5 Days in the Rust Belt

Motor City. Gray City. Pothole City. Ain’t exactly what I remember city. Henry Ford blue and yellow reed grasses stand brittle and lonely against fast food row–fast food that makes slow people. Fast food that slides down metallic shelves and into our arteries and asses. Fast food, the only thing that moves quicker than the cards flipped out on the table before me: kings, jacks, spades, trumps, tricks, antes, trades.

In Detroit, we aren’t “y’all,” but “yous,” as in “What are yous planning to do tonight?” A’s are harsh and tinny, spoken first through stoic scowls that become grins. Crooked smiles erupt when false teeth release their grip and fall within. Crowns, bridges, golden grills–not cars or royalty, but what mouths are made of here.

Where are the boots, the bling, the skinny denim? This town is ruled by tennis shoes and mom jeans with elastic waists, Regis and Kelly, Wolverines and Spartans, French fries and gravy, reruns of $25,000 Pyramid with Dick Clark, and commercials from which Eminem peers out intently.

Fan belt, rust belt, salt belt–the streets and earth and sky scorched to gray. Burned-out churches and Art Deco high-rises tower over a sea of brick crackerbox houses, snowblowers, and apple-bottomed suburbanites. The Motor City is nothing but American: big and broad through and through.

From the blind, geese and ducks spray into the chalky sky, casting their attention to bursting seed pods cracked open with life. Fawns and bucks stare, transfixed, into swerving headlights that break the marshland, once woods and now hundreds of single-story, single-family, single-floorplan homes.

Sweat suits, law suits, track suits–running for the Big Mac suits–crowds drive from Livonia and Dearborn and Flat Rock for fried apple pie, bologna sandwiches, Whoppers, and American cheese in plastic wrappers–more trash for the landfills, the only thing that seems to grow in winter.

Where’s Van Jones, spreading the gospel of green? No farms, no hot houses, no enterprise, not even a shred of lettuce on a corner plot–only cop cars, cop lights, sirens and streetlights for folks to Drive Thru and drive through.

Motor City, not pedestrian city. Cars and Christ rule here. Wherever I go, so doth they goeth, often hand in hand. Crosses dangle from necks and rearview mirrors, from traffic corners, bathroom walls, and bingo halls. God and Chrysler, they be mates. At night, we kneel, hands clasped and say, “Dear Lord, Henry Ford, pray for us.”

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