Saturday, April 28, 2007

Detroit, the American Mount Olympus

Detroit, that town of dead end dreams, has always fascinated me. So I was happy to end a short work trip with a visit to my cousin Ginger whom I see maybe once every three years. She lives in the same house where she grew up and has only modestly remodeled since her parents died a few years ago. That isn't a bad thing since the house is solid mid-century design, and fortunately never suffered through a "French country" phase. It has the same sunken living room with recessed lighting where we used to perform our favorite songs from Once Upon a Mattress at family gatherings when we were both four years old. Since she is six months my senior, she got to play Queen Aggravain to my Princess Fred. (Ginger also loved to play Gilligan's Island and would prance in haughtily as I sang "...and a movie star!")

Sometimes we would let her best friend -- we’ll call her Alice – play Lady Larken because she was so small and perky. Last night Ginger invited Alice over for dinner. Let's just say that there is not a lot of small and perky left in Alice.

The great thing about visiting a place like Detroit is that people like Alice will grab your hand and wistfully say, “San Fran-cis-co…” as if I were from Iberia or Lourdes. Oh, I’m sure those places get boring too. I recall Detroit being held up as the city of progress and industry as a child, so it's intriguing to come back and see what it is today -- its northside suburbs making you feel you're in Palo Alto, but the inner city a true rotting inner city, or a huge East Palo Alto. I can't wait to see Vegas crash and burn so I can go see it rotting away in the desert.

People here think that my fascination with Detroit is bizarre, but I consider it to be the American Acropolis, a mostly intact ruin that is still a relatively functioning city. Maybe that’s why I am a true Junk Thief, always more fascinated by the soiled jewel cowering in front of the glistening, flawless new ones. Of course, I probably spend more of my money on the new ones, hoping they will soon take on the patina and “integrity” of the junks bobbing in the waters beneath the shimmering towers.

Detroit, if approached from the water, as opposed from the south by car, can look stunning and prosperous. Legends like Marlene Dietrich took a similar approach by asking people to keep an appropriate distance in her later years. As I keep adding years to my vitae, I may start asking that people approach me slowly by sea in a canoe or Hong Kongese junk in order to behold the glistening tower from afar.

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At 4:35 PM, Blogger Scot said...

Been to the irst picture, but not the second (Hong Kong, but not Detroit). Nice running theme, even down to the junk ship- nice touch.

At 7:55 PM, Blogger Junk Thief said...

I've actually been to Hong Kong more times than Detroit. Hong Kong feels much less "exotic" to me than Detroit since I've lived in New York and San Francisco for much of the past 20 years. Detroit is, well, like no place else. And dang, if they don't like to drive those cars fast!

At 1:23 PM, Blogger WAT said...

"Detroit, if approached from the water, as opposed from the south by car, can look stunning and prosperous."

Yes, thanks for romanticizing the otherwise shithole. LOL.

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Junk Thief said...

Believe me, fascination and romance are not the same. I agree with WAT's characterization. In fact, I think even Sheryl Crow would admit this is a case where 3-4 squares of toilet paper would be required.

At least the new airport lived up to all the rave reviews I'd heard. But you only see that as you escape the place.


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