Language warning here – just sayin’…
Anthony Fucking Bourdain. Gone before his time from a disease that doesn’t give a shit if you are rich, are poor, physically healthy or have the best supportive care network on this earth.
I’ll admit, I thought Bourdain was a big time jerk and arrogant ass until he took his show to Detroit for the first time. And I realized when I watched that, he ‘got’ it. He ‘got’ Detroit. Bourdain loved Detroit. It didn’t all come out on that show that night, but I could see it. He understood the grim reality of those who live there. He understood their loss, he understood their resilience, and he understood how they just continue to move forward when everything feels so very much stacked against them.
“Detroit looks like motherfucking Detroit. As it should.” he said in the show. “Those who watch this show, smugly thinking, “That could never happen to my city” are dreaming. Detroit’s problems are America’s problems.”
I’ve been a “Metro Detroiter” on and off for about 17 years. I wasn’t born in the city, but still I have a fondness for it and it’s hardships. I’ve been angry about the ‘ruin porn’ and I was pissed as hell about the fact that Detroit entered bankruptcy and screwed the pensioners that still called the city home. I’ve driven 8 Mile, Telegraph, Gratiot and 696 back and forth to work, worked in the RenCen retail areas and when I was really lucky, took in the occasional Wings game at the Joe. I even scored a pair of tickets to the Auto Show at Cobo center for my boyfriend and I once when I barely had enough money to scrape by. That was back when the auto industry was still doing somewhat well. But that changed soon enough.
And now, after hearing the news today, I now understand a little better why Bourdain got Detroit. And perhaps I understand it a little more than the average person does. Because depression fucks with you just as much as the people of Detroit have been fucked over by the auto industry, politicians, the state of Michigan and by billionaires like Matty Moroun making riches even now off the city’s blight. Depression sucks your will to live ever so slowly, making mincemeat out of the joys you once held dear, making you think that you aren’t worth the air going into your lungs. It hurts, and it hurts bad.
“Detroit’s Problems are America’s problems.” Bourdain said. He’s right there too. Suicide rates in the past decade have gone up 33% in Michigan, compared to the national average raising by 30%. Both are grim statistics.
Perhaps one reason Bourdain had a love of the resilience of Detroit is because he willed that resilience within himself. If he had anything like the depression I’ve battled with, I’m sure thoughts like that crossed his mind. I bet he had days where he was proud of himself and his resilience, beating those demons for another chance at another day. I bet he’s thought of the Detroiters he met while he filmed Parts Unknown on those days where the battle came to a draw and thought, “if they can go one more day, so can I.” And he’s probably thought of those Detroiters on the days where he couldn’t bear to go on, wondering how the hell they actually did it; how they survived and made it bearable day in and day out in an a place that he compared to Chernobyl.
Maybe he was trying to get some of that resilience to rub off onto him. After all he was working on a documentary about Detroit before he died. And he consistently spoke fondly of the town in almost every interview, even going so far to say he wished he could say he was from Detroit, because that would be the coolest thing he could ever say. In one interview he described Detroit as:
“Beautiful. Magnificent. The boundless hope and dreams and optimism of its builders is reflected in the architecture. I feel anger seeing the extent to which it has been allowed to crumble. I feel hopeful. And I feel a tremendous appreciation that people have stuck it out and are proud of their city. They’re loyal to it. It’s truly a great city and the font of so many important American economic and cultural improvisations and movements. That it could have been allowed to come close to failing is a national disgrace.”
And the fact that he, like many other people in this nation couldn’t openly talk about the depression they faced is also a national disgrace.
Now, in the aftermath, perhaps knowing that this larger than life person who said he had the best job in the world lost his battle means that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself when I fight my own battles. Perhaps I can recognize a little better that my own struggle is real, and it’s hard enough to take anyone down. Perhaps I can start being a little bit easier on myself on days when it’s the worst, and push off those harder tasks until tomorrow, when I might have a bit more mental strength. Maybe I can try to find even more healthy coping mechanisms to keep fighting.
Maybe this Metro Detroiter can find that resilience Bourdain was looking for.