People tell me that they’ve never been to Detroit but would like to see it once and I always tell them – “Yes, go! You’ve got to see it to believe how awful it is!” Forbes Magazine recently gave Detroit the enviable title of “Most Miserable City in America.” Poor, poor Detroit.
Before your trip, check out the award-winning documentary Detropia. It will give you a little context on the phenomenon that is Detroit. It is an excellent movie that tracks several Detroit natives and really goes into the background of these people’s lives and their perspectives of why Detroit is the way it is. Detropia’s producers started out with the intent of making a film about the young artists who have moved into Detroit and converted warehouses into art spaces, and empty lots into gardens. It was supposed to be a “feel good” movie. When the producers began doing their research and saw the real Detroit, the focus of their documentary completely changed and they felt they needed to show what was truly happening there.
Detroit’s really been messed up since the riots in the 60s. My family moved to the Detroit area in 1971, and I can recall taking our first tour of the city and seeing burned out tenement slums left over from the riots. Even Newark, New Jersey, where my grandparents lived, seemed to have recovered better after its 1967 riots.
This is a quote from the WebUrbanist.com:
Following the riot, the city [Detroit] continued its rapid decline. The industry that built Detroit moved on to other locations. Inner-city residents fled their homes by the thousands. Every race and every economic class was affected by this exodus; the city simply bled away until it held less than half its former population.
I have read theories about the reasons for Detroit’s decline having to do with poor city planning and the lack of diversity in industries. Yes, it’s Motor City, they make cars and trucks there, or at least they used to. But the area was too focused on that one industry, and that was just foolish. Add in the insane politics and politicians that Detroit has had, and you can see why this poor city has taken a beating.
At any rate, you should definitely go there, by all means! Stay at the MotorCity Casino Hotel, where one visitor stated it was “nice, but run by thugs.” I think this hotel would provide the appropriate mood for your visit. Make sure you tip everyone at the hotel generously, and of course bring plenty of extra cash to lose at their casino. It’s doubtful that you’ll win anything.
Take some anti-depressants and take the “Ruins of Detroit Tour,” a guided bus tour of the famous remains of some of the historic mansions and formerly grand buildings, especially the abandoned Michigan Central Station, a huge majestic train station. Hopefully, you’ll also get to see the Grande Ballroom, where the mighty MC5 and The Stooges tore it up on the stage and created the Detroit Rock City sound. Detroit’s crumbled remains have been the subject of many photographers who have seen much beauty in the rubble, so bring your camera along.
If you’re feeling brave, you can drive around the city on your own. Be sure you fill up your tank with gas, because you won’t want to run out in some of the areas you’ll be driving through. You will see blocks and blocks of empty lots and dilapidated houses. The last time I was there, I saw a neighborhood full of small red brick houses with overgrown bushes all over them, like a jungle just formed around them. Several of the houses had trees growing right through the middle of them. The neighborhoods look like something out of a science fiction movie – one of those “fifteen minutes into the future” sort of stories. Just gives you the creeps.
For even more adventure and fun, the website http://www.motorcyclemonster.com/ gives you the latest happenings from Detroit’s finest bike clubs. Go rent a Harley Davidson and join in the fun and games. I don’t know, maybe you’ll quit your job and live the biker life from here on out. It could be a life-altering experience. I remember one fun day when I was hanging out with Al the biker – his club had stopped traffic in a park and were making people get out and do a little dance before they were able to pass. Just good clean fun!
So make your reservations now to go to Detroit City – it will treat you bad. But you’ll be glad you did. You’ll kiss the ground when you return home and look at your own life in a whole new light.