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Lester Graham

Reporter/Host of Stateside

Lester Graham splits his time between hosting Stateside (Fridays) and reporting for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC). He was formerly the Senior Editor of The Environment Report, the environmental news service based at Michigan Radio, starting with the service in 1998.

He has been a journalist since 1985. Graham has served as a board member of the Public Radio News Directors Inc., and also served as President of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. He is a member of the Radio-Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), Society of Professional Journalists and other professional groups.

Lester has received more than 100 awards at the state, regional, national and international levels for journalistic excellence, including four RTDNA Edward R. Murrow awards, two of them at the network level.

Twitter: @MichiganWatch

Facebook link

email:  llgraham@umich.edu

Ways to Connect

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

December 5 is Repeal Day.

“Repeal Day is sort of an invented holiday,” explained Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings. In recent years, bars, brew houses, and the drinking public have embraced the repeal of the 18th Amendment, which brought in the era of Prohibition.

On December 5, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the 21st Amendment, doing away with Prohibition. He famously said, “What America needs now is a drink.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

“Many people seem to be worried about what to serve their guests on Thanksgiving,” said Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings.

She says she’s got a real crowd-pleaser called McClary’s Mule.

“This is just a riff on the classic Moscow Mule,” Coxen explained. The classic drink uses vodka, ginger beer, and lime.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

World War II vintage planes are big attractions at air shows across the nation, but keeping them in the air means repairs and new parts.

That’s where Dave Groh comes in. He operates Yesteryear Aviation Incorporated near Mason, Michigan.

He rebuilds and makes parts for planes that were used to train pilots. He’s got one himself. Their mostly wood and canvas bi-planes.

Why rebuild WWII trainers?

“Because we love aviation,” he chuckled, adding, “and we like World War II aircraft in particular.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The “Artisans of Michigan” series visits Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood.

Welcome to Elderly Instruments. If you’ve been a musician for a while, you probably know about Elderly. It became famous because of its catalog and well-stocked store. When the internet came along, the store’s following easily made the transition from flipping the pages to searching the site.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

In 1967, many American cities were rocked by civil disturbances, including Detroit. Black people rose up against police brutality and unfair treatment.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Cheers!

Here’s something spooky for you. Our craft cocktail from Tammy Coxen at Tammy’s Tastings is perfect for Halloween. It includes pumpkin butter! This drink comes from Jessica Gonzalez at Death & Co, a craft cocktail bar in New York City.

The Apple Business cocktail mixes apple cider with gin. You won't believe how well it works.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

"October is my favorite month," Tammy Coxen of Tammy's Tastings said. "Do you know why? Apple cider!"

Apple cider is a popular ingredient in a lot of cocktails which seem perfect for fall. Often the cider is mixed with bourbon or rum. But this cocktail, the Apple Business, is made with gin.

"I chose Ann Arbor Distilling's Water Hill gin for this drink because of of the spicy garam masala note," Coxen said.

The distiller's website indicates the botanicals used to flavor the gin include Croatian juniper, cardamom, and garam masala.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This is part of an ongoing series on Stateside called Artisans of Michigan.

We are at Voodoo Choppers in Aurburn Hills to talk with Eric Gorges. If that name is familiar to you, you know he’s also host of the weekly national TV show on PBS, A Craftsman’s Legacy. But, we’re here chiefly to talk about his craft: building motorcycles.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

“I was listening to Michigan Radio and I heard about this beer tax being debated,” Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings said as she poured rye into a stainless steel mixing cup for a cocktail. “That tax has a little bit to do with the cocktail I chose today,” Coxen said.

It’s called the sawbuck, which is an antiquated term for a ten dollar bill. If the bill passes, ten dollars would not quite cover the increased tax on a keg of beer.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

One of the constants in our series on cocktails is having a Michigan theme. A Detroit bar is offering a new menu of drinks that features Michigan ingredients. Sugar House in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit is offering a Fall Harvest menu which uses Michigan produce and Michigan spirits.

Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings arranged a Stateside visit with owner Dave Kwiatkowski and asked him to mix us a drink.

A newspaper clipping of Detroit's busing era.
clipping courtesy of Ray Litt / via Detroit Free Press

The U.S. Department of Education says kids at schools with mostly black or Latino students don’t get as good of an education as kids at schools with mostly white students. Generally speaking, their teachers are not as experienced and their buildings are in worse shape.

You can see that in Detroit, Flint, and other Michigan cities.

There was a major Michigan court case that could have ended segregated schools and made it possible for children to have a good education no matter where they lived.

Here's how that court case might have made a difference today.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We’ve been visiting craftsmen and women around Michigan for our series “Artisans of Michigan.” Today we visit Adrian, Michigan.

“I’m making some Windsor Chairs. Right now, I’m fitting the legs into the seat,” Luke Barnett explained. He is the owner of Barnett Windsor Chairs.

Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Tequila Old Fashioned

  • 2 oz anejo or extra anejo tequila (we used Cabresto)
  • 1/4-1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters
  • Garnish: orange peel

Half-fill old fashioned glass with ice. Add simple syrup and bitters, stir to mix. Add tequila and stir well, adding additional ice if desired. Cut a large orange peel over the drink, then twist to express the oils and place into the glass.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We've been thinking about the kind of people you might like to meet. We talk with a lot of authors, musicians, politicians and policy wonks. But, what about artisans.? They're the people who use their hands and hearts to build things that we use.

The next stop in our “Artisans of Michigan” series is Zimnicki Guitars in Allen Park, Michigan.

Many Tiki establishments serve cocktails in Tiki mugs like these.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Test Pilot

1-1/2 oz dark Jamaican rum

3/4 oz white rum

1/2 oz orange liqueur

1/2 oz lime juice

1/2 oz

falernum

1 dash Angostura bitters

6 drops

Pernod

Garnish: whatever you want, but make it awesome! Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker with a big scoop of crushed ice. Shake and pour into a tiki mug, old-fashioned glass or wide brandy snifter without straining. Top with additional crushed ice (if desired) and garnish.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We live in a throw-away society. Things are made cheaply and when we’re finished with them, we toss them out. That goes for furniture too. People put couches out on the curb. In college towns such as Ann Arbor, at the end of the academic year, there are lots of couches at the curb. 

We used to re-upholster furniture. In fact, some people still do. And in this installment in our series, “Artisans of Michigan” we visit an upholsterer.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There was outrage over reports that a farmer near Traverse City was required to dump tart cherries. You can read about the reasons here and listen to a Stateside interview with Bridge Magazine reporter Ron French about dumping cherries when it happened in 2014 here.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

  

Anvil, hammer, and tongs.

It's sooty. It's screams muscle and metal. But, the thing that strikes you is this: A blacksmith’s shop has a smell like no other. It’s the coal in the forge, the odor hot steel.

We visited Waterloo Metal Works to talk to John Rayer. But, shortly after I started poking around he stopped me.

“I did forget to give the safety warning. Everything in here is dirty, or sharp, or possibly very hot,” Rayer said.

Ali Lapetina / Detroit Journalism Cooperative

Attitudes about race have been improving in southeast Michigan, but there are still wide gaps on some issues between white people and black people. Those are some of the findings in a new survey commissioned by the Detroit Journalism Cooperative. 

The survey included people from mostly black communities, mixed communities, and mostly white communities in the Detroit metropolitan area.

When asked to rank the importance of race relations, black and white people ranked that issue below issues such as education and crime.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

 A Washington Post-ABC News poll shows the majority of Americans think race relations are getting worse. Concern about race relations spiked shortly after the reports of white police officers killing black men. Since the poll, two black men have targeted and killed police.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

French 75

1-1/2 oz gin (Detroit City Distillery Railroad gin)

1/2 oz lemon juice

3/4 oz simple syrup

2  oz champagne/sparkling wine

Garnish: lemon twist

Shake first three ingredients with ice, strain into champagne flute. Top with champagne and garnish.

The debate about raising the speed limit on Michigan freeways to 75 miles per hour made Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings think of the cocktail called the French 75. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Racial tensions are growing as the perceptions and evidence of racial inequality are growing.

Many of Detroit's residents see billionaires buying up downtown buildings where new retailers open shop, selling items most of Detroit's impoverished citizens cannot afford. There's a marked divide between that prosperity in downtown and the poverty in the neighborhoods.

That divide is stark in the Cass Corridor. New residents, often white, are moving in. Rents are rising. New restaurants and boutique shops are popping up. The old residents, often black, are being pushed out.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Thompson family has been constructing stained glass and leaded glass windows in Michigan since 1929.

“You know, we’re not interested in making sun catchers or little things that we sell at craft fairs. That’s just not our business. Our business is stuff that’s much longer lasting than that,” explained Dirk Thompson.

The family's stained glass windows have been installed in churches, colleges, businesses, and high-end homes. Thompson Art Glass also does a lot of restoration work.

The Atlantic posted a piece on July 8th which gets to the heart of what Michigan Radio and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative have been reporting on this year: Have things changed since the Kerner Commission's report of 1968 was published?

That presidential commission report outlined the grievances of black America and remedies to ease racial tensions.

The Atlantic explores the issue and contrasts it with the current presidential election year.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Bourbon Fruit Smash

1-2 slices ginger (optional)
Fruit (8-10 blueberries, 2-3 strawberries, 4 peach slices, etc)
3-5 leaves mint or other fresh herb
2 oz Bourbon
1/2 oz lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 oz simple syrup, or to taste

Muddle ginger well (if using), then add fruit and herbs and muddle again. Combine remaining ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake, strain into ice filled old-fashioned glass.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This is the first in a series on Stateside we're calling Artisans of Michigan.

Our first stop in this trip around Michigan is in downtown Northville at the Cobbler’s Corner.

“Shoe repairing is a lot more than what you think,” Tony Piccoli assures us as soon as we meet.

He says Cobbler’s Corner is the oldest shoe repair shop in Michigan. It originally began as the Northville Shoe Service owned by the Revitzer family, starting in 1928.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Whiskey Sour

2 oz. bourbon or rye

3/4 oz simple syrup

3/4 oz lemon juice

1 tsp egg white (or more as preferred)

Combine all ingredients in shaker without ice. Shake for several seconds, then add ice and shake again. Strain into any glass you like.

"Who wants the hand that rocks the cradle mixing whisky sours?"

That little gem was one of the arguments to make it illegal for women to tend bar. That's after they'd been slinging drinks throughout World War II. Many of the male bartenders were in the military.

Reporter's Notebook

I watched an old black man cry today.

Sitting at a picnic table in Chandler Park, by census estimates the poorest area of the city of Detroit, John Henry Irelang talked about poverty in his neighborhood. But, empathy for his neighbors was not the only reason he cried.

He cried because of lost opportunity.

“I put in 89 days,” he said. That’s one day short from transitioning from a temporary worker to a full time worker. “I was paid $5 an hour while the guy working next to me doing the same job was making $11.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Politicians and media reports indicate Detroit is in the middle of an economic resurgence. That’s true for the central business districts. That’s not the case for many residents in the poorest neighborhoods.

“Some people just don’t have the hope. And, especially living in an environment like this, it’s kind of hard. It’s kind of hard. It’s very stressful,” said Alita Burton.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

  

Love Interruption by Liz Cosby, beverage director, Rock City Eatery

2-3 sprigs thyme

1/2 oz simple syrup

1-1/2 oz White Blossom Vodka (this is an infused vodka; other vodkas will change the taste)

1/2 oz Cointreau

2 oz grapefruit juice

Muddle two sprigs of thyme with simple syrup. Add remaining ingredients to shaker with ice. Shake, strain into ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with remaining thyme.

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