I think one of the reasons I like Detroit is, it’s kind of like Anna Nicole Smith — an ongoing trainwreck that hit bottom long ago, but still wallows down there, enjoying the scenery. (No, that wasn’t a mixed metaphor. More of a pureed one.) Every day it reveals a new facet of its charm. For instance, snow removal. Or lack thereof.
The city provides — hold onto your hats — no residential snow removal. Seriously. Main arteries and business districts are plowed, but residential streets fend for themselves. Neighborhoods that still count a few members of the middle class in their number form associations and pay for plowing privately. Everyone else buys boots. In apocalyptic winters, whole streets can become impassible. My friend Ron did some stories about this a few years ago, and said the first thing that happens is, everyone passes the word when the mail will be arriving, and residents gather at the closest navigable corner. The mailman arrives, distributes the mail and leaves. If you miss it, come back tomorrow.
I seem to recall a fun fact from those stories: The city of Detroit owns approximately the same number of plowing vehicles as the city of Dallas. But I’m not sure about that.
Anyway, Kate and I headed out yesterday morning, not particularly early, to run some errands that took us into the city. My backstreet route to the freeway runs through three municipalities, the last of them Detroit. You know where the city limits are when the car’s back end starts to cut loose. Whee! City livin’!
Then we headed down to the Wayne State campus area, which, theoretically, should have been plowed, except it mostly wasn’t. We found a parking lot, locked up, and walked a block. Interesting to note how businesses were handling the crisis — a restaurant’s front walk was clear and dry, but the Islamic student center next door hadn’t been touched. Islam — a religion of peace, and also of warm climates. (Wait, what about the snow-scoured mountain passes of Afghanistan? They don’t plow up there.)
Oh, well. We got our work done and came home in substantially improved conditions. Enough snark. All the workers doing snow removal were wearing insulated Carhartt clothing, friend of cold-weather workers everywhere. (Outside magazine did a story a few years ago called “These Pants Saved My Life,” in which grateful Carhartt owners get together somewhere in Alaska to celebrate the life-saving insulating qualities of their clothing.) Many people don’t know Carhartt is a local company. The owner is a big jazz fan, and stepped in to save the Detroit Jazz Festival, via sponsorship by her privately owned record label. The world doesn’t need more rich people, but it could use more rich people with an interest in making the world richer, too. I love the way money works, how a sewer worker’s investment in coveralls eventually transmogrifies into music in Hart Plaza on Labor Day weekend.
The Free Press did an interesting story the other day on a talented funeral-home restoration artist, renowned for his ability to make the dead look like they’re just napping. It was by one of their best writers, and full of great detail, like how you patch a bullet wound to the forehead and what the artist likes to have on TV while he’s working (“Judge Judy,” “The Young and the Restless”). And then there was this, a reference to the blood-soaked ’80s:
In 1988, reputed drug kingpin Richard (Maserati Rick) Carter was shot and killed in his Detroit hospital bed. Richardson handled the body.
In a worn blue photo album kept at Peace Chapel’s west-side parlor, Richardson’s work is on display, if you can bear it. The book is a macabre and riveting collection of before-and-after shots, each with a story.
Maserati Rick’s image is in there, lying face up with his eyes closed on a gurney in an embalming room. The Polaroids suggest a miracle: One photo clearly shows a bullet hole in Carter’s forehead, just above the left eyebrow. The second shows the wound magically erased.
Maserati Rick was, further Googling revealed, the east-side king of crack, and was, indeed, shot to death in his hospital bed, where he was recovering from an earlier, unsuccessful assassination attempt. See, this is why I can’t watch those stupid CSI shows, Caruso or no Caruso. All the cases seem so needlessly complicated, when most crime is exquisitely simple. Miss him the first time, finish the job.
Did this entry begin with a theme? It seems to have lost the plot, so to speak.
OK, a quick bloggage recommendation: One of my great regrets is I never did anything this crazy/stupid when I was still young and unencumbered by responsibility: Cycling the Silk Road, in Slate. Link goes to first entry, subsequent ones linked at the bottom. (There are four.)
And now, I’m off to use my Valentine’s Day present. It’s hand-held and it vibrates. No, it’s not what you think. It’s better. At least, if it’s your job to clean the bathroom.