Prospecting prosperity

Jul 21, 1999 at 12:00 am

A loud clanking comes from the kitchen, where the Lizard of Fun is digging around in my pots and pans cupboard. "Hey, freak girl," it yells, "you got any pie pans? Aluminum ones, glass ones, whatever?"

"Do I look like Martha Stewart?" I ask, wandering in to see what carnage is being wrought upon my exclusive Value Village vintage cookware.

"Maybe her evil twin," says the Lizard, holding up a metal pie pan and a pancake flipper. "Ah-hah. Perfect."

Since the Lizard has never cooked a meal in its life (aside from burned barbecue), I become impressed. Perhaps there’ll be something better than speed-dialed pizza for dinner? No such luck.

"C’mon, we’re gonna get rich now," says the Lizard, dragging me and the pie pan out the door. "It’s a gold rush out there, and we’ve got the equipment to take full advantage of it. It’s a great time to make a dime in Detroit, baby!"

We wander over to Tiger Stadium, where swarms of people are jockeying for parking spots and wearing their very best high-pop-culture-in-a-ballpark duds.

"See, here’s proof: This ‘Three Tenements’ deal," says the Lizard. "It’s that big redevelopment they’re talking about for the stadium after the team moves out. Get in on that one and we’ll be rich rich rich!"

I blink a few times to be sure I’m not seeing a guy wearing a foam hand with "Pavarotti" printed on it. "Three Tenors," I tell the Lizard. "It’s an opera thing. You wouldn’t understand."

"Uproar? Naah, the city will go along with it as long as it makes money. Now that I understand," the Lizard says, waving out its pie pan. An opera-bound culture vulture tosses a few coins in.

"See, what did I tell ya?" The Lizard shakes the pan, counting the change. "Thirty-five cents! This is definitely turning into the city of opportunity."

I shrug. "If the streets were really paved with gold, don’t you think the first thing people would do is tear them up and pawn chunks of sidewalk?"

"Naaah," says the Lizard, as we stroll along Michigan Avenue toward the shiny soon-to-open MGM Grand Casino. "That’s for later, when people start getting desperate again. Right now, they’re still trying to nail down the paving job."

In front of the casino, they’re indeed working on the pavement, the landscaping, and even the sidewalks. "I don’t see any gold yet," I say. And yet there’s a certain shininess to the air, which may or may not be waves of summer heat radiating from the concrete.

If all you saw of Detroit was a quick view of downtown on your way to the casino, you might be convinced that somewhere in the city, perhaps down below the deepest of the old Hudson’s building basements, there’s a hidden vein of gold being mined for all it’s worth.

Road construction. Casino construction. Fancy new office/hotel/retail development construction. Even spiffy luxury condo and loft construction. Someone’s gotta be paying for all these new buildings, right? All of a sudden, there seems to be a whole lot of cash flowing in and through and around Detroit.

"Maybe they found a bunch of money at the MGM casino site," says the Lizard. "It is the old IRS building, isn’t it?"

But it’s not just buildings and freeways, either. With every gold rush comes spin-off economic booms. In San Francisco, 150 years ago, hopeful gold miners suddenly created a huge demand for food, alcohol, hotels, prostitutes … "Kinda sounds like they could’ve been installing casinos instead," says the Lizard. "What about the cheesy circus acts and singers?"

And of course, there’s gotta be someone to staff all those establishments, which is why the presumably-soon-to-rake-in-even-more-dough casinos are "dealing new career opportunities" with recruitment campaigns disguised as "casting calls."

Other industries are jumping on the job wagon, too, with their own outrageous calls for employees. More than 2,500 people attended a job fair held recently by the Detroit School Board, which wanted to hire 1,000 new teachers in a day. A similar event, held early this week by the Wayne County Regional Education Service Agency, had the same lofty goal. To attract potential educators, the fairs featured on-site draws for prizes and hefty signing bonuses to anyone who actually was hired. "Whoo-hoo!" says the Lizard, waving its pie pan in the general direction of the casino. "I told you, there’s cash a-flowing, and I’m gonna scoop me some up."

"I think you’ve gotta actually play the slot machines to get the money," I say. "Besides, the odds aren’t that great. It may look like a big bonanza around here right now, but it’s also a big risk. Someone’s gotta eventually lose."

"Sure, sure. But in the meantime, you think they’re having any job fairs for professional lounge lizards?" The Lizard rattles its pie pan. "That is, you know, if this prospecting thing doesn’t really work out. I still only have 35 cents."