Letter From Detroit

Ingrid Norton in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Tumblr_lxrr9vUI9N1qhwx0oI was sitting in the Telway diner around the edge of midnight. The Telway is a story in itself: a chrome island built during the 1940s, floating on a blighted stretch of Michigan Avenue. Telway is staffed by the Appalachian whites who long ago moved to Detroit for work and, more recently, to the suburbs to live. It’s open 24 hours and nothing costs more than $2.25. I ordered a fish sandwich and had the place to myself, except for the short-order cook, the waitress, and the cashier. A pair of bulky night workers stood in the vestibule and asked for hamburgers, heads framed by the take-away window. Then an ambulance pulled off Michigan Avenue and parked on the sidewalk outside. A stocky, balding EMS worker with reddened skin and tired eyes came in.

“How much time you got?” he asked the powder-faced redheaded woman working the counter.

“How much time you need?”

“I just watched the cops beat the shit out of somebody,” the EMT said to all of us. “He was being stupid.”

He ordered a large coffee with double cream, and proceeded to tell us the convoluted story. He spoke with a flat affect and blank eyes. It was a robbery/assault at some house “by the train station.” He’d waited outside with the woman who had called 911. She kept telling him to go inside and help the man who’d been assaulted. “‘He’s spitting up, you gotta get in there.’ And I told her again,” he said, “‘I can’t go into a violent situation before the police get here, so we’ll have to wait for the police.’”

It took the police over half an hour to get there, and so they waited on the sidewalk while the woman grew steadily more agitated, railing about it being the EMT’s duty to save lives. She said, “I’m going in to get him! If he dies while we’re waiting and you aren’t helping him, I’m gonna sue the city.”

More here.