Detroit

I loved visiting Detroit yesterday. I was picked up by Bonnie Jo Campbell and we went to visit Lolita Hernandez, a native Detroit writer and she was super lovely. Lolita has a great dog who is huge and welcomed us gladly. I asked him the answer to truth so he could be part of my documentary. We went to the market in Detroit then to Bert’s Motown, the warehouse theatre has space for 2000 people, there’s a main bar and places to eat — Martha Reeves had her 75th birthday party there last year. They do Harlem jazz with Motown soul. It was the home of the Motown Sound, techno and encompassing blues, hip-hop, electronica, pop, punk, soul and gospel. Singers hosted by the city included Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, John Lee Hooker, Jim McCarty, Bill Haley, Patti Smith, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, Jack White, Madonna lived just thirty-five miles outside Detroit and studied dance there. Walking out back of Bert’s I was hit with a wall of sound, it was amazing! I hadn’t had lunch and we headed back to Lolita’s, picked up the car and headed out to do a tour of Detroit. I was eating mac and cheese in the front and we three working class writers had much to talk and bond over, there was much laughter, political conversation, chat on writing and family and profanity, men, sex, war, ideology. It was a perfect day. I will post on the Heidelberg project next, it was an amazing, extraordinary place to visit. We didn’t go into all of the derelict areas because the voyeuristic tourism of areas where poverty and lack of infrastructure and support, doesn’t show you the whole story. The issues in Detroit are real and considerable though and it is shocking that a city so important and close to New York can still lack the investment its citizens deserve. So those areas are there and we saw a little but also we went down to the old harbours, you could really feel all the old industry there. Detroit is a major port on the Detroit river, and you can stand and wave to Canada which is so close on the other side. You can cycle all along the riverfront for miles. There’s a lot of gentrification down in that area and locals are unsure whether they are continuing to be driven out so the city can become a hub for young professionals again. The current population has declined by 60% which is a huge amount of people, one in three residents lives in poverty. Detroit was always know for the motor industry with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all headquartered there. In 1903 Henry Ford had founded the Ford company there. In the 1920s it was the fourth largest city in the USA. United Auto Workers and the American Federation of Labor fought for working conditions to improve including a 40 hour week for staff. There’s some amazing architecture in the city including the Guardian Building, Fox Theatre and the Detroit Opera House. I thought it had great community, street art, music and I’d love to visit there for longer next time. I left reading Autopsy of An Engine by Lolita Hernandez and feeling I’d made a friend in Detroit, who made me feel welcome and at home. One of the coolest things in the city is Slow Roll Detroit, which has attracted up to 12’000 cyclists for evening rides touring 10 miles of the city, it has 5’000 card carrying members who pay a fee for the project which encompasses everyone in the community, old, young, new, poor, working, students, everyone — I’d totally go back to take part in that.

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