Blackhumouristpress's Blog

August 10, 2009

Detroit Vacation

This one is not fiction. I left Chicago Friday at 11:00 am. My day actually began or ended depending on how you look at things, when I finished writing a blog entry/short story entitled, “Menage a Trois” at 12:30am Friday morning. I took a sleeping pill, watched highlights of baseball on ESPN and turned in at roughly 2:00am and rose bright eyed at 5:30. I grabbed my hockey equipment and headed to Johnny’s Ice House on Madison Avenue in the west loop of Chicago. Twenty two men rose before the rooster to get some exercise in at 6:30 in the morning. I finished playing, cleaned up and headed north on the 94 to where I live up in Evanston. It may be that everyone is on vacation in August or that everyone is losing their jobs. At 8:00am in downtown Chicago, I was able to take the expressway through the city without applying the breaks once during the twelve mile trip north of the city. I gathered up my clothes and musical equipment and readied myself for the five hour trip to Detroit.

Jason, the baritone saxophone player in the Chicago group I play in called Skapone, showed up in his Cadillac STS. He stood out in front of the house as the dogs howled. He smoked his cigarette and looked past the trees as if he was looking for something. Jason walked in with his Doc Marten Boots, black military pants and black long sleeve shirt. He wore round granny glasses a la John Lennon but with black lenses. Jason stands at five feet seven inches with brown hair on his head that goes where it wants to. Jason has a perpetual smirk on his face that tells one that he is not only sceptical but expects proof at all times that whoever he is talking to, should prove that they are worthy of being heard. We loaded our stuff into my 2006 Dodge Magnum and headed east (actually south in the City of Chicago) towards the Irving Park exit.

Standing on the curb five feet from the homeless guy wearing $100.00 gym shoes and a Cubs hat, was Chris. Chris is one of two guitarists in the band Skapone that is headquartered in Chicago. Chris was wearing a military issue pair of shorts that he bought for $10.00 at Sears. Nobody I know is still buying anything at Sears and in fact the largest icon in the United States once named the Sears Tower, is now named Willis. I have heard from people in and around Chicago that Willis is the name of a British company that owns a majority of the space within the building. I won’t ever call it Willis. I still call it Peking duck, Burma and the dictator Khadaffi. I’m just an old creature of Habit.

Chris jumped in and we were on our way. This trip would not have the same quaintness of Sal Paradise in On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I had a debit card full of money and five one hundred dollar bills in my pocket. There would be no picking up Ed Dunkle in New Orleans to make a stop in Denver and then onto to San Francisco. We were going to play music for the weekend in Detroit and then return to our lives in Chicago.

Jason’s job is to create circuit boards that go into the making of automobiles for General Motors. When he’s not playing music he is working for a company in suburban Chicago that is trying to find a way to make his job obsolete and put him out on the street. Problem is that they need him right now. Jason tells GM that there is a problem with this or that on conference calls with a committee of six or seven on the phone of people that cannot make a decision quickly or at all, in the city of Detroit. Jason has a soft spot for them and drives a Cadillac. Despite what you may hear, a Cadillac is still a Cadillac.

Chris is a door man at a small drinking establishment on the north side of Chicago. He is six feet two inches and resembles an Irish lad. Without hearing his Midwest accent, you could imagine an Irish brogue flowing like water from his lips. Chris is in the running for under achiever of the year and does not even care that he may win. He holds a masters degree in philosophy and checks identifications of young urban professionals who flock to the cutting edge club where there are no buckets of Bud, five dollar wings or Cub games on thirty televisions strapped the walls. Living hand to mouth is more favorable than being a cog in the wheel and so it is for Chris.

We meet our other band member who made the trip in Detroit. Lincoln is an African American or black as most people say when they don’t feel compelled to say something as wordy as African American. Lincoln drove himself separately from the south side of Chicago in his Subaru SWV from 1994 that he loves as much as one could love a non breathing object. Lincoln lives on the south side of Chicago and works as a bailiff during the day at a county courthouse on the south side. Lincoln sings at his Catholic church on the south side, visits strip clubs and lives alone in a condo. Lincoln’s parents both died within the last ten years and his sister married a man from Spain and moved to Seville. Band members of Skapone are his family even though he may not actually like any of us.

Lastly there is me. I can’t fairly and objectively, describe myself. Let’s just say I play bass guitar, sing and am the narrator of this thing. I not only play bass for Skapone but also for Superdot, a similar Ska/Reggae outfit that hales from Detroit. I was going to be the Detroit tour guide for my Chicago compadres for the weekend. I’m in Detroit at least once a month or more. I have to return in just two weeks for a wedding.

I chose to make our stay at the Motor City Casino in downtown Detroit, one mile from the Ambassador Bridge that leads to Canada. The neighborhood surrounding the Motor City Casino has beat up homes that are still occupied but mostly abandoned. The nicest buildings in the neighborhood are the ones that belong to the Teamsters. A banner one block from the casino reads, “Casino workers… Your credit union is right here”.

For me, the sites of factories covered with graffiti without a window left in the structure is no big deal. As we rolled up on Grand River towards the casino, there is very little between the Chrysler Freeway and the Las Vegas style casino that had a dancing light display on the sides of the building. It looked like a mirage in the desert across the blocks and blocks of vacant space that had crab grass and other weeds growing through the cracks of foundations that used to house homes. The boys were in awe. Jason commented first.

“People actually still live here… This is great. I feel safer in this desolate bombed out part of Detroit than back home in my own suburban neighborhood.”

There was nobody on the side streets where there were maybe a half dozen homes to a block and many wide open spaces. We gathered up our things and checked into the casino hotel. The first thing that strikes you is the smell of cigarettes everywhere. Smoking in public places, at restaurants, clubs and hospitals, is all still legal. Everyone but me smokes in Detroit or so it seems. Most people are black but a smattering is white. People are overweight to grossly obese. Lumbering black women with their daughters and their daughter’s children, spending a night at the casino in lieu of a formal vacation, wore sleeveless shirts and tight pants over their enormous posteriors and arms that looked liked thighs that jiggled whenever they moved. For me it’s sad to think that the fractured family spends its family vacation in town at a Disneyland set up for adults to drink and gamble. There is no pool for the children or any play area to speak of. The children stay in their hotel rooms and play video games and watch pay per view movies as they do at home. The only difference is the clean rooms with piped in cool air and a view of Detroit that makes the city look not that scary at night.

The whites at the casino are not unlike the blacks. They are segregated for the most part without problem or incident. They too are overweight and most like spending their vacations or weekend get away at the casino in town. They all queue up in line at the buffet stocked full of a variety of good and bad food alike called the Assembly Line. Four in the morning or four in the afternoon is no different, there are people, smoke, Motown music playing through speakers, cocktail waitresses and mostly working class people risking their earnings and savings at the casino; The mirage in inner city Detroit.

I proceeded to lose forty dollar before taking off for the northern suburb of Berkley which is north and west of downtown Detroit. In Berkley, homes were neat and orderly and there were no pawn shops, barber shops, MB Churches with hand painted signs on the building, staggering drunks, junkies and prostitutes. It is white and affluent and insulated from the inner city. The suburbs are insulated from Detroit but cannot exist without the city. People enter The Berkley Front and sit at the downstairs bar to watch the Tigers play the Minnesota Twins, drink beer and eat fried food. There was one waitress who looked as though she hated life. She never smiled, rolled her eyes over our need to see a menu before eating and wore a tank top t shirt without a bra. Her sagging boobs, frayed jeans and messy hair went well with her demeanour; she did not give fuck, welcome to Detroit, what do you need?

I played two sets in front of a fairly full establishment with the band Superdot and Skapone without event. We earned our duckets and headed back to the Motor City Casino after eating Taco Bell at three in the morning on a park bench, under a waxing moon. Crickets went well with a warm humid night where everyone seemed to be sleeping in the suburbs. When we returned to the casino, there was hardly a parking spot to be found. Heavy bass pumped from old Caprices with shiny rims, jacked up with tinted windows. People filed in and out of the casino at three in the morning. The night was electric. I went up and got into bed and flipped channels as I waited for sleep to come. On three hours of sleep, I played ice hockey, drove five hours, played two sets of music and lay in bed wide awake. Sleep came nearly 24 hours later with the help of a sleeping pill. That and Shark Week, helped me to finally slip down stream.

Saturday was a rainy dreary day. We filed into the car and headed south to suburban Taylor to find a Denny’s since the boys did not want to pay $18.00 a head to eat at the Assembly Line. I was tempted to pay for them for the luxury of not having to travel fifteen miles to find a Denny’s where I ate the exact same breakfast in Seattle, Washington just the weekend before. There was absolutely nothing different in the omelette, dry potatoes or grits. Two thousand miles between restaurants and it may as well have been the same place. I returned the hotel and used their state of the art exercise equipment to try and offset as best as possible all the calories I took in between drinking and eating since leaving home. I spent three hours at the health club between lifting and running. I got my money’s worth there. The boys were antsy and wanted to see something worth seeing in Detroit. The only thing that came to mind in inner city/downtown Detroit was Greek town, a two block area near the baseball and football stadiums, houses Greek restaurants, bars and shops. It’s a great place to people watch and just walk around and not feel too apprehensive. The boys loved Greek town. They loved the flaming cheese, shots of Ouzo and lamb with rice. We got back in the car and headed over to our second show of the weekend which would be an outside block party under a tent in Warren, Michigan.

I took 75 north to eight mile road. Marshall Mathers made eight mile road popular in his movie and rap tunes. Eight mile road is the northern border of Detroit and is eight miles north of a particular point where Woodward Road begins in the heart of downtown Detroit. I stopped for gas at a Sunoco and noticed a sign for a three bedroom brick ranch for sale for $17,500.00 cash. A fucking house could be purchased for less than a new car, a good new car. The party was off of Nine Mile. It was a party of mostly young people that would have rather heard rap than white reggae. Be that as it may, we played our sets and sat around and socialized for a while. Me being a student of human nature, I marvelled at the young women who showed up all dressed up as if going to a night club to just drink cheap beer and shots of Captain Morgan outside. When dance music blared on the sound system after we finished playing, young women under twenty took turns dancing seductively while holding one of the two poles that supported the tent. Young white men with cocked baseball hats and cheap tattoos, bobbed their hands and heads to the music while holding forty ounce beers or full bottles of hard alcohol. I got the feeling that the night was nothing more than a diversion from the mundane routine day to day life of an area that was not much more affluent than the depressed areas of inner city Detroit. It was a front yard with a tent and booze. It may as well have been a night club though.

We made a stop at liquor store on eight mile where you can pay all your bills too. There were no grocery stores around and so the liquor store that looked like an emporium was actually the catch all store for the neighborhood. An Arab man behind the bullet proof glass smiled as he accepted money through the lazy Susan, bullet proof spinner. There were five different magazines devoted to cars, weed and black women with extremely large asses on the counter next to colored condoms on a spinner rack. We were not approached or hassled or robbed. I went in apprehensive but nothing happened. Chris even pissed on the wall that separated the emporium from a vacant lot. A football field away were several young black men who noticed the parked Magnum and large white dude pissing on the wall. Yet nothing happened.

I returned to the casino and slipped a hundred dollar bill into a slot machine and proceeded to lose almost all of it when I hit it. I won $597.00 and cashed out. I then got greedy and lost $200.00 after that. I still came out ahead for a change. We woke, got our things together and headed out on the highway on a hot sunny day. The ramp that takes you from the 75 to the 94 going west has a large factory that is riddled with graffiti and sits without one window still in place. It is the same structure that was covered with a gigantic tarp several years back when the city of Detroit hosted the Super bowl. The tarp helped to keep the eyes of the rest of the nation off of the dismal reality of what Detroit has become and what it looks to be for years to come. The recovery may just skip over Detroit. It has not been a city most would consider inhabiting since before the first men walked on the moon, since Vietnam and since Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. walked the earth. Jason posed an obvious question as we made our way towards Ann Arbor. It is a question that anyone who may live in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago may ask; what is the appeal for you in this city?

The answer is that there is nothing fake in Detroit. Everything in Detroit is really real. If it’s bad where you live it is probably worse in Detroit and yet the people for the most part are no worse for the wear. If I had $17,500.00 cash, I’d by a three bedroom brick ranch there and make it my summer palace. But that’s just how I am.

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