Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Detroit, a (poorly written) love letter

The definitive, silently-established truth of our generation may be that we are an era rife with disdain for what yesterday was lauded as genius. Previously known for its employee policies and fine coffee beans Seattle, OR-native Starbucks now stands as a symbol of a heavily corporate, gentrified urban sprawl. Whole Foods, the Zach Morris-cell phone, lawn darts, Jose Canseco, and ICQ, all championed in the past and fallen out of public favour in the present.

Once the finest city in its nation, Detroit, too, was poised to be forgotten. Filled with the most exceptional examples of art deco architecture from the '20s, those buildings now stand near ruins, something lesser writers might describe as 'hauntingly beautiful' in their stark, abandoned existence. Previously the birthplace of America's automobiles, the Motor City suffered cruel irony as the product that put it on the map was used in droves for a mass exodus upon the economy's collapse.

Still, people stayed. Sure, some stayed because they were too poor to go elsewhere. Some stayed because they were trapped inside by the roaming packs of feral dogs which tend to run the city. Some stayed for the country's highest concentration of White Castle franchises. But most stayed when they recognized the heart within the good bones of their beloved city. Where else can one get half-pitchers for $2? Where else can they bowl for free? What other city has been called The Best Sports City in America? What other city possesses cab drivers willing to take you through the McDonald's Drive-Thru because walk-ins aren't welcome after 11pm, and will accept a burger instead of usual fare?

No, Detroit is the prom queen turned activist; an aged beauty looking for substance. And so it abounds! As Murakami said, there is a space where emptiness and substance overlap. Without question, he was referring to these streets. Quite literally empty, a quick glance at GoogleEarth will show the wild patches of green that have reclaimed downtown. Houses and businesses which were bulldozed are replaced by urban prairies, Woodward Avenue in all its finery - commissioned graffiti windows, Smilez-4-Realz grill outlets ($50 for an incisor diamond, $75 for a starter-grill) next to mom-and-pop home shops - finds its alleyways retaken by forestry. This leads visitors to feel they may have entered a dream; as they stumble in a somewhat intoxicated haze (recall those $2 pitchers) back to their hotels, fighting through bush as surely as if they were on African safari. Though at first it may be surreal, soon it feels perfectly natural to be bulldozing through quiet streets, aided in your dream by the complete lack of homeless people (because you have to be less than retarded not to find shelter amongst the 7 billion abandoned buildings).

When one stumbles into a pocket of civilization between ghost streets, the dream continues. Freshly squeezed lemonade and Coney Island hot dogs on every street corner. A massive casino in Greektown is just down the street from one of the most beautiful baseball stadiums known to man (Fig. 1 - 3). The Tiger carousel and Fly Ball Ferris Wheel may be old hat to those familiar with the city, but the constant rotation of delicious foodstuffs (Elephant Ears and Dippin' Dots, more BBQ than you can shake a stick at) is sure to have even the most stoic skeptic eating more than just their words. Once you've sufficiently stuffed yourself and thanked your server for a $6 King Can of Bud, a stop by the Ty Cobb statue is a must. Standing 13 feet of pure disregard for both the rules and social niceties, Cobb is spikes-up sliding home above the visitors bullpen. Peruse the other statues (Al Kaline, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and Hal Newhouser) and then make your way back to the bullpen, where the visiting team is available and welcoming of fan interaction.

If you're able to drag yourself away from the ballpark (and are still hungry), Detroit is ready for you. Parks Old Style BBQ, Circa 1890 (an old-style saloon with swinging doors and grilled cheese on rye with curly fries & pickle for $3.25? YES PLEASE), the Bronx bar (craft breweries abound, despite malt liquor being the unofficial State-drink), and the Russell Street Deli are all there for you, not to mention the (approx) 1 million Mexican restaurants that the city's Hispanic populace ensures are both authentic and phenomenal.

End your day at the Majestic, a bowling alley/restaurant/bar/music venue where the bartenders will drive you home, the bowling is free for the first hour, the 24oz beers are $5, and the locals don't mind when you accidentally knock your bowling ball into their party. Everyone in Detroit is so friendly, they'll probably ask to combine groups and dance in the lanes (don't dance in the lanes). You might even find yourself invited to come watch the annual Detroit Chicken Race with them the next day.

Start your trip with an obligatory stop at Walgreens to grab bandaids and a 24-pack of Bud for $14, put it on ice in your hotel room sink (check Expedia and Travelosity for the sweetest deals, high-five your travel companions for never paying more than $80 a night at a 4-star hotel) and get ready to enjoy all the wonders this glorious town has to offer. Pay no mind to the falcons dive-bombing the wildlife in the alleys, take cover in the unbelievably awesome looking old Michigan Central Station or Vanity Ballroom if they become too aggressive, and enjoy a city touted as the New Brooklyn by those who love to fetishize the old Brooklyn in its pre-gentrified wonder. The history of the city as written by those who fled is no longer! Detroit, I love you.

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