Friday, May 28, 2010

The way it was, before the Malls and before General Motors shut down

Note: "Unlike Palin's book I had no ghost writers. And this book wasn't written in two months. Everything in my book is true." - Bill Dakota




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I was born in Flint, Michigan on February 22nd at the women's hospital. I don't recall it at all-smile! Mom used to kid me and said when she was scrubbing the floor on her hands and knees, while pregnant, I would reach down and grab the soap for her.

Flint got national attention a few years ago through Michael Moore's documentary titled, "Roger and Me," which made him a millionaire so he could leave Flint and live in the big apple. The film showed America how he could make a bad situation funny. The film showed what happened to a fairly large city after General Motors decided to close down most of the automobile factories there, which were the backbone of Flint.

Flint was the birthplace of General Motors and as General Motors grew, so did Flint. When GM closed the factories, it killed the city that was dependent on them. People made careers out of working for GM. The jobs were easy and almost anybody could be taken off the street, without an education, and make money. No formal education was necessary. If you could stand the noise and tedious work, doing the same thing day after day, you could make a good living. The pay was very good, thanks to the UAW-CIO, the worker's union. But, thanks to the UAW General Motors couldn't afford to continue operations there. Workers were often paid nearly twenty dollars an hour for jobs like putting nuts on bolts, or gaskets on engines. So, GM built and opened factories in Mexico where there isn't any union and workers are paid twenty dollars a day, or less.

What Michael Moore failed to show in his film, was the serious drug problems within the factories. Drugs were prevalent throughout the factories. Cars were being as screwed up as the workers were. And nobody was aware that the Japanese would soon be invading the auto market with better quality automobiles. The city officials never tried to encourage new industries to move into Flint. Their thoughts were, there will always be automobiles but failed to realize that they wouldn't always be built in Flint.

Moore's documentary was accurate in many ways, but Flint isn't too much different from many other cities across the country today. Hollywood Boulevard, until recently, had as many boarded up store fronts as Flint. And most of the older, larger theaters in Hollywood are still closed, replaced by multiplexes charging as high as $14 for tickets.

Since I started this book Michael Moore has become an international phenomenon with his film, "Farenheit/911." If it hadn't been so near elections I don't believe the film would have been as successful. He is always involved in controversy and that time it paid off money-wise. And "Sicko," which I guess is rather amusing as well. With the latest being, "Capitalism: A Love Story." I recently met the film cameraman on "Roger and Me," in Hollywood. When he worked on the film, he was living in Detroit. He drove to Flint and worked on the film for two years and Michael gave him a check for $5,000. Warner Bros. bought the documentary from Michael for three million. The cameraman has tried to get more money from Michael but said that Moore's security people won't even let him get near him. El Cheapo Moore!

I have to admit that growing up in Flint, during the fifties, was probably one of the best cities to grow up in. Downtown was always crowded with people shopping, especially on Saturdays. There were numerous theaters, which kept me happy. Because of the General Motors plants, Flint was known as "the auto city." There was a radio station that used those call letters, W.T.A.C. My grandfather retired from the Chevrolet plant and my dad retired from the Buick. The economy was good in the fifties and anyone who wanted to work could...and did.

The back-bone of Flint's GM was Charles Stewart Mott, who invented the automobile axle. So, naturally, he was a millionaire many times over. He owned the tallest building in Flint, named the Mott Foundation Building. In supermarkets you can see the Mott name on many of their fruit products.

The Mott Foundation Building is still there. The Strand is to the right and the State, already being razed, are both gone. Up the street one block was the Garden theater.

For a period of time, I lived with my grandparents downtown on Clifford Street, two blocks from the Capitol theater where one day I would be employed. One of our neighbors were the Arnolds. Mr. Arnold was a GM foreman. His daughter, Judy, was a friend of Susan Mott, the grand-daughter of C.S. Mott.

One day we were on our bikes and Judy wanted me to follow them to Susan's grandfather's home. At that time I never knew Susan was related to "the" Mott family and kiddingly called her Susan Mott Foundation. When we arrived at apple orchard, the Mott Estate, I could hardly believe my eyes. We rode past the caretaker's cottage at the front of the drive, to where a large mansion stood. It was like something out of a movie. They even had their own riding stables. And her brother, was in the upstairs bedroom, standing nude behind the drapes and he would flash his naked body at us. Many years later, his New York Penthouse would be used to film, "The Heretic-Exorcist II." And Susan got even with me for calling her what I had, by pushing me into their pool, with my clothes on. Fortunately it was in the shallow end.

Flint used to have overhead trolleys. These were long buses that ran on electrical lines, the same type you can see in San Francisco and a few other cities. They were smooth running, quiet and usually on time. But, one day they were replaced by GM Diesel buses that were noisy and air polluting. Nobody seemed to complain and this is probably why Flint has fallen apart. People stopped caring.

Robert F. Leonard, the Genesee County Prosecutor, (supposedly a model for prosecutors across the country), was indicted and prosecuted for stealing state and federal funds and ended up serving five years in prison. Another city offficial stole alimony payments, made though the courthouse. When the city government fails at the top, then it all goes to hell.

When I was old enough, I used to bar hop. There were plenty of bars in Flint, something for everybody. I liked the Sports Bar the best. It was located in Brush Alley, near the Capitol theater. It was a very clean cocktail lounge, that featured entertainment in the backroom. It was relatively small and always crowded. It was owned by Bob Kerner (now deceased) and his bartender was Red Dickerson. Red was always showing off gadgets to the customers. His wife, Dorothy, was a dance instructor and when the twist craze started she taught us how to do it. Both her and Red are now deceased. I miss them both. I was in touch with Dorothy and spoke with her a week or so before she passed away. She was still friendly after all of these years. I miss her, even though the the years and miles had separated us.

Many young male students from the General Motors Institute also liked the bar and even though many were still under twenty one, they were allowed to be served. I think this was some sort of agreement with General Motors through the city officials. General Motors could do whatever they wanted to do...including moving away.

As a kid I used to go to the Flint Journal, the local newspaper, and the back door to the printing section was always open. You could walk throughout the printing room and it was exciting. They used to melt lead to use for hot type and then layout the pages by hand. The ink smell was the worst part of it, but I guess like the smell of a circus, you get used to it. Maybe this is where I developed a love for writing. I'm sure it had something to do with creating my own newspaper, The Hollywood Star.

Today, newspapers don't use hot type or have to melt down lead since it is all computerized and much of the work is on computers and word processors. The guys at the Journal were always friendly and would answer any questions we had and even demonstrated the printing process. They never asked "how' we got in, nor did they ask us to leave. When we got tired of watching, we would leave on our own.

I spent many days walking along the Flint River riverbanks. The river ran through the downtown area and on hot days it really stank. But it was like walking through a jungle with trees and foliage along the banks. A lot of hobos stayed down there and would often chase us away. The slept on sheets of cardboard. But, just sitting there and watching the river flow and listening to the water rush past was fun as well as peaceful and relaxing. On occasions artists would make figures in the sand and dirt, where passerbys, walking across the bridge, could see them. Then they would spray paint the figures of their artwork and had a rubber raft floating where people could throw coins down to them. The figures were always of a religious nature. There is a dam nearby, which anyone could get to. People used to walk across it as a shortcut to the IMA auditorium where the circus used to play and other entertainers would be booked. On the dam there was a sort of wheel you could turn by hand that opened the dam to let more water rush through. One day a friend and I opened it full blast. We watched as the water started running faster and faster. It ended up flooding the whole downtown area. They tried to close the dam but the water was too powerful to be stopped and it flooded everything. We were scared to death and I guess I was around twelve years old at the time.

To this day nobody knows what caused that flood. I know they put a chain and a lock around the wheel so it couldn't be turned anymore. I guess this fact was kept secret because they should have had a security lock of some sort to begin with.


Having grown up watching movies in the downtown theaters, I was always excited whenever a movie star would come to town. Dinah Shore, who was a spokesperson for Chevrolet, came to Flint for a celebration of Flint's Fifty-millionth Chevrolet. She was staying at the Durant Hotel downtown and my uniform from the Capitol theater, where I was working, was the same color and style used by the bell hops at the hotel. So, I went to a pizza restaurant where she was having dinner and I knocked at the front door, (it was closed to the public for this affair), but I was let in because they thought I worked at the hotel and had a message for Dinah. The message was, "Can I have your autograph?" And I got it. Dinah Shore Montgomery, is how she signed it. Her husband, George Montgomery, had stopped by the Strand theater where one of his western films was playing and was talking to the manager, Ivan Jones, in the lobby and a customer walked in and handed George his ticket! He thought George was a doorman. Actor, Charles Laughton, had also stayed at the Durant Hotel and this is where he fell in the bath tub injuring his shoulder, which turned to cancer and he died from it.

There was a play at the IMA and Constance Bennett, a famous actress of the forties and Robert Strauss ("Stalag 17"), were doing a series of plays called "The Best Of Steinbeck." I took numerous photos, backstage, with a new camera I had bought, and had a pocketful of flash-bulbs to use, but soon learned you never photograph a stage play when it is in progress! How was I to know? At every other event held there, flash-bulbs were always going off. One of the stagehands said, "Some jerk out there was taking pictures with a flashbulb." He didn't know it had been me. I put my camera into a paper bag and left.

"WHITE TRASH DEBUTANTES" W/ GINGER COYOTE recorded a song titled BILL DAKOTA. It is on the Tentacles label on vinyl, tape and cd. It is sold around the world on the Internet. Billy Gould of FAITH NO MORE produced it.
( Nancy Kovacks, we started her career.