It would be silly to write a love letter and not include some poetry. But since we’re just a bunch of grizzled reporters, we wanted to leave the poetry duties to an expert. Here’s an excerpt from the Lansing-oriented poem “You and I,” by Tim Lane, the director of Scene Metrospace director and a poet, from his collection “Pure Pop”:
“I drive to Tower
for Miles Davis, to Schuler’s
for Fante, I would like to meet Bonnie
at Emil’s for a drink, I would like
to meet Gerard at Stober’s for shuffleboard
on a dismal afternoon when
we, you and I, are unable to take the kids
to the park. I am thinking of you
as if you are here,
and Brian and I are suddenly
gripped by the juke box and beer and
peanuts and a desire to flip our
table over and turn the
Peanut Barrel upside down,
but don’t, then it’s a victory of
character over temperament,
and we, you and I, are fortunate to come thru
winter and still like each other
when others only love.”
The verse, Lane told us, is meant to be “a joyful meditation on the city.”
So, for this Valentine’s Day, which also happens to be your 150th birthday, Lansing, we wanted to stop and meditate, look around and take stock of a few of the features that we love about you.
A lot of people like to pick on your deficiencies, like your pot hole-pocked arteries, or how you’re kind of a gold digger with that 1 percent tax of our hard-earned income. But, heck, your streets are getting old, and you rely on us to bring home the bacon to support your spending habits. (You want how much this year so you can buy a new fleet of police cars?)
There are bigger and hotter cities with professional basketball teams and subway systems and all, but just like Stephen Stills says, we need to love the one we’re with.
So here you go, Lansing; from the staff at City Pulse are a few odes to you and your entire splendor.
If the people who built Interstate 496 all those years ago had any sense, they would’ve spurred the highway to loop around and spill out at Michigan Avenue right at the East Lansing border. Not to ignore our fair neighbor to the east, but how sweet would it be if every first-time visitor and returning legislator had to make that long, impressive drive down Michigan Avenue?
The street itself is lined with some of our greatest attractions, including a ridiculous number of bars and restaurants, plus the Lansing Lugnuts. But the best part is that for the entire length of the Lansing portion of that street, you can see the Capitol.
If you’ve ever made the drive west on Michigan Avenue right around sunset, you know why we love this. First, the Capitol — somehow — looks so massive from far away. And then when the sun is setting right behind it, and the modern office towers downtown flank it, it shimmers like the Taj Mahal.
But there’s more. Every good city has a main boulevard that cuts to its core — not just for motorists, but also for visitors and residents. It’s the street that speaks for the entire burg, saying, “This is my core, this is what I want you to see, this is how I want to be represented.” New York has Broadway, Chicago has Lakeshore Drive, and on and on. We don’t have towering skyscrapers or large bodies of water, but Michigan Avenue does show a lot about Lansing. On one end you’ve got new developments, which show Lansing’s newest attempts to grow; in its middle is our towering hospital, and between are clusters of shops, apartments and houses.
Michigan Avenue is also accessible. You could walk (or take a bus) from one end to the other interrupted along the way only by a few crosswalks, and maybe a freight train. It is both grand and subdued, in that there’s a lot of bustle in parts, but there’s also the option of stepping onto a side street into a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood.
Some cities are called "bedroom communities." Then there are "mill towns," "college towns," "suburbs" and "resort towns." Not here. Lansing, you’re a “front porch town.”
Take a walk through any of the working-class neighborhoods in the city where the streets run in perfect grids, split into giant city blocks by Saginaw Street, Michigan Avenue and Kalamazoo Street, cut into smaller blocks by Prospect Street, Vine Street and Jerome Street.
The porches are like boats floating between front doors and sidewalks, the edges built for sitting when chairs run out.
They dont build houses with good old Lansing front porches anymore. Take a drive through Holt or Okemos. How many front porches do you see that can fit more than two deck chairs? Now sneak around back. See those giant, multi-leveled, perfectly stained back decks? Those are there so your neighbors can sit outside with the newspaper, a cup of coffee or a glass of sangria and not have to deal with, well, neighbors.
Now come back to Lansing. Pick any square in the city and take a walk around.
Nearly every house has a front porch. Not one of those Livonia porches — three feet of poured concrete and cracked steps — but a real porch, where 15 of your friends can stand while waiting for a storm to pass, where you can drag a card table and a few floor lamps to play Risk or Monopoly or whatever. On some porches youll see a couch, a caf table or even a swing.
From the Lansing front porch, you can see neighbors walking dogs, and you can wave. When it snows for three days straight, you can walk out onto your porch and see your neighbors, armed with an industrial snow blower, clearing sidewalks for our entire block — along both sides. When the snow melts just enough to create small replicas of the Great Lakes along the curbs, you can watch your neighbors back at it, using gardening tools to redirect the flow of the runoff and clearing leaves from the sewers.
Livonia should be so lucky.
Lansing, it’s hard to write to you without mentioning those three to five months out of each year when you’re covered in snow and beset by temperatures that seem like the bitter love child of Antarctica and the bottom of Sarah Palin’s snowshoe.
But we mention this only because during the winter months we miss you dearly. It is in the warmth of spring, summer and (some of) fall that we are able to best enjoy you — and that means festivals.
Don’t get us wrong; we love Common Ground (but not Finger Eleven) and its size and the festival atmosphere that it brings to the city. But you have so much more: there’s the Sikh parade, the Michigan Pride Festival, the festivals of the Sun and Moon and the jazz and blues festivals. And, if you get down to the neighborhood level, there are block parties, park concerts and popping fireworks that drift across the city on different nights like the smell of a freshly lit grill — we celebrate your warm months because they’re so precious. (There’s also Thirsty Thursdays at Lugnuts Stadium, but that’s not so much a festival as it is an ongoing indulgence.)
Now, we also think that Silver Bells is pretty cool, but it’s just that it takes place in winter. When it’s warm out and people are outside partying and parading that, Lansing, is when we love you the most.
The Grand River
Three words: Brenke Fish Ladder. Have you ever seen this thing? It’s a set of stairs for fish, but it’s also like an interactive Isamu Noguchi sculpture.
But that’s just one thing along the river that’s fun — not to mention that odd grain elevator right next door. If you go north from the fish ladder along the river trail, past the Turner-Dodge House, things get interesting. Off of the trail in the woods are all these strange pieces of industrial garbage like big old safes and metal carts. And at the very end of the north end of the trail is a giant warehouse just stuck in the middle of the forest.
South from the fish ladder, it’s just an endless trail of odd urban creations, like that old graffiti-speckled train trestle that’s been reclaimed as a footbridge.
Along the Grand River you’ll find an Italian-themed fresco behind the South Grand parking ramp; at various points, teams of fishermen reeling in whatever it is that lives in the depths along our murky urban shoreline; a nest of turtles underneath the Saginaw Street bridge (at least there was last summer) and peregrine falcons over by the Eckert Power Station. Speaking of Eckert, the view of that monster from Moore’s River Park is breathtaking, despite that the thing is burning coal like snow falls in January.
At the very least, a walk along the Grand River provides plenty of natural and manmade eye candy, not to mention the company of your fellow walking, biking and jogging Lansingites.
Lansing, we love your jerky rock music. While other Michigan scenes revel in their more respected traditions of giving birth to, say, modern R&B, pop and rock ‘n’ roll (Detroit) and appreciation for the established forms of contemporary indie rock, gutter punk and metal (Grand Rapids), you’ve carried the irreverent torch passed down by your louder, angrier and sillier forefathers, namely The Fix, Meatmen and Crucifucks. We don’t know if it’s the perpetual cloud cover, abandoned factories, influx of impressionable young university punks or just a general sense of hopelessness, but in our minds, few can do it grosser, funnier or meaner.
With a nearly 30-year lineage of making something out of nothing, you’ve played a bigger role in American music than you probably know, starting with the formation of the Touch & Go fanzine, which eventually became a record label that sets the standard for new underground music and a role model for independent labels looking to go to the next level.
Perhaps your proximity to Chicago (where T&G eventually moved), just close enough to know what’s up but far enough to stay out of the current trends, has helped spawn in newer local bands like Fun Ender, Red Teeth, MK Ultra Culkin and Tahquamenon Falls what seems to be a serious appreciation for hard-edged underground staples of the ‘90s, like The Jesus Lizard, Man or Astro-man? and Shellac. Your lack of serious venues for underground music moves these shows into weird, personal spaces, like living rooms, basements of Mexican restaurants and hijacked sports bars.
It may take time for some to warm up to strangers spitting witty epithets about Ricky Holland and turning to religion after losing their sex organs while they mash out twisted guitar chords. But for as dark as it may seem, there’s a refreshing lack of pretense in your observationist rants.
At the other end of the spectrum from Touch & Go, you’ve got your hands deep in the skuzzy underground of noise and the basement avantgarde via John Olson’s American Tapes label, which has pumped out more than 800 limited edition platters, cassettes and burned CDs over the years, not to mention countless musical projects, including the internationally heralded Wolf Eyes.
And then there’s the good kids at Bermuda Mohawk Productions and Good Time Gang Recordings who continue to document your plucky, obstinate scene no matter how thin it might seem to be spread, giving us records full of the gritty metal of Wastelander, bash ‘n’ smile fuzz pop of The Plurals, weirdo hardcore of Cavalcade and destruction-squad punkrock pep-rally of The Cartridge Family.
No matter how much you let yourself go, Lansing, as long as you keep sneering and wailing, you’ll have a place in our hearts.