Casting Drama: Michael Byers' Empire Podcasting brings an old art form into the present

PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

Michael Byers & Empire Podcasting

From the 1930s and into the 1940s, people tuned their radios to hear the ongoing adventures of The Lone Ranger, The Whistler, and Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy. Radio dramas fell out of fashion with the rise of television in the 1950s, but with the rise of Sirius and podcasting, it only makes sense that some clever person would revive the spirit of radio plays and marry it to today’s technology. Ann Arbor's Empire Podcasting offers the best of the old and the new in its podcast, Mary From Michigan Saves the World, which is the brainchild of Michael Byers.

“I’ve been a huge fan of radio my whole life,” says Byers, who worked on a skit show in college. “I never lost the love for radio, its art form, its history.” Byers teachers creative writing and radio drama and comedy classes at the University of Michigan where his students perform and produce their own skits similar to those heard on Mary. “I’d been thinking about this project for a long time," he says. "I finally jumped in last year” by incorporating Empire Podcasting. 

Washtenaw County Dive Bars: A Thorough Review

PULP LIFE REVIEW

Banfield's and Thompson's bars

Banfield's in Ann Arbor and the peguin mascot for Thompson Bar & Grill in Saline.

*This story was originally published June 7, 2018.*

A truly excellent dive bar is an exceedingly special place. Slipping in through the door -- preferably dirty and unmarked -- one should lose all sense of time and place. The bathroom walls should be scrawled upon; the darts, the pool, and the jukebox should be cheap; and there should always be the sneaking suspicion that the bartender is watering down your drinks, even if all you’ve ordered is a pitcher of Labatt. 

I’ve spent many a conversation lamenting that 8 Ball is the last true dive bar in Ann Arbor, once even making the bold statement, “If 8 Ball goes, I go.” After one of these conversations recently, I started thinking about other good dives in the area. I remembered fondly the summer afternoon I found myself at Fenders in Milan and wished for the umpteenth time that Powell’s in Ypsilanti was closer to me. But there had to be some other good ones that I was missing or -- gasp -- didn’t even know about, I figured. And that’s how the idea for this piece, in which I attempt to find the best dive bar in Washtenaw County, was born. 

After making a list of all the potential dives I thought needed to be explored (and overcoming my disappointment that Zukey Lake Tavern is outside county lines), I asked my fellow dive-bar-loving friend to come with me on the journey. It turned out that the day that worked best for us to embark on the trip was a random Tuesday at the end of May. “Are dive bars open on Tuesdays?” I texted my friend. “They are if they want to be considered BEST OF WASHTENAW COUNTY,” he responded. “Excellent point,” I said.

Finding the best dive bar in any county is a marathon, not a sprint, so we started in the early afternoon at the county’s northernmost bar:

Big, Tall & Fashionable: Michael Anthony Spearman blogs high-style ideas for everyday people

PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

Michael Anthony Spearman

Michael Anthony Spearman is The Big Fashion Guy.

As a blogger and stylist, Spearman writes his take on style trends and guides his clients on how to be dapper. And as a budding designer, he is aiming to start a fashion line for big and tall gentlemen who are in need of stylish choices.

Bred in Detroit, the style savant has been featured in various notable publications including BuzzFeed, Hour Detroit, and BLAC Detroit magazines. Spearman has been cultivating his brand for years, and with over 35,000 followers and counting on Instagram, he has plenty of people keeping up with his style.

Spearman divides his time between the Detroit/Ann Arbor and NYC areas, therefore he has plenty of tasks on his to-do list. Spearman earned his undergraduate degree in fashion design and merchandising at Wayne State University and is currently earning his graduate degree in menswear fashion design at the Academy of Art University.

We talked to Spearman about his take on body confidence, whether Detroit and Ann Arbor are style cities, and more.

Cider Mill Marathon: Spending a day at Washtenaw County apple and pumpkin farms

PULP LIFE REVIEW

Donut

I was in Houghton Lake a few weeks ago with my guy when I turned to him and said, “We should do an apple cider crawl.” And then I trailed off.

I’m used to taking on weird projects alone or dragging along my son who depends on me for food and shelter and has little leverage to say no. I don’t usually involve other adults in my shenanigans. I wasn’t shut down immediately, so I continued, “We could visit the cider mills in Washtenaw County.”

He responded, “That would be more like a marathon.”

The following weekend, we decided to embrace fall by chasing apple cider.

When you put two middle managers together, there is little that unfolds without a plan, so we identified our targets: Dexter Cider Mill; Wiard’s Orchard, Cider Mill, and Pumpkin Farm; Wasem Fruit Farm; Jenny’s Farm Stand and Cider Mill; and Alber Orchard and Cider Mill. We wanted to end our trek close to where we’d land for the evening -- in this case, Ypsilanti -- so we plotted out our route in advance. We wanted our travels orderly.

Friday afternoon we picked my son up from school, planning to hit the road from there. He takes one look at us, “Did you plan that?” He’s looking at our clothes. Realizing that he is the only one not wearing a plaid shirt. He teases us, “Can we stop home so that I can change?” We don’t stop home. We head straight to I-94.

Arts & Ed for All: WCC opens its campus for free classes and performances

PULP LIFE

Washtenaw Community College teacher and student

As part of this year’s Washtenaw Community College Fall Open House and Free College Day on Sunday, September 30, WCC hosts “OPEN ARTS – A Celebration of the Arts at Washtenaw Community College,” honoring the artistic accomplishments of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. It is a chance for the WCC community to show off talents that one doesn’t necessarily see in the classroom, and that may have nothing to do with academic life.

Once known as Bravo, this event has been happening for the past four years. (The name was changed so as to avoid confusion with the Bravo awards given out to faculty members nominated by students to be recognized for their work.) This is the first year the event has “piggybacked” with Free College Day. 

Department chair and dance professor Noonie Anderson “was the original push for this performance, and [has] overseen the project since it started.” She said, “Our WCC community is far-reaching and a major part of our Ann Arbor and Ypsi communities. It was a way for us to share with the communities that support us and celebrate to WCC.”

Dreamgate brings a homegrown immersive virtual-reality game to Ann Arbor

PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

Dreamgate VR

In a quiet corner of Briarwood Mall zombies are being destroyed, robot attacks are being fought off, and an Ann Arbor-based startup company is showcasing the potential of virtual-reality video gaming.

Dreamgate VR involves up to four game players in a 400-foot arena. Virtual-reality headsets transform the courtyard near Sears into a completely new world -- either a futuristic cityscape or an apocalyptic war zone. 

The company bills itself as “the first free-roaming, multiplayer virtual reality experience” in Michigan. And in less than a year since launching, the effort is already a success, with plans in the works to add a third game and expand to other locations.

Dreamgate founder and CEO Craig Albert has had an affinity for computers since his family bought one when he was in first grade. Growing up, he taught himself how to build web pages and do graphic design. And he played a lot of online games.

Raining in the Race: Conquering the 2018 Dexter-Ann Arbor Half Marathon

PULP LIFE REVIEW

The author at the 2018 Dexter-Ann Arbor Half Marathon

The Dexter-Ann Arbor Half Marathon (DXA2), which takes runners along the beautiful Huron River Drive, is a staple in the area the first Sunday of June each year. It’s a particularly special race because - unlike most races that have to be a loop or an out-and-back route so that the start and finish are in the same spot -- DXA2 takes runners from downtown Dexter to downtown Ann Arbor with no return. This requires much coordination by race organizers, as many runners opt to be shuttled on school buses from Ann Arbor to Dexter for the race start at Creekside Middle School. I’ve always been impressed with how smoothly this all works out. 

Sweet Smell of Success: Michelle Krell Kydd's Smell & Tell celebrates 6 years with a field trip

PULP LIFE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Michelle Krell Kydd

Michelle Krell Kydd is here to say one person's rank stank is another person's memory-jarring concoction that evokes almonds, butterscotch, fresh-cut grass, brown leaves, and lavender soap.

For the past six years, Kydd's hosted Smell & Tell events at the Ann Arbor District Library, teaching attendees how to get in touch with their sense of smell and explore all the wonders -- and horrors -- that come along with being aware of the scents that surround us every day.

In fact, her next Smell & Tell explicitly focuses on this: "Follow Your Nose in the Great Outdoors" has participants walk in the outdoors and whiff smells in the wild at County Farm Park on June 2 and 3.

If you've never been to a Smell & Tell, sign up now -- it's a true treat, guaranteed. Read my recap of her "Brian Eno Smells" event in February to get a sense of Kydd's smarts, humor, and passion. All of those traits come through in our email interview, which also puts her fantastic writing on display. (Read more of her words at glasspetalsmoke.blogspot.com.)

Hilarity at the Heidelberg: Tony Klee's Something to Do Comedy Night at Club Above

PULP LIFE REVIEW

Something to Do Comedy night at Heidelberg's Club Above

I found out about Something to Do Comedy Night at the Heidelberg's Club Above when its organizer, Tony Klee, bought me a shot of tequila last summer and I joked about doing the show one day.

Recently, Klee put out a call for comics, especially women comics, and when I asked him if I could go up, he said yes.

I had about five days to come up with a five-minute set.

I needed to write some jokes.

Crooked Insights: Pod Save America at the Michigan Theater

PULP LIFE REVIEW

Pod Save America at the Michigan Theater

Pod Save America pulled no porogressive punches at the Michigan Theater on Friday. Photo by Sherlonya Turner.

I am one of the people who couldn’t get enough of political podcasts during the 2016 presidential election. That is how I found my way to the podcast Keepin’ It 1600, hosted by Washington insiders Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, Jon Lovett, and Daniel Pfeiffer. In January 2017, the hosts of that show started Pod Save America, a show about current United States politics and it impacts on the American people as a part of Crooked Media, their network that now hosts five podcasts and written work from several contributors. Through their work, they hope to inform people from their progressive point of view about the current political landscape while entertaining their audience and inspiring them to become personally involved in the political process. Based on the crowd outside of the Michigan Theater on Friday, Oct. 6, the Pod Save America team inspired people to leave the comfort of their homes to see the foursome in action.