Traverse City Record-Eagle


February 24, 2013

Jack Lessenberry: Water bill is poignant symbol


Not that the mayor’s speech was entirely realistic.

“Every day there are more signs of hope and possibilities,” he sad

Well, maybe in newly fashionable Midtown, an area sparking with new condos and young adults flocking to move in. Maybe in the downtown itself, with its casinos and stadiums.

But not in the vast majority of neighborhoods, some of which even the police only like to enter in broad daylight, and in force.

The mayor himself seems worn out by his job. A superbly toned athlete and member of the National Basketball Association Hall of Fame, he looks and sounds older than his 68 years.

Living in the city wears even private citizens out. The night before the mayor gave his speech, I went to dinner with one of the city‘s better-known residents, in a neighborhood where hope and possibilities are only words in the dictionary.

John King is one of the city‘s cultural icons. A lifelong Detroiter, he founded one of the nation‘s largest used book stores, which fills up a giant former glove factory on Lafayette Boulevard.

King, who looks a little like a 63-year-old General George Armstrong Custer, drove me west on Fort Street, past block after block of abandoned and collapsing warehouses and factories.

Eventually we came to a tiny hole-in-the wall Mexican restaurant on a rundown street called Lawndale, where we were the only non-Hispanic diners. King wanted to show me his water bill.

For years, his store had been billed $12.90 a month for a separate “fire line” water service. Then, in December, he got a letter from the city. “We have recently discovered that our billing system has not billed correctly.” From now on, his bill would be $255.44.

Plus, they seemed to be telling him if he ever has a fire, he’ll have to pay extra for the water. He swallowed hard, and paid. Then last month, he got another bill for back charges of $13,661.64 on the service he never used, and never knew he had.

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