Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Chernobyl of Capitalism

Quite some people ask me what was the highlight of the trip through the states after dropping by some odd 25 states. Now well across the border to Mexico it’s sort of the chance to do a wrap up of the travel through the states, but I’m too lazy to do it properly. Sorry about that. Not so much.

It was too many great people we met, and great places we saw so I cannot justify to start elaborating on it.

However, there is one thing that certainly made the biggest impression; I’ll never forget Detroit, or “The Chernobyl of Capitalism” which I quickly named it. I never mentioned it on the blog, I found it hard to write something that was worthy the impression it made. Anyway, I guess this is the last chance.

From the Joliet prison outside Chicago we have no contacts before Kevin Lentz in Ann Arbor, a few miles west of Detroit, Michigan. Leaving late from the blues brothers dormitory, taking the Interstate-94 a cold afternoon we only managed to penetrate Michigan with a few miles before it is utterly dark. It is cold enough to make your feet feel like two wooden blocks when stepping off the bike, while the fingers don’t cooperate when you take off the helmet and remove the jacket, temporarily stuffed with New York Times for extra insulation.

You start to wonder if it is worth to keep heading up north to see Detroit while defrosting in the bathtub and feeling the needles steadily punch you while you slowly get back the feeling in your legs and hands. But you can’t abort; it was the town everybody told us to stay away from. The automotive industry’s cradle with the satanic steel mills along the Rouge, the home of a world class white flight, the living ghost town symbolizing the greatness of capitalism and union power.

It is dark again when we have a half hour left to Kevin’s place Ann Arbor the next day. Traffic is growing heavier and faster the closer we get. With hardly any light on the bikes it is an adrenalin rush to cross over all the lanes at the time we have to get off the highway. First challenging, and then rewarding when you see you managed once more without getting run over by a tractor trailer going 1,5 times your speed. It is a relief to get to Kevin’s place.

Ann Arbor for me is the dull highbrow brother of Detroit. Detroit had the heavy industries and history, almost like a working class heroes’ Mecca. Ann Arbor has the intellect and education.

But Kevin’s heart is burning for the history of Detroit and the heavy industry. The rise and fall of the Motor City. When he talks about Detroit he sounds like Dennis Hopper talking about Kurtz in Apocalypse now. It’s the same enthusiasm while talking about the city equally crazy as the colonel. We got the perfect man to take us into the industrial heart of darkness.

Next day is a typical grey December day in Michigan, perfect for underlining the decadence waiting ahead of us. While passing Dearborn, home of Henry Ford’s operations the sad reality becomes apparent. Working our way further in we bypass the Motor City Casino. A casino is probably exactly what the town need.

Downtown is quiet as a political opposition party in North Korea, even on a Friday afternoon. There are hardly any people to see, and empty high-rise buildings are slowly falling apart. There’s not enough cars to even make the slightest traffic jam. Some places steam blows up from the ground from the city’s heating system and gives it an even more industrial, hellish and tragic appearance. The few people we see is only African Americans, the white flight drained the town for all the whites, which was the one that could afford to move when the economy went down.

On the way over to Belle Island we’re going through several neighborhoods with burned out houses, empty lots that the nature have started to take back, and houses boarded up by the authorities to reduce the risk of squatters burning down the place. A short stop at old Fisher’s mansion discloses that one of the richest dude’s former home has been taken over by a Krishna congregation. Though there’s no money left in town, there might be some souls to steal.

A third of the street lights on the bridge to Belle Island have fallen down, like they nod to you to confirm your expectation to find a former playground for the well to do’s that’s empty and falling apart. The oldest yacht club in the states greets you on the other side, all boarded up, dark and empty. The island is empty, the playground is just not fun anymore.

Last stop is the Heidelberg Street, the proof that at least the creativity is living. Tyree Guyton started in -86 to transform empty houses and lot’s into gigantic art installations, just armed with paintbrushes and leftovers from the community. Soon the Elba Street and Heidelberg Street was a massive art installation. The city demolished parts of it in both -91 and -99, but it’s survived and still evolves. It’s one bright spot in an else wise dark town, though the installation is more or less picturing what’s happened in town, and all genious politics around.

Some people shun town in fear of crime. We don’t get any trouble despite flashing heavy duty photographing equipment and hanging out at the worse parts of town. My feeling is that people don’t bother to do any robberies anymore because everybody that had something worth robbing them left decades ago.

I find it scarier with Detroit than Chernobyl which I saw it a few years ago. Chernobyl can at least be blamed on an accident, more or less. Detroit can mostly be explained by greed and politics. It sort of tells a story few people on the western hemisphere like to hear, but I’m intrigued by the honesty of the story Detroit tells. I’ll for sure be back, for me it’s the most unique place in the States.

Departing from Joliet, Illinois
Typical condition after driving for a day, chest and beard covered in ice, snow and salt from the road. No feelings in feet or hands.

Kevin and the Pear Street band jamming in Kevins basement in Ann Arbor

The Motor City Casino, exactly what saved Detroit

GM's head quarter

The bridge to Belle Island, Detroits recreational area

Not too many of the lights on the bridge still stands, but it doesn't matter as Detroit probably can't afford to use them anyway

No pets on the beach. Actually nobody at all.

Detroit from Belle Island

One of USA's oldest yacht clubs. Not that fancy anymore.

Fisher's Mansion taken over by some sort of a Krishna congregation

God is good, just a pity he forgott about Detroit.

The Heidelberg Project


Can you eat your speed....

Kenny Rogers was the big star entertaining this x-mas. Couldn't suit better with a decadent artist in a decadent town...

Where else in the world can you find skyscrapers falling apart downtown?

Once one of USA's most beautyful railway stations. Now not so much.

"Fuck Detroit"

The bridge from Detroit to Windsor, Canada


Blogger Alan said...

Ok....NOW I understand why you told me that Austin would have a hard time beating Detroit. This is by far your best blog entry of this trip and I can see why it meant the most to you. Suddenly I want to visit the "Motor City". Safe travels my friend.

7 June 2010 at 18:08  
Anonymous Joe said...

Your readers should know that it was December in Michigan. Sure, Detroit isn't the pinnacle of western society but it's definitely not as bleak as this article makes it out to be. Of course there are few people walking around. The average temperature is 30F.

23 June 2010 at 15:12  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home