I have been writing about my home city Detroit for many years. Inevitably the core attributes of the prose boil down to Detroit's most valuable asset: the people who call it home. I am not talking about the hipsters the wind blew in, nor the gangster bankers, nor the land speculators. I am not talking about the kingpin du jour hell-bent on building the latest ode-to-self empire. I am talking about the people who have called Detroit home continuously through thick and thin.
A story broke yesterday in the Detroit daily featuring a simple man by the name of James Robertson. It was a short piece, backed up with some footage of James doing what he does, walking, punching the clock, moving some steel. A Detroiter. No big deal.
But it is a big deal.
James has a job north of Detroit, 23 miles north of Detroit, a city with no regional mass transit. When his car quit, he didn't. He figured it out and got himself to work every day by walking. Every day, five days a week. In winter. In Michigan. Yes, he added the bus line to the route where he could but for the most part, he walks it. In the morning and again in the evening. He punches in on time, everyday.
James Robertson is a man I once knew. He is a man a lot of us once knew. He was our grandfather, our uncle, our aunt, our father in another era, another time. He is the Detroit that never left. The Detroit that just keeps putting one foot in front of the other and gets the work done. There are some who have forgotten the James Robertson's of Detroit. They instead focus on the remnants of economic apocalypse, the carpet baggers they think have better ideas, the plots and plans of city hall and non-profit policy wonks with their maps and markers. They choose to look for the shiny ring, the golden key, the magic carpet to Detroit's future. It must be out there, somewhere. We'll find it, bring it home and everything will be ok again.
Detroit's future isn't "out there". It has been here, all along. Falling into bed at the end of the day spent only to rise, pull his boots on yet again and get the job done. These are the people I speak of when I speak of Detroit.
And it is not just James who defines what Detroit is made of. Just ten hours after the story posted, over $31,000 dollars had been raised on a GoFundMe site, started by another Detroiter to buy James a new set of wheels so the Motor City could once again be just that for him.
Detroit is filled with James Robertsons, invisible to most but the backbone of a city that just doesn't quit. Ever.