DAY 18-19 – DETROIT, MI
At this point anywhere but Pittsburgh was the destination. Just kidding, kind of, but a few days prior I had come up with the idea to make a quick stop in Akron, since it was on the way. We wanted to stop at Dr. Bob’s house, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. We got into town, stopped at a coffee shop to grab coffee and make some site updates, and headed over there. It was a house in relaxed neighborhood with brick-paved streets. We walked up the stairs, were welcomed by Jim, and we checked it out.
It was a very humbling experience. It doesn’t really matter what you believe in, or what I believe in, what matters is that there was a moment in time where enough love was centered in one place, enough love to change the world, and this was one of those places. In a modest house, on a quiet street in Akron, Ohio of all places, forces converged, and something of importance was born.
We headed towards Detroit. As we approached the city, from miles and miles out, things began to change. The roads became rougher, the sky seemed to become a little bit grayer, there was more debris on the roads, and you started to see the shells of industrial America. One of my favorite quotes is from George Carlin, and it goes like this: “You know why they call it the American Dream? Because you have to be asleep to believe it.” I don’t know if I agree with the quote or just appreciate the irony, but it has always stuck with me, and I can tell you right now, as we were driving into the city, I was wide awake, especially because we were just startled on the highway by a rogue biker gang pushing their crotch rockets to the limit.
Something in the air felt heavy, and I don’t believe it was the remnants of industrial pollution, it was an energy, a dark melanchonly. I was very moved by the whole approach and it made me quite sad. Now I won’t really get into politics, I refuse to dive too deep into that, but this is a city that the forces that be left to die. A city is like a person with it’s own wants and needs, distinct physical features, overall personality. Now if you take away what it needs to be that person that we all know and love than that person will fall apart, and you will be left with a shell of the former self. This was once a great city of industry, it was the birthplace of punk and Motown, it was one of America’s great cities. If the death of the American Dream started somewhere, it probably started in Detroit. We drove to the old train depot and around downtown a bit, walked along the Detroit River and looked into Windsor, Canada which looked disgustingly pristine, then hopped over to Jack White’s old house, I snapped a picture, and then to the suburbs where we would stay with Josh’s cousin.
Josh’s cousin Jeff, his wife Sejal and their 3 kids were wonderful. They were kind, accomodating, took us out to an amazing Middle Eastern restaurant, and told us about a few things we could do in the city. The only plan I had when getting to Detroit was to drive around and look at urban decay, but the city has so much to offer. The people who live in Detroit seem to be very proud of their city, and they should be, I really liked it there even though it felt a little dangerous, but I’ve always been drawn to places like that. They are trying to rebuild, just like people would after a war, except the enemy seems to have gotten away scott free in this case. I have a feeling the small renaissance in Detroit will continue to grow and that it will become a great, albeit smaller, city again. In the morning Sejal made us waffles, unbelievable, and we headed over to the Heidelberg Project, an urban art installation that she suggested.
The art was unusual, mostly made up of trash, toys and technological remnants of the past etc. I had seen something like this before, but the context of the art is just as important as the art itself in some circumstances, and the fact that this place existed in the middle of a blighted neighborhood really made it come alive. I shot some video as we drove back to the highway which I would cut together for the short film on this page, then we sped over to Hitsville USA, birthplace of Motown.
Now I knew the place was closed today when we drove over, but I really didn’t care, I just wanted to walk up the steps, stand there where so many of my musical heroes had, and take a few pictures, and that’s exactly what I did. I did almost cry when I was there, that place is something special. It is another unassuming place were a few people converged and ultimately changed the world. These past 2 days really were something special and it got me thinking, why not ME, the people I know, the things WE can do, the love that WE share. Yeah, why not?
We left the city and headed into the Michigan wilderness. As we drove through the suprisingly barren landscape I started to think about a television show, and that television show is Freaks and Geeks. Great show, if you haven’t seen it you should, but rather than think of the events in the show itself I started to think about the fictional characters lives outside of the show, what we didn’t see on the screen. I began to have a feeling in relation to how I thought they may have spent their summers on Lake Michigan, 35 years ago. I know, strange. The show takes place in a fictional suburb of Detroit and places like Benton Harbor are mentioned, so I really started to ruminate about the lives of people that don’t exist, have never existed, characters in a story. I mean everything that is written is based on some sort of personal experience in one way or another, sometimes that experience can be an actual one or just a reaction to another’s experience like when you view a painting, or watch a documentary. Anyway, as we passed exits mentioning lakes and streams and other reacreational areas, the history of a seemingly plain area began to invent itself. The trials of youth, the recreational sloth of old age, the hidden motives sandwiched between generations. It was all there, because of a television show, and my current experience.
We got off the highway near the border of Lake Michigan, and began to look for some sort of entrance that would get us close to the water. I had never seen a great lake, or set foot on one of their beaches. After driving for a while and hitting a bunch of dead ends, ie peoples no entry private driveways, we happened upon a small town called Grand Beach, which had a narrow one road entry over some train tracks. We drove to a point near the water, parked illegally, and walked down to the shore. It was beautiful. We would arrive in Chicago late that night.