A few days ago, I posted an interview I did with an author by the name of Ted McClelland, who has written extensively about the emmigration of young professionals from Michigan to Chicago. To sum up our conversation in one sentence, McClelland believes that we have little hope of keeping bright, young people here in Michigan so long as we lack a thriving metropolis, and have elected representatives intent on “moving backwards,” as evidenced by the recently passed right-to-work legislation. Little did I know, as I interviewed McClelland, that, the very next day, I’d be speaking with a fellow Ypsilantian who was in the process of moving his family to Chicago. What follows is my interview with Zach Pollock.
MARK: When did you first move to Ypsilanti, and what were the circumstances that brought you here?
ZACH: My wife & I are originally from the Toledo area… Ohio that is. After college I had dreams of becoming a rock star and we moved to Chicago so I could start a band. Obviously that didn’t pan out, but, in the meantime, I started a career in the freight forwarding industry. We lived in Chicago for about 7 years when I got an opportunity to move to Michigan to manage my company’s Detroit branch office.
As Toledoans my wife & I grew up very enamored of Ann Arbor and decided to live there. Then reality set in and we bought a house in Ypsilanti… at the absolute peak of the real estate market.
MARK: As I understand it, you’re now going to be moving back to Chicago, which is interesting, as I just interviewed a guy by the name of Ted McClelland, who has written quite a bit about Chicago and the fact that it lures away a disproportionate number of Michigan’s best and brightest. Have you by any chance read his recent column in Salon, entitled “Michigan Just Gives Up“? If so, I’m curious to know your thoughts.
ZACH: I’ve read the article, and it’s very interesting. The same thing is true of Ohioans. When I originally moved to Chicago, back in 1996, practically everyone I knew and everyone I met was from Ohio, Michigan or Missouri.
Anyway, I agree with the sentiment of the article. I have wholly embraced Michigan as HOME. I have passed up other work opportunities in the past because I love it here, and didn’t want to leave. Despite the economic ups and downs of the last decade, my work has been consistently busy and prosperous. I have worked with people in all types of businesses who are thriving & hiring people, and I have come to be extremely optimistic about Michigan’s future prospects. It just takes a really long time to diversify.
It’s funny about the draw of Chicago. I think that pretty much any major city is going to function as a magnet drawing young adults to where the action is. I think this is true of LA & New York and probably also Shanghai, Mexico City & Sao Paulo. That’s what cities are. They bring in the country bumpkins, and grind ‘em up in the mill of Capitalism. Ultimately some succeed, some are destroyed, and some move to the suburbs.
I, for one, already moved out of Chicago to settle down and start a family here in Michigan, and never planned on moving back.
MARK: So, why are you leaving?
ZACH: I got a promotion at work.
MARK: What will you miss about Ypsilanti?
ZACH: I will miss a lot about Ypsi. As I said above, this really is home. My kids were born here, and it’s part of our family identity. We fit in here and have great friends. That is going to be the absolute hardest thing about moving away. We’ve met all of our best friends since we’ve lived here, and most of them are neighbors. We all get weepy when we think about the friends we’re leaving behind.
On a personal level, I will miss my band – Black Jake & the Carnies. I love those guys, and they are like a second family to me. The band is a crazy mix of people. Whatever people’s experience has been arguing with band members (or their troll pseudonyms) on your blog, it has enriched my life to be with people who hold such different and offensive points of view.
As we’ve been trying to figure out where to live in Chicago, I’ve been thinking a lot about Granholm’s “Cool Cities” thing and the “Hip, Historic, Hipsilanti” flags that used to be around town. These were both ridiculous, and I mocked them openly. But it’s actually what I want, and I think Ypsi is a cool city. Young people can afford to live here. Families of all ages can get decent homes in a neighborhood with community and vitality. We have the Ypsi Food Co-Op and Growing Hope. Ypsi has a ton of artists & musicians. There are venues and events to showcase them like Woodruffs, Spur Studios & the Shadow Art Fair. There is a vibrant stickering community (LOL!).
I live in Depot Town & I love old East Cross Street. My block is pretty much the most perfect block in Ypsi. My neighbors are great. My kids can just run out the back door and meet the neighbor’s kids in the alley to just play all day. True, they mostly play in the yards of abandoned houses & vacant lots, but, hey, whatever. Open space is open space and there are WAY fewer prostitutes then there used to be.
MARK: I love the phrase, “it has enriched my life to be with people who hold such different & offensive points of view.” Do you care to elaborate?
ZACH: Well… If you know the individual Carnies you’ll know what I’m talking about. Get us all together and one of us is guaranteed to offend someone, or maybe a whole bunch of people. Anyway, I firmly believe that it’s good to have your assumptions challenged & not to surround yourself only with people who agree with you.
MARK: I don’t know where you stand politically, but I’m curious as to whether or not you’ve been watching what’s been going on in Lansing for these past few months, and, if so, if that makes it a bit easier to leave Michigan.
ZACH: Of course, it’s impossible to miss what’s been happening in Lansing. I’m an unashamed bleeding heart liberal. I have been extremely dismayed by the right wing agenda that has been rammed through the state legislature. I have no love for Rick Snyder but he’s such a nerd (which I usually take to be a good thing) that I foolishly hoped that he might not be a complete bastard.
Regardless, none of this makes it any easier to leave. Firstly, Illinois is no political paradise. It’s the textbook example of corrupt machine politics. This doesn’t excite me. Secondly, I really do love Michigan and I want the best for this state. It saddens me to be leaving when so much is at stake for labor, for women, for education.
MARK: Any constructive criticism for Ypsilanti? Anything you’ve always wanted to say, but just kept bottled up inside? I’d even settle for destructive criticism, if that’s all you’ve got.
ZACH: Of course, Ypsi isn’t some kind of paradise, and I have a very realistic perspective about it. Personally, one of the biggest issues for my family is school. Ypsi schools aren’t doing so hot. My oldest daughter is in 3rd grade, and she has already had 3 different teachers this year. There are good people there, doing their best, but it’s extremely difficult in light of the financial obstacles that the district is facing.
I would like to see Ypsilanti, as well as Michigan, and the country as a whole, prioritize education. As we’ve been looking for houses in Illinois everyone keeps saying “Watch out for property taxes in… this or that suburb.” Then you look at ‘em and they’re thriving communities with great schools. I welcome taxes, I love paying taxes. I would gladly pay more taxes if we could agree as a community to prioritize the education of our children. I would vote for any millage increase that went to schools or libraries.
My family and I were in Riverside Park this summer as part of the Huron River Watershed Council – River Cleanup. We were (the only people) down in the water picking whiskey bottles, vodka bottles, gin bottles, beer bottles and pop bottles out of the water, and somebody came along and stole all of our stuff that was sitting in the grass at the river’s edge. Ya know they stole big money items like my kids’ snacks & my daughter’s favorite shirt. That sort of sums up Ypsi for me.
Ya know… people are starting to graffiti the trees in Riverside Park. Whatever your views about the artistic merits of graffiti, I think you have to admit that spray painting some illegible bullshit on a tree is pretty stupid.
Don’t even get me started on crackhouses with absentee landlords or Beal’s ongoing “Work” to rebuild the Thompson Block.
MARK: I know it can be a touchy subject, but I’m curious as to what your experience has been selling your home, and how, if at all, the experience may have influenced your thoughts on the future of Ypsilanti. In other words, are people actually looking and buying homes in Ypsilanti these days? And has the interest level in your home been more or less than what you were expecting?
ZACH: Selling my house has been one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. We never even listed the house or “put it on the market.” When I accepted my job offer and started telling friends we were moving, we immediately started getting phone calls. Within two weeks we informally showed our house to two couples, and the second couple bought the house… just like that. After that we continued to get unsolicited calls about our house from people who wanted to rent and buy. Our house is kind of cute, but still… It blew my mind.
I have to clarify that we lost a lot of money on the deal. Part of the reason I accepted my new position was that it put me in a financial position that we could afford to sell this house. So we sold it for a realistic price based on other houses in the area, and, joy of joys, the appraisal matched, and the deal was done.
Doing a “For Sale By Owner” was scary but we got a ton of help from one of our neighbors who works for a realtor. We couldn’t have done it without her, and we’ll be forever grateful for her help. The new owners are a really cool couple who currently rent in downtown Ypsi and we are so thrilled that they’re moving in here. All-in-all a very good experience that I think bodes well for Ypsi.
MARK: How have you seen Ypsilanti change over the time that you’ve been here? Or, to put it another way, is there one change that you’ve seen in Ypsi that you think speaks to a larger trend? For instance, I remember Linette saying to me that, in the late 80′s and early 90′s, you’d never see people pushing strollers in the City. I know it’s not exactly scientific, as she likely just wasn’t paying attention to babies when she was 18, but I think that maybe there’s something to it. Or, at least it seems to me that a lot of folks, yourself included, started moving into the City and having babies at about the same time.
ZACH: Oh yes. Back in ’02 we lived in a rental house in Ann Arbor, while looking for houses to buy. I thought to myself that “this is where yuppies go to to breed”. It’s a little different in Ypsi but not THAT different. There’s a lot of families with young kids here, and I was definitely part of that. I remember when the Corner Brewery first opened they seemed totally overwhelmed, and not too happy, when the beer garden was overrun by families. On a side note, we hardly get ANY trick-or-treaters… what’s that about?
I’ve also been seeing more young people buying houses in my area, and they’re not all just house flippers. Pretty much every new person who’s bought a house in my area in the last few years has been in their 20′s or early 30′s. I’d be curious to see if the demographics of Ypsi have been trending toward a younger population.
Overall I think Ypsi is getting a little better all the time. For instance, Water Street may be a development quagmire with a tax situation that threatens to bankrupt the city. But it could have been a development quagmire that threatened to bankrupt the city – with old factory buildings and toxic soil. So you know, that’s good.
MARK: You mention that, before living in Ypsilanti, you rented in Ann Arbor. I’m curious as to what first brought you to Ypsi, and what it was that convinced you that buying here would be a good idea. If it was just price, did you also look at homes in other communities, like Milan and Saline?
ZACH: Right off the bat people I knew were telling me we should live in Ypsi. They said it was cool and arty, and, since I was an indie rocker type, I would fit right in. We looked at houses for six months, though, and had little interest in Ypsilanti.
Our realtor was brand new and all the Ypsi houses she showed us had a beauty salon in the living room, a dozen hoarder sheds in the backyard, or a yard full of barking pitbulls next door. I swear one house was literally whispering “GET OUT”. But all the houses in Ann Arbor were like $220K for 600 square feet, so we had to go in another direction. We had one deal fall through in Ypsi (FHA hates radon) before we finally saw our house & fell in love with it on the spot. Also:
Milan = Prison
Saline = Republicans
MARK: Earlier, when I asked what you’d miss about Ypsi, I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t mention this website, and I have to ask… Would I be wrong to assume that hatred of everything that I do is the one thread that binds all the members of Black Jake and the Carnies together and animates your work?
ZACH: Yes, that is our unifying principle.
For the record, your site is blocked by my employer’s web filter as a “Social Networking” site. I finally got it unblocked, but it took like five years. The company is based in Philadelphia so apparently the hatred of all things Mark Maynard spreads well beyond the borders of Michigan.
You would also not be wrong to assume that Black Jake & the Carnies are playing at the Blind Pig on January 27th as part of the Folk the Police festival. It makes me cry that I’m not in the band anymore. You should go see them.
MARK: I don’t know if it’s true of all the Carnies, but, from what I can recall of conversations I’ve had with the band, there’s a sense shared by most, if not all, of the members, that society could be on the brink of some kind of collapse. I realize, of course, that there are varying degrees of that, with some members of the band being much more in the survivalist camp than others, but my sense is that you all felt, to some degree, that community was going to be significantly more important in the future, as resources become more scarce. At least I seem to recall sitting around a table on a few occasions, talking with quite a few of you about raising chickens, trying out different opossum recipes, and the like. Well, as I was thinking about your imminent departure, it occurred to me that you’re not just leaving a band, but you’re leaving a scrappy little community of somewhat like-minded individuals who would have, I’m thinking, had a pretty good chance of making it through tough times together, and I’m wondering if that’s something that you thought about. I don’t want to overplay this facet of the band, and make it sound as though the group is a “doomsday cult,” but I did always get the sense that there was a kind of unwritten understanding that, when the shit hit the fan, you’d all be living in a heavily-fortified compound at the top of East Cross Street. Am I way off base on that? Or at there plans to recommission the cannon in Prospect Park?
ZACH: Haha, that’s hilarious. I’m sure folks who attended our recent Apocalyps-Mas Special at the Ark on 12/21/12 might agree with you. We are by no means a homogenous group – philosophically, religiously or politically. We all pretty much disagree about everything there is to disagree about.
One exception is that we have tended to agree that it isn’t a bad idea for local communities to be a little more self sufficient and/or sustainable. We all arrived at this conclusion through different channels – one might be a libertarian anarcho-capitalist, one an Eagle Scout, and one just a dabbler who likes weird hobbies.
In any event, we’ve totally had each others backs in the event there is a Zombie Apocalypse, the rise of the Mayan God of the Underworld or some sort of Fiscal Cliff. But not if there is a giant asteroid strike… we’re totally screwed in that case.
And here’s a little video from that Mayan apocalypse show at the Ark. (That’s Zach on the right, playing the mandolin.
And how cool is it that he hacked away at his company’s network for five straight years, in hopes of getting though their MarkMaynard.com firewall? That’s some serious dedication. I just hope, when he finally got through, he wasn’t disappointed.
Bye, Zach. You’ll be missed.
[note: The rest of my Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interviews can be found here.]