Let’s Hear it for Detroit: A Play

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A day not unlike this one. (Edited. Original photo by Lisa.)

December 2014, Downtown Detroit, MI: Another cold, damp, overcast afternoon. In other words, a pretty nice day for December. No snow and above freezing.

A real estate agent is on a street corner dressed like a carnival barker. Honest. He’s wearing the stiff old-fashioned hat, the white jacket with the red stripes on it, the whole nine yards. Yellowed, dog-eared deeds to properties bulge out of his pockets. He’s got a megaphone in one hand, the deed to the old county building in the other. The orange brick of the David Stott frames the bizarre tableau. And it is bizarre. Grungy buildings huddle around him for warmth.

Real estate agent: “Hurry, hurry!”

His voice is gruff, ravaged by tobacco. His ruddy, pockmarked cheeks and thin, oily black hair complete the picture of man that has lived a full life. Yet his blue eyes remain buoyant, youthful even. He’s a salesman, through and through.

Real estate agent: “Get your expired ticket to the American dream. Businesses! Homes! Factories! They’re goin’ cheap and they’re goin’ fast. Look at those big skyscrapers! Live where Henry Ford lived. Live where the Dodge brothers lived. All you need is a lil’ elbow grease and can-do spirit!”

Pedestrian ignore him, except for one sentimental sap that tosses some loose change in his direction, assuming he’s a beggar or street performer.

Real estate agent: “I’ve got Poletown deeds. Chene-Ferry Market. Max’s. Old Greektown deeds, Black Bottom. Whole blocks of Brightmoor. Walk to the park! I even got houses in North Rosedale Park. North Rosedale Park, with the community house!

“Folks, I believe in this city, in its renaissance, and you should, too! Heck, I’ll even sing you a song!”

The real estate agent puts out his cigarette and clears his throat. The hack is deafening, cancerous. A marching band in full regalia – plumes, brass buttons, and white gloves – materializes behind him in a puff of smoke. Or was it steam from a sewer? At any rate, they begin playing a fight song that sounds oddly familiar, but then, can’t quite be placed.

Real estate agent: “Why we’ve got fun and games,
Guns and blame,
Lots of real estate, it’s pretty great!

Yes, hear the motor’s ditty
In ol’ Motor City
Roar right through the 8 Mile door!

Let’s hear it for Detroit! [cymbals crash]
For Detroit! [cymbals crash]
Demolish it and they will come!
Let’s hear it for Detroit! [cymbals crash]
For Detroit! [cymbals crash]
They’re moving way out past the thumb!”

Just then, a young boy – maybe 12 years old – approaches. His jeans are faded from wear and have holes that clearly weren’t intended by the designer. On his back is an old Charles Rogers jersey his mom snagged at Salvation Army years ago. When he tugs on the real estate agent’s sleeves, his fingers leave grease stains.

Young boy: “Say mister, that’s quite a tune! Mind if I give it a try?”

Real estate agent: “My, don’t you look like a nice, young lad! Sure. Take ‘er away, kid!”

The band starts the tune up again, with gusto.

Young Boy: “Oh I love Detroit
A place to exploit
Without the streetlights the stars sure shine bright!”

Turns out the young boy can tap dance. Generic black basketball shoes noisily kick up loose gravel to the beat.

“I’m gonna work for Fords
I’m gonna pass the boards
And learn to read soon as I sell this weed!”

The band continues playing in the background.

Real estate agent: “Beautiful, kid. Beautiful. Now I want everybody to sing on the chorus!”

A lady shouts from the window of a far off, featureless office building: “But we don’t know the words! How can we sing along if we don’t know the words?”

The real estate agents smirks and rolls up his sleeves, revealing a beat-up gold watch.

“Then we’ll learn ya somethin’!”

The real estate agent, young boy, hipsters in matching pea coats, Quicken Loans office workers, homeless people, and Robert A. Ficano lock arms and being marching down the street. Cars swerve out of the way, crashing into fire hydrants, trees, and other cars. A mad collage of blinking lights, shaking fists, and honks builds behind the marchers.

Marchers: “Let’s hear it for Detroit! [cymbals crash]
For Detroit! [cymbals crash]
Factory loft space and tons’a slums!
Let’s hear it for Detroit! [cymbals crash]
For Detroit! [cymbals crash]
Long enough and you will go numb!”

Abruptly, the beat slows to a boozy half time.

“Let’s hear it for Detroit!
For Detroit! (A drunken man, off-beat and excessively loud: ‘Fhur Daytroy!’)
It’s the Paris of the Midwest!”

Water from a broken fire hydrant gushes into the street as the marchers draw out the last note. Though a strong breeze blows down the street, Robert A. Ficano’s hair doesn’t move an inch. Not even a millimeter, actually. He flashes a smile somewhat like how cement cracks.

Robert A. Ficano: “Everyone! I’m pleased to announce that we have some new taxpayer-funded megaprojects in the pipeline for downtown. This time, Detroit really is saved. The Feds are even kicking in. And I promise, no graft! Scout’s honor!”

As the marchers cheer, a single, beautiful snowflake hits the ground.

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