When I started this project last October I greatly anticipated the opportunity to walk certain neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are the ones known for their beautiful homes, full of active residents participating in community efforts. They are the neighborhoods full of history and uniqueness is style. One of these is the Lansing’s West Side. Growing up we referred to it as the Jenison neighborhood. Looking at Lansing’s Westside map I found that it’s a much greater area than that; separated out into multiple sections. The handful of times I found myself driving through or visiting my brother-in-law I have marveled at the home style, street layout and mature tree cover. This was, of course, the off times that I wasn’t frustrated because I was lost! This gorgeous turn of the twentieth century neighborhood is best appreciate while walking through it; when the perfect amount of lingering and observation can be done. Fortunately I had the perfect tour guide leading me through this historic neighborhood, eight year West Side home owner Robin Miner-Swartz. Much like centuries past where the residents within this neighborhood produced a unique cross culture of Lansing’s working class, I found I was sauntering through a present day who’s who. With familiar names like, Betsy Miner-Swartz (Robin’s wife and Communications Specialist at Gift of Life Michigan), Tom Stewart (founder of Common Wealth Enterprises and New Enterprise Opportunity), Kent Love (Director of Communications at the Wharton Center, Chris Swope (Lansing’s City Clerk) and even Robin’s sister, being mentioned with each new street, I knew this neighborhood was special. Not only was it full of phenomenal architectural masterpieces but it was full of phenomenal Lansing people. It’s these types of neighborhoods each filled with vibrant and diverse residents that improve the quality of the entire city. They do so by first establishing a safe and stable home environment and then by spreading that energy throughout the city. The whole of Lansing is only greater by having these kind of parts.
ps I found that because of the fabulous walk and talk, I neglected to take as many photos as I would have liked. This neighborhood definitely holds a great opportunity for fantastic photos.
In gentle gusts it rushes up from behind me pushing me forward then sweeping around, nestling my face and tousling my hair. Its soft scent of early flowers and sweet, fresh grass cling to my clothes, perfuming the air around me. Its force pummels together bursts of dark, violet clouds creating a slow moving ceiling. Through thinning veils shrieks of sun spot light around me. Walking on this day, on the precipice of threatening weather, is an adventure. I enjoy the feel in the air that at any moment a crack of thunder could break the silence. Well, silence if one could remove the cacophony of birds chattering in the trees. There is nothing more exhilarating than watching the death grip of winter evaporate into spring. To witness the birth of life from a dried out cocoon, long thought dead. To smell the greening of brown, beat down grass. This transformation comes on quickly; like a Disney flick of the wand. Soon we will be surrounded by lush greenery, warm sunshine, and a spectrum of colors. Living in Lansing we have the greatest ability to witness the creation. We can see all the energy that it takes to bring a new season into fruition. We experience the birthing pain that gives us summer. We can then appreciate it that much more knowing all that it took to get here.
Today I expected to fall flat on my face. Not a literal face plant, although I did have that one fall during a misguided detour through Bancroft Park, but an awkward unable to talk clearly, rambling like an idiot, face plant. Today was my first news interview with a television reporter. Since the commencement of this project I have done one newspaper interview that included a walk and talk with the reporter and two photo shoots. I have done one in-house radio interview and two call-in radio interviews. This was the first time I contacted a news group. I pitched my project. I wasn’t sure when I sent out the email if anything would come out of it, but at least I tried. Six days after hitting the send button I received an eager, if not exuberant note back requesting a swift meeting and interview. Two days later I was sitting in my car at the armory on Washington Ave (the CCFF headquarters) watching the all white Ford crossover with the WLNS logo pull in and park next to me. I remember many years ago when we were trying to find a new home, every Sunday we would go to multiple open houses. One of those times we ended up at the open house just as the realtor was leaving. She said that the owners were home but then got a friendly go ahead wave from the owner. As we walked up to the house with our two boys we found ourselves face to face with Dave Andrews. We then toured his house acting like we had found the perfect home, when in fact we were checking out all the photos he had with other Lansing celebrities and being amazed that we were in Dave Andrews’ HOME! So here I was today, about to meet another news reporter in person. I knew there was the potential of becoming overly nervous and coming across as a babbling idiot. It’s happened before and the play back in my head, I’m sure, is only slightly worse than the real thing. The door to the car next to me opens and out pops Evan Pinsonnault perfectly manicured and poised. As I reach out my hand for a professional handshake, he says with a shrug and a huge smile, “Ah let me give you a hug!” No pretenses. No awkwardness. Just a: “I’m really happy to meet you” gesture. I knew I would be safe from the insecurity monster. He and his camera man made me feel perfectly at ease, asking concrete questions and waiting for the answers. We started at the armory and walked south on Washington Ave. to Holmes Rd. I was told I walk fast, as they were having a hard time driving ahead of me, parking, getting out the equipment and trying to get video before I caught up with them. I told them I could walk slower, but they were more interested in getting me doing, what I do when I City Saunter. I can appreciate that. Later in the interview Evan asked me if there was anything of particular in this walk that was interesting. I thought for a moment. There was the guy who passed me on a unicycle and a home with a superman t-shirt inside a phone booth. Honestly, though, I would have to say that having an expert journalist and a talented camera guy from the local news come out and walk with me, asking me questions and then promise to air the footage on one of their popular news segments, is pretty interesting.
The interview will be part of the “Tell me Something Good” segment on WLNS Channel 6 news running Friday at 5:00pm and Monday at 5:30am and again at 6:30am.
The plan; had it gone accordingly, was this. I would be dropped off at the edge of the city on Lake Lansing road. I would then walk the 1.5-1.7 miles to Big Brothers Big Sisters Mid Michigan office and help the Lunch with a Purpose group cut burlap bags into squares for the Earth Day Lansing who is hosting the B the E Old Town Scrub. Now do I feel a tad guilty piggy backing my City Saunters on the Lunch with the Purpose activities that are being piggy backed onto the Earth Day Lansing activities? Maybe a little, but really, that is one of the great things about those that are “doing” in Lansing. They each work hard to help each other, who then in turn help you back. It’s very symbiotic.
Lunch with a Purpose normally runs from noon until 1pm. This schedule is perfect since my son needs to be dropped off at LCC west. My husband drops off my son then comes back and picks me up. Today, however, so many great people showed up that we accomplished our goal in record time; 15 minutes in fact. After a few minutes of chatting I still had about 40 minutes to wait for my ride. It was nice outside and I had a street I needed to complete (as I walk I am getting remnants that are left un-walked). So I started walking with stop points in my head. The first was Arby’s. I call my husband for a location update: still at home, haven’t left yet. I keep walking. I walk to Saginaw and start walking towards home or at least a good pick up point. After about a half hour I call again for an ETA: stuck at a train, haven’t even made it to LCC yet. I keep walking. I pass Gillespie Group’s Prudden Place, the police precinct, the new subdivision next to Catholic Central and the new Pattengill Middle School. There’s even a new house being built. It almost could make you believe Lansing isn’t as bad off as it has appeared. The phone rings. My ride is coming up behind me on Saginaw. I hear, “There’s mom, we’re passing her”, and watch as my car drives past with little hands frantically waving back and forth. They meet me at another remnant and I finally complete one of my most round about walks so far.
The wind whipped around Ellie’s unzipped coat, pulling it off her shoulder. With her hair flying madly around her head and her coat parachuted out behind her she would appear to have stepped into a tornado. However moments later the wind vanished into the outstretched rays of the sunshine washing over her. We had hail on Sunday. We had some snow this morning. We are expected to reach the 70s by this weekend. Sometimes we have all these things happen within an hour. This extreme weather only means one thing, it’s spring time in Lansing, Michigan. With true spring also comes one of Lansing’s favorite past times; baseball. Tonight is opening night with the Cross Town Show Down; a big matchup between Michigan State Spartans and the Lansing Lugnuts.
Even at 4:00pm there was an excitement in the air. From a block over I could hear the rhythmic music pulsating like a heartbeat. I noticed cars stopping, parking and unloading children, strollers and blankets; baseball gear. All that surrounds the Cooley Law School Stadium awaken this time of year, ready to reap the rewards of winter patience. By mid summer this square block bulges with frolicking children, strolling couples, bar hoppers and diner patrons. It stays alive and boisterous deep into the evening.
Tonight also begins the maiden voyage for a wonderful Love Lansing friend; Amanda Augustine, who will be one of the new emcees for the Lugnut games. She will, after tonight’s game, be sharing the microphone with another Love Lansing guy, Bil Moore. It’s an exciting night. I hope everyone gets to get out and enjoy some of what Lansing has to offer. It’s out there if you try. And it’s just getting started!
The Lansing Lugnuts host the Michigan State Spartans on Tuesday, April 5th, at 7:05 p.m. in the fifth annual Crosstown Showdown presented by Auto-Owners Insurance. This season features a special “Chowdown Edition” of the popular exhibition, featuring drink specials and $1 pricing for popcorn, hot dogs, ice cream sandwiches and 16-oz. fountain drinks.
“If you are concentrating on what your plan B is, you’ve already given up on plan A”
I’ve met a few famous people throughout my life; Steve Vai, Bobby Labonte, Jennifer Granholm. Recently the author of the Pout Pout Fish, Debra Diesen commented on my Facebook page after I included a mention of her book in my blog. Today I had the opportunity to walk with a local celebrity, Michael McCallum. I’ve known Mike for about five years through my brother-in-law John O’Meara. I often find him among the crowd at birthdays or other activities John and his wife Karyn are hosting. John and Mike both attended LCC at the same time and worked together on the production of “The Grapes of Wrath”; John was lead actor and Mike was assistant director. They also worked together at Falsetta’s for the two years John was there. Michael continues to work there as a server. That is his day job, which he keeps to support his passion. As a child Michael remembers his parents often hosting parties at his house. The adults would come in and play cards or board games and Mike would entertain them. He would do imitations and skits and when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, his reply was always, “I want to be an actor”. Michael not only acts he also writes, directs and produces films almost exclusively in Lansing, Michigan.
We started our City Saunter today at Fairview St. the namesake of his first feature length film. We met up at an empty church parking lot on the corner of Oakland and Fairview. After a hug and a couple of photos we took off at a brisk pace and the questions began immediately. “So this project you’re doing, to walk all the streets in Lansing, how did you come up with the idea?” The writer of published books, the producer of multiple, award winning films wanted to know about my project? He had such a sincere interest in my story. He got it, the need and desire to delve into the folds of Lansing and draw out its pure essence in some art form. As we passed Fairview School he politely points at the school and tells me he went there as a child, having grown up on Francis St. He continues to have contact with the teachers he had while there, even inviting them to his film viewings. After passing the school he quickly reestablishes the conversation where I had left off. It was interesting to me that we both had similar reasons for committing ourselves to Lansing. We had both come to the realization that Lansing was home and a place of great opportunity. We were both born at Sparrow Hospital, grew up in Lansing and now living here as adults. We both agreed Lansing had something about it, something we couldn’t name, that keeps people from leaving or brings those back who have left. He has found a huge advantage with his choice to stay in his hometown, knowing his surroundings well and the people and places within the area. It makes it easier to establish connections that help him with each of his films. Those that are eager join his adventure do so not because of the riches and fame they might receive but because they share in his drive and ambition to make a great product. Many of these people offer up their talents and their businesses to move his projects forward. As we come to the end of Fairview and turn onto Michigan Ave. we literally walk right into one of his filming “studios”; Rubie’s Paradise, Everybody Reads, Gone Wired Cafe. He had used all of them at some point in his films. With three feature films and multiple short films he has used quite a few local businesses in Lansing. The set on Michigan Ave. was only a small chunk of his filming locations. He likes that in Lansing a different environment can be created just by filming in different locations around town. That is fortunate for Michael since his films all take on unique qualities, characters and genres. It is even more fortunate for Lansing area residents to have such a creative force strategically positioned in the heart of Old Town, where he resides.
Sometimes as a child you think you can fly. You tie a red towel around your neck, throw open the second story window, climb to the ledge and prepare for flight. If Michael’s childhood experiment had ended with tragedy we never would have experienced the joy of watching him, as an adult, reach for the stars.
On April 14-April 17 Lansing is showcasing its first ever Capital City Film Festival. Michael’s production company Rebel Pictures will be a part of this great event with a viewing of the third installment of “Waiter from Hell”. Tickets are available online.