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CITY OF INFAMY

60 Hours in The D
by Joey Grihalva

here was a period at the turn of the Millennium when my dad would be out almost every Friday night. He was a factory worker at the Master Lock plant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

"It's so-and-so's retirement party," he would tell my mom. He would come home early Saturday morning or not until Saturday night. But he worked most Saturdays so that was always a valid excuse. I like to think that my dad clocked so many overtime hours because he foresaw the exodus of American manufacturing. At some point Master Lock considered moving all of their operations to Mexico. My dad worked his way up from the assembly line to become an electrician and was offered a position south of the border. This became an inside joke between my parents because my dad looks like someone who could pick up and move to Mexico. My dads parents came to the United States from Ecuador in the 1950s. But my dad is an American son who rebelled against his immigrant parents. He doesn't speak Spanish, he loves rock n roll and he married a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl. Thats why I look white, but my brother has brown skin. I always wondered about Detroit as a kid. I think it started with Robocop. And when I looked on a map, Detroit seemed so close to Milwaukee. It's more or less on the other side of Lake Michigan. Yet we never took a trip there. But I do remember being in our kitchen when my dad and his co-workers were preparing for a union meeting and every now and then they would mention Detroit. At university I learned the term "Rust Belt," which is used to describe the part of the America from New England to the Great Lakes where factory jobs have all but disappeared. Some small-towns on the East Coast have been absolutely devastated by the decline of industry. As far as big cities go, Milwaukees had a rough time, but things could be worse. Like in Detroit. The 2008 financial crisis brought the world economy into a Great Recession, but the city of Detroit has been in a Great Depression for decades. ----------------------------

If you move in circles of creatively inclined young people with capital at some point youre bound to hear this refrain: "I'm just gonna move to Detroit, buy a house for seven thousand dollars and do my own thing." For the record, "do my own thing" almost always includes urban farming. After all, real estate is dirt cheap in Detroit and the dirt is fertile (enough). In the 1930s Detroit was the fastest growing city in the world. Detroit was roaring like an escaped circus lion. But the last few decades have seen the city limping along like a sick kid with no healthcare who is also slowly being stabbed by greedy CEOs and lousy politicians. When manufacturing moved to Asia, Detroit lost. Her massive frame can fit Manhattan, San Francisco and Boston within city limits, but today the few bright spots are overshadowed by rubble and ruin. Greatness has emerged from ashes. Modern day Detroit presents an opportunity to rethink the American urban landscape. And this idea has intoxicated the imagination of the young and the brave like the absinthe that sank into Van Gogh's gullet before he wrestled with the blank canvas, none as unique or as complex as the City of Detroit, circa 2013. But the truth is that Detroit is not a blank canvas. Its mostly a dark-skinned canvas with a colorful and important cultural legacy. And lifelong Detroiters have certain feelings about the (mostly White) migrants moving into their city. The Wall Street Journal actually used the term "hipster colony," approvingly, when referring to the emerging community in the historic Corktown neighborhood. In the same WSJ article Kevyn Orr, the (Black) Emergency City Manager appointed by (White) Republican Governor Rick Snyder, says, "For a long time, the city was dumb, lazy, happy and rich." Orr was referring to the fact that during Detroits heyday you could get a well-paying entry-level job without a high school degree. But the insinuation was clear; Black Detroiters are lazy. You can imagine this did not go over well with the good people of Detroit. Detroit is a physical, psychological and sociological wilderness. In early August I exchanged 3,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points for a round trip to Detroit in an attempt to wrap my head around the tragedy and triumph that defines the D.

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DAY 1 - WELCOME TO DETROIT Considering how vacant Detroit is, theres a lot going on the night I arrive. 1. Ballots are being counted in a mayoral primary race where a write-in candidate will get over 30% of the vote, a first for the state of Michigan. 2. Hollywood director Michael Bay is downtown shooting the fourth installment of the Transformers series, entitled Transformers: Age of Extinction. 3. Hip-hop icon Jay-Z and pop superstar Justin Timberlake are rocking a soldout crowd at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions football team. 4. The Detroit Tigers baseball team are on their way to a tenth straight win. Technically, the Tigers game is in Ohio against their rival Cleveland Indians, but I'm guessing a good chunk of Detroiters are watching and listening at home. Anything to distract them from the real headline news, which no one seems to want to discuss; the fact that Detroit is filing for bankruptcy. Its the largest municipal case in American history, ever. But this is not news to anyone in Detroit. For years the city has been downsizing, turning off street lights, getting rid of bus lines and shrinking the pensions of their former employees. Declaring bankruptcy is the last resort. Mayor Dave Bing proposed consolidating the city into a few dense areas and turning the vacant lots into large-scale urban farming. What the fuck is all these damn gardens? asks a Detroiter sitting on his porch with a few friends in a scene from the 2012 documentary Detropia. Thats some bullshit. You gonna turn Detroit into a farm now? As my train snakes into the citys west side the line between developed property and nature begins to blur. Sure enough, there are entire city blocks with a single house left standing. Sidewalks are covered in cracks and grass. Abandoned homes outnumber the occupied. In the courtyard of a closed school a disheveled middle-aged White man stands next to an art installation, waving at the train. Towering above broken buildings, a billboard with an attractive brunette promotes the health benefits of veganism. This is Detroit. ---------------------------3

A train pulling into the Detroit of yesteryear disembarked at Michigan Central Station, an 18-story skeleton that haunts Roosevelt Park off Michigan Avenue in Corktown. The modern Amtrak Wolverine drops passengers off in a two-story, one-room station in New Center, about four miles north of downtown. As I exit the station a young Eastern European woman with purple-dyed hair heaves her luggage into the trunk of a taxicab. "She must have got off at the wrong station," says an old Black man to his wife. Ignoring his comment, the wife replies with a sigh, "Back in the D. I fight the urge to jump in a cab. The train is over an hour late and the sun is setting fast. Getting to my hostel requires two city buses. It will be dark by the time I reach the northern edge of downtown to make the transfer. And you know what they say about the dark. I wait on Cass Avenue below Baltimore Street, just around the corner from Amtrak. A fifteen-foot construction cylinder stands in the middle of the sidewalk and steam rises out of it. A block away a security guard does laps around the College for Creative Studies. A police cruiser blares up Cass Avenue, sirens howling. Every now and then a few cars pass by. Then two young White girls on bicycles wearing helmets ride down Baltimore Street, chatting as they ride. The bus arrives about seven minutes late and is completely packed. I am the only non-Black person on board. As we drive down Cass Avenue I realize that the "W" I saw stenciled on the side of a building is not gang or artist affiliated, but the Wayne State University (WSU) logo. The university is located in Midtown, the same neighborhood as the central library, orchestra house, art museum and several theatres; truly the cultural hub of the city, complete with a tapas restaurant featuring dollar draft beer. I get off the bus across the street from a busy liquor store. A gang of homeless people fight over a mattress nearby. Others shout at two Black men posted on the side of the liquor store. The men are wild-eyed. They look me up and down, muttering something about the bicycle helmet hanging from my backpack. Ironically, a thing that is supposed to make you feel safer, made me feel vulnerable in that moment. I can't find any street signs. I ask someone walking into the liquor store where I can catch the 18 bus but he has no idea. It doesnt seem like a good idea to flash my smartphone around, so I walk into a bar a block down, which I happened to come across the night before during my last minute Internet research.

At Harrys Detroit Bar there is a parking attendant who looks like he works for booze. The bar is mostly empty, and the Tigers are on TV. I order a navy bean soup and a bottle of Miller High Life, the Champagne of Beers. I tell the bartender Im from Milwaukee and we make sports small talk. (Side note: I grew up in Wisconsins largest metropolitan area, in a diverse neighborhood in the middle of the city. To the west is a Chasidic Jewish enclave. To the east its mostly Black, and before you reach the Milwaukee River there are spots that some might refer to as the ghetto. When Im home I occasionally hear gunshots late at night. Many of my neighbors have been mugged on the street. I have a childhood friend who is in prison for a triple gang murder. There are a couple of foreclosed homes on my parents block. By the end of the 90s all of my White friends from the neighborhood had moved to the suburbs. I always felt closer to Black culture growing up. So a familiarity with being the only White guy in the room tricked me into believing Detroit wouldnt be that rough. But I dont dress like I used to; my last girlfriend convinced me that baggy clothes had to go, plus I ride a bicycle, so I look like any other White hipster twentysomething.) After the Tigers game ends I punk out and ask the bartender to call me a cab. As soon as I get in the cabbie lights up a cigarette and eagerly informs me of the Transformers shoot downtown. You gotta go see it buddy! They built like a little Chinatown down there, its really fucking cool, he says. Mark Wahlberg was here for three weeks, and you know, I read in this magazine that his wife didnt want to come, because she heard we were going bankrupt and its dangerous in Detroit. But she came man and said she had a great time, everybody was nice to her and it was real safe. Well, Im excited to be here, I reply. The cabbie gets a bit lost and were about three blocks from the hostel. I tell him I can walk from there but he insists on dropping me off at the door. He waits for me to get in, even though he is clearly anxious to get to that Jay-Z/JT concert. I didnt expect Detroit to have a hostel. And if it wasnt for Corktown resident Emily Doerr, Detroit might not have a hostel. Emily is a member of CouchSurfing, a website that connects travelers with willing hosts. In 2010 Emily Doerr found herself hosting upwards of ten travelers a week in her Detroit condo so she got the idea to open a hostel. And with a lot of help she made it happen. Detroit Hostel is housed in a two-story building with sixteen beds, two kitchens, a front common room and a library in the back. It operates as an educational nonprofit, with a mission to educate visitors to Detroit. 5

When I arrive the night manager is an old White man with a long beard named Jeff. He holds an iPhone and a bible. Two twentysomething White girls are around doing laundry. I later learn that they are daytime staff members who live in an apartment across the empty field from the hostel and probably dont have their own washing machine. A thirtysomething Black guy named Orlando sits in the common area with an elderly White woman from San Francisco and a young South American man. A few young White guys are around, one of whom is rumored to be working on the Transformers movie. The girls have a laptop out and invite me to watch an episode of the BBC series Sherlock with the group. A big bag of popcorn is passed around and so goes my first night in Detroit. DAY 2 WHERE ARE WE GOING? Im currently working on a book about cars and the climate crisis, so a visit to the Henry Ford Museum is a high priority. I want to rent a bicycle from the hostel, but their bike guy doesnt usually show up until around noon. While we watch Sherlock one of the staff texts the bike guy and asks him to come in early. Im assuming hes a volunteer, and the bikes are donated, because they are in poor shape. The ride out to Dearborn, a neighboring suburb and home of the Ford Museum, should take about an hour from the hostel. As I begin the pedal westward clouds swirl above Michigan Avenue. The occasional vehicle vrooms past me, and Im amazed at how light traffic is on a main drag in the morning. A young cyclist overtakes me before my front wheel lodges into the frame, bringing me to a dead stop. The drizzle has turned into a downpour and I feel silly carrying a broken bike in the rain. I trudge past an urban farming equipment store. A pickup truck owned by the Greening of Detroit organization rolls by and I wish they would give me a lift. Before I turn off Michigan Avenue I notice a piece of graffiti at the top of a large abandoned grain elevator. DECOLONIZE, it reads, incorporating the stylized D from the Tigers baseball team logo. I drop off my dripping bike and change clothes. With almost forty minutes to kill before the next bus I wander into Astro Coffee, an outpost of the Corktown hipster colony. (The more famous) Slows Bar-B-Q is a few storefronts up. Its Astro Coffees two-year anniversary. For $3.25 I get a cup of Guatemalan java with hints of hibiscus, raspberry and bing cherry, delicious enough to drink black. More than half of the clientele are on electronic devices and most are young White people. On my way out I pick up a copy of the quarterly magazine edible WOW! The story on local food in Southeast Michigan.

The bus is late again and there is nowhere to sit. Young, old, disabled, and almost all Black, one guy is making music on his laptop. Another man is talking to no one in particular. Snoop Dogg was cool until he said Fuck Eazy-E, he grumbles. Detroit is lacking in many departments, but if Michigan Avenue is any indicator, the city has its fair share of strip clubs. When the bus pulls over at St. Lawrence Street a girl with a messenger bag full of vinyl records gets off and ducks into a side door at Crazy Horse Gentlemen's Club. Naturally, a bankrupt city would also have more than enough gambling. The MGM Grand, Motor City, and Greektown Casino Hotels are all in or around downtown. And if youve got a passport you can cross the river into Windsor, Ontario, Canada and try your luck at Ceasers. As the bus rumbles down Michigan Avenue we pass Local United Auto Workers (UAW) Union 22. The front of their building reads, Stronger Unions Build A Stronger America. Clearly, we dont have strong unions anymore. Over the last few decades the same organizations that fought to secure basic workers rights have been villainized and castrated by giant corporations and their obedient politicians. ---------------------------In 2006 I joined my mother on her search for a new car. A Subaru salesman opened the drivers door of an Outback, rolled down the window and sat on the door. If this were an American car, I guarantee you I would be causing damage to the frame, he claimed convincingly. The year before that my mother, my brother and myself almost died on the highway one snowy winter night when she lost control of our Ford Explorer. So you can imagine her enthusiasm for the safety and strength promised by the Subaru salesman. When I get to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn the ticket clerk presumes I drove and automatically adds five dollars for parking. I correct him and make my way into the massive building. Several exhibitions are on display including Made in America: Manufacturing, Made in America: Power, Driving America, Heroes of the Sky: Adventures in Early Flight, and With Liberty and Justice for All. Also on display are the JFK limo, the Rosa Parks bus and the Wienermobile.

On the Rosa Parks bus a young white kid yells at his father, I dont get it, what would be so bad about sitting back here? Its not much different than up front! A lone video discusses the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels. Can the government promote conservation? the narrator asks. Should it subsidize some energy sources and not others? Are we willing to rethink the old equation, increased energy use equals a higher standard of living? Hanging above a massive modern pick-up truck a poster reads: Do we need cars? Where are we going? Are we there yet? These are big questions and Im surprised the Ford Motor Company is presenting them to the public. As my bus back into Detroit passes Ford World Headquarters the popular 1980s song Dont You (Forget About Me) comes on the radio, which Im listening to. I think its safe to say we havent forgotten Ford (or Chrysler or GM), considering the massive automobile industry bailout of 2008.

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In Detroit it can take up to an hour for emergency personnel to respond to a 9-1-1 call. From my window on the bus I spy a tattered poster on a boarded up storefront for the 2013 film The Purge that reads, Warning: Law Enforcement Services Will Be Postponed. In the D, that conceit feels all too real. I tune into CBC Radio 2 broadcast from across the river in Windsor, Ontario. An orchestra plays a haunting melody. It feels like the perfect soundtrack for Detroits grim scenery. If you close your eyes while listening to CBC Radio 1 you can imagine youre in Canada, where they at least have universal health care. The food truck craze has not yet hit Detroit, but hunger definitely has. As I cycle up Second Avenue in Midtown there is a Salvation Army food truck with a long line down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Not two minutes later I pedal past the valet parking for Marios Restaurant, a classy Italian joint. Im on my way to Traffic Jam & Snug, a 50-year-old institution that was recently visited by celebrity chef Guy Fieri.

The locavorism craze has hit Detroit. Traffic Jam & Snug seem to be pushing it, with their own in-house bakery, brewery, dairy products and rooftop garden. A second menu is available with dishes using exclusively locally sourced ingredients. I sip a portobello mushroom soup and munch on an heirloom tomato caprese salad with fresh mozzarella. Its all very good, but the oatmeal stout is average. Like Detroit, Atlanta is a mostly Black city. In Atlanta, if you go to an establishment like Traffic Jam & Snug, its mostly a Black clientele. But from what I saw in Detroit, casual and fine dining restaurants only get a quarter Black business, at best. Something seems to be missing there. I cross Canfield Street for post-dinner drinks at Motor City Brewing Works, made famous by the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man about a forgotten Detroit folk singer reborn in South Africa. I order their hard cider. There is an artsy crowd and an exhibition of photographs in the corner. She just wants a taste of the Ghetto, says the only Black employee to the bartender, referring to their English Style Mild Ale called Ghettoblaster, which is wonderful. When I get back to the hostel a goofy young German guy named Felix is sitting in the common area. He has perfectly coiffed hair and is wearing a designer t-shirt and jeans. I grab a copy of the Detroit Free Press, their daily newspaper, and sit next to him. After thumbing his iPhone for a while he goes to the lockers and pulls out an iPad box. His tablet is wrapped in the original cloth. He delicately touches it. So is it dangerous to go out at night in Detroit or what? he asks me somewhat sarcastically, but maybe its just his Berlin accent. All the people Ive talked to from the U.S. and Canada say its no good, its not safe. But all the European guys Ive talked to say its really cool, he adds. Thats the thing about Detroit. Its a big hit with the adventurous, graffiti-loving crowd. Jeff the night manager speaks up. Im from a small town in the tri-county area. Ive only been here four months, but I recommend three simple rules: One, don't do anything stupid. Two, if it feels sketchy, just get the hell out of there. Three, if youre doing something stupid like sneaking into an abandoned building or whatever, take care of business and get the hell out of there.

A couple months ago we had this soccer player guy from Europe and I told him, If you can outrun the other guy for the first block or so, youre golden. Sure enough, he went out each night at eleven and took some gorgeous pictures. But you know, I heard there was a stabbing on Michigan Avenue the other night. I dont know what that guy was doing, but follow my rules and youll be alright. Felix and I get on the topic of U.S. border agents. We agree that they are some of the worst people on Earth. Jeff pipes in. There were these two Black girls from Canada who got spooked by those border agent bastards. They were talking trash about this neighborhood. So the girls ended up sleeping at some dingy motel in Highland Park. But you know, were not welcome there because were White. A buddy of mine couldnt believe they actually found a place to stay in Highland Park for more than an hour! As I chat with Felix and Jeff I can hear the Tigers baseball game on the radio. Eventually I tell Felix Im venturing out, but just two blocks away, to grab a drink and watch the end of the game at Nancy Whiskey Irish Pub. I invite him but he opts for fondling his iPad before bed. Nancy Whiskey is a dive. When I walk in there arent many eyes are on the baseball game and its almost a full house. Theres one gorgeous girl pursing her red lips at the bartender. The deal of the night is one-dollar bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon and three-dollar shots of Jameson or Tullamore Dew whiskey. If you order one of each and add a dollar tip, you get a five-dollar buzz. Did you say Mike Duggan?! Duggan is my man! shouts a young drunk White guy at a nearby table, referring to the write-in candidate in the mayoral primary election who got over 30% of the vote. Word on the street is that as long as Kevyn Orr remains Emergency City Manager, the new mayor wont have much power, if any. As a result, many consider the election to be a waste of time. But others are emotionally involved, like the drunk guy at the bar. I dont know the candidates personally, but on the surface they couldnt be more different. Mike Duggan is a White man, CEO of the coincidentally named White Medical Center. Hes also a suburbanite and couldnt officially put his name on the ballot because hed only resided in the City of Detroit for less than a year. Downtown business leaders are funding his campaign in large part and hes running on his record of salvaging financially troubled entities. Benny Napoleon, the former frontrunner, is the Sheriff of Wayne County, a lifelong Detroiter and a Black man. He is endorsed by civil organizations and running on his reputation as an enforcer of the law, someone who will supposedly make the city safer.

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The Detroit Free Press officially endorsed Mike Duggan in the primary. The postelection day issue of the Free Press features several articles on the election, including a large photo of a pair of Black Duggan campaign workers smiling and dancing. Its hard to believe Duggans people and the newspaper didnt stage that photo op in an effort to attract Black voters to Duggans campaign. But maybe Im just cynical about corporate media. As it nears midnight the Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder (who started his career with my Milwaukee Brewers) puts Detroit within reach of winning the marathon game, which is in the top of the fourteenth inning. The bar erupts with cheering. A clueless girl carrying a French bulldog walks in as the hollering reaches its peak. I polish off my Pabst and head back to the hostel, stumbling on the cracked sidewalk half covered in grass. When I get to the hostel a young White guy with long, curly blonde hair is in the parking lot chatting with Jeff. They stand outside a van packed to the brim with organic, handmade pasta from a small town somewhere in the middle of Michigan. The young man stays at the hostel a couple of days each week while he delivers pasta to restaurants around Detroit. We chat for a bit, but the whiskey and beer has my number so I turn in for the night. DAY 3 SHELTER FROM THE STORM No surprise, Felix the Berliner did not go out and explore Detroit after dark. I was just really tired man, and you know, pretty scared, he admits. Avalon International Breads in Midtown is my breakfast destination, which I pedal to on my third rented bicycle. I notice a British woman from the hostel walking in the same direction up Second Avenue. Earlier that morning I overheard her mention she had been living with her American husband in New York City for a couple of years and is contemplating a move to Detroit for a workstudy program. On Willis Street I see the first example of a refurbished, industrial era building condominium development, which I like to I call neoclassic gentrification. But Avalon, which is close by, is the first forward thinking business Ive come across that doesnt feel like an outpost of the mostly White hipster colony. The employees are people of color, as is half the clientele. I get a coffee, a cup of fresh fruit and a D Power vegan granola bar, plus a vegan oatmeal raisin cookie for later.

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A pair of elderly Black women are at the table next to me. They discuss transcendental experiences in dark chambers, with shamans and under the influence of psychedelic hallucinogens. They theorize about the Egyptian pyramids descending from outer space. Then they talk about their nephews. As I exit Avalon I notice the compost bin standing tall next to the door proclaiming, COMPOST HERE, GARBAGE IS SO 2010! Ephemeral conversation, deliciously roasted beans and a healthy meal have prepared me for an afternoon of art. But this will be no casual meandering around a museum. Im on a mission to see as many pieces as possible, within reasonable time to appreciate each one. This is because the idea has been floated out there that a bankrupt Detroit should sell its art. Their collection is worth a cool billion dollars. The Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) was established in 1885. As the city began to prosper and their collection grew, the big wigs decided it needed a new home. A commission was established, an architect selected, and in 1927 the massive Beaux-Arts Italian Renaissance-style marble museum opened. It is one of the largest municipally owned museums in America and one of the few testaments to Detroits former greatness. For all its grandeur, admission to the DIA is very modestly priced. I am taken aback in the Grand Hall. As I inspect the armor collection of William Henry Hearst (the newspaper giant who inspired Citizen Kane) I question whether the pen is truly mightier than the sword? Then I think about the damage that has been done when the two weapons work together. Four non-stop hours of art appreciation later and Ive only managed to cover the main level of the DIA, which includes work from the Western world through the Contemporary period. Ancient works from Africa, Asia and the Native people of the Americas have been relegated to the lower level. I feel guilty for not venturing downstairs, but I suspect the pieces that will be sold first will be from the main level. When the DIA closes I pedal south to another site of high art: the set of Transformers: Age of Extinction. By high art I obviously mean mindless, occasionally racist and sexist, gratuitously action packed blockbuster shlock. But its not everyday that a hot shot Hollywood director turns a few blocks in downtown Detroit into China. Its actually pretty ironic considering how manufacturing moved from Detroit to China. Huge Chevrolet and Victorias Secret banners written in Chinese symbols hang on the buildings above the elaborate set. I ride past a couple dozen elderly Chinese people sitting on lawn chairs in an alleyway, dressed as peasants. A pair of extras in police uniform stand outside a bar, stoic enough to be mistaken for actual officers.

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This is just wonderful, because Lord knows aint much happening in Detroit these days, says an old Black woman near the set. In order to get a better view of the fenced-off set I ascend to The Detroit People Mover, an elevated single track train that does a thirteen stop circle of downtown and costs seventy five cents to ride. I enter at Grand Circus Park Station. The train is a few stories up and as we hug an old office building the scene inside surprises me. A bright, vibrant loft space houses young professionals working at computers, holding meetings and even playing ping-pong! This could be any office in Manhattan or Silicon Valley, but its smack dab in the middle of Detroit. Who knew? The birds eye view of the Transformers set is alright, but the real attraction is the Detroit River and the GM Renaissance Center, a cluster of seven skyscrapers overlooking the International Waterfront, which bring to mind Biff Tannens Pleasure Paradise Casino & Hotel from Back to the Future Part II. Come to think of it, riding the People Mover reminds me of the elevated trains in Christopher Nolans Batman Begins. And the steam rising from the sewers makes me think of Banes underground army in The Dark Knight Rises. Theres no shortage of grim, cinematic scenes in Detroit. The People Mover wraps around Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team. The team was founded the same year (1926) that the family of legendary boxer Joe Louis moved to Detroit from Alabama after being spooked by a gang of Klu Klux Klansmen. Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, was the world heavyweight champion for twelve years. He was also an inspiration. But his downtown Detroit namesake is at risk of destruction, not because the city cant afford to maintain it. Its actually the opposite, and it might be the most infuriating aspect of the Detroit story. When the Detroit automobile companies were on the brink of bankruptcy, the federal government stepped in with a massive bailout. When streetlights in Detroit are going dark and the emergency personnel who would be needed to respond to a car accident on a street with no lights are being let go, the federal government doesnt think twice about throwing Detroit a lifeline. Weve come to expect a socialism for corporations, austerity for people attitude from Republicans, but not from Obama. Then again, he is only one man. And as we have seen, he can barely manage to keep the government open. He may be one of the most powerful people on the planet, but he is still part of a larger machine that rewards the rich for being rich. And the logic of that machine explains why Wayne county and the state of Michigan have decided to spend $284.5 million in taxpayer money to build a new hockey arena in downtown Detroit.

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Detroit doesnt need a study to illustrate the fact that expensive sports and entertainment venues are not worth the investment. Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, opened in 2000. Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions football team, opened in 2002. They are both awesome, and they may be responsible for a few new condos and a little bit of business at nearby bars and restaurants, but most fans still drive back to their homes in the suburbs after the game or concert. The economic development that was promised has not be seen. The proof is right there in the pudding! But the Red Wings wealthy owner lives in a pudding-less world, where he gets all the ice cream he wants. He will undoubtedly raise admission prices to a new arena that he is not paying for. Its a twisted reality we live in. Over the last 30 years more than $30 billion American tax dollars have been spent on new arenas. Its the closest thing weve had to a federal urban development plan, but the profits generated benefit billionaire owners, not the people who live around the arena. Some people have even been displaced by new arena construction. As I make my way around Ford Field a homeless man shouts at me about how Game Days coming! Then my front wheel gets a flat. Does everything break in this city? I ask myself. The area Im in is completely devoid of people, which is scary, so I pedal along like nothing happened. I try to take the pressure off the front wheel by leaning back, and occasionally kicking off the ground like Im riding a scooter. ---------------------------Back at the hostel dorm I notice a book on a lower bunk called The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Post-War Detroit. A few folders fall out of a plastic bag, one of which reads, Michigan Roundtable For Diversity and Inclusion. I suspect someone is attending a conference. As I walk outside to rent the fourth and final bicycle of my trip, I see a young White guy in the open field across the street from the hostel. It looks like hes wearing a t-shirt with no midriff. But as I get closer I realize hes carrying greens and tomatoes from the raised bed gardens in the middle of the field. His name is Sam. We strike up a conversation. Ill admit, Im not really a green thumb, farming was never my thing, he says. But everybodys farming and growing stuff, which makes living in Detroit that much cheaper.

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Sam is the prototypical Detroit hipster migrant. A liberal arts major, he found himself back at his parents suburban Ohio home after graduation without many career prospects. He heard that Detroit was a good place to start from scratch and he was curious to see What the hell was going on in The D? Initially, Sam moved downtown and got a job in the non-profit sector. Inspired by his friends and the sheer number of abandoned lots, he moved to Corktown and took up gardening. This is all well and good, but it can get tricky because a lot of these young White people find themselves for the first time among mostly people of color, and not everyone is attending conferences on racial inequity and inclusion. For dinner I pedal to the heart of Old Corktown to St. CeCes Pub. There are stained glass partitions and cobbled floors. The menu is enticing, but the prices are out of my range at nearly $20 a plate. Also, the staff is pretty blas about the locavorism aspect of their menu, which is disconcerting. So I dip out. I remember Jeff mentioning something about gorgeous old houses across from Brush Park, so I ride in that direction. The chain on the bicycle is so caked with oil and crap that I have to pedal at an excruciatingly slow pace, or the chain falls off. This does not fare well for the uphill route to Brush Park, so I skip the old money tour and head for the Eastern Market. Gratiot Avenue in the Eastern Market is no Michigan Avenue in Corktown, but it may soon be. My pre-trip Internet research uncovered a caf+gallery+venue space called Trinosophes. There are two large rooms in Trinosophes, one for munching, reading, Interneting, etc. The other is a gallery space with a video installation and a small stage already set up for a band. Their one employee tells me theyve only been open for three months. Weve got 9,000 square feet, including the back part thats not open to the public yet, he says. I dont inquire about the cost but I assume it would make small business owners in New York City shit their pants. When I arrive there is only one customer: a young guy on his laptop sipping slow-drip coffee. There are only three sandwich options since the guest chef left after lunch. Kind of sucks, because Im sure I wouldve enjoyed Chilled Udon Noodles with Garlicky Green Beans, BBQ Tofu, Kale Chips and Fried Shallots. Instead, I order a triple creme brie with fig jam sandwich and local greens. One of the two half sandwiches comes open faced because they ran out of bread, so he knocks off a few bucks. It totally hits the spot. Eventually, a couple settle in for dinner and various artist-types gather for a meeting. As I ride away towards Rivertown I notice a single homeless man sleeping outside the door of Old St. Johns church.

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If youre wondering if Detroit has a greenway, fear not, the DeQuindre Cut Greenway will take you right down to the waterfront from Gratiot Avenue. As I turn onto Atwater Street a pair of middle-aged Black guys bumping funk out of a boom box on their tricked out cruiser bicycles ride by into Milliken State Park. We turned up yall! one of them shouts. Less than a minute later a mob of young White hipsters and punks on bicycles pass me on Atwater Street, one of whom has a boom box and an amplifier stacked on the back of his bicycle thats blaring electronic music. A couple blocks down is the Chene Park Amphitheater, where I can hear the rock riffs of the band Three Dog Night. The signage is minimal at Atwater Brewery, which I discovered at my local liquor store in Milwaukee by way of their delicious Vanilla Java Porter. I enter a nondescript doorway and walk by rows of brewing tanks, finally reaching their nondescript bar near the back. Its mostly 30 to 50-year-old men, but one young lady named Mary is at the bar with her boyfriend Mike. Mike went to high school with Sean, Atwaters charismatic barkeep, in a western suburb of Detroit. Both are in their late thirties. Sean has GOD BLESS THE MIDWEST tattooed on one forearm and the fleur-de-lys (the symbol of France) on the other. Detroit was basically a French city up until the Industrial Revolution, he informs me. My Grandma Dorothy was born in France. She had these [pointing at the fleur-de-lys] all over her living room. We used to call her the Queen of France. Turns out Sean played in a few bands over the years, once sharing a festival bill with The White Stripes. I thought Meg was just the worst drummer, he says. There was no way they were gonna make it with her drumming. But I was way wrong. Eminem used to DJ over there at The Impound. There was this one night I was hammered off one-dollar shots. At the end of his set he rapped a few lines and gave away copies of his demo cassette. I remember taking that tape, going into the alley and throwing it against the wall, yelling, Fuck you Eminem! Who the fuck do you think you are? But you gotta understand, there were so many wannabe White boy rappers at our high school, and they were all terrible.

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Sean couldnt claim a connection to Kid Rock, the other modern day rockstar from Detroit. But he did call him out as a possible investor in maintaining the Detroit Institute of Art collection. There were actually appraisers in there today man! Kid Rock, Bob Seger, Jack White, Insane Clown Posse, Eminem, one of them needs to step up. If they claim to love art and Detroit, they should cough up some dough to save our collection. We got that Van Gogh self-portrait, you know the one with the straw hat and shit, we cant sell it man! When I return from a bathroom break Mike and Mary are engaged. Apparently Mike planted a ring in Seans tin of Altoids and offered it to Mary, to be married. Well, we met here, Mike says sheepishly. Sean tells me about his recent trip to Chicago. We nerd out over the late 80s/early 90s sketch comedy show Kids in the Hall. I tell him Im thinking about heading to The Shelter, a music venue below St. Andrews Hall, made famous by Eminem in the film 8 Mile. Ive never heard of the bands, but I listened to a couple of the headliners songs on the Internet and I dug them. Plus, the show is free. You gotta go to The Shelter, and check out St. Andrews Hall if you can. That place is so important in the history of Detroit music. I saw Nirvana there before Smells Like Teen Spirit came out. There was a crowd of maybe 500 people. The band later said that they felt a shift after that show, because so much crazy shit went down! I was actually thirteen the first time I went there. I was with my cousin and we were going to see this punk band. About 100 skinheads showed up, and they did this thing where they linked arms, forming a horseshoe on the dancefloor. And then they ran at each other. It was wild to see that shit man, luckily we were up in the balcony! Before leaving I wash down a couple of Decadent Dark Chocolate Ales (made with local Morley chocolate) and their best-seller, the Dirty Blonde Ale. Both are fantastic. Sean is a sweetheart, comping me a beer and the pint glass I ask him to add to my tab. Smiles flash everywhere as the Tigers win their twelfth straight game, sweeping the Indians. The reflector falls off my bicycle a few blocks before St. Andrews Hall. As I pull up to lock the bike a woman in an SUV is barking at a parking attendant. Is someone gonna fuck up my car? she shouts.

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My guess is no. This part of Detroit feels like being in the downtown of any large American city; dirty, but theres enough people around that it doesnt feel that sketchy. The entrance to The Shelter is in an alley behind St. Andrews Hall. The crowd is mostly early twentysomething punks and scenesters. I catch the last ten minutes of the feature act, Haunted House, and Im pissed that Im late. Theyve got something, Im not quite sure what it is, but the crowd digs it. The bartender is being a stickler for the bracelet proving Im over 21. But to be fair, this place feels like a shelter for underage drinking, pun intended. The Hounds Below is the headlining act. Lead singer Jason Stollsteimer hit it big with the 2004 single CMon, CMon back when he was with The Von Bondies. They broke up in 2011 after a fourteen year run. But Stollsteimer hasnt missed a step as a songwriter, and he attracts talent. His new five piece is tight. They have a Ben Kweller meets The Clash sound. I really lock in when they play For You And I, an infectious track off their debut 2012 album You Light Me Up In The Dark. I cant remember the last time I had that much fun at a blind concert, and I ride the high all the way back to Corktown. DAY 4 NEW GODS The hostel is quiet on Friday morning. I say goodbye to Jeff, whos enjoying a Pall Mall breakfast. He wishes me the best and apologizes for the bad bicycle luck. I wait for the bus on Rosa Parks Boulevard. It doesnt show. I remember the poster for a Black lady cabbie in the hostel lobby. When I call Oneita it seems like shes in the middle of something. But she assures me shell be there in less than thirty minutes and that she no longer drives the checkered cab from the poster. Im the baddest little cab driver in Detroit, she proclaims as I get into her black minivan. I used to be a columnist and editor at the Free Press you know. Quit that job last year. I could talk to Oneita all day. She gives me a hard time for not ordering her something from New Center Eatery, a Southern-style spot a couple blocks north of the Amtrak station where I have a fried catfish and grits order waiting to be picked up. I havent spent much time in the South, but Ive eaten at a lot of Black restaurants in Milwaukee and Chicago, and I can say with confidence that New Centers fried catfish is the best Ive ever had. I also order a side of fresh fruit, to please the veganism billboard brunette who stares at me once again as the train crawls out of the city.

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As I already mentioned, the night before I left for Detroit I did a bunch of last minute Internet research. I discovered a number of inspiring new businesses, cooperatives and alternative organizations. For example, Detroit has turned a 1920 Model T showroom into a space for sustainable-minded start-ups to gather and work on building a greener Detroit, which I totally forgot to visit. There is a bicycle company called Detroit Bikes that makes a simple, three-speed, largewheeled cruiser; a sturdy, one-size fits all just like the Model T. There are so many forward thinking initiatives and communities emerging. Detroit is fucking rich! I thought to myself while doing research. When the filmmakers behind Detropia set out to make their documentary, they had similar thoughts. But like myself, they learned that Detroit is still very, very poor. As we reach the city limits I recall the Ancient Greek and Roman exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art. Apparently the Olympics were originally played to praise Zeus, the King of Gods. Today the Olympics are played to praise our new gods, Coca-Cola and McDonalds. The Detroit Institute of Art tells a story. Its a story about how weve worshipped deities since before the days of Jesus Christ and Muhammad. The centerpiece of the museum is a large court painted from top to bottom by Diego Rivera. The frescoes, as they are called, depict the assembly line and industrial machinery, and by extension, the corporation, our latest object of deification. Even though civilization has, for the most part, towed this line throughout history, there has always been a minority who align their spirituality with the natural world, placing humanity and the environment above any man-made God. And that minority is getting stronger every day. We are everywhere. Some of us have lived in Detroit all of our lives. Some of us are now moving to Detroit. Ill admit, its not easy to see past our racial and socioeconomic differences. But if those of us who value justice, whether on a social, economic or ecological level, if we start building together we can maybe, if were lucky, prolong this crazy dance we call Life on Earth for a few more generations.

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