That one time Detroit was on fire.

Posted: April 6, 2016 in Detroit, Fire, Nikola Jajic, Sales trip, Travel
Tags: , , , , , ,

It was at least the twentieth time I was retelling the same anecdote. I was at a dinner party, or out for a drink, or perhaps alone in a dark room, staring up at where I thought a ceiling fan should be. After repeating the same story enough times, the where doesn’t really matter. And that’s not the important part, anyhow.

The anecdote, or whatever you want to call it, has been officially retired. Except for this blog. But this is different. Perhaps, this is a moment of self-awareness. Or is it self-reflection? Either way, It has to have something to do with the self. After all, having a blog is as Me! Me! Me! as one can get.

It wasn’t the incident that rubbed me the wrong way. It’s my perspective on it. My take on the situation. Or lack thereof. Was I unintentionally reaffirming what most people who haven’t been to Detroit have always suspected? Maybe.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story:

March 5th, 2014

My phone alarm began to chirp. Morning songbirds by way of auto-tune. It was 6:30 a.m. and I was in Detroit. And Detroit was on fire.

I opened the drapes of my hotel room window. Nine or ten stories up. I couldn’t remember. The sunrise was partially blotted out by plumes of smoke in the distance. From what, I did not know. I brushed my teeth and watched as the dark swirls twisted and expanded, reaching higher into the sky. Like the city was exhaling a foreboding drag from its last cigarette. I continued brushing, Crest’s whitening power played tug of war for a superior color hue. This was a losing battle.

I turned on the television. With remote in hand, and toothbrush in mouth, I watched as the newscaster filled me in. Detroit was on fire. The reporter interviewed a distraught, middle-aged African American woman. Behind them, the billowing smoke paced ominously. Through her growing tears, the woman explained that the entire apartment complex went up in flames, along with everything she ever had.

I turned away from the television, and gazed out at the city in the distance. I was in the suburbs, after all. More than half of the people who say they’ve travelled to Detroit, or are from Detroit, are actually talking about their time in the suburbs of Detroit.

Detroit just sounds cooler, until you live there, and your city is on fire. It was all happening right outside of my window. Maybe twenty blocks away? Thirty perhaps? Not far at all. Yet a world away.

I dumped the remote and stored the brush. It was time to go. And like all salesmen, seasoned in the game of business travel, there was a checklist to contend with, and a deadline to do it under.

Shower. Check.

Hair combed and deodorant applied. Check and double check.

Yesterday’s fashion faux pas, and today’s dirty clothes? Stuffed into the laundry bag. Triple check.

The button on my suitcase was now engaged, the handle expanding telescopically to waist level. Ka-chink. My middle-class switch blade. Checkmate.

A Terminator like scan of the room. Phone, keys, watch, and wallet. A glance in the mirror. Checklist complete. Hasta la vista, baby.

Thirty expertly maneuvered minutes, from beginning to end. As close as I’ll ever get to taking a gun apart while blindfolded.

Detroit was on fire and I was passing through the suburbs. But when I told the tale it sounded way funnier. And that’s why this is a retirement party.

 

The news coverage of the fire that I was watching that morning:

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