Excerpts from my journal during a 2 week sojourn in Detroit Michigan, late summer 2013
September 5, 2013, Thursday, Detroit
Very cool, high 40s, 90% clear with cirrus, still.
Yesterday [September 4] I had 2 pivotal conversations, Johnny, my next-door neighbor, and AW, a vivacious black man I met at the McDonald’s as I did my email on my iPad, clumsily.
Johnny (photo made in 2011)
Johnny was ecstatic about a recent civil war reenactment he participated in in northern Michigan with his black “cavalry.” He keeps a horse, prides himself on his horsemanship, and told me in some detail about how his unit charged the Confederate’s cannon. How he shot Confederate soldiers with his 2 Civil War era pistols (with blanks of course). And how accepted he felt by the opposing white soldiers because, he thinks, they admired his and his colleague’s horsemanship. Ah, Skip, you should have been there.
I asked Johnny, I remember you’re a Vietnam vet. Did you see combat?
And did the reenacted shooting bring back your experiences?
Yes, but not to devastating effect, not like it would have decades ago when I suffered more from PTSD.
How’d you get thru that?
I didn’t. For instance, last night I did not sleep well.
Sometimes. Charlie (the moniker GI’s used for the Vietcong) still comes after me. He also told me he keeps guns and would use them if threatened in the neighborhood. For me, he explained, there is nothing between anger and violence.
AW, as he prefers being called, met me in McDonald’s after he’d exclaimed out loud to no one in particular about my folding bike parked outside the window I sat in—initially unaware that I owned the bike—man, that bike has small wheels.
Yes, I offered, 20 inches, it’s a folding bike. That led to a long conversation about Detroit. He was upset at a remark Boston mayor Menino had recently made, that to solve Detroit’s problems first someone should blow it up. Yes, AW partially agreed, Detroit has problems but they don’t warrant such a crude remark.
Confirming how others analyze the scene here, he said the city—the entire state—is/was too dependent on the auto industry. Now, he feels, there’s an attempt at diversification: medical primarily. He didn’t say, but I’ve noticed, another industry could be art. Already Detroit exalts in its Detroit Institute of Art (artwork there currently being considered for liquidation for city funding, an abominable prospect. imagine, Rivera’s Ford Motor Company mural auctioned off in pieces!)
What’s next for Detroit? I asked.
Well, what’s happening now is big money taking an interest in investing in Detroit. Banks are buying up property, for example.
What about the risks involved, big corporations controlling the city? I asked.
I don’t know what the alternative is; the money needs to come from somewhere. Furthermore, (I think he stated) I feel that bankruptcy is positive, clearing the ground.
He is retired, spoke of attending a conference in Boston, eating regularly on an expense account at Legal Seafood, growing up in Louisiana and loving seafood, working on rebuilding dikes in New Orleans as a young man after Hurricane Irene, a vicious predecessor of Katrina, destroyed parts of the city. He asked me about my work, asked for my website, seemed to appreciate my love of Detroit, my curiosity in it.
You could buy a home here, Skip, for $30,000. People aren’t buying because there is very little in Detroit to attract them. Poor schools and few city services.
We sat together nearly one hour, I got little of my writing done. I showed him on my Detroit map where I lived. He offered a route that would skirt around the most dangerous neighborhoods. I read later that Detroit has some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the USA.
Grace Lee Boggs (photo made in 2011 at the Allied Media Conference)
I believe my last visit here was early summer 2011 for the Allied Media Conference. There I heard Vincent Harding and Grace Lee Boggs. My dear friend S is very interested in Boggs and hopes to hear more about her from me. Of course, I hope to interview Boggs and make some more photos of her. A question I’ll ask is simply, how are things in Detroit and how have they changed in the past 5 or so years? Also her views about bankruptcy and the new government-installed administration. I’m curious about the mayoral race in November, whether it matters given the fact of the state government’s takeover of failed communities.
TO BE CONTINUED
“Detroit Bankrupt? Six Ways the Motor City Is Thriving,” by Larry Gabriel