There was a knock at my door. I knew it was Mulenga Harangua because he used a beat from the Funkadelic's "Tear the Roof off the Sucker." It was a little involved but I recognized it from years of him pounding it into my head.
I pulled the door open and held my dog's collar at the same time. The dog sometimes viewed an open door as an opportunity to tour the neighborhood, and I didn't feel like chasing him around.
"What's up, man? You're knocking at the front door instead of tapping on my window or sliding up through the yard. Don't you know people see you when you come to the front door?"
"I was going to sneak, but I noticed the streetlights are out in the neighborhood. I figured I'll just walk up the street. Besides I'm developing sophistication in my act. The best place to hide is right out in the open. The man doesn't bother me if I just act like I belong. Actually it looks kind of picturesque out here on the dark streets with the porch lights illuminating the houses. In my neighborhood we don't even have porch lights. Heck, in my neighborhood we don't even have lights."
"I try not to curse the darkness. So how did you get over here?"
"I got a raggedy bike I put together from pieces of scrap. It's on the side of your house."
"Do you have it locked?"
"Naw, if somebody wants it they can take it. I'll just stay here tonight."
I sidled over to the window to see that the bike was safe. The last time Mulenga crashed for the night he stayed two months. The only way I got rid of him was that he got together with one of my wife's girlfriends and moved in with her. It didn't last long and she won't talk to me anymore. But it got him out of my place.
Mulenga opened the refrigerator, pulled out a beer and settled into a chair. "I came over to help you write your column."
"Oh, what should I write about?"
"Well one thing is this damned transit system. They tell us about the light rail line and how good it's going to be for economic development then all of a sudden they pull the rug out from under it. Now they say we can't afford it. We can't afford not to. I read stuff, man, and I've read where the economic development is so much better along rail lines than around bus lines. As far as I'm concerned saying we can't afford rail means we can't afford to invest in our future. It means we're never going to pull ourselves out of this mess. It's just another way of holding us down."
"I have never heard of a place that is famous for its great buses. It's trains. When you go to New York you ride the subway, same thing with Paris, Tokyo. Great cities are known for their trains, not their buses. Even Chicago has the El. I guess we're setting the bar low in Detroit."
That diatribe must have made Mulenga thirsty. He lifted his beer bottle and drained it. Then he went over to the fridge and got another. He also pulled out half of a corned beef sandwich I'd put there in the afternoon. Mulenga plopped back down in his seat and took a big bite of the sandwich. I kept my eye on his bike.
"What else should I write about?"
"The city's budget and this emergency manager crap. I went down to the City Council meeting the day they had the union people talk about their proposals to save the city money. First of all, this $220 million the state owes us, it's just another way of gaming the city. First they make a deal with us, we fulfill our side of the bargain, but I don't hear anybody from the state denying that the deal was made. All I hear is that the state isn't going to come up with the money. So they rip us off and then want to say we don't know how to manage our money and they're going to send somebody to oversee us? That's the stupidest thing I ever heard of."
"Amen to that."
"Anyway, at that meeting I heard some good stuff discussed. The city has tens of thousands of contracts with private companies. For instance, we're sending buses out to be repaired when we have mechanics on payroll that could do the work. We even pay a fee for the contractors to pick up the buses and return them. That doesn't make sense. Anyhow, a lot of these contracts have been renewed for years. There could be huge savings with just reviewing those contracts. When Mayor Dave Bing gave his speech on the city economy he asked for contractors to voluntarily give up a small percentage of what they get paid. I don't think they're lining up to do that. Some folks at the meeting said that the city pays Blue Cross $300 million each year yet there are other providers who could give us equal services for half the money. We should at least look into it. Saving half of that bill would pretty much cover the budget shortfall."
"Tell me about it." I held my hands up with the palms toward Mulenga, he was on a roll and I didn't want to slow him down.
"That's like the County Commission just told County Executive Robert Ficano that they weren't going to pay for a private company to represent the county with these federal subpoenas when they already have a legal department on the payroll. It's about time they stood up and let him know he's not running a fiefdom."
Mulenga brushed the crumbs off his chest, took a swig of beer, thumped his bottle down on the table and kept talking. "We got feds investigating the county; they're investigating the former city administration; they're overseeing the Detroit Police Department. Is there anybody around here who hasn't attracted their attention?"
I shook my head. "It's a crying shame."
Mulenga headed to the fridge for another beer to lubricate his loquaciousness. "Oh, yeah, did you see that they dropped the death penalty charge against Mumia Abu-Jamal? It's about time something good happened for the brother. That makes my year regardless of what came before."
"But he's still in jail for life."
"But if he ain't dead, that leaves the possibility he could get out."
"OK, what else should I write about?"
"I think I've given you a good start. I can't do it all for you." Mulenga stood up and stretched. I tried not to notice the expanse of belly that became visible. "I need to get out of here."
He slipped out the door. I heard his bike scrape against the side of the house. Then he pedaled away from the secure glow of my porch light into the darkness.
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