A couple of months ago I moved a few miles south - to Detroit. Not into a trendy lush loft or a gated community or even the historical district. I moved to a hundred year old brick home on an average street in the city limits.
The few streets south of me are well maintained and semi-protected by a neighborhood watch. Day lilies grow tall in front of beautiful old brick homes. Cars are off the streets and neatly parked in driveways or garages. Children play on mowed lawns under a parent's watchful eye.
The few streets north of me are the ones that come to mind when one hears the words; the hood, the ghetto, or 'Detroit city' for that matter. Broken appliances and ripped up couches perpetually wait at curb-sides with other garbage to be cleaned up at the next big trash pickup. Abandoned vehicles, some resting on a pile of bricks where the wheel once was, line the streets leaving only enough room for one car to pass one way. Vacant, burned houses are left to rot, adding to the city's decay. They are welcome invitations to un-welcomed disaster in an already fragile community. Stray dogs wander between houses sniffing for food (when they are not left dead in the road for days) and skinny stray cats dart back and forth between cars. Young children walk around looking for something to do as if none of this harsh reality exists in their eyes (probably because it's all they know) while crack heads, prostitutes and drug dealers go about their daily routines. The other day I saw the Detroit Police Gang Squad down that way making an arrest. Things I never really saw before or cared to know about while I lived in my comfy yuppie town just a few miles north.
I have learned to decipher the difference between the sounds of firecrackers and shotguns. Yes, the sounds of shot guns are real, and within my earshot.
"Those were bullets." I can now say, proud that I am correct.
The kids play basketball on my street. They ride their bikes and try to keep busy during the lazy, mundane summer days. There are no beautiful parks or community pools. Occasionally, the neighborhood kids might hop a fence to play in the yard of the empty house for sale across the street. My next door neighbor owned that home but the taxes got too high for him to be able to keep. Pity, uh, the city needs people to buy these homes and maintain them, but the taxes are so high for the little or complete lack of services that the residents receive here. Suburbanites don't want to trade their comfort, safety and taxpaying services for what exists behind door number 313. (Detroit's area code for those of you unfamiliar with the "three-one-three.") Gone are the days of pizza delivery for me, but the ice cream trucks do come by frequently. They add their musical twangs to the woofers and tweeters and the heavy bass of hip hop that beat and vibrate through the rivers of cement - the city's pulse.
The other night my white cat, Thea, got out as I let my Golden Retriever, Emmy, in. My son, Luke and I ran around the street for almost twenty minutes trying to catch her. She is used to being outdoors, but I have not let her out since we moved to Detroit; for safety reasons. Here I am, no shoes running with a can of cat food to try to bribe her or trap her. I was on a mission and I didn't feel like I was in harm's way by frantically running barefoot down my street and between my neighbor's houses. The street lights were on and some of the kids were still out playing ball. Some neighbors were sitting on their stoops - I can finally use the word 'stoop.' Love that word! Needless to say, we finally captured her. But not before I smashed my hand into the brick of a neighbor's home in the process of grabbing her. It took two of us to bring her squirming body and meowing mouth home safely. Those were the sounds of city two nights ago.
Last night, the sounds of the city had a different beat in mind for me. No, not the normal fire truck sirens, helicopters scouring the neighborhood, loud car radios, or even gun shots . . . the sounds of downtown called me out this time.
My friend, Dennis Archer Jr. hosted a party at Coach Insignia on the 71rst floor of Marriott Hotel in the Renaissance Center. I almost did not go. I have become (too) comfortable in my semi-reclusive present state (sitting in pajamas in front my computer, reading, writing or just staring at wordless pages on a blank screen) and I did not want to venture out, especially to a city gala, alone. I changed my mind (due to some external urging and internal dialog).
I showered, did the hair and makeup routine, got dressed up and left my cave. I wanted to support my friend in his efforts to shine a positive light on Detroit by planning and hosting these trendy city events as well as publishing the very glossy and beautiful Ambassador Magazine. I have to say, I am so happy I went.
The 180 degree view of the city's lights, the Detroit River and Windsor (Canada) from the 71rst floor was spectacular. I almost forgot how wonderful it is to be out with the beautiful people at the 'who's who' events. The ambiance of the party was lovely . . . dimly lit with candles . . . giving us, the guests, the illusion of looking like the Ambassador cover models who were moving around as objects of art. And Michael Jackson's "Rock With Me," among other dance tunes, gave more rhythm to the night and inspired the statuesque goddesses to dance upon their thrones. After a couple of hours, a glass of Chardonnay and a few hors d'oeuvres, I slipped out quietly and unnoticed. I could not remember the exact time my cocktail dress would change back to my writing pajamas - and to my horror. So, those were the sounds of the city last night.
Tonight, I may meander down to the end of my street and join the hippies - as we call them - in their weekly drum circle and bonfire. Dr. Bob's holistic Center for the Healing Arts and vegetarian 'Innate Cafe' add an eclectic charm and much positive energy to our block. That good energy radiates outward, I'm sure, sending a vibe of peace to the surrounding communities of Detroit. Tonight, the beat of the drums will be among the sounds heard. I love the many sounds of this city.
Now, I must go and water my flowers and feed the birds - the Cardinals are calling me out. As my son, Adam, said to me when I moved here; "So, you're bringing a little positive energy to the city, uh, mom?"
Well, all I can say is that I am taking care of my little corner of the world - and God knows that this corner can use the TLC.
And yes, my flower garden has brought a few more butterflies and birds around here. They don't care what city they live in and they have no prejudices or opinions . . . a flower is a flower and a gardener is a gardener.