I was born in Flint, Michigan, and lived there until I was 10, when my family moved to Indianapolis. I've never been back to Flint. I've wanted, not so rationally, to stand on the corner where my dad's grocery store was - to see if memories would come flooding back, if clear pictures would replace gauzy ones.
But when I tell folks from Michigan that I'm tempted to do that, I'm warned away. It's a wasteland these days, they tell me. You've seen Roger and Me. You've read about the unemployment and crime. Don't go. You'll only be disappointed.
And maybe they're right. Probably they are.
In the early '60s, a buddy and I on two motorcycles rode from Indianapolis south into Kentucky, intending to ride east to Harlan County. That's infamous "bloody Harlan," where the violent labor unrest and a good leaving-alone by law enforcement created a badlands, a xenophobic area like the OK Panhandle. We were middleclass white boys from Indianapolis; we were curious.
In a civilized hotel near Louisville, the proprietor warned us away from bloody Harlan.
"Couple of strangers like you two, college boys on nice motorcycles, you ride over there and you're liable never to be heard from again," he said, shortening our journey considerably.
As you will see in this NY Times piece and slide show, not everything about Flint is bottomed out and still sinking. A neighborhood called Carriage Town is doing just fine.
I'm going to Indy next week to see family and attend a couple of bigtime motorcycle races. I can spend a day riding to Flint. I can have a coffee in the Good Beans Cafe and I can stand in front of my father's little market. Or whatever's there now.
I never did visit Harlan County. And I don't know a soul in Flint. I suspect I'll never have a better opportunity to visit if I pass on this one.
Will I go? I'll let you know....