Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Getting An Earful

Before going door-to-door on Monday afternoon in Pittsfield Township, state Rep. Rick Olson predicted he might not get a warm reception from every resident. With all that's happening in Lansing, including efforts to slash education funding and start taxing the pensions of seniors, the Republican lawmaker from Washtenaw County's York Township expected to hear concerns from the mostly 60-and-older community off Lohr Road. And he was right. Read the story here.

Experimental Film

The 49th Ann Arbor Film Festival concluded Sunday night. This year's festival presented 40 programs over six days with 188 films, videos and live performances, including more than 20 premieres. Personally, the highlight of the festival was a feature-length documentary called “Foreign Parts," a beautifully shot and edited two-year examination of life in Willets Point, a neighborhood in Queens, New York, where scrappers survive in an automobile wasteland facing the shadows of a new Mets stadium. Another highlight of the festival was a series of short documentary pieces produced by Sam Green. Check them out here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Four Stories Deep

Work continues on the underground parking structure along South Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. What goes on top once it's done remains the question. New York-based Valiant Partners is fighting to build a 150-room hotel and 26,000-square-foot conference center, an idea the Ann Arbor City Council will consider on April 19. Read the story here.

(Editor's note: These photos were taken Thursday just before a breach in the north wall spilled a large amount of earth into the site and created a 40-foot-deep sinkhole in the parking lot behind a neighboring restaurant. No one was hurt, luckily.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cave In

The ground collapsed outside the gates surrounding construction of the downtown underground parking structure in Ann Arbor around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, following a breach in the north earth retention wall. The accident caused a 40-foot-deep sinkhole behind the Earthen Jar restaurant, 311 S. Fifth Ave. Both Earthen Jar, a mostly vegan Indian restaurant, and Jerusalem Garden, a falafel joint next door, had to close for business and evacuate. This was the scene as crews worked through the night in the area. The $50 million parking structure is a project of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Read the story here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Panhandler's Paradise

Gwyddion Storm, 42, solicits money from passersby on Liberty Street on Tuesday afternoon. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Storm says he's traveled the country over, from one ocean to the other and back, five times, mostly hitchhiking. He came to Ann Arbor last summer and now lives in a tent north of downtown in a location he calls "the hidden arb." Storm is open about why he's homeless and panhandling. It's not because he has substance abuse problems, he says, though he does enjoy a cold beer at the end of the day. Rather, he says, it's because he has mental health issues. He says he's found Ann Arbor to be a friendly place, and the community's safety net services have kept him here. He regularly eats meals at the Delonis Center, and he relies on the mental health services of PORT, an outreach team that serves homeless individuals in Washtenaw County. "That's one of the main reasons that I really decided to stay in Ann Arbor," Storm says. "Back in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, they have nothing like that." Read the story here.

(Psst! Be sure to bump the video quality up to HD after you hit play!)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Perhaps Ann Arbor, Michigan, wasn't the best place in the world to view the much-hyped "supermoon" tonight (for instance, check out these killer photos elsewhere in the world). But it was still pretty fantastic to see. It graced the downtown skyline with an abundant brightness that seemed to compete with the artificial neon lights of businesses on the ground. The perigee moon phenomenon occurs when a new or full moon is in its closest orbit to Earth. Tonight the moon was 211,600 miles away, the closest it's been in 18 years. The last full moon so big and close to Earth occurred in March 1993. "Nearby perigee moons are about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser moons that occur on the apogee side of the moon's orbit," the NASA website says. Astrologer Richard Nolle, who coined the term supermoon in the 1970s, has warned of a "supermoon risk window" from March 16-22, saying there will be an increase in tidal surges and earthquakes. But scientists dispute that, and say the Japan earthquake had nothing to do with the supermoon. If you missed tonight's supermoon, sorry. You'll have to wait until 2029 to see the next one.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bumper Cars

Two vehicles collided at the intersection of Liberty and Division in downtown Ann Arbor shortly after 2 a.m. this morning following a festive St. Patrick's Day bar night. Official details of the accident are uncertain, but this was the scene as the woman in the sedan attempted to retrieve her front bumper and place it in her back seat. Police were called to the scene and two patrol cars responded. The damaged vehicles ended up blocking the westernmost northbound lane of Division for more than a half hour. No one appeared to be injured, though both drivers appeared distraught. "F--k my life," the woman in the black dress remarked.

Going Green

Conan Smith, chairman of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, shows off the LEED Silver award the county won for its new 14A-1 District Court. County officials were presented with the award at Wednesday's county board meeting, recognizing the new facility for its energy efficiency and environmental design. The certification comes from the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable building design and construction. Read the story here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Standing Up

Calling Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget an attack on Michigan's working class families, several citizens and community leaders spoke out today in Ann Arbor. "If we don't stand together as one and work together against this budget that is being proposed, the whole state is going to be in a devastated state," Lois Richardson, Ypsilanti's mayor pro-tem, said during a press conference at the Ann Arbor Community Center. "We've got to raise our voices." Read the story here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Deli Dilemma

The famous Zingerman's Deli in downtown Ann Arbor is moving forward on its long-awaited expansion project, but the city is making crews work around a historic (read: not allowed to demolish) house that sits on the property. The distinctive orange annex building, as its formally called, was lifted from its foundation today and placed on a temporary foundation nearby. The biggest reason to move the structure is so demolition on the patio can start. Work so far has included demolishing a fire-damaged house on East Kingsley Street, in addition to the annex building move. Eventually, a 10,340-square-foot building will be added to the reconfigured campus. As part of that plan, the annex building will be relocated to a position near its original foundation. Read the story here.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mapping The Mind Of Ed Vielmetti

Ed Vielmetti is's lead blogger and one of its most treasured resources. A native of Michigan's U.P., he has a knack for crawling the web for hard-to-find information. His speciality is diving for details on issues that affect people's lives. On any given day, he might blog about water levels on the Huron River, how to approach a FOIA request, what neat items are found on the bulletin board at a local cafe — or he might just post some maps, lots and lots of maps. "I love maps because my family is full of geologists," Vielmetti says, "and geologists love maps as a way to describe the part of the world that's not visible on the surface."

Friday Night Lights

The scene on Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor shortly after 7 p.m. Friday night.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Until Next Time

Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Ari Hest returned to the stage of The Ark in downtown Ann Arbor Friday night, performing a 24-song set that was one part promotion of his new album "Sunset Over Hope Street," released March 1, and one part throwback to some of his older material — going back as far as a song the 31-year-old musician wrote about his then-girlfriend when he was 17. Hest shared the stage with Doug Yowell, an extremely talented percussionist who garnered some cheers of his own from the crowd, and even a few laughs when he suggested one of Hest's new songs was going to be featured in an upcoming porno release. "I'm pleased and just ecstatic actually," Hest said in response to applause from the audience early on in the show. "I've played here a couple times and it's been great, but this is the best applause I've gotten and I'm going to try to keep it up."

Hest shared the story behind "Until Next Time," the first song off his new album. "The first song on the album is a song about people you meet, who you don't really talk to very much. You just meet eyes with them, and then you walk by because you're too busy to talk to them, which happens a lot in New York. Or, for whatever reason, you don't get to talk to them, but they make a lasting impression on you, and you think about them all day long and you wonder if you'll ever meet them again."

Hest confessed he wrote the song "I've Got You" several years ago thinking he could one day sing it as a duet with singer-songwriter Norah Jones. "When I wrote this song, I was very much into — and I still really like her — Norah Jones. I was listening to her first album. I love her voice, and I thought we'd sing well together one day. And I wrote it eight years ago when her first record came out, thinking that we'd one day sing it together, but we never did. And for eight years I've been singing it myself. But this is our song."

Hest talked about having doubts. "I thought at the end of the year 2008 that I had come to probably the high point I would ever come in my career. I had finished this massive song-writing project that a lot of you guys know about it. I won't get into it. I thought that was it. How could I top that? That was like incredibly grueling. Fun, but crazy and totally took over my life in a good way. And I didn't know if I'd ever be able to top it. And I almost quit. I had done some math teaching before to fourth graders and I really liked it. I'm serious. And I thought maybe I'd go back to that. I didn't know what else I'd do. I did graduate from NYU. I am smart.

"But I decided, based on a ton of people just telling me like I should not quit music, and then eventually coming to terms with it myself, that there's nothing in my life to me that means more than music. Not even necessarily playing it. Just hearing it. It means so much to me and I don't want to give it up. So I wrote this song that's about that. It's called 'How Would I Know.'"

"I must confess, I've had a little bit of wine tonight," Hest said partway through his first set. Yowell then messed up a percussion loop before going into the next song and had to do a second take. "It's the wine," Yowell joked.

"Here's a song about some drunk people that woke me up," Hest said before playing "Morning Streets."

"This is a song written about someone that you wish the best for, even though they're not in your life anymore — not to be a downer," Hest said of the title track of his newest album.

While sharing the story behind the song "Broken Voices," Hest confessed to having trouble concentrating. "I have a brain that — lots of things come into my brain all at once and it's hard for me to focus, which is something that if you ask musicians do they have that problem, every one of them will say yes. So if I'm in a restaurant, if I'm in a conversation with somebody, generally there's something else going on in my head — a melody, something that's very hard to tune out. Unless we're talking about music or baseball or ... I don't know. There are other things. But it's difficult. So this is a song about being scatterbrained."

Hest shared the story behind "Come Home," the title track of his first full album released in 2001. "A great time to write songs is while you're on an airplane, because there's nothing to do. Especially in 1998 when I wrote this song, going back from Spain to New York City after visiting my now-ex girlfriend, who was studying in Spain at the time. And I took out the barf bag and wrote this song."

Hest said of the night: "I keep bouncing back and forth and smiling a lot, so obviously something's going right."

Hest shared the story behind "When And If," a song he released in 2007 about a man who writes a letter to his wife, telling her that he's fine and that he can't wait to come back home to make up for lost time.

"When I tour the states, I go to San Diego somewhere toward the middle of it. We're doing like 50 shows in the states, or something like that. It's funny — meeting a lot of European people lately, they always refer to it as 'the states,' and I never did before meeting them. Now I think of this country as 'the states.' It's weird. It's my country.

"Anyway, I go to San Diego, and San Diego has this place called The Casbah. And I soft rock — or I quiet rock — The Casbah. 'Soft rock' has a bad connotation. Although, I really like Michael McDonald. I cherish his entire catalogue.

"So in The Casbah, there are armed forces people that are stationed very close to the club that come to the show and they talk to me about going off to war, wondering if they're going off to war. Some of them want to go and they're excited. Some don't. And I wrote this song about someone who's there and wishes he was with his wife."

Hest talked about life on the road. "Doug and I will be traveling for the next X-amount of months. We do not know when the tour is going to end. It's kind of fun to think about the fact that we just have no idea when we're going home."

"Thank you for making this the best Ark experience and the best Ann Arbor experience," Hest said before playing "Dead End Driving," one of his last songs of the night. "I have to say, this is the third day of, like I said, a very, very long tour, and it's just the two of us in a Ford Explorer and we're trying to drive everywhere. And it's shows like this that make us want to continue to play."

Hest ended the night with an unreleased song called "Something To Look Forward To." "This is a song written right after the record was finished, the new record. And I think it'll be on the next one. I guess it's kind of a jazz moment. My parents are both musicians. My father's a jazz musician. And I think whatever genes he gave me — whatever jazz genes — came out in this song."