Saturday, September 01, 2012

Back in Detroit

Yes, for the time being I’m back in the Motor City, Detroit proper, the most dysfunctional big city in America but also the most affordable.

I was bounced from a generous living condition in South Philadelphia, and was not able to come up with anything similar. In truth, rents are skyrocketing in Philly—up by 50% I’d guess over the last few years—in part because of the influx of hipsters, that rabid infestation which has turned Brooklyn into a playground for the hip bourgeoisie. Members of the detestable species are now looking elsewhere. With their arrival the cost of everything—rents, beer, hamburgers—rises as they impose their lifestyle on businesses eager to make money. With this comes a rise in regulation and order, which can be good or bad depending on your viewpoint. The result, however you slice it, is to turn urban neighborhoods into facsimiles of suburbs.

As for Detroit. Ah, Detroit! “Detroit is coming back!” I’ve heard this mantra for decades now. Over the years the contradictions only become more profound. I intend to address some of them while I’m in town. Anyway, I’m happy to see the same ruins that I wrote about four years ago. The hulk of the Michigan Central train station is Detroit’s Colosseum, a reminder of past glory. (See my story “Jezebel” in my ebook Ten Pop Stories.) The empty house I used as a model for “The Zeen Writer” (see my ebook Mood Detroit) still stands where it stood. The Civil War-era armory I used in the ebook Crime City USA remains boarded. Missing are necessary businesses, like downtown’s only (? I’ll have to scout around) dollar store, now closed, as well as the place where I once bought my phone cards. Downtown—not to mention the rest of the city—is a place of well-protected and expensive Potemkin Village bourgeois centerpieces scattered amid a broken landscape. Everything surrounding downtown is a virtual No Man’s Land. Saturday morning I walked up to the isolated spots of life and business which pass as “Midtown” to the clueless. Rootless desperate-looking men loitered everywhere. My regret was I carried not even a knife. Been in Philly too long!

The trade-off is that any hipsters here have to be a very different kind of hipster. I’ve heard tales of young artists and writers, like pioneers, daring to live in this town. If you ARE a writer or artist, a true one, you probably should be nowhere else. Here in Detroit is the real story of America. The societal chasms, papered-over elsewhere, are here nakedly visible. The city reeks of the authentic. Living becomes a greater challenge. Opportunity, because of the depressed condition of life, seems to appear. Here is a landscape to be renewed or reinvented—or at least captured. Painted. Here in Detroit is more desperation, more pain, more heartache, more heart, and more soul.

I’ll have much more to talk about, including about those forbidden subjects, class and race—categories which in this town in too many ways are interchangeable, or appear as if they are.

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