Guy, a Flint Expatriate, reflects on the fate of his hometown:
This is a bit tangential — which is pretty normal for my contributions — but whenever I think of Flint and its decline I think of something which happened to me about 25 years ago. When I was a kid my Mom worked as a bookkeeper at a family-owned shoe store downtown. When the owner finally "packed it in", for good, her told her she could have anything she found in an upstairs warehouse. She brought home a box full of periodicals and newspapers that were from the late 19th century and which were in pristine condition; it was really a treasure-trove of historical documents. I was a nerdy kid and loved pouring over the material.
One item was a newspaper from Tonapah, Nevada circa 1867, or something like that. It had a huge headline that read, "Tonapah Population Hits 200,000" with a picture, looking down on the bustling city, taken from an adjacent mountainside. The tone of the accompanying article was that, thanks to the mining industry, Tonapah's future looked so bright that — to paraphrase — everybody had better be wearin' "shades" (well, some 19th century version of that idea, anyway). Life was good, in Tonapah, to say the least.
Then, in 1986 I was a musician working in Las Vegas. The band I was with landed a gig in Reno so we made the long drive north; the planets had aligned and I finally would get to see Tonapah, Nevada with my own eyes. It was so incredibly odd because I had gazed at the picture on the front of that newspaper so many times.
As we drove through Tonapah in 1986 the population was down to only a few thousand people (as I recall) and, mostly, it was a collection of abandoned and collapsing buildings whose windows were missing and whose doors simply banged in the wind. And the homes and stores which did remain occupied were run-down, dirty, and the entire town had a depressing and repellent quality. We got some gas and I was anxious to just get of Tonapah.
I was profoundly impacted by the degree to which the once thriving city had simply expired. Back in 1986 I wondered about the families in that community. What had it been like to watch that city die? Now I know; my old hometown has gone precisely the same way. That Flint might ever rebound in a meaningful way is improbable on the order of the Biblical resurrection of Lazarus — it's not gonna happen. It's over, folks.
In the same way that time has forgotten about Tonapah, Nevada, so will it be with Flint, Michigan.