Such a lovely surprise this weekend: “Detropia,” a new documentary about our troubled neighbor, which played to a nearly packed house Saturday night hereabouts.
I understand this is of limited interest to those who don’t live nearby (or in similar cities), but for those of you who like film, documentaries, or who have any sort of connection to this place, I do recommend it. With some caveats.
They are: This isn’t a “news” documentary at all, more like jazz — meditations on a mood, improvisations on a theme, observations rather than commentary, although of course you’re free to fill in the blanks, and in fact are encouraged to.
The takeaway is that Detroit is the industrial age’s coal-mine canary, and that no one has sufficiently answered the question of what comes next. You may or may not agree, but the question — posed by one of the Detroiters whose activities serve as a through-line — is worth asking.
One scene features the UAW local president laying out the harsh reality for a room full of workers at one of the surviving plants, American Axle. It is a take-it-or-leave-it shit sandwich of 20-30 percent wage cuts across the board, and these are not good jobs in the first place — the top tier is around $18 an hour (down to $14), with the $14-per-hour folks knocked down to $11. The union moves to not even consider the offer, and it passes unanimously. The plant closes, a foregone conclusion.
I looked at these men and women, and thought, for the millionth time: What are we going to do with you? These aren’t lazy people. They want to work. They need to be paid a living wage. Twenty-two grand a year for life in an axle plant? Are you kidding me?
We say this over and over and over: Not everyone is cut out for higher education, but everyone can work. But where will the laid-off American Axle workers find it?
They are the 47 percent. By now, anyway. Neither presidential candidate has a concrete plan for their future. The Germans still have a healthy force of factory workers, don’t they? How do they manage it? (Don’t answer, I know. They take education and training a lot more seriously than we do.)
All is not grim. There’s a marvelous character, Tommy Stephens, a retired teacher who runs a blues club in a particularly bombed-out neighborhood, a stone’s throw from the urban farm site I wrote about earlier this year, although it’s a club in the street corner-in-Detroit sense, not, say, the House of Blues. But Stephens is funny and smart and won’t give up, and in that sense is the reason I like this screwed-up place so much.
And just in case you find all that too depressing, there’s this, from the Atlantic, on the booming startup culture downtown. It won’t be enough to save all 139 square miles, but it’s something.
Boy, is this story depressing:
A lot of voters are lukewarm about the guy they support, but they are white hot about the guy they loathe.
“If they had Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and Barack Obama running, Barack Obama would be my last pick,” says Ray Morrison, 70, a retired steelworker and truck driver who lives on a country road west of the city. “If you want to know the true story about Obama, you have to watch Fox a little bit. I hate him.”
Here’s Cheryl Doran, 50, a waitress at the family restaurant Naples, speaking of Romney: “I think he’s the devil. I have no use for him.”
Al Fenner, 68, a bishop in the Shepherds Walk mission downtown, doesn’t think the president is “all-American” and believes that Obama once said that “he would stand more with the Islamic rather than with the American way.” Asked to cite a specific instance of Obama saying that, Fenner answered: “Go on YouTube and find it. I would not quote it if it were not true.”
I assume he’s talking about this, which I’ve seen referred to over and over again in the last few weeks. “But he’s a Muslim! He admits it!” etc. Watch the video, and you can see this admission in much the same way you see the cast of “Mad Men” sing along with Rick Astley.
Well, we still have five or six weeks to go, so why dwell? Hope your weekend was great. My apple pie turned out just fine.