Motor City

Yesterday’s post was really kind of a throw-away. It was a long, interesting day and, at one point Lizard Breath asked me what I was going to blahg about. My honest answer was that I had no idea. I knew I would be tired at the end of the day and probably wouldn’t have processed the day’s activities well enough to write about them. So I threw up a bunch of blather about my broken washing musheen and computer* and ended up with by blurting out some stuff about young people re-settling Detroit.

I don’t want to overstate my knowledge about Detroit or speculate too much about whether or not it’s making a comeback. As a kid, I used to travel from the frozen yooperland outpost of Sault Ste. Siberia to Detroit a few times a year to visit Grandaddy and Bolette. They lived *in* Detroit in those days in a beautiful old brick house on a tree-lined street (Mark Twain St., Zone 15, Detroit — that was before zip codes). I can remember the geography of their house to this day: the staircase that curved at the top, the breakfast nook, the basement filled with treasures from the ’round-the-world trip they took when they got married just a few years before I was born.

I absolutely *loved* going to Detroit as a kid. I felt so sophisticated and worldly traveling around the city in the back of Grandaddy’s Caddy-lac, looking at all the skyscrapers and feeling like one of the 1%, even though none of us were even close to that. Shopping at the downtown Hudson’s, seeing Santa at Northland, going to the Henry Ford Museum (to look at old cars) or Cobo Hall (to look at new cars), going to the symphony or the art museum or Belle Isle. Escalators and revolving doors. It was all a far cry from the small, isolated city where I lived.

After the 1967 riot, my grandparents moved out of Detroit to Birmingham, one of the more upscale suburbs. Many other folks of Caucasian ancestry including a lot of folks on their street did a similar thing. My family has never tolerated prejudice of any flavor but there was a lot of racial tension and related violence at the time and the writing was on the wall that the grandparents’ beautiful neighborhood would soon become too dangerous for an older white couple to live. For me, in a lot of ways, going to visit the grandparents in Birmingham was equivalent to visiting them in Detroit. We could still drive to the downtown Hudson’s and Cobo Hall and Belle Isle or wherever.

The Detroit I remember as a kid was a thriving, bustling city. I remember my grandfather being proud to present it to his yooper grandchildren. I think the riots were a watershed of sorts and then the auto industry began its decline. And I’ll stop with this now because my experience with Detroit is really pretty limited. The Planet Ann Arbor may be more or less the same latitude as Detroit but it is a whole ‘nother, uh, planet here.

I really don’t think that Detroit will ever quite return to its former glory as I remember it from the back seat of Grandaddy’s Caddy-lac. It has more problems than an occasional armchair observer like me could possibly begin to untangle enough to analyze. Googling “Kwame Kilpatrick” might give you one starting point. There are probably about a billion other google search phrases you could start out with.

Detroit may not ever return to being a big industrial city but I kind of hope it morphs back into a livable city for whoever wants to live there. I am way on the outside of any of this but there are some ideas that I like… Turning some of the areas where whole city blocks of houses have been razed into some kind of farm. Or maybe multiple farms. Turning an abandoned old factory (?) building into a climbing gym. Something like that. And Whole Foods is building a store down there. Corktown was it? I remember going to a bustling Kroger (or something) with Grandaddy and Bolette (and yes, they bought me whatever I asked for just like my yooper grandparents. Knowing me, pretzels, probably.). But Detroit has been a “food desert” for many many years, since folks like my grandparents moved out. That Kroger is probably LOOOONNNG closed. And then there is the Mower Gang

Detroit still has a long way to go. Although I never felt the slightest bit threatened anywhere we went yesterday, there are dangerous neighborhoods and dangerous people. At one point yesterday, as we navigated from the freeway to Jefferson (and Belle Isle), my phone map was trying to tell us to go straight. The GG did not go straight. He said, “I don’t want to go near any of those east-side neighborhoods.” Once upon a time, he was with his high school girlfriend and he drove into one of those neighborhoods. And tried to turn around. And a whole bunch of, let’s just say people who *are* prejudiced, tried to prevent them from *leaving* the neighborhood. He has told me that story about 50-billion-gazillion times (and his daughters too) but I admit that I didn’t want to go into that neighborhood either and so we turned onto Dequindre and eventually got to Jefferson and Belle Isle.

Although I don’t think that Detroit will ever again be like it was when I was an overly excited kid visiting my grandparents there, I hope it makes a comeback. The phenomenon of young people moving back to Detroit is not new and I also know that not everyone left the city in the aftermath of the riots. But the city has endured hard times and I hope it makes upward progress.

*Both continue to work today and I canceled my “genius” bar appointment and ordered myself a new power cord because my intuition has told me from the get-go that it is the power cord that’s wonky and, once again, an Apple Store experience has left a bit to be desired.

2 Responses to “Motor City”

  1. Margaret Says:

    Detroit has never been high on my list of cities to visit–but it’s mainly because of what’s happened there in the past. I’m sure there are many attractions to see and ALL cities have dangerous neighborhoods. (Detroit might have more than some though…)

  2. Pooh Says:

    I sure hope some St. Louisians get to visit Detroit this week and next. Go Cards! (and Go Tigers, as well, for being the hosts.)