Detroit Guilt

When news broke that Detroit would be filing for bankruptcy I braced myself for the incoming artillery.

There would be the usual Detroit jokes. The usual bashing and photos of abandoned buildings. All of the things I have come to expect whenever Detroit or Michigan are in the news.

I have yet to unclench my teeth. You guys keep bashing and now Washington is in on the act.

This is what happens when Democrats run your town for decades! 

This is what happens when UNIONS are in charge! 

My jaw is now locked so hard it hurts.

I can’t do this anymore. This fight over the place I was born and raised is now on my weekend morning shows while I sit in Los Angeles, my adopted home. That’s right, I live in Los Angeles.

Yes, let me have it. I left.

I left Detroit.

I abandoned the city and state like so many others. I suppose it doesn’t matter the reason. My husband works in the entertainment industry. His job is LA-centric and that’s just how it goes.

The House I Grew Up In
The house I grew up in.

But what you may not understand is that if I could go back, I would. If I could find a way to be part of the solution, I would. In fact, I am and I have. But none of that matters when you have Detroit Guilt the size of the Detroit River because you live in Los Angeles and can not be a practical, present part of the solution.

We ex-Detroiters…we are a hearty bunch. We find each other in states from California to Florida and band together. My husband laughs. He calls us the ‘Michigan Mafia’ because no matter where we go, inevitably I find someone from Michigan and we bond over our home state.

Detroit Guilt.

We bond over whatever reason we left and we feel the need to defend and remember. Remember all the things we love and all the things we want to help fix. The people. The food. The culture.

We may be Democrats or Republicans but when we talk about the fall of the city we talk about corruption. Something neither party can escape. And something this lifelong Dem always assumed was rampant in big city politics – especially Detroit’s. I never associated my party with the city’s leaders because the city’s leaders were always in trouble. Corruption, unfortunately, has been a mainstay since my childhood in Detroit’s City Hall.

Luckily, good ideas and smart people have always been a mainstay too. Just enough to show me the potential and the glorious past. Just enough to always leave me with hope things will get better.

That hope has never left. Not then. Not now.

We can argue if you think it’s the union’s fault if you want. I find that pointless and an attack on workers. Hard workers. People who, like my grandfather, needed the unions to make sure he could provide for his children and collect a pension. Yes, that word – pension- that has all of DC in a tizzy. The pension that all workers bargained for and received and were promised. I don’t care if times are tough and hard decisions must be made. Promises were made many, many decades ago and I don’t see millions being taken from executive pay. This is just one more way to screw the worker. And now they are finding ways to do it DECADES later. From the very people who kept Detroit going. From the very people who stayed and worked and raised families and poured money into the local bakeries and boutiques and bars. From the very people who gave to your kids’ fundraisers even when times were tough and brought a six-pack when they wanted to bring an expensive bottle of wine. Because that is what Detroiters DO. What hard workers DO.

They also honor their word.

Maybe that’s what all of this comes down to…it’s the people of Michigan. The ones that haunt my dreams and call me back.

Detroit Guilt.

There are abandoned homes and cities and areas all over this country. There are bad parts of town in every major metropolitan area. We hear about them in passing on the news every single night from shootings, to stabbings, to press conferences about revitalization. What is it about my hometown that makes me feel responsible even after leaving so long ago? People move all the time. In this day and age, people move and move and move some more. How many of them still pine for their ‘home’ and still slip and call it ‘home’ when home is clearly 3,000 miles on another coast?

Detroit isn’t a punchline. It isn’t some Democrat or Republican legislative hole where bad ideas go to thrive and good ideas are abandoned. There is certainly plenty of blame to go around and there has been for many years. I know where I place much of the blame and it has nothing to do with political party and much more to do with fear of the ‘other.’

How many of you can tell me right now where the line is back ‘home?’ And you know exactly which line I’m talking about.

When I lived in Metro-Detroit it was right around Beaconsfield. Maybe a street or two over. One side of the street looked beautiful. The other in a constant state of disrepair. Just around the corner is where the liqueur stores and pawn shops and iron bars on the windows began. Just around the other corner you had to squint to find the start of a pothole…even in winter.

When white flight completely emptied the city of a race, it also took many of the jobs. Did you know Detroit’s suburbs are some of the richest in the US?

“Oakland County, for example, is the fourth wealthiest county in the United States, of counties with a million or more residents. Greater Detroit — which includes the suburbs — is among the nation’s top five financial centers, the top four centers of high-technology employment, and the second-biggest source of engineering and architectural talent.” -Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration.

Not hard to believe when everyone I know moved out of the city and into the suburbs, my father and mother’s families included, and my family keep moving further north. By the time I moved out of Michigan my parents were near Port Huron. They are now in Florida. The remainder of my family in Michigan are all in suburbs and have been for decades.

So who remains? That line tells the story. It always has. The line between black and white.

They want to say it comes down to pensions. Unions. Republican Governors. 8-years of a Republican President. Decades of Democrat Mayors. No. I say it comes down to what is always comes down to: that line.

Detroit Guilt.

I watched as a kid as our school just over that line got more money than the other. We heard on the news about textbook shortages. About preschool being non-existent for the poor kids because their parents had to work two jobs and still couldn’t afford the extra it would cost. I remember getting involved, by way of working on student newspapers, at places like Focus:HOPE. I remember having a very hard time understanding why the funding was always there for crisp, white, new football uniforms at some of these schools yet not a dime for much-needed classroom materials.

That line was a tricky one. It hurt to realize you grew up in one of the most segregated regions in the country.

It’s one of the rare things I despise about the city I love.

Detroit Guilt. 

There are some big messes that need cleaning in Motown. Really big. But nothing is going to get fixed if all the nation has are jokes and punch lines or the ludicrous idea that my grandfather, as he lays in his nursing home on the West Side (of Detroit) should suffer a deduction in his pension. And yes, I said ‘the nation.’ Because while I am happy to leave many things up to a state and it’s locals…Detroit is bigger than us all.

Even if I throw away the guilt of leaving, and add in helping, this Detroit mess will take innovation and tech and creativity and well.. you get the idea. So I don’t think limiting the pool of talent is wise or advisable if we are truly serious about getting the job done.

Not to mention, showing the city off as an example when different people can reach across the aisle.

And I think I realize why all this Detroit Guilt after all: it’s because Detroit really is about the people – making Detroit like family. Nothing making you more angry, or more proud than family. And nothing makes you feel more guilty.

Family also beckons you home. You may not be able to live with them any longer, but you certainly don’t leave them abandoned. You also may not visit as much as you’d like either, but you make sure you keep up with, at the very least, the latest news through relatives.

Detroit is family. And family is forever.

Kinfolk Vacation

Vacation with family in the South day #1:

My son learned to whittle with a pocket knife (and loved every second of it, making all three of his cousins Harry Potter wands and making his grandfather very happy).

My son is in the country for sure. He just widdled whiddled widdled ? A wand

My daughter baked and played Barbies.

And #allhailhala is baking

She also avoided, like the plague, the baby that came to visit. She really does not like babies.
We’re ok with this. We hope this helps come her teen years.

My body is tired but holding up. North Carolina is wet and has large mosquitoes and Moral Monday, which I really wish I was here to attend. But again, family first.


I sobbed on my husband’s shoulder begging for relief…

when. when will we catch a break? it all has to stop. it just has to stop. now. i can’t take this any more. it’s not fair. when will it stop?

It may have been one of my worst moments dealing with the news that one of my most beloved Aunts has been moved to hospice and it’s only a matter of time.

Hala and Aunt Georgiann

I got the kids to school and went immediately to see my doctor and was told I am not healthy enough to travel. So when the time comes, I can’t be there. I can’t be with my family who needs me and I can’t say good bye. I can’t read at her funeral like she read at my wedding and I am so very tired of all the ‘can’ts’ in my life.

I have spent 48 hours keeping myself in check while the kids are looking, so I don’t scare them anymore with my tears. I have told them and my husband and my brother and my cousins just how much I love them over and over because I am so very tired of losing people that mean so very much and I refuse the miss out on letting those I love KNOW that I love them.

I have thought about how to best pay my respects to my Aunt who did nothing but give herself, her life, to everyone else. She was there for me always. She was my sponsor for my confirmation. She never missed a birthday or a holiday or any of my surgeries with a card or a pair of pjs or even some flowers. We had this love of sunflowers together. And we’d send them to each other whenever we could.

When the time comes I am in charge of making sure there are sunflowers at her funeral. From me. It’s a task I dread and yet will do with love. For her. Because it’s all I can do.

My kids didn’t get nearly enough time with her. They knew she always sent ornaments at Christmas and gifts for their birthdays. They remember the summer in Michigan fishing off the docks. They know her from our wedding photos, and how she was so nervous reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning for me. But she did it, for me.

My other Aunt held the cell phone to her ear for me the other night and I rambled off as much as I could when you only have a few moments to say everything you’d like to say over a lifetime. I told her I loved her. But I also begged her to fight. And then I eventually told her I would see her soon.

I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye.

For as long as I can remember she was one of the remaining relatives who went to Mass every Sunday. So I did the only thing I knew to do and packed up the kids and headed to our local church to light a candle for her. And the doors were locked. The church doors were locked.

I was so angry the doors of a church were locked when I needed to light that candle. I had to light that candle. Didn’t they know my Aunt was dying? Didn’t they understand that lighting a candle was all I could do? Who locks church doors? Shouldn’t they be open so people can pray whenever they need to pray? Or light a candle to Mary or any other Saint they choose?

I can’t believe that not only am I unable to get on a plane to be with my family in Detroit, but I can’t even manage to light a candle. Failure thy name is Erin.

Just this once, I am asking the universe for a break. Let her pass without suffering. Let her be at peace. And please let my family be comforted. She was a selfless woman, who deserves that much. And my family has been through enough.

I love you Aunt Georgiann.

Let He Who Is Without Sin

Paying close attention to the debate over American Muslims, mosques, and religion and ideology leading up to this September 11th, something has been bothering me.

It’s subtle really. One of those talking points we’ve heard endless times on cable news and blogs and in facebook debates with family and friends.

They are barbaric. They STONE their women. They are not peaceful.

They, of course, being Muslims.

I have yet to find anyone who isn’t appalled by the stoning of a woman. I have yet to find an American not shocked by the treatment of a gender in some parts of the world, Muslim nations included.

But I’ve realized what, about this debate, has been bugging me:

All these American men calling out the stoning of a woman as “barbaric” while so many American women still suffer domestic violence at home. All these men of a certain generation, and a certain region, and a certain culture- using the stoning as if they are suddenly aware that women are often beaten, raped, treated as less than equals.

I watched a family member post about this on facebook- condemning (and rightfully so) the stoning of women by extreme Muslims all the while I was thinking “but your Dad beat your Mom, your Dad beat you…yet you sit on your high horse about how this culture operates…”

I’m thankful the treatment of women globally has become a concern for some of these friends and family members…many of whom I know for a fact either suffered or saw domestic abuse in their own homes. However their sudden and vehement disgust at how extremists operate in other countries rings hollow for me, when they seem to turn a blind eye to what has happened in their own families over the years.

Was it not my grandmother’s generation that saw domestic abuse ignored and endorsed by police?

Nothing but a family matter here, sometimes these women have it coming.

Was it not my mother’s generation that bore the stigma of the “women who left” and the “women who stayed” – where I can’t tell you how many times my Dad or Mom had to enter a certain family member’s home to hide or try to take away guns and grab kids.

Not too many years ago I sat in a “hardshell” Christian church where as a woman, I needed to be separated from my husband and son.

“Well that was just a different time and those people have different ways”- was the excuse given.

The things we dismiss in our own families, in our own history, in our own culture while we call other barbarians and evil and anything but peaceful.

While Americans are in an uproar over extremists Islamic practice, we seem to fail to realize our culture can be just a brutal and our extremists just as barbaric. Or worse, hidden below the surface, where instead of a public stoning we have an Aunt who “bumped into a door” or a niece “not allowed” to wear a skirt above her shin.

While the rhetoric continues to fly, and more seem to have epiphanies about the treatment of women, I hope they also look in their own communities and remember we are not so different. We are not so much better. And we certainly are not innocent.

I encourage you to drop the holier-than-thou act, pretending this land far away is so foreign and strange and evil, while your own country and men so pure and good.

The only difference I see is these men don’t care what the world thinks and openly treat their women poorly, while you hide the cuts on your knuckles and fan away your own cultural and family history as “things were different then” or “that’s just not how that part of the family works.”

There is no excuse. Ever. Not in Iran. Not in Saudi Arabia. And certainly not here in the United States.

Yes, I went camping in West Virginia

It rained most of the time. I was, let’s just be honest, miserable. I hate bugs. I hope all bugs die in a fire. I hate rain. I hope all rain dies in a fire.

What I DO like…I do like S’mores. And I really, really liked watching how happy my kids were playing in the field, picking wild blackberries, finding salamanders, driving tractors, and generally having a fantastic time.

Omfg look who just drove up the mountain

However I really do prefer room service and indoor plumbing.

A Case For the Auto Industry Bailout

I’m no economist. I don’t play one on tv either. But I’ve watched the government try ways to shore up this economy and so far, none of it has affected me personally.

I did get that stimulus check, which we used to pay off bills (like we were going to go SHOPPING????) however the recent Wall Street bailout hasn’t made it to my pocketbook. By the looks of how things are going, won’t be inching near my checking account either.

Yesterday came word President-Elect Obama discussed an auto industry bailout in his meeting with President Bush. Today House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on leaders to work with the Bush Administration to “craft legislation to provide emergency and limited financial assistance to the automobile industry under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act.”

My ears perked up and my heart started to race. This is one economic issue I do know a bit about. Not because I understand how it all works, but because I was born and raised in the ‘burbs of Detroit.

Again, I’m not econ wonk by any stretch. But I know what I see.

My hometown needs jobs. People I know and love need plants to stay open, parts to keep on the shelves, and suppliers to stay in business. When a plant goes down an entire town goes down. Detroit isn’t one of your ‘least favorite cities to visit’ for no reason.

Yes, there have been serious flaws with the Big Three for many, many years from management to unions to everything in between. However the Big Three has kept my mid-west going for generations and they need help.


Many of you don’t think they deserve help. Certainly not your tax dollars. Let them fall into bankruptcy with their crappy cars and their poor management like any business should when it stinks, right?

Megan McArdle at the Atlantic seems to think so. She writes,

“People don’t want to buy their cars. People have not wanted to buy their cars for years. The only category in which they excel is the one in which foreign automakers barely compete because of gas taxes: light trucks. Without light trucks, they die. Even if people did want to buy their cars, they couldn’t survive their legacy costs, which are vastly higher than what their competitors pay *in the United States*. The Big Three union model is simply not sustainable. That “massive” renegotiation didn’t fix their problems; it merely staved off the date of the projected bankruptcy. That’s why the stock has been heading south pretty steadily for nearly a decade, as has GM’s credit rating, which hit junk long before the credit crisis. Perhaps you have seen something that all the investors, analysts, and creditors missed. But the company seems to me to have been in trouble for a long long time, and its turnaround strategy based on waiting for the price of oil to drop so it wouldn’t lose so much money on light trucks.”

As an OWNER of a Chrysler (yes, some of us DO buy American, Megan)I would contend that JD Powers shows American cars totally competitive with their foreign counterparts. The past several years have seen more than an effort to transform the American auto industry quality and the proof is in the ratings.

However Megan is joined by many others, like Betsy who writes,

“We should not be rewarding the Big Three’s shoddy management. If we continue down this road, where will we stop? Are we going to be bailing out every large company that makes bad decisions and then goes under? Is Circuit City next? Will the only companies that we don’t bail out be the small mom and pop businesses that are small enough to fail?”

And even if you are angry about the hole Detroit has dug itself into, consider what Laurie David writes,

“These companies invited their impending destiny, and some have argued they ought to face the consequences of the market without federal intervention. But the fact is that America can’t afford to lose the millions of jobs Detroit provides and the opportunity to lead on a manufacturing product that will see explosive foreign sales in the near future, especially in China and India.”

So where does that leave us? Agreement that GM, Chrysler, and Ford have done a crappy job and everyone is to blame. Fine. How do we fix it?

Sending these companies packing is not an option in my book. The American Industrial complex is one steeped in innovation and inspiration AND THE LIVELIHOOD OF MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS.

This is not like Circuit City closing down, or some Mom and Pop shop going under so please spare me those ‘then who’s next’ comparisons. Think of it more like the airlines, or like the recent bank and mortgage companies. It’s an entire INDUSTRY that is the heartbeat of the mid-west and beyond.

For those thinking I’m just playing partisan politics here, I should be very clear- yes I grew up union, yes I am a Democrat, but I don’t give two flying flips who is squeaking who’s wheels or paying back for votes. I want jobs, and I want them now. If the GOP had a plan to help my family and friends, I’d be behind it and considering it just as much as any Pelosi backed bailout measure.

I can’t stress it enough- this is not about politics. This is about my cousin not seeing her husband for weeks on end because he’s had to take a job in another state. This is about my high school friends back in school working on another degree because their jobs no longer exist. This is about everyone that’s left and moved to Arizona or California or Florida.

I don’t want to see a hand-out for these companies either, so don’t mistake me for some ‘socialist.’ (insert eyeroll here)

I agree with David, “Congress should set strict guidelines to ensure that Detroit moves as quickly as possible to get clean cars into American driveways where they can help power a new smart grid like the one Al Gore described in Sunday’s New York Times. Congress should also open the process beyond the Big 3, offering financial support to smaller entrepreneurial carmakers for large-scale production of their innovative all-electric and plug-in hybrid prototypes which lack financing to move from the concept contests and into dealer showrooms and consumer hands.

It’s past time for Detroit to get serious about regaining America’s once-proud role as a leader in automotive engineering. Congress must hold the automakers accountable in any bailout to ensure that our clean car ‘future’ starts now.”

…and now can’t come soon enough for me and mine.

*I fully expect my cousin Rick to weigh in on the comments. He’s still in the metro-Detroit area, unlike myself who moved away over 10 years ago.

cross posted at
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Dear Senator McCain, Why Not Just Piss On Detroit ala a Calvin And Hobbes Bumper Sticker

…because it would be less painful. And messy.

I actually caught your interview not too long ago on WXYZ in Detroit.  You know, the one where you said you’ve bought American literally your whole life?


Let me break this down for you as only a girl born and raised in Michigan can:

If you’ve literally bought American your whole life, ‘Sheed is an anger management expert.

Even if we DON’T count the Toyota your daughter owns (the one you bragged about buying her and then tried to tell us you didn’t buy) you still have a VW, a Lexus, and a Honda.

The last I checked, those cars are not made by any of the people I grew up with , my family members, or my neighbors from back in the day.

But let’s go ahead and pretend what kind of car(s) you own isn’t a big deal. Heck, we own a Prius in this house. We own a Family and Friends deal Chrsyler too…but, I digress. Let’s just get to the real meat of the issue and hear your plans to save the city in which I spent my youth.

Oh, that’s right. You don’t have any.

As I hear it, you’ve failed to support American auto manufacturers with loans to help them build the next generation of fuel efficient vehicles. And just like in your WXYZ interview, you LIED to Michigan and claimed to support these loans, but you actually have a record of opposing them. The first time they came around, you flat out denied them. You even went as far as to dismiss the idea last month as “predicting failure on the part of the automakers.”

Did I mention here the Obama family only owns one car? A Ford hybrid.

Did I also mention Senator Obama has a plan that includes NEW jobs for Detroit and a revitalization of the auto industry? Oh, and a nice plan for our Great Lakes just to put some icing on that cake….

No lies there. Just solid plans. Bold plans.

What did Michigan get from you, Senator McCain? A few speeches and stops at our nuclear (which your running mate can’t pronounce) plants.

Senator, you lied to Michigan. You lied to Detroit. You lied to my friends. You lied to my family.

And now they all know.


We took down the ribbon.

My daughter takes down the yellow ribbon, her uncle is home!

We retired the flag.

Retiring our Flag

15 months. Second time. Safe.


Now I’m off to Denver to see our next President who will hopefully bring ALL our brave men and women home.