If It Plays In Flint

May 17, 2002
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What's that saying about life imitating art?

Steve Wilson, president of the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau, knows the reversal of that philosophy quite well.

The tourism director of his hometown of Flint for much of the economically turbulent '80s, Wilson probably knows a lot about therapy, too.

But one thing that's certainly been therapeutic for Wilson is a creative outlet for his "frustrations."

The culmination of that effort is "Lunch With Billy," a one-act play written by Wilson that follows the plight of Flint's tourism director as he spills his troubles to a statue of Billy Durant, founder of General Motors.

"My experiences in Flint shaped the images, characters and plot of this play," Wilson said. "While in Flint I remained cheerful in the face of utter desperation. Writing this play helped me put a voice to the feelings behind my smile."

For those who are too young or who don't remember Flint in the 1980s — and who don't have time for a conversation with PaulHense — here's all you need to know: Money Magazine called Flint the worst place to live in America.

A long parade of developers and politicians promised to put Flint on the comeback trail, but it never happened.

Wilson's unenviable role as Flint's tourism chief also was featured in Michael Moore's GM/Flint-bashing film, "Roger & Me."

"Lunch With Billy" will be performed at 8 p.m., March 14-16, as part of by Actor's Theater's Ben Franklin Series, in Room 201 of Spectrum Theater on the campus of Grand Rapids Community College.

  • The gaze of GRMAYOR John Logie continues to focus on commuter train transportation as a means of reducing inner city traffic and parking congestion while simplifying travel between here and Holland and Muskegon.

One of the problems is the immense cost of acquiring right-of-way for the tracks. The mayor claims that government municipalities already own at least 75 percent of the right-of-way required for train tracks.

Who knows? Maybe Hizzonor could make a deal with the Coopersville-Marne Mystery Train for the rest of the line.

And if this latter day Toonerville Trolly would cut commuter traffic so drastically, maybe Lansing could be persuaded to part with half of Chicago Drive which, after all, originates right downtown.

  • The fourth Soup's On For All, the annual fundraiser for God's Kitchen, netted the downtown food pantry a record amount of $147,000 — topping last year's mark by $7,000.

"We have over 500 thank-you letters that have to go out, so we're in the process of getting those out," said Carol Greenburg, program director of God's Kitchen, a Catholic Human Development Outreach program at 303 S. Division Ave. "We've been delivering the bowls and posters to special people and to the restaurants."

Greenburg felt that much of the event's success was due to having more space available at the Van Andel Public Museum Center, which has hosted all four charity affairs. Last year, an exhibit on the third-floor Lacks Gallery prevented that space from being used.

"One of the things that I'm so pleased about was the enormous number of comments that this was the best Soup's On yet," said Greenburg of the Jan. 12 event. "For the first time ever the entire museum gallery space was finished. This year, we had all the space that we needed and we didn't have any lines for anything, which was terrific."

The money raised will be used to support three Kitchen programs: Capitol Lunch, Meals-On-Wheels and Special Delivery. Greenburg said planning for next year's event would begin in a few months.

  • If you missed Soup's On, there's another fundraiser coming that is sure to tickle the taste buds. It's an old-fashioned bake sale put on by the Jane Hibbard Idema Women's Studies Center at Aquinas College.

The sale runs from 11 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. in the lobby of the Aquinas Academic Building. You might even be able to buy a brownie from Aquinas President HarryKnopke, who will be among the prominent community leaders hawking their goods.

Oh, by the way, Knopke's brownie will cost $1 for men, or 75 cents for women.

Why? Because that's the gender salary gap Aquinas officials are trying to draw attention to. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average woman earns 71.4 cents for every dollar a man earns.

The Women's Study Center has tabbed this event The Equality Bake Sale.

  •  Being an economist, George A. Erickcek (pronounced Erick-check), of the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, is one of the few people in his profession who could give Jerry Seinfeld a run for his money as a stand-up comic.

Not that Erickcek is the least bit frivolous about the research he conducts or what its findings portend (for 2001, a slowdown but not a recession. See page 25.). But he long ago learned that even business leaders need one-liners to help them through a steady diet of statistics. Thus, he keeps his ears open for the good lines and here are a couple from his address recently at the Muskegon Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

"When they say the name 'DaimlerChrysler' in Germany," he said, "'Chrysler' is silent."

One problem any statistician faces in dealing with the Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland Statistical Metropolitan Area, a federal creation, is that employment figures aren't broken down by county. Thus, "there are no official employment figures for Muskegon County since 1998," he told his audience.

"We make 'em up."

In another connection he said, "This spring we were fortunate enough to have 11 European officials [whom] we drove all over the Midwest to meet economic development directors. We started in Chicago, drove 'em to Grand Rapids, lost one in Cleveland…"

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