TT with HD: Alan Henes
[Ed. note: Before reading, it's worth having a look at the roadside sign that
earned Alan an explicit invitation to ride. As always, the totter is implicitly available to all potential riders.]
AH: Now, let's see, we're about the same weight? No, I'm heavier than you are.
HD: Well, we can sort of negotiate that once we get tottering ... [Ed. note: picture taking] Alright, I want to get right down to business: this sign that you made and put outside in front of your house. What I concluded from the sign is that you're moving to Clinton? Is that right?
AH: It's a threat, but a possibility. I actually contacted a Realtor.
HD: There's a real estate sign out in front of your house now, isn't there?
AH: There's a house that's been for sale for about a year. It's a couple of houses over.
HD: Oh, okay, that may be what I saw recently. But your sign, you've taken down now, though, the hand-painted one?
AH: I had to because I'm building a stoop for my niece in her garage and I needed the wood [laugh].
HD: So you're not retreating from your political stance?
AH: No, actually, I'm coming up with another one.
HD: Oh really! And have you figured out the text to that or is it still at the conceptual stage?
AH: Yeah, I have. It's going to be a lot simpler. It's going to be: No more subs! So no more subdivisions. And that is the reason behind the first one. The reason behind the first sign, what happens is, when they build a sub, it taxes the water and sewer system. When that happens, they have to make capital improvements and there's not enough tax money for the new residents to pay and so the old residents get water rate increases.
HD: So this is for the township of Dexter?
AH: Yeah, it's a very low level government, Dexter Village, that's pointed by the sign. It's also pointed at the builders themselves, because they're building these houses on small lots, and they're also building houses that are way too big for what people need. It's a total waste of energy, it's a waste of time and money. And they're taxing our resources. I've seen houses that are 4 or 5 thousand square feet, and there's two people living there. And I think it's wasteful. Not only is it wasteful, you know, I mean ...
HD: ... it stresses the infrastructure.
AH: Sure. I mean a person born in China is going to use a minimum amount of resources. Today it's changing, but every Chinese person, if you average it out, probably uses a cup of gasoline a month. Then you figure out what we're using, and you figure out how big the houses we're building are, and you figure out how we're watering our lawns and flushing our toilets all the time and throwing stuff out that shouldn't be thrown out.
HD: So if Dexter, if it's to add population, which I think maybe you'd even agree would be a good thing for Dexter to grow, where would you put these people? Or is your position that Dexter should stay the same size and you're really against it growing at all, it's not so much the way that it's growing?
AH: I can't really blame the farmers, because they don't make money. And if I was a farmer and I had a hundred acres and Joe Developer came up and said, I'll give you 3 million bucks for it, I would do it in a minute. Because what you get for crops, corn and all that, they don't make the real money, it's all the middle men. And it takes a long time to get to your grocery store. I can go and buy a dozen eggs for a quarter, brown ones, you know?
HD: Do you buy your eggs from one of the local farmers?
AH: I try to spend my money on a lot of local people. I even buy at garage sales, I hardly ever go to retail stores and stuff like that. [laugh]
HD: So are you not happy to see the new Busch's grocery store going in right down the road from you?
AH: Oh, they need to tear that thing down immediately! And that goes for the Country Market, too. But I was trying to answer your question. Yes, people want to live in Dexter. It's a nice place, just like this area is.
HD: So where would you put additional people?
AH: Well, One, if they're building homes, they have to have more land. The way they're building these houses is too close. I mean it's like if you've got a bus with a thousand people on it, or you got a bus with a hundred people on it. It has to do with population density. We have to reduce that. Some places, the zoning ordinance says you're going to have to start building on bigger lots. Which is good, because that way the population density doesn't get real tight.
HD: So you're interested in seeing more of a spread-out arrangement?
AH: Yeah, but with smaller homes. I think there should be a tax on these energy-guzzling homes that they're building, that there's no reason for. You know, when I see a house on a big lot and a five-acre lawn to mow, and all this ornate stuff, basically it's a person with a good income saying, See what I got? Look at this! When I look at it I say, Boy, are you wasteful! You're mowing five acres of lawn that you're not going to use. You only have one kid, you have a 4000-square foot home, you've got two air-conditioning units, you've got two furnaces, you've got all this stuff and you don't need it.
HD: So how much lawn do you have that you've got to mow?
AH: My lawn's a little bit bigger than yours, but not much. My house is 1000 square feet. I think it's a little small, but I'm just one individual, so when I have a little card party or something we're a little cramped in the winter, but ...
HD: ... it makes it just a little bit cozier.
AH: I think people can have bigger homes, if you have a family of four, say 1500 square feet or something like that. But to build some of these monstrosities! I mean to me, when I go in there it's beautiful, and the landscaping is beautiful, but what I'm saying is--and it's harsh--but I call it pigs-at-the-trough. They're going to consume as much as they can. They're going to consume as much energy as they can. These people drive Expeditions and get 10 miles to the gallon. People don't realize that this is not an infinite amount. When we came here, there were a lot of forests. In your mind, it's like, This will never end, it'll take us 300 years to cut down all these trees! And we're still in that mindset. And I'm guilty of it too.
HD: I was going to say, Yeah, um, Alan, you drive pretty big truck!
AH: My truck is going.
HD: Is it? You're getting rid of it?
HD: Do you have your eye on a specific vehicle that you're going to replace it with?
AH: Basically the one that meets my needs, gets at least 30 miles to the gallon, that is cheap [laugh]. That was one of those deals where I said, I always wanted a new truck and I wanted all the bells and whistles, because I always drove Fords with a five speed. I'd only had one new car in my life and that's the second one. So like said, I'm a pig-at-the-trough, too. I got caught with my pants down. When I bought that thing, my travel distance was one mile. Because I worked [in Dexter] I wouldn't fill up for two weeks, so I didn't feel real guilty about the gas consumption. And the price of gas was low. Well, I basically I got pushed out the door over there, and so now I have to commute to [Ann Arbor]. You multiply it by triple the price of gas as compared to when I bought that pickup. So that pickup's going. I actually used it, it served my needs: I go camping, I like to buy furniture and re-finish it, and I like to garden, so I get dirt and all that. So it really does serve my needs. But on the other hand, I was thinking of just buying something small and getting a trailer and pulling that. So I'm opening my eyes, too, you know? And like I said, I'm just as guilty in some ways.
HD: So is there a specific vehicle where you've thought you'd like to get that particular one?
AH: I've only slightly looked and I'm keeping my eyes open. But I was thinking about getting one of those--I don't even know the name of them--like a Chevrolet, they are the rounded-looking ones, you know. The HHR's or whatever.
HD: Like a PT Cruiser?
AH: It looks like a PT Cruiser, but it's a Chevrolet.
HD: Okay. There's a lot of vehicles now that look a little bit like the PT Cruiser. That was a really cool design, and I think people said, Yeah, we'll just copy that.
AH: What I like about them--I don't have a bad back, but I'm arthritic and I can't bend, so like a Honda Civic, for me, getting in and out of it was hard--well, this thing, when I got in it, you step right out. There's no climbing up, and that's really important to me.
HD: For being arthritic, you certainly have a very smooth teeter tottering style, I have to say.
AH: [laugh] Actually, I have a degree in teeter tottering. That's my only formal education!
HD: [laugh] So did you grow up and go to high school in Dexter? Your sign said 47-year Dexter resident.
AH: Yes, I did
HD: So they were what is it, the Dreadnaughts?
AH: Yeah, they still are the Dreadnaughts. How long have you lived here?
HD: I've lived in Ann Arbor around 10 years.
AH: Well, let's face it, one of the points of my statement was I've lived here all my life. Obviously, I've seen changes. Some good, some bad. It certainly isn't the sleepy little town it was before. And I'd rather go in Joe Schmoe's grocery store rather than a Target or Kroger's or Meijer's or all these other ones. Just an opinion. I'd rather talk to a cashier that's sometimes got time to chit-chat. So I've seen a lot of changes. It was a one-track town. On Sunday, driving through Dexter, you could shoot a cannon down Main Street. There was nothing open except for a grocery store and maybe a breakfast place, and that was it.
HD: So are there local hangouts right there in Dexter that you frequent?
HD: So there's this Lighthouse Cafe, do you ever go in there?
AH: Yeah, I go there still.
HD: Are you a 'regular' there?
AH: Nah, I'm not a regular. I'm trying to lose weight and I can't eat a lot of that stuff, but I like that place. Have you been in it?
HD: I think I've been in it once. And there's a group bicycle ride that leaves from Great Lakes Cycling here in Ann Arbor ...
AH: ... that's where I bought my bike ...
HD: ... on Sunday mornings and they ...
AH:... make a donut run?
HD: Yeah, they've been riding out to the Lighthouse Cafe and have breakfast, that's the ride. I haven't been on that ride. But might join them some Sunday soon. I do ride past the Lighthouse on my regular ride. So you drive a delivery truck?
AH: A delivery van, yes.
HD: Okay, and your delivery area includes Ann Arbor, but how far out does it go?
AH: I don't have a lot of Detroit metro deliveries, but let's see: as far east as Woodhaven, as far north, northwest actually, as Lansing or Dewitt, as far west as Battle creek, as far south as Carleton, pretty close to the border. That's my route. One reason I put Clinton on the sign is every time I drive to Clinton, I go, This makes sense! I go, Yeah, there's a few subs there, but there's Joe's Tavern, and there's a hobby store. And, you know, they have a Busch's, but it's not overdone.
HD: Actually that's the original Busch's, if I'm not mistaken. That's where they first started, over in Clinton, I think.
AH: I just like the old town atmosphere. And I go, This makes sense! Because I don't have kids, and I don't need to pay for Dexter Schools. That house has been paid for since 1993.
AH: [laugh] But what's ironic about it--obviously, I've lost my job and now I'm this delivery driver for the last 7, 8 months--I'm beginning to feel like I'm being taxed and forced out, because of these 'things' that everybody wants. The only thing I ever voted for was a library, because the library in Dexter was hokey. And I've always believed in educating yourself and especially self-education, when you can't afford a real education.
HD: Do you follow politics at the county level at all? Like, do you communicate with your County Commissioner, who's Mark Ouimet, I think, who represents the Dexter, Chelsea area?
AH: You know, I really don't. I'm trying to get just more of on a personal level, because of the village. And I don't know what they're doing. Sometimes I swear, like the village manager and some others, are in cahoots with these guys. The big thing now is, Let's turn Dexter into a city!
HD: When you say 'in cahoots with these guys' you mean with the developers?
AH: Yeah. And I know, obviously, growth is going to happen. And they have a right to live there, just as much as I do. But I think they should limit the size of the homes. I think because of the price of energy, that's going to happen naturally.
HD: So market forces, maybe, will ...
AH: ... yeah, could you imagine if it cost you 700-800 dollars a month to heat your house down the road?
HD: I think I'd put on another sweater.
AH: Pretty soon people are going to start thinking, Why did I buy this, there's rooms here I never go in! But a lot of times I think these guys work together. There was something about that Baker Road development with the village manager. He was for it and I don't know what the angles were that he had with this development company that was out there. But now that one is dead in the water. There was something last week in the Dexter Leader about it. He just kind of denied and said it was dead in the water. The other level I work with is, what is it called, the Scio Land Preservation thing?
HD: Hmm, I'm not sure what you're referring to.
AH: They tried to put in the Sam's Club or Costco right down the road there? So they put signs up: No big box stores along this strip or anywhere else! Like, do you want Dexter to have a Costco right at the end of these grocery stores? And squeeze Hackney Hardware out and all these other guys?
HD: So you supported that? The initiative to keep Costco out?
AH: Yeah, it was called something like the Scio Land Preservation. You notice there's no McDonald's in Dexter, and I'm very proud of that.
HD: Actually, I hadn't noticed that, but now that you mention it ...
AH: I mean, McDonald's is great, and if you want to eat there, go ahead. But for me, for One, it takes away the small town character and Two, it generates a lot of garbage. Because people, generally youngsters, who frequent those places, discard these things anywhere you go. There's no Burger King out in the middle of the woods, but I'm finding, somebody took a Big Gulp or something way out here ...
HD: ... I think Big Gulp might be 7-11.
AH: [laugh] Ah, you're nitpicking me! When I see the fries and the other spent things all over, I know that other people have done the same, you know? Stop to enjoy nature and then discard! I mean, if you go over to the one on Zeeb Road and you walk around there outside the perimeter, you'll see all that stuff there.
HD: So you're working on another sign for the front of your house. I took a picture of the original sign, do you mind if I publish that on the web?
AH: Absolutely not. I've got nothing to hide.
HD: I'm looking forward to riding past, I mean because your house is on one of my regular bicycling routes, so I'm looking forward to seeing the next sign that shows up!
AH: [laugh] You know what, I was in Dexter Pub, which is kind of a yuppie deal, but there's still a few locals. And my friend likes pizza, and we wanted to go in and have pizza, and I wanted to go in and have a couple of Summer Ales, which were on special ...
HD: Summer Ales?
AH: Sam Adams.
HD: So you're not partial to Michigan Beer?
AH: I love Michigan beer. I've my tickets, three tickets in my back pocket right now, for the beer tasting thing at Ypsi. I went to Arbor Brewing and picked up three tickets for taste testing. Yeah, I'm a big fan. I saw you had Third Coast, which is delicious. It's even better off draft.
HD: So I'm preaching to the choir, I don't need to sell you on that concept, okay. I'm sorry, I interrupted you, you were talking about your friend who likes pizza ... ?
AH: So I went in there and ran into this guy who's lived there his whole life, he says, You know what, lot of people have seen that sign, and they're starting to talk! And I said, Well, that's exactly what I put it up there for! A lot of people sit on their hands, and I could complain to you about it, or my neighbor, I could say, Boy, look at this water bill! or Jeez, the taxes are going up! A lot of people sit on their hands and complain to each other. I've written articles for the Dexter Leader and never been published. So, I'm like, I'm publishing my own article! You know, how many people drive by here? And it's a lot of those people that I'm pointing to, who are the ones that are doing that. I also want to give it a negative atmosphere, where everybody starts thinking. There's still a lot of old Dexter boys, even though they're spread out few and far between, because the population has risen so much. Before, you knew everybody. Everybody. You could ask anybody, How is Uncle Joe doing? And they'd say, Well, his arthritis is acting up. But it made me happy that it got that kind of response. I've also had beeping horns and people like that. I've had people come up to me and ask me, Are you the one who put that sign up there? And [this friend of mine] says to me, You should run for Village Manager! And I say, Oh yeah, I'm just inches away from being on David Letterman! And he laughed about that. Anyway, it's probably going to be a satire, I came up with this thing called the DRAAY Coalition, Dexter Residents Against the Advancement of Yuppidom.
HD: Okay, sounds cool.
AH: To me, I'm not sure about the definition of a yuppie, but I think it's people who build big houses and waste a lot of energy!
HD: So you say that there's still a few old Dexter boys around. You consider yourself to be an 'old Dexter boy'? You'd accept that label?
AH: Yes. We all call ourselves Dexter boys. We'll go into Katie's--it's an old bowling alley on Baker road--at like four or five, I'll say, Hey, I'm going to go sit with the Dexter boys! So I go in there, and I like to have a beer with people I went to school with and the farmers who work over there. So we're called just Dexter boys. That's how you're introduced: This is Al, he's a Dexter boy. That means you've been there since the infancy of the town.
HD: Well, listen, thank you so much
AH: Had enough of me?
HD: Well, no not that, but thanks for coming over to ride my teeter totter.
AH: I loved it! It's a great lawn. You're not going to do that trick where you jump up and I land down on the ground are you?
HD: No! My intent is to provide enjoyment.
AH: Well that's great. It seems like you're a mighty fine person.
HD: Well, thank you. I'm not sure everybody who knows me would agree with that!