- City of Detroit Official Website
- The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit
- Detroit Red Wings site
- Real Detroit Weekly
- Metro Times Weekly
- Detroit Club Scene
- Detroit Free Press
- Detroit News
- Michigan Chronicle
- Michigan Citizen
- Detroit Synergy
- Cityscape Detroit
- Preservation Wayne
- Virtual Motor City
- Forgotten Detroit
- Forgotten Michigan
- International Metropolis
- Motor City Rocks
- Notes From Away
- detroit funk
- 07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003
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You have found the detroitblog. This is about my wanderings and debaucheries in Detroit, as well as observations, news, commentary and ramblings about the city itself. I love Detroit, even the old Detroit of blight, waste and emptiness. Hockeytown. Motown. I grew up here, had my best times here. It's my town.
Monday, August 25, 2003
I’ve often wondered what would be point zero in Detroit, the center of the worst neighborhood in the city. There are so many possibilities – various housing projects, parts of southwest Detroit, the cigarette streets off Jefferson (Newport, Marlborough), the Houston-Whittier/Chalmers area. But I think I’ve found the worst. I love taking out-of-towners on tours of the city, and if they already have a bad impression, I like to further scare the hell out of them by driving them through the worst areas possible with the doors unlocked and the windows down. So it's been a quest of mine to catalog the worst areas in town.
St. Aubin, roughly between I-75 and Gratiot, has always been a bad area. There was a massacre there in the late 20s in which a family was killed and the father beheaded; there was another "St. Aubin massacre" there in 1990, when a 17-year-old girl commanded her cohorts to rob a drug house, then line up six of its occupants and execute them. Then there’s the serial killer currently running around the area slaughtering prostitutes, which gets very little play in the media. When Cass Corridor became Midtown and the police chased all the junkies and hookers out, they all headed to St. Aubin, exacerbating an already bad area. There’s no productivity there, no legitimate work being done by its residents. There are a few fixed-income elderly residents trapped there, but almost everyone else in the neighborhood is a criminal of some sort.
St. Aubin is one of those areas where you immediately sense that something is very wrong when you enter the area. So many homes have been burned down that most blocks have one or two homes on the entire block, down from 30 or 40 per block a few decades ago. Lush overgrowth provides a dense menace-concealing cover. It's like being in the country in the middle of the inner city, except that the residents are shooting each other. How can a residential neighborhood have no houses?
And in the middle of this already terrible neighborhood is an abandoned GTW railroad track that runs through a valley, where locals have painted grafitti on the concrete remnants of bridges, and set up milk crates as seating areas. Liquor bottles, syringes and used condoms litter the area.
And down in this already menacing valley is a concrete bunker type structure with an open door. The sight of that open door to darkness, in the middle of this hidden valley, running along the worst street in the city, was truly eerie. Nothing in the city frightens me, but that little room gave me a bit of a pause. What activities go on in there? Who are the people who pried open that door? And what in the hell is inside there? Unfortunately, pictures convey only a fraction of the effect.
The neighborhood is crazy - a bunch of storefront churches that have barebones gospel music drifting out of open doors on Sundays, wild-haired prostitutes roaming the streets and shouting at cars passing by, young thugs screeching tires as they come driving out from hidden sidestreets, and empty lots everywhere, overgrown by vegetation. Nothing productive to do, lots of hiding places, a Wild West landscape only a few blocks from main highways, and an almost entirely criminal population.
Friday, August 22, 2003
Not much to choose from tonight. Two friends are up north independent of one another, another buddy is moving to Florida tomorrow, others have plans, etc. I might go out with some girls from work early on, get a buzz going, then when they get tired (as they usually do) head downtown and roam around until I find something going on, preferably some pretty girls who wish to be in the company of a charming, handsome drifter like myself.
There are hundreds of these stolen, stripped or abandoned cars all over town, but this one, which I found at Mount Elliot just before it becomes Conant, struck me as particularly goofy. There's a jack underneath, suggesting some poor motorist stopped to change a flat, left, and had the rest of his/her tires stolen and the car smashed up. Either that or the tire thieves were so brazen they just jacked up the car in plain view and removed all four tires on the spot. Someone then wrote "so and so (can't make out the name) loves the cock!" on the side of it. Then someone else, apparently the person about whom it was written, came along to cross off his or her good name before it got sullied further by a message on an abandoned car. Others came along and filled the interior with loose scrap. And while all of this street-level message exchange is going on the car sits, ignored by police despite being on a well-traveled, (if relatively unpopulated) street.
Thursday, August 21, 2003
The State Fair is so bizarre. A mix of black people from Detroit and white people from strange mid-Michigan towns with funny names like Juddville and Bitely, plus a handful of relatively normal people with their kids, and lots and lots of state cops standing in packs. I thought I was being clever by finding "free" parking on Woodward, only to find I’d parked a mile away and later, after much walking to get there, found that there were several parking spaces 20 feet from the entrance. We wandered after the concert amid the weirdos, drifters and carnie-folk for a while, Carl got a deep-fried Twinkie for novelty's sake, then we headed to Gusoline Alley in Royal Oak for some beer, where an old drunk insisted I read his job termination papers, which he kept in his back pocket, all folded and ragged. He’d been fired for showing up at work drunk every day.
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
I got all excited, then found many problems, spent the evening tweaking it, and it's better, but still not where I want it. The images are all fuzzy, yet are already large enough that they take a bit to load, especially on dial-up, like I have at home. Also problematic is the different results I'm getting on PCs and Macs. I can get the text to go alongside the opening picture on the latter, but not on the former. More tweaking ahead, to be sure.
This is a test: Here's a picture from Brush Park at sunset.
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
The funniest story, from the link cited above, has to be this:
"Thieves who broke into the Athlete's Foot store at Seven Mile Road near Gratiot on the city's east side Thursday night made off with more than 100 left foot sneakers -- the right shoes weren't on display."
Also, more reports of mass drunkenness are trickling out. I have yet to run into someone from the area who didn't get absolutely smashed that first night of the blackout with their neighbors or friends, and I've talked to dozens of people since last week. Everyone has accounts of whole neighborhoods spilling out onto the street, in full party mode in the blackness. What is it about losing power that causes people to reach for the booze? Strange phenomenon.
Monday, August 18, 2003
"Don't give a fuck is the operative phrase. That's basically it right there. I don't know why it is; it's a combination of things - a little bit of the woods, a little bit the water, a little bit the way the big town isn't really like other cities. It's different. You have this space to do your own thing. When I was in a band there, all of the rewards I wanted to get were available to me right there in southern Michigan - I didn't have to go anywhere. If I played a good gig, I was going to get stoned, drunk, screwed and get some money in my pocket and have a place to crash in a cool farmhouse and go to a party."
"The real-estate values are still relatively low and the living conditions are spread out. It's not as helter-skelter as New York or even Chicago ... Chicago, L.A. and New York aren't really creative places, they're promotional places. It's somewhere between those towns that are totally fake and the ones that are totally hopeless, like St. Louis. Detroit's somewhere in the middle. It's semi-hopeless, but not totally - you can do something."
I met my friend Dmitry at his going away party Saturday night. Dmitry, who is Russian, is moving to Florida, so I lose not only a good friend, but also a teammate, my winger on my hockey team. His party was like a get-together at the Russian embassy, nothing but strange Russians yapping in Russian and doing Russian things like drinking lots of Russian vodka. I left early because my hockey team had a game that night. So there's yet another person who will keep informed of Detroit happenings through the blog.
Speaking of which, my team won the summer hockey league championship Saturday night, which is great. But they essentially won it without me, their captain, on the ice because of my broken collarbone, which is not so great. I stood behind the bench and coached, as I have pretty much all summer. Despite the blackout, the ice was good. And though the summer trophy isn’t quite the same as the regular season trophy (summer season exists for hard-core players who can’t even get themselves to stop playing for a few months), it still is nice. When the team began a few years ago, we were the worst of the worst. We lost our first 20 games, often with scores like 10-1 or 9-0. We won maybe 10 of the next 30 games. Slowly we built ourselves up, picking up quality players and getting better individually and as a team. Now we’re the best in the league, several seasons running, but it was hard-earned. We know what it's like to be the losers, the absolute worst of the worst, the league's doormat. It makes winning that much more gratifying.
The city was pretty quiet that night; everyone seemed wiped out by the preceding two days. Even Dmitry's party fizzled early, and the Russians usually keep their parties going well into the morning. My teammate Jeff and I went with our trophy to a neighborhood hockey bar and quietly celebrated.
Sunday, August 17, 2003
I went to C's Hamtramck house, and from there we went to the grand opening of the New Dodge Lounge, which really wasn’t opening as much as it was moving from down the street. But since the power was out all over town and a small generator powered only a television and some dimmed lights, the "grand opening" was probably less noteworthy than the owners expected. Gary Zych, Hamtramck's generally embattled mayor, bought us a round of drinks. They were Pabst though, so I guess it sort of cancels the effect of the generous gesture.
From there we drove into Detroit through darkened streets swarming with cops. Went to meet friends at the Bronx, which had no power but used candles to illuminate the interior. A street party had developed outside on Second Avenue, with about 50 drinkers standing outside in the dark, trying to look interesting, grilling bratwursts and extending the two-day drinking binge. However, this scene could be tolerated for only so long, and we bolted.
Next to Harry's on Clifford, mainly to bask in the air-conditioning. Nobody there. One beer each, in and out in 15 minutes. Downtown was empty, or as C said, "it looks like Detroit used to be," back when nobody walked the streets and you could park right in front of your destination.
Then a 2 a.m. dinner at the only restaurant we could find open, some Greek diner downtown whose name was wiped from my brain by that night's buzz. The waitress told us not to order anything except fried things that had been frozen solid, since the food had gone rotten and the owners were trying to pass it off quickly before it got worse.
That’s another lingering effect of the blackout – most, if not all of the food in the stores and restaurants is spoiled, except for those stores that ran generators to keep cool. And this week’s food shipments don’t get here until Monday and Tuesday. All I've got in the apartment is steak and bacon. And a banana.
Saturday, August 16, 2003
Unfortunately, everything by then was very, very warm - warm wine, warm lager, warm liquor.
And warm liquor=stupid thinking. In a city with no water pressure and no way to contact firefighters, people decided that that was the time to start shooting fireworks off. Everyone yanked out their remaining stash from the Fourth of July and started a shooting frenzy that lasted until midnight. Way to go, geniuses!.
The drinking got worse the next day. At noon Friday, as temperatures climbed, nearly everyone I talked to was slurring; some people told me they were on their seventh beer by that point. It was like Bourbon Street in New Orleans writ large. Everyone basically said "to hell with it, let’s drink everything in the house."
This might also have fueled the impatience that began growing in the long lines that waited to purchase everything. Batteries became absolutely scarce. Ice did not exist in the tri-county region. And gas became commodity number one. It was like the Mad Max movie– people were trying to figure out how to siphon gas out of old cars, lawnmowers, etc.
The saddest sight was the people camped out at the gas station, the people who had pulled in with empty tanks just as the blackout hit, and had no choice but to wait for the electricity (and thus the gas pumps) to come on again. Some had waited overnight, chain smoking, staring vacantly at one another, or else wandering off, leaving their cars behind.
The problem, at least here in Detroit, wasn't just the absence of lights. Most cell phones didn't work either. Then we found that the water didn't work. Gas pumps didn't work. And food all over town suddenly had an expiration date of "eight hours from now." Then everyone left work at the same time, with no traffic lights working. Result - absolute gridlock.
Detroiters being Detroiters, the first thing that came to mind, of course, was rioting and looting. Apparently law enforcement understood this well.
"Before you pick up a brick and throw it through a window. Before you tip over a car. Before you take a TV, you need to ask yourself, 'Is it worth the next 10 years of my life?' " Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan said Friday.
Luckily nothing widespread ever happened. Detroit Police Chief Jerry Oliver congratulated residents over and over, saying that Detroiters "behaved admirably." Only in Detroit can you get praise for not looting your neighborhood. But despite their best efforts, including a nighttime curfew, there were more looting episodes than the police would admit. Indeed, just from anecdotal evidence gathered on a Friday night out on the town, (i.e. drunk people bending my ear), there were more incidents than have been publicized. A warehouse near a friend's apartment was broken into three times in the course of a night; no word on what was stored there, but someone clearly wanted it. Nearby, the famous Majestic Theater had its large front windows smashed out in an attempt to ransack the place. Several gas stations around town were looted, notably one at Eight Mile and Van Dyke, and one at Fenkell and Dexter. And fights began erupting in long lines at gas stations.
The suburbs weren't so reassured either; they blocked off all roads heading into their cities from Detroit right at the Eight Mile border and stood guard there until the lights came back on.
But Oliver did what he could to keep residents from putting two and two together and realizing that with little to no phone service and no lights, people could go on a rampage and nobody could call the police to have it stopped.
But we wouldn't be Detroiters if mayhem and rioting weren't always in the backs of our minds. Even before nightfall Thursday, there was a slight sense of impending anarchy. Everybody was acting a little off, a little goofy. I drove through Brush Park, and the first thing I saw was a tall wino with a golf club hitting balls and rocks straight into Woodward Avenue in full daylight. As I drove I noticed gang members directing traffic; it was only when I got close that I realized the Detroit Police Department had moved all their undercover officers onto traffic duty under the dead traffic signals all over town, and those gang members were cops. I drove through still-unlit Cass Corridor the next night, and I've never seen so many prostitutes out at one time; there were literally a dozen per block, all driven from their steamy old apartments. It added up to a strange sight.
Friday, August 15, 2003
Sunday, August 10, 2003
But the tourists don't have this sense, and you see this incredible scene of a group of Nordic-looking, shorts-clad people wandering into these festering cesspool neighborhoods and stores. I always notice this while driving, and I always wonder if they make it out intact with their money. They're such easy targets, they look like walking dollar signs. Even I sometimes want to roll them.
Saturday, August 09, 2003
If these fops at Blogger ever get Blogger Pro up and running again, I can post some of these photos to this site. Do it already!
Update: Maybe they'll save it after all. There seems to be a sudden surge of preservation sentiment sweeping city planners and property owners lately, probably a domino effect from the restoration of the Book-Cadillac hotel. Good, because the Madison-Lenox is truly beautiful, despite its current condition.
Went over to C's house, which lies on the border of Hamtramck and Detroit, right on the I-75 service drive. The house had a sewage backup that left everything in his basement coated in fecal water, including hundreds of rare LPs.
We started at Seven Brothers in Hamtramck, where a short, cute Polish girl tends bar, a girl C has a huge crush on yet says nothing to, then downtown to The Bronx for some drunken Ms. Pacman, then over to the Comet, then The Well, then The Detroit Art Space.
After that we went with several others to the Sugarhill Lounge, a bar on Clay north of the Boulevard for neighborhood black people in their 40s and 50s that has become our truly secret bar. The Sugarhill is something that is truly beyond description. The decor is 70s funk, complete with velvet nudes of black women on the walls. The jukebox is like 90 percent gold-plated, full-on soul.They treat me and my friends somewhat similar to how people treat deer they encounter in parks - everyone is very careful not to make any quick movements lest they scare the fragile white people away. They treat us like foreign emissaries there; owner (86-year-old Carrol), employees (Dee Dee the bartender, Little Bit the waitress) and customers. By then I was so drunk I couldn't even go along with the others to a diner for some alcohol-sop food. Went home and passed out.
Update: by 1 p.m. the worst was over, after I got moving around a bit. Morning rating:9.3; afternoon rating:6.7.
Thursday, August 07, 2003
I got some great photos of Washington Boulevard last night. I'm trying to capture some memory of it before they raze it and turn it back into an actual boulevard. If the Blogger folks ever get Blogger Pro working again, I can upgrade and add some photos to this dull-looking site.
Goddamn if this broken collarbone isn't deforming me - it juts out, tenting the skin and giving me a very uncomfortable skin-stretching feeling, like someone inserted a golf ball near my neck. It's creepy and awful.
Monday, August 04, 2003
We discovered that the Bronx has Ms. Pacman, which I haven't played since I was 12. But I got so worked up playing it that I kept wrenching my broken collarbone, making it hurt worse. Also went to Bar Bar, where the bartender has fully accepted us, and even likes me, but a couple weirdo regulars stare at us with contempt non-stop. It only strengthens my resolve to go there all the time. Take that!
Somehow we wound up at Small's in Hamtramck at 1 a.m., but what the hell for? We were already smashed, and the crowd there was that weird 1 a.m. group of either people whose night is winding down or people who couldn't get their night off the ground and are now resigned to drinking at Small's.
Then a drunken breakfast meal at the Clock, where C began our order by telling the barely-English-speaking Albanian hostess that she was "the hostess with the mostest." This so confused her that she took up the issue with the other Albanians who worked there, and they discussed it pretty mich the entire time we were there, making occasional referencing glances at our table. I said nothing, eating quietly, hoping he hadn't triggered some Old World blood feud with them.
I've taken hundreds of photos of Detroit over the past year, mostly to capture images of the Detroit I once knew and grew up in before it all vanishes in the city's attempt to pretty itself up. When we were teenagers (in the 80s) we always hung around Detroit because it was like the Wild West - anything goes, unlike every single person from the suburbs we knew, who looked astonished when we invited them downtown. For wild teenagers like us, it was heaven. You could drive 100 mph down the Woodward, past cops who didn't even look twice; you could run every red light between you and your destination with impunity; you could buy liquor and beer at nearly every party store in the city at 16 years old without an ID; you could (though we didn't) buy prostitutes in full view of lazy cops who didn't give a shit; you could (this we did) get dimebags of stinky pot in broad daylight in parking lots all over town; you could fire a gun in broad daylight with hardly a fear of being caught by authorities; you could park anywhere day or night, because the city was totally abandoned. No speed limits, no rules, no laws, and no safety.
I remember Brush Park, with hundreds of dilapidated, spooky, late-19th century Victorian mansions still salvageable; nowaday there's barely one or two on each block, and those are being demolished fast to make way for hideous, cookie-cutter condos. I remember Woodward, pre-Fox Theater renovation, when all of it looked like Highland Park - vast stretches of empty warehouses, storefronts and buildings from the Detroit river up until the city line. I remember Greektown being an island in a ghetto, with nothing more than Trapper's Alley to act as a draw. I remember the abandoned warehouses and small buildings that stood ghost-like where a gleaming Ford Field now stands.
It seems counterintuitive to yearn nostalgically for the days of full-on blight, but apocalyptic blight was the setting of my fondest memories.
Sunday, August 03, 2003
Got some great shots of some of the mansions, though; if I ever manage to upgrade this site I'll post 'em, because they're beautiful. Mostly though, I wanted to get a final shot at some of the mansions on the verge of being torn down by the city. They're goin' fast nowadays.
Lighting wasn't so good today - all rain and washed-out sky. Still, I'm getting much better at photography, something that, in my career as a writer, I never got much experience with.