Sole Man: A Journey Through Detroit’s Streets by Cornelius Fortune

Like most arguments, in retrospect, the details are rather hazy and unimportant.

What I do remember is that I slipped on my shoes, laced them up, went out the door and bade my roommate goodbye. I needed to be alone and not sandwiched between four walls and a closed door.

In those days I didn’t have a car, nor did I have a driver’s license. I carpooled to work and used the public busing system (what we had of one in metro Detroit back in the late ‘90s). It was past 10 p.m. and I moved briskly through the streets of west Detroit. Walk with purpose. Be an immovable object, I reminded myself. Don’t stop.

I avoided the main streets because I didn’t want my roommate or my family trying to pick me up; talk me out of it. I wanted to walk. I didn’t care about the slight danger. I needed to clear my head.

Maneuvering through some back streets, avoiding the less-than-savory darker openings down Evergreen Rd., down Warren Ave., marching over the Southfield Freeway bypass, I finally approached Michigan Ave. My feet were hurting two miles into it, the accumulation of pavement, dirt, and crosswalk, wore into my soles.

Walking miles subverts all expectation. The world slows down to a gnarled crawl; details sweep against you like a flirtatious tide. No real trajectory, my instinct merely told me to head as far west as possible. Turning back would have been so much easier, but I walked and walked.

I reached the Detroit city limits and crossed over to Dearborn. Though I’d driven past these very streets many times before, this Dearborn was wrapped tightly in a noir-ish cloth, blanketed by greenish, half-functioning street lamps that lit the streets intermittently.

I felt the rubber at the tip of my shoe resisting, peeling away. I was afraid it would rip clear off and I’d be forced to walk home with one shoe. They were being pushed well past the sales pitch limit and perhaps wanted nothing to do with my little quest.

I passed a bar, loud bass-heavy music spilling out from an opened door. A man, early twenties, beer bottle in hand, pointed in my direction.

“Hey, you’re not supposed to be here!” he said, giggling. “What’s he doing here?”

“Cut it out, man, don’t say that,” said an apologetic friend.

Dearborn is known for a huge Arab population, but the number of African American residents is by far much smaller. As with most rude utterances, there was some truth to what he had said: I really wasn’t supposed to be there, statistically speaking.

My pinky toes begged me to sit down in the bar (they were rubbed pretty raw). I smiled and kept walking.

Somewhere along the pilgrimage, I passed the Ford Motor Co. headquarters, those multicolored flags rising into the sky. My pace was less brisk…that supply of adrenaline had cleared the “empty” column some miles back.

The cold was invading my jacket and the thought of going inside a warm bar or 24-hour restaurant was appealing, but none were visible. And then there was this bright running light. The word “MASSAGE” prominently displayed.

I opened the door and went inside. Men were everywhere, smirks on their faces. There were no women, except for the ones accompanying the men, scantily clad, most with bathrobes concealing bikini tops.

“Can I help you?” said the woman behind the counter.

“I’m not sure. Just browsing, I guess,” I said.

“What can we interest you in?” she asked.

“A massage,” I said. “What are the packages?”

And she pulled out a list. I had a credit card and was thinking a foot massage would be great. A girl waited behind her, smiling, presumably at me. She was right out of Playboy magazine complete with high heels and girl-next-door shine.

“What is your preference?” the woman behind the counter asked.

It was obvious this wasn’t a place I wanted to be caught in after midnight. I thanked them and walked out.

I trudged along another few blocks and my feet started to give out on me. I found a nice patch of grass by a bank parking lot and watched the shadows recede.

I saw my first sunrise.

A few wayward coins and a sweaty dollar bill was the extent of my financial worth, so taking the bus back to Detroit wasn’t exactly an option. However, as with most journeys, I knew that the way back would be much smoother.

And it was.

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About the Author:

Cornelius Fortune is an award-winning journalist, whose work has appeared in iPhone Life magazine, The Advocate, Metro Times, Chess Life, Yahoo News, Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, Tales of the Unanticipated, Illumen, and others. He is currently a featured writer for Yahoo TV, and an editor for a local weekly newspaper. Upcoming works include “The Misadventures of Mr. Stiffens” serialized comic strip, an anthology, “Writings on the Wall,” and two books from the Detroit Ink Publishing, LLC (DIP) line. He is also a Rhysling-nominated poet and the author of Stories from Arlington. Visit his website at www.corneliusfortune.com.