Tourists Don’t Come Here Anymore

Photo Credit: RuinsofDetroit.com

Detroit, Michigan 1984

The park was only ten houses down the street, so my parents let us go without an adult.  Instead we went with our cousin Robin, who would have been about twelve.  As we were leaving, a dark blue car pulled up to us.  Robin instinctively grabbed onto me with one hand and my sister with the other.  A scruffy looking young guy leaned out the window, blowing a smoke ring in our direction.  “Want a cigarette?”

Robin tightened her grip on our hands as she said it.  “Run!”  And the three of us raced home.  That was the last time my parents let us go to the little park by my great-grandfather’s house.  I was five years old.

I grew up just outside Detroit, and my family lived in Detroit for many many years.  My mother, my grandparents, and even a couple of my great-grandparents grew up there.   Because many of my relatives were city firefighters and cops they were required to live within city limits.  After the riots of the late 1960′s, many workers moved out to the suburbs with their families while sending their paychecks to (cheaply rented) apartments in the city.  However, my grandparents lived there until my grandfather retired; they lived in the same little ranch for over forty years.

Jim Hubbord Detroit Riots 1967

Jim Hubbord Detroit Riots 1967 (Photo Credit: flickr.com) 

For as long as I can remember, Detroit was a dangerous place.  Even the “good” neighborhoods had a lot of problems with crime.  Arson was a huge problem.  Halloween and Devil’s Night were a nightmare for cops and firefighters.  Detroit was notorious for riots after Red Wings games, win or lose.  Basically, there was always an excuse for crime, and what was once a thriving city became a city that everyone feared with constantly rising crime rates and a dwindling population.

We were always hearing that Detroit was going to be rebuilt, but somehow that never happened.  Aside from The City Center and the DIA, nothing ever got renovated.  Companies continued to leave Detroit, and new businesses didn’t move in.  Instead of people moving back, more and more people left.  Even my family members retired and moved out.  Meanwhile there was massive political cronyism during the Coleman Young years that left the city with even fewer resources to rebuild and regroup.  (Many of his associates ended up in jail, so cronyism is the exact right word here.)

A friend of mine spent a few years going to Wayne State and living in Hamtramck.  (For those unfamiliar with Hamtramck, it’s the neighborhood pictured in the movie “Gran Torino”.  It’s a tiny city that’s bordered almost entirely by Detroit.)  From time to time, I would go to Hamtramck to hang out with her and her boyfriend.  Occasionally we would walk to a bar that was in Detroit proper, but just a few blocks from her house.

The first time my husband (a native New Yorker) went with me, he was appalled. “Christy, it’s 10 o’clock on a Friday night.  Isn’t this a major metropolitan city?  Where the hell are the PEOPLE?”  And he was right.  We were the only visible people on the entire block.

After numerous break-ins, my friend also moved out.  The city my grandparents grew up in no longer exists.  Instead, Detroit has become a history lesson, the poster child for racism, fear, economic depression, police brutality, drugs, squatting, political graft, extreme poverty, and crime.

It’s gotten to the point that Detroit Police are actually telling people not to go there, that people are entering at their own risk. I don’t even know what else to say.  It just saddens me really, a little piece of history gone.  Farewell Motor City.  Farewell to what was once a thriving city, as well as the heart of American made vehicles and American ingenuity.

What threads of history do you hold onto?

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15 Responses to Tourists Don’t Come Here Anymore

  1. This was a fascinating story and I really enjoyed learning more about the motor city from this post. It is sad when a once-great city declines. Thanks for taking us on a tour of Detroit. I am really sorry for its decline.

    • Thanks El. I was totally shocked when I read the articles that came out last week. How is a city ever supposed to bounce back when people are terrified of it, including the police force who’s supposed to be keeping the city safe!? It’s just unbelievable.

  2. Peaches says:

    I’m from Michigan, but the north, where the factories that feed the auto factories with parts are. When I travel and people ask where I’m from, I always proudly say Michigan, wait for the pause and the look on their face, and say “not Detroit”. Then they smile and nod and the shoulders relax. I don’t know why they would even get tense speaking to somebody from Detroit. Good people still live there, but it is a different life. The only time I let people assume I was from Detroit (after saying Michigan) was when I lived in a rough immigrant neighborhood in London, England. Nobody bugged the 5’1″ white girl when they thought she was from Detroit. The rep was all I had.

    It’s sad. It’s sad for the whole state. We all need Detroit to thrive, even if we don’t live there.

    • Absolutely true. We all thrive or we all suffer basically. Although the rest of Michigan isn’t in as dire a condition as Detroit, Michigan has probably been more impacted by the recent financial problems than any other state. I’m always shocked when my parents talk about the current condition of Dearborn, where I’m from. A girl I knew in high school was murdered right in her own driveway. Supposedly everyone thinks her ex-husband did it, but for some reason the police did not hold him for questioning. Bizarro land.

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    Sad to see such decline. And the more deterioration that occurs, the more difficult it gets to attract people to build it back up. A vicious cycle.

  4. El Guapo says:

    Are there any good things going on in Detroit?
    Do you still have family there?

    • Love and Lunchmeat says:

      I still have family and friends in Dearborn, just outside Detroit, which is also starting to have more and more problems with racism and crime. 9-11 didn’t help.

      The biggest problem (besides the fear) is the lack of jobs. There’s no real incentive to go and live there. NYC in the 70′s and 80′s was full of violent crime… but it ALWAYS had jobs.

  5. The Waiting says:

    My hometown (Memphis) is similar to Detroit in many ways. It once flourished but now is one of the most unsafe urban areas in the country. It’s also sadly still a place where racial turmoil still occurs. I love it and always will because it’s Home, but when I think about it objectively, Memphis just makes me sad.

    • Wasn’t that where the events from “The Blind Side” occurred? When I was reading it, the description sounded a lot like Detroit to me, complete with a really affluent area nearby. For Detroit that’s Grosse Pointe. Wish I could find the book, but we packed up most of our books before we put our house on the market.

  6. Sigh. How sad. I live in Nashville and it always seems on the edge of a Detroit-style collapse. The whole town just needs one little tip in the wrong direction…

    • It took Detroit about forty-five years to get to where it currently is. (When you look up pictures of Detroit, you mostly find photos of abandoned buildings.) Doesn’t the country music industry help to keep Nashville going?

  7. Even ‘the way it was’ growing up in the area of Brooklyn I did, is very different now. To be fair, I did go back for some pizza; it was the same.

    • Yeah, NYC in the seventies and eighties was different than it is now. Thankfully, NYC overall has gotten better not worse. It’s supposedly just under Ann Arbor in ranks of violent crime. And that’s pretty damn good for a big city!

  8. Pingback: Why Blogging is a Lot Like Traveling Around New York City | Ruminations on Love & Lunchmeat

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