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Somebody call Wall-E, Detroit needs a cleanup

When I used to work full time at a Detroit newspaper, I kept a postcard on my desk from a local art gallery. Upside down, it reads, “I love Detroit.” Flip it over, and it reads, “I hate Detroit.”

Isn't that how we all feel about this city from time to time? I adore Detroit yet I am frustrated by its decline, slow recovery, endless scandals and general malaise.

Last week, I decided to show Detroit to a new generation: My two children. We cruised down the highway and exited on Woodward Avenue, home to the world's first mile of paved concrete road built for automobiles (1909 for you history buffs).

My kids have been to big cities before: Chicago and Madison, Wisc., are regular stomping grounds. We have hung out in Detroit before, but we always went straight to our destination. Today, we cruised Woodward.

They seemed genuinely excited to be in Detroit, probably because I told them this is their city. I pointed out the marvelous Victorian homes, classic duplexes and stylish new condos. I showed them where their grandma lived when she ran away from home at 16. We talked about the big skyscrapers and the glittering Renaissance Center. We drove past the ballpark, which I call Tigers Stadium and always will.

My daughter, who is barely tall enough to see out of her window, was thrilled to see the Detroit River and the steam rising from the grates.

My son, 4, asked all the wrong questions. He wanted to know about the graffiti. He fretted over the people waiting miserably for buses. He noticed the burned-out buildings when we turned onto Cass Avenue. The broken windows particularly bothered him.

We had just watched Wall-E, the Pixar film about the robot that helps clean up the Earth after humans destroyed the environment. His response to the movie was that of any impressionable preschooler: Its word is gospel.

He asked: Will Detroit need Wall-E?

Sigh.

No, son. I don't think it will get that bad. We're trying to make it better, I told him. Someone will buy that building, put new glass up in the windows and someone else will live and work there. We will clean it up and recycle it.

He was satisfied. I was not. I love Detroit. I hate Detroit. All over again.

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