The best part of having your car broken into in Detroit is the way people help out

Feb 12, 2015 at 9:47 am

We get phone calls here at Metro Times all the time. I can’t always pick up, given our deadlines, but I do check the voice mails … eventually. We got an interesting message from a Metro Times reader who says he gets all his news about Detroit from our rag, a guy named Tom Nigel of Jackson. He said he was born and raised in Detroit, and came down to the city recently and had an unusual experience, a “series of events down around the Heidelberg Project there.” He said he was half tempted to write a letter to the mayor, but said he was sure that he’d get “laughed right out of the office.”

Naturally, we got curious. We called Nigel out in Jackson and asked what the heck happened to him?

He was your typical good-natured fiftysomething Michigan guy, or at least the kind of guy who likes to call and pour his heart out to me. It’s a peculiar kind of caller, one who seems really fond of the city, and not given to angry outbursts about what Detroit has become. But let’s get to that in a moment.

He told us that, a couple weekends ago, he arranged to take his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s daughter, and her friend to see Kinky Boots at the Fisher.

“For any culture, we need to go to Detroit,” he says. “Maybe Ann Arbor’s got a little or we could catch the Purple Rose in Chelsea. I live out in Jackson, so out here there’s nothing.

“So we loaded up the car, I happen to have a rental car because my car got smashed by a drunk driver, so I took a rental car and headed on down. And my girlfriend’s daughter, her friend is really into art, so we decided to give her the outdoor Packard Plant tour and get out of the car, and drive down to the Heidelberg Project and walk through it.

“When we got down to the Heidelberg Project, it was pretty busy. I mean, I couldn’t find a spot on Heidelberg Street. So I pulled around the corner onto a side street and I was thinking to myself, ‘I don’t even know if I should park here.’ So I pulled around the next corner onto Elba. We walked around the block and we walked into the store there and talked with Stacy for a bit. Headed on out, got to the car, it couldn’t have been 15 minutes total, and my back window was smashed out.”

Here’s where your typical former native Detroiter usually begins working himself up into a furious rant about the city, about how it’s become a hellhole of crime, about how it’s gone to hell. But not Tom Nigel. Listen to his next words:

“Because I’m a little off my game, normally we know enough not to not leave things sitting on the seat. A lot of it is an iPad, and you know. I’m sure if I read this story, I’d be saying, ‘Hey, you dumbass, you don’t leave empty Coach bags sitting on the back seat.’ The girls were all excited about dressing up to go into the city, and the one girl had gotten a Coach bag as a gift a couple years ago and was just dying to show it off. She put her old purse inside her empty Coach bag and left it on the back seat. My girlfriend left her mesh, nylon bag on the front seat and that’s all it took. The stuff was gone. They didn’t steal the car, luckily, I was glad of that.”

While we don’t believe that Nigel should be blaming himself and his family over the smash-and-grab, the level of understanding is impressive, and it shows a reluctance to dismiss the whole city for one crime. What happens next is also interesting.

Nigel continues: “They were just closing up over at the store, it was 4 o’clock. And I’m sitting there, I’m lost, I have no idea what to do. I’ve been taking some meds, I’ve got some cancer and stuff, so I’m not quite on my game. So I’m standing there, like, ‘Alright, what the hell do I do now? I got a rental car, we got dinner to go to, we got a show to go to. I called 911 immediately and immediately got transferred to some hold program where I’m waiting for some guy at a central location to come out and take my report because the police don’t come out. So I’m thinking, I can’t just stand out here in the cold. I don’t know what the hell to do. So, luckily, Stacy let me back in. She called a local, I think the local district police department, and the response she got was an automated machine that said they were closed. And, she’s like, ‘I have never heard of that.’ Her ex-husband, I guess, was a policeman and he gave her the number she called and the district was closed. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Wow, Mayor Duggan. That’s pretty welcoming. Let’s just close down the police department on a Saturday at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.’

“And, of course, nobody comes. We finally do get through to the guy, real nice gentleman at the central location that took our police report. While we’re standing there in the Heidelberg office there, Tyree Guyton comes too. He showed up because of what happened, she had called him. He was very generous with his time and basically pleaded with us to not let this deter us from coming down there. And I was like, ‘Dude, I’ve been coming down here for years; this isn’t going to deter me from coming down.’ It’s a little sad, in a sense that you can get out of your car walk around the block before something bad happens. But the same crap happened to me out here in Jackson, only I left my window down and they stole my wallet out of my car. I did the same thing, walked away for five minutes, came back, so it can happen anywhere.”

OK, this is turning into a shaggy dog story, but it’s worth it. Basically, Nigel saw a whole lot of city folks, people who haven’t exactly had it easy, come together to aid him. While he was unsurprised by the property crime, and raised his eyebrows at the closed police station, what happened next seems to have left a deep impression on Nigel.

“The shining moment here was Tyree and these complete strangers that happened to be in the office there. My girlfriend happened to be just talking to this one guy, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I just got done sweeping out my car, getting it all cleaned up.” And my girlfriend made a kind of off-the-cuff, ‘Oh, you wouldn’t mind sweeping out my car would ya?’ Because we were all dressed to the hilt, glass all over now in the backseat, and we’re trying to figure out where to go, and Stacy’s trying to find old coats for us to sit on. Well, this complete stranger was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll go sweep it out.’ So two guys I don’t even know out there, sweeping out the glass out of the back of the rental car. Stacy finds me the number for the closest Hertz, the rental place, which was the airport. And I elected to drive out the metro and swap out cars. Coming back, we missed our dinner reservation at Joe Muer’s and ended up eating at Shangri-La down there on Cass Avenue. We were thinking we weren’t going to get in anywhere on an Auto Show weekend, but, nope. He got us right in there, sat us, got us out and we made it to the show with about 15 minutes to spare.

“And then, about four days later, my girlfriend ended up getting her checkbook back in the mail. It said on the envelope, ‘Detroit Department of Recreation.’ It was really weird, it was hand-written. The checkbook or four checks were stuffed in there, she knew what it was as soon as she got it. But we got that back.

“You know, ultimately, that experience turned out to have much of a positive light on it. I mean, with complete strangers helping us out, Tyree himself showing up and being very much on top of it. And I just wanted to reflect that. I know your rag tends to reflect, it’s not negative and you like to show a positive spin on stuff even when bad crap happens. I just thought I’d share it with you.”

Well, thank you, Tom. Glad we could lend a helping hand, and sorry about the property crime. Maybe next time just tuck those valuables out of sight? Yeah, we know you will.