Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Along the road to Detroit--The End of the Road

 On November 14, 2011, I went to Detroit to see the city and take photos. My old friend, and former brother-in-law, Marc, lives in the area and joined me. Here is the recap, in brief, because it is not possible to tell it all in a simple blog.

(You can click on the link at the end to view the slideshow. There are 100 photos, most with captions.)

I have been to Detroit maybe a dozen times in my life and knew little about it when I first moved to Ohio in the mid ‘60s, other than it was THE Motor City and home of the Tigers, Lions, Pistons, It was Motown, Cobo Arena and CKLW—The Big 8 (which was actually in Windsor). I considered it, initially, a place of wealth, akin to Oz’s Emerald City. How could it be anything less, with all those vehicles being produced in factories where workers were pulling in high union wages? In summer of 1967 Detroit became a conundrum, to me, exacerbated by my youthful ignorance, southern background and then living in the bleach-white farm country of northwest Ohio. It seemed unbelievable there could be riot and revolt in a location where money flowed so freely. How could there be unrest and dissatisfaction in the blue collar Camelot?  I was too young to know the reasons and truths.

The news in recent years from, aside from the auto industry collapse, has been the phenomenal physical decay of the city. The web has thousands of photos and articles detailing the dilapidation. I have lived in or near major cities since my graduation, in December 1975, from Bowling Green, so I have personally witnessed urban decay in Dayton, LA, Columbus, Cleveland and other places, but there has always been a bottom on which the decline rests, followed by resurgence. In Detroit there seems to be only hole digging, in search of an elusive bottom. This is my current opinion, however, I do not follow daily or monthly events there. I have no knowledge, power or money to fix it. Countless others have detailed all this with their thoughts and theories; all I can do is tell you about my recent visit and share my own photos.

I made some phone calls before traveling there, inquiring where I might find the deterioration. The answer, from three different sources, was, “Anywhere.”  I asked if there were any places where I should be particularly cautious. The answer was, “Pretty much everywhere you plan to go.” Based on my experiences in other cities, I expected to find certain areas where decay was concentrated and horrific. To my dismay, it was “anywhere.” North, south or west, there was no street, that I was on, that did not have collapsing, burned out or severely damaged structures. Homes, businesses, industrial buildings, churches, nothing was immune. It was apparent, after going down the first couple streets, there would be no reason to simply stand in the street and photograph building after crumbling building.

In addition to the widespread nature of the damage, I was shocked at the amount of debris and garbage, particularly the discarded tires. Thousands of tires littered sidewalks, empty lots, yards of the vacant properties and alleys. There was an abundance of furniture, fixtures, toilets, cabinets, a you-name-it collection of what humans throw out.

I can understand the garbage. The hardest thing to grasp was the contents of the structures. Every house or apartment building we entered contained the everyday stuff of people. Clothing, books, photos, toys, small appliances and mail were common items to be found in the dust and chunks of plaster falling from the walls and ceilings. Several times I thought how it was as though there had been a nuclear explosion, vaporizing the people but leaving the material goods. It was bizarre and leaves me with only one word—Why?

It was sunny and fair on the day of my visit, wonderful conditions for mid-November. There were some flowers blooming and plenty of leaves that had turned but were still clinging. What was missing was people. Traffic was extremely light on the main streets, even for a Saturday. But, even on the sidewalks and in the yards of the homes that were better maintained, there was an absence, a quiet. No kids, no parents, no grandparents, no pets. In fact, I can only think of four or five cars driving by on any of residential streets in all the hours. That in itself seemed strange, for The Motor City.

So, I went about doing what I had wanted to do for a long time. I went up and down stairs, through windows and holes in walls, walked through doors and into rooms and over the debris that, at one time, was personal and valuable to some of those missing people. It is what I went to see and I was not disappointed.

The drive back to Ohio provided thinking time.  I thought how Detroit is the American Dream gone bust. It is The Great American Failure. It is a place that once represented all that we could and should be, but is crumbling like old Rome. It now represents what we had and have lost.
And what I think is that any American who is interested in seeing what can become of our greatness needs to take a one day trip to Detroit. Lastly, I think we are all, for a train load of reasons, a little bit to blame.

1 comment:

  1. Quite a project, Steve.
    Can you get the slide show to slow down?
    The scrappers are tearing the hell out of buildings, ripping aluminum siding off houses, digging out copper plumbing and wires. Looks like they missed some. Like the mining industry, perhaps they'll be back for the little pieces and harder to get stuff when prices go up.

    Maybe you saw it: at the Michigan Central train station, which is only about 80 years old, there is a RR tunnel under the Detroit River. Last time I saw it, was an open, dark hole in a concrete wall leading under the River and who knows what else.