachers struggling with the need for a teachers union in a district that would eventually impose an historically severe retroactive pay-cut on its teachers. I have been out of the classroom and away from the negotiating table for so long I do not know how much my thoughts will help you, but since you asked . . .The evolution of teacher duties and compensation is actually quite interesting. Promising Obedience Before collective bargaining each teacher had an individual contract and served “at the will” of the school board.  In the late 1930’s my parents had contracts about the size of a current postcard.  In each contract the teacher acknowledged that the “right to… Read More…

For Those Who Don’t Speak Spy: The Case for “World is Not Enough”

Chanukah 2000 was a pivotal moment in my life. One of those fulcrums in the space-time continuum. I remember it vividly. My family was in Memphis, Tennessee visiting my cousin. The trip marked my first time in Memphis, which would spark an interest and appreciation for the blues and Elvis Presley that would stretch well into later years; motivating more trips to the heart of the mid-South and grizzly versions of “Heartbreak Hotel” at karaoke bars across the nation. In addition to those very cultural pillars established that Chanukah, I received two gifts that would mold my childhood and shape much of my adolescence and adulthood. We don’t really do gifts anymore on Chanukah, and I appreciate that, because that’s not what the holiday is about, but as a kid, I would not complain, for Chanukah in 1998 I received two video games for my then-brand-new N64. The first was… Read More…