Blog: Mark Maynard

Mark Maynard publishes the magazine Crimewave USA, puts out records, comics and blogs when others sleep. He is one of the founders of Ypsilanti's popular Shadow Art Fair, co-chair of YpsiVotes, and a member of Ypsilanti's 2020 Task Force on the future of the city. He has a keen interest in economic development and will be writing about why he's enthusiastically chosen to live in Ypsilanti.

Post No. 1

 Hello, my name is Mark and I'm an Ypsilantian…

I lived in Ann Arbor for a while. Then I moved.

I met my wife in Ypsilanti, at a bar that's since been condemned. The place was called Cross Street Station, and my band, Prehensile Monkey-Tailed Skink, was playing there. Unlike everyone else, Linette didn't run screaming. Linette's her name. And that was more than 15 years ago now.

Before that night, I'd only been to Ypsilanti once. My friend Dave drove me out to Ypsi from Ann Arbor, where we were in college together. It pains me to say it, but our objective was to buy as much really crude porn as we could carry. Our roommate Jack's parents were coming to visit, and we wanted to make a good impression.

I'm not proud of it, but that's the truth.

Anyway, we headed out to Ypsi in search of inhumanly crude filth, and we weren't disappointed. We found a bookstore with a dilapidated cardboard box full of "used" porn magazines for a few bucks a piece. Until I met Linette, that's all I knew of Ypsi – porn and rock-n-roll. I'd heard there were drugs and prostitutes there too, but, as an  Eagle Scout with a propensity for panic attacks, I wasn't all that adventurous. Then, I met Linette in '93, and the love affair with Ypsi began in earnest. The more I learned about the City's rich and bizarre history, and the characters that called it home, the more I wanted to be a part of it.

I've now lived off and on in Ypsi for about a decade and a half. Linette and I tried to leave on a few occasions, but something always kept pulling us back. First, we tried Atlanta. I'd lived there for a few years as a kid and had fond memories of it, but, as a grown up, I found that it kind of sucked. We lasted there about two and a half years before coming back.

Then, after a short detour to DC, Linette and I moved to LA. We were there for about a year when we decided to pack our stuff, drive back across country, and settle for good in Ypsi. We were beginning to think seriously about houses and babies (actually, just one house, and one baby), and, when we thought about places we'd like to put down roots, the only place that came to mind was Ypsi.

There was something about Ypsi that just called to us. I can't speak for Linette, but, for me, it was the authentic sense of community I got on Saturday mornings, sitting around the potbelly stove at the Freighthouse, drinking coffee and watching people of all ages and races, dancing around to the sounds of banjos and guitars. There was a real sense of family, and a feeling that we were all in it together. Maybe I'm a sap, but I fell for it.

I'm generally a "glass half empty" kind of guy. But, when it comes to Ypsi, I can't do it. Where others see decay, I see a spirit of resilience. And I'm not alone. I know it puzzles some Ann Arborites to hear this, but there are quite a few of us who don't live here because we have to, but because we want to. There's a sense of community here that I've never felt elsewhere. People with ideas and energy are welcomed and encouraged. Maybe it's because there's little infrastructure, but there aren't a lot of barriers to participation. If you have a good idea and you come to Ypsilanti, you'll find people eager to join you.

I'm not anti-Ann Arbor. I like Ann Arbor. I lived there for several years, and I have quite a few friends who still do. I might give them a hard time over beers about the number of Starbucks that are downtown now, but I do like Ann Arbor. As the father of a three year old, I look at their school system with a great deal of envy. Ann Arbor, given the economic engine of the University of Michigan, has cultural assets that we in Ypsi could never hope to have. But, then again, because Ann Arbor is only a few miles away, we don't necessarily need to.

And I would argue that Ann Arbor's success hasn't come without a price. The cost of doing business there is relatively high. And, as a result, there's homogenization happening. Where there was once Drake's sandwich shop, there's now Jimmy Johns and Potbelly. And to add insult to injury, the Potbelly Sandwich Shop, stands where the once influential Discount Records used to. There's no sign to mark it, or draw attention to the fact that Iggy Pop, the godfather of punk rock, and favorite son of Ypsilanti, once worked there, but that's where it was.

There's still a hell of a lot of interesting stuff going on – don't get me wrong – but I'd suggest that the momentum is headed in the opposite direction. Take for example the Tech Center. The Tech Center, which used to be home to dozens of Ann Arbor artists, was not so long ago bulldozed to make space for an upscale Y. I know people love the Y, but it didn't come without a cost. Many of those artists, priced out of Ann Arbor, have left. And, I'd argue, that Ypsilanti, where many of them are landing, is coming out on top.

We may not have the Royal Shakespeare Company, but I'd argue that Ypsilanti has more to offer than the strippers and meth dealers that might first come to some of your minds. Ypsilanti isn't just one thing. As my friend Caleb says, "It's also quiet neighborhoods, homemade parade floats and crazy millionaires." His theory is that Ypsilanti is odd because it's stayed complex and layered while the Detroit metro region is full of places that are easily labeled as affluent or poor, urban or suburban, etc. Ypsilanti continues to defy labels. Virtually every demographic of Metro-Detroit's 5 million person region can be found in the 4.5 square miles and 22,000 people of Ypsilanti.

I suspect he's right, but what most appeals to me about Ypsi is the indomitable will to create and shake things up. Ypsi churns out American iconoclasts like other towns crap out gated McMansion communities. Iggy Pop was raised here. Preston Tucker, the automotive maverick who took on the big guys in Detroit, was from here. Early animator Winsor McCay got his start here. Elijah McCoy, one of the most famous black inventors of the 20th Century, was from here. There's a spirit of, "Fuck it, I can do it better," in the air. It's palpable. If you get out of your car, you can feel it.

Ypsi, in my opinion, by suffering financially since the end of World War II, has dodged a bullet. And it wasn't by choice. Our downtown wasn't overrun by national chains, not because we fought them, but because they didn't want us. The question now is, how will we navigate what's coming, because growth is clearly coming. How will we keep the unique character of our downtown? It's occurred to me to fight the chains. I'm told there's a town in Oregon that's passed a law requiring local ownership of businesses. I think that's probably a good thing in the long term. Locally-owned businesses put more money into their regional economies, and tend to stay when times get tough. They don't, like Pfizer, pick up and leave when profits are down (in spite of all the economic incentives that have been given them over the years).

But, the tax base in Ypsilanti, where 25% of our population lives in poverty, is eroding. We need tax dollars to keep our police on the street, our fire engines running, and our public parks open. Given that reality, I've mellowed a bit. I wouldn't be enthusiastic about a Starbucks on Michigan Avenue, but I doubt that I'd picket one. I'd just hope that it got people to stop their cars, feel that palpable sense of "Fuck it, I can do better" that's in the air, and give one of our local stores a chance.

And, of course, I'd wish that it would go out of business quickly.

I'll be here all week.