March, 2011

Makin’ Thunderbirds

 Oh crap.  I don’t know what depresses me more – the fact that Detroit lost 25% of its population in the past ten years or that Bob Seger is contemplating retirement.  I heard the news about Detroit while I was vacationing in Phoenix, a town where dozens of clay-colored tri-levels take shape while you’re waiting at a red light.  And it made me sad because I consider Detroit a home town.  I never lived IN Detroit, I lived outside Detroit, in a nearby suburb (Southfield) that is now home to probably a 100,000 of the folks who skipped town in the past ten years.  See here for the Free Press’ take on this situation.

Detroit for me was Motown on the radio all day/night, Al Kaline at Briggs Stadium, the gorgeous Fisher Theatre, cruising Woodward Avenue, and the senior prom at the Pontchartrain Hotel.  It was wicked good politics, a fantastic paper (the Detroit Free Press that I suscribed to for years after I moved to Milwaukee), and, oh yeah, it was Bob Seger.

Here’s the news about Bob Seger thinking about hanging up the microphone.

So what to make of all of this?  Well, after the initial “oh dear,” I started to think that maybe people moving out of Detroit was a good thing.  That instead of showing how bad Detroit is, the migration to the suburbs or other places could just as easily signal increasing wealth.  So I looked it up and, indeed, the out-migration is primarily comprised of middle-income African Americans.  This isn’t the old white flight business – largely because Detroit is now virtually an all-Black city.  This is different.  It’s people with means deciding that they want a newer house, a bigger lawn, a better school system.

Harold Rose, possibly the most brilliant and enigmatic professor ever to grace the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, gave me this perspective.  We debated neighborhood redevelopment, me, taking the view that investment in housing rehab was a huge benefit to the African American population.  Dr. Rose saying to me, “What makes you think Black people don’t want new homes with modern things?  Why do we have to live in the old homes?”

So people are leaving Detroit because they can.  They have more money, more self-determination, more choice.  Is this bad?  Yes.  Partly.  Because Detroit is in dire straits with state and federal aid and there’s the potential loss of a Congressional seat.  So yes, it’s a bad thing.  But the flip side might be progress. 

If we take a longer view, not 10 years or even 20 but maybe 30 or 40, it’s very likely that Detroit will be resettled and redefined.  It will be a different city.  It won’t ever be Motor City again.  It has a new identity but it’s a ways off.  We get depressed and hysterical when we measure change in years and not decades.  We haven’t seen the last of Detroit – believe me.  It’s a place like no other – with a beat and a grit you’re not going to find anywhere else.  It could be empty and still be alive.

So I’ve kind of come to terms with Detroit’s population decline.  Bob Seger retiring?  I’m not so sure.

Click here for what made Bob Seger a Michigan boy.

Here’s a Slice of Something

I couldn’t wait to tell the boss that the meat in the sandwiches delivered to the neighborhood center was purple, that it had the sheen on it that ripe lunchmeat can have, that glisten that tells you, “hmmmm, time to toss.”  Fresh from her volunteer gig as a summer day camp counselor, my 15-year old daughter ran through the litany of complaints at dinner the night before.  “The SDC bag lunch was awful – the peach was like a rock and the meat in the sandwich was purple.”

I was all over it like white on rice.  Next morning, first thing, into the Exec’s office (which at the time was next door to mine), I couldn’t wait to unload this little tidbit.  “My daughter says the meat at the neighborhood center is inedible.”  It’s fun, kind of satisfying, to sit around and yak about what someone else did wrong.    Yeah.  I had a field day with the purple meat.


Later that same day, the head of the food program came into my office.  I remember this like it happened five minutes ago. I can see him walking in, with his trademark limp and his blue denim shirt with the sleeves rolled up.  He held a clipboard like he was about to check me off.  He didn’t seem mad.  He seemed puzzled, looked quizzical.  Right away, the crumminess of what I had done washed over me. 

Mr. Food Manager stood in front of my desk and just said, “Why didn’t you talk to me if you had a problem?  That’s what we do here.  We take it to the source.”

Which is not so easy – taking it to the source.  A lot easier to take it around the source or above the source.  Taking it to the source means a person has to screw up his or her courage and say, “Ah, excuse me, but I think that yesterday’s meat might have been purple.”  That’s not so easy especially when you yourself did not actually see the meat and you are taking the word of 15-year old finicky eater. 

All of this la-dee-dah goes by way of saying — if someone has an issue with a person, they need to take it up with that person.  Not his co-worker or boss or mama.  Now, this isn’t always a successful and warm strategy.  If I had told Mr. Food Manager directly that his meat was purple, he still would’ve been really mad and demanded to see the specific purple slice of which I was speaking.  But I’d be on a lot higher moral ground than I was, which was basically a sinkhole of professionalism. 

Possibly the most ungrammatical essay ever written.  But you get my point.

Double Sawbuck


What can twenty bucks buy?   Eight gallons of milk.  A boatload of rice and potatoes.  Enough meat for a week….a chicken, hamburger, and some stew meat.  Twenty loaves of bread if you shop day-old and are ok with funky Wonder Bread. 

Should I continue?  How about six gallons of gas, a weekly bus pass, a pair of shoes for a child,  a back-pack and school supplies, the co-pay for prescription drugs.  How about a box of Tampons, laundry soap,  and a roll of quarters to go to the laundromat?

There are a lot of things to think about in the Governor’s proposed budget.  Many sweeping changes.  Programs eliminated.  Eligibility restricted.  Potentially a great deal of human suffering.  Unfortunately, most of the attention has been riveted on the issue of public employee unions, specifically collective bargaining rights.  This is an important issue of principle and I understand that.  But I also know that while the pro-union and anti-union folks are in the center ring duking it out under the spotlights while the big crowd cheers, issues like BadgerCare, Family Care, and W-2 are in the alley waiting to get in the side door to the arena.

No one is ever going to take up the $20 cut to the monthly W-2 payment.   No one’s got time.  So now people who need to use W-2 to get by will have to do so on $653 a month – $20 less than before.

To me, the $20 cut to W-2 is the budget equivalent of  gratuitous violence.  Unnecessary, painful, included just to ratchet up the lather. 

If a government’s budget is the complete articulation of its policies and values, what does cutting $20 from an already unlivable benefit level say?  It says, “We’re mad at you.  You’re taking advantage.  You’re not worthy of our charity.”  It says, “We’re better than you.  You’re lazy.  You need to really feel the pain so you get your ass off the couch and go find a job.”

Wow.  I’m no expert but I don’t think that’s a real good policy statement.  I’m kind of looking for the policy that raises all ships, that expects accountability but appreciates people’s struggles. 


Twenty bucks could buy a lot of that.