Essays > Waiting for Flint's Renaissance Can Make You Old and Gray

Along with a lot of other people around here, I’ve grown old waiting for the renaissance of Flint. Maybe that’s why I felt slightly dizzy the first time I walked into Blackstone’s.
It is intensely discombobulating to be in a place that has the look and feel of an actual city hangout with a bit of flair (despite the loud Muzak), the kind of place a lot of people enjoy in other cities every day of their lives, and to admit how much I’ve missed it.

As usual, in Flint , our desperation is raw and hard to hide. We just want something to work. As a friend of mine said the other day, “this is a town of broken people” and so if Flint really is getting better, it’s going to take awhile before we believe it and give up our bleak, self-fulfilling prophecies.

This week I went to The Torch to meet Gordie Young, honcho of the website, which gets robust traffic from the diaspora of former Flintoids. I like keeping up on their passionate obsessions.

It’s clear they experience Flint, at least in memory, as a fascinating and absorbing place – idiosyncratic and almost infuriatingly lovable. Gordie lives in San Francisco now and teaches at a Jesuit college in Santa Clara, but his hometown is never far from his mind and heart.
Young was in Flint on assignment from and the New York Times. He spent two weeks documenting last rites for Central High School, meeting numerous bureaucrats, going to a Dayne Walling fundraiser, checking out Brenda Clack’s Juneteenth celebration, and bunking down in a sleeping bag in Carriage Town’s pink Nash house.

Flint is hot right now, Young said, his freelance work given an ironic boost by gasbag Rush Limbaugh’s recent ridiculous call to “just bulldoze it.” Young said he kept sensing something surreal – that “counterintuitively, Flint seems to be coming back.”

In his piece, where he described the indignities of trying to qualify to buy a house in the Bay Area, there echoed a poignant, uncomfortable yearning for something in his beat-up old hometown. If he could talk his skeptical girlfriend into it, he suggested, he might buy a house here, where they could afford something more than a walk-in closet.
I try to imagine what exactly might convince that young woman that life here can be really quite fine. It’s true, especially on these long, languid days around the Solstice.
Last night as the sun took its sweet time setting over the neighborhood, for example, I saw Shane – an old friend but new neighbor – out on his front porch playing guitar.
Ted and I grabbed our mugs of tea and ambled over. We settled down on the steps while Shane plucked a few chords. His son Jericho and a little friend chased the first fireflies of the season around the wide trunks of silver maples.

Shane’s wife Holly came out and we watched the kids play while the streetl lights came up orange in the leafy canopy.

Then John, the next door neighbor, jogged up from a Crim training run and stood in the yard catching up on the news. He’d just gotten back from a working vacation to LA, and we talked about the Huntington Library, one of my favorite places, where his wife Vicky pursued her scholarship in the Shakespeare collection.

Craig, another neighbor, walked by, as he does faithfully twice a day year round, with his dogs Joey and Annie. We watched Annie poop on our yard, waiting to pounce if Craig left it there. But Craig’s a fine neighbor and quickly scooped it up, accepting our hooted thanks from across the street.

By the time Ted and I wandered back to our house the kids had been gently sent to bed and the sun still hovered over the roofs of Beard.

“That felt neighborly,” Ted said, his arm around me. As we repaired to our back porch to savor the lingering dusk, I found myself happily spinning out details of that day’s walk.
Along the way I had stopped to talk to Nick and Yvonne, strolling with their “president kids,” in pleasant nonpartisanship named Kennedy, McKinley, Reagan, Carter (earnestly peddling a little plastic car) and Pierce.

I stopped to talk to Charlene, who said she’s planning a poetry reading to celebrate Ray Carver, the late poet and writer she knew as a young woman in California.
I ran into Susie, who told me her three miniature doggies who regularly yap spastically at passersby are “The Monsignor, The Rabbi and The Pentacostal.” I’ll let you guess which one causes the most trouble. I’m sure they’re actually sweet.

I realized, elaborating on those interesting people and their stories, that I had much of what I’ve always wanted in life, right here on Maxine.

Many of us who’ve lived here for years struggle with our sense that, as I said in my very first column for this magazine, we never intended to stay. We really planned to set off for the Territories, so to speak, or wished we could. We complain floridly about the place (Gordie Young and I agreed that’s the mark of a true Flintoid) but even I admit that bulldozing Flint, Mr. Limbaugh, might be a little premature.

Some of us, like my husband, swear Flint really is rising from the ashes and our housing values are sure to soar. I’m not so sure, but then, there’s, well, Blackstone’s. Is it enough? Signs are there, but I distrust them. In the meantime, neighborhood life in all its lovely variety continues, the balm for discontent.