Dear Michael Moore –
Lansing is dying. I went back home a couple of falls ago and noted that the intervening 15 years have not been kind to Michigan’s capital. A drive around town with my brothers saw boarded up businesses and city golf courses that looked like a weedy overgrown game preserves. The public ice skating rinks are closed and many local movie theaters are out of business. While East Lansing is still the thriving student community I remembered it to be, Lansing is strangely hushed; traffic is sparse and pedestrians are few and far between. I walked over to look at what’s left of GM while my brother was at work at Consumers Energy one day. Bordered on the north by St. Joseph Cemetery, the empty lots of the GM plant stretch for a couple of miles south-east down to Michigan Avenue. With a curious lack of irony, the city has seen fit to name its new downtown stadium “Lugnuts” which is pretty much all that remains of GM. I kicked a few of them around while wandering through the rubble and defunct railroad cars of the once-mighty factory complex.
The twin specters of decay and gentrification that currently dominate Lansing means that the auto plants and businesses that used to employ an army of workers have been shut down, and in their place have arisen the government offices and giant hospitals that are the new dynamos of the state capital’s economy. Gone is the ghetto where I lived just west of the capital and in its place towers the atlas-sized dimensions of the Hall of Justice. A whole swatch of MLK Boulevard (formerly Logan street) has been supplanted by this Orwellian building and it looms over the tree-lined boulevard of my former neighborhood like a fortress in a declining city. The sin strip running up Michigan Avenue to the state capital has been replaced by the ever-expanding Sparrow Hospital as well as the afore-mentioned gladiator-sized baseball stadium. Despite (or maybe because of) gentrification, Lansing has declined precipitously over the years and the whole city has the cheerless air of a corpse propped up at a mouldering banquet table.
Me and my brother share a standing joke: Will the last person to leave Michigan please turn out the lights? I left Lansing in 1991 in search of gainful employment, and I’ve been wandering the lonely planet every since. I paid off my student debt to MSU working as an English teacher in Okinawa and South Korea for over 7 years and I am currently underwater with my latest student loan at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
You’ve been my hero every since the premier of Roger and Me and I remember how it made me laugh even as I sat watching my life unfold on the screen. Yet the stinging satire was a balm to my soul. Hats off to you Mr. Moore; thank you for all you hard work on behalf of us, the dispossessed of Michigan.