By Tracey Morris
Motor City Muckraker
The cobblestone street, clogged with cars, just barely had enough room for a vehicle to pass. The corners bustled with people, and music, and food, and art, and a vibrancy stubbornly concentrated to the two funky, refurbished buildings that stood on them. If you walked a block over in any direction, things were silent and still, seemingly frozen in time.
As young and trendy revelers mixed, mingled, saw, and worked to be seen, two older men sat on wood lounge chairs on a wood-frame porch attached to a wood-frame house. One, wearing a neck brace and faded jeans, munched on a bag of chips. The other, unironically wearing a truckers cap, suspenders, stained work pants, thick-framed glasses, and short-sleeved shirt with his name stitched over the front pocket, sat forward on his chair, watching people who didn’t bother to notice him watching as they passed by his front door. It seemed to take him by surprise when I waved and asked how he was doing.
“I’ll be better at 9:00. That’s when they said all this would be over,” he said, pointing at the growing throng of people happily chatting but never looking his way.
A small sedan slowly eased down the block at a snail’s pace, and a group of people directly across the street from us gave each other laughing hugs. The muffled throb of music and the buzz of excited conversation hung in the air.
“Say, what’s all this for?” he asked, gesturing at the cars and revelry that had taken over his block.
“It’s a book release party,” I replied. “It’s for a book that’s all about life in Detroit.”
“Oh, hell!” he exclaimed with a chuckle. “I could tell you all about life in Detroit. Been in this neighborhood all my life. Watched this place change for years.” His friend nodded in agreement, but never looked up from his bag of chips.
I leaned against his chain-link fence to hear him a bit better as he talked about how he grew up in the Corktown neighborhood hosting the party. How he remembered when the freeway nearby was built. How he’d made up his mind to stay in his wood-frame house, kicked back on his wood-frame porch, no matter how bad things got. How good it was to see people moving back onto streets in the area that had been forgotten for years.
“You in that book?” he asked. I told him about the story I’d written paying tribute to my now shuttered former schools. He smiled when I told him I graduated from Northern High.
“I went to Murray-Wright…Wilbur Wright, actually,” he said nostalgically. “They tore that building down years ago.”
“It was sad to see it go,” I sighed and he looked me in the eye for the first time. “I had friends who went there. Hard to believe so many of the schools are gone.”
“So all those people in that book know about Detroit?” he asked. “They all have a good story?”
“They sure do,” I replied. “You know what? I bet you have a good story. I write for a local website, and I’d love to share it with the readers.”
He raised his eyebrow and tilted his head.
“How come you don’t write for no newspaper?” he asked skeptically.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Guess I’m not ready for the big time yet.”
He sucked his teeth and adjusted his hat. His chip-eating friend licked his fingers.
“Nope,” he said. “I don’t need to tell my story. I live here. That’s story enough.”
I started to offer him my card, but my phone rang. It was my mom gently reminding me I was supposed to be bringing the car around so we could go home.
“Looks like I have to go, but it was good talking to you,” I said and began walking away.
“Hey, if you’re ever this way again, stop by and say hello,” he said. “It’s always good to make a new friend.”
About a minute later, as I slowly motored down that side street overflowing with cars, and music, and people writing about Detroit, I blew my horn and waved at my new friend sitting on a wood-frame porch in a wood chair, quietly going about the business of living life in Detroit. I smiled when he waved right back.
Morris’ tribute to her former schools appeared in A Detroit Anthology.
Tracey Morris is the author of, “You Said You Wanted to See Me Naked: An Autobiographical Poem Cycle.” Her work has recently been published by Rust Belt Chic Press, and she was a finalist in the 2013 Springfed Arts Writing Contest.