Monday, July 15, 2013

Detroit, Michigan: Modern Ghost Town

A hooker was arguing with the hotel manager over the hourly rate for a room as I walked into the dingy office.  She was tall and her high heels made her look even taller.  Her body spilled out of her cut off jeans and a tank top that was much too small.  Out in the parking lot, a fat and balding white guy nervously tapped the steering wheel on his van as he waited for her.  If you took a hundred random police descriptions of child molesters and their vehicles, this guy and his and his van probably would have matched at least ninety of them.  He gave me the creeps.  There was something different about the girl though.  She wasn’t the typical meth head that comes to mind when the word prostitute is said.  She had dark ebony skin and a body that would have made most models jealous.  As she turned to leave, we locked eyes and she stared at me with a seductive glare.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the best option a beautiful girl like her had, turning tricks with Hester the molester and his conversion van in a hotel room that you rent by the hour.  Fifteen minutes into my trip to Detroit and I was beginning to see what a desperate place it is.

I threw my stuff into the hotel room, grabbed my folding bike and hit the road.  As a rule of thumb, I don’t bike through rough areas after dark, especially areas this rough.  It was 11:00pm and I hadn’t eaten since noon.  My stomach forced me to make an exception.

As I stopped for a light, I pulled alongside another hooker, short skirt, tube top and stiletto heels.  This one was different from the girl in the hotel office.  Her face was covered with open scores and the few rotten teeth she still had were aching to fall from her mouth.  She had a twitchy energy that only comes from crystal.  She was your garden variety meth addict.  She glanced at me and broke into a sob.  The humane part of me longed to ask her what was wrong but I knew better.  There was something in the way she cried.  It was the sob of a bad actress who had landed the part with credentials unrelated to acting.  The light changed and I pedaled on.  I heard the clip-clop of her heals behind and wondered if I had misjudged her.  I looked back to see if she was ok but I was already gone in her mind.  Her head moved rapidly side to side looking for someone else to buy her story or her body. 

Up ahead, dark silhouettes darted back and forth across the poorly lit road.  I knew I had to get some food quick and get the hell back to the hotel.

Back at my hotel room, I was surprised by how clean it was. Don’t get me wrong, it was a shit hole, but it wasn't the slum I had expected. People often ask me why I stay in the worst hotel I can find. Those who don’t ask just assume it’s because I’m cheap. The truth is that I prefer them. Nice hotels are made for comfort. Their goal is to make you feel like you’re at home with their sleep number beds, mini-bars and cable-on-demand. If I wanted to feel at home I would have stayed at home. When I go somewhere new, I want to experience the place and a cheap hotel is the best way to do just that. I want to feel the heartbeat of the city reverberating through the walls. But there in my run-down hotel room the pulse of Detroit was so strong I began to wonder if perhaps I could have felt it in a Marriott or a Hilton. I'm sure it would have penetrated those walls too. So I put in some earplugs to drown out the sound of nefarious activities that occur in a hotel that rents by the hour and went to sleep.

In the morning, I hopped on the bike and rode and rode and rode some more. In all, I biked just over 50 miles in Detroit. between riding, I talked to people and climbed through abandoned houses and buildings. Parts of Detroit were a modern ghost town of unbelievable magnitude, vacant house after vacant house. I had huge streets all to myself with only the occasional car going by. There was an eery emptiness even in the heart of the city. I tried to imagine what it was like when the streets were full, the houses occupied and the factories working. I was grateful I wasn't in Detroit at that time. It would have just been another big city like Chicago, or New York. I was happy to see the post-apocalypse version of Detroit.

Detroit Statistics courtesy of The Wall Street Journal
  • Detroit's population fell more than 26% from 2000 and 2012 and totals about 700,000 – down from almost two million in 1950.
  • An estimated 40,000 structures or land parcels sit vacant or empty.
  • Some 36% of Detroiters lived bellow the poverty level between 2007 and 2011.
  • In 2012, Detroit had the highest crime rate for a city with more than 200,000 residents.

The Detroit Train Depot was a massive gutted and abandoned building.  From Miles away, you can see straight through the skeleton of a building.

The Heidelberg Project.  An area in Detroit where the vacant buildings have been reclaimed by art.

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