Detroit, Mitch Albom and the real deal

Last night my BlackBerry chimed and I took a peek before bed. My dear friend, Marisa, sent me an article from Sports Illustrated. The article was called "The Courage of Detroit" and was written by Mitch Albom, a renowned Detroit Free Press columnist of more than two decades. It intrigued me and I promised myself I'd read it the next day, today. It struck close to home, as it should for absolutely any Detroiter. I got a bit emotional.

Albom chronicles the sports ups and downs in Detroit. This is the greatest sports town in the United States. Yet, he doesn't keep it under that umbrella. He dives into the contradictions of the country that's forgotten its manufacturing base, its middle class and its Michigan citizens who struggle along. He wonders how California can complain that we make cars that ruin the environment when THEY ALL DRIVE THEM CONSTANTLY. Get your head out of the smog cloud, California. Or how Southern politicians, all a bunch of jokers if you ask me, can outsource jobs, bust unions, lower wages and give tax breaks to foreign automakers and then scold the U.S. auto executives for bad practices. I'm not saying the auto executives and their managerial goonies are free of blame, but come on. (I considered adding a few choice words about the South here, but I'll save it. I try to keep the blog family-friendly.)

Albom writes about the homeless, the foreclosed homes, the quiet downtown, the looming casinos and the rampant unemployment. He calls the people of this city and state the most downtrodden optimists. We don't talk about if Detroit will return to its former glory. We talk about when it does. It's so true. We know it's bad, we get it, but it's not going to stay that way.

A question Detroiters often hear is "Why don't you leave?" Shortsighted people have asked me this because they feel I would benefit elsewhere. I suppose my answer is that I'm not afraid, I believe in the city and, frankly, it's nurtured my family, education and career since 1985. Whether I like it or not, no other city gives me this many shots at success. No other city has as many of my relatives and dearest friends, either.

Albom gets the "Why don't you leave?" question, too. He obviously loves this city and though he doesn't say it explicitly in the article, you know that's what he means. This article reminded me why Albom was one of my fundamental inspirations to start writing when I was a kid: I loved hearing his voice on the page. I enjoyed his thoughts and appreciated his concise writing. Reading this article dusted off some nostalgia.

I've heard people bagging on Albom in the past. He got in a little bit of writing hot water a few years back. I never met him, but I think I wrongly let those negative sentiments influence me. This article has set me straight. It really brought me full circle and it helped understand my feelings about Albom, Detroit and Michigan.

In the article, Albom captures what I think is the essence of how Detroiters feel and he's published it in a popular national magazine. I hope people get the message. I hope that this helps them understand where we're coming from and how we're dealing with where we're going. I love Albom's last line:

"To hell with Depression. We're gonna have a good year."

A few tears popped out of my eyes while I read the article, but not because I was sad. I was moved. Sometimes I find a get choked up while listening to podcasts that share incredible stories (a usual suspect: This American Life.) You can imagine how silly I look when I get choked up while on a bike ride or running.

These weren't tears of sadness, but rather tears of relief. What Albom wrote was exactly what I was thinking. Honestly, I also feel it's exactly what a lot of Detroiters are thinking. That gave me a sense of unity. We're all in this together. It gave me hope, the same kind of hope that sprouted some tears when I watched Barack Obama's presidential victory. It's not about sadness, quite the opposite in circumstances like these.

Thanks, Mitch. Thanks for setting me and everyone else straight. You are the real deal.


Anonymous said...

One of the best pieces Albom has written. His Christmas articles always hit home. And when Detroit's your home - it's easy to shed a tear.

Carlie said...

In your last few posts about Detroit, I'm very glad to see you've come around. While I may not be there, we both know how much Detroit ROCKS!