Detroit is a bankrupt has-been whose only dealings nowadays are in violence and job loss.
If you are particularly in tune with most mainstream media and popular opinion, you might find yourself nodding your head right now.
But who can blame you? When’s the last time you read a national headline saying something nice about the city?
It’s only news if it bleeds, and if people didn’t know any better, they might think Detroit has been dead since Kwame Kilpatrick kicked it a few years back. Then, coverage of the whole Big Three bailout fiasco reminded America that the city was still in poor shape and falling further from its former glory. The situation stagnated until reaching an inevitable, history-making outcome.
“The Motor City Goes Bust,” as the USA Today bluntly printed it. Or, “Out of Money, Detroit Calls it Quits,” the LA Times gracefully announced.
I was in San Francisco wearing a “Made in Detroit” shirt the day it happened. Almost everybody I walked by muttered a comment or made a sneer that said it all.
“I’m sorry about that,” an older lady said to me. It took me a second to understand. “I’m sorry you were made in Detroit,” she finally said unapologetically, half laughing.
I was so dumbfounded by the words of this total stranger that all I could do was offer a few seconds of insincere laughter. The several other off-beat interactions with strangers, however, helped me shape a stronger rebuttal. “Have you ever been?” I asked of the people eager to take blows at the city they became experts on by studying headlines. Nearly everyone answered no.
That’s when I realized the problem was less about the decay of Detroit and more about the decay of informed opinion. When I talk to someone who has never been to Detroit, they usually follow with something like: “I’d rather not get mugged or attacked.”
I have developed a theory that people who have never visited the city “because they are scared of it” are actually scared they will like it. They are scared of being wrong and worried Detroit might no longer be fit to serve as their target of sarcasm and ignorant humor.
I won’t feign expertise about every aspect of Detroit, but throughout the four years I went to high school in the city, I never heard a single gunshot.
And each year when the world’s largest free jazz festival rolls into town, all I hear is beautiful music. All I witness is a diverse audience appreciating it.
That’s right. I’ve survived Tigers games, trips to the DIA, Mexican town, Greek town, Lafayette Coney Island and skipping stones on the riverfront.
I have lived to tell the tale of my enriching experience with the city. I suppose I owe myself a congratulations for defying a set of odds fabricated by the uninformed outspoken among us.
And they might be thinking, “Well, you’ve never walked around the bad neighborhoods at night.”
Who would do that in any place they are unfamiliar with? Would you take an after hours stroll in Flint by yourself? South Chicago? LA? Have you ever seen a pack of hammered guys, walking from last call at the Wayside, whose only remaining hope is taking home a number five from Micky D’s?
People get violent and unruly for no reason, no matter the venue.
In closing, I’ll share with you an age-old lesson I reteach myself everyday: don’t believe everything you hear.
Visit Detroit before you define it.