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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Sunday was Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo, a holiday event in which they transform the zoo's walkways into brightly illuminated, Christmas-themed trails that you stroll in the darkness and cold. Inside zoo buildings, a select few exhibits, including amphibians, reptiles and butterflies, and the Rainforest exhibit, remained open. Friendly staff opened doors, cocoa steamed from booths, little children waddled and fell, all in all a good, relatively quiet way to wind down a weekend when you have so little energy left you can barely muster a level of walking that could only be described as languid.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Up bright and early Thanksgiving. Bitter cold does wonders on hangovers, I’ve found. Same for sleepiness. We had to walk only a couple blocks to a decent vantage point near the library, watched the floats, some of which threatened to come crashing down on the marchers, but never quite smothered them, much to my disappointment.

In an attempt at getting a better view and better pictures I got into a small building all surreptitious, but then I wandered sheepishly through its halls trying to find a way to the roof. Found an open door – I peeked in, a lady took one look at me and promptly came over to lock the door. I gave up looking and went back to our spot, occasionally puttting myself into the parade in order to get a photo or two.

Various parade clowns threw candy at the crowd, some with more ferocity than others. A strange young man handed out small flyers titled "Strange Facts about Turkeys" promoting a local Jewish congregation by noting that a Jewish physician gave the turkey its name and that "Turkeys are not smart enough to come in out of the rain and they have been known to drown standing up." Though it never mentions where they would come in to, exactly. Perhaps the turkeys are actually smart enough to know they don't have housing to return to. But he was gone before I could press the matter.

Later that night, after regrettable family eating functions, we went to Campus Martius Park to skate on the shiny new ice rink, along with several dozen of our fellow citizens. I know it’s a new rink and all but two things for those in charge to note: you have to Zamboni the ice when it becomes the texture of concrete, and you have to actually sharpen the rental skates before handing them out (it was an impromptu visit and I forgot my own skates). When someone like me, who plays hockey three times a week, has a hard time skating because the skates are dull, it’s time to sharpen them. And at $10 per person (fee + rental), they can afford a few grinding wheels to sharpen those things up. That might be one reason some of the skaters are gliding around on the ice waving their arms madly like they're having a spastic fit.

It’s still totally foreign for me to see amenities downtown like warming tents, concession stands, holiday music playing in the public square, undamaged holiday displays such as masses of pumpkins artfully arranged, and happy people not looking over their shoulder ever few seconds. I still remember standing in the exact same area about 15 years ago at this time of year when there was essentially nothing at all there but a few bums foraging in Kennedy Square and the occasional car passing between the darkened, empty buildings on Woodward. No bars, no restaurants, no Christmas displays, and certainly no people. The contrast between then and now is like night and day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Big Thanksgiving parade tomorrow, televised nationally. In keeping with recent Detroit traditions, perhaps someone in the crowd can throw a drink at a parader, who will then jump into the crowd and start fighting, and the crowd can go berserk with fists and drinks flying. Thanksgiving in Detroit, bitches!

The dilemma now is whether to leave the apartment, with its cozy, hangover-coddling bedsheets and cranked-up thermostat, to head outside in the snow and cold to stand behind tall, view-blocking people and watch floats roll by. The parade route is normally clogged enough; now that the Lions play downtown, it’s gonna be clogged with 50,000 tailgaters added on. I managed to get from a friend unprecedented legitimate access – keys, no less - to a building (and its roof with a view) along Woodward, but as luck would have it, the building falls just outside the parade route. So that's useless. I'm sort of being coerced into going, and right now it's the last thing I want to do tomorrow, especially since tonight figures to be one helluva drinking night, as usual. And holidays make me want to drink. A lot.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Freep has an article today on the great job the Detroit Public Lighting Department is doing fixing streetlights, except for the fact that they're really doing a lousy job fixing streetlights, thousands of which are dimmed across the city. Having a broken streetlamp is great for when you want to do bad things unseen, but not so great when your car is parked beneath one or your house is adjacent to one.

When a streetlight goes out in Roseville, or Royal Oak, or Fraser, the light is fixed in a day or two, largely because DTE is responsible for those lights, whereas the Detroit Public Lighting Department is responsible for those in Detroit. And the DPL is as motivated, efficient and well-equipped as a disgruntled Soviet workers colony.

To be fair, part of the problem just might just be the drug-crazed street freaks who keep prying bits of metal off the base of the lamps to sell as scrap, rather than channel all that effort and labor into purposeful, gainful employment that, ounce for ounce, pays a lot more for the same amount of expended energy. Ah, but then you couldn't take drugs and drink all day. What a drag!

This scrapping often leads to the wiring being jacked, and thus a broken light. To stop this, the city paid a company $1.2 million to install large plastic shields on the base of the lamps, in an effort to temporarily bewilder the scrap stealers. But take heart, crack-addled Detroiters - word is, all you really have to do is give some of the barrel-shaped shields a tug and bam! Instant access to 1/47 cent worth of metal. How's that for rewarding work! If that's the case on all of them, word will spread quickly through the metal-funded drug community, and the non-working, not-really-protective "shields" will turn out to be a bust at a cost of only $1.2 million! Who says city government isn't getting more efficient? Ten years ago, that would've been $2 million easily. Progress, I say.

Update: More lighting woes.

Monday, November 22, 2004

On Sunday morning I stood tired and disoriented in Campus Martius Park, looking lost, waiting on a friend roughly near where Kennedy Square used to be in the center of downtown, actually where Woodward used to be before they messed it up, trying to figure out what the hell all these new things were that had suddenly appeared - skating rink, Au Bon Pain food provider, giant Christmas tree, public square with foot traffic.

At one point I was standing and staring blankly, and out of nowhere a bunch of people were surrounding me, and I realized that I had become inadvertantly engulfed in the Preservation Wayne downtown tour. I had always intended to find a Preservation Wayne tour to go on someday, and wouldn't you know it, a tour found me. Having nothing to do at the time I let myself get swept up with them, and suddenly I was on a free tour of downtown builidngs whose security normally takes one look at me and tells me to leave. Not this time, suckers! I used the occasion to scope out ways to move in and out of the buildings on future non-tour-sanctioned visits. Take that, fuzz!

Later I went on my own, unofficial downtown tour of the abandoned and soon-to-be-demolished Statler Hotel with an explorer friend who had never been inside there. I stared out the windows as he took photos. A crazy woman walked by the hotel shouting hostile obscenities at the top of her lungs. "I'm not crazy!" she yelled, and then continued yelling all sorts of crazy shit that echoed off the buildings into Grand Circus Park. The People Mover went by, merely feet away from me as I stood basically on a ledge, smiling at it. I was close enough to see the expressions on the passengers' faces, and they were close enough to see someone standing on the ledge of an abandoned building, staring at them.

We climbed to the roof, and as we were taking in the expansive view we noticed someone in nearby Trolley Plaza standing on their balcony looking straight down on us. He then pointed directly at us as if to emphasize the fact that, yes, it is us who was being watched. We moved.

I went back to the stairwell that had collapsed under a friend's feet during a visit months ago, leaving him dangling above certain death. I had to see it again, partly because at the time it seemed so unreal that a few collapsed steps would drop to the next level, take those out, then drop to the level after that, knock those out, and so on. Sure enough, I could see at least four levels of stairways that had collapsed in a chain reaction after the top level gave way. Someone official had marked off the stairway with yellow caution tape.

And once again, my poor sense of direction and the labyrinth qualities of the Statler combined to get us lost, this time in a pitch-black basement flooded in some parts with several inches of oily chemical water. We had to trod through the flooded parts, and since neither of us had waterproof footwear on (I had cheap, thin sneakers), we found some plastic shopping bags and tied them around our feet in a doomed attempt to stay dry and happy. We looked positively stupid clomping around noisily in these bags, which surprisingly held the water out for about eight or nine steps before being overwhelmed by the rising water level, at which point they flooded our feet with very cold, nasty water. So now we were miserable and trapped in a dark basement, surrounded by rusty metal equipment of one kind or another, sloshing around. It must've been a half-hour before we finally found our way back out to daylight.

We found ourselves walking down Washington, feet and pants soaking wet, leaving a slime trail behind us, both of us weary and unhappy and calling it a day, wanting nothing more than to wash ourselves very thoroughly.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Compuware is laying off employees again. I always wanted to check out the interior of their new building at Michigan and Woodward, but, based on their recurring layoffs, perhaps now I’ll just wait until it, too, becomes abandoned when they go out of business, and then check it out in my own usual way.


The mayor's fading fortunes are the topic of an article in the Freep yesterday. Stories declaring that the mayor's political stature is slipping have suddenly blossomed in the wake of the failure of the Kwame-backed Proposal E shools proposal by a whopping 2-to-1 margin.

In a wide-ranging interview Monday after his New York speech, Kilpatrick marveled at the stark contrasts in how he is perceived inside and outside Detroit. And he conceded that a combination of his own mistakes and a steady barrage of invective from his critics have sown doubts about him in the minds of Detroit voters and business leaders -- doubts that he must deal with to be re-elected a year from now.
"People are looking to see if Kwame Kilpatrick is still going to be their guy. And I have a great deal of reassuring to do," Kilpatrick told me.
There is growing concern that the corporate community may scale back its support for the city -- and for Kilpatrick -- if schools are seen to be backsliding toward the corruption and declining student performance of past eras. Kilpatrick is scheduled to meet next week with the Detroit Regional Chamber, another business group.
Outside Detroit, Kilpatrick, 34, encounters little such concern. Whether it's his size or his smile, the earring or the oratory or all of the above, he's hailed as a rising star on the national scene.

In a city where, in the minds of most voters, incumbency and name recognition wholly supplant being educated about candidates and the issues, the fact that Kwame can’t muster more than a statistical dead heat in the polls spells huge trouble for him (though the polling service, EPIC/MRA is often wildly incorrect). I guess it’s Hello Mayor Hendrix!

That hip-hop mayor thing is really popular when you don't have to live in Detroit with a fleeing population, crumbling schools, dimmed streetlights, crime, etc., ad infinitum.


The Ren Cen People Mover station is finally, finally reopening. Despite the People Mover being largely useless, at least the stations have a certain artistic flair.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Last week there was a mild outcry over General Motors’ plans to cover the infamous whales painting on the David Broderick Tower with advertising. But a couple days’ worth of bitching coming from various quarters put the kibosh on that plan, and now - thank God! - the whales remain on the wall, looking much like their counterparts in the Detroit River, swimming merrily under the Ambassador Bridge, as pelicans swoop down, skimming the waters for food, dodging surfers.

The Campus Martius Park seems to finally be finished, followed soon by the fountain and the very small ice rink there. That display better be really, really good when it's completed to justify screwing up the straight line of Woodward with multiple mistimed traffic lights and slow curves around that centerpiece. But on the plus side, the city will have an official Christmas tree, right next to the Hard Rock Cafe, which will help consolidate wide-eyed tourists in that one small area, making it that much easier to contain them.


Someone died yesterday in a malfunctioning elevator in the Trolley Plaza on Washington. Just a couple weeks ago, a bunch of people got trapped inside an elevator in the David Stott Building. It seems there's more to fear, safety-wise, in the city's occupied buildings than in its abandoned buildings. Then again, maybe not:

Forensics tests are being performed after what appeared to be human remains were found in a Detroit building Thursday night. The human remains were found in the elevator shaft of a building at John R and Edmunds, Local 4 reported.

This was at the Carlton Plaza Hotel, long abandoned, undergoing rehabilitation, and apparently unfamiliar to the crack team of research-oriented reporters over at Local 4, who opted for the failsafe identification term "a building." Twice. But whose body bits were they? Explorer? Disoriented drunk? Victim of foul play? None of the options is particularly comforting.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The good news is the irritating mural on the side of the David Broderick Tower might be covered up. The bad news is that it would be replaced by advertising. If that's the case, they might as well leave the damn mural there, unmolested. So there's no good news after all. I'll take art, even bad art, over advertising any day.

No offense to mural lovers, but that painting never made much sense to me. Wyland (the artist) might as well have painted gazelles and rhinos on that wall, for all the connection any of that has to Detroit, or Michigan, or the Midwest for that matter. Even if he had thrown deer and pheasants up there, at least they would be native animals, and would've provoked some sort of visceral familiarity in its local viewers.

The whales mural always struck me as California pothead art, the kind you find at the starving artists sales they periodically hold in places such as Eastland Mall, where you find paintings of majestic wolves and their cubs on a foresty snowscape, like you see airbrushed on the side of a van now and then. Now that's art!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Feels Like the First Time

You know you’re running out of abandoned buildings to explore when you revisit buildings that weren’t that great the first time.

Such is the case with a relatively small, two- and three-story (depending where you're standing when you're in there), not particularly enthralling building at Second and Amsterdam that’s had many uses by several not particularly interesting businesses.

Sounds exciting, right? I certainly know how to sell something.

Actually, the building wasn’t all that bad. Anything old is interesting to me. And it’s really two buildings, both built in 1900 right against each other. Both went through a succession of small business tenants over the years. The north end building was last used by Century Florist Supply Company and the Chuck Bannon Floral School; before that, during the 1950s and 60s, it was the Amsterdam Press Bindery, which shared space with E.C. Moore and Co. Dental Supplies, among others. The southern building, at 6200 Second, was Creative Services Inc. and the P. Colby Studio, seller of “art goods.” It, too, housed a number of small businesses over the years.

We had visited last winter, but as seems to be increasingly the case lately, the photos I took that day mysteriously vanished from my computer, making this the third or fourth frustrating time something like this has happened recently. On a sunny weekend I revisited the site with a couple friends who hadn’t seen the building before so I could retake photos of all the things I’d originally taken photos of the first time.

The first floor seems to be the preferred floor for squatters, judging by the amount of old newspapers, food containers and old, dirty clothes scattered around. Some of the newspapers were dated this past June, meaning people have continued to squat here even after I had visited the first time. One room was converted to a bedroom, complete with the requisite mattress and blankets, countertop with food remnants, and of course, urine jars. On the plus side, I thought to myself, at least this person's not just pissing on the floor right next to his belongings, as a lot of squatters do, something that's always been incomprehensible to me.

A sampling of frosted pine cones available for purchase were tacked onto a display board on a wall. A lone, pink high heel shoe rested on the floor. An absolutely ancient, apparently multi-line phone system, called the Talk-a-Phone, remained on a shelf, gradually yellowing.

Apart from the lower floor, the rest of the building is little more than old, dark brown wood floors in various stages of buckling, illuminated dimly by the pale, yellow sun of autumn afternoon. The floors were cleaned out except for labeled wood shelves used to sort Christmas decorations, wreath components and floral-related products.

On a floor upstairs, in a small, unilluminated room, someone had made a little bed out of several blankets and left behind a backpack full of clothes, but it was hard to tell if it was left there some time ago or that afternoon. I started to go through the backpack, but my phobia about touching absolutely disgusting filthy things kicked in, and I could bear to go any further. In any event, there didn’t seem to be much in there besides tightly stuffed clothes, although the squatter had some 1040 EZ income tax forms laying around.

We got to the roof, being semi-careful not to attract the attention of firemen in the nearby firehouse or workers in the occupied factory to the east. But rooftops are becoming less enjoyable now that the breeze carries a chilly bite, and so after climbing some iron ladders to other parts of the roof, we left and worked our way back out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

As detroitfunk has chronicled, the crew filming the movie "The Island" decided not to leave without adding a bit of vandalism of their own to our fair city by putting an absolutely lame piece of graffiti on the Statler Hotel, with the giveaway notation "LA" painted at the bottom. The design, the concept, the color, all seem too effete and fem to be locally produced. Even the name, "Sash," is soft and embarrassing. They also added some inexplicable stick-figure graffiti to the all-black perimeter of the United Artists theater. It would be a shame now if someone, don't know who, decided to have a few drinks and then go tag the hell out of all those pretty white trailers the crew is currently staying in.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Found this charming article today:

A fur coat giveaway sponsored by the animal rights group the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, turned into a battle of the have-nots and have-nots Monday outside a Detroit homeless shelter.
PETA, the group known for splashing red paint on fur-wearers and stripping naked to protest furs, gave away 25 fur coats to homeless women. But the group's goodwill effort turned bad when dozens of homeless people began showing up at the downtown office of COTS, Coalition of Temporary Shelters, expecting to receive a coat after hearing about giveaways of thousands of furs on television.
Cheryl Johnson, chief executive of COTS, said TV's misleading report had the shelter's phones "ringing off the hook." It also put the shelter in the awkward position of saying no to needy people.
A small, angry crowd gathered outside the shelter, where inside, a hand-picked group of women flipped through a rack of fur coats PETA had brought. They modeled them in front of a small mirror in the shelter director's office, smiling when they found one they liked.
They left with full-length minks, fox jackets and rabbit wraps worth hundreds of dollars.
As the event went on, the crowd outside got larger as word spread about the giveaway. It got angrier as each new coat owner passed by.

This is what happens when you use homeless people as props to make some political or cultural statement. While I sympathize with their feelings because I too love animals, PETA is notorious for thoughtless, stupid stunts like this. Hope you're happy, jerks.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Back to the Future

I stepped out of my work offices at Vita Corp. just as the clock ticked off 5 o'clock. Walking out the front door onto Spring Street, I could either head towards Flower Street and towards the subway, or just stand in the bus stop at Fifth Street, waiting for one of the many crisscrossing busses to take me home, down towards Interstate 101.

Was it a dream? A drug-and-alcohol induced hallucination? Actually, it was the set of the movie "The Island," which is currently filming in Detroit and utterly clogging the downtown area centered at Fort and Shelby with detours, gawkers, and goofballs hawking their amateur movie scripts to anyone who is willing to pay them attention. The crew replaced real street signs with those of a future Los Angeles, set up giant pressure cooker-looking devices on corners and created huge signs for nonexistent corporations. In addition, they briefly took over the Michigan Central Station and a few other areas around town. Details here, here, and here.

Perhaps we should be proud that when Hollywood filmakers want to make a movie about futuristic ruins, they don't bother creating sets, they instead go straight to modern-day Detroit. Then again, perhaps not. It was either irony or folly to see the film crew set up collapsing scaffolds next to the United Artists theater, basically creating fake ruins to sit next to real ruins.

Speaking of drugs and alcohol, it's gonna be a week before I've caught up on sleep, having spent nearly the entire weekend awake and out partying, celebrating the end of a grueling election season that made workdays horrible for us journalism types. Friday night's bar crawl ranged from north end (La Dolce Vita) to downtown (Bookies) and some spots in between (Third Street Saloon), followed by a liquor store stop so we could stock up even more. Saturday, on about four hours sleep I managed to drive way deep into Macomb County to play late-night hockey, skate my ass off, shower, then grab my girl and a couple friends and head down to Lager House to see the truly incomparable Lee Marvin Computer Arm play a sonic assault of a show, then straggle home as best as we could and stay up all night.

Sunday, I sat on the couch and slipped in and out of sleep as the Lions game unfolded on TV, making my semi-consciousness a merciful happenstance, considering the dreadful performance by on-again, off-again Joey Harrington.

The effects of all that fun are hitting me now, as I sit at a work computer on Monday morning, suffering immensely from a variety of physical concerns, most centered around utter fatigue and dehydration.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Man, it sucks when the local daily publicizes your quietly performed hobby by splashing it on the front page of the local section. I knew this was coming, because other explorers told me the reporter had tried to contact them for the article.

Not much to say about it, apart from the appaling instance of the explorers using a crowbar to pry a board off a window. That not only ruins it for the rest of us by drawing unneeded attention to a now-visibly-open building, it also suggests to a curious reader that these are standard methods worth imitating. We never do that stuff when exploring, not because we're special purists or something, but because it's counter to one's own interest. We always make sure there's no trace of our entry largely so we could go back to a building at will without announcing to the world that the building was open. Also, we didn't want idiots and derelicts going in and smashing plaster moldings or tearing up old walls to get 1/99 cent worth of copper pipe. In many cases, we've actually put ourselves at greater danger of arrest by sticking around and sealing a building up or obscuring our entry point after we've gotten out. We could've run off, but we didn't.

Finally, the irony is that the Fort Shelby Hotel is wide open for anyone who takes the time to observe and contemplate. In fact, on most abandoned buildings, a bit of cleverness can get you in without changing anything whatsoever about the building, and finding that way in is half the satisfaction.

But those kids are OK. They're just eager; they'll get better.

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