The nerdy playhouse
Here's a crew of creatives — in the truest sense of the word — rising from hackerspace ground zero
Published: March 7, 2012
OCD offers public workshops of all sorts, where folks can learn to install a boom box in a vintage suitcase, hollow out books, or use an LED circuit to put light-up eyes in hand-sewn puppets. In addition, at "Open Hack Nights" held twice monthly, OCD opens its doors to anyone who'd like to check out the space, nerd out on a project, or meet other likeminded hackers and builders. Achille Bianchi, a glib photojournalist who runs a bookbinding and papermaking workshop at OCD, says of Open Hack Nights, "There have been some really neat things that have gone down on these nights. ...We've had up to 50 people in the space, and sometimes they erupt into huge bike polo games."
Wolcott completes his tour and begins roasting raw coffee beans in preparation for an all-nighter; he's building shelves to house OCD's future library. Meanwhile, a group of hip-hop musicians — the only people who don't seem to be deep in a project — lounge on beat-up couches rescued from the nearby Atlas building. As Wolcott pours coffee for the crowd, the strong and bitter cup spurs discussion about another member's plans to brew glow-in-the-dark beer. The warehouse's floor-to-ceiling windows are streaked with condensation, revealing a desolate, snow-covered lot outside.
OCD has grown to be just shy of 30 members, implementing a system of flat dues for all members rather than the tiered membership that some hackerspaces use to honor those more generous or involved. Dues go toward the lease, bills and an elaborate savings system that allows for potential machine purchases, outreach efforts and rainy days.
The group is also open to new members, who must receive unanimous acceptance in order to join. "It's like renting out a room in a shared apartment," Bianchi explains, emphasizing the importance of finding a good fit. Because the collective showcases various talents (including woodworkers, programmers and electrical engineers) OCD prides itself on offering "just about everything" in terms of both resources and skills. That being said, one member reminisces about OCD's early days, noting, "We were a super tight-knit group ... [things] were much simpler back then."
Now, a few dozen self-described "weirdos who make stuff" run an autonomous and very open collective in the middle of Detroit. ... Sound romantic? When asked if any trouble has ensued, Manoulian shifts his weight to give this a think. "Yeah. One time, we hosted a party here and someone [not a member] lit a cigarette inside." Er, a violation of the no-smoking policy — that's it?
On a snowy Monday night, 20 or so dudes from as far as Port Huron and Ann Arbor have shown up to OCD for a biweekly moped get-together. Detroit's merciless winter months are prime time for fixing bikes, and tonight the place teams with moped freaks and fixer-uppers. Tools and engine parts this writer can't discern are strewn around, and there are Solexes, Hondas and Peugots in various stages of being eviscerated and rebuilt.
Dubbed "Moped Mondays," the idea for the night was born last summer when Manoulian and a few other amateur moped riders from OCD joined forces with Motor City Riot, an unofficial branch of the Moped Army. Since then, the first-floor workshop of OCD has doubled as a headquarters for the Riot. (When asked if the gang plans to officially join the Moped Army, a grizzled rider jokes, "Sure — if we can muscle them into having us.")
Moped Mondays respond to both a burgeoning moped culture and the ingenuity that Detroiters wear like a second skin. As with everything else at OCD, it's about fixing and building while sharing knowledge and swapping parts. And while moped gangs are notorious for being biker elitists, humility's evident here. "Detroit's too small to be exclusive," one rider says.
Emphasizing that Moped Monday is actually open to anything with wheels (cyclists are welcome), Detroiter Brad Potts adds, "Everyone should feel comfortable here, if you just want to learn about mopeds, or ask advice before buying one ... even if you have never touched a wrench."
Several OCDers say hosting Moped Mondays has brought more diversity to the space, both professionally and demographically. A motley crew is present, including a bevy of engineers and a seemingly incongruous prosecuting attorney. There are a few dudes with shiny shoes and thick-rimmed glasses, as well as older riders in flannels and work boots.
"We just have these stinky 30-year-old bikes in common," says Port Huron resident Ben Krenke with a laugh. Krenke says he doesn't know much about what else goes on at OCD, but his love for wrenching on mopeds brings him out here once a month or so ("whenever my wife lets me.") Someone offers him a dirty martini mixed in a polystyrene cup.
Tonight Krenke is making a gasket to restore his Puch motor, a piece that the company stopped manufacturing ages ago. The unspoken adage here goes like this: If a part doesn't exist anymore, make it yourself. Likely for this reason, funds don't seem to come between riders and their bikes. Someone talks about purchasing three vintage Vespas for $250; Potts tells of rebuilding an engine he got from a junkyard for $30. "It was trashed," he adds.
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