The first time I crossed the Mississippi with the Meat Puppets was in the fall of 1982. Nothing in in my remote desert experience prepared me for the damp, high-density dilapidation I encountered in the major cities of the midwest and east coast. But in spite of my initial reaction (horror), I was fascinated. I couldn’t resist the urge to get out of the van and walk around. After a while, it got so I couldn’t wait to get into town and start exploring.
Now that I’m retired from the road, I have to leave the exploring to others. Sure, I love to visit ghost towns in Arizona every chance I get. But we’ve got nothing around here that compares to a town like Detroit, Michigan. But then, nothing anywhere compares to Detroit, Michigan.
I’ve been there at least a dozen times, taken some stunning walks, found some great old soul records, and even managed to get harrassed by the locals. (Back in my 20s, I experimented with dyed black hair and sideburns. A guy followed me up the street and accused me of being Elvis Presley. It was special on many levels.) I love the view from the freeway, with these giant old industrial compounds jutting out of the landscape.
But as much as I enjoyed visiting Detroit in person, the Web has made it unnecessary. It seems Detroit is the internet’s favorite city as well. Urban explorers, Nazis, firemen, everybody’s posting about the Motor City. Bloggers are of course represented, and there’s even a DVD coming out about it. And they all make my little strolls look like pathetic walks in the park.
Urban Adventure pays a clandestine visit to the Fisher Body Works.
Forgotten Detroit has an excellent section detailing the history and ultimate fate of the city’s finest hotels, theaters and office bulidings.
I don’t mean to be flip about it, or wax too ironic about the grim decline of this once-powerful and dynamic city. The fact is, Detroit’s got pone of the best collections of 20th century architechture in the country. Perhaps one day it’ll be worth it to somebody to knock ‘em all down. But if demoilshed is the only other alternative, I’m satisfied with abandoned. And although Detroit looks more like the future of America than most people are ready to admit, it’s nice to know the town’s been well documented, just in case it does ever go away.