Detroit: The Iconic City

Other than a quick half-day trip for a business meeting, this was the first time I’ve gotten to spend time in Detroit since the “meltdown” in 2008. I got to talk to several cab drivers and lots and lots of people, from executives to ordinary workers. There are some thoughts I’d like to share.

click to enlarge photo

I took this photo from the front porch of Hitsville, U.S.A. yesterday morning. At right is the Motown studio. The tall building at left is the Henry Ford Hospital. In the distance, the tower is the original General Motors Headquarters.

Outside of Washington, D.C., is there any place where three such uniquely American icons, Motown, Henry Ford, and GM, can be seen in the same glance, on the same street?

From yesterday’s newspaper headlines, I understand there are a lot of people who were unhappy with Clint Eastwood’s commercial for Chrysler in during Sunday’s Super Bowl. I didn’t think it was political at all. I saw it as Detroit as an American icon. And, when you look at the photo above, it is undeniably true.

This city has had a very rough time since 2008. While you get from the airport to downtown much faster due to the lack of congestion, the cabbies tell you what life has been like.  More than one pleaded with me to call them to take me to the airport yesterday afternoon (didn’t make my flight, had to spend an extra night).

That said, I sense that Detroit is turning around. There are a lot of very smart people here. Quiet optimism prevails with both the management and UAW folks I met with.

When I was sitting next to the chancellor of a public university in Wisconsin on a plane in 2009, she told me she was pessimistic for America. I explained that I thought — after we cleared out the recent turmoil — America’s best days are still ahead of us, provided we keep true to our values of liberty and free enterprise. I still believe that and so, apparently, does Clint Eastwood.

Keep up the great work, Detroit. We are all cheering for you!

Full disclosure: Ford, GM, and Chrysler are all clients of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, my day job. 

"Standing in the Shadows of Motown"

Taken this morning with flurries falling. The Snake Pit is in the basement.
Barry Gordy, Jr.’s apartment was upstairs. There are three bottles of
Coca Cola in the apartment. Mr. Gordy and I share similar taste in pop.
The summer of 1964, I found the music that I would love for the rest of my life: Four Seasons, Beach Boys, and Motown. Loved the Four Tops, Temptations, Mary Wells, and all of the other great Motown groups. Tuneful, upbeat, infectious music. That made me just about like every other teenager in the 1960′s.
Fast forward to the 1990′s: I had to go to Las Vegas at least twice yearly for trade shows. They opened the “Motown Cafe” in the New York, New York Hotel (should have been Detroit, Detroit). Every time I visited Vegas I would go to the cafe at least once because not only did they have memorabilia, they had live Motown music at least once each hour. Unfortunately, it closed in 2000 and was replaced with the vastly inferior ESPNZone. 
In 2002, an absolutely amazing movie came out: Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Shadows asked a question I (and probably 99% of Motown’s other fans) had never considered: Who played the music for all of these vocal groups? The Supremes didn’t play instruments. Neither did the Tops, the Temps., etc, etc. Yet, there was this identifiable sound associated with Motown. Where did the music come from?

Screen capture from “Standing in the Shadows of Motown”
Joan Osborne singing “Heatwave” with (from left) Funk Brothers
Joe Hunter and Jack Ashford
The movie is absolutely wonderful, even if you are not especially a Motown fan.  Unfortunately, I cannot embed this clip of Joan Osborne singing “Heatwave.” So, click the link, listen and come back…I’ll wait. 
Even though it is not Martha & the Vandellas it is clearly the Motown sound – your ears would recognize it anywhere. Turns out it a small group of musicians — black and white — known as “The Funk Brothers” played on every one of those songs! Collectively, the Funk Brothers had more hits than the Beatles, Elvis, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys, combined! But, until the book and movie, they never received any recognition (more about that below). 

Once I heard and saw their story, I decided I had to get to Hitsville, U.S.A.

That is what Barry Gordy, Jr., the founder and entrepreneur, called his little complex of homes on West Grand that became the offices and studios of Tamla then Motown records. It is now officially called the Motown Museum. Gordy borrowed $800 from his Mom and Dad on condition he pay it back in a year. He did, and much more.

Standing in the Snake Pit

I met some absolutely wonderful people this morning and learned so much. The most thrilling part was getting to go into the Snake Pit, where every one of those songs was recorded. The original instruments and equipment are still there. They don’t allow photos but I found this video that I could embed. 
Seeing Funk Brother Jack Ashford’s vibes, for example, was a complete thrill (pictured in the video above). Or, the organ where they played the intro to Heard It Through the Grapevine. The Snake Pit piano was a loaner. When Paul McCartney visited recently, he wanted to play (sure…they’ll let him touch the instruments!). He was told the piano was in such bad shape, they would prefer he did not. So, Sir Paul sent the original off to Steinway for refurbishing.  They have a loaner in there now. 

Seeing the Snake Pit and all of the little techniques they used to polish the sound would have been enough. But, there is so much more.

The Reason Dianna Ross Could Always Perfectly Pose for Pictures

I was going to teach them how to act and how to walk.
I wanted them to be able to meet kings and queens.
They all thought I was crazy. They’d say, “I
just want a hit record.”
                       — Maxine Powell, artist development

When Little Stevie Wonder started with Motown he was 11. Diana Ross was 14. Kids.

So, Gordy realized that their vocal talent was not sufficient. He hired a number of people, like Maxine Powell (above), to coach them on their voice techniques, pose for pictures, move on stage (there is an area where they explain how the choreographer taught The Temptations to move) and how to conduct themselves. There is even a video of some of them being introduced to Queen Elizabeth.

There are displays of how the original album art was created. In the early days, the artists did not appear on the album covers. Gordy was afraid that showing the artists as being black would limit their appeal. That changed when Ed Sullivan embraced them. Gordy, and the artists, found white America loved their music.

At Last, Recognition

From left, Robert White (who played the guitar into to “My Girl”),
Dan Turner, Earl Van Dyke, Uriel Jones and James Jamerson

But, still, the Funk Brothers received no recognition. It wasn’t until Marvin Gaye’s (current featured artist in the museum) What’s Going On that any of the names of the instrumental artists even appeared on the album jacket.

Finally, in 2002, the Funk Brothers won two Grammies. One with Chaka Khan for her great performance of What’s Going On in Shadows and for the movie’s soundtrack. In 2004, they won for Lifetime Achievement.

Funk Brothers posting with the two producers (at right)
with their Grammies for “Shadows’” soundtrack.

Unfortunately, we’re continuing to lose the Funk Brothers to age. At least two (Uriel Jones and Joe Hunter) have passed away since the movie was made.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown, their story, came out 41 years after they first provided the instrumental music for all of those many, many, hits. I highly recommend the movie (it has been running on cable lately, also available on DVD). And, if you are ever in Detroit, go visit. You won’t be sorry.

Checking this item off my “bucket list” this morning was a tremendous thrill.

Tomorrow: I’ll have a couple of thoughts about Detroit itself.

ADDITION: Shadows is available on iTunes to rent for $3 or to purchase for $10. I’m right now purchasing a copy to watch on the plane back tomorrow, even though I have the DVD.

Today is National Weatherman’s Day!!

Meteorologists (along with storm chasers, climatologists, storm spotters, volunteer cooperative weather observers, radar technicians and all of the other complementary fields) bring tremendous value at very low cost to American society. To get all of the value of weather forecasts, storm warnings, and data, we Americans receive we pay (in taxes each year) the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal®. Compare that cost to a single visit to the doctor!

I bring up physicians because I discussed earlier this week that storm warnings have improved to the point where they should be accorded approximately the same respect as a preliminary medical diagnosis. Neither is perfect, but both should be taken seriously.

And, when a blizzard or tornado is coming, the public gets the warning from (free) television, (free) radio, (free) AccuWeather. That Meteorological Happy Meal covers you for the whole year!

Companies like AccuWeather spend our R&D dollars on devising
better ways to get weather information you — free. This app
is advertiser-supported and costs the user nothing. 

Just this past week, the forecasts of the major snow storm allowed people to adjust their plans and mitigate the storm’s inconvenience and danger.

Here is an article about the significance of National Weatherman’s Day!

Now, go out and thank a meteorologist!

Oh, and I understand there is something about a football game later on today…….

Maybe I Don’t Want that Private Jet After All

On several occasions, I’ve stated that I would love to have a private jet if I could afford it. The airlines and TSA have made air travel drudgery, at best.

However, based on a story in today’s Wall Street Journal about private-jet trials and tribulations at tomorrow’s Super Bowl, maybe it isn’t all its cracked up to be. The story is called “Tarmac Gridlock” and here are a couple of highlights:

The result is that some VIPs will have to park their jets VFA—very far away. “We were not expecting this whatsoever,” said Brian Payne, manager of the airport in French Lick, Ind., a town of 1,800 two hours’ drive south of Indianapolis, most commonly associated with NBA legend Larry Bird.
At least seven private planes will land in French Lick [Indiana] this weekend—more arrivals than the airport typically handles in a week…

The line at Indianapolis International may be longer than the postgame wait at past Super Bowls because the lack of available rooms at hotels—and especially luxury hotels—in Indianapolis is forcing attendees to fly in and out on game day. Though the airport is increasing takeoffs to 100 per hour that night, Mr. Medvescek said, the wait could approach four hours.

Yeah, I’m sure staying at the Hilton Garden Inn would be tough!

Charter companies and others are making special plans to appease the elite mobs of potentially angry private-jetters on the tarmac Sunday night. Million Air, which services private jets parked at Indianapolis International, has created a catered VIP lounge in an aircraft hangar, with eight 70-inch televisions, two theater screens and a race car simulator. “You know, something to pass the time while they’re waiting,” said Drent Sarault, Million Air’s Indianapolis director.

So, maybe a private jet isn’t worth the trouble. Of course, I’m open minded and willing to be convinced it is worth the money. Cessna? Hawker? Learjet? I’ll take your call!

Time Out for a Posting About Pop

Bringing the map to you because I thought it was interesting.

I grew up in Kansas City where you called flavored, carbonated water “pop.” Per the map, that is the norm. However, when I moved to St. Louis, I found it was called “soda.” And, when I went to school at OU in Norman, it was (even when referring to 7-UP) called “coke.”

click to enlarge

Get Ready for an Annular Solar Eclipse

The rarest type of solar eclipse is going to occur in the U.S. in May. It occurs on Sunday, May 20. The path of the eclipse and timing are illustrated below:

click to enlarge

An annular eclipse is just like a total eclipse except it occurs when the moon is farther away from earth than usual. So, instead of a completely dark sun, you get a tiny yellow circle around the dark moon (see below).

We had a full annular eclipse visible from Wichita in 1994. The sky turned a very dark blue and the stars came out. The temperature dropped noticeably. You will have to have welder’s glass or a similar suitable viewing device.

I’m presenting this now, so if you’d like to see this rare event, you can make plans to go to the Southwest. Climatologically, the best area would be from New Mexico, west, where rain and thunderstorms are rare in late May. It will be visible from Albuquerque, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park (easy to access from Las Vegas) then northwest to the California-Oregon border.

The band from ABQ to Zion is, statistically, the best area for viewing. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief is a great way to get to Flagstaff, Winslow, Kingman, the Grand Canyon, and (don’t forget) Winona.

Farther east, it is tornado season on May 20th and thunderstorms might block your view.

Personally, I’m one for two on solar eclipses.

For the Wichita ’94 eclipse we dedicated WeatherData’s new office in the Farm Credit Bank Building. We had a spectacular day!

Three years earlier, I took our family to the July, ’91 total solar eclipse in Hawaii. Being a meteorologist, I did careful research as to the best place to watch (the eclipse would take place at 8am). That was on a boat in the channel between Maui and Hawaii where the totality would be longest. Being on the leeward side of the mountain, statistically, should have given us the best chance of clear skies.

So, the Smith Tribe got up at 4am, got on the boat with the other astronomical adventurers and we watched it get completely dark — under a rainy overcast!

Everyone on the boat was very disappointed, and some were crying, at the lost opportunity. My family, like everyone else, was very disappointed and grumbling about having been awakened so early to see so little.

As we pulled into the docks, my son, Brandon, said to me, “Well, Dad, I had a good time.”

I gratefully replied, “THANK YOU, Brandon!”

He quickly added, “Not!”

There were numerous other fiascos during that family trip. I kept waiting for Harold Ramis to contact us wanting to buy the rights to the story.

My advice: If you take children, make sure you have a second memorably fun thing to do. So, if Mother Nature does not cooperate, expedition will not always be known as The Trip Where Dad Dragged Us to the Middle of Nowhere and We Didn’t See Anything!

I’ll wrap up this posting with, Take it away Lindsay Buckingham!

An Insightful Article About American Culture

We don’t do politics on this blog. However, I do have a posting category for “culture” and another for “Americana.” So, I am posting this article by Charles Murray on the evolution of American culture the last fifty years.

Both the Tea Party and Occupy movements sense (correctly, I believe) that “the American Dream” has come off the rails. This article, convincingly, explains why. If we understand problems, we are in a much better position to solve them. 
I highly recommend Murray’s article.

Note: Fixed link (I hope). 

What a Great Job With the National Anthem…

…in the rain. I thought Kristin Chenoweth did a marvelous job at the start of the NFC Championship Game.

Because of the tornado situation, I didn’t want to blog about this yesterday evening.

It was a great thrill meeting her when she was on her book tour.

The Worst Airline Terminals

USA Today published an article about the best and worst airline terminals in the world.

Here are my nominees for the worst:

3. Houston Bush Terminal B. Dark with perpetual chaos. Employees call it “the ghetto.”

2. Newark’s Terminal A (mentioned in the article). Old, shabby, and rude about says it all.

1. — the worst — Chicago O’Hare Terminal F. As travel writer Joe Brancatelli so aptly describes it, “it is where the Fall of Saigon is reenacted daily.” Walking outside in the pouring rain and snow with no cover, total inability to get a flight off on time at the advertised gate, rude people, nowhere to sit.

Notice something in common? All belong to United Continental Airlines. UA is my favorite airline to fly. But, they really, really need to do something about these three terminals.

Lightning Safety from Miss America Candidate

Thunderstorms are forecast along the Gulf Coast today and tomorrow, so this is timely. Please take this safety information to heart. It is presented by Miss Ohio, Ellen Bryan, who is participating in the Miss America Pageant this week.

My good friend Cat Taylor, the current Miss Prairie Rose, has a platform of getting weather radios into schools.

It is good to see these talented young women working to improve weather safety.

Good luck, Miss Ohio!

Time Out for a Cotton Bowl Posting

(Once in a while we talk about sports on Meteorological Musings, so if the 2012 Cotton Bowl or places to eat near I-35 in Oklahoma and Texas do not interest you, please stop reading here.)

Congratulations to the Oklahoma State Cowboys for bringing the Big XII to 6-1 in its bowl games this year. There is one left…

The Cotton Bowl is the biggest (in terms of number of fans in attendance) of all of the bowl games and this year it features the Kansas State Wildcats versus the Arkansas Razorbacks.  More than 105,000 are expected to attend. The ‘backs are the favorites but I’m predicting a Wildcat victory (especially against the spread).

One of our tickets!

So, since tens of thousands will be traveling down I-35 from Kansas to Dallas, I thought I’d provide some information that might be helpful. My qualifications: I frequently drive that highway on business trips to Norman and DFW. I want to share these with my blog readers but do not tell anyone else. I don’t want the waits to be too long for our group!

If you are looking for non-national chain places to eat roughly halfway between Kansas and Dallas, here are three recommendations from north to south that are worth getting off the freeway for:

  • Edmond, Oklahoma 66 (formerly U.S. Route 66) exit. Go east about 5-8 minutes to Pops. Great burgers, a killer ice cream cake dessert, and the world’s largest soda pop collection (Coca-Cola made in Mexico with real cane sugar, for example) to drink there or take with you. Photos below.

  • Norman. “Coach’s” sports bar downtown. The best pizza in Norman. Just take the Main Street exit, go east, and it will be on the south (right) side of the road immediately before the railroad tracks. And, take a moment to cross the tracks to see the statue of Norman’s favorite son, James Garner.
  • Interurban, Ardmore. With a name more similar to a streetcar or train, this restaurant is like a “TGI Fridays” with really good service and fun decorations. Great place to stop with kids.

It is located between exits 32 and 31B in Ardmore on the east side access road (“A” on map below):

click to enlarge

Once you get to Dallas, here are three wonderful places, two Uptown and one Northeast:

  • For brunch, Breadwinners Cafe and Bakery. Wow. You have to try it!  Photos below. 

The brunch of champions. “I’ll have one of each, please.”

  • And, finally, even though it is a chain, since we don’t have one in Kansas (I’ll invest; hint, hint), for Italian food like my late Grandmother Lembo used to make, go to Maggianos. If you have never experienced their food, get their lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs and, for dessert, apple crostada (ask for extra ice cream!). Our reservations are for 6:30 Saturday. See you there!
Hoping for a great game and, in a spirit of good sportsmanship, I invite Arkansas Razorback fans to use these suggestions, too.  See you in Big D!

My Kind of Christmas Lights

My friends and entire family are acutely aware that I have zero motor skills. The thought of using “handy” and “Mike Smith” in the same sentence would cause them to laugh out loud. So, you can correctly surmise there are no Christmas lights on our home.

So, when I heard about these Christmas lights, I had to find a picture. This is my kind of guy.
Photo from NBC Chicago
The story about over-the-top Christmas lights is here

Attention Model Train Stores!

Huge layouts of model trains at Kansas City’s Union Station yesterday 

Over the next ten days, I’m going to have several blog posts about science-related toys and others that I believe will help children become more creative and/or come to love science.

One of the areas I’m going to bring up is model railroading. Building scenery, wiring, etc., teaches many useful skills. Plus, running the trains is fun. That posting will make suggestions for how to get started in the hobby, etc.

Before that blog posting goes up a few days from now, I want to say a few words to the local train stores that are in many cites. I have been in three of those stores this week, two yesterday on Black Friday. All three had in-store layouts none of which we running! I couldn’t believe it. If there was ever a time to be running the layouts, it is Black Friday. Not surprisingly, there was little traffic in the stores.

Meanwhile, in downtown Kansas City, Union Station’s multiple — and beautiful — layouts were jammed with kids and their parents having a wonderful time. If someone had a display of starter train sets, they’d have sold out by the end of the day.

I know a train store owner and he complains about competition from the internet. OK, I’m sure it is a challenge. But, the internet can’t have a layout. It can’t give lessons. It can’t do service.

So, lets get those layouts running! Maybe consider rigging the controls so children an push a button to sound the train’s horn.

I’m giving you a few days to get those layouts in shape then I hope to send you some customers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

As a friend of mine says, In America, every day should be Thanksgiving Day.

Mindy and I hope you and yours have a wonderful day.

The best Thanksgiving gift I can give you over this blog is the classic “Turkeys Away” episode of WKRP in Cincinnati. One blogger ( calls this the “greatest Thanksgiving sitcom moment in history.”

Take it away, Les Nessman…

“Not since the Hindenburg tragedy has there been anything like this.”

This is a How to Lift People Out of Poverty Story…

…not a political story. The advice is excellent regardless of who said it.

He added, “You go out and talk to people, as I do, you go out and talk to people who are really successful in one generation. They all started their first job between nine and 14 years of age. They all were either selling newspapers, going door to door, they were doing something, they were washing cars.”
“They all learned how to make money at a very early age,” he said. “What do we say to poor kids in poor neighborhoods? Don’t do it. Remember all that stuff about don’t get a hamburger flipping job? The worst possible advice you could give to poor children. Get any job that teaches you to show up on Monday. Get any job that teaches you to stay all day even if you are in a fight with your girlfriend. The whole process of making work worthwhile is central.”

I started mowing lawns for $$ at 13. I was mowing lawns and working in a cafeteria kitchen at 15. I had a weather club that actually did weather reports on the #1 rated radio station in Kansas City at 16.  Many of the well-off people I know tell similar stories.

Farewell to Regis!

On a couple of occasions on this blog, I’ve had some good-natured fun with Regis.

I was not able to be home at 9am to watch his farewell show, so I taped it. It was a heartwarming, wonderful tribute to the man who has logged more hours on television than anyone else. If you taped it, be sure to watch the recording. You will not be disappointed.

Regis continues his book tour. Sold 505 copies at a B&N in NYC Wednesday (I’m jealous!).  He is in Atlanta and Miami this weekend.

Kelly takes over the show Monday and Kathleen and I wish her well.

God bless you, Regis and enjoy your retirement!

P.S. Early in the show, Ted Koppel does his imitation of Regis. He sounds more like Jackie Mason imitating Regis.