Of Parking and the Two Detroits

By law, most people don’t have any particular claim to the street space in front of their house, unless they’ve gotten a handicap parking space. But sometimes laws don’t deal with human experience very well. If I’m legally bound to clear ice and snow from the city property adjacent to my house, and if I’ve grown up in a neighborhood—no, a city, where most people went by the unspoken rule that you don’t park in front of other people’s houses, especially not if you can easily avoid it, it isn’t hard to predict that I will be more than a little miffed at people choosing to park in front of my house when they are not my guests and had other options available to them. Add to this the fact that the people now doing this are guests of gentrifiers, while I will probably not be able to afford buying a house in my own neighborhood no matter how hard I work or how much longer I go around with a $100/year prepaid flip phone in my 13-year old pre-owned vehicle that I’ve only had for two years, and well…I’m pretty annoyed. I’ve taken to confronting these people and so far most have had the decency to move their cars but I can’t help thinking, “Why are you doing it at all? Did you not see the huge empty lot kitty corner from here? Did it not occur to you that in a city without good mass transit other people might have cars too?

The Status Quo Dressed in Progress’ Clothing

There used to be a fiberglass factory across the street from my house. Maybe when it was first built in the late 1890s it was an apartment building. But by the time my family moved from rented housing elsewhere in Southwest Detroit to our first home in 2001, the building was a fiberglass factory. The lot next to it was vacant, so the workers would park there. There were never any problems. Granted, I didn’t have a car at the time, so if someone parked in front of my mother’s house (which the next-door neighbors’ guests sometimes did) it didn’t bother me much. It always annoyed my mother though. A few years later the factory closed down, and the building sat vacant for several years.

Around 2013 we started seeing people going in and out of the building. Then stuff getting taken out. Eventually a letter came from the city saying the building had been purchased and the buyers wanted to convert it to three housing units, which would require a rezoning, and that there would be a hearing if neighbors wanted to express any concerns. As they were also taking the side lot, we didn’t think there was anything to be concerned about. Assuming 3 cars per unit (2 for the residents and 1 for a guest), that would be 9 cars. One vacant lot was enough for 9 cars. No problem! How nice that the vacant building would soon have tenants and they would have a place to park.

But that’s not what happened, because the owners only used half of the lot for parking. They seemed to have made some sort of garden-ish patio-ish thing in the other half.

Every weekend 10 completely different people show up, park in front of my house and the neighbors’ houses, and walk into that building. I get home from work at 9PM and can’t park in front of where I live. Yes, legally no one ever guaranteed me this convenience. But I don’t park in front of other people’s houses if I have an alternative that wouldn’t inconvenience anybody, such as these people do despite the building owners’ inconsiderate decision not to turn their whole side lot into parking space for their tenants and their guests.

Kitty-corner from my house is a huge vacant lot. The grass is always mowed and there’s a streetlight on the corner. It’s large enough to hold 3 single-family homes with big yards. So the street space in front of this corner lot is enough for 6 or 7 cars to park in without running afoul of parking laws. That’s enough for all the dinner party guests. Do they park there, even after I suggest it? No.

Because you want US to watch your car for you, don’t you!

Anyone would feel more secure leaving their shiny new vehicle in front of a house instead of a completely vacant lot, right?

So wait, lemme get this straight: you inconvenience me and my family by parking in front of my house but you want the convenience of extra security and being close to your destination? While I—the resident who would get in trouble if that same spot were ever full of more than one cubic yard of bulk trash or snow or weeds growing in between the cracks in the concrete—have to go park elsewhere?

Well ain’t that something! Que bonito!

It adds insult to injury to know the unholy rent price of those units. I Googled the address and found that the larger unit went for nearly $3,000 a month and the smaller one for nearly $2,000 a month. For comparison’s sake, my mother’s mortgage payments on her 3 bedroom 2 bathroom house were about $800/month; and most Detroit renters I know who are in about my same age & income brackets are paying $400-$700/month depending on location and how many roommates they have.

When Mike Duggan won reelection and his supporters started chanting “One Detroit!” I had to roll my eyes. I got your two Detroits right here on one street.

Isn’t it enough you’re gentrifying my neighborhood? Can some Old Detroiters at least park by their house in peace?

Detroit isn’t a city where you can assume most people are relying on mass transit. If you see a single-family home you can safely bet the residents there have at least one car. But a quick look up and down the street reveals most people have two.

There’s the family that needs a wheelchair van. So they have multiple vehicles. The families with their little work cars and one big pleasure car. The family with the two work vehicles and the classic car. We—a household of four adults—have three cars between us. So even with one car in the garage and one in the driveway, one needs to be on the street.

One more thing to consider: it is illegal, at least in Detroit, to park within 17 feet of an intersection. The neighbors to the intersection-side of us have gotten parking tickets for having their car too close to the corner. So when two strangers park their cars in front of my house, if one of us parked in front of our neighbor’s house, then we would be leaving them without legal space to park in in front of their house. That’s not fair either.

A while ago the landlady in that building was going around telling neighbors to protest the city’s dealings with the Ambassador Bridge Company. They’re trying to take the neighborhood.

It’s true. And it pisses me off.

But this neighborhood might be lost to me either way. As an educator I will probably never make enough money to buy a house in my increasingly expensive neighborhood like I always dreamed of. I can only hope that between the four of us we will be able to keep paying the utilities and the ever-increasing tax & water bills. At the end of the day, it doesn’t make a difference to someone like me whether it’s Moroun or gentrifiers taking my neighborhood as their pie. I’m up the creek without a paddle either way.

Is this progress for the neighborhood? Yes, when you consider a “neighborhood” nothing but a collection of bricks and mortar and anonymous sources of tax revenue. Is it really progress when all it does is repeat the all too common cycle of displacement?

The Bagley Pedestrian Bridge was supposed to have metaphorically “healed” the neighborhood of the gash the construction of I-75 caused decades ago. Things on this side of the freeway started looking up. Now, here we are again.

Meanwhile the people across the street continue with their blasted dinner parties and don’t have the consideration to tell their guests to freaking carpool like any decent person would.

You know where I park when I go visit friends who live in Midtown? In my university’s paid parking lots. I PAY to park before I go do some assholery by taking a local resident’s space. Or I ride my bike to avoid having to deal with parking altogether. Or I take the bus. I make a conscious decision about what I will do to not be a jerk. Because I know that cars need to be parked somewhere. And I know that someone coming home from work or Life doesn’t give a rat’s ass that they legally don’t have any claim to exclusive use of the street space in front of their house.

A little bit of consideration, folks. That’s all it is.

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On Becoming Able to Interact With People Right When People Interact More With Their Phones

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but this made me want to write it down. I don’t have any IKEA furniture so I don’t know if they’re any good, but their commercial sure is hilarious. I love the super serious painter and the tense string music.

I’m not here to lament, necessarily, that people are supposedly losing the ability to communicate face-to-face, that they’re slaves to their screens, or what have you, but rather to share why I feel particularly…ironic? out of place? being toyed with by the Universe? when I find myself in a group of people who are all in their smartphones.

I’ve lived most of my life with relatively little interaction with anyone other than my mother and two brothers, and with us studying/working long hours, sticking to different schedules, moving in and out, etc., sharing a permanent address hasn’t always meant really sharing a life. So basically, I’ve felt alone most of the time.

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—

“The Raven” may have drawn me to Edgar Allen Poe, but “Alone” was the first (and for two decades, the only) work that I could, as they say, “really relate to.” At least up to the part quoted above. He kinda lost me for a bit with the fountain to the red cliff and the mountain but when the demon comes in I think I get it again.

Anyway, as a child, I was never good at starting conversations. I’d talk your ear off once you lent it to me, but I was never the one to ask for it. In 10th grade, at the beginning of the school year, I didn’t know anybody in my lunch hour. Somewhat mortified, I sat down at a table by myself in Old Cass Tech’s huge cafeteria. But I came up with a solution to my problem of being alone: I buried my face in my textbooks as I ate my school lunch, pretending to study. This way, I figured, other kids wouldn’t look at me and think, “She’s eating by herself,” they’d look at me and think, “She’s busy studying.” Some nice juniors eventually invited me over to their table, and I sat with them the rest of the year, but the habit of pretending to be deeply engaged in something while out in public to try to draw attention away from the fact that I was alone persisted through my undergraduate days. Although by then I was also doing it because heaven forbid fat people eat in public, but that’s another story. The main thing I want to point out here is that I frequently made a visible display of disengaging from society because I felt myself unable to make any other choice.

Eventually I grew older and just a tad wiser, less neurotic perhaps, and became able to engage with people a bit more normally. But when a protracted job hunt led to me working from home, I ended up, once again, seriously deprived of meaningful human interaction. When I started grad school two years ago I had a really difficult time speaking because I had hardly been doing it. I started reading the textbooks out loud just to use my voice. My mouth and tongue would hurt after about 10 minutes. That’s how little I was speaking. I lived my life in front of a screen, mostly in silence.

While that was going on, I started reconnecting with a friend in Detroit. She started inviting me to things like Slow Roll and Bikes & Yoga, and introducing me to some of her friends. I was a bit nervous at first considering how rusty I was at purely social (as opposed to work or academic) settings, but her friends were all cool people that were easy to get along with and talk to.

One day, we went on a bike ride through the city. We went to Wendy’s then went to the little park next to/below the MacArthur Bridge to eat outdoors. Once everybody finished eating, the conversation slowly died down as one by one, they took out their smartphones. I sat there. I took out my flip phone and put it on the table mostly to be an ass. Eventually my friend looked up, and we laughed about the fact that I was the only one without a smartphone.

Photo taken with a camera. The kind that can't send text messages.

Photo of my bike on the MacArthur Bridge (AKA Belle Isle Bridge), taken with a camera. The kind that can’t send text messages.

Another time, we were sitting in a coney island waiting for our order to come. Five of us. Again, the conversation slowly died down as people started using their phones. And then, there were two. That’s when the one guy in the group said something like “Ugh, what a time to have my battery die.” The other three were playing games. I said to him, “We could just like…talk.” Another friend heard that, laughed, put her phone away, said something about how people don’t know how to interact in person anymore, and slowly everyone came back to the present time and space.

I didn’t say it, but I was thinking, “You guys are the only friends I have. You guys are the only people I see on a somewhat regular basis, and even that’s just once a week. I want to hang out with you. I have finally learned how to people, but now all the people who knew how to people are always using their phones, they’re doing by choice what I had to do with books because I didn’t know what else to do, what kind of joke is this, Universe?”

To end on a less emo note, last November I had started working with a personal trainer, and I came up with the idea of using Twitter so that I could easily track what I was eating and share it with her. At first having to take a picture of everything I ate was novel, then I started playing with my food (arranging it into smiley faces and such), but after three months or so it just became another horrible chore. I did, however, take a photo of Corn Flakes that was far more dramatic than Corn Flakes has any business being:

Corn Flakes Chiaroscuro

Corn Flakes Chiaroscuro

No, wait, I lied, let’s end on a semi-emo note. XD

Support a Local Detroit Poet!

Poetry lovers in Detroit and the metro area, here’s a heads-up for you!

A friend of mine, Alicia, got accepted to go to a writers’ seminar in Prague this summer. She has a partial scholarship and has been working hard to save up and gather the rest of the money she needs to make the trip a reality. So, she will be doing a poetry reading in Detroit’s very own Spanish tapas restaurant, La Feria, on June 25th.

It's next week Wednesday!

It’s next week Wednesday! (I made this poster, but the drawing is (c) A.L. Castañeda)

If you can’t make it out to the event, but would still like to support this local talent, you can make a donation online here:

http://www.gofundme.com/pragueorbust

You can donate anonymously and any amount helps, even if it’s just as much as it costs to get a tall latté at Starbucks.

Up in the Sky

I’m flyin’ coach class, up in the sky

Sippin’ cola, livin’ the life

^o^

In a few hours, I will be getting on a plane to start this latest journey, working in Japan. It may be a while before I get internet access, so don’t expect much here until September. In the meantime, there’s plenty of amusing things in the old posts, (especially in the post right before this one, rraowww!) so enjoy!

Take care of Detroit while I’m away! Please don’t litter or pee in the new Rosa Parks Transit Center! Or anywhere else!!!

<–(((^_^)))–>

Gateway Project at 90%!

Whew! I-75 opened back up about one month ago, the new freeway ramp is up, the pedestrian bridge is nearly complete, the Vernor overpass has nearly complete parapets up on both sides, as well as nice red squares on the sidewalk. Though I’ve been tracking this project’s progress on this blog, I ironically will not see it immediately when it’s finished since I’ll be in Japan. Maybe some nice person can send me a pic.
PedBridge from SE

Taken from the corner of Vernor and (what was) the Northbound I-75 Service Drive.

Viewed from the Bagley & Southbound I-75 Service Drive

Viewed from Bagley & Southbound I-75 Service Drive

The new, wider I-75.  More lanes = more air pollution per minute! : )

The new, wider I-75. More lanes = more air pollution per minute! : )

19 Days Left in the D

19 Days Left in the D (or, “On the Way to a Bittersweet Smile”)

Virtual Cookies to whoever gets the joke! Anyway…

It’s hard to believe:  I’ve only got 19 days left in Detroit.  A careful reader of the Broken Ankle Log would know that I got a job overseas, but that’s all to the left (technically to the right but, we don’t say that do we?) and who really reads that? Anyway, it all began over 5 years ago…*ripply flashback music*

A presenter from the Consul General of Japan in Detroit came to my Japanese class to talk about the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET).  In JET, you go work in Japan for a year, generally as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for English in middle and high schools, but there are other positions.  I asked if one had to be an American citizen to join, and was informed that one had to be a citizen of a participating country.  I was still an Honduran citizen at the time, and of course, poor little Honduras is not a participating country.

In 2004 I vowed to become an American citizen if John Kerry won.  I did not want to naturalize during Dubya’s presidency.  When Bush won reelection, I kicked myself for not naturalizing precisely to help vote him out of office.  Oh well.  Instead, I spent nearly a year looking for a job, got a part time job, and then joined City Year.  During my second year in City Year, I started the naturalization process, and became an American in July 2008.  I could finally VOTE!

With the scholarship I earned in City Year, I went back to college to finish the second degree I unwittingly started years before. I planned to graduate again in two semesters, earning a second Bachelor’s in Asian Studies concentrating in Japanese.  (It ended up taking 3 semesters, but close enough.) In December 2008, finally able to, I submitted my application to the JET Program and crossed my fingers.

In late January I was overjoyed to see that I’d made it to the interview stage of the application process. I would have my interview on the 18th of February.  I could think of little else.  Then, a mere 9 days before the interview, I had that fateful encounter with a patch of black ice.  I went to my interview, the one I had been waiting on for so long, on crutches, hopped up on Vicodin, without much preparation.

Luckily, when it was “game time,” I was able to focus on the task at hand.  It’s like on America’s Next Top Model: they’ll put the girls in crazy costumes that they have to “model beyond.” I felt I had to interview beyond my temporary disability, and certainly, beyond the side effects of the Vicodin, which at the time I still had to take in relatively large doses.  In mid-April or so, I received an email saying I’d made it to the short list, meaning my place in the JET Program was almost secured.  I was happy, but physical therapy was the first thing on my mind.  I later learned I would be going to Fukuoka Prefecture.  A little later still, I heard from my predecessor (Hi, if you’re reading this!) and learned that I would be at a high school in Dazaifu, the second largest city in the prefecture.  I was so happy!

When I first had the accident, the second thing I asked the orthopedist was “will I be able to travel overseas in August?” He said yes and I was greatly relieved.  But, he said that some of the screws I would be getting should be removed within a year.  I worried about having surgery in Japan.  I’d read that even in the United States, some surgeons might use different tools for the same procedure.  What if I went to a surgeon that didn’t have the right tools to remove my hardware?  I brought it up again at my May checkup, and my orthopedist said that if my ankle’s lateral motion was still severely limited in June, he could take some of my screws out in July; that would greatly help me regain motion, plus, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting it done in Japan.  He said it could be done outpatient in the office, as it only involved making a small cut above the screw head and unscrewing it out.

Unfortunately, at the June checkup, the x-rays revealed one of the screws had broken.  This is normal according to the orthopedist (though my physical trainer and therapist were thoroughly surprised: “those things are made out of titanium!”).  Since the broken part would have to be dug out, it had to be done in the operating room.  More all-out surgery. Oh Dear Diety.  Now, it wasn’t urgent to take them out.  But the orthopedist reassured me that it would not cost nearly as much as the first surgery, that the extraction would only take 15 minutes.  I got an estimate from the hospital: 10 grand, “more or less.”  That’s a lot, but if it was just 10K or a little more, I could set up a payment plan and live with it.

A few days after the surgery, I went to view my hospital account…and saw that the surgery plus recovery time had been over $17,000.  I couldn’t even be angry. Maybe it’s just me, but while technically the phrase “ten thousand more or less” can mean anything from a penny to a million, since it was an estimate, I figured the upper limit would be some 15 grand, but given the quickness of this procedure, I didn’t think it would go up that high.  Ha!

So here I am, back in the present.  What should have been a really happy time is bittersweet.  Now, I will go on JET not just to fulfill a dream, but to pay off a debt (unless Detroit Receiving Hospital has some more mercy on my soul). Nearly all the money I had saved up to pay for my move overseas went to paying for physical therapy.

As I walk about Detroit, and now notice how many people are walking with limps, I don’t mind the $1500 I still owe the Rehabilitation Institute; without therapy, I would doubtless still be “walking all crazy.”  Before my second surgery I met a woman who was about to have the same first surgery I did, just that on her left foot.  She had recently lost her job at an auto parts supplier so she had no insurance.  She frowned when I told her the discounted price of physical therapy for those paying out of pocket, saying even that was too much for her.  I wonder, will she be one of those walking around with limps for not being able to afford even to take on the debt of therapy? Likewise, that $17K surgery, well, I can’t say I don’t feel better without those two screws, because I most certainly do.  It’s a noticeable difference.  My ankle used to be terribly stiff in the morning, but now, the first step on it is enough to get the stiffness out.  And I feel better knowing there aren’t broken pieces of metal inside me.

So, that’s how it is.  I’m happy about JET, but too worried about the debts incurred to heal this injury to be freaked out about moving to another country for a year, as a sane person should be.  Perhaps it’s a good thing that way.

Well, I made a blog that will be just for my JET experience.  There isn’t much there now, but I’ll put it in the Blogroll.  If anyone is interested, it’s Lucky Hill.  I named it that because that’s what Fukuoka (福岡) literally means. I don’t plan on abandonning Scales of Libra, it will continue to be what it is now: a place where I blog about the Two Sides of Life, erratically as usual, for the amusement and/or edification of whoever wanders by. ^_^

Gateway Project at 75-80%!

I think when I got to catch a glimpse of the progress board on-site it said 80%, but MDOT’s site says the Project is 75% complete. I’m still not walking long distances, but luckily the light turned red so I was able to snap a couple pics from the car.

The Bagley Pedestrian Bridge, viewed from the Vernor overpass.

The Bagley Pedestrian Bridge, viewed from the Vernor overpass.

View from the corner of W. Vernor & Southbound 75 service drive

View from the corner of W. Vernor & Southbound 75 service drive