I KNOW an old woman who hasnít opened her windows in a decade, afraid that whatís outside will climb inside. Inside, there is the stale odor of dead air.
I know another woman who called me about a corpse lying outside her window for six and a half hours. This was because of cutbacks at the morgue. No dignity in death here. They do it better in Baghdad.
The latest trend? When a person is murdered, he is thrown into an abandoned house, and it is set on fire. There are tens of thousands to choose from.
I know of an 11-year-old boy who was shot, the bullet going clean through his arm. The cops stuffed him in the back of a squad car and rushed him to the hospital. Thatís how we do it. There was no ambulance available. About two-thirds of the cityís fleet is broken on an average day.
I know a cop who drives around in a squad car with holes in the floorboards. There is no computer, no air-conditioning, the odometer reading 147,000 miles. His bulletproof vest has expired. His pay has been cut 10 percent.
I knew a firefighter who died in a fire, but not from the fire. He died when the roof of an abandoned house collapsed on him and his brethren could not find him because his homing alarm was broken and did not sound. He suffocated.
In our town, the 911 dispatch system recently went down for 15 hours, and no one seemed to give a damn. When the system is running, the average wait is 58 minutes. Firefighters canít use hydraulic ladders on fire trucks to do their jobs unless there is an ďimmediate threat to life.Ē In a fire ó imagine that. The ladders havenít been inspected in years.
If this were New York, these stories would have ricocheted around the world. But this is Detroit and, of course, nobody gives a damn. Even here people have been conditioned to accept these things as normal, a nuisance, the buzz of a fly.
This numbness, in a peculiar way, is a sign of strength. People here manage to get along somehow.
So we went broke, bust, bankrupt. Weíve known that in Detroit for years. Only now it is official with a Chapter 9 filing last week. The biggest municipal default in United States history ó at least $18 billion. Suddenly, America gives a rip.
How did it get this way, Iím asked? After all, it was just 99 years ago that Henry Ford offered the workingman $5 a day and profit-sharing. How, in less than a century, did it come to this?
The short answers: municipal mismanagement, race riots, white flight, black flight, dead flight (people routinely disinter their deceased and relocate them to the suburbs). There were the overreaching unions and management that couldnít balance a ball. Proof? The multibillion-dollar bailout of the auto industry. Thank you, American taxpayers!