Cleaning up Woodbridge with the AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps board up 5259 CommonwealthThe other day a flyer was rubber-banded to our porch. I assumed it was either a grass-cutting pitch or a politcal thing, but it was neither; rather, it was a flyer asking for volunteers to come help with a “board-up” on the next street over.

A board-up is when a group of people get together to board up an abandoned or burned-out house and clean the lots. On the north end of Woodbridge, there were a couple of burned-out houses, and they were not only eyesores but also places where people could get hurt.

But why?

Why board up an abandoned home? Why cut the grass? Why trim the hedges and pick up the trash?

It sends a clear signal: We care about this neighborhood. We care about what it looks like. We care about the way people treat our block. We care about the way homes are treated here, even if they’re not ours. Continue reading

A quick status update on the Sullivan House

So how’s the Sullivan House coming along? Here’s a quick run down of what remaining tasks we currently know about. Before we can move in:

  • Bathroom needs tiling, painting, appliances and fixtures installed, and radiator adjusted and installed.
  • Kitchen needs tiling, painting, countertops, sink & cabinet & appliances installation, radiator installation (including re-running cut copper lines), a gas line for the stove, and ceiling & light installation.
  • Ground floor needs more electrical ground (office, dining room) and CAT-6 runs
  • Exterior requires repairs to the fascia and sophets, new rain gutters, and a ton of primer and paint.
  • Chimneys need repairs, liners, and a new damper.
  • Boiler / water heater needs to be installed.
  • Basement and carriage house need to be further emptied of junk while we have the dumpster.

Other than that, we have a litany of other tasks ahead that are not necessarily going to be finished before we move in:

Continue reading

Living in the Motor City with no car

Biking on the RiverfrontFor most of the time that I have lived here in Detroit, I have not had a car. This seems to blow a lot of people’s minds who see this city as being the antithesis to the car-less lifestyle. After all, we are the Motor City, home of the Ford Model T and the Chevy Camaro. Modern Detroit gave life to the American Dream, a place where two and a half kids, a white picket fence, and a car in every garage are practically required for social acceptance.

Things changed a lot when I first moved here. During the first couple of months I started walking around Downtown, getting to know the lay of the land. Luckily we had a very mild winter, with very little snow. Most of the time a winter coat, hat, gloves and some insulated hiking boots were plenty enough protection to battle the elements. At some point I realized that I could get around a lot better if I had a bike, so I picked up my bike that had been stored at my parents’ house for nearly 15 years, fixed it up and started venturing further out.

Continue reading

The school decision

Last year, when I first started hinting to friends and family about my intentions to move to Detroit, the reactions ran the gamut from fully supportive (Detroit is coming back!) to absolutely against (you’re completely insane).

Most reactions were somewhere in between those two extremes. Many friends and family members warmed up to the idea after reading this blog and spending more time (after their initial emotional and visceral reactions) really looking at what the City has to offer.

There has been one common theme among almost everyone, however—from diehard supporters to head-shaking detractors—everything will be okay as long as you don’t send your kids to Detroit Public Schools.

I can’t talk about DPS without bringing race into the conversation. The sad truth is, in my experience—and many have criticized me for “over-simplification” on this issue—when people say “Detroit is bad”, what they really mean but will not say is that “Detroit is black”.
Continue reading

Punctuated equilibrium

I am so very tired right now, but it’s time to write again. I’ve been quiet here for six weeks and now I have a lot to say.

Since the major events of St. Patrick’s weekend, progress has been significantly slower on Avery Street. I’ve been swamped at work and met someone special in February, so I’ve been pretty limited with how much time I spent at the house. We put in a big effort every Saturday, but otherwise I’m usually restricted to coordinating work and purchases. Brian’s been awesome about scheduling & meeting our myriad experts (heating specialists, chimney sweeps, electrician, and plasterer) these last few weeks. It’s been our contractor Andy who’s probably putting in the most time, but he just left for a three week trip home to England. Luckily, just as he left the rest of us sprung back into action!
Continue reading

Heavy rain in Detroit

The past week brought days of heavy rain in Detroit. It was gloomy and dark, and the cold came back.

Heavy rain in Detroit

The rain was significant. The backfill dropped six inches

This was a perfect opportunity to test out all the basement foundation repairs we made earlier in the month, though, so it’s not all bad. After two straight days of downpour, I went into the basement with bated breath.

Every area that we patched was dry.
Continue reading

Marche du Nain Rouge 2012

Marche du Nain Rouge The 2012 Marche du Nain Rouge happened today in Midtown.

The Marche du Nain Rouge is a 300-year-old tradition in Detroit centered around the idea that French settler and founder of Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, encountered a little red dwarf, or “Nain Rouge”, and struck him with his cane. The Nain cursed Cadillac and his colony. The Marche brings revelers out to chase out the Nain Rouge and undo the Curse.

While the legend is old, the tradition and parade are new. It was “re-started” in 2010, with 400 revelers turning out to chase the Nain Rouge. This year, more than 3000 showed up.
Marche du Nain Rouge 2012 Mustaches against le Nain
Continue reading

Sponsor shout-out: VitaminWater and SmartWater

Very soon after we closed on the house, my old friend Josh from Coca-Cola reached out to me and said he’d be happy to send the work crew along some VitaminWater and SmartWater to help keep us hydrated.

Little did I know he’d be sending cases of it out.

Thanks to the awesome sponsorship, all of our friends during the huge Icrontic week-long renovation adventure had drinks at the ready. And hey, since this March has been the freakiest hottest Michigan March I’ve ever lived through so far, they needed it.

VitaminWater at the IntoDetroit project

Some of the crew take a break with delicious refreshment

We had bottles of VitaminWater Zero in three different flavors and SmartWater. Luckily, the fridge works so they were cold and available whenever anyone needed one. Our contractors and friends were all appreciative of Josh’s generosity.

Thank you Coca-Cola and Glaceau for the awesome sponsorship. Our house now contains a little piece of love from you guys!

Hackerspaces, biking, art, and life in Detroit

Corktown, Detroit, MichiganA lot has happened since I moved to Detroit. I recently moved from the Leland to Corktown, and have taken on a new venture, but let’s rewind back to September, just before I took the leap and moved into the city.

I was at TEDxDetroit, and I was very moved by a presentation made by Brian Mulloy, about the founding of Detroit and the role Chief Pontiac played in Detroit’s history. I learned that the French created Detroit to be a Utopian society, where the French and native Americans would live together and learn from each other, in peace and harmony, and with mutual respect. It is an amazing story, and I met him after the event at the networking afterglow. Continue reading

The blessing of the Icrontic community

Icrontic and IntoDetroit

Just some of the crew that showed up to help this week

This past week has been a blur, and it almost defies explanation to people who don’t know us or our friends yet.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you should check out our page “About IntoDetroit“. It explains a lot about where Lincoln and I come from and what the Icrontic community is.

The best way to say it is this:

The Icrontic community is the greatest group of friends that have ever formed up around a website.
Continue reading

Sponsor shout-out: NewerTech Power2U

One of the nice things about our other gig, Icrontic, is that it puts us in touch with a lot of high-tech companies. I usually go to the Consumer Electronics Show every January to cover it for the community as a member of the press.

This year, I got to take a good look at a very intriguing product called the Power2U by Newer Technology. The Power2U immediately struck my eye as something intensely useful for the modern homeowner: It’s a standard 15amp UL Listed power outlet, but it also has two 5V USB charging ports built in. That means you don’t need to take up outlets with wall-warts to charge your USB-based devices.

Continue reading

Woodbridge neighborhood crime watch text alert group

Woodbridge Crime Watch groupGroupMe is an app that has been around for almost two years now. Last year, I went to SXSW and used it to keep in touch with the extended group I was travelling with. It was a huge help to have a unified group messaging system that worked with a variety of devices.

Recently, I saw that Jerry Paffendorf of Loveland Technologies wrote a blog post about using GroupMe as a neighborhood crime watch alert system in Corktown, and I decided to start one for Woodbridge.

This fantastic idea is entirely Jerry’s. I’m just hoping to share the love in Woodbridge. As we’ve written about here, we’ve been the victims of petty crime and any information we can share as a community can only help us keep our neighborhood safer.

To reiterate some of the great points Jerry made on his blog post, let’s talk about what the group should and should never be used for:

Good Examples:

  • Someone just stole my car on the corner of X and Y.
  • Someone is breaking into my house at 555 Neighbor St!! Someone come help!
  • I just saw someone smash a window and get into a red van on the corner of Bad Boy and What You Gonna Do. License plate # 123 ABC

Bad Examples:

  • What’s up everybody? Enjoying a crime-free weekend I hope.
  • Help! I can’t find my keys!
  • OMG This weather is crazy right? lol.
  • lasstt caaallL @ Woodbridge Pub woooo!

In order to join the Woodbridge Crime Watch group, please send me a message on IntoDetroit with your mobile number and first and last name. Once you’re in the group, you can use a computer, a smartphone (Android or iPhone), or any phone that can send text messages.

If you witness anything going down, crime-wise, post to the group and call the Wayne State Police at (313) 577-2222 or 911. With a service like this we can start to identify patterns that will help law enforcement and help reduce crime in our community.

Redoing the bathroom

Remember back when we were testing the plumbing in the bathroom and said that the only “good” option was to raise the bathtub four inches?

Scratch that. We found a better option; we’ve re-designed the entire bathroom layout.

Our contractor, Andy, cursed and muttered under his breath, and had a few choice names for us (undoubtedly in cockney slang that we wouldn’t understand anyway), and then with a grin, shrugged and tore into re-plumbing the entire bathroom drainage system.

It took him a couple of hard days, but now we have an ideal bathroom layout.

Continue reading

A weekend of warmth

Moving RadiatorsWe had an extremely productive weekend at the Sullivan house. Our friend Eric Ryder came to help and we got two solid days of work done. A lot of progress was made on the basement (with still a ton left to do), the kitchen was stripped down the rest of the way, all four floors of the back staircase was cleaned, we replaced the security floodlights in the backyard, and more.

Another friend Ryan Perry came by to help Saturday, and together we engineered a way to get the two broken 400-pound radiators down to the first floor. It required a a 10 foot 2×8 board, a 4 foot 4×4 board, and a lot of grunting, but we got them down with only trivial damage to the front staircase and a pinched finger. That no one broken a bone or tore anything is a miracle.

Continue reading

The long, slow winter

This has been one of the warmest Michigan winters I can ever recall, but the days are still short, the nights still long, and the pace still slow.

External electrical wiring

The wiring is... less than classy. But it works.

Things are progressing, albeit slowly. We’re finding a new work/life/renovation balance; having this giant new project has understandably thrown us all for a bit of a loop and we’re all discovering a new rhythm.

Our electrician is still working on the upstairs outlets. I’m not extremely thrilled with the compromise that has to be made (essentially, we could either take walls down and make new runs or run external wire harnesses that look more appropriate for a corporate cubicle wall than a Victorian home). The cheap option had to win out; our renovation budget is not unlimited. For now, we’ll have to deal with ugly wiring in our bedrooms until such time as we can revisit the idea of doing electrical properly. Think 5+ years.

Continue reading

The burden of (no) power

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have power on at the house.

It took a dozen calls to DTE and two weeks, but electricity has been restored to the house. In the meantime, we were burglarized twice, I lost entire days of work due to being restricted to daylight hours at the house, and there was precious few repairs we could do. The house was cold and dark most of the time.

Continue reading

Empathy for intruders

We had our third breakin this week. At this point, the intruder didn’t even take anything. After some walking around and some basic investigation, this is what I surmise:

The intruder hopped the wooden fence in the backyard. Footprints didn’t come from the alley, they came from the east, along Calumet. The entry point is the same point that it has been which tells me that this is probably the same person doing the intrusion.

Only one footprint (a left footprint) led from the fence in back up to the brick porch. This means that the jumper possibly twisted an ankle and hopped up to the brick wall.

Continue reading

In hot water

Or not.

The boiler

Ut eius anima requiem in pace

The plumbing project has had its ups and downs. With the help of our awesome contractor/plumber/handyman Andy Davis, we’ve gotten the core plumbing runs connected. We now have modern (and more importantly, not-worth-stealing) PEX pipe runs from the basement to the first floor bathroom and kitchen. We cut off some unnecessary galvanized pipes in the basement, capped off what we don’t need for now, and generally got a grip on the cold system to the point where if we need to run some water during construction, we can do that (although the drain isn’t fixed yet: Waiting on power for that).

Continue reading

Sponsoring The Sullivan House

I really can’t believe the amount of help we’ve already had since we bought the one in Woodbridge. A dozen friends have already shown up on short notice (and on Superbowl weekend no less) to help us clear out the house. Several more have given ridiculous amounts of money to help buy materials. Thank you so much.

We’ve set up goals to sponsor each room in the house if you wanted to help out and weren’t sure how. We want to make sure everyone who gives like that is recognized. We set a goal of $10,000 total for all the rooms combined. We basically made that number up and are painfully aware that it may be crazy talk.

Continue reading

Bare necessities

Of course, everything’s more complicated than we thought.

A lot of pipes were copper, and the thieves were very thorough. The bathroom was devoid of plumbing save the drain lines. “Well, it’s not the end of the world,” our contractor Andy tells us. We get an initial run up to the bathroom and the rest of the lines blocked off. Essentially, we can now fill the toilet with a hose. Ryder and I flush it for the first time (evacuating the parting gift left behind by the movers). Meanwhile, in the basement, Brian and Andy are watching the lines. A trickle of water seeps out of the floor at the sewage line.

“Andy, that’s piss.”

“I think you’re right.”

Continue reading

Taking the good with the bad

Often, when you read about all the “moving to Detroit” hype, the optimism flows like hot butter down a biscuit. People will stress and emphasize how amazing, how wonderful, how beautiful Detroit is.

While all of that is true, there is also the elephant in the room: People try to overcompensate for Detroit’s downfalls in their writing. It’s almost as if by pushing how wonderful everything is, they can hide the negativity.

It’s only natural. How else are we to be expected to make the best of a bad situation? We’re fighting a war of perception with people who desperately, for one reason or another, want us to fail.

Continue reading

Detroit, or There and Back Again (Again)

The current chapter of my life might as well be called “Detroit, or There and Back Again (Again).”

I was born and raised in Detroit. I lived downtown for the first thirteen years of my life, up until my family was forced to move when they closed down our apartment building. I went to Burton International (what’s now the Corktown Cinema) from 1st to 8th grade, and probably would’ve attended Cass Tech if we hadn’t moved to Warren, a neighboring suburb. But even after moving, I continued to hang out and work there before finally leaving Michigan in 2004.

Continue reading

Leaving

The excitement around the new house is high. Our whole family has been energized. The kids are excited to clean and contribute to their new home. Nicole is finally going to have studio space of her own. Lincoln will get the tower bedroom he’s always wanted. We’ll have new neighbors, enough projects to keep us busy for years, and lots of new experiences and friendships.

But right now, I’m sitting home alone. Home. My house. The one I bought in 2004. The one that represented the culmination of my adult working life, my hopes and dreams with my then-wife. The place I bought to raise my kids in and get a little bit older in. In 2004, life looked very different, and I would not have even been able to imagine what twists and turns my life was about to take.

Continue reading

Comfortably numb

After closing on the house, I was pretty numb to the world. People would ask what my plans were for the house, and I’d shrug. My plans blew up. I have enough money to buy some supplies at the hardware store and that’s about it. I didn’t even bother calling the utility company for a day. Whatever.

We had a fun little adventure our first day, meeting the neighbors. Later that night I called my parents to tell them about the crazy I’d done. “You’re coming down from an incredible amount of stress and trying to let it go. It’s pretty normal,” was my mom’s reaction to my ambivalence. My parents offered to send me some money. I asked them to only get some furniture if they wanted to help out. I didn’t want them going into debt for my new money pit. At least I could take furniture with me if things fell apart.

Continue reading

Our adventure begins

AveryHouse
Well, it was an ordeal, but Lincoln closed on the house yesterday.

Today, we began our new life by heading over to clean up some trash and secure the premises.

We pulled up to the house and got out of the car; within seconds a bubbly older lady peeked her head out of the house across the street, and with great hope in her voice, asked, “Did you buy that house?”

When Lincoln said, “Yes”, she screamed and bounded out of her house, arms raised in jubilation, ran across the street and threw her arms around him. Mind you, this is a total stranger.

“Welcome to the neighborhood!” she bubbled. She turned and threw her arms around me.

“Hello. Thanks!” I managed, even as she squeezed the air out of my lungs.

She introduced herself as “the neighborhood’s grandmother”, told us about her family, her dogs, her cats, the neighborhood, the neighbors, and kept telling us how lovely everyone was and what a great neighborhood we chose. She is a transplant from Oregon.

Continue reading

Everything goes to Hell

Closing day. My stomach knotted, I drove downtown to pick up the inspection documents. I was terrified to see the results. The money still hadn’t transfered to my checking account. It was now 11:45am with the closing scheduled for 2pm.

I checked on the money wire. After some back and forth with my family, it became apparent we had made a grave error. I had many thousands of dollars less available than we thought. My careful plans and budgeting evaporated, buffers transformed into impossible shortfalls. The knot got tighter. My resolve began to fade.

Continue reading