Detroit is a big U.S. city, and we all know that bad things can happen in any urban area. But it is a surprise when we hear a story about crime that involves some level of civility. That's just what came to us from former intern Julian Toles, who's now living in New York. It's a Detroit story through and through.
Toles writes us to share what he calls "a funny conversation with an Indian guy in Zurich about the city." It goes like this:
His handshake is gentle.
“I lived in the States for four years,” Raj tells me, after I’ve informed him that I’m not English, but American.
We’re in the dining room of a place called Synergy Village, a budding artist’s retreat that’s lived past lives as a commune and a livestock farm, but has been in the Bühler family for the past six centuries. It overlooks Lake Zurich, where swans swim, water twinkles, and mountains stay capped with snow even though it’s sunny and 70.
“Where did you live?” I ask.
“Detroit and San Francisco.”
“Detroit! I’m from Detroit!”
Raj stares blankly.
“When did you stay there?” I ask.
“About four years ago, 2012.”
“Hmm. That means we were there at the same time. Do you have any Detroit friends on Facebook?” I ask, as I pull up the social network. “It’s sort of a small city, so I’m sure we have mutuals.”
“No. I don’t have any Detroit friends on Facebook. California, California was amazing though. Just beautiful. The weather, the scenery. Really breathtaking.”
“But what about Detroit?” I ask, puppy-dog-eyed.
“I was only there three, maybe four months, working at a small IT firm near downtown. And I got caught. Twice.”
“Yes. They robbed me. You know, they see me, friendly looking Indian guy. Us Indians, we’re very soft and sweet.”
“Ah, yes, yes,” I say to Raj, who indeed is rather cuddly and looks like a young Ghandi in Teddy Bear form.
“They came up behind me, four tall athletic guys. One grabbed my right shoulder. I turned around and I said, ‘Brothers — please save me.’
“They were shocked, didn’t know what to do. They talked among themselves for a few seconds before telling me they wouldn’t demand the usual $100, but would instead settle for $5. Or even a dollar. I took out my wallet to show them I only had two $5 bills. They were happy with one, and told me that the street I was walking on — I shouldn’t be.
“They gave me directions for a safer route, explaining that if I continued on that path I was on, I would get caught again. We talked for probably four or five minutes. They asked if I was European or from Southeast Asia. They told me they liked my words.
“I’m happy I met them.”