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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.


Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Memorial Day weekend in Detroit means it's time for the technofest, also known as DEMF, oops I mean Movement, oops I mean Fuse-In. In reality, the event should be called Invasion of the Skinny White Kids.

The constant name changes reflect the schitzy, haphazard way the thing’s been organized over the years, so poorly in fact, that for the first time in the history of Hart Plaza festivals, they had to charge an admission fee — $10 per day or $25 for the whole weekend — just to break even after botching corporate sponsorship.

This admission fee, of course, doesn’t apply to me and my magic press pass, which allowed me full access to a whole bunch of stuff I wound up having no interest in having access to. But freebies are freebies, and the $25 saved was well-spent on intoxicants, none of which were in short supply, as evidenced by the perennial sight of kids unable to hold their dope and stumbling around in a tipsy stupor, though in some cases it was indistinguishable from the dancing.

The only drawback, as forecast insistently by our local news for the week preceding the holiday, was the constant, pouring, four-day rain. Oh wait, none of that happened actually. In fact, the weather forecasters could’ve made the exact opposite forecast and been 90 percent accurate. Apart from a brief trickle of water for 10 minutes on Saturday, Detroit enjoyed mostly sunny weather all weekend. Could the Hodaks and Gaidicas possibly been more incorrect? I could’ve rustled up a blind witch doctor to come up with a more accurate forecast.

The funny thing is, the vendors' booths were the exact same ones selling the exact same crap as they did during the Hoedown a few weeks back, with a few exceptions like smarmy Detroit slogan T-shirts and hats here and there. Daytime crowds this year were sparse, but nighttime was as crowded as previous years. Not bad for a last-minute, throw-together festival that almost didn't happen this year.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Lost sight of, perhaps, in the recent troubles in the city is the fact that it’s springtime, which, even amid hectic days, quietly compels us to savor it.

And nowhere downtown does it seem more springlike than Campus Martius Park, formerly Kennedy Square, which had for years been a dirty, all-concrete home to pigeons and lunatics. Now redone and in its first year as a rebuilt public square, it’s got large swaths of flowers such as fragrant velvet hyacinths, powdery daffodils, and pale tulips emblazoned with red streaks, striving skyward along with the buildings surrounding them, aiming for the sun, drinking the light, which falls between the skyscrapers in cleaved strands during the daytime, as the city moves around the soft gardens set amidst the glass and stone encircling them.






Monday, May 23, 2005

Dust in the Wind

The Madison-Lenox Hotel is now gone forever, with no remnant of its existence other than lingering clouds of dust borne on asbestos fibers and a giant pile of historic rubble. And as has become a habit here on detroitblog lately, here is an obituary for yet another piece of our history that's gone:

The Madison Hotel was built in 1900 on the edge of beautiful Harmonie Park, on the swank corner of Madison and Grand River. It was designed by architect F. C. Pollmar in French Late Gothic style and made of pressed brick, cut stone and terra cotta, at a cost of $100,000. It originally opened as the Madison Apartment Hotel. A two-story restaurant opened adjacent to it the same year.

It was followed three years later by the Lenox Hotel, designed by architect A. C. Varney with a similar height and architectural design as the neighboring Madison. The restaurant wall next to the new hotel was taken out so all three structures could be connected, with both sharing access to the restaurant, later known as the Madison-Lenox Cafe.

The combined luxury hotels sat adjacent to Harmonie Park, across from the Detroit Athletic Club and just down the street from the Capitol Theater, at the time the fifth-largest in the world, now known as the Detroit Opera House.

Billed as a “high class home for business and professional people,” the hotel offered daily, weekly, and monthly rates. For years the hotels were listed separately as the Madison Hotel and the Lenox Hotel, until being consolidated as the Hotels Madison-Lenox. The hotel had the rather sweet telephone number Cherry 3900.


The Madison-Lenox underwent a total renovation in the mid-1950s, updating the turn-of-the-century decor with sleek 50s interiors, replacing the light from the crystal chandeliers in the lounge with table lamps, and converting the lounge into the TV room. Air conditioning was added, as was a music room.

As the 70s and 80s wore on the hotel lost any pretense of being a luxury hotel. By the 1990s it had become a haven for transients, indigents, and fixed-income elderly. Half its tenants had no job and were receiving general assistance until the state ended that program in the early 90s and nearly all those tenants moved out.

In 1994 the hotel was purchased by architect David Schervish, who had plans to give it a $6 million to $8 million transformation into a luxury hotel and residence under a federal grant, as part of an overall Harmonie Park renovation. This led to the closure of the hotel and the eviction of all its residents. The city gave modest relocation expenses to the residents of the hotel, but a few tenants refused to leave, even after the city shut off utilities, and had to be forcibly evicted by the police.


But like so many proposed projects in the city, it was gradually delayed over and over until the idea just disappeared. In May 1998 it was sold to Mike Ilitch, who somehow convinced the city to grant him a $700,000 interest-free loan to tear down the buildings, despite being one of the city’s wealthiest businessmen. Ilitch promised an mere 89-car parking lot on the site. Preservationists continued to fight the demolition plans.

Meanwhile, the hotel deteriorated further, exposed by broken windows to the elements and to idiots who thought a 100-year-old endangered historic hotel was the proper place for large-scale graffiti, the presence of which was specifically cited Sunday by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick as one of the excuses he used for its demolition. Good work, guys.

Several times over the past two years, the Detroit Historic District Council refused to grant a demolition permit to Ilitch, at one point even ordering Olympia (his company) to shore the building up and either renovate or sell it, moves which delayed demolition until last week, when the head of the City’s Buildings and Safety Engineering Department suddenly declared that it was in danger of “eminent” collapse, as his department's original, illiterate press release stated, though nothing in reality indicated any collapse was actually imminent.

Finally, with the Major League Baseball All-Star Game coming to town in less than two months and the Superbowl coming to town in less than a year, Kwame simply declared the Historic District Council's decision "wrong" and proceeded to order his crews to tear the hotel down, leaving Detroit with one less reminder that it once was, despite all current appearances to the contrary, a magnificent city.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Eve of Destruction

I went by the Madison-Lenox Hotel yesterday, the site of an unauthorized demolition that nobody seems to want to take full responsibility for, not Mike Ilitch the owner, not Kwame Kilpatrick the mayor, though both have vowed over the years to destroy it.

The smell of freshly cracked, damp, century-old wood hung in the air around the structure. A huge pile of wood shards and brick sat where a small building stood only a day before. A large gash was carved into the Madison building, and lay open like a wound from which chunks of debris were pulled loose by gravity and sent crashing several stories below.

Onlookers and photographers milled around the site, taking it in perhaps one last time, burning in their memories the sight of something utterly unlike anything built today, something that will never be duplicated or replaced, even if the will to do so existed. Mike Ilitch, owner of the property, has wanted to tear it down to replace it with nothing more noble than a small surface parking lot. His glorious dream might now finally come true, despite being told by the city's Historic District Commission not to touch it, despite it being placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of the nation's most-endangered historic places, despite getting offers to buy it and restore it.


From the Freep:

Amru Meah, director of Buildings & Safety Engineering, said Wednesday that Kilpatrick had "definitely not" ordered him to proceed with the razing.
Meah said an inspection by his department in late April revealed that the Madison-Lenox was in imminent danger of collapse and that its removal was justified as an emergency.
Asked whether his powers overrode the city's historic-designation ordinance that protected the building, Meah said, "It is my opinion that it requires me to take emergency measures to abate these kinds of dangerous conditions."


There weren’t bricks randomly falling off the building and crashing in the street below, as is the case with the clearly collapsing Studebaker Plant; nor was masonry falling in large chunks down 10 stories, as is happening with the rear of the Metropolitan Building; nor were windows spontaneously plummeting to the street below, as happens with the similarly Ilitch-owned United Artists building. Yet crews aren’t tearing down any of these, including the very-nonsalvageable Studebaker plant; in that instance the city merely blocked off the pile of rubble accumulating on the sidewalk. No rational argument could be made that the Madison-Lenox in danger of collapse.


I’ve been in the Madison-Lenox buildings (there were three) several times over the years, including very recently, and there is no truth to the claim that it was structurally unsound. The fact that they can plow giant gashes into the sides of the building and it still remains standing testifies to that fact.

Certainly, it was a mess inside, as any building with all its windows broken year-round is prone to be. The upper floors were pretty badly damaged due to widening holes on the tar roof. Glass shards and peeling paint defined most rooms, but we walked through with impunity many times, and none of the floors or walls was in danger of collapse, and this is coming from someone who’s had floors collapse under him. To claim that it was in imminent danger of collapse is an outright lie.

The head of a city department claimed credit for the deed, but department heads don't tear down century-old buildings on their own, without the knowledge of their boss. Kwame did this deliberately, his continuing silence on the issue a firm confirmation of that fact. This is what “taking the gloves off” means, as he said in his campaign kickoff speech.

The demolition of the hotel most angers the preservationists, the historians, the academics, the media who have been hounding him all year, the architects, people that Kwame knows consider him an embarrassment because they know he’s too coarse to understand beauty unless it’s dancing on a pole, or history unless it’s one’s credit card statement. This gesture is a firm "screw you" to the people who already disdain him.


A court injunction halted demolition temporarily yesterday, and a court hearing is scheduled today on the matter, but it all might be too late. By plowing through the building and making it less structurally sound, the Kilpatrick administration gives some reality to its originally false argument that the building was dangerous. It might not have been before, but, he can say, it sure as hell is now. It's an imperious, arrogant move that he may very well get away with, despite the outcry. We'll see.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Talk about being absolutely busted. On the same day that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick made his official reelection announcement, the Freep further adds to his troubles by obtaining and printing the portions of his city-issued credit card statement that he tried to black out.

Put side-by-side with his censored version, the Freep version points the reader directly to the charges Kwame didn’t want anyone to see, including Las Vegas hotel rooms for his family’s baby-sitter, New Orleans hotel stays for his sister, Vegas spa visits for his bodyguard, beauty shop visits for his wife, lots of limos for himself, and on and on, all of course while the city spiraled further into debt.

After learning that the newspaper had obtained unedited copies from an independent source, Kilpatrick said at his regularly scheduled Monday news conference that the city withheld the information because the charges were "either paid for or reimbursed to the city, or it's being disputed...
"I will write a check for everything that is in dispute with our credit card company," he said. "Everything. Every dollar."
The mayor, who said he will write the check today, already has reimbursed the city for some of the charges -- nearly three years after they were made and on the same day city lawyers agreed to provide financial records to the Free Press.


He spent city money he shouldn't have, he tried to cover it up, he waited until he was busted before starting to reimburse the city, and he attacked the press for exposing him. It's hard to figure out what element of his arrogance is worse - his contempt for the public's right to know, or his contempt for the rule of law.

But none of this wasn’t going to dampen his reelection announcement yesterday. The number-one rule of Detroit politics: When you’re backed into a corner, go black. This he and his supporters did.

For his speech, Kwame lapsed into a discernible old-time preacher cadence; his mom, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, screamed wildly into the microphone like a demon-possessed target of one of those old-time preacher's exorcisms; and his bumbling dad got up and gave victimization a new twist, saying the source of all the accusations against Kwame was the story of his wild Manoogian mansion party, which dad called a "big lie":

"They had a big lie in Europe. A guy by the name of Goering said that the Jews was responsible for all the misery that the Germans was having. One lie! And that lie caught on," he said. "And before it was all over, 6 million of them died. Off of one big lie."

I’m not sure how this analogy is supposed to line up with the current situation. So the press are the Nazis? Or is it the voters? Is sizable Channel 7 investigative reporter Steve Wilson in the role of Goering? And does that mean that Kwame’s like a giant black Jew? I’m lost here.

But I’m not alone in being lost. So is Kwame’s crew, including his hapless staff, his demented family and his increasingly tongue-tied supporters. The man’s essence seems to be part ambition, part careless self-destruction, part low-class ghetto trash. Even after being elected to an important office, he can’t let go of the bling, the Moet, the limos, the hos, the strippers, the thug bodyguards, and the smug attitude. He governs like he’s the mayor of a hip hop video, not of a crumbling but wonderful city that’s in need of strong, responsible leadership at a crucial time when it’s not necessarily guaranteed that the city will continue to rebound from its collapse. Detroit's so-called comeback is still more of a momentum of perception than an unstoppable reality. Nothing makes it inevitable. It could not be a worse time for the city to have a bad mayor.

And once again, when the mayor is called on to be accountable, he instead lashes out, implying that he’s the victim and “the gloves are off now.”

"It's time for some offense," said Kilpatrick, a former college football player. The crowd cheered. "As an offensive tackle, I can't wait to hit someone."

Is this a campaign or a Ludacris song? Hit someone? Who, the press for doing their jobs? The public, for expecing a decent, honest mayor? Who is Kwame's enemy, besides his own low-class tendencies?

Apparently he wasn’t kidding about the gloves coming off, though – this morning, the first full day of his reelection campaign, crews started tearing down the century-old Madison Lenox Hotel, a historic structure Kwame wants to get rid of, despite a Historic District Commission ruling that forbids demolition, despite it being irreplacable, despite demolition being illegal.

But the law in Detroit is irrelevant, at least for Kwame.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Didn’t spend much time downtown this weekend for fear of the Hoedown, an annual event in its 23rd year in which pseudo-rednecks and those aspiring to act like pseudo-rednecks flood Hart Plaza in Detroit, of all places, and throw a country music/lifestyle festival.

I don’t want to characterize an entire group of people with a broad brush, as is the annual delight of some self-appointed elites who disparage certain people because they don’t watch The West Wing or read Slate, or because their clothes and hairstyles aren't exactly fashionable.

Nevertheless, I will note that physical fitness or cleanliness isn’t necessarily at the top of the to-do list of a lot of attendees, except for the suburban hotties who throw together midriff-baring country-themed outfits and draw criminal sexual conduct-type stares from some of the out-of-towners.

Musical taste is a subjective thing, so I will put this as diplomatically as possible by simply saying that country music is not for me. Not at all. But it was my anthropological duty to do the detroitblog thing and take a walk along the river and see what’s what.

The Hoedown crowd consists of people who never venture south of I-69 coming into the city to get their first glimpse of skyscrapers and black people, and suburbanites who come to glimpse people from north of I-69 out of their element. There’s also the handful of hobos who normally live in or around Hart Plaza who suddenly find their “home” invaded by 10,000 hillbillies, causing them to babble incoherently to themselves as the countrified crowds pass by. They babble incoherently anyway, but during the Hoedown their chatter is slightly more spirited.

A handful of rebel flags, a mechanical bull downstairs, a few drunks bleeding from the ear for some reason as they stumbled into walls as they walked, you get the idea.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Devil's night seems to be starting much earlier this year. Apparently, a frisky firebug has been making the rounds overnight in Highland Park, starting several separate fires at businesses and homes both occupied and abandoned, causing the local news anchors to go hysterical way too early in the morning. But I got the chance to stop by the scene of the one of the fires, just in time to get this anticlimactic shot of nothing whatsoever. More on the fires here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Saved

Detroit is home to a number of stunningly beautiful and well-preserved churches, and while spending the entire weekend crawling around Southwest Detroit for Cinco de Mayo, I took time out to explore Most Holy Redeemer Parish at Vernor and Junction.

The church began as a “daughter” of the Most Holy Trinity Church on Porter Street 125 years ago, and was founded to minister to the Irish population spreading out from Corktown.

Bishop Caspar Borgess assigned the Rev. Aegidlus Smulders, a German immigrant who was a Confederate Army chaplain during the Civil War, to start a parish south of downtown, to handle the overflow population.

The church had rather modest beginnings. On St. Patrick's Day 1880, Smulders started a church inside grocer Patrick Radigan’s store on West Jefferson at Cavalry, in what was then Springwells Township before Detroit annexed it. Smulders conducted mass in Radigan's shop for six weeks before moving to a larger, two-story site, Paddy McMahon's Saloon. The church held services on the first floor while the second floor served as living quarters for priests.






Smulders belonged to the Order of the Redemptorist Fathers, a society of missionary priests founded in the 18th century. In September 1880 the Order bought four acres at Dix and Lover's Lane in Springwells, which is now the corner of West Vernor and Junction in Detroit.

The first church at the site was a simple wood frame bluilding. It was replaced in 1902 by a neo-Gothic structure that lasted a couple decades. The current church's cornerstone was laid in 1921. It's the nation's second Roman-style basilica (the other is in Cleveland).

Designed by the architectural firm of Donaldson & Meier, the red brick structure was completed in 1923 and cost $200,000, twice the initial budget.

The exterior is cross-shaped and has a peaked roof. Inside, however, the ceiling is flat and shows an elaborate, decorative grid pattern. The sanctuary is under a Byzantine-style half-dome decorated with a mural of Jesus, the holy redeemer referenced in the church’s name.

The sanctuary is constructed of white Carrara marble and a darker Botticino marble. The altar is under another half-dome, supported by six columns of green malachite from Greece, featuring a large mural of the Last Supper.


Intricate, detailed mosaics of Pewabic tile, glass and metal sparkle in the interior. The Casavant brand organ at the rear of the church was imported from Quebec, and has more than 100 pipes.

On the right of the main altar is an altar with a statue of St. Joseph. On the left of the altar (pictured at left) is an altar decorated by an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, patron of the Redemptorists.

A fourth altar now has a painting depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe from Mexico. The church seats 1,500 people, and holds five masses on Sundays, in both English and Spanish.

The church grew quickly, with the composition of its congregation undergoing significant changes during its existence. After the Civil War, the Irish residents it served moved further downriver and were replaced by Poles moving west from Poletown, and later by Germans, Hungarians, Maltese, Lebanese and Jordanians near the turn of the century.


In 1910, the number of registered families attending Holy Redeemer totaled 1,100. By 1914, that figure had grown to 2,500 and the number of Sunday masses had increased from seven to nine.

At its peak during the 1920s and 1930s, Holy Redeemer was among the biggest English-speaking Catholic parishes in the country, with 20,000 families attending. Its elementary and high schools enrolled 2,300 students.

By the 1930s, people from Latin America who lived in the Corktown area began settling in Southwest Detroit. By the mid-1950s, Hispanics (mostly Mexican) at the Holy Redeemer schools were 20 percent of the student body. That number grew steadily over the years, until Hispanics became the overwhelming majority attending both the church and schools.

The size of the campus grew over the years as well. Holy Redeemer now consists of an collection of dark red-brick structures, including the church, rectory, convent, cultural center, and elementary, middle and high schools.

Students at Holy Redeemer were taught since 1881 by the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The IHM order was founded in 1845 by Sister Marie Theresa Maxis Duchemin and Sister Ann Constance Schaaf, members of a Baltimore order of black and mixed-race nuns, who cofounded the IHM order in Monroe to teach French immigrant children. At its peak in 1966, it had 1,600 nuns in its order.

The Brothers of Mary later joined the IHM nuns at Holy Redeemer and helped teach students until the 1940s.


In 1986 the nuns' convent and the church were used as the set of the movie "The Rosary Murders," starring Donald Sutherland, who caused a bit of hoopla then by staying in the convent rather than a local hotel and cooking breakfast for the nuns during his stay. The movie was based on the book by William Kienzle, local murder mystery author and former metro Detroit priest, who died in 2001.

The Redemptorists moved away in 1999, and the few remaining IHM nuns, their numbers dwindling, moved from the large convent last summer, though some of them still teach at the elementary school. Basilian Fathers now run the high school, which was on a list of local Catholic schools the Archdiocese recently announced it has scheduled to close in the near future.

About 5,000 families now belong to the church, and most are drawn from the Hispanic neighborhoods surrounding the church, making it the largest Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Detroit. In fact, the parish has grown by over 1,000 families over the past five years, reflecting the continuing immigration to the southwest side of the city.

I went there on a Saturday afternoon, and found an unlocked side door. There's nothing like self-serve! The lights were off, the chuch was empty and silent, and I crept in, footsteps echoing in the large space, slightly worried as I imagined myself getting caught and yelled at in Spanish for trespassing.

After shooting long-exposure photos for about 15 minutes in the dim light, I heard movement and came face to face with a priest, who turned out to be quite friendly and understanding about what I was doing once he saw the tripod and camera, even letting me crawl around the upper level of the church after he explained to me the church’s Romanesque architecture and its long history. He was enthusiastic about the area and the families who attend, week after week, keeping one of Detroit's beautiful historic churches from being handed the same fate as so many others whose parishoners left the city, leaving behind their schools and churches to die a slow death.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Low Rider

I’m still recovering today, in several ways, from the Cinco de Mayo parade Sunday in Southwest Detroit, land of elaborate wrought-iron gates, low riders, full-on gang warfare in the 80s, the slowest traffic in town, and Mexican everything.

For those who don't know, Southwest Detroit is home to a large (and ever-growing) concentration of Hispanic immigrants, the vast majority of whom come from Mexico. So it's the natural place to hold a Cinco de Mayo parade.

The best thing about the parade is that it’s an authentic neighborhood celebration. Southwest Detroit is still scary enough to outsiders to prevent drunken suburbanites from flooding the area like they do for the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Corktown. And if there were suburbanites there Sunday, they were few and far between among the thousands of people lining the parade route along Vernor, making it in recent years one of the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States.

It was prime parade weather too, with not a cloud in the sky, and an intense, blazing sun making us happy until our heads began turning burn red.

If there was one predominant element to the Cinco de Mayo parade, it was noise. Mexican music blared, and I mean blared, from loudspeakers set up on sidewalks in front of stores. Fire engines and police cars were wailing their sirens at full hysterical volume; we thought they’d come speeding past us on their way to a four-alarm calamity, but they were moving at 5 mph and were merely leading the parade by blowing everyone’s eardrums out. As the parade progressed, horns honked and tires squealed with that getaway sound that makes everyone’s heads suddenly jerk sideways to see who’s escaping from what.


The parade, now in its 41st year, is distinctly Southwest Detroit. Instead of floats, there was a steady stream of low riders and hoppers squealing their tires and revving their engines, to the point where one car caught on fire and brought the parade to a temporary halt while its owners poked themselves through the smoke under the hood and tried to get the car to stop smoking and get it moving again.

The drivers showed off their hydraulics as they bounced up and down along Vernor, their cars flared out with fuzzy dice, dingle balls, rosaries, garish airbrush paint jobs and elaborate detailing, and custom chrome.

Cars weren’t the only low riders there. Tricked-out bikes with thousands of dollars of work done to them paraded along too. In lieu of floats, flatbed trucks drove by with members of various local organizations standing and waving. Some vehicles featured smiling girls whose only claim to fame seemed to be that they were good looking.


There was all sorts of stuff to see. The Warriors Boxing Club marched, stopping every hundred yards so its teenage and pre-teen members could ham it up in various Joe Louis-style boxing poses as their leader barked out military-type orders. Tiny chihuahuas draped in little flags marched on the hot pavement, or sat nestled in their owners’ arms on the sidelines. Lots of women and little girls went past in traditional outfits, doing folk dances as they passed by in a blur of sunlit color.

We stood on the curb or sat on stoops, drinking bottles of Negro Modelo out of a brown paper bag, waving back at the paraders who were waving at us and throwing out beads and candy. Mexican flags were everywhere, draped along walls and on car hoods, streaming from large poles and waving in little kids’ hands.

Of course, a parade wouldn't be a parade without some corporation inserting itself into the celebration and thrusting its corporate logo in everyone's faces. General Motors this year was the culprit, marching a few groups that carried large GM banners, though considering their precarious financial situation they probably should've just saved the parade fee and focused instead on producing cars that people might actually purchase.

At one point we popped into beautiful Holy Redeemer Church, which was on the parade route and had several contingents in the parade, caught the tail end of a Mass, left, came back 10 minutes later and found a whole different congregation, but this time the Mass was in Spanish and was twice as crowded.


When the parade ended, everyone headed over to the fiesta at Clark Park, which was bustling with standard fair fare, with booths and tables set up, and people selling trinkets and goods like cowboy boots and Spanish language CDs. Images of the Virgin of Guadalupe were emblazoned in a less-than-pious manner on everything from belt buckles to baseball hats to T-shirts to blankets to key chains.

A huge stage was set up at the center of the park, and a series of performers came out and did their thing, some doing more traditional songs and dances, and others, aspiring Latino pop singers, doing their best Mexican Idol impersonation.

There were food stands everywhere, selling all sorts of Mexican food. On Saturday I had gone from booth to booth, eating something at each, and had finally sat down at a large stand that offered tableside seating. It was crowded with hungry diners, all of us munching away, and who should walk up but a City of Detroit Health Department code enforcement officer. She started inserting food thermometers all over and discovered, among other things, that a huge vat of chicken parts was stewing in a lukewarm pool of water on a 75 degree day, and she demanded they throw the whole batch out, the very batch from which everyone’s food had been prepared.


The dejected Mexicans working the booth forlornly threw the meat away, and for good measure the inspector came back around and doused the chicken parts in the trash can with bleach, in case anyone had any funny ideas about fishing the meat out of the garbage and trying to serve it after she left. I looked around and suddenly I was the only one still sitting there; all the other diners had vanished, leaving me sitting alone. Where once was a happy meal now sat basically a plate of salmonella with a possible side of listeria. I moved on, every stomach rumbling now taking on monumental importance in my mind.

Before and after the parade, Mariachi bands performed along Vernor as passersby stopped to dance or just watch and drink. The cops didn't seem to mind the public drinking as long as the bottles were brown-bagged, which they usually are in the city anyway.

At night the area got a lot wilder, as people drank more and Vernor came to a virtual standstill, jammed with cars, with passengers hanging out windows, yelling and waving the Mexican flag. As the sun went down, the partiers came out, and everyone was a lot drunker than they were just a few hours earlier, creating their own informal parade down Vernor, past the dozens of strange little restaurants and even stranger little stores whose neon lights were flaring up just as the sun was going down.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I really need to get some photogenic exploring in soon, because the whole Detroit politics saturation thing is starting to bring me down, not to mention it's blanding up the site here.

Sure enough, it’s counterattack time in Kwameland. Facing accusations of purchasing lavish, booze-soaked meals on the taxpayers’ dime, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick struck back by saying first off, he didn’t do anything wrong, and secondly, his predecessor did the same exact thing anyway, so there.

For a guy unwilling to talk about his own use of the city's credit card, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick sure is taking a keen interest in former Mayor Dennis Archer's charge bill.

The city has requested records related to the former mayor's travel records from Comerica, the city's primary bank, Deputy Mayor Anthony Adams said Wednesday.

Archer said Wednesday that he doesn't know where the records are, but he has nothing to hide.

And he asked whether the mayor doesn't have better things to do.

"I would think that given the challenges before the City of Detroit regarding the budget, the concern of the faithful employees who work every day on behalf of the city, and the overall hope and aspirations of the city, are much more important than trying to compare his travel records with mine or whatever it is he might be looking for," Archer said. "I would sort of suspect that would be more of an urgent priority than trying to compare records."


Zing!

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We live in a strange city with a lot of strange people, one of whom took the time to weatherproof and adhere photocopies of newspaper articles to a lightpole in the middle of Grand Circus Park.

One article, published on the third anniversary of 9/11, warns of increasing anti-American sentiment among people who hate America. The second, a Detroit News article from Sept. 7, 2003, notes that Palestinian then-Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had resigned, providing the umpteenth excuse for hopes for peace in the region to be dimmed. One can, with a bit of effort, weave a thread of connective meaning between the two articles, I suppose.

But affixed to the bottom of the articles is someone’s non-winning lottery numbers, with the evening numbers 6191 specifically underlined, perhaps suggesting a numerologically mystical meaning to the person who posted this. Somebody went through considerable trouble to make this statement to the public, which no doubt will be scratching its collective head and saying "Huh?" Then again, despite Detroit's "resurgence," GCP is still frequented mostly by the aimless deranged, to whom this confluence of world events and lottery numbers might make perfect sense.

But besides all that oddness, it’s a photo of a pretty spring day in Grand Circus Park, with the trees greening and the air warming, and the Statler Hotel looming in the background, slowly giving up the ghost, likely one of the last spring photos that will include it obscuring the blue skies over the city.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Finally, detroitblog posts something. I mean, where’s this guy been?

I took a weeklong vacation and came back refreshed and happy, only to be stricken with the twin indignities of a late-April snow shower and a vicious virus that has wasted more than a week of my life and left me without energy or motivation.

But that's all over, sort of, almost, and here I am once again, apparently just as the anti-Kwame Kilpatrick train picks up speed with fresh evidence of his unfitness for office, providing fodder for people like me.

First, the Metro Times, which after a change of editors went from running kneejerk, left-wing nonsense to suddenly being virtually the only paper that actually covers what happens in the city of Detroit, ran the parting analysis from Detroit’s auditor general, who paints in stark terms the financial devastation the city is facing:

A key excerpt:

The cost of living in Detroit, considering the high cost of insurance and the high taxes imposed on its citizens, cannot be justified by the quality of the services the City provides. Meanwhile, while residents are abandoning the City at a rate of about 1,500 per month during the past year, the City is attempting to raise taxes on those who remain, rather than attempting to ease the tax burden.

Many citizens are fed up with Detroit’s failure to provide them with basic, friendly, dependable, cost competitive City services.

The City’s problems have been exacerbated by the City’s growing structural deficit, which has been virtually ignored until recently due to the influx of casino revenues about five years ago. However, as we will show, the structural issues, much like a cancer, are insidious, and their effects will be devastating if they are not addressed.

If this legislative body cannot make the tough decisions, and if the labor unions do not agree to the required concessions to keep this City from default, the City’s only hope is the intervention of a professional team that makes business decisions unfettered by cognitive biases and political and personal relationships.


In other words, the city will be taken over by people more closely resembling rational, serious adults, something that at this point is all but a fait accompli. The entire thing, though rather lengthy, is a must-read.

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Right on the heels of this, the Freep once again goes after Kwame for his blatant corruption, with the not-at-all subtle headline “Kwame lives it up while city struggles.”

As Detroit eliminated thousands of jobs, struggled with exploding pension and health care costs and became a city on the brink of receivership, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick charged more than $210,000 to his city-issued credit card in less than three years on the job, city records show.

This is the same problem as the Navigator controversy, what one analyst in the recent Time magazine article naming Kwame one of the worst mayors in the country referred to as the mayor’s “tin ear for symbolism,” referring to the fact that when your city is bankrupt you don’t buy yourself a bunch of expensive stuff like lavish meals and Navigators.


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Finally, just so this isn’t an entirely photoless post, and in the spirit of today’s largely political news, here’s another Photo of the Week. At first glance it’s just another doorway in an old Brush Park apartment building, a stoop featuring an interesting brick arch and frequented by squatting hobos, but upon closer inspection you see a fine example of grass roots Detroit political expression. Scrawled in red on the door is this succinct statement: "Kwame white mans nigger" (sic).

For all the talk of moving past the divisiveness of the past few decades, the sentiment that’s governed Detroit politics, which is the sense that it all boils down to race, that it’s us (black Detroiters) vs. them (white suburbanites), is still very much alive and well among the voters.

But even going by this race-based paradigm, this statement makes no sense. Kwame has done virtually nothing that suburban leaders praise; in fact, they look at him as a number of Detroit voters do, as an nationally embarrassing, incompetent buffoon engaged in archaic machine-style politics for his own benefit while the city's finances crumble around him. For this anonymous Brush Park scrawler, even Kwame isn't "black" enough.


This is why, despite scandal, mismanagement, incompetence, and an empty record, you really can’t have any hope that the voters of Detroit will elect someone competent, because by and large, a large segment of the voting populace will elect whoever is “blackest,” a fluid term that means whatever its user intends at any given moment. Mayoral challenger Sharon McPhail has studded her political career by occasionally implying that her opponents aren't black enough, and Kwame’s already pulled out the old us vs. the suburbs canard a few times as his fortunes dim. Expect to see a lot more of this from both candidates as the campaign grinds on. And chances are, it might just well work for them. Ah, Detroit, we’re not 48 percent illiterate for nothing!

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