Wandering the City of Detroit

Monday, June 8, 2015

Being on the road lesson #1: don't expect yourself to get as much done as you planned. I had this grand plan to write about each of the places I had visited right away, publishing a post a week, doing them all justice... alas. You'll just have to settle for my retrospective. We'll start where I just left:, Detroit. Eventually I'll get to San Diego, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Indiana. Now let's get moving!

I've been walking for days. Not having access to a car in the Motor City makes it pretty difficult to navigate the spread-out landscape. My pedometer cheerfully chirped out that I was a marathoner yesterday - a real neighborhood Olympian.

I've been taking a breather here to reflect and rest. I'd come from a writer's conference in Indiana that was jam-packed with inspiration but after a 5 days on a tight schedule and surviving on campus cafe salads, I needed something else. It's easier to sleep in when you don't feel like you'll miss out on some life-altering piece of information shared by your lecturer.

In my walking, I've seen a great swath of town. One one day, I went from Wayne State to John K. King warehouse of used books and back. Some pockets are going strong - the fancy coffee shops and pocket art galleries, the student areas with newly paved sidewalks - while others are a study in contrasts. Like the buildings downtown where, at one end of the block, you can order a $7 coffee drink and at the other stands a beautiful roped-off building with all its windows shattered. There's endless construction and demolition.

As a reader from afar, I romanticized Detroit for its arts and activism scene. Radical possibility rising from the collapsed heap of a capitalist ruin is an incredibly sexy metaphor. But, as I should come to expect, the lived reality is a lot more complicated. What I've loved here so far are the neighborhoods. Walking past houses where people say 'hello' from their porches. They have fancy brick turrets, most of them, even on the boarded up houses. I've loved going to free outdoor movies and participating in that DIY life with my host-friends. I'm privileged enough to see how the Motor City does Pride.

But I'm a little embarrassed to say that, of the five cities I've been to in the past two weeks, Detroit was the one I had the most expectations about. I didn't come with any plan other than to see what's here, but I did want this city to answer my question: what does it look like to build something new? And the answer I got was just another question, humbling and unexpected: what does it look like to live when no one's looking out for you?