Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Detroit Blues

I visited Ann Arbor, Michigan last week for my daughter's graduation. We took a tour of downtown Detroit the day after the ceremony and this is what I wrote:

It was blissful spring in Michigan. Yellow forsythias bloomed, red tulips danced on brilliant green lawns, and everywhere trees were budding with new leaves.

I especially watched the young weeds and saplings working there way through the cracks at the ruins of the old Packard factory in Detroit. They have not built cars in this half-mile-long building since 1958, yet still it stands brick-strong, windows smashed, waiting for new purpose.

I wanted to clean it up. I wanted to tell my tour guide -- "Just leave me here. I'll get a rake and a broom. I want to get started today. We can have this place fixed up in no time. Then we can start making cars again -- better cars."

In a vacant field near the plant, we can grow tomatoes and sweet corn, and the car makers can stop by the farm after their shift and buy some juicy tomatoes in the hot humid August sun, and bursting-sweet sweet-corn aching for hot butter in the cool of the evening.

The Packard factory is idle now because the Detroit folks needed a rest. They built millions of cars and we all loved the ride. They built planes and tanks and they won World War II. After that came a chrome-plated fins-flying era of triumph called the 1950s, but the Detroit folks were getting tired and finally the Packard line came to a halt in 1958. They blocked up all the windows against vandals. They just shut it down and walked away.

Then weeds began to grow. Little trees forced their way through cracks in the pavement and now they are 30-feet tall. The land is fresh again, and folks are coming back to work it..

They can build more cars now, and then in the summer they can take a vacation -- drive up north to the cool pine forest and go fishing for walleyes.

Detroit Blues. Everything bad you heard about Detroit is true. It is a burnt-out case. My daughter parked our rental car in front of a no-parking sign. I said, "Eva, we're going to get a ticket." She said, "Dad, they don't have any cops now."

So you're on your own in Motor City. Maybe that's good, being on your own. Maybe that's what brings out my pioneer spirit when I see this ruined but fertile landscape.

Think of a young family wanting a place to start, a chance to make a home and have some land.
They could do worse than go to Detroit. They could get a house for cheap and fix it up. Grow a garden. Start a business.

And they would have to fight every inch of the way to achieve any kind of success. They would have to be tough and determined and willing to make a relentless effort -- I don't want to minimize the problems they would face, There's a reason Detroit fell apart.

But if it's so bad, then how come I don't feel depressed when I see it.

I know you can't re-build an urban landscape with only a good feeling -- you need to have substance, capital, labor, good regulation, and better government, and last of all, you need a little luck.

Obama as Gary Cooper in High Noon. The question is --- If President Obama were a movie star, who would that be? and in what movie?

A younger respondent suggested Will Smith -- He's got the ears, she said. But not the gravitas, I said. Then how about Denzel Washington, she suggested. Okay, that's a possibility, He's definitely a serious dude.

I have transcended race in my own selection. Obama is Gary Cooper -- tall, lanky, serious, taciturn, patient, and totally determined. In High Noon, Gary Cooper played the sheriff even though he didn't want the job.

There was a bad guy and he had to be killed, and it was Cooper's job to gun him down. He took a grim satisfaction in winning the gun battle, but there was no glory in it and he never expected that. He just rode out of town at the end.

Frog Hospital and Farm News Annual Spring Subscription Drive. This newsletter, going for 12 years now, relies on subscription revenue from a few faithful followers. Some readers send a check every year and I am very grateful for their continued support.

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As I have said before, these checks keep the writer from getting cranky. When you starve the writer, he is liable to get self-righteous and don the martyr's robe and begin preaching and hectoring the readers.

But with a small bit of income, the writer can take a more detached and benign look at the many joyful events in our lives, paying equal attention to the suffering and pains we endure.

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Fred Owens
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Fred Owens
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