I think I speak for all of Michigan, when I say that winter cannot end soon enough. My weather app says today it is a balmy 45 degrees, but I am still sitting next to the radiator, cold and drinking jasmine tea. I’ve resorted to refusing certain restaurants because they are too drafty (I’m looking at you, Motor City Brewery) and still wear two layers of tights to work. Tomorrow is Opening Day which marks the unofficial beginning of spring and the official return of my frustration when I bike ride through Tiger’s Stadium. I’ve suffered from weird stomach aches all winter, an angry pinching in my right hand rib cage, that has caused me to wildly speculate a range of allergies from dairy to sub-freezing weather. I’m going to go with the cold.
In an effort to do something besides work, be chilly, watch Twin Peaks (go Netflix it right now) and eat my my boyfriend Ben’s spatchocked chicken, I’ve forced myself into new ventures. The first is a proposal for Midtown Inc.’s (the quazi-private non-profit that runs my neighborhood, thats soooo Detroit), aqueduct project. It’s open to architects, artists, etc., and I’m completely unqualified to submit a proposal. However, that has not stopped me from parking my car under said aqueducts for an entire hour one (chilly) morning and literally staring at them. Driving home on the Lodge, I always get off early and make sure to drive down second avenue, slowing down to glance around as I drive under the Grand Trunk Rail.
They are a strange thing, white washed, utilitarian arches, that– compared with other Detroit architectural splendors– are barely worth noting or seeing. Driving north under the rail road and between the arches, the majestic Fisher building lords over the arches in all it’s baroque 1920′s glory. I had some ideas about what to propose, but I really started to think about these aqueducts when I drove through the Packard Plant for the first time.
On our way to our weekly drive/hang in Hamtramck (long story), Ben and I decided to avoid the freeway and take surface roads. Suddenly, there it was in all its ruin porn glory– the Packard. I don’t need to tell you anything about it other than if Detroit’s biggest export is ruin porn, the Packard is the best seller. Over the summer, I’d ridden my bike through it on a Slow Roll ride, but I hadn’t really experienced it in its full, sun-lit glory and within the context of the surrounding neighborhoods. For instance, there is literally a graveyard in front of the Packard. Could I stumble upon an easier metaphor? Large swaths of land surrounding the plant were empty and grey and dead. A few buildings stood forlornly, faded signs advertising auto shops or long-closed party stores. I guess I should be used to seeing this around Detroit, all this ruin and detritus left of manufacturing and “progress.” But still, I can’t help but feel hopeless when I see dilapidated clapboard houses, windows and doors gaping open. Sometimes I dare to peer inside when as I drive by, but it feels like when you see someone’s underpants unexpectedly and I look away in shame.
During another trip to Hamtramck, Ben and I got stopped by a train passing us on Holbrook. We stared for a while, trying to figure out where it was from (a Ford plant in Dearborn) and what was on the double stacked boxcars (Ford trucks). Later, I realized that this train was on the Grand Trunk Rail road and those trucks had ridden from Dearborn, over those aqueducts in New Center and past the Packard plant. The irony, of course, shouldn’t be lost on anyone– that the newest, best selling truck (also the lightest and most fuel efficient) travels out of a plant (I suspect River Rouge, which is slowly poisoning the neighborhood around it), on a railroad built over a century ago, over aqueducts that are barely notable, past the architectural left-overs from a gilded age, through the remnants of the ruined Packard plant, and past me, waiting for all it to pass inside a Ford Fiesta.
I don’t know exactly what to make of all this, the ruins of Detroit, the emotion that sometimes grips me when I get on the 75 at eight mile and pass gaping homes or at the 94 interchange when yet another factory sits wide open, holding icy, grey snow drifts. I don’t know what to make of all these strange connections, the century-old rail roads, the aqueducts and the space between them, the fact I can hear those trains in midtown and in Ferndale, at night, when the sound travels through the frigid air. It’s the same sound that’s been howling through midwestern winters and midwestern towns for decades, and I’m glad its still there. It’s the same sound I heard in Portland, writing about my adolescent feelings and Provo, staying up late painting. But what do you do with these connections and ropes and tropes of Americana, stretching though time and place? What do you do with the ruins of ideas? Of production? What do you do with the trashed, physical remnants that “progress” leaves us? If these things connect us– transportation, industry, ideals of hard work and production– what does it mean when the physical manifestation of the past are left to rot?
We have no purposeful ruin in Detroit. We have no sacred ruin in Detroit. We have no places for reflection on what we broke here. We have no physical space to pause and wonder at the mistakes and triumphs that were forged here for all of America. Instead, we have continual hype (hot air?) that Detroit hustles harder, is “gritty,” is the place to be, that nothing stops us. Except, of course, trains crossing our potholed roads, as we shiver in sunlight that gives no warmth.