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Essay: Detroit Can Be Capital Of Kindness

July 14, 2014

Detroit officials are pondering where to concentrate resources once the city emerges from the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history. But WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter found something he says should be preserved above anything else in the city and submitted this essay…

Last Friday I was in a car driving along I-94 when the tire blew out. We limped off the freeway to a barren gas station on the east side of Detroit in a section police say numbers among the most crime-ridden in the city. Sadly we did not have a functioning jack in the car so we called for road side assistance. A knot of people at the station looked us over a bit suspiciously – a white couple in a solidly-black neighborhood. For myself I did not care if they were black, white or purple – this was supposed to be a dangerous area. I tucked my wallet in the glove box and got out of the car as one guy approached wearing a stained baseball cap sideways on his head. “Coming from a Tigers’ game?” he asked. “No,” I said, “I’m with public radio!” His blank look made it clear that meant nothing to him. Then he glanced at the blown tire, told us to wait and he’d be back in a moment. Sure enough he returned a few minutes later armed with…a lug wrench…and a jack. He lifted the car off the ground and strained to remove the lug nuts -- all but a single rusty one that refused to budge. Then a second, older gent got out of a pick-up truck bearing an even shinier, stronger lug wrench. The pair bent over the wheel, the older guy grunting and offering suggestions as both wrestled with that last lug nut. It finally came free and the spare tire was quickly in place. The men smiled, turned and went back to their vehicles. They did not ask for money…they did not ask for anything. I was flat-broke at the time, but also overcome with gratitude. “Can I do ANYTHING for you?” I asked. “I’m with public radio!” They shook their heads and the older man said, “It’s cool. Things are tight out here. You gotta help when you can.” And it struck me that these are people who have not been touched by any of the ongoing investment in Detroit’s downtown or Midtown, in a community that could easily become an economic casualty, post-bankruptcy, when officials decide whether it’s worth providing water service or public safety there. Yet they offered the one thing no investment can ever purchase: Kindness towards strangers – with no strings attached. And, I thought, as federal, state and city officials shape Detroit’s future…THIS is what needs to be considered – these people who live where the media spotlight rarely shines. With them, and their spirit, Detroit can truly be a great city. Ignore them…and you ignore – and perhaps destroy – the city’s soul.