Talking to the Fed Ex Guy – A Dispatch from Detroit

The Core Belief


Last Tuesday, I got a chance to catch up with my buddy Jimmy Fallon at our local bar.  He’s been finishing up his film commitments before he begins working on the precursor podcasts to the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon.  I found it touching to hear someone else wax poetic, other than the Old Man, about Detroit, where he and Drew Barrymore were filming on location a couple of weeks back. “Someone talked me into riding a bike through the downtown section of the city of Detroit,” Jimmy said.  “I liked the city; it seemed like it was sleeping but awake.  So here we are, riding in the middle of the street and this car pulls up, looking for directions.  They recognized me and we got to talking.  ‘What are you doing in on a mountain bike in the neighborhood at 3am?’ they asked.”


“There is a reason no one walks in Detroit,” I said.  “It is a dangerous place.”


“There is no way I was remotely unsafe.  I was never bothered or hassled in any.  It was phenomenal; I couldn’t have been a better experience,” Jimmy said.


I know exactly where Fallon was riding as I am currently staying with friends in their condo, dangling precariously above the once fashionable Grand Circus Park and the very business district discussed above.  As I sit on the stoop, looking out on Woodward Ave., I look west into the urban desolation of the Cass Corridor.  Burned out buildings, abandoned shells of houses and empty lots with over grown grass dot the landscape of the most dangerous district in the most dangerous city in the United States.  Behind me, the slowly gentrifying Brush Park, with the new baseball and football stadiums and the fragile hope of reversing the fleeing populous with gorgeous news townhouses and condos.


Vani, my lifelong friend Sreeny’s lovely bride works from home, one in a new generation of workers in the technological segment.  They met three years ago in New Jersey while Sreeny was visiting family and married in April.  I asked her how she was getting along in Detroit.  “I am growing to like it,” she said.  “But I’m used to living in the New York/New Jersey where there are people all over the place.  It’s so empty here.”


“It’s not like it’s a dangerous neighborhood, like the one a block down,” I replied.


“Oh no, not at all.  But I don’t walk a lot here.  I won’t be raped or mugged but if something should happen to me, a sprained ankle or something close, who would be around to help me.  There is little traffic here and it gets less and less the further you go downtown.”


Although I agreed with her and had spent an evening telling Jimmy Fallon just how dangerous it was to be on foot (or bike) within the city limits of Detroit, I decided to go for a walk in my hometown to see what had changed close up. 


As I walked though the concentric circles of Grand Circus Park and angled myself southwest under the People Mover tracks towards Greektown, I was quite taken with the city in this early fall day.  Crisp, clean (!) and nice sidewalks to walk down, I just wondered where the people were.  It was 2:30pm on a Thursday afternoon in the business district of one of the top tier city’s in the United States, the absence of people, except the seven or eight people I would see on occasion was something easily noticed and felt.


I paused in front of a double parked Fed Ex truck to look at 1515 Broadway.  In New York City, that address is home to the Marriott Marquis Hotel and the MTV studios in a sleek black windowed office building.  In Detroit, the building was a run down early ‘60’s affair, with faded green window panes surrounding black windows.  The Fed Ex delivery man’s eyes shot out of his head when he saw me staring at the numbers above the door.  “Are you waiting for me to move my van,” he asked.  I told him no, I was simply walking around the neighborhood looking around.  He frowned and flicked at his curly black, blotched beard.  “Be careful then.  This isn’t a place for someone who has no idea where they are,” he counseled. 


“It’s ok, I’m from the city,” I said.  “This is the first time I’ve been home in a while.  I just wanted to walk around and see the changes.”


He seemed at ease.  His warning was meant to cover his own back.  Hey, I saw the tourist guy and told him to get out of Dodge.  If he chose to wander around and got shot and his boots took, it’s not on me. 


“It’s really gotten nice down here,” I told him as he walked in to another building to drop off a delivery.  “I like the direction everything is moving.  You know, for a city that continually gets in its own way, it’s amazing the progress that’s been made.”


The Fed Ex guy came out of the vestibule and shook my hand.  “I keep telling my kids all about those f****** politicians in this town and how they screw things up.  After I tell them about what you said, maybe they’ll believe me.”


I laughed and wandered toward Hart Plaza and the Detroit River, running into the occasional tough looking character or a hustler asking for change, every fifteen minutes or so.  I had no fear for my safety.  However, the lack of people milling around and or living in the area was distressing.  Walking back up Woodward, towards my lodging for the next few days, I was struck by the architecture.  The builds all looked like they belonged on the gentrifying “Gold Coast” of Fifth Ave. in Manhattan (34-26th Streets), stunning buildings that dated from the early 1900’s or late 1800’s, recently renovated and except for the odd Border’s or restaurant, waiting for tenants; signs all over the place touting apartment lofts for sale.  All they need is people.


The rest of my walk, about a mile, I reflected on the breadth of the accomplishment I had just witnessed.  Aside from the fact that there seemed to be no little cafes to get a cup of coffee to walk around with, there is a small part of the city of Detroit that is waiting for it’s residents to return and reclaim it as their own.  I am heartened by that Ernie Harwell and the Old Man maybe wrong in their assumption that Detroit will never comeback.  If the city can take these next few steps, I am sure both will gladly concede their misstatement.


I found myself on the west side of Woodward, facing Sreeny and Vani’s condo, the Cass Corridor behind me and several young men in hoodies glancing at me curiously.  I waited for the light to change on Woodward to give me the right of way to cross.  The light remained red for pedestrians.  I walked up and block, same thing.  Finally, when traffic cleared, I took my half out of the middle and crossed the Avenue to the relative safety of Brush Park.


Has Detroit changed for the better? Absolutely.  However, leaving what little tourism you have stranded on the Cass Corridor side of Woodward, available prey for the wolves who call it a hunting ground is going to cause problems in the future.  


Have you seen changes for the better in your hometown?






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Every Friday, get 2 for 1 movie tickets when you use your Visa Signature card.

Recent Comments