Building Fall Down Go Boom

Have you ever sat through the Saturday morning teenybopper shows on NBC? All of them seem like warmed-over “Saved by the Bell” wannabes, each with exactly one stylishly-attired member of each major ethnic group (although some have two or three stylishly-attired white kids…audience demographics, y’know…). I can’t imagine watching this crap even when I was a kid. However, I did sit through it on Saturday morning in Detroit.

I should have been visiting the boy in the room next door: the one Scott and I had (mistakenly, it seems) pegged as a straight high school kid throwing a homecoming party or something. More about him later.

Instead, I waited for the abortion protest to end and tried to get in touch with Mike, another email correspondent who was planning to show me around a little. Unfortunately, we never could connect (a problem exacerbated by the fact that the message light on my phone wasn’t working).

 

Soon enough I was off with Scott to downtown Detroit for the demolition of what used to be Hudson’s Department Store, second largest building of its kind in the United States. This is the event around which my entire trip was oriented, and frankly I was pretty amazed that there wasn’t a bigger crowd assembled to see it. All the same, I’m told, there were more people downtown on a Saturday afternoon this day than there had been in years. Specifically, there were more WHITE people. Maybe they felt safer knowing their suburban counterparts were there to protect them.

There was definitely a crowd at Jacoby’s, a cool bar nearby, with a tasty bartender and a good beer selection.

Demolitions of old buildings are always disturbing to me, and since I’m just barely old enough to remember when big downtown departent stores were the rule rather than the exception, I could identify with the old-timers who were sad to see it go. On the other hand, this building could never really have been re-used and its vacant shell was a big slap in the face to residents forced to see it everyday…a constant reminder of what Detroit used to be and would probably never be again. So I could also understand that many people were glad to see it go.

  

After a few delays, we heard the first blasts. Nothing happened. I wasn’t worried, having watched the Hotel Charlotte in North Carolina demolished in similar fashion about ten years before. Eventually, wings started collapsing, the crowd started cheering, and the whole thing was over in a few more seconds.

  

And then came this horrendous dust cloud. I was prepared for this as well, having been caught in it at my last implosion. We even brought masks and offered the extras to a few kids so they could propagate the species. Once the building came down, I grabbed Scott and we ducked into a corner bar (which locked its doors against the dust a few minutes later). When the dust settled, it looked like a gray blizzard had hit.

 

After drinking a toast to Hudson’s, there was time to roam around downtown Detroit (which was now relatively dust-free) for a while. This was a good excuse for food at Lafayette Coney Island, which came highly recommended by my friend Rae. Coney islands (hot dogs) seem to be a pretty high art form in Detroit. This place was incredible. Thanks Rae.

 

I took lots of pictures. Downtown Detroit is such an amazing place, with blocks and blocks of early 20th century commercial buildings and skyscrapers, many of them alarmingly vacant and abandoned, standing like testosterone-deficient phallic symbols (did I really write that?). There is life downtown. You just have to look for it.

 

There was another beer or two later, of course, at Steve’s, this very strange old bar run by the same marginally bitter couple for about 50 years or so. Huge place. Nothing on the walls. Bathroom from the 30’s. Cheap beer. I love hanging out with locals. Afterwards, we retired to the Motel 6 for what was supposed to be a nap (no…I’m not offering any details thank you…) and then off to more Detroit nightlife.

 

We hit a leather bar called the R&R (I think), which allegedly has some backroom action some nights (but not this night) and then a beautiful, huge, new club on Michigan Avenue. This place was your basic top-notch dance club. At 1AM on Saturday night, we were the only customers. I don’t understand…

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