Road Trips : Road Trip 98 : Detroit 1

Friday 23 October 1998 (Indianapolis IN to Detroit MI)
Odometer: 86283

A few productive thrift store moments in the morning after saying goodbye to Bob, and I was off through northeastern Indiana and southern Ohio. This was the shortest drive of the trip so far, which was a good thing since I got such a late start. The drive was not particularly exciting. The only big amusement was the sign in a rest area outside Fort Wayne:

"We have urinals for men, not stool seats."

Thing is, if "stool seats" is supposed to mean "commodes", the sign was wrong. There were three. All the same, I opted for a urinal, feeling a bit skittish about doing my busness in something which might not really be there. Could be messy, after all...



 I hit Detroit about 7. At least I think it was 7. Coming into or out of Indiana is always a confusing thing, since Daylight Savings Time is not spoken there. I checked into my trusty Motel 6 and set about getting in touch with Scott, my tourguide for the weekend. Scott had offered me lodgings with his friends Don and Kristen, but I felt bad about impacting to many lives at once, so I figured I'd opt for the room and see what happened.

Anyhow, I headed over to the house after a while. It's always an odd thing to walk into a house ful of people you don't really know. It's always a great thing whe they make you feel like a long-lost friend and you actually believe you ARE a long-lost friend after about five minutes. This was one of those nights. I was happy.

I felt like I was really missing the point last year when I hit Detroit, because I had no one to show me around, no one to tell me where I should or should not drive, etc. All the same, I was obsessed with the place then and I'm obsessed with it still. If ever there was a polar opposite to the theme park known as San Francisco, this is it. Detroit is not pretty, at least not in ways that most people recognize. Gentrification is not an issue. Detroit is starkly real.

And it's hard to write about it without sounding really pompous, so I'll save the deep analysis for another time.

Friday night's entertainment consisted of White Castle (what a great icebreaker!) and a trip to a very strange goth club in the grand ballroom of what seemed to be a soon-to-be-abandoned Ramada Inn downtown. This was the sort of place where you realize the decay in the club is probably not just a "pretty goths dressed in black" affectation. It was pretty cool, actually.

Then it was off to bed, as I prepared for Saturday's demolition downtown and the kids got ready to confront the God Squad at an abortion protest the next morning.

Saturday 24 October 1998 (Detroit MI)

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.