You Robbed the Right Girl

Last Wednesday, I learned a lesson about living in Detroit the hard way. Tonight, I learned a lesson about living in Detroit the good way.
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Every time I play soccer, I have to do a handstand. The combination of competition and a field of grass makes me overflow with excitement so I send myself upside-down to tip a little out, to commemorate the joy. Soccer just makes me happy. So the first thing I did when I moved to Detroit last October was join a soccer team. Actually, I joined three teams -- only one of them lasted through the winter.

I am a proud member of Roosevelt Parks soccer team. Our soccer season is a veritable tour of the best of Detroit: we practice at old Tiger's Stadium, we play pick-up beside the beautiful abandoned train station, we scrimmage on Belle Isle, and play our games at Fort Wayne with freighters slowing inching by along the Detroit River.

Soccer has been the most unexpected and rewarding part of my new life in this city. Unexpected because I honestly didn't even know if Detroit had a recreational soccer league when I moved here -- I thought I might start one myself. Unexpected because it not only exists, it thrives -- Detroit City Football League is a finely-tuned community soccer machine. Unexpected because I not only met my teammates, I met dozens of people on other teams as well. Rewarding because I fucking love every minute of it.


Last Wednesday, I learned a lesson about living in Detroit the hard way. During an ultra-quick run to the pharmacy, my car was broken into and my computer was stolen. I'll never forget the shock of that moment when I left the store. I stopped dead in my tracks, staring at the broken window, trying to process what the hell had happened. In moments I had lost my writing, my photos, and my entire means of income.


There were witnesses! They told me what they saw. A gold van with black flames pulled up next to my car. The men inside slid open the door, smashed my window, grabbed the laptop, and sped away. We could still catch them! One man was already in his car, ready to go. I got into my car, another man jumped in my back (avoiding the broken glass in the passenger seat) and we sped off in pursuit. All I wanted to do if I caught the van was to violently slam my car into it. That's as far as my plan went. Detroit is a big city. It didn't take long to realize we were never going to find this van, conspicuous as it may be. We stopped chasing and conferred on the side of the road and I got a chance to meet my helpers. The other driver actually had his child in the back seat and my passenger is a homeless man who seeks donations from pharmacy customers.

Driving back to report the crime, I thought of all the little things that could have changed the outcome. What if I had parked in a different spot? What if I hadn't browsed that extra aisle? What if I went for a run instead of going to the store? What if I had insurance? What if I backed up my work more recently? When it came down to it though, it was my fault. I knew better, I took a stupid risk, I got burned. The words "I hate myself" rang through my thoughts like a mantra.

I've spent the past few days trying to figure out what to do next. I've had "phantom limb" syndrome -- reflexively reaching for my laptop only to rediscover that it's gone. I'm trying to get over my fantasy of staking out that parking lot and catching the bad guys. I put the word out for good used computers so I can get back to work.


Tonight, I learned a lesson about living in Detroit the good way. At our weekly Monday night dinner, my soccer team presented me with a gift: a brand-new MacBook Air. I kid you not. I am typing on it right now.

The card that came with the computer said "When Life Gives You Lemons... We've Got Your Back." In other words, when life gives you lemons, make sure you have wonderful people in your life to help you through it.

I don't like getting gifts and I absolutely don't think I deserve this one. My bad decisions and bad luck shouldn't be a burden on other people. But to be offered something with such love and support, I have no choice but to try to accept it. I'm going to try to deserve it.

It can be hard living in Detroit. I find it's best not to compare it to other cities or to what you think it should be. It is what it is. And sure, there are a lot of ways that the city is dysfunctional, but in my personal experience, the people are wonderful. This is true, even in this isolated incident. On the one hand, there are the people who wronged me: the assholes who damaged my car and stole my computer. On the other hand, there are the people who were good to me: the two witnesses who stuck around to file a police report; the man who drove around on a wild-goose chase after a van of thieves; the police officer who consoled me by telling me about his cop car getting broken into; the man who called through my smashed window while we were stopped at a red light saying "Don't worry, karma is a bitch! You're gonna be alright!"; the friends who offered to let me steal some keyboard time while I figured out what to do; everyone who held their tongue instead of saying "you really shouldn't leave your computer in your car"; and most of all, my gosh darn soccer team.

The best-case scenario for a thief is that the person they are taking from can afford the loss -- it would be easier to steal from a department store than a mom-and-pop shop; it would be easier to steal from a rich young man than a poor old lady. In that respect, they robbed the right girl. I have community safety net that went above and beyond any reasonable expectation for support. I am alright.

In Detroit, the winters are hard and people steal stuff and some basic things don't work like they should. That's all true. But I have never felt the sense of community that I have here already -- after just 10 months in this strange little city. It's safe to say that Detroit and I have a lot of handstands in our future.


Michele writes at

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