Coffee with Michael

“My chair ran outta juice!”

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted an update on the blog, but… you know—pandemic. There hasn’t been much to write about; I’ve mostly stayed in the house for a significant portion of this entire year. Once we got back from Seattle, we mostly stayed locked down. Throughout the course of the year, though, we were able to finally move in to our new house in Lasalle Gardens—an old neighborhood on the west side of Detroit filled with history. We’ve been living here for just over a week now.

I got a motion alert on my front camera this afternoon and saw this man in a motorized wheelchair just sitting here in the street. I watched him for a couple of minutes and it started to look like he was either asleep or stuck somehow. So I went out and asked him if I could help.
Turns out his rig just ran outta juice. So I ran an extension cord up to the edge of my walk and told him I was gonna make coffee for us.

He plugged in, I brought him hot coffee and some cookies, and I sat on the porch while he charged, and we spent the next hour chatting about life; as two dads, as two Detroiters, as a middle-aged white guy and an old Black man, about our perspectives and differences. He told me about the neighborhood as it was, as it is, and we both speculated on what it will become.

Maintaining social distance with coffee and extension cords

Michael is a Vietnam vet with two daughters and a wife who passed in 2014. One of his daughters is, in his words, “A bank manager with a Cadillac and hoooo is she bougie!”

He was stationed near Da Nang in 1967; his squad was him and one other Black soldier and six white soldiers. He talked about the racial dynamics of how over there they were brothers, but once they got back to the world, he was back to being “just another Black man to them”.

His dad, at one point, owned a chain of seven dry cleaners, ranging from west side to east side. “My daddy had two years of college, which is like four years nowadays. My momma had a third grade education in Alabama but she was the smartest person I ever knew. She was a real Southern woman, terrifying but left no doubt how much she loved me. She would beat me in places I never even knew I had but I never felt anything less than loved by that woman.”

Michael worked in a factory on the east side during the 70s. He struggled with addiction and almost lost his relationship with his daughters, but he was able to get his life back on track and become a part of their lives. He said “I was what you would call a ‘high-functioning’ addict – I was always able to wake up and go to work and do my job, but once that shift ended, I would cock my hat”, (he cocks his hat to illustrate), “and go do the street thang for a couple of hours before I headed home”.

We talked Detroit politics—about the ever-present struggle to find balance between economic investment in the downtown area and helping “the neighborhoods”—we both agreed that having a vital downtown was important (“If you don’t have a nice downtown, then you don’t have a city!” – Michael), but that the rest of Detroit certainly could stand some more share of the wealth.

It was a beautiful day—chilly but sunny. Kids rode their bikes up and down the street. Neighbors strolled by. Michael and I chatted while his scooter charged up. There was coffee. For one hour, other than us sitting 20 feet apart and some of the weirdness of keeping our distance while handling coffee and extension cords, things felt blissfully normal.

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