August 29, 2010 § Leave a comment
It’s a hell of a hard city to love, what with its run down, burnt out buildings, homeless population, high crime rate, and general dirtiness, but I find myself falling in love with it more and more each time I go downtown.
And by “go downtown”, I don’t mean just into the clean, “white” part, a.k.a. the Woodward and Jefferson area, containing Hart Plaza, Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, pretty little shops and the sports venues and, slightly north, the Wayne State University campus. My job as a legal secretary/paralegal for a small personal injury firm takes me into the heart of the projects, the off the beaten path apartment complexes that everyone, including the landlords, seem to have forgotten about, and the Section 8 housing apartments where the old, the addicted, the straight up down on their luck find themselves.
There isn’t anything a white girl from the ‘burbs should like about these areas. We (and by “we”, I mean myself and another firm employee; whoever feels like going) find ourselves in the Cass Corridor, where the homeless population seems to be ever-expanding, watching people make drug deals, seeing prostitutes sell their wares, and the formation of tent cities. We find ourselves driving into Highland Park, where there are no longer any city services. We find ourselves going into apartment complexes with elevators that don’t work, ceilings that are caving in from water damage and sheer neglect, and massive bedbug infestations that are eating the residents alive. And we’re always looked at suspiciously, by the residents as well as the police, because we’re white. White people in nice cars only go into the ‘hood to buy drugs. They don’t come in to help – that’s unheard of!
But somehow, I find that a part of myself becomes sad when I don’t get to work on any given Saturday, going into these apartment complexes to speak with people who have called us desperate for any kind of help they can get from anyone because they’re constantly being bitten by bedbugs which the landlords won’t exterminate because they’re too cheap. These people can’t just move out of their apartments. They have to find somewhere willing to accept them, wait for Section 8 to accept that proposal, and then pray that their new complex doesn’t have bedbugs. And that third part is most tricky – pretty much every apartment complex in Detroit has bedbugs nowadays.
I was at a party for a family friend last night and, in the course of conversation, my Saturday job duties came up. Everyone was thoroughly grossed out by what I do, saying that there’s no amount of money that would get them to do what I do, not only because of the bedbug aspect, but because it’s DETROIT. White people get shot/robbed/mugged/shanked in Detroit! When I started my Saturday excursions a year and a half ago, my mom almost had a heart attack. I think she can count the times she’s been into Detroit on her fingers, even though we’ve lived in the Detroit suburbs for 21 years. To be honest, I was worried about going into Detroit as well. I had been there maybe five times before and had no idea what to expect.
But you know what? Detroiters aren’t bad people. Well, of course you have your thugs and your gangsters and your general unsavory individuals, but the vast majority are people who are either down on their luck and have to live in the poorer neighborhoods or they just love the city so much they’ve decided to stay. It’s rare that we walk by someone and they don’t smile and nod or say hello. The people we run into while waiting for elevators and the people we meet in their apartments always seem to have jokes to share or want to talk about the latest sports game (yes, even the poor Lions) or their family. And through my travels, I’ve heard some fascinating stories and met some people who have gone through things I can’t even imagine pulling through, much less with a positive attitude and a renewed faith in God. Detroiters do love their Jesus.
And it might make me strange, but the buildings are beautiful. No, not just the ones that have recently been built or have been kept up. Even the ruins of the old office buildings and Victorian style homes are beautiful in their own right. Beautiful in a postapocalyptic, haunted, ruin-y type of way. Yes, it’s true that most of the abandoned buildings need to come down as they’re more than likely no longer structurally sound and it would cost more to revamp them than to start over, but some of them are absolutely salvageable. In fact, some of the apartment complexes we go into are in historic buildings that aren’t being given the care and love that they need. Some of it is the fault of the residents who just don’t respect where they live for one reason or another, but the landlords are just as much at fault for not keeping up the common areas and restoring the building to its historic beauty. It makes me sad…
…I’ve kind of lost where I was going with this, so I’ll leave you with a link to a site that I think best sums up the Detroit ruins: Detroit Derek’s photographs. I hope to one day venture down to Detroit and take my own set of pictures. While I may not be adventurous enough to climb through the ruins yet, I want to preserve the little-known, seldom seen places I’ve visited. Maybe that’ll be a good project for Labor Day weekend…