Saturday, March 01, 2008

Detroit 1968 and now.... a very personal point of view.

Yesterday I was downtown to speak at a conference at GM and afterwards, with the snow and all and a few hours to spare, I meandered around for a bit and snapped a few photographs here and there. One the way back towards home, I was driving along a service road for the Lodge and suddenly, there was the school - I thought it was the same school anyway. Back in the sixties, I went to that school. Maybe. I thought. Not sure, though. I got my ass kicked a couple of times in the few months I attended Jefferson Junior High School. I was one of eleven or twelve white students there and only three of us were girls. I transferred into the school a few months after the beginning of the school year.

My mother had gotten custody from my father after many years and we now lived on Putnam Street - 1535 - just off Trumbull. Not a great neighborhood, not a terrible neighborhood. Not what I was used to but I really loved all of the old buidlings in the neighborhood.

The morning after the last day I attended this school, I got on the city bus and rode to school, reading an Isaac Asimov book. The ride was maybe ten minutes but could be boring without a book so I never missed having one with me. I was so young.

I got off the bus that morning at Selden. Went east for half a dozen blocks till I got to Miracles Blvd. The walk was slushy and wet with a winter snow that was on its way to melt.

Ahead of me, I could hear noise - bunch of teenaged boys on the overpass. I slowed down, hoping they'd take off before I got there. I was within about half a block, watching warily and wondering if I had the guts to cross that bridge. Whatever was going on wasn't good. Then, as I watched, a bunch of the boys in the group picked up another boy and heaved him over the side of the overpass onto the freeway below.

I must have lost my book then because I didn't have it with me when I got home. I turned around and walked back the way I came. I didn't catch a bus when I got to Trumbull. I didn't come out of my room for three or four days - I don't really remember for sure exactly how many. I refused to go back to the school. Up till then, I'd been a pretty easy-going kid but nothing my mother could say or do was going to make me go back over that overpass again.

Half a mile or so after I first spotted the building yesterday, I turned around and wound my way back and checked and sure enough, Jefferson Junior High. I parked. Sat and thought. Wondered, as I have over and over again over the years, how something like that could have happened. I was never able to clearly picture any of the kids on that overpass that day - wasn't even sure they were all boys, but the majority of them were. The sounds of their anger - that I remember a lot more clearly than anything else. I took a couple of pictures. Thought about going inside but couldn't really think of a good reason to do so. Not even sure I could have gotten out of the car.

After a bit, two young girls walked past - one of them hollered at me, "Hey, lady, whatcha doing?" I hollered back, "Waiting for you to smile!" She did, I did, I snapped a photograph, put the car in drive and went home.