There’s a weird sort of gaze that the world gives my current home of Flint, Michigan. It’s not quite pity but it’s pity’s cousin. A sort of nodding look that says, oh, you’re from Flint.
We’re the sadsacks of the country, it would seem.
Our industry left.
We got hit with a water crisis.
We are always on those Dangerous Places To Live lists that only people who live elsewhere want to see.
We have a clownhouse going on with our City Council and our School Board.
We’re a mess.
They even put out a docu-series on Netflix about our police force when it seemed that a sort of staring at an accident as you drive by fascination with Flint was going on.
I have sort of seen it all in my years living in the city.
I am lucky in that I lived outside of the main areas that were hit with the water crisis, though it still affected us. I am lucky in that where I live crime is across the road and down a little, and not much in our neighborhood, though we see our fair share of crimes of opportunity. I am lucky in that I am white, I am middle class, and I moved here, I wasn’t born here.
I chose to be here.
A lot of people don’t get that opportunity.
I moved here because my friends were here, and I spent a lot of time here working and doing events, so it made sense.
I love Flint.
Love it enough to hate it fairly.
I admit though that I get tired of the ‘Rust Belt’ chic that gets thrust on us so often.
The nose to the grindstone factory workers who talk plain and drink cheap beer and just get her done.
I hate the piteous looks of – man, that must be hard – because of COURSE it’s been hard here for a few years, for ALL of us. When I moved here the apartment, I moved into was (and still is) empty on its first-floor business space. The front doors were boarded up. Downtown was still essentially dead. It’s been in the last fifteen years that things have started to turn around and investment started to really return to the downtown area. I absolutely think that the artists that started coming down here and doing events and putting on shows were part of that turn around. They were the pioneers that showed that there was still life down here.
They were the ones that came here from out of town and made this city their home.
I am one of them.
We were all blue collar in that we worked hard to do what we did.
The notion of collar color with a job though is outdated and silly. As if someone at a desk doesn’t work as hard as someone on a factory line.
It’s different types of work, but that doesn’t mean has more value or less value.
One isn’t nobler because it is covered in more grease.
My father and mother were Flint kids.
My mom owned a beauty salon.
My dad was an accountant that made his own bones and came up literally by pulling himself up.
They aren’t rust belters, not in the way the doe eyed apologists see.
They were people who were born into relative poverty and worked their way out of it. Dad worked warehouse jobs and delivered papers until he went to college. Mom helped pay his way through school with her shop. My dad worked long hours as an accountant and wasn’t there a lot for us kids. He sacrificed that time to make sure we had enough.
Not everyone here has motor oil for blood.
Not all of us are living that hard scrabble life looking with distrust at The Man because of the way the city has been dealt dirty so often.
YES, this was a car town, was a factory town, but it isn’t anymore.
Those jobs remain but so too do education jobs, medical jobs, jobs in law, and tons and tons of service jobs.
We have such arm’s length admiration for the life of the laborer that we miss that our service industry people have been the literal frontlines through all the madness and chaos.
I remember working as a register jockey for several jobs and while most people were fine, the ones that were jerks poisoned the rest of the day.
We romanticize the notion of all these American cities on the skids, the once celebrated places of industry now fallen on hard times. We want to watch but not help. We want to discuss and dissect but not invest.
We wanna come to watch and make documentaries about it but not work for the change that can help the people there.
That’s our country though.
Educated idiots that won’t lift their butts to poo.
The American auto industry is swell but, like every other industry, it is a beast that is fed greedily by money, and the best way to make money is to cut costs and the best way to do that is to move out of town. So, they do. They move where they can get deals on taxes and land and labor. They rake in billions but then ask if someone else can foot the bill.
I am glad we have these folks and these jobs but imagine a world where they actually cared enough about their workers and the people who buy their products enough to stick around and make their products in the places that need them.
Sure, that’s an oversimplification of a complicated topic – and one which we benefit from when overseas manufacturers come here to make their vehicles – but then so too is the complexion of a city. We want to look at it through a simple lens, not through the kaleidoscopic one that is closer to reality.
Yes, there is gasoline spilled on this soil, but we never got comfortable enough to grow rusty. Our people have always been hustling, always been working, and always been looking for the starlight on a cloudy night.
We are not statistics.
We are not defects.
We are not conspiracies.
We are not malfeasance.
We are a community that is often at odds with itself but is still here fighting and surviving.
We are the people doing your taxes, teaching your kids, preaching to the faithful, cleaning your toilets, making your hamburgers, answering your phones, cleaning your teeth, and on and on and on.
We are more than rust covered hobos, waiting on the train out of town.
We are here.
We never left.
We are building with the leftover cinder and steel.
We are carving our lives out of lead covered pipes.
I am happy to have stories told, and to have people tell the tales of the line but don’t forget the rest of us, still here, smiling, laughing, singing, screwing, dancing, and looking to the sun because we don’t want your pity.
We want your investment.
We want you.
There’s plenty of work to do and we need the hands.