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Things Not Here Anymore: A Local PBS Classic Show
October 30, 2007

Ten years ago the local PBS TV station, WKAR, produced a 2-part documentary called "Things Not Here Anymore" about the city that used to be at the location GPS units call "Lansing"---our small and once-fair capitol.

Actually the show was about the whole region and the civilization that once existed here, even as late as the mid-1970's.

Here are URLs to online versions of the shows:

For anyone who remembers that America once had smaller cities the shows are real tear-jerkers.

Just think of what our people and our leaders together destroyed.

...And replaced with freeway exit minimalls---and malls and supermarkets and big-boxes and ghettos and, in our area, a student ghetto, too---no longer staffed with visible professionals of any type. Cheap, temporary teen workers are the rule of the day in our turn-key world.

That's what we traded our cities for.

I remember working as a bag-boy, and working hard to keep my job, at the local family-run high-quality grocery store. It was in Okemos, a suburb of MSU professor's families. It was close to the neighborhoods. The rich, educated people abandoned the professional service and quality goods of that store, Schmidt's, to save literally a few pennies at the first big supermarket in the area, Meijer. That's how we lost it all, piece by piece.

Anyway, the shows show that Lansing used to have a real hotel and restaurants and sidewalk life. --Freak things that we now only expect to see in major metro areas or other countries.

I remember those places even in the 70's, when I was a kid. It's really too bad that the shows stuck so closely to the black'n'white footage concept when we lost all these places only so recently. Maybe the pain would be too much to bear.

Lake Lansing had an amusement park, wooden roller coaster, an amazing round bar on stilts out in the lake and a huge, fancy dance hall on the water where the best swing bands played for decades and where kids came and danced actual dance-steps til dawn.

I know that everything changes. But East Lansing used to have a real bookstore. Now it has tanning booths on the main intersection. I suppose everything also degrades and declines. But do the people and the leaders really not see that they're doing this to themselves with every penny they save off the back of ever-more-ignorant teenage help?

Obviously, I'm not against teens or young workers. I'm against the dumbing down and cheapening of the entire retail work force. There used to be roles for all ages. There was work to live up to.

Here's another link to a Forum chat about the Lake Lansing Amusement Park---I note that one contributor remembers learning to operate all the irdes as a kid and sensing the feel of HISTORY about each ride. This wasn't a museum at the time, people. Is it possible for a teen---or adult---to feel this way for hardly any biz today?

I woke up this morning thinking of two dead local businesses that changed my life. I have a hard time even writing about them. What if the old owner saw this? I "came of age" working at a downtown backpacking shop, Raupp Campfitters. It's when outdoor activity was popular. We had a pro staff. Each winter we'd have lines of people buying XC skis lined around inside the building and down the street. Michigan is still a far better XC ski state than a downhill ski state, but the fad is gone. It never was a fad. It was real. It was about reality. Well, for some of us, I guess. A couple stores down from us was Castellani's Market---the first imported wine and cheese store in the area. The first cafe'. You can see where this is headed. I'll make it short. This tiny multi-generation biz went under shortly after coffee boomed. I suspect it was a fun and heady couple years at that point then... I used to take lunch breaks from the ski shop down there and learn about cheese from the stylish and friendly owner. I wasn't old enough to buy wine yet. But he had the selection. A simple store selling what no one else had. Anyway, they're both gone now.

But I have other vestigal memories of even earlier days, of the downtown in those WKAR features. As one of the interviewees says, "It's hard to imagine it now." ---Meaning, can you believe that anyone in this area used to value quality?

Lake Lansing has 4 "jalapeno popper" bars near it now. None of them have views of the lake, much less a patio.

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