I spent a day last week with a writer from Time Magazine showing him around Detroit. He was here to do a story about ways this city might reinvent itself, so a few days before he arrived I put together a tour of the city with that in mind. I was kind of nervous---this was Time Magazine, after all: the storied weekly of Henry Luce and James Agee and the "person of the year." I know no one really reads it anymore unless they're waiting for a root canal or a colonoscopy, but still: Time Magazine. It's a big deal. So I met the writer outside my wife's office and welcomed him into my filthy car. He was surprisingly young and all I could think when I shook his hand was, "Dude, you were born in the EIGHTIES weren't you?" He was only in town for a few hours and the mayor had just stood him up, so I had the enormous responsibility of trying to explain this insanely complicated city before he jetted back to Park Slope. This is how the mainstream media works, I guess: to write a story on the 11th-largest city in the nation they parachute in a guy who's never been there before for a few hours WITHOUT A CAR and let some carpetbagging hipster douchebag show him around town. What pertains to laws and sausages, it seems, applies also to Time Magazine articles when it comes to seeing how they're made.
To be fair, the writer was incredibly aware of how unfair this situation was. He was bright and fully engaged and fascinated by everything I showed him. I can only hope the time I spent with him will make the story something more than if he had been stuck walking around downtown trying to make sense of a 138.8-square-mile city from a few square blocks of vacant storefronts, abandoned skyscrapers, and a Hard Rock Cafe. As I drove him around town telling him all my favorite anecdotes ("That's where my kid and I got attacked by wild dogs!", "I was surrounded by wild dogs there once, too!", "Some wild dogs killed a homeless guy in that alley!") and spelling out my thoughts about why things here are the way they are, he was all, "You know, I appreciate all this information, but I have maybe 1,000 words if I'm lucky. . ." I told him I didn't expect him to write about everything I was showing him; you can't fit a dissertation on the side of a coffee mug. It can be such a challenge to capture the truth of a place; I have been hacking away at it on this blog for years because if there's anything I've learned from reading the great writers, it's that if you can capture the truth of any place you can reach the truth of every place. And if I was successful in showing this guy that Detroit does have some hope of reinventing itself, then maybe there is hope for every other place in these dark times. . . .