Detroit, Autocorrected

IMG_1450Since I moved to this city, I’ve kept a note on my phone to keep track of the weird ways that my phone interprets the word Detroit. They’re not exactly electronic Freudian slips, but it’s still fascinating to see how my careless spelling is contorted.
  • Det Riot
  • Serpent
  • Tide trot
  • Detour
  • Devote
  • Fisher
  • Dishrag
  • Deceit
  • Dwight
  • Delete
  • Elite
  • Work it


Parking Violated: Death by a Thousand Papercuts

ticket in window

Think twice before you drive into downtown Detroit. It’s not that you’ll be carjacked or get lost on our bewildering road network, but you will get ripped off if you deign to park here. Under Emergency Manager Kevin Orr’s recent ordinance, you will be forced to pay $45 for the offense of an expired parking meter.[1] In one fell swoop, Orr increased fines for all parking violations and removed the 10-day reduced rate window. The outcome is penalty hikes of up to 450 percent.

Let’s put that into context. For someone making minimum wage (currently $7.40/hr in Michigan)[2], it would take a full day of work just to pay off this parking ticket. Remember that Detroit is the city where people are choosing between their water bills (otherwise it’ll get shut off), their property taxes (otherwise the city will take your house) or mortgage payments (otherwise the bank will take your house). The fine is that much more excessive for the reported 23 percent of Detroiters who are unemployed (that’s 6 points higher than the next-worst city on the list)[3]. And even if you are a lucky soul with a decent income, just imagine driving up to one of the few remaining downtown shops to purchase a $3 coffee, a $10 lunch or a $15 t-shirt and then facing a $45 parking ticket when you return to your car. You aren’t likely to take that risk again- better to shop at the mall or order online. Continue reading “Parking Violated: Death by a Thousand Papercuts”

Postscript: Big City, Small World

vanYes, I recovered from that very compelling fantasy about apprehending the bad guys. But that doesn’t exactly mean that I was avoiding it. Yesterday on a bike ride near-but-n0t-at the scene of the crime, I saw that sinister gold van. Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhathwhat? WHAT?! For the second time in a week, I stared dumbly at the parking lot in front of me, unable to process what I was seeing. I hadn’t actually seen the van at the time of the theft but there is no mistaking a “gold van with black flames on the back.” This was it.

Continue reading “Postscript: Big City, Small World”

You Robbed the Right Girl

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Every time I play soccer, I have to do a handstand. The combination of competition and a field of grass makes me overflow with excitement so I send myself upside-down to tip a little out, to commemorate the joy. Soccer just makes me happy. So the first thing I did when I moved to Detroit last October was join a soccer team. Actually, I joined three teams — only one of them lasted through the winter.

I am a proud member of Roosevelt Parks soccer team. Our soccer season is a veritable tour of the best of Detroit: we practice at old Tiger’s Stadium, we play pick-up beside the beautiful abandoned train station, we scrimmage on Belle Isle, and play our games at Fort Wayne with freighters slowing inching by along the Detroit River.

Soccer has been the most unexpected and rewarding part of my new life in this city. Unexpected because I honestly didn’t even know if Detroit had a recreational soccer league when I moved here — I thought I might start one myself. Unexpected because it not only exists, it thrives — Detroit City Football League is a finely-tuned community soccer machine. Unexpected because I not only met my teammates, I met dozens of people on other teams as well. Rewarding because I fucking love every minute of it.

Continue reading “You Robbed the Right Girl”

Detroit Dinner Party Confessions

“I’m divorced”

    It happens

“I’m black”

    No problem

“I’m gay”

    We accept you

“I’m atheist”

    That’s alright

“I’m Christian”

    That’s ok too

“I’m moving to the suburbs”


Young People, Short Memories


In 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first black president to lead the nation of South Africa. His election marked the end of the racist Apartheid system, and his party was the African National Congress, the ANC. In the years since, the ANC has never lost the presidency, though power has been passed down to 4 different men over that time. For many South Africans, the ANC is synonymous with freedom from apartheid, and they will support it unwaveringly for life. To them, the choice at the voting booth is not between one party or another in a free South Africa, but between their liberators and Someone Else, and that is really not a choice at all. Continue reading “Young People, Short Memories”

Light on Blight

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I grew up in a sweet, serene, safe community: a bastion of purity in small-town Michigan. We had no world-class issues. The police blotter in the local paper was comedically innocent: “raccoon topples garbage can,” “local man double-parks van.” But not too far away, trouble loomed large. Detroit, with its towering tombs was a shame to our state, replete with evidence of poverty, racial conflict, failure. We could not be proud of it so we pretended it did not exist. We could not fix it and so we ignored it.

But it turns out, problems do not solve themselves. Untended, a cancer grows, and a city cannot be surgically removed. Most with the option to do so have retreated and put up a nice tall fence.They take comfort in a combined dosage of nostalgia and finger-pointing- “there’s nothing we could do.” Yet there is a growing coalition of loyalists and adventurers with the temerity to return to that place we have long since disowned. Our denial can only continue for so long.

Not unlike my home state, I have a parts of myself I would rather not face. A rough, unpolished side that, for years, I tried to hide, wish away, bury. The greater heights I reached in my career, in my personal life, the harder it became to face the grit below. But that is part of me too goddammit, and it remains.

With these thoughts in mind, I have taken my imperfect self to this imperfect place, the city of Detroit. I will face and embrace those unpolished edges which I tried so valiantly, so vainly to avoid. New York is a skyscraper, unwilling to face it’s flaws because they seem so far away from such haughty heights. New York is denial. Detroit is a smokestack, honest and brash in the face of faults so evident no one can pretend they don’t exist. Detroit is acceptance.

Detroit and I, we are flawed but full of potential. I cannot take back those years of neglect, but I can try now to make amends. I will shed light on those dark corners, long ago left behind, discovering the truth they’ve waited so long to share.

With my faults I can never be perfect, but without them I can never be whole.