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Detroit : USA

Largest TyreIt’s all fun fun fun this road tripping isn’t it? Or is it?

I picked up the first of my companions on Monday – Katie – as she joined me for nine days and we immediately headed north from Ohio towards Detroit, Michigan. Now people I know down in Charleston have told me about the area, and for the many that have seen Michael Moore’s Roger and Me – which he made over ten years ago will also have a view on how depressed this area is. We also got a warning from our server in the cute ‘Better Half’ diner in Sandusky OH on Tuesday morning that “Things still really hadn’t got better” and .. they hadn’t.

At some point during the trip, I’ll be encouraging all of my companions to blog at some point. Katie was more than happy to write about what she felt about Detroit.

When I learned that my leg of the trip with Geoff included Detroit, first, I figured out why this leg had not been picked up by somebody else already, and second, I knew I would be in for something different. Little did I know how big of a mark Detroit would leave on MY map.

You could smell the desperation in the air even driving in on the interstate. We were driving along with the beautiful country farm fields in our view then all of sudden BAM. Industry and smog filled the car. The roads became cracked and broken, and looked almost downright unsafe. Trash littered the sides of the highway, and literally within seconds, our moods changed as well.

We pulled off onto a highway, sidetracked trying to find the “World’s Largest Tire” and ended up in ghetto suburban Detroit. I noticed a small boy, not older than 7, selling bottles of water on the side of a very busy intersection. Then, I saw his brothers and sisters, and even Mom and Dad. The businesses all looked like prisons, bars all over the windows and doors. Pet shops, hair salons, even churches were all barred. One school even had a sign begging the public to donate money to keep it’s doors open. The trash got higher, and more and more children were peddling on the side of the roads. I cannot express just how desperate it was. Not even Geoff could find anything funny about this place. Detroit looked like a devastated war zone, a wasteland of failed industry and societal regression.

We finally got our bearings and turned onto another interstate, and within a matter of minutes, it was like a different city. Malls, shops, affluent suburbia America had appeared. While my fears of being mugged and shot dissipated, a very deep anger grew instead. Then I saw several large corporate offices lining the interstate. The belonged to none other than Ford and the other “struggling” big car manufacturers. I kid you not, I broke down into tears.

Ironically, I finished Kurt Vonnegut’s “Man Without A Country” this morning, and he gave a very interesting quote: “What can be said to our young people, now that psychopathic personalities, which is to say persons without consciences, without senses of pity or shame, have taken all the money in the treasuries of our government and corporations, and made it all their own?”

I can say that I have never been more disappointed in my country than I was yesterday. How can people sleep with themselves at night after begging from the private jets for billions of dollars in DC, and then let a poor 7 year old beg for change not even ten minutes away from their cushy corporate offices?! My bleeding heart does not understand how we can be so greedy, then just sit and watch our own fellow citizens fall into such poverty.

Needless to say I was in a bit of a funk for the rest of the day, and once Geoff and I set up camp and started sorting out the day’s events, we both asked each other we we hadn’t taken any pictures of Detroit. Looking back I wish we had, but at the time, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do so.

So this is the real Underground USA, folks. It’s not all sunshine and roses, quirky roadside attractions or charming American towns with idyllic smiling faces. Although those things are much appreciated and equally noted, you have to acknowledge the good with the bad, and the current societal and economic state of the US overall is not a good one, and heaven forbid that what is happening in Detroit spreads elsewhere.

We got the hell out of Detroit – to the point where we didn’t actually visit Royal Oak – our ‘tube’ stop for this state. Yes …. I know, I missed one, and I’m ok with that … but I didn’t really want to see another street of failed business, begging people and a general air of depression.

9 responses to “Detroit : USA”

  1. Rudi says:

    Yeah, Detroit is a shock to the system. It’s not all gloom and doom, but it’s not what I would call a healthy environment. There’s a ton of poverty and squalor: entire neighborhoods that could (and should) meet the wrecking ball; failed attempts at revitalization; and a long-standing history of political corruption that sealed the city’s doom many decades before the current malaise set in.

    I can understand why you “got the hell out of Dodge,” so to speak.

    Still, if you visit Detroit with a native, you’ll see the few flowers in the midst of the scrap heap (think Wall-E here): the local tavern that’s thriving, or the pocket park that shows a lot of civic pride. But these are few and far between.

    Other cities where the automotive industry loomed large are also hurting – one drive through Toledo, OH, will show that.

    I hope the rest of the trip is more positive!

  2. Kathryn says:

    Beautiful, moving post, Katie. My husband lived in Detroit during a good part of his formative years while his father taught at the University of Detroit. We were just talking about how he never felt like it was his “home.”

    Shining a light on the situation helps, I think. Thank you.

  3. MumTina says:

    Wow Katie, that was pretty moving. Must have been a bit of a shock for you to see that. I have just been watching a BBC programme about homeless people, and some celebs have been sleeping on the streets for real to get the true picture of what it’s like. It makes you realise what an easy life we all have, it was not pleasant viewing. Geoff, pity you didn’t dig a bit deeper, the area may be rough, but the people are probably OK, just flippin’ unlucky. It’s not that bad in England (yet) but it could happen to any of us, Oh except Government ministers, who are all taking care of themselves.

  4. Kristen says:

    Well “Roger and Me” is actually Flint, so Detroit not that only depressing city in Michigan. Pontiac also isn’t much better. However, aside from three (and I guess Saginaw), the rest of Michigan generally isn’t as sad.

  5. Rachel says:

    i could say a lot, but Mitch Albom has always said it best (we always looked forward to his column in the Free Press)

  6. Rachel says:

    btw, did you SEE that fucking huge jesus statue on 75 in Ohio? Somewhere near Dayton i think.

  7. amy says:

    Wow. I had no idea..
    Where I live the trashed economy is really not that evident to most of us. Very sad.

  8. parker says:

    It’s a shame (and kind of a cop-out) that you didn’t go to Royal Oaks or downtown Detroit. Not saying that you should blind yourself with the nicer areas and forget about the sad, depressed areas but really there was a lot to see, enjoy, and learn. That said, if you drive down Rivers ave. in North Charleston you will see the same plight. Schools have no desks, parents force their children to peddle, they are hungry and desperate. We just don’t see it b.c we live in places like Downtown and Johns Island where the beauty blinds us as we rise each morning. It’s nationwide, it’s in our backyards…

  9. CharlestonBoy says:

    @parker – if your read Geoff’s tweets as well, you’ll see that he wrote one that said “Detroit is just like N.Charleston – only bigger”.

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