Six Months in Detroit

Sometimes when you visit a new place, you don't realize just how different it is from what you are used to until you return home. Ireland was like that for me. Riding the bus back to New York from Boston, brought home just how different the two countries are. Polly and I saw mail being delivered by postmen on bicycles, donkey carts on remote country roads and perhaps, the only chance to experience it in our lifetimes, market day, with the streets and sidewalks filled with sheep, pigs and cattle. There was no such thing as an interstate in Ireland (at least not in 1978). We barely saw a 4 lane road and there I was finishing the journey home down I-95, courtesy of Mr. Peter Pan, on way to a job that no longer existed.


We met many relatives from our parentsí families. In Dublin, one of my cousins offhandedly offered me a job with his firm. Worrying about my books and records and kitty cat back in Hoboken. I didnít pursue his offer. Twenty one years later, I still regret that decision. Itís one of the few choices Iíve made in my life, that given the chance, I would change. No matter. At least I'm still here.


Arriving back to work a day late, I discovered that my friend that I hired to cover for me was no longer there. His replacement had become my replacement. The man I worked for had a real hard time telling me why he fired me. There was no real reason he could give, other than the other people in the office didnít get along with each other. Not with me, but with each other. He had such a hard time telling me that I was gone, I figured that it was easier for him to shake things up by firing someone who wasnít there, rather than someone who was. He didnít even come in to work on the day that I was supposed to come back from vacation. Guess I gave him quite a shock showing up a day late.


So there I was, two days removed from Ireland and no job. I paid a quick and painful visit to my dad at his office to tell him the bad news, and took the PATH train back to Hoboken only to watch Bucky Dent completely ruin my day. There are no highlights to look back on over the months that followed. A walk up the hill to Jersey City to watch The Fumble on TV at a friends apartment. Getting propositioned by a man during a job interview. Being taken by two confidence men. Many a dinner consisted of mashed potatoes, iceberg lettuce with squeezed lemon as dressing, baked beans and bread and butter. At least I had a lot of time to spend in the darkroom, but nothing of any value resulted. I did discover the music of Oliver Nelson, though, and started some feeble attempts at writing. There was no real job search, just the forgettable interview at the Cloisters and an offer from another museum, that after deducting commuting expenses, paid less than unemployment. At some point over that winter, my brother called and asked if I would like to come out to Detroit and help him move the printer where he worked into a new location. Obviously, I had nothing better to do, and he was paying my fare, so I went.


The train ride to Detroit was very relaxing. Up the Hudson River and cross New York State through the Finger Lakes Region, with a late night border crossing at Buffalo. The train emptied the further west we traveled. Iíve never been particularly sociable with strangers, so this trip was quite pleasant. A lot of time to write and think about the offer Tom had made me to make a permanent move to Detroit to work with him. Detroit is not exactly the cultural capital of the world. Even Motown had fled for LA by then. But after a long and lonely fall and winter in New York with no work and no desire to even look for work, Detroit looked exciting.


St. Patrick's Day 1979 I drove out to Detroit in a U-Haul truck with all my material possessions (the same possessions that had inhibited me from staying in Ireland), with my father as copilot. He just showed up the night before I left and announced that he was coming along to help me drive out. Just as he was to do six months later on the return leg. I have no memories of the drive, other than just being glad that he was there. We donít talk very much in my family about things that matter to us. At least the men donít. So I canít say for certain, but it seemed that my dad and brother had drifted apart since Tom took time off of college to join Gene McCarthyís campaign. We we arrived at Tomís, it was the first time in a couple of years that the two of them had seen each other. I would like to think that this quick meeting made Tomís move back to New Jersey six months later somewhat easier.


Detroit was as different from New York as Ireland was. Wide and flat and low to the ground. No geographical divisions, only expressways. Sort of like a giant Queens with a downtown. I had traded in the opportunity to walk through posh neighborhoods with trendy shops, for a city that still hadnít rebuilt itself following the riots following Martin Luther Kings assassination. Chinese was out and Arabic and Mexican were in. I have a lot to remember from my time spent there, from great jazz in the clubs, to brawl-less Sunday soccer games to all the people met and organizing done. But my time in Detroit always comes back to two people. Two names. Bobby and Shelia.


This story is a work-in-progress. It is based on a brief sojourn in Detroit during 1979.