Archives for May 2014

Dear JP Morgan Chase,

JP-Morgan-Chase-1[1]Dear JP Morgan Chase –

Big news this week, that you’re coming to Detroit to invest a hundred million dollars.

Any money looks good right now, so people are excited.

I know, I know, some people think it’s a PR stunt, after the mortgage mess.

Other people see you laying the groundwork to make big profits, when the city privatizes services, just like with Chicago and the parking meters. 

Here’s my worry.

I heard one of your executives explain that you’ll be sending people here for a month at a time to work on Detroit’s issues.

All good ideas are appreciated, but I wonder how much they can know about Detroit in a month.  Maybe if they spend all day walking around the city, talking to people, they can get an idea.  Or will it all be meetings and computer models?

They’ll never know Detroit until they meet people like Aralia, a single mother of two perfectly behaved kids who can sit quietly for hours, if they need to.  Their mom has been looking for work for months, and finally found a job in a fast-food restaurant.  Two buses get her there so she can earn a little over minimum wage.  The training is all on the computer, as the employees practice making the sandwiches and layering the ingredients quickly.  When they have it all memorized, they can start work.  I’m not so sure I could manage it.

Once  she visited my office to make a business phone call, and I asked her kids as quietly as I could if there was food at their house.

“Canned food,” her daughter told me.  I gave her and her brother each an apple from my lunch bag, and they ate them down to the tiniest possible core, something I’d never seen a kid do before.  The kids I know assume there will always be another apple.

Your plan for Detroit – will it benefit people like Aralia?

Or people like Geoff, who paid his rent faithfully every month, and spent his weekends fixing up his home because he wanted a better place to live.  Turns out his “landlord” didn’t really own the house, and Geoff got evicted by the actual owners, who were really happy with his hard work, so happy they moved right in.  Who would ever think to check that the landlord was really the owner?

Your plan for Detroit – will it benefit people like Geoff?

Or, Daniel, a young man in the neighborhood of my church, who wants to go to college, and has to pay for it himself.  He’s so desperate for a job that pays well that he recently had his dad drive him to Ohio for a job interview.  What he’s going to do if he gets the job, I’m not sure.  Then he’ll need a car, which will cost more money.

Your plan for Detroit – will it benefit people like Daniel?

Instead of bringing people here for a month, why not employ Detroiters for a month?  They can teach you about the Detroit you’re here to help.

I’ve lived in this area for ten years, and worked in Detroit for five, and I’m just starting to understand the city.  The deep city-suburb divide.  The ancient history that feels like yesterday, with people holding grudges for generations past.  The pride in a city that hustles harder.

You can’t know Detroit until you know the mixture of hope, passion and resignation in countless professors, attorneys, and educators who live in the city and pay what they call “the black tax” to stay here.  Higher auto insurance rates, alarm systems, and private security to patrol the neighborhoods because the police force is stretched too thin to do it.

You can’t know Detroit until you meet both the motivated high school students, heading from the elite high schools to college, and the equally bright kids who have given up, sure that nothing is ever going to be better.

You can’t know Detroit until you talk to the single mother working double shifts as a nursing assistant to keep her kids in dance, music and judo.

So, welcome to town.

But be sure you’re coming to help, not to make more billions off our pain.

Dante the Dog Whisperer

Image via Shutterstock.

Image via Shutterstock.

On the way to work, a dog runs in front of my car on a busy street.  This is not unusual in Detroit.

I can see it running frantically from side to side of the road, trying to get away from the cars.  People slow down, and go carefully around, but it will surely get hit in a minute.  Putting on my flashers, I open the car door and call to the dog, wondering what in the world to do if it comes.  Put her in the car and then what?  A collarless dog, roaming around my office all day?  An unwanted gift for my allergic husband?”

The dog runs around the corner, and I make a u-turn and follow.  A young gentleman in a battered jeep, music thumping, does the same.  Rooting around in my trunk, I find a box of dog biscuits left from a long-ago dog walking job.  Embarrassing, but handy.  I take a handful and offer him the box.  He tosses them toward the dog, slowly, one at a time.  We try to coax the dog toward us.

“I was afraid she was going to get hit,” I tell him.

“Yeah,” he offers, “I saw one car hit her already.”

By now, he has the dog in front of him.  She rolls over hopefully.  As we rub her belly, we can see scrapes and bloody spots.  After we play with her for a while, I ask, “Do you have a collar?”

“No, I’ll just pick her up.”  He does just that, and I walk in front of him to open the door of his car, still running, music still playing.

“Can I take some more of those dog biscuits?” he asks.  “Of course” I tell him, and then say,  “I’m Mary,” extending my hand.  He smiles at me. “Dante,” he says, as he shakes my hand.  We grin at each other, and get back in our cars.

Now as I drive that way, I think about the things I wish I’d asked.  He had nice clothes on – was he going to work, his day now burdened with a bloody dog?  What did he end up doing with her?  What did the elegant calligraphy tattoo on his neck say?  And where did he learn to be so kind?

One of the things I love about Detroit is that anything can happen.  Any stranger can make your day – or ruin it.  Life is so fractured that things happen in the gaps.  The cracks of everyday life have endless possibilities for connection.  On the way to work now, I watch for Dante, curious to hear the end of the story.