Sometimes the best way to find out about a place is to go somewhere else.

Today’s New York Times carries a story about yesterday’s televised address by Detroit Mayor David Bing.  Mayor Bing told Detroiters  “Simply put, our city is in a financial crisis and city government is broken … the reality we’re facing is simple. If we continue down the same path, we will lose the ability to control our own destiny.”

Bing is suggesting privatization of streetlights and the bus system.

Driving dark lengths of Livernois, Grand River, Joy Road and other main thoroughfare streets on Detroit’s west side.  A quarter, half, even a full mile at night with all the street lights shut down.  Then, after several days or weeks the lights were on.  But then another section of the street was dark.  At first I thought dark because of breakdowns.  At some point during six years in Detroit I realized that somebody was shutting off the lights, then turning them back on.  Off, on.  Do I know for sure?  is there proof?   But the pattern was clear.

Water pipes lining Grand River gushing all day, all night.  For days and days.  I have no idea what that was about.  It looked so strange at night along a street without lights, without humans.  Just water, like fountains at Versailles.

Traffic signals not functioning at all.  Worse yet, showing green both ways at the same time.  Our corps van was T-boned one Sunday morning at an intersection.  Gail was driving the van to give me a break from picking up for church.  It was a Fathers Day gift.  She and her riders survived.

When the city replaced storm drain grates along street curbs with new grates that immediately became plugged, flooding streets.  The flowers planted along the curb by the women of the corps, floated away.

The day along I 96 westbound somewhere between downtown and Grand River when I happened to glance in the rearview mirror to see a chunk of concrete the size of a duffel bag fall from into a traffic lane. 

The bodies of dead dogs and cats laying in streets, on sidewalks.  One dead dog somehow appeared on the ramp from the southbound Southfield onto the eastbound Jeffries.  It was there all winter, curled as if asleep in front of a cozy fire.  Its chocolate brown coat slowly becoming dingy with dust.

Driving past two blazing houses on one Sunday, unnoticed by fire department or anyone else.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  A remarkable day because I saw two fires instead of one.

The Sunday morning I looked out on the congregation and realized that almost every household present had lost a family member by sudden, violent death.

I pause at that memory.   People in Detroit who manage to find a way to live with some dignity and tenderness for others in spite of personal pain and loss.  To live in Detroit demands that one finds dignity.  And many find it in their hearts to have tender concern for others.

Sometimes the best way to find out about a place is to be there.

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