Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Street Car Called Ruin

I have been out of Detroit for more than a quarter century now. I have not lived within its borders for something like three decades. I guess that means that I have lost touch with the place. Maybe I am missing some deeply hidden vitality there. I must be. Otherwise, I would not still be hearing how Detroit is coming back. The renaissance is here.  A lot of these stories of rebirth seemed to be premised on the nature of the people who live in Detroit. The idea, as I understand it, is that Detroiters are so steeled by privation that nothing can hold them back. And thus do they celebrate things like a few hundred jobs for people making watches. Or a retail chain opening a location within city limits.
The latest sign of the comeback is a street car running 3.3 miles from Downtown to the New Center Area.  It's as if they took the People Mover down from its track and laid it out along Woodward. The image of this street car, clanking along, empty, through abandoned neighborhoods, seems like the perfect Detroit metaphor: noisy and kinetic, but going from nowhere to no place.
Has it come to this? Is something as quotidian as a drug store opening proof that there is still life in Detroit? Or is it simply more proof of how moribund the place is? It puts me in mind of family visiting a person in a coma and nodding with great meaning at a flicker of a facial muscle.  
Detroit is less and less an actual city and more and more a mythical tale of downfall and ruin and abandon.  But, good luck to the people who still live there.  Celebrate if the street lights come on at night. Ride the rails through the new American Frontier, where the land is hard and open and available to the brave or foolish.
Perhaps the few hundred thousand people still living in Detroit will prove me wrong. I doubt it.

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