286px-Seal_of_Detroit,_Michigan.svgI grew up in Detroit, and even though I haven’t lived there since I was 18, I’m still a Michigander at heart. 

I’m also a (retired) bankruptcy attorney.

You can probably tell where this is going. 

I own a Detroit municipal bond. It’s a sewer bond, which means that the interest payments are funded by revenue from Detroit’s municipal sewer system. (A sewer system that, in my youth, served me well.)

I inherited the bond from my father when he died in 2006.  

Although I knew about Detroit’s financial problems, I’ve hung onto my Detroit muni. It was a little part of Detroit. It was from Dad.  And, to be sure, it was paying 5.5 percent, an interest rate that was hard to beat.  

Even so, it was an investment decision made more with my heart than with my head.

I’ve held my Detroit muni through countless news stories about the city’s dire financial situation, mismanagement, and shrinking footprint, and despite many magazine articles and books about Motown’s decline, all accompanied by haunting photos of devastated neighborhoods that I remember as thriving when I was a kid.       

People are usually surprised when I tell them that 1960s Detroit was a great place to grow up. I remember it as a lovely Midwestern city, a patchwork of pleasant, tree-filled neighborhoods, with the auto industry at its heart. Middle-class Jews, we lived in a safe, quiet community where I attended a more than adequate (and mostly integrated)  public school. After school, I happily roamed the neighborhood with my pals.       

Then things began to deteriorate and my family became part of the White Flight to the suburbs. After that, we rarely went into the city. When we did drive downtown, to go to a restaurant or visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, we routinely ran red lights, especially after dark. You’d pause to check for oncoming traffic, then zip right through. Better to take the chance of being stopped by a cop than, while waiting for the light to change, of having your window smashed, being pulled from your car, and robbed.     

I don’t regret leaving, but, even though I’ve lived on the East Coast for years, I still love Detroit. When Mitt Romney made that infamous remark about Michigan trees being “the right height,” most folks responded with some version of “What an idiot!” But the Michiganders I know nodded with recognition.

It’s probably the only thing Mitt Romney has ever said that I agree with.     

Although I enjoy the foliage of the Philadelphia suburb where I’ve settled, the trees of the Detroit metropolitan area do look “right” to me. The landscape of your childhood stays etched in your brain, familiar and beloved. The tall trees that lined the flat street I grew up on will always remain, to me, what trees are  “supposed to” look like.

Detroit will always be part of who I am. 

My father purchased this $15,000 municipal bond in 2001. I’m sure it seemed like a terrific idea at the time. Municipalities rarely file for bankruptcy. Dad, a psychoanalyst who began life as a house painter’s son, probably felt good about investing in his hometown. And, of course, there was that attractive interest rate.

When I heard about Detroit’s bankruptcy filing, I thought, “Oh no!” imagining the impact on the folks who now live in the neighborhood where I grew up.   

My next thought was of my Detroit muni, now circling the drain. (Ironic, given that it’s a sewer bond.)

The day after the filing, as the lawyers got down to wrangling about who would get what, I looked into unloading my Detroit Muni. If I cashed it in, I was told, I could get $8,000.  

Even though my years of experience both as a bankruptcy attorney and a risk-averse investor screamed, “Take the money!” I found myself saying, “No, thanks.”

I just can’t give up on Detroit. I’d rather hope, against long odds, for a successful comeback. Growing up, I was a diehard Tigers fan. Believing in the underdog was a way of life. 

I may no longer live there, but I’m still rooting for my old hometown. 

 

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  • Toni Myers August 19, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Roz, here is an online group supporting DIA, just received today:
    http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/make-the-detroit-institute?source=s.em.cp&r_by=1618858
    I also posted it on FB
    Can’t wait to read your essay
    Toni

    Reply
  • roz warren August 18, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    Toni I share so many of those memories. Especially the art museum and the library. I’m working on an essay about the museum — did you find an online group supporting the collection?

    Reply
  • Toni Myers August 18, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Roz, I always read your posts, so alive and fun. This is my favorite because I’ve not read enough people posting about Detroit before its partial collapse. I say partial because there are people of goodwill, or just small entrepreneurs, envisioning better days. I grew up in suburban Detroit during the Cold War, living in fear of the bomb they would surely drop first on our vitally important city. My great grandfather had a pharmaceutical company there, my grandfather worked for Pontiac, and my father practiced medicine in Detroit. The rest of us are long gone.
    My friends and I loved to bus downtown to visit Hudson’s, though we had money only enough for the Woolworth’s across the street. A few trips to Belle Isle for the horses and some lunches with mother at the City Club. I remember her fear one day when she got lost in an apparently scary neighborhood.
    The human cost to this bankruptcy is potentially huge, though I have been most distressed at the proposed dismantling of the amazing Detroit Institute of art, which my grandmother taught me to love. Beautiful building, enhanced by Diego Rivera murals, a strong art collection, welcoming staff last we visited 4 years ago. A great art museum, and dare I mention the public library with its decorated ceilings across the street?, is the heart of a city. Eviscerating it would give everyone less hope for renewal. I will look online for a group supporting the DIA collection. I encourage everyone to visit the DIA and the fascinating Greenfield Village in Dearborn.
    Thanks Roz.

    Reply
  • Kelly August 13, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    Such a sweet essay!

    Reply
  • wm August 12, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    nice essay, interesting

    Reply
  • jody August 11, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Great article. I like your loyalty.

    Reply
  • Mark Lowe August 10, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Wonderful!

    Reply
  • suetiggers August 10, 2013 at 11:15 am

    If the plutocrats, neocons and faux Americans like the Koch Brothers aren’t overcome by more true American patriots who care about ALL of us, Detroit and every other major city in the U.S. is going to be gutted.
    The fact that so many white collar criminals got away with stealing from us and no one paid for Bush’s war in Iraq, and now our Congress has been stagnant from the rabid tea partiers (reminds me of Nero fiddling while Rome burned)….what is to become of us?

    Reply
  • jgolden08 August 10, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Lovely essay. May Detroit return to greatness and may we all be invested in its survival.

    Reply
  • Diane Dettmann August 10, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Roz, I enjoyed your reflections on growing up in Detroit, reminded me of my childhood in North Minneapolis. Glad you hung onto your father’s sewer bond and still have an attachment to Detroit. Those emotional “bonds” provide some long term payoffs!

    Reply
  • Daniel Duvall August 10, 2013 at 8:27 am

    I get your loyalty to the memory of things past. Cities, like countries, are not just physical places but also the embodiment of beliefs, ideals, hopes, and values, just to mention a few. Sometimes we get a bait and switch, the trees in the forest are fake knockoffs of those we once loved, the item we purchased is not the item we carried out of the store. We have either been cheated or we have cheated ourselves.I’m beginning to feel that way about the country I love, which has been so good to me and mine. Like Macy parade balloons, this country still resembles
    the one I grew up with, but more and more the stuffing that nourished us has been replaced with hot air, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Bankrupt, weighed in the balance and found wanting.

    Reply