Remember that slogan, “Say nice things about Detroit”? Burn that slogan. It’s time to start saying the truth about Detroit, screaming the truth about Detroit, because facing up to the truth is the only chance we have to save this city, provided it’s not too late. It’s taken me awhile to face up to it myself, and to get up the nerve to shout out loud (even though some of my colleagues here at Metro Times have been shouting that truth for quite some time now), but it’s getting to the point where I’m having a really hard time dealing with all this, and I know I’m not alone.
What’s been welling up inside bubbled over when a buddy of mine rang me up to check in and see how things were going. He’s always been good like that, a lot better than me, and normally we wind up talking about the music scene or what looks like a good movie. Sometimes we talk politics. But this time, barely a second after he asked how I was, I launched into a rant about all the things about Detroit that were really starting to piss me off — and it turned out he had many of the same feelings. For the first time, both of us were talking seriously about the merits of getting the hell out of Detroit, which was something that just a few years ago neither of us would have entertained.
But the way things are going, I would have to be a masochist to stubbornly stay no matter what, and, judging by the steady thunder of footsteps heading for the hills, it’s obvious quite a few others arrived at that realization long ago. Maybe Detroit just isn’t worth it anymore. You have no idea how much I hate saying this, but I hate what I see happening to this city even more. Like I said, it’s getting really hard to take.
When I moved to Detroit a little more than 12 years ago, I was convinced that this was the last place I would ever live. This was home. Friends and family members who had heard and believed all the horror stories about this reacted to my decision as if I had said I was going to stand naked in the middle of downtown and peel off my skin with pliers. No one could understand why someone who had been born and raised in Denver, Colo., rated as one of the nation’s most desirable locations, would prefer instead to live in Detroit, where all they ever seemed to hear about was murder and mayhem.
What those who considered me crazy didn’t know was that, as nice a city as Denver is, it doesn’t have that kind of pulsating, funk beat that meets a newcomer at the door. Denver doesn’t have the edge. Denver doesn’t have the depth of soulfulness or creativity. Denver doesn’t have the muscle. And yes, I’ll admit it, there just aren’t enough black people in Denver for me. I love my hometown, but after growing up as one of the only blacks among so many whites I had grown tired of that experience. Sick and tired, to be exact. I wanted to be in Detroit, for better or worse, because Detroit was a black city and I couldn’t wait to live somewhere where blacks were in the majority for once, even if it was just in this small corner of the U.S. of A. Maybe it didn’t reflect the national reality, but I couldn’t care less.
That part of me hasn’t changed much. Nor has my deep love of what remains of this city’s music, its rhythms, its soul, its toughness and its funk. Detroit has never been a city on a hill, it has always been a city on the edge, and it is that Detroit edge that has sparked some of the best artistic expression this city has ever produced. That edge is the heartbeat of Detroit’s soulfulness. That’s what I love about it. The question I’ve been forced to ask myself, though, is how much am I willing to put up with — or how much am I willing to outright ignore — before I realize that this ship is not re-inventing itself, it is sinking? I’m not the only one asking myself that question. Perhaps you are too.
A year ago my wife and I bought a house on Detroit’s West Side. We had been fighting and struggling for two years to get this place, and we finally prevailed. We were thrilled. Hooray, hooray. We got the house.
Ever heard that saying, “Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it”?
My car insurance is higher than my car note, even though I have a spotless driving record, a Club, a car alarm and an extremely well-lit driveway that goes behind the house to a secure little garage with an electric door opener. I just finished reading an article online releasing the results of a Runzheimer International study letting me know that Detroit’s car insurance rates are the highest in the nation. Higher than New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Newark. Does that sound crazy, or is it just me? Property taxes here are insane, which is why Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and both of his mayoral challengers have all presented proposals of what they will do — or try to do — to rectify the situation. They know these insanely high property taxes are chasing middle-class homeowners out of the city in search of sane property tax rates, and they are preventing who knows how many folks from even considering buying a home in Detroit. Tack on the homeowner’s insurance and it becomes hard to breathe.
We own two dogs, but I’m not crazy about the idea of walking them through the neighborhood ever since a pack of six stray pit bulls showed up in our driveway last year and we had to call Animal Control. Of course, Animal Control stays swamped, so they said they couldn’t come until the next day. Fortunately the police got wind of it, and they showed up to handle the situation within about an hour. So did a TV news crew. We told them that stray pit bulls and other dogs were nothing new around here. Nor is the trash on the streets. Nor are the sometimes-they-work-sometimes-they-don’t streetlights. I’ve grown accustomed to all of it, and that’s the problem; none of us should grow accustomed to living like this and trying to convince ourselves it’s normal, but so many of us are doing exactly that because we don’t know what else to do. Call it a defense mechanism.
Moving right along, even though the mayor brags that overall crime is down to its lowest level since 1963, the fact remains that murders are still far too frequent, as the recent murder of 12-year-old Robert Pratt all too tragically illustrates. I could holler about the murder rate forever, but that wouldn’t leave room to holler about the fact that there are now only two Farmer Jacks in the entire city; the major grocery chain that stayed in the city through thick and thin is now in so much financial trouble that it may have to be sold. Sure, we have a host of other smaller independent stores, but, I’m sorry, that’s just not the same. This is a major city, and we can’t even keep one major food store chain?
Then of course we have the projected $300 million deficit, the schools and …
I’m running out of space, and I think we’re all running out of patience.Keith A. Owens is a Detroit writer, editor and musician. Send comments to [email protected]