I missed this in yesterday’s papers, until it came up in my evening searches for health-care news: Cisco executive slain in Detroit is remembered as gifted techie, dedicated family man. Well, shit, one thinks. Another black eye for the city. I’m wondering why didn’t I see this in the local dailies, and start to read:
Ben Goldman updated his Facebook page that Monday night, writing that he was having a great time in downtown Detroit … yes, that was Ben, his family said, always able to squeeze joy from everything he did, even a 24-hour business trip to the gritty Midwest metropolis. And then the 42-year-old Los Gatos family man and up-and-coming Silicon Valley executive just disappeared.
Detroit police found his body the next day, Aug. 19. He had been shot to death, left in a vacant lot after apparently spending time at the Penthouse Club. It took them a few days to identify him. He had no wallet, no photographs of his wife and two young daughters, no Cisco ID badge, nothing to connect him to Silicon Valley. Benjamin Goldman, 42, was the victim of an unsolved homicide in a high-crime area known there as 8 Mile.
Eight Mile is, of course, 8 Mile Road, approximately 7.5 miles from tourist-friendly downtown Detroit. The Penthouse Club, as you might imagine, is not a place a nice family man posts to his Facebook page about visiting, although it’s a venue many men might find worthy of squeezing joy from. So to speak. While in no way blaming Goldman for any part of what happened to him, a commenter on the Freep story put it succinctly:
A nice Jewish boy from California running around Eight Mile in a tie looking for a little action. I would rather be in the mountains of Afghanistan. There can’t be any more dangerous place on earth.
Yup. And considering Detroit’s after-dark criminal culture is no secret, even in California, you wonder what might have gone wrong. The Penthouse Club is a brand-name titty bar, and I have to assume it has at least some parking-lot security, although there are plenty of places nearby that don’t. Rest in peace, Ben Goldman. I’ll think of you as I struggle with an issue every urban parent must face: How to teach street smarts.
It’s a balancing act, to be sure. I firmly believe that overprotection — of yourself or your kids — isn’t a good idea. When Lenore Skenazy allowed her 9-year-old to make his own way home on the New York City subway system, she was both vilified and praised — the story received national attention — but I was in the latter camp. Learning when to be careful starts with not being afraid all the time, and confidence, the most important invisible armor you carry, comes with accomplishment. Most people on the street, even on 8 Mile Road, aren’t out to kill you, hurt you or even rob you. But some are. Knowing how to tell the difference, and when to be extra-careful, isn’t easy. I go places in Detroit lots of people won’t, and someday I might pay the price for it, but at least no one can say I didn’t drink deeply from the stream along the way. I have the advantage of not having a penis, that unreliable point man that leads so many men to their doom, but I also have an appetite, and I sometimes wonder if I’ll end up dumped in a vacant lot because I went looking for the wrong authentic gumbo or pizza or whatever.
Still. Life is most interesting when you leave the strip-mall districts behind. I try to teach this to my child. Fortunately, she doesn’t have a penis, either.
I heard an interview with David Simon during the publicity tsunami for “The Wire,” and he talked a little bit about safety in the city. “This isn’t Beirut,” he said of Baltimore, by way of explaining his decision to travel even its worst neighborhoods armed only with a notebook. Of course you have to be smart about where you go and when you get out of the car. But you can’t be afraid all the time, either.
You people who live in large urban areas — how do you teach your kids to be smart on the street?