Susan Pollay

Susan Pollay
Executive Director, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority

Tottered on: 24 January 2006
Temperature: 35 F
Ceiling: overcast
Ground: firm muddy
Wind: SW at 13 mph

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TT with HD: Susan Pollay

HD: So totter-end choice is yours. I've been having trouble keeping the thing dry. I totally recommend the high and dry end.

SP: I have no problem sitting on the wet end, because it's onto the ground already. I've got a raincoat on, so this is waterproof ...

HD: Well, okay. ...

SP: It's been like 40 years ...

HD: ... okay ...

SP: ... okay ...

HD: Are you good?

SP: That's great.

HD: I think I'm too far back, or maybe you're not far back enough.

SP: How's that? Better?

HD: Okay, I think this'll work.

SP: This is really a hoot.

HD: It's great fun. Up until recently, we had it just to ourselves.

SP: How romantic!

HD: Yeah, actually, the original impetus was our 15th wedding anniversary. I wanted to build something that would be unique. I thought of it as a metaphor for marriage and life ... and then you have a teeter totter in your backyard and you start to think, Well I gotta get more mileage out of it ...

SP: I don't know, I see the two of you resolving quarrels, coming out to discuss ...

HD: We never quarrel, Susan. So breaking news this morning, for me, anyway, maybe you knew about it before, but one of the footballs got stolen?

SP: Yeah, I heard about it yesterday.

HD: Any new details emerging?

SP: No, it's a shame really. Someone thought they were being very clever. They took a saw and sawed it off at the base.

HD: So they sawed through ... fiberglass material?

SP: They sawed through fiberglass.

HD: Huh!

SP: And the shame of it is that it was a project by volunteers who cared passionately about doing something fun. But they're ultimately getting auctioned off, with the money to go to the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, with the goal of funding the arts. So there's a really laudable end result. And someone is taking it away as a lark. Maybe they didn't know, but still it's a shame.

HD: Well, they're not just taking away a feel-good feeling. They're taking away actual cash, because it's that much less that'll be auctioned off.

SP: And there's an artist in this community who spent a lot of time painting it.

HD: Which one was it? I know it was the location at Washington and State.

SP: Yeah, the Buffalo Wild Wings location. I don't remember which artist that is. But I felt badly, because there's so many people who volunteered so many hours to make it happen. And on a lark, I'm sure it was a lark, they thought, Wouldn't it be funny ...

HD: Well, I don't know. I mean, if they had to saw through fiberglass, that required at least some planning. So I can't believe it was somebody just too drunk to have the sense to know that it wasn't a good idea.

SP: I don't know that I'd say this was drunk-on-a-lark. This was more, Wouldn't it be great, if I could meet the challenge! For instance, there's banners along the lamp posts. Just as a challenge, people will see if they can steal them, not that they necessarily want them. They might discard them shortly thereafter. It's just to see if they can do it and meet the challenge.

HD: As I understand it, the footballs themselves were all the same? These fiberglass football blanks?

SP: Yep, made by the mayor of this small town in Maine. His job, other than being the mayor, is he makes fiberglass things. What started was an idea to take a really goofy thing, which is the Super Bowl, and since Ann Arbor is a Super City for this whole business, and to put an Ann Arbor spin on it. Since we don't take ourselves seriously, goodness knows, we have six big Super Bowls a year with six home football games, there was a lot of discussion about, There really should be lasting value, if we're going to do this! It's not about filling hotel rooms, although that's also nice, but about really expressing who Ann Arbor is. And that led to this wonderful partnership with the Ann Arbor community of artists. The call went out saying, If you're willing to paint one, we'll find sponsors to help pay for the cost of the footballs and then they'll be auctioned off later on with the proceeds going to the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

HD: How much did those blank footballs cost? Did we get a volume discount from this guy in Maine?

SP: I have no idea. What a great question! I have no idea. I wonder how you buy those. By the dozen, I guess.

HD: I would think just from their sheer size and shipping them here from Maine, that you're talking about a few hundred bucks apiece. And the reason I ask, actually, is once you get past a certain dollar amount, from the point of view of theft, don't you cross the line between misdemeanor and felony, or grand versus ... ?

SP: Oh god, who knows? It could be. This is one of those where I feel worse about the artists doing all that work in a labor of love. The crime is one that's worse, because here's someone who's given of themselves artistically. And on a lark someone carted it off. It's a shame, really. This is one of the few opportunities I've seen for public art to come out onto the public right of way. And if you have to worry about things like theft, maybe that's one reason we don't have as much public art ... I'd hate to think that's the kind of thing that goes into the thinking ...

HD: If you want to punish them properly, though, I think you gotta find out how much it cost.

SP: Yeah, make them paint a football.

HD: So just in case the thieves of the football are reading the Teeter Talk website, is there anything that you'd like to say to them specifically?

SP: Well, I'd like to say to them, Please, next time you think about your fun, think about other people and what they've done. Just think about other people. In a civil society, there should be some rules that govern the way we behave with each other. Don't take that which doesn't belong to you! It's so fundamental. It's something I thought we all learned when we were three or four years old, maybe you need to learn that, too!

HD: I thought maybe you'd use the word 'punks' ...

SP: You know, I don't use that word.

HD: No?

SP: And I love that word. I think I'm saving it for a special occasion Sounds like a really bad cop show.

HD: Speaking of cop shows, do you watch any of law-enforcement dramas that are on television now?

SP: Not a one.

HD: 24?

SP: Totally have never seen a single one.

HD: 24 is worth watching.

SP: Is it?

HD: Yeah, Kiefer Southerland.

SP: Okay gotta watch it, then. I have to admit to very strange TV habits. Which is, spin the dial until something interesting comes along. And it may be a dog show or it may be a program about some historical event ...

HD: ... so it's not that you're against television, per se, you just ...

SP: ... oh I love it ...

HD: .. don't have a watching schedule ...

SP: ... no, I was a child of the 70's. I was brought up watching a television set. I live for TV.

HD: Yeah, I'm a voracious consumer of television, I'm more sort of scheduled.

SP: So besides 24 what else do you watch?

HD: Let's see, I watch LOST, um ... The Office. The Office is definitely worth a look.

SP: Okay, I gotta check that one out.

HD: Yeah that's definitely worth watching, I think. So you mentioned before we got on the teeter totter that you were just at a meeting where they were talking about the Calthorpe Report?

SP: Yeah.

HD: Is that just about to drive you nuts at this point?

SP: Nooo. God, no. This stuff is SO exciting. I heard once from my friend, Russ Collins, that his assessment was that Ann Arbor goes through cycles. About every twenty years really interesting changes happen. I think we're on that part of the 20-year cycle. I love this. I think it's so great that our community is talking about things like, What do we want our city to look like? Do we want to be a part of the city that seems to be coming our way? What do we mean by 'open space'? 'Density'? I think it's great that people are talking about it.

HD: But the Calthorpe Report itself ... I mean, it's taken quite a beating, it seems to me. Maybe it's just the slant that the reporting has taken. But it seems like it's really ... well, for example Chris Easthope was on the teeter totter last week, and he characterized it as $200,000 for a bunch of vague recommendations. So what's your reaction to that kind of criticism? Do you think it's a fair criticism? Or do you think it's ... Chris Easthope just being a whiny punk, when he says that?

SP: Oh, no! Chris, a whiny punk!? No! Although I'm going to call him that, when I see him next. I have two responses, neither of which is more important than the other. The first is, I have always been struck by how Ann Arborites are so well-educated, in fact, maybe too educated, that it's almost impossible for us to sit down and actually enjoy something. So my first reaction, as I've been listening to people talk about it: it's as if people want to show that they're smarter than Calthorpe. They want to show the typos. They want to show the misstatements. They want to show that they're the bigger dog. And I'm astonished that we don't spend more time talking about, Why are we even doing this? Why are we focusing on how many historic districts there are? And why are we not talking about what are we trying to accomplish? And do these recommendations get us there? The second thought, again, not dealing with anybody as a 'punk', is: I don't know that the Calthorpe report is not a very good representation of the process. We asked for public input. Public comments are all-over-the-place, so now for us to criticize the very thing that we asked for is a little bit like buyer's remorse. Why ask for public comment and then say, But, it's all-over-the-map! But it's not specific enough.

HD: That particular criticism, the level of specificity is not adequate to move forward ... I mean, you talked about being on the cusp of a change in a 20-year cycle, and I guess there's a whole category of people who feel like, Well, the Calthorpe Report doesn't really give us enough direction to change! We'll have to have Joey Scanga interpret this for us. We'll have to bring him back to Ann Arbor again and again and say, Please read between the lines of your report ...

SP: .. and we'll pay you! But, to be fair, what they're [Calthorpe's] saying is the direction. Now, we can pursue each one of these recommendations. It's not as if we had asked for an exact roadmap. What we said was, Give us a plan with a direction to go in. A good example is, We need to develop a parking strategy for downtown. It seems so easy to say, and yet it's such a complex statement. Because in this town we are so incredibly all-over-the-map about parking. What they're thinking of is that they've heard everything on both sides of that issue at these public hearings. People said, Too much parking, Not enough parking, Too expensive, We need to charge more to get people on buses ... And they're saying, Get your act together. Sit down another time. Sit down again and again and again if you have to. And frame that strategy together. Calthorpe can't do it in a six-month project. But they're giving us directions saying, We've listened and we've heard from everybody. And they're all-over-the-map on the same subject. You need some gloves?

HD: No, I'm good, thanks. Just something I was curious about, Joey Scanga, he's from California, right? But he was here in Ann Arbor for extended chunks of time. Where did he stay?

SP: I don't know. Isn't that a great question!

HD: And who kept him company?

SP: I love that one even better. I can't speak to the latter. I don't know that he stayed for sure downtown, but my guess is that he stayed at one of our wonderful downtown hotels. And spent the time, therefore walking around.

HD: When we were talking about the big footballs, I meant to ask you, who do you like in the Super Bowl?

SP: Oh, my gosh, you know, without announcing myself to be a sports fan, there's no doubt in my mind: the Steelers. I love hardscrabble, blue collar and that's really why the sport appeals to me. I lived for a year in Buffalo, New York: hardscrabble people, live and breath this stuff, you know. And having been to Pittsburgh, I saw the same thing when I was visiting .

HD: So is it that you're just hoping they'll win or do you actually think they're going to win, based on your assessment of the strengths of the teams?

SP: I have no clue. I think that their coach is cuter, so that should definitely have a lot to do with it

HD: That's, what's his name, Cowell? Bill? Or something ... You don't know his name?

SP: Don't know, I flip the dial, remember? I just keep spinning the dial.

HD: But are you planning to watch?

SP: Yes, I love watching the ads. Last year's whole bru-ha-ha was particularly interesting, because I was aghast at the number of half-clad girls with, you know, bouncing whatever, only to have the shock afterward of all the Janet Jackson business.

HD: Was that last year or the year before?

SP: I think it was last year.

HD: I haven't been keeping that close a track, but I thought Ashlee Simpson performed last year. Or maybe that was the Orange Bowl ...?

SP: Yeah, no, I think last year was all sorts of hypocrisy around her boob showing. After showing ad-after-ad of half-naked girls bouncing around selling beer or selling a car. But I love watching the ads. I just think it's an incredible window into first, all the ads I'm going see for the rest of the year and, secondly, what possible motivation could cause someone to spend 2 million dollars for a time slot that's 30 seconds and, third, frankly they are some of the best and most creative pieces of my television watching. So football is just sort of filler for the ads.

HD: Do you know anybody who's got tickets here locally?

SP: Yes, I do. He is a gentleman, I heard this second hand, so I can't attest to its veracity, but who's a die-hard Steelers fan. He works for Republic Parking. He was able to find tickets to go. So he's the only person I know who's going.

HD: If a ticket were available, how much would you pay?

SP: I wouldn't. I like the spectacle of the TV show. I think I would miss that. I'm less interested in the game. And having gone to UM football games for a lot of years, I can't think of anything more fun than watching the crowd at a UM game. There's no one else who could care so passionately about football. So the Super Bowl, I'd rather watch it at home, frankly.

HD: You going to a Super Bowl viewing party?

SP: No, it's going to be my house, with my husband and the three cats. It's one of the only days of the year that I cook dinner. I make one dish and one dish only. And I make it for Super Bowl.

HD: And that is?

SP: Egg rolls. So yeah, I make my egg rolls and we'll sit and we'll watch the Super Bowl.

HD: So when did you become an egg-roll specialist?

SP: I wouldn't say so much specialist, as it's the only thing that I have had to routinely ... I married a man who is the world's best cook. And over time I've had to do less and less of it. Now it's down to: this and our anniversary are the only days of the year when he doesn't cook.

HD: And do you make egg rolls for your anniversary as well?

SP: I do. It's the dish. I say every time it's going to be a different egg roll. Sometimes it has a little vegetable, sometimes it has a little shrimp, a little crabmeat. Yeah, that's it and we'll watch the Super Bowl.

HD: So it's good game-watching finger food then.

SP: Very much so.

HD: I was a little surprised that you drove here, because you have reputation of being a serious, hard-core walker.

SP: I think had I not been rushing from one place to the other, had it been more of a leisurely day, what a wonderful walk coming up Liberty Street! I have discovered that in my non-athletic self, I'm not interested in many games, as you can see from my football, I discovered that I'm a really good walker. I don't mean like a competitive walker, but I can walk for hours and be interested and can go great distances. I walk very fast and I also walk seemingly without any real effort.

HD: Do you walk to work on a regular basis?

SP: Not often. Again, because I'm usually rushing to a meeting. But on weekends, I'll take long walks. Typically in the summertime I can take a 10-mile, 12-mile walk. And I have to admit most of it is not because I'm such a great athlete. But it's because I'm a snoopy person. I like looking at gardens. I love petting the cats along the way. I like catching up on what construction might be happening. I like snooping. So walking is a great way to see your own town, and you see it in a real close-up fashion. You really get a chance to know the rhythms of the city when you're a pedestrian. So I love walking!

HD: What I was going to ask as a follow up, I think you may have just responded to. And that is, if you like walking so much, why wouldn't you want to have the opportunity to walk along a railroad track in a Greenway?

SP: I would, in a heartbeat!

HD: But it would lack all of those attributes that you just described, ..., the opportunities to snoop.

SP: No, but the Greenway as envisioned, has many different forms. And one of many forms would have it completely isolated. But many other forms would have houses and shops nearby. One new idea was bring the Art Center down to the 415 building. There are many ways you could enliven that walk. Putting it in isolation is just one vision for the Greenway. There are many ways you can make that walk wonderful. Absolutely.

HD: I think the name Greenway might be getting in the way of people's imaginations for what that space might be like. So if you say, Okay let's start with a path and maybe it turns out to be green, and maybe it turns out to be not so green, that's one thing. But if you say, Greenway, it sounds like railroad tracks, and on either side just fields of daisies ... I think that might be working against the Greenway in concept

SP: What's wonderful is that everyone is talking about an idea that had lain dormant for 17 years. It was in the downtown plan and no one ever did anything about it. The DDA ideas for First and William had on it a small park and a section for the Greenway. And it was marvelous example where the community took the best of that idea and has given life to it. But there's perceptions of folks out there that this going to be an off-road bike path, such as what we have near the river, which is so beautiful. In fact, this is an urban trail. Every 300 feet, it crosses the roadway. So you have to deal with it as an urban path.

HD: Right, it's an engineering challenge.

SP: And like a sidewalk, when you're crossing the street, you have to think about, Who's crossing? What's happening when you're crossing? What's going to keep you wanting to cross the street? What's going to draw you across? I can speak to it as a pedestrian: you want to cross the next hill to see what's on the other side; you don't want to go there if it's just a vast open space. So, I think we have to find a way to activate it and make it as successful as everyone wants it to be. But I'd love the idea of a Greenway. I think it'd be absolutely magical.

HD: You mentioned you don't regard your walking as an athletic performance, but we've got these Olympic games coming up. Is there any aspect of that you're hoping to watch on television, ..., so for the Super Bowl, you're looking forward to the ads ... are you looking forward to, I don't know, the luge?

SP: I love the luge. I turn on to CBC. I love the Canadian perspective, the non-American-centric perspective. I love athletes at their best. Anything that has a human being doing something extraordinary is marvelous. But I have to admit, I do like the offbeat sports. Luge is definitely one.

HD: Biathlon?

SP: Yeah, things that I would never do. Or would never have a chance to do I find them absolutely fascinating. I'm far less interested in the skating that we're supposed to be excited about. And I love when the little countries win something, it doesn't matter what the sport is. I know in their world, everyone is cheering, because there's such a sense of connection. Whereas in the US, there's so many sports, today's celebrity is tomorrow's old news. In those little countries it's a huge deal. I'm secretly hoping that the little countries will win every time. I love when there's a national anthem playing that I've never heard before.

HD: So do you enjoy music, I mean is it the musical aspect of the national anthem in any way, or ...

SP: No, there's just something that celebrates their success. And there's a whole nation of people celebrating with that athlete. And they identify with that athlete and they feel the same sense of success. I think it's marvelous.

HD: Is there anything you really think that we need to address here on the teeter totter, that we haven't yet?

SP: I want to find out about you actually. I read about all sorts of people on this blog and never get a chance to know, Who is the mastermind? I'll start out easy and you can just take it from there. My question for you, you say you like to watch television, is there a particular focus when you're watching? Do you like crime things, do you like to follow things to an end?

HD: I'm focused on, Is this entertaining to me? And there's so much on television that I do find entertaining, I don't find it difficult to fill up oh, I don't know how many hours, but it's a fair number of hours. I feel like it keeps me it keeps me in touch with my own popular culture. Because it is in some ways a reflection of culture and it's a culture unto itself that a lot of people participate in. So I mean, I'm not gonna sit here and say, I'm just doin' research, I'm just keepin' up with stuff! I do find a lot of what's on quite entertaining. Just amazingly and spectacularly creative. You know, there's a lot of stuff that's just pure schlock ...

SP: ... oh, of course ...

HD: ... but with everything that's on offer, I just don't understand people who say, Oh, Television will rot your mind! I think that's more of a function of the person who's watching the television, than television as a medium. Because it can be a very very interactive medium, if you do activate your mind. That's my take on television.

SP: Do you like movies as well?

HD: I go to movies from time to time, but really the cost of a first-run movie is pretty prohibitive, I find. So, typically, I'll try to make a mental note of something I'd like to see, then wait for it so come out on DVD. I like the movie-going experience of the Michigan Theater or the State Theater. So I do keep an eye out for movies that I might like to see that are playing there. Not really because I'm trying to see a movie. It's that I'm trying to go to the Michigan and I like eating popcorn with real butter on it. And I'd like for there to be a movie playing that I don't mind. So I think the last movie I saw at the Michigan was The Aristocrats.

SP: Oh, god, yeah!

HD: We saw it on the first ... Tuesday of the month, or first Monday? We're members, so there's this discount. Well, it's not a discount, you get in free. I don't remember exactly the terms of the program, but I remember we got in free that day due to being members. And I think a lot of other people did, too. And I think there were a lot of people who were there, only because it was the free member movie of the month.

SP: They must have been so shocked!

HD: Yeah, and there were a lot of people who, well, ... 'a lot' ... , let's say four or five people, who actually walked out of the movie. And I have to say, if you didn't know what it was, it's exactly the kind of movie where you would walk out.

SP: Oh yeah!

HD: I take it, from your reaction, that you saw the movie?

SP: I haven't seen it yet, but I've been following it ever since it had it's first release. It's now coming out on DVD and I can't wait to see it.

HD: Yeah, did you say you had kids, or just cats?

SP: No, I've got three cats.

HD: Well, I wouldn't even let them watch it.

SP: Well, we will keep them away. And then my last question for you is, I understand that you have, at least on one occasion, gone to see a demolition derby ... ?

HD: Sure, actually, it's not been just one occasion. It's been every demolition derby out at the Saline Fair since the year that Princess Diana died.

SP: Is there a connection to her passing?

HD: That just happened to be the first year that we went. And the reason that it's etched in my memory that it was the year that Princess Diana died is: before the playing of the national anthem to start the demolition derby, they had a moment of silence for the recently deceased Princess Diana, it was a day or two before I think. And I looked around and nobody else in the entire grandstand seemed to be appreciating the irony of the fact that ...

SP: ... she died in a car crash, exactly!

HD: ... yeah, so I bowed my head along with everyone else ...

SP: ... well, sure you did ...

HD: ... and we had a moment of silence. But that's actually something we now do as an annual tradition. It's preceded by an ice-cream social here in the backyard where we make good old-fashioned ice cream in a hand-cranked wooden bucket. And then when we're done eating ice cream, we head off to the Saline Fair for the demolition derby.

SP: How wonderful. You know, every family has their traditions. And that's a wonderful tradition.

HD: I like to think so. We're actually contemplating this year inviting all the people who've ridden the teeter totter with me to join us. Maybe that'll be some incentive. So that's one reason to come back.

SP: I wish you'd invite me.

HD: Well, consider yourself invited. But if you want to come back and ride the teeter totter again before then, consider yourself welcome to. So if you're snooping along Liberty and you think, I'd like to dive down that street and ride the teeter totter, feel free to just grab somebody off the street and head out here to the back yard, in case we're not home, ...

SP: I was going to say, it'd be challenging to teeter totter by myself.

HD: Yeah it takes two to teeter totter, just like to tango. So we'll let that be the final word. We'll pause the teeter totter and I'll snap a picture.