First, I’d like to say congratulations, Mayor-elect Kilpatrick. I figure it wouldn’t be fair to just launch into a full-frontal assault before you’ve even formally taken office without at least saying “Hi” and wishing you luck. Then again, maybe luck isn’t the best thing I ought to be wishing for you. See, the only real difference between good luck and bad luck is how good you are at avoiding bad situations.
Scratch the luck part and get busy. Make your own luck. Everybody keeps talking about how young you are, but I’m sure you’ve been around the block enough times to know how that one goes.
Look, nobody needs to tell you it’s not gonna be easy. I’m sure you’ve already got a full chorus of folks screaming in your ear about all the things they think you need to do, how you ought to do them, when they ought to be done and what’s gonna happen if you don’t. So many back-seat drivers, such a little car.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d like to add my name to the long and annoying list of folks who want to snatch your attention quickly before someone else cuts ahead in line. Got to state your case quick these days. Otherwise folks just seem to tune you out and move on.
Since there are more than enough things to worry about, and I’ve only got so much space, let me touch on just a few things. Well, make that one thing in particular. It might not seem that big and ominous, and it isn’t necessarily the kind of issue that will emblazon your name on a stone tablet, but I still think it matters.
Streetlights. Yeah, that’s right. As you know, this has been an ongoing complaint of your future constituents throughout the city’s neighborhoods for quite some time now, but for some strange reason Detroit is still in the dark. I’ve got to admit I just don’t understand it. I do understand you’re about to inherit a budget deficit, and nothing clarifies budget priorities better than a financially challenged wallet. But isn’t there some way we can get some light in this town? It’s hard enough to see where you’re going at night when so many of the city street signs are barely legible anyway. Now try that trick in the dark. Yeah, exactly. I would say something like, “Get the picture?” but most folks need a little light to see the picture first before they can “get it.”
As I said, this probably doesn’t sound like a big deal right off the bat. Right about now you’re seeing hurdles pop up in front of you like weeds on steroids. Still, I don’t think I’m the only one who’s getting tired of wondering whether that bump in the road was a big tree branch or a fair-sized animal.
Moving right along, which is what I try to do each morning around 3 a.m. when I head off to work. I should tell you that I developed this gripe into a full-fledged column idea right about Eight Mile and Woodward. See, if you’re heading north on Woodward at around 3 a.m., which I usually am, you can’t help but notice how many of the streetlights are off. What’s embarrassing about this to me as a city resident is that once Woodward crosses over the top of Eight Mile the strangest thing happens. Some might even call it a miracle of the minor variety. Once Woodward crosses Eight Mile, and Detroit makes way for Ferndale, the lights are suddenly, glaringly, blindingly, on. Every single morning. Without fail. Do you know how frustrating it is to be squinting in the dark, feeling your way along, trying to read the directions on that darkened traffic sign that hangs above Woodward just before Woodward ventures out of town? Now can you understand why it’s embarrassing to begin the brief drive up that rising street and to see the streetlights suddenly working in the middle of the overpass? Right about where Detroit turns into Ferndale?
To be fair to our city, those lights are sometimes on. But sometimes they’re not. Then other times they are. Then they’re off again. Then ...
But those Ferndale lights? On, man.
Look, I’ve gotten over all the money spent building those two huge stadium-entertainment-monument-whatever complexes in the Foxtown district, and I know the city didn’t pay for them. The one time I ventured inside Comerica Park to play a gig I must say I was impressed by the cigar room complete with red leather chairs and red leather tables to match. Gee, that’s swell, I thought to myself. The games. The ferris wheel. The overpriced beer. Wow. Now if we could just get a team to match.
And that football stadium? It’s not even finished yet, but it does feel good to know that the Detroit Lions will be playing right smack dab in the middle of Detroit again. Or at least it will feel good once the Lions, you know, do something. But then, that’s what building monuments is all about, isn’t it? It’s the vision thing. It’s not how things look today, but how we plan for things to look in that glorious future that men and women of vision always talk about so eloquently. If we build it, they will come. Please come. Of course, you’d be amazed at what a little bit of light can do for a vision. You can actually see what you’re really looking at versus what you think you’re looking at. Makes a difference.
If the city is still too broke to turn on the lights, maybe one of those civic visionary-type folks could lend a hand. Just a thought.
Before I sign off, there is just one more thing I’d like to bring up that I do wish you’d consider when you get the chance. I brought it up once before, but I guess I’m hoping that what they say about the squeaky wheel will work for me here. Entertainment district. Casinos don’t qualify, and Greektown is too small. I’m talking about a nice stretch of town complete with a number of clubs that will once again bring live entertainment to the city in the way music made this city snap, crackle and pop during the days before Paradise Valley was paved over to make way for I-75. This city is the home and birthplace of some of the world’s greatest musicians, and their talents are appreciated about as much as a mink coat in July; looks nice, but maybe some other time.
Well, that’s it for now, Mr. Mayor-elect. I know your plate’s full, and I won’t hold you, but when you get the time ...?Keith A Owens is a Detroit-area freelance writer and musician. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org