You’re a black male living in Detroit and you’ve lost your job.

Try as you might, you haven’t been able to gain employment again. There’s just no market for your skillset. And now money’s wearing thin. As you wander through this town, trying to come up with a plan, you realize just how much it would resemble an abandoned city followed the world’s end – if not for fellow, desperate wanderers like yourself. What do they do to survive? You know they can’t be doing much better than you are. They’re your neighbors in a wasteland, after all. But you know the answer. You know what they do to survive – and it’s not what your daddy taught you. Your pops may not have had much to give you, but he instilled in you a sense of working hard to earn your keep – that a good day of grinding is self-affirming. That’s why you stayed at your last job – and would have remained there indefinitely – had they not let you go. You sure miss that place, but you try not to be the kind of man who looks back. We can only look ahead.

Then you hear about the scrapyards.

Rumor has it that people are making an eff ton of cash off scrapping materials from old, unused, buildings. These crumbling structures that pepper the landscape have been neglected for years. Nobody’s taking care of them. Nobody’s taking them down. In a way, they’re almost more dangerous standing intact – an excellent refuge for junkies and a safe haven for other criminal activity. What harm would there be in dismantling a potential threat like this? Brick by brick? Fixture by fixture?

To survive?

Yes, it’s illegal – but should it be?

To the powers that be, the buildings are just problems, sitting there, to be sorted out later. For you, it’s a goldmine being ignored and unused when you could use it. You’d be happy to do something more legal and work just as hard – if someone would offer you the job.

This is the fix many an impoverished, unemployed workers in cities across America face.

Not all of these scrappers have good intentions. Some thrive on the thrill. Some steal from one scrapyard in the dark of night to give to the next- making over twice the paycheck of their previous, legit job. Some do it just for extra cash on top of slinging. But as I watched a piece Vice did on this last week, I couldn’t help but feel that funny kind of twinge in my chest cavity for some of the dudes willing to show their faces on camera. There was one, for example, who had a legit gig at a pawn shop before it shut down. Now, he brings out all his tools with a wheelbarrow, stays working for a full workday, and then heads to the yard to sell what he’s chopped up so he can pay his bills. He had the kind of eyes that only a man with a strong work ethic and a purpose has, as he championed the thoroughgoing benefits of tough manual labor: “Hard work is always appreciated within yourself,” he said, adding that he only goes for these abandoned commercial buildings – not the nice residential areas. “I like to see the houses looking nice,” he says.

Maybe he’s full of it. Maybe not. I just have trouble believing that these people care (especially if they don’t care about possible repercussions of revealing their criminal identity) enough to bother pretending. I know I wouldn’t if I lived there. I’d feel forgotten. Or, as Choe (the Vice reporter) said in his debrief, Detroit’s a dead city. In a way, these people are more like vultures than vandals – they’re just picking off the bare bones of a concrete carcass left to rot. Just like you were – if you’re a resident there. Thus, the mentality of many of these survivors, living in what looks like the opening credit scenes of “The Walking Dead”, is that they could murder you. Or rob you. Or sling to your kids.

They chose this instead.