TT with HD: Laura (Ypsi-Dixit)
HD: Alright, ready to climb aboard? ... Is this alright? This going to work for you?
YD: It's very soothing.
HD: Yeah, it's quite relaxing
YD: I haven't done this in 25 years ... something like that.
HD: Alright, first question, and I will try to start out easy. Do you like garlic?
YD: I adore garlic.
HD: What is it you like so much about it?
YD: I like its pungency. I like the way it adds flavor to everything. It's really good for you. Supposedly it's good for your health. I just feel better when I eat a lot of garlic. I like to put garlic in a lot of different foods. I keep it at home all the time.
HD: So do you grow it?
YD: I tried last year, but it didn't work very well.
HD: What went wrong? Is this the wrong kind of climate for garlic?
YD: Oh, I think it was a shady spot. I think it should have been in a sunnier spot in the yard.
HD: Well, let's very quickly get down to serious business. You've been working very hard on this bus route situation in Ypsilanti.
YD: I've been lucky to have a lot of really good help, from a lot of really good people. So it's not really about me or my work. It's about a coalition of people who are coming together right now to really make a change, and convince Council to continue to subsidize the bus system.
HD: It's two routes, in particular, we're talking about, though, right? Route number 3 and 5, is that right?
YD: Routes 3 and 5 are slated to be cut in fiscal year 2007. That's 48% of the subsidy that the City pays to AATA. The following year, the complete bus system would be eliminated: no routes going to Ypsi.
HD: That's actually something I didn't know before you just told me. I thought it was only Routes 3 and 5.
YD: No, just 3 and 5 in 2007. And then in 2008, a complete cessation of all bus service. Which would just be a disaster for the city.
HD: As I understand it, though, it would be a two-step process: Ypsi City Council would have to decide that, in fact, they really want to cut the subsidy and then AATA would have to make a decision to eliminate the routes. Is that a fair description?
YD: Yes. City Council decides first, and then AATA is forced to make its decision. I've found them to be people of very good will, the bus system, AATA. Everyone has been very professional, helpful, given me a lot of useful information.
HD: Based on your blog [www.ypsidixit.com/blog] and the participation that I've seen from AATA on the blog itself, ... Chris White [AATA Manager of Service Development] posted a very long, and very helpful comment, I thought ...
YD: ... I thought so too ...
HD: ... that wasn't just your re-posting of an email that he sent you, but he actually went to the blog and posted his own comment ...
YD: ... taking time out of his day to help a total stranger, so I thought that was impressive.
HD: I know you're being self-deprecating here, but your blog has become somewhat of nexus for this issue, wouldn't you say?
YD: I think so. At this point it seems to be. So I'm trying to be as responsible about carrying this through as possible, trying not to be an obnoxious hippie, arrogant ... somebody of that kind, but to work with Council, work with the AATA, work with the other community members to solve this in a reasonable manner.
HD: Do you have to try really hard to avoid doing that [being obnoxious]?
HD: Because I was going to say that based on my brief interaction with you so far in person and based on your blog postings, it seems to me like you're an extraordinarily polite and gracious person.
YD: It's a pretty thin veneer sometimes!
HD: Is it really?! As I understand it, this bus issue hasn't officially made it onto the agenda of the Ypsi City Council. This is all stuff that people are talking about, but it hasn't actually come down to a formal discussion by the Council, yet.
YD: You're exactly right. And that's the next step of Keep Ypsi Rolling. We're having a meeting tomorrow [25 March] with some of the other community members and we're going to go over the process of getting it onto the agenda. It has to be sponsored by two Council Members or by the Mayor, to get it on. The next Council meeting is April 4, so we think we can probably get it on next week.
HD: So is Brian Filipiak going to be at this meeting tomorrow? Because he's another person I would point to as, ... on the part of Ypsi Council, it seems like there's an extraordinary amount of goodwill and openness to talk frankly about the issue and what needs to be done ...
YD: On his part there is, yeah. And at the actual Council meeting, there was another Council Member who actually gave a very passionate and very stirring speech defending the preservation of bus service. That was Council Member Richardson. And she just had everyone in her pocket. Everyone was amazed by that.
HD: She even went Biblical on them, didn't she?
YD: She did! So I really admired her for courageously taking a stand, that may not be very popular with the rest of Council.
HD: There was another voice on the blog, a person of some prominence quite recently ...
YD: ... Steve Pierce ...
HD: ... right, Steve Pierce, whose message to you, you re-posted on the blog with his permission. A couple of things, I thought were striking. One lends some credence to the idea that your blog, and you personally, have become Ground Zero for the issue. And that is, you have this candidate for Mayor, Steve Pierce, he's asking you, What can I do to help preserve the bus service? And I'm not pointing that out to be critical of Steve, I just think it goes to reflect that you're seen as being on point for this issue, whether you like it or not.
YD: Yeah, and I'm comfortable with that. Like I said, I'm trying to carry out that role as responsibly as possible in the interest of succeeding on this campaign.
HD: Something else from his message that I found quite striking was this idea that this may be a strategy on the part of the Mayor or other Council Members to push through an income tax for the City of Ypsilanti. That if you cut something that people hold near and dear, that's very visible, that people will do anything, including accept a city income tax, to get it back. Do you think Steve Pierce is being overly cynical here, or is there some merit to that?
YD: Council Members, and I think the City Manager as well, have said explicitly that they want their cuts to be very visible to citizens. The only problem with that is that some of these cuts, some of the items being cut, are non-necessary items. But the bus service is a necessary item. For example, fiscal year 2007, they're talking about cutting the 3 and the 5. But it's not until fiscal year 2008 that they talk about eliminating recreation subsidies. So people are thrown out of their jobs, can't get to day care, but they can still go to a park? It's not prioritized correctly. Also in 2008, eliminating special event subsidies. Now that should be eliminated long before they even start talking about the bus system. If they want a visible event?! If they want to have a visible impact?! If they were to cut out the Heritage Festival for one year, the whole city would be in an uproar and they would get maximum publicity. And besides, there would probably be a citizens group that would come together and put on the Heritage Festival, because it's a beloved festival. But if you eliminate the Heritage Festival, no one's going to lose their job, no one's going to not be able to get to school to better their life. It's one little weekend in August. So I think I think these cuts need to be re-prioritized.
HD: So you're not saying that it's wrong to deliberately make a very visible cut to something that's very popular, as a strategy for ...
YD: ... no, no, I don't think there's anything wrong with that, it's just that ....
HD: ... your quarrel is with the prioritization of the cuts that would be made as a part of that strategy?
YD: That's true. And I'm sympathetic to the Council, because I've read over this budget and they're in a tough spot, they're in a bind, they don't have an easy decision to make. But I think there are alternatives to keeping the bus system floating without eliminating it. And I think the long-term effect on Ypsilanti would be very crippling. We'd have people stranded, more unemployment probably, just a cascade of bad effects.
HD: My sense is that there's a fair amount of good will here in Ann Arbor with respect to the need to keep bus service between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti adequate. At the same time, I wonder if there's anything we can do other than say, There but for the grace of God go we. I'm wondering if now might be the time for the AATA to start thinking about implementing the broader based funding that Eli Cooper talked about when he was here riding the teeter totter. So this is not something that AATA started thinking about just in light of Ypsilanti's most recent financial difficulties. This seems to be on their long range work plan. And I'm wondering if this might be a broader goal to address even right now, to say, the immediate goal is to preserve the 3 and the 5, but now is the time for the AATA to start articulating a timetable at least, for getting this Washtenaw County-wide broader based funding together for the whole system. In Ann Arbor we have a dedicated property tax, and when there's talk of a broader based system, I assume it's a tax of some kind. Have you thought about it from that angle at all?
YD: Yeah, it's been raised on the blog, something along the lines of a county-wide millage. I personally don't think it would be successful, for very reasonable reasons. Because the bus system does not, for example, serve Manchester. There's no reason why someone in Manchester should pay hard-earned money for a service that won't benefit them. Same goes for Chelsea and Dexter and Saline. It only serves this part of the county. So for the immediate present, it seems as though it would be more practical to focus efforts on a smaller on this area and not start the broader discussion, because the problem is really critical. We're talking about 2007. It's just around the corner. It needs to be really solved quickly and locally and right now. Starting to talk about a broader solution would ...
HD: ... distract from the immediate goal ...
YD: ... yeah, might distract from the goal and might cause problems in preserving the service. Even though [broader based funding] is on the table, I think it's just on the side of the table.
HD: You mentioned this meeting that's going to happen tomorrow. That's a very specific next step. Once it gets on the agenda, I suppose at some point the strategy is to present the petition to Council? And to have, I assume, people out in force at whatever meeting it's decided?
YD: I hope so. Part of the challenge is to sustain the kind of passion that erupted in the meeting last Tuesday. Because I think a lot of people will say, Okay I went and said my piece and now I'll just cross my fingers. One of my prongs is to sustain that enthusiasm through this meeting tomorrow, and through the strategies that will come out of that meeting tomorrow. ... So we have the meeting tomorrow: develop strategy for getting things on the agenda, get the sponsorship from the Council Members. There are two who I think would be good sponsors.
HD: The two you've already mentioned, Brian [Filipiak] and ...
YD: ... Lois Richardson ... and submit the petitions at that meeting April 4. I have some stringers who are still circulating the petition at EMU, some very wonderful people, who are great, and another person, or two other people also circulating it elsewhere in Ypsilanti. Also wonderful people, very helpful.
HD: Then there's the electronic version?
YD: The electronic version is kind of different. That, I started immediately when I heard about the bus system cuts about a month ago, because I thought it would be a very effective publicity tool. And it's been a wonderful publicity tool. I've had people all over Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti commenting about it to me. Everyone's heard about it, I think.
HD: Something like 1500 entries in that so far, right?
YD: That's about right. I think 1450, last time I checked. So it may be over 1500. But it's not a very substantial document. Nor was it meant to be. It doesn't have information about voter registration. It's something that can be ... easily faked. I could go in there and put in a thousand signatures if I felt like it.
HD: So then it's important for people who have made their entry in the electronic petition to sign the paper copy as well.
YD: It is. And I really appreciate your making that point. Because it's something that's a little obscure and probably understandable that people could be confused about that. I didn't foresee making a paper petition. At the time of making the electronic one, I just wanted to kind of get the issue out there and get people talking and get them alarmed, ... well, not alarmed, but get them aware. And then later, it just got more and more serious. And it seemed that a paper petition would be a good next step. It would be a good tool to convince Council.
HD: So is the paper petition being circulated around here in Ann Arbor that you know of?
YD: Not that I know of.
HD: I can understand it wouldn't be a priority, because Ypsi Council can say, Who cares what Homeless Dave thinks, his teeter totter is over there in Ann Arbor.
YD: That's true. That's why being registered Ypsi voters make the paper petition a lot more weighty. So, no, I'm not circulating it around here, but I am emailing it out on request as an attachment. And people are very helpfully circulating it and emailing or FAX-ing it back to me.
HD: Let me ask you just a couple of nuts and bolts questions about your blog. The 'Ypsi' part of the name, I get, that's pretty straightforward, But, the Dixit, it sort of evokes something Southern to me. Where does that come from?
YD: It's a Latin pun. There's a Latin phrase 'ipse dixit' and it means, that which is yet to be proved. Or, in other words, blather, So I thought that was kind of appropriate.
HD: Another sort of obvious thing that people would notice, if they hit your blog is that the names of the months are spelled in Dutch?
YD: Yes, they are. My mother was Dutch, I'm half Dutch.
HD: But you grew up here in Michigan?
YD: Yes. I have a lot of family overseas. In fact, I just had a visit from my Australian aunt, who's originally from Holland. It's something that I try to keep alive in some ways, I like to eat some Dutch foods at home, and ...
HD: ... do the Dutch eat a lot of garlic?
YD: No. No, it's too much like a tulip bulb!
HD: Well, I have to say you're extremely prolific in your posting. I mean it's hard to find a day when you haven't posted something. And most days, generally, you've got multiple posts on any given day. Do you have a daily quota or a goal you've established for yourself, or a weekly one? Or do you just post things as they come up?
YD: I usually post three times a day: early in the morning before work; and then maybe at lunchtime; and then sometime in the evening. And as I say that, I realize, I don't have a life! Three times a day! But there's always something that I want to say. Some news article, or some opinion or joke or something, so it's never hard to find the material.
HD: Have you ever gone, say, as long as a week at a time without posting anything?
YD: Oh no! I haven't. I didn't even realize that. No, I haven't! Not since I started back in 2003, I think it was, ... in the early days, the glory days of blogging.
HD: You're familiar with Mark Maynard's blog [www.markmaynard.com], right?
HD: He was off line recently for about a week, and his readership was thrown into a complete panic. Now, some of it was clearly meant jokingly, but my sense was there were some people actually a bit out of sorts ...
YD: ... yes, indeed!
HD: ... that their lives were torn ...
YD: ... asunder.
HD: Yeah, so do you have any sense that it's not just something you want to do, but something you have to do, lest your readership become uneasy, or demanding?
YD: To some degree, yeah. Part of that is that the community that comes to the blog is one that I enjoy so very much. It's a literate, smart, funny group of people. And it's such a pleasure to discuss things with them. It's not that I feel obligated. It's a treat. It's something I just enjoy doing.
HD: Do you know who most of the people are, who comment? I mean people post under various names ...
YD: It's like a little solar system. I know there's a core group of people, who I know in the real world. And there's this orbiting asteroid belt of mysterious people who deposit a comment and then kind of float away! So I would say, I know about maybe three quarters of the people who comment. I actually made a really good friend through that blog. Someone who I didn't know at all before. Started commenting about two and a half years ago and I met him in real life. Now we're serving on a board together. He's just a really wonderful guy. So it can actually engender kind of actual real world results, it's kind of odd.
HD: So do you know the person who posts the horoscope readings?
YD: Yeah, I do. That's the same person I just mentioned, actually. He's a fantastically funny person. He always makes me laugh! I'm really lucky to have him for a friend.
HD: I have to say that the general tone and tenor on your blog is pretty civil, more or less, ...
YD: ... it makes me happy that that's the impression a reader takes away.
HD: I mean, I haven't seen any really nasty, rude, comments, and I'm wondering if you just edit them out?
YD: I never edit comments out. With only one exception recently, there someone who was putting a sort of slanderous comment on the blog, so I just took it out. I just didn't want to put up with it ...
HD: Is that how you manage spam as well, is that a more or less manual process?
YD: About half of it is manual and about half of it gets caught by the actual blog structure.
HD: So MoveableType has a built-in spam analyzer?
YD: It flags it and then holds it without posting it. It catches about 50% of the spam that comes into it.
HD: Are you, in general, pretty happy with MoveableType as a piece of blog software?
YD: I'm a low-tech person. I had a DiaryLand blog before.
HD: Are they defunct, now? I know a lot of blogs started them then migrated to different platforms ...
YD: ... that's true. I'm not sure, I did go back and check not too long ago and it did seem to be not working. I'm not sure.
HD: Have you been taking in any of the Film Festival?
YD: Not really. I've been kind of consumed by this bus campaign as of late. Last night I organized an email alert weekly bulletin update thing. And sent that out to people who had left their emails on the petition and to people who had emailed me ... to start a flow of information out to them and to pull them into the loop as well. So I was working on that last night. Lots of different jobs to complete this thing. But I'm enjoying it! It's really nice to see people coming together.
HD: So you had the T-shirt made by CafePress?
YD: I did! Isn't it lovely?
HD: Yes. So is this a one-off or did you go ahead and set up a whole CafePress store?
YD: Yes, I set up a whole store. You can get your mug, you can get your mousepad, your ... it's a G-rated store, though
HD: Oh, so you can't get a bus thong?!
YD: Noo! I don't think the world is waiting for the Keep Ypsi Rolling thong!
HD: Alright, well, is that link available off the blog?
YD: It's CafePress-dot-com and then slash and then KeepYpsiRolling is probably the best way to find it. [www.cafepress.com/keepypsirolling] ... It's a non-profit shop, we're not making any money off of it. ... There's also a Keep Ypsi Flying shop, if you want to make a really oblique comment on the current bus crisis ...
HD: How many of these shirts do you own?
YD: Two: one Rolling and one Flying.
HD: Because I noticed ... I'm trying to remember ... I think you wore the Rolling T shirt on ... Tuesday was it?
YD: I did.
HD: And today's Friday.
YD: It is. I did wash it!
HD: Okay, I didn't want to pry, but I'm glad you said it, because that iswhat I wanted to know.
YD: No, it's sparkling clean!
HD: Really, it is. It's still got that 'new white' look to it. So is there anything else you'd really like to talk about? You want to talk about your boat?
YD: Oh, I can't wait to go boating. I'm so glad you mentioned that. I have a kayak and I have an inflatable boat. The kayak was a gift from a friend. It's just so relaxing to go out and spend the whole day on the river. On the Huron behind St. Joe's, there's a system of paths there, it's a little tricky to get down there, but you can do it.
HD: How do you get your boat to the river? You've got a bike as your main mode of transportation, right? You don't own a car?
YD: I own a truck, but I don't drive it. It's an '85 Ford F-150, kind of a museum piece, just sitting there. It's this Herculean process of binding the boat into a ... what do you call it, a dolly? ... and about four-thousand bungee cords, ... hooking that via a rope onto the back of my recumbent bike, where it sort of teeters, and then biking the whole shebang down behind St. Joe's, ... ... dragging the boat down the paths to the river ... and then just floating on the river, reading a book, ... it's just the best.
HD: Have you ever seen these bike trailers, I think they're manufactured somewhere in Wisconsin, by an outfit called Bikes At Work [www.bikesatwork.com]?
YD: I've not seen that, but I've seen very nice children's trailers for bikes.
HD: These are actually made for hauling cargo. They have, I believe, attachments for canoe saddles, designed to fit into their bike trailers. This is a company that, in addition to selling the trailers, they actually run a bicycle-based business using their trailers, moving households, for example. They have pictures, I think, on their website, of them moving a refrigerator.
YD: I think I've seen that.
HD: So I'd think that for a kayak, it'd be manageable on one of their trailers. ... for the inflatable one, I guess it's easier because you don't inflate it, then transport it.
YD: No, it's just rolled up like a tarp, and you inflate it with a foot pump, once you get there. It's very easy, actually.
HD: So is it generally crowded out there on the river?
YD: No, if I'm lucky, I might see someone every third time or so ... either in a little trolling rowboat or other kayakers. So almost nobody is using the river. It's a shame, but it's also a blessing. Because it's just so wild and remote, and untouched. You see a lot of animals there, egrets, herons, ...
HD: ... porcupines?
YD: Nooo! No porcupines or ... hedgehogs.
HD: Did you ever settle that definitively [whether the baby animals in a blog photo were porcupines or hedgehogs]?
YD: Actually, I tried to foster some ambiguity, to keep the conversation going, but I think they're hedgehogs.
HD: Any final words to wrap things up?
YD: It's really a privilege to be in this position I'm in, with this bus thing, right now. It's tremendously exciting to see people coming together on it. And I just feel really lucky to be the point person, and to try to carry it out with some effectiveness and responsibility.