Monday, June 24, 2013

Bumping Into Paul Tait

Penthouse Club Detroit - Secret Headquarters of SEMCOG
Photo by Frank Nemecek
When I first walked into the Penthouse Club, my attention immediately went to the mostly naked gyrating bodies on stage. There is something about a barely clothed woman spinning on a pole that will grab anyone’s attention. After a moment, though, I allowed by eyes to scan the rest of this establishment.

There was a group of middle aged white men at a table at the far end of the club that I thought I recognized. I took a few steps towards them. For better or worse, one of them recognized me before I recognized him.

“You’re that blogger,” he called out. “You’re the reason ‘#AbolishSEMCOG’ was trending on Twitter last Friday.”

“And you must be Paul Tait, executive director of Southeast Michigan Council of Governments,” I replied as I continued to walk towards them.

“And these are the rest of the people that you would put out of a job,” he added as he gestured to his staff seated around the table.

“Am I interrupting anything, gentlemen?” I inquired.

“Just our usual staff meeting,” one of the others replied.

“Well, as long as I’ve got you here,” I wondered aloud, “do you mind if I ask for you a few questions as an interview for my blog?”

“Let guess,” one of staff members chimed in to say, “You want to talk about how the freeway expansion is going to destroy Midtown and some of the other great neighborhoods in Detroit.”

“Well, yeah,” I replied as I took a seat at this table. “Mr. Tait, could either you or your planning staff explain just why you decided to push such a thing through?”

The assembled group burst out laughing, “our planning staff?”

“Frank, there’s something that you should know,” Mr. Tait explained once their laughter subsided.

“What’s that?” I asked, almost fearing his answer.

He pointed behind me and said, “Do you see those dancers on stage?”

I look around at the two dancers currently on the stage some 20 feet away from us. One of them was spinning upside down while the other was attempting to ride a tricycle on stage in a manner that the manufacturer certainly had not intended.

“Yeah, I see them,” I admitted, without taking my eyes off of them.

“That is Brandi and Sinnamon,” Mr. Tait explained in a voice that was almost eerily calm. “They are the planners – the brains, if you will – behind the freeway expansion in Detroit.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” I protested. “I thought this whole thing was put together by M-DOT or SEMCOG.”

“It was,” he insisted. “Brandi is under contract to M-DOT while Sinnamon, the one with the tricycle, works for SEMCOG.”

All I could do upon hearing this news was stand there in the middle of the club in utter disbelief. I wanted to think that this was some sort of an April Fool’s Day prank being played almost three months late. However, I was beginning to realize that neither I nor the city that I love so dearly would be that lucky.

Brandi Wants to Expand Freeways
Photo by Kenneth Freeman
This, I had to admit to myself, was real. It was actually happening. A $2.5 billion freeway project – one that impacted the daily lives of countless Detroiters – was, thanks to the inexplicable genius of SEMCOG, under the control of a pair of strippers named Brandi and Sinnamon.

“Waitress!” I called out urgently. As one of the club’s waitresses walked towards me, I added, “I needed a drink.”

“What kind?” she asked.

“Just bring me a bottle of whiskey,” I replied. “I think I’m going to need the whole thing to get through this.”

The waitress didn’t miss a beat. It would appear that I wasn’t the first person to have this reaction and she had grown accustomed to it. “Coming right up,” she added before leaving to fetch the comfort that I would need this afternoon.

After she left, Paul Tait stood up for a moment. He beckoned towards the stage and called out in a loud voice, “Oh, girls – come here please.”

“Coming, Paulie,” Brandi and Sinnamon replied in unison from the stage.

“Wait until you meet these girls, Frank,” Mr. Tait insisted. “They’ll convince you what a great idea this whole freeway thing is.”

 “But I thought M-DOT and SEMCOG had actual planners and transit professionals on staff….”

Sinnamon the Planner
“Had, Frank. Had.”

“What do you mean?”

“We used to have those kinds of people on our staff.”

“What happened to them?”

“We realized that they weren’t really vital to our mission so we sold them to a group of Chinese investors.”

“You sold your planning staff?”

“We weren’t using them – and the Chinese paid a pretty penny for them. I think they’re going to harvest their organs and sell them for a profit.”

I simply looked at Paul Tait in disbelief. I wanted to say something. Words, however, simply failed me.

Thankfully, it was at this moment that the waitress returned with a bottle of whiskey. She set it on the table in front of me, along with a glass.

She then leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Don’t worry – I charged it to M-DOT. They have a standing account here.”

I watched the waitress from the corner of my eye as she walked away from this table. I wondered to myself if I should do the same thing. I’ve seen and heard some crazy things in this town, but a multibillion dollar freeway project designed by a pair of strippers was too much for me to comprehend.

Instead of leaving, though, I took my first gulp of whiskey right as Brandi and Sinnamon were arriving. They each gave Paul Tait a kiss on the cheek and then curled up beside him.

“Come on, Frank, don’t tell me you’re surprised by all of this,” Mr. Tait chided me.

“I suppose it does make a lot of sense, now that I think about how transit and other infrastructure issues have been managed in this region for years now,” I admitted.

“Welcome to the real Detroit,” Brandi offered.

“You know, I wanted to work on Kevyn Orr’s turnaround plan for Detroit,” Sinnamon added. “I hear those guys for UBS tip really well. But that bitch Gemini got her claws into the guys from the Mackinac Center and that was that.”

“So, by any chance do either you have any training in transportation, urban planning, or anything at all like that?” I asked the ladies responsible for our latest freeway expansion.

Whiskey Makes Dealing with Reality Easier
Photo by Cyndi Papia
“Oh, I’ve been planning things in this town for years. Bachelor parties, divorce parties, you name it, I’ve planned it,” Brandi said.

“I mean, did you go to school for anything like what SEMCOG hired you to do?”

“No, I went all the way through the 10th grade and didn’t take any classes in this stuff at all,” Sinnamon admitted. “I guess you could say that we learned on the job.”

“You really don’t need a whole lot of schooling to do this stuff,” Brandi admitted.

“May I ask how you went about deciding to expand I-94 and I-75?” I queried.

“Oh, it was easy,” Brandi insisted. “When those other folks got sold off to China, Paulie here just grabbed a whole much of ideas that were in their files, stuff that they never got around to doing, and put it all in a box.”

Sinnamon leaned in to add, “And then a few weeks ago, when M-DOT got a bunch of federal money, she and I just took turns pulling things out of those boxes until Paulie told us that we had used up all of that money.”

“Do you have any other questions?” Paul Tait asked.

“No,” I admitted. “I think I’m just going to sit here and drink for a little while.”

I drained the rest of the whiskey from my glass and then poured more into it. I looked over at these two women curled up next to Paul Tait. I knew I was going to need a lot more of this stuff to get me through writing this story.

And even then, most people won’t believe just how true it really is.

Editor's Note: I trust everyone realizes that this piece is a work of political satire. Unfortunately, SEMCOG and their plan to expand the freeways and crush some of Detroit's neighborhoods is all too real.

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