I generally avoid serious topics on this blog, but Mitch recently wrote an article that as a Michiganian I truly appreciated. Between an early-arriving and fairly harsh winter, unemployment rates approaching 10%, the trial and imprisonment of Detroit’s mayor, the Detroit Lions, and above all, the crisis of the automotive companies, some days it’s hard to stick our sleepy heads out from the covers in the mornings. This made me feel a little better, and I’ll bet I wasn’t alone.
The article was written for “Sports Illustrated” and re-printed by the Detroit Free Press with their permission. I have excerpted my favorite parts below but also included the link for the whole article. Inserted excerpts are separated by … 😉 (My extra favorite parts near the end are in bold.)
…. “And yet Detroit was once a vibrant place, the fourth-largest city in the country, and it lives in the hope that those days, against all logic, it will somehow return. We are downtrodden, perhaps, but the most downtrodden optimists you will ever meet. We cling to our ways, no matter how provincial they seem on the coasts. We get excited about the auto show. We celebrate Sweetest Day. We eat Coney dogs all year, and we cruise classic cars down Woodward Avenue every August, and we bake paczki doughnuts the week before Lent. We don’t talk about whether Detroit will be fixed but when Detroit will be fixed.
And we are modest. In truth, we battle an inferiority complex. We gave the world the automobile. Now the world wants to scold us for it. We gave the world Motown music. Motown moved its offices to L.A. When I arrived 24 years ago to be a sports columnist at the Detroit Free Press, I discovered several letters waiting for me at the office. Mind you, I had not written a word. My hiring had been announced, that’s all. But there were already letters. Handwritten. And they all said, in effect, “Welcome to Detroit. We know you won’t stay long, because nobody good stays for long, but we hope you like it while you’re here.”…
…”And yet to live in Detroit these days is to want to scream. But where do you begin? Our doors are being shuttered. Our walls are falling down. Our daily bread, the auto industry, is reduced to morsels. Our schools are in turmoil. Our mayor went to jail. Our two biggest newspapers announced they will soon cut home delivery to three days a week. Our most common lawn sign is FOR SALE. And our NFL team lost every week this season. A perfect 0-16. Even the homeless guys are sick of it.
We want to scream, but we don’t scream, because this is not a screaming place, this is a swallow-hard-and-deal-with-it place. So workers rise in darkness and rev their engines against the winter cold and drive to the plant and punch in and spend hours doing the work that America doesn’t want to do any more, the kind that makes something real and hard to the touch. Manufacturing. Remember manufacturing? They do that here. And then they punch out and drive home (3 o’clock is rush hour in these parts, the end of a shift) and wash up and touch the kids under the chin and sit down for dinner and flip on the news.
And then they really want to scream.
Because what they see — what all Detroit sees — is a nation that appears ready to flick us away like lint. We see senators voting our death sentence. We see bankers clucking their tongues at our business model (as if we invented the credit default swap!). We see Californians knock our cars for ruining the environment (as if their endless driving has nothing to do with it). We see sports announcers call our football team “ridiculous.” Heck, during the Lions’ annual Thanksgiving game, CBS’ Shannon Sharpe actually wore a bag over his head….
…”Any mature city has its echoes, but most are drowned out by the chirping of new enterprise. In Detroit, the echoes roll on and on, filling the empty blocks because little else does. There is not a department store left downtown. Those three casinos hover like giant cranes, ready to scoop up your last desperate dollar. We have all heard the catchphrases about Detroit: A city of ruins. A Third World metropolis. A carcass. Last person to leave, turn out the lights.
For years, we took those insults as a challenge. We wore a cloak of defiance. But now that cloak feels wet and heavy. It has been cold here before, but this year seems colder. Skies have grayed before, but this year they’re like charcoal. We’ve been unemployed before, but now the lines seem longer; we hear figures like 16% of the labor force not working, Depression numbers. I read one estimate that more than 40,000 houses in our city are now abandoned. Ghosts everywhere….
…”And yet it’s our misery to endure. There’s a little too much glee in the Detroit jokes these days. A little too much flip in the wrist that tosses dirt on our coffins. We hear a Tennessee player tell the news media that the Thanksgiving victory didn’t mean much because “it was just Detroit.” We hear Jay Leno rip our scandalous former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, by saying, “The bad news is, he could be forced out of office. The good news is, any time you get a chance to get out of Detroit, take it.”
We hear Congress tongue-lash our auto executives for not matching the cheaper wages of foreign car companies. We hear South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint tell NPR that “the barnacles of unionism” must be destroyed at GM, Ford and Chrysler. Barnacles? Barnacles are parasites without a conscience. Sounds more like politicians to us.
Enough, we want to say. The Lions stink. We know they stink. You don’t have to tell us. Enough. The car business is in trouble. We know it’s in trouble. We drive past the deserted parking lots of empty auto plants every day.
Enough. We don’t need more lofty national newspaper laments on the decay of a Rust Belt city. Or the obligatory network news piece, “Can Detroit Be Saved?” For too long we have been the Place to Go to Chronicle the Ugly. Example: For years, we had a rash of fires the night before Halloween — Devil’s Night. And like clockwork, you could count on TV crews to fly in from out of town in hopes of catching Detroit burning. Whoomf. There we were in flames, on network TV. But when we got the problem under control, when city-sponsored neighborhood programs helped douse it, you never heard about that. The TV crews just shrugged and left….
…”This is why our recent beatdown in Congress was so painfully felt. To watch our Detroit Three execs humiliated as if they never did a right thing in their lives, to watch U.S. senators from Southern states — where billions in tax breaks were handed out to foreign car companies — tear apart the U.S. auto industry as undeserving of aid, well, that was the last straw.
Enough. We’re not gum on the bottom of America’s shoe. We’re not grime to be wiped off with a towel. Detroit and Michigan are part of the backbone of this country, the manufacturing spine, the heart of the middle class — heck, we invented the middle class, we invented the idea that a factory worker can put in 40 hours a week and actually buy a house and send a kid to college. What? You have a problem with that? You think only lawyers and hedge-fund kings deserve to live decently?
To watch these lawmakers hand out, with barely a whisper, hundreds of billions to the financial firms that helped cause this current disaster, then make the Detroit Three beg like dogs and slap them with nothing? Honestly. There are times out here we feel like orphans….
…”And maybe you ask why? Maybe you ask, as I get asked all the time, “Why do you stay there? Why don’t you leave?”
Maybe because we like it here. Maybe because this is what we know: snow and concrete underfoot, hard hats, soul music, lakes, hockey sticks. Maybe because we don’t see just the burned-out houses; we also see the Fox Theatre, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Whitney restaurant, the riverfront that looks out to Canada. Maybe because we still have seniors who call the auto giant “Ford’s,” like a shop that’s owned by a real human being. Maybe because some of us subscribe to Pastor Covington’s words, “We are somebody because God loves us, no matter how cold the night or hard the mattress.”
Maybe because when our kids finish college and take that first job in some sexy, faraway city and a year later we see them back home and we ask what happened, they say, “I missed my friends and family.” And we nod and say we understand.
Or maybe because we’re smarter than you think. Every country flogs a corner of itself on the whipping post. English Canada rips French Canada, and vice versa. Swedes make lame jokes about Laplanders.
But it’s time to untie Detroit. Because we may be a few steps behind the rest of the country, but we’re a few steps ahead of it, too. And what’s happening to us may happen to you.
Do you think if your main industry sails away to foreign countries, if the tax base of your city dries up, you won’t have crumbling houses and men sleeping on church floors, too? Do you think if we become a country that makes nothing, that builds nothing, that only services and outsources, that we will hold our place on the economic totem pole? Detroit may be suffering the worst from this semi-Depression, but we sure didn’t invent it. And we can’t stop it from spreading. We can only do what we do. Survive.
And yet, we’re better at that than most places.” …