'We've never had a carjacking here,' Fadi Naji, 31, says of the gas station where he works. )
Fadi Naji said he feels safe.
He said it from behind a plexiglass barricade, because it’s Detroit and that’s what gas stations have. But “we’ve never had a carjacking here,” he said, not one in the 25 years his brother-in-law has owned the place.
L. Brooks Patterson, he said, is a racist. “One hundred percent. It’s as simple as that.”
Things are rarely simple, though, and certainly not with the Oakland County Executive.
A story in the New Yorker came out Monday with Patterson, 75, firing fresh verbal cannonballs across the border and relaunching some of the old ones.
He compared Detroit to an Indian reservation you seal off as you toss blankets and corn over the walls. He said that aside from professional sports, there’s no reason to risk entering the city.
Recounting fatherly instruction he gave his kids, he said, “You do not, do not, under any circumstances, stop in Detroit at a gas station!”
At gas stations south of Eight Mile Wednesday, the advice was not well received.
“I live in Detroit. My area is nice,” said Moe Ali, 31.
He was behind plexiglass, too, at the Sunoco station at Woodward and Davison. That’s Highland Park, not Detroit, but if you’re the sort who boasts about how long it’s been since you’ve been to Detroit, you don’t go to Highland Park, either.
“It’s not that bad,” Ali said. “Why would he say that?”
In love with a soundbite
Patterson says the things he’s made a career of saying because there’s typically at least a morsel of truth in them, because he’s the least politic of politicians and because he gets enraptured with his own bombast.
Because he’s Brooks Patterson, the words resonate and linger and sometimes get stretched beyond recognition. Eight years ago, when the Detroit City Council was attempting to fumble away $4 million in state money for the Detroit Zoo, he told me the council members “belong in the zoo, not deciding the fate of the zoo.”
He said it because he was frustrated and he has trouble reining in a good punch line, and the council in those days was just one clown car away from a circus. Within a few years, though, several council members were insisting he had called them monkeys.
That’s the trouble with being a loose cannon. After awhile, people think you’ve blasted away when you didn’t, or at least didn’t take aim.
Maybe Patterson was sandbagged by the New Yorker, the way he says he was. But even if he didn’t mean it, he spoke for a lot of people who do.
Is he right, wrong, both?
Reuben Marshall, 59, pulled into the Sunoco station for two cups of coffee and some snacks. The mention of Patterson’s name sent him off on a lecture so lengthy the coffee needed to be reheated.
“He has always been one to set himself apart,” said Marshall, who was on his way to install a furnace. “Everything is better in Oakland County and less than in Wayne.”
Marshall buys gasoline and as many other things as he can in Detroit. The only trouble suburbanites are likely to find in the places they go, he said, is the trouble they cause themselves, raising hell the city gets blamed for at a victory parade.
Detroit has, in some ways, become a theme park. Downtown, Midtown, Greektown, Mexican Town and Foxtown aren’t Disney World, but they’re so far removed from the rugged neighborhoods in terms of dirt and danger that they’re a separate attraction.
On the outskirts, said Steve Garr of Flat Rock, Patterson is right.
Garr, 53, is the fourth-generation co-owner of Detroit Fire Extinguisher. He’s a regular at the BP station where Naji works, on Warren at I-96. Within the city limits, he does not gas up his 4-by-4 pickup after dark.
“He’s a straight shooter,” Garr said. “That’s Brooks.”
But he’s also an instigator, someone who will preach regional cooperation and then rain hellfire and brimstone in an interview.
“I bless Brooks Patterson and all the Brooks Pattersons in the name of Jesus,” said Janie Pearl Timmons.
An Alabaman by birth and a Detroiter for four decades, she was buying fruit and Faygo from Naji.
What comes from Patterson’s mouth, she said, “is coming from fear,” and that’s something only he can control. What’s under her command is her response:
She will pray for him.