Monday, February 16, 2009

Portrait: Detroit, Michigan

If you asked 100 people what city they considered to be the hardest hit in this economy, 95 of those people would say Detroit. Its a city with a name that elicits the strongest response from people, whether we have a bad economy or not. But its a city I love. A city that has created some of the best memories for me.

My entire life has been spent in the suburbs of Detroit. For 25 years, Detroit has been a mere 15 minute drive. I went to college downtown, my husband has played thousands of shows with his former band there. I have spent many years of my life fighting off that Detroit stereotype, because to me, the city has always felt alive. When I was a little kid, my dad worked at the General Motors building downtown. During the summer they would have these outdoor parties with tons of food and musicians and people dancing around, loving life. I never grew up knowing that Detroit was bad, I never feared the city the way out-of-towners did. Maybe I was jaded, having grown up in a semi-wealthy household, I was fortunate to never know what "going through a hard time" meant.

Detroit has always had a reputation for being rough and dirty and barren. A place you would never want to be at night. There have been a few performers to come from Michigan with their over exaggerated stories of growing up dirt poor in Detroit (by the way, Kid Rock is from Romeo which is about 45 minutes away from downtown and it is a really nice place to live). The now infamous 8 mile road was materialized in to a crime ridden "ditch" that separates the rich suburbs from the poor city.

But that was years ago. When people think of Detroit nowadays, its not an Eminem biopic that comes to mind. Its a crumbling car industry, a mayor scandal or a frozen body in the bottom of an elevator shaft. Its everything that people have thought for 50 years but 100 times worse. While I still feel that life coming from downtown, I also feel the fear and sadness. Its nerve wracking to check the news, to wonder what awful thing will happen today. The entire nation was on the edge of their seats during the auto bailout debate, but nobody held their breath more than Michigan. One evening, many months ago, when my husband and I were driving on the expressway to downtown, we caught a glimpse of the Detroit river skyline, with the Renaissance Center standing above the rest of the buildings, the GM logo catching the last rays of the sunset. And it suddenly hit me, what if this bailout doesnt happen? Our city, this beloved place of mine, would not survive. But it did happen, much to the nations dismay. The bailout wasn't a miracle, however, and the problems of this city are far from over. But when I stand outside of the old Detroit train station, all 18 stories of broken glass and graffiti, I know we will be okay. Because the spirit of the people of Detroit transcends time and crumbling architecture. I just hope to see the change in my lifetime.

PS: Mitch Albom wrote an article called, "The Courage of Detroit". Its a little long but worth the read. He sums up the feeling of Detroit better than I ever could.

Detroit, Michigan