Sunday, July 04, 2010

Some observations about Detroit.

I'm in Detroit in the middle of a 3-day, 4-game baseball binge (which is different from BInge, a.k.a. Brandon Inge, oh god, I'm loopy from all the hot dogs and Star Spangled Banner renditions). A bunch of folks that post on Bless You Boys (a.k.a. BYB) have met up for a game or two (or four, depending on how much time we have), hence the get-together and the baseball-overdose.

I've never actually stayed in Detroit — a couple of us from BYB are staying at a hotel right downtown, about a 10-minute walk from Comerica Park — because a baseball game is only about a 90-minute drive away from my parents' place, so why stay the night? This means that I haven't really seen a lot of how Detroit works in the evening, what nightlife is like, and so on. So, here's what I have so far.

Downtown Detroit is not scary.

The place gets a bad rap; somewhat deservedly so, I suppose. And I will admit, there are some places outside the downtown that I really don't care to see, much less walk around after dark. But, after having walked around downtown last night and tonight, and seeing a good part of it (Greektown, Bricktown, the stretch of Woodward from Campus Martius up to the Fox Theatre), not once did I feel unsafe. I'd do it again, for sure.

Detroit is not that confusing to get around.

Granted, a few streets do a loopy thing around a couple of parks (Grand Circus is one of them), but, by-and-large, with a few exceptions, everything's on a pretty regular grid pattern. I can remember my dad saying when I was little, "You really don't want to get lost in downtown Detroit," but I think that was probably just a bit of naive, latent, small-town-infused racism which is pretty common (but is far from malicious, trust me).

Americans sure love their fireworks.

Three of us made the trip from Detroit to Toledo to catch the Mud Hens play an evening game. On the way back north after watching Toledo shit the bed* and lose 6-0 to Columbus, we were driving north on I-75 between about 10pm and 11pm, and HOLY CRAP FIREWORKS EVERYWHERE. At one point we counted seven different, separate displays of fireworks that we could see at the same time. I don't get it.
* This is my new favourite turn-of-phrase.

Downtown Detroit needs people and businesses.

The architecture is fantastic. The storefronts are ready, waiting, and look great. The sidewalks are wide and well-kept. Parking is ample and relatively cheap. Apparently there's going to be an LRT going straight down Woodward, with constuction set to begin in 2013. All this place needs are businesses and people... but you won't put a business where there's no people, and people won't come if there aren't any businesses.

This morning in the hotel's elevator a lady asked me, "So, where do people go to shop downtown? Where's the shopping district?" I thought for a second and said, "Um, I guess you could go to Greektown, I suppose" — because there really isn't a "shopping district," per se. If someone asked me about Toronto, I'd tell them to go to the Eaton Centre, Yorkville, Queen West, Leslieville, Bloor West, Leaside, Corso Italia... then again, I'm not entirely familiar with this place, so maybe I shat the bed on this one.

Detroit is full of Black people.

This one is a little more involved, and requires a longer reflection.


I've heard statistics before that say the city of Detroit (i.e., not the lily-white suburbs) has the highest population of African-Americans of any major city in the US, and I believe it; Wikipedia suggests that, in the 2000 Census, 81.2% of Detroiters were Black. In the 1950s, white people fled the city for the suburbs... and, pre-racial-enlightenment, why the heck not? Houses were cheap out there, freeways let you get to your job easily, and because you could probably afford a house out there but a Black person couldn't, that means they stay in the city, safely away from your teenage daughters.

Of course, now that racism is over with Barack Hussein Obama in the Black House**, we don't have to worry about this anymore. (Right?)
** I picked this up from a Parliament song, but can't remember which one.

Because I live in Toronto, there have been plenty of times I've been the only white guy in the room/on the bus/in a store. But, being the only white person around when everyone else is one ethnic group is... hmm.

(I've actually had to sit and think about this for a while.)

(Alright, here's what I got.)

If I was the only white guy in a place full of Asians, it would feel a little strange, but not too weird. Me with all brown folks? I call it "coaching high school cricket for three years" — nothing too bizarre-feeling. But there have been a few times when it's been just me with everyone else being African-American and, well, it just feels different.

It's not necessarily good-different or bad-different, but... I feel like, for some reason, I have to be on my absolute best behaviour. It's like I'm representing all white people to the Black community, and I'd better not come off as a belligerent asshole who thinks he can skip the continental breakfast buffet line at the hotel this morning or something.

It works its way out to the streets, too. I was walking around last night and tonight, and the cars seem to all have hip-hop music blasting out of them. These cars aren't your garden-variety Woodbridge souped-up Honda Civic, though — quite often, these are seriously expensive cars. In addition, just the way the people talk when they're hanging out... it all sounds so different to my ears than what Toronto The Good usually has to offer. Part of that is because I'm in the US, and people sound different anyway — but yeah, "African American Vernacular English" plays a role in that. Again: not good-different, not bad-different, but definitely different.

What does this all mean? Does it mean anything at all? Am I a racist prick for pointing this out? I certainly never felt uncomfortable or unsafe, so I hope that means that I'm not a racist prick. But then again, people in asylums think they're the sanest folks on the planet, so I'm not sure if I can be a good judge of my prickishness.

Anyway, that's all I've got for now. Maybe more will come later; I'll put a comment up if I think of something.

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