I get the "is it true you should never stop for gas in Detroit because you'll be beaten and robbed" question a lot. Here's your answer.
Earlier this month, Quinn Klinefelter, a morning-show host at Detroit's public radio station, WDET, was riding with his wife up the freeway when they got a flat tire. They stopped at a gas station on the eastside — the eastside! — and were worried at first. After all, gas stations in the city can be unfriendly places.
Klinefelter may have a recognizable voice, but he's definitely not easily recognized in public. What happened next will blow your mind:
Last Friday I was in a car driving along I-94 when the tire blew out. We limped off the freeway to a barren gas station on the east side of Detroit in a section police say numbers among the most crime-ridden in the city (Ed. note: The 205.). Sadly we did not have a functioning jack in the car so we called for road side assistance. A knot of people at the station looked us over a bit suspiciously – a white couple in a solidly-black neighborhood. For myself I did not care if they were black, white or purple – this was supposed to be a dangerous area. I tucked my wallet in the glove box and got out of the car as one guy approached wearing a stained baseball cap sideways on his head. "Coming from a Tigers' game?" he asked. "No," I said, "I'm with public radio!" His blank look made it clear that meant nothing to him. Then he glanced at the blown tire, told us to wait and he'd be back in a moment.
Sure enough he returned a few minutes later armed with…a lug wrench…and a jack. He lifted the car off the ground and strained to remove the lug nuts — all but a single rusty one that refused to budge. Then a second, older gent got out of a pick-up truck bearing an even shinier, stronger lug wrench. The pair bent over the wheel, the older guy grunting and offering suggestions as both wrestled with that last lug nut. It finally came free and the spare tire was quickly in place. The men smiled, turned and went back to their vehicles. They did not ask for money…they did not ask for anything.
But wait! Klinefelter wasn't called racial slurs or beaten within an inch of his life? These random black people didn't try to steal his car? They weren't thugs collecting food stamps and other government benefits, preying on the hapless suburbanites who dared entered their turf?
Nope, just common do-gooder Detroiters lending a helping hand. It may seem pointless anywhere else in the country for a radio guy to talk about strangers helping him with a flat tire. But here in Detroit, where all of our nonstop media coverage falls on two ends of the axis — trendy, white entrepreneurs cornered in a few areas of town, and devastatingly impoverished blacks on the other side of the tracks — it's easy to forget that Detroit is chock-full of regular people doing regular shit and going about their regular-ass lives.
Yes, we do need to hear more stories like these. Yes, we do have to talk about the racial aspect. Yes, we do have to celebrate the mundane and the ordinary sometimes.
You can listen to Klinefelter's entire essay in the Soundcloud below.