Strange Magic in Motown

By Anthony Kovatch, M.D. — Pediatric Alliance — Arcadia


Chapter 2:  When the Cold Winds Blow, It Can Turn Your Head Around


By the time I reached the mid race markers, fatigue and sweat had cleansed my mind of the past. The local residents constructed a symbolic structure called “Run Though the Wall,” which picked up the spirit and the pace of us all. But as we headed to the bridge crossing the Detroit River to Belle Isle (the crowned jewel of the race course), the chill rains commenced with a pelting monotony not to be outdone by a relentless stiff wind causing whitecaps on the water and impeding any forward momentum. At every turn, the wind barreled into our faces, and I resorted to the unconventional ploy of “running backwards.”

Off the island and back among the skyscrapers, we runners pushed our endurance to the finish line, encouraged by the cheering and high fives of the benevolent spectators. The wind had abated, the finishers’ medals hung from our weary necks, and we were homeward bound. But little did I know at the time, the excitement was just beginning.


Regardless of what they might tell you, all runners bask in the personal glory of limping back through the city with their medals shamelessly around their necks, nodding and smiling to pedestrians who utter “congratulations” or “good job.” I imagine that most on this day were debating within their minds how much better their time would have been if the chill winds had waited until later in the afternoon. I was no exception until I harshly realized that the parking garage at the casino had only 8 levels, and I was absolutely certain that I had parked on level 10. Or had I? Assuming I was confused by the mental stress of the race, and blaming the chill winds for memory deterioration, I ran to every level of the garage in denial — and with every level absent of my Honda, my panic intensified. No luck in adjacent garages. I ran to the casino where the front desk employees shook their heads in amazement at my stupidity, explaining that there were other casinos with parking garages in Detroit (all “only” about two miles away). They wished me good luck as I trembled with the medal around my skinny little neck in the throes of mental suffocation.


Desperate on the sidewalks of the Motor City — Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide


Too terrified and too exhausted to pray, I embarked penniless on an odyssey I imagined would last beyond sunset. I developed a plan: I would find a compassionate police officer who could trace my car by means of my cell phone in the glove compartment; however, the only element of compassion (preventing further panic) was my ignorance that my cell phone was dead — drained of power from the prolonged utilization needed to direct me from church in Ann Arbor to the start of the race that morning.

The filters of my cognitive functioning were disintegrating as I asked any passer-by within earshot for directions to the nearest police station. I implored a group of happy African-American women in front of a hotel, who I imagined by their stylish dress were enroute to a wedding reception. One of the women who had a commanding voice remarked, “Why, honey, you don’t need the police — you need a cab driver! And there is a whole row of them! They know every corner of Motown.”

I limped over to the nearest cab, which had the window lowered a few inches as if the grey-haired, African-American driver with several missing teeth was wary of engagement. As I explained to him my predicament through the cracked window, he became animated and reassured me that he knew exactly what casino parking garage I was at, describing the interior of the building exactly as I had remembered it from the morning. “Get in and I will take you right there!”

“The doors are locked back here,” I countered.

“Sit right here in the front, man,” he replied. “Are you a doctor?”

How the hell did he suspect that? “I just had a feeling you was a doctor. My name is Casyadaryl Thomas.”

“Thomas — like ISAIAH Thomas of the Pistons?” I blurted out. Next followed an exhilarating explosive exchange recollecting the glory days of Detroit Piston professional basketball — the highs and the lows. I pretentiously listed the five starters on the championship team — the “Bad Boys.” I missed Joe Dumars (a nice guy, he corrected me with a laugh.) We reminisced about the exploits of the players notorious as the bullies of the league: Dennis Rodman (tattoos and all), Bill Lambeer (unarguably the most universally hated player in NBA history, who fought all the way to the bank), and John Sally, “Spider” long before the movie. We shared our idolization of team leader and prodigy Isaiah Thomas (affectionately called “Zeke” — a moniker based on biblical prophet Ezekiel); student of legendary, heavy-fisted coach, Bobby Knight, at the University of Indiana; Hall-of-Famer and 12-time All-Star, ranked as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. “Where I come from in Pennsylvania, there is a team on the rise that reminds me of the early years of those Piston teams — the Philadelphia ’76ers.”



Mr. Thomas impressed me as a fellow of my age (he was 63) who had obtained “enlightenment” prematurely as reward for a life full of strife and privation. My intuition told me that he had spent time in Vietnam and, in spite of limited education and opportunity, had overcome the biases and prejudices of the rest of our generation. He drove me right to my car and seemed embarrassed quoting a $10 flat fee because his services were in center city on a Sunday. He wrote down his name, address, and phone number for me; I think his intuition told him that I would try to make him famous. He escorted me to the highway leading out of the city, honked and waved good-bye, and disappeared into the sunset, having little realization that he had been my salvation.


Tomorrow on The PediaBlog — Chapter 3: Spiritual Extirpation.




Read more essays by Dr. Kovatch on The PediaBlog here.