The Detroit News, Sunday supplement,
"Michigan" magazine, February 22, 1987:


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         Travis Charbeneau  3421 Hanover Ave., Richmond, VA 23221
            travischarbeneau@gmail.com    Phone: 804 358 0417
                           www.travischarbeneau.com

                               Detroit: 2037
                             Travis Charbeneau
                                slug "2037"
                                2704 words
     While most of us live our lives pretty much on a day-to-day basis,
there are those who seek to discover what lies ahead. Travis Charbeneau
calls himself a futurist. He examines current trends, developments and
patterns and then speculates on the future. While this fanciful tale of
Detroit 50 years hence might seem like fiction, maybe we'd best wait until
2037 before making that judgment.
     I spotted 'em a mile away. They say you get a feel for this work, just
like the old customs guys before legalization could spot a cocaine mule or
just a nervous vacationer hauling Colombian weed. I double-checked my
PockeTerm as per regs. Sure enough, their faces came up on the PT screen:
Mr. and Mrs. Ted Warble of Phoenix, Arizona, wanted for tourism
misdemeanor.
     I'm Dick Tracymeir (yeah, yeah, I've heard it all before) of the
Detroit Transient Control Bureau. _If_ you have your Detceb visa, welcome
to Detroit, 2037.
     Mr. and Mrs. Warble obviously did _not_ have Detceb visas, though they
did their best to mix with the window shoppers on the People Mover that
meanders the 16 miles through the labyrinth of Greenfield Mall. I
transmitted over the PockeTerm that I was about to make an intercept.
     "Pardon me, folks." I flashed my badge, "I'm agent Tracymeir, Detceb.
May I see your visas?"
     The great Sun Belt population shift of the late 20th Century has
undergone a stunning reversal. The Washington-based National Planning
Association predicted as early as 1987 that the proportion of Americans
living in the North would edge up from ten percent to 26 percent by 2000,
thanks in part to declining energy prices, reduced cost-of-living
differences and lower interest rates. That turned out to be a gross
understatement.
     What was _not_ foreseen was the quick acceleration of the well-known
"Greenhouse Effect" -- the warming of the Earth. Before carbon dioxide and
other emissions were brought under control to keep the polar caps from
melting, meteorological shifting had already brought the so-called Sun Belt
to virtually equatorial conditions: tropics and deserts, with summer
temperatures averaging 130-plus degrees, South Florida, already depleted of
fresh water, looks like the Sahara. The Rocky Mountains have had no snow in
17 years.
     Conversely, the former "Rust Belt," already in resurgence, acquired a
climate formerly associated with the Deep South, minus the humidity.  
Michigan schools still close when it snows, but only so the children can
enjoy the rare and short-lived event.
     On the societal scene, thanks to robotics and automation, by 2037 a
true leisure society has evolved throughout America. Work has been
radically and, for most, pleasantly redefined. Crime is under control.
Marriage has stabilized.
     However, there are negative ramifications. Americans are even less
tied to place of employment than during the 20th Century population shift,
and, with the dramatic climate changes, they now flock to the "Pleasure
Zone," -- The Midwest and Northeast -- in unprecedented numbers. Detroit
especially is under assault, forced to adopt a strict visa system, and
special police to enforce it:
     One look between them said it all. They were a nice-looking young
couple. Probably just bored. And it was November. Winter was closing in
already in Arizona. I was glad this was their first offense, according to
the stats on my PT anyway. They'd just be BM-deported.
     "Just where did you folks plan on staying without a visa?"
     "W-we have some friends up near the Troy Spaceport." Mr. Warble
confessed. "We were hoping to stay with them."
     "They wouldn't be friends for long. It's stiff for residents found
harboring un-papered tourists, especially this time of year." The amount of
the fine is seasonal and it peaks in August at 300 New Dollars. (The New
Dollar, which came in after the great Deficit Collapse of 1991, is pegged
to the spending power of the 1932 dollar, so that's a heavy fine.)
    Jeez. They even drove their car here. Back roads, probably, to get past
the main check points. Well, _someone_ got a gander at their license
plates. Submissively, they led me to it, one of those deluxe new Chinese
Ford sedans. I raised an eyebrow appreciatively and attached one of our new
magnetic BM's near the license plate.
     "OK, folks. You've got 24 hours to clear the state line. Then this
little transmitter will draw troopers to you like flies to honey. They'll
remove it for you at the border checkpoint on the interstate. I wouldn't
try taking it off yourself."
     They didn't even bother to ask why. The new Behavioral Monitoring
technology is too tough to fox. I watched them drive off with long faces.
Back to Phoenix and _The Inferno_. And Michigan cities are relatively easy.  
It takes about two years to get a tourist visa. People wait up to seven for
a shot at most places in Wisconsin. New England is off-limits indefinitely.
Of course, out and out immigration here is just out of the question for
now.
     Still, I can't help but sympathize. I mean, deporting people to
Arizona in February is real killjoy work. But, someone has to do it. We
learned that lesson in the Sun Belt Disaster of '16, some say too darn late
as it was. Unrestricted tourism went from an industry to a liability real
fast. I dunno. Like most everyone else, I just see the old pictures and
chips from "the good old days" the old-timers are always going on about:
the '90s and '00s. None of it looks much like Detroit to me. 'Cept for the
Old City of course, and that's a museum.
     My PockeTerm chimes. Another three-hour shift over already, and
another four-day weekend ahead. I sign off on the PT and punch up my Wayne
State schedule for special classes or seminars. I find one: a one-day
shuttle trip to Tikal in Socialist Federated Guatemala. Good. Paper coming
due. Like most people now, I go to school. I mean, you can't live on what
Detceb pays, and they pay well. It's a real standard job. But nine hours a
week is as full time as they get. Too many qualified agents want to work. 
Wayne State pays just as well so long as you take at least six hours a
term. With these two incomes, single and 32, I live OK and it's good,
diverse experience, which is about what everyone wants out of life, right?
     I start mentally rehearsing some of my recent lectures on Mayan
culture as I hop in the fast lane mover towards the new Trans-Michigan
MagLev. I guess magnetic levitation was a real novelty in the heyday of the
car, but since the turn-of-the-century it's criss-crossed the town to every
neighborhood: Ann Arbor, Chicago, Toledo. It's convenient and fast and
stuff, but I'm still looking forward to getting my driver's license when
I'm 35.
     'Guess that's one nice thing about living in Phoenix. They still have
teen-age drivers out there. One of the Residential Inducement Perks. I
bet I could work a 20-hour week up there on a number of different jobs.
They _have_ to make attractive offers just to keep a resident population.
America leveled off at just 400 million around the turn-of-the-century.
Unfortunately, cities are still where it's at, and everyone wants to live
in the _Zone_. My folks did. Moved here from California when I was two.  
Illegally, as a matter of fact.
     I'm watching my tubular car in the mirrored skyline as the MagLev hits
her stride, no more than 280 in town. Somewhere beyond my reflection are
the Lakes, and offshore the Great Lakes Windmill Farms. I try to imagine
burning enough fossil fuel to power a concentrated megalopolis of 18
million like Detroit. 'Melt the caps in a week. 'Turn us _all_ into
fossils. The wind blows for free all day on the lakes, and the windmills
meter it in pretty cheap. In fact, after the next public amortization,
Detroit will just be paying its share of the maintenance. Me, I've got one
of those new Sanyo solar clusters.
     Next to me on the tram is a minimum security con going to work,
probably some public service job. Two-time loser. Around his wrist he's
wearing a BM-13 behavioral monitor, the old-style version of the little
bug I put on the Warble's Ford earlier. Right now some computer is
monitoring his scheduled movements. If he's off by so much as a couple
minutes or a few degrees of longitude and latitude, an alarm will sound and
the police will be on their way. Same thing with any serious G-forces
exerted on the bracelet, like if he tried to pry it off or saw into it,
and the additional bonus of an auto-injection of methodylox, which gives
you about 45 seconds to get horizontal -- then, good night for six to eight
hours while the police come. They used to make these bracelets concealable.  
Now only first offenders get the slim models. Two-timers get bright yellow.
Three-timers get red. After that, it's El Can.
     Actually, stuff like the BM-series toys, premium police salaries,
guaranteed WSU employment (with the 6 credit hour minimum) and especially
the legalization of dope in 2002 have all but eliminated crime. I read up
on it, and they say Detroit used to get pretty crazy. It's amazing that
back in the Dark Ages people tolerated so much crime, often violent, that
was strictly drug-related: some guy needs a fix, some guy wants to rip of
another dealer, two organizations decide to go to war in a department store
full of Christmas shoppers.
     They were kidding, right? With a population of 18 million and not
enough standard employment to go around. Some joke. I'm one of those
dinosaurs who still smoke cigarettes (at home only, of course. That's the
law.) They're destroying my life. Sure, we got losers today too, dopers who
sit around watching telly all day. So what? At least they're just sickos
and not criminals to boot. And state dope revenue pays the salaries of the
Under-Age Drug Enforcement cops, one for every classroom. Those guys gotta
work too.
     The Maglev stops at its station located on the fifth floor of my
building, a 75-story condomall hi-rise overlooking the similarly glassy
condos to the east and the likewise hi-rise skyline to the west of the old
Lodge freeway. I got an old postcard somewhere that says, "Detroit Skyline"
and shows a bunch of little skyscrapers. I'm not sure where it was taken.
Today, you want a skyline shot of Detroit, you're talking sub-orbital
photography.
     Mmmnn. When was sub-orbital developed? I palm the door to my
apartment, walk over to the recreation pod, sit on the big couch and grab
my little portable keyboard. System on. But the wall screen is blank. I
thought that was fixed! I get up and gingerly tap the receptor. It blinks
to life. A $N16 repair bill. For what!?  You just can't get good service
nowadays.
     Back to the couch. Auto-Logon Library of Congress, WSU Node. Query?
"Sub-orbital aviation." And up it comes, just a standard encyclopedic
print-out and graphics. I pass on the extensive references and hard copy
options. Like a lot of people, I've become something of an amateur
historian. In fact, I've earned two consumer-class PhD's: a general degree
on the Enlightenment and one on Pericles' Athens. History is very big now,
like a lot of areas of academic study. There're social clubs, Period
Habitats, contests, TV shows -- all sorts of stuff geared strictly to
history -- or marine biology, astronomy, algebra. We're really a nation of
school kids, where learning has become the end rather than the means.
     No one really understands it, of course. Not really. Especially the
older people, the "Boomers." It's the kind of profound change that's too
simple to grasp. The whole production-consumption thing got itself solved,
first in the West, then the Eastern, "communist" bloc. And a lot of the old
"Third World" countries went straight from feudalism to post-industrialism,
skipping industrialism altogether.
     The whole idea of "work" and "career" underwent a change as radical as
what happened to "war" in the last century. Technology rendered the very
concepts obsolete. Think of it: millions of years of war and then, presto,
thermonuclear capability. It was touch and go, but it was they finally
realized that war was no longer functional when both victory and defeat
were identical and unpleasant. 'Guess we thought we were home free then,
but there were other surprises in store.
     What happened to work was even more disrupting. Robotics, civil
systems engineering -- automation generally -- just about dis-employed the
nation.  It was either re-define "work" and "leisure" or go into a
depression that would make the "Great" one look like a historical divot. 
Retirement quickly disappeared. They say Detroit used to have these elderly
ghettos composed of old retired people. Well, we're _all_ retired now. Like
at 25. The only thing that people seem able to do indefinitely, and remain
interested --unless, of course, you have talents in the arts or sports --
is go to school. So now most of us go to school at least part time and let
the art and sport types entertain us the rest of the time.
     Well, we _do_ entertain ourselves some. In the classical manner in
fact. The sub-orbital stuff reminds me. I gotta check to see if Linda's
back. I switch over to _I Love Lucy_ on the system, mute the sound and
punch up Linda's place on the phone.
     "Yes?"
     "Linda, it's Dick."
     The screen pops on. My favorite ace pilot is stretched out on her
couch still in her flight suit reading _Vogue_. She flashes a smile.
     "I thought you worked today," she says.
     "Finished. You too, I see. How was the run?"
     "Smooth," she sighs with disappointment. "Fifteenth flight without
manual intervention."
     "Don't worry. Pilots are like street cops. People like the
warm-blooded version around. Just in case. How's ... was it Moscow?"
     "Yes. Busy. Cold. Same extravagant party scene as last time."
     "Not like here," I smirk.
     "You know what I mean. God, they're so immature. Last night at the
Bulgarian Trade Consulate it was, 'Let's get naked and lay in a pile!' And
they did!"
     "Disgusting. How 'bout dinner?"
     "Your place or mine?"
     "Mine. Actually, Allie's Place on the roof here. Bring any caviar?"
     She frowned. "You know I hate that stuff."
     She always hangs up with the last word. Linda pilots the sub-orbital
routes for Trans-Air. 'Very high, very fast. But, fortunately, only twice a
week. The rest of the time she studies and sews 14th century costume. Most
of this stuff she sells to a contact in France who's a middle man to a
number of French Period Habitats. These are restorations of period
lifestyles, minus some of the harsh realities, of course; very big the
world over. Hell, look at the Old City right here. Very authentic. You can
go and live for a week or a year or whatever in an American colonial town,
or a medieval village in China or a castle in Spain and play out various
fantasies. And study, of course. Authentic costumes are all part of the
gig. The world is sort of a big theme park these days.
     Dinner with Linda. I must confess, I've been trying to convince her to
marry me. Marriage is very popular again in the West. The Eastern bloc
countries are going through a sort of delayed adolescence in this and other
departments, like U.S. in the last century. They'll outgrow it. We did.  
Anyway, compatibility like Linda's and mine is pretty rare. Post-industrial
technology has created a very homogeneous culture, but we have a huge
supply of individualists and eccentrics. People just have more time and
resources to be weird.
     I walk over to my window and survey the town. The moon's coming up
over the balcony. Plenty of room for individualism out there. Big colony on
Luna. Got their own Spago Burger. Colony at L-5 too and a rudimentary
settlement on Mars. You want hard times and adventure and sudden death and
stuff, you got space. For my $N, and crazy as it sometimes is, I'll take a
week in Detroit anytime -- provided I could get the visa, of course.