Excerpts from my journal while in Detroit, moving backwards (not always), last to first.
About deindustrialization, depopulation, residential and commercial vacancy, corruption of capitalism—and the rise of urban gardens, local resistance and activist organizations—ending with news about the US Social Forum, Allied Media Conference, and the first public national gathering of anti-Zionist Jews in the United States.
In several parts, with photos and videos.
VIDEO: Detroit’s Renaissance Center, World Headquarters of General Motors
Old age cannot be cured. An epoch or a civilization cannot be prevented from breathing its last. A natural process that happens to all flesh and all human manifestations cannot be arrested. You can only wring your hands and utter a beautiful swan song.
June 30, 2010, Wednesday
Supreme joy, eclipsing even that of the unlikely declaration of love from X: retrieving my computer. Happened like this. In Traverse City [where I’d given a slide show] I’d plugged in my computer to charge so I could use it on the bus, left the computer “where I’d see it,” on the kitchen floor not far from the exit door. Later, at the bus’s first rest stop, a McDonald’s, I thought I’d see if wireless internet existed, noticed how light my pack containing the computer had become, opened the pack, found no computer. 1st thought, breathlessly experienced, someone on the bus stole it. But how? The pack’s been with me constantly. Oh, ah, shit, I left it in Traverse City. Now what?
Think a moment. Use FedEx, which would mean either they deliver when I’m not home in Detroit, risking theft, or I await the computer, next day or day after. Phone Ann R, where I’d left it, confirm it is there and she would be willing to mail it to me. Yes, it is there, yes, she is willing. Despite the inconvenience to her, which I regret deeply.
Think another moment. How about Greyhound package express? Is this possible? Talk to the driver. It is. Phone Ann. You willing to do this? Yes. Good, then we have a plan.
Now for the computer to arrive safely in my eagerly awaiting hands, and to function properly, 2 conditions must be met: all personnel must be honest and efficient, and neither the bus nor the humans must overly jar the device.
On the day of expected arrival, one day after I’d left it, I arrived at the Detroit terminal 45 minutes before bus arrival time, wandered the Corktown neighborhood, the oldest Detroit neighborhood, sat to read. Bus arrived, I waited along with the passengers as the worker ejected luggage. Where’s the box, the big box Ann said would contain my computer, my beloved, sorely missed, desperately missed (I’d had to revert to long hand notes for my journal and a self pleasuring without the aids my computer contains), intimate adjunct to my life? My dear companion.
Ah, in the last bin under the bus, a box, the box, the computer. Claiming it (and anyone in the universe could have done the same—no identity check) I unpacked it outside the station and confirmed: my computer is back in my hands, glory be!
Now I can write, now I can download my photos and work on them if I have time. Now I can email and read, if I have a connection (which I don’t at my Detroit home, my computer the only one of the 3 or 4 which doesn’t connect, while others do.)
I had consoled myself for possible loss by thinking, it’s an old computer, needs replacement, I’ve backed up everything, I will find substitutes for my computer work, such as the long hand journaling, plenty of paper reading material for the train, etc.
And now, for now, I don’t have to work thru plan B’s, I’m back with my old friend, the Macbook of 2006.
That aside (“that said,” as one currently fashionable locution puts it), I move on to report my inner most life of the past 24 plus hours. I rented a bike, $60 for 4 days, and cruised joyfully most of yesterday exploring the riverfront, downtown, and the long ride back along Grand River Boulevard, very long, very tiring, not very hot, thank god. The weather has chilled, I used 2 blankets last night, this morning I wear Karen’s pj’s. (She’s in Ann Arbor for a concert at a Buddhist center.)
While snacking at a riverside café yesterday, a black woman approached me and asked, and how do you propose to undo racism? This question wasn’t out of the blue—I was wearing my People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond black t-shirt, words on the back, “Undo Racism.” Well, I said, stunned, while retracing the journey of slavery, the Middle Passage pilgrimage, the People’s Institute gave us a workshop in New Orleans. They told black people they didn’t have to be constantly angry, and white people they didn’t have to feel guilty. They taught us about the system of slavery and its legacy in racism, its history, how it evolved. And now I work with black people, live with black people in Detroit, and do what I can to continue undoing racism.
Turned out she, Beverley, was from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, left me some literature with titles like how can you draw close to god, would you like to know the truth, and how can I find happiness in life? If one of the questions had been how can you encourage young women to love you, or what you can do to foster intimacy with your X I might have been more attentive, may even have attended a meeting.
Wearing that shirt as long as I have, in as many settings as I have, I don’t recall anyone asking me that simple question, how do you propose to undo racism?
River side of the Detroit Renaissance Center, home of General Motors
The river walk is well-done, not quite finished, drawing hundreds, mostly black. To reach it I went thru the Renaissance Center. A Hollywood-type film was in process. Earlier as I’d walked from the central city bus station to the river I’d encountered another crew, a photo crew, shooting a Ford commercial. They’d rigged up a boom to a Ford car or small truck, attached a big camera to one end, and were preparing to make a series of photos showing the truck-car against different backgrounds. Very clever. And expensive. And useless, in my view. I have no idea what the movie shooting in the Renaissance Center is about or who the star is. He or she will eventually walk thru the Center. Most areas have been cleared, lights set up, hundreds of people in the crew. To what end?
There in the Center I humbly made my own film-or video. Cars, many, a parade of cars, are the stars in my movie, on display, as I walk among them and then out the door to the river. Another shot of the exterior and I’m finished. Me the only crew, a hand-held, very small camera, and I made a movie.
I cruised the RiverWalk on my new bike with joy in my heart, supreme joy, matching my feeling when I recovered my beloved computer, my buddy in life, loyal, attentive, responsive. Returning, I left the walk and found the industrial zone which was all that remains of what the river front might have earlier been. Surprisingly, no photos from this jaunt, yet.
While awaiting my bus, my computer, I explored the nearby neighborhood, Cork Town. Once inhabited by Irish immigrants, only one row house remains, and it is being excavated and restored. Many of the homes in Cork Town are small and elegant, unlike any Detroit architecture I’ve yet seen: compact, neat, and lived in—from my small sampling—by whites. It is an inner city oasis.
Other observations about the city: traffic is generally not a problem. At most hours, but especially after 5 pm when streets are shockingly empty. Ideal for bike riding. Streets are also wide. Businesses close down by 6 pm, I was lucky to find an open Subway sandwich shop, its delicious 5-foot long sandwich for $5. Needing a toilet I entered Cobo Conference Center, now nearly empty except for a few security people. Such a dramatic contrast with the site last week thronged by folks of the US Social Forum, some 17,000 of us. The river is wide and swift flowing, with little traffic on it. An occasional barge, occasional speedboat, no sailing craft, one or two tour boats. Black men hang out along the river, perhaps some of them sleep there. Children play in the water fountains in front of the Renaissance Center. Near Hart Plaza I fond a statue to the underground railroad. Reminding me that this was once a major disembarking point for Canada. I discovered a direct bus from Wyoming St and Grand River all the way to downtown. $1.50 and one hour, jammed bus around noon. Not such a bad deal. As usual I am finding my way around a new region, just in time to leave.
Underground Railroad commemoration, pointing to Canada across the river
These are the most delightful and restful of days—no agenda other than explore and learn, make photos and videos, meet people, ask questions, be surprised.
In the backdrop of my Detroit experience lurks Sue Moon’s excellent book, this is getting old, Zen Thoughts on Aging with Humor and Dignity. She writes about having no partner, being lonely, about her ill-health, her Buddhist practice, her mother and father, all germane to me. As I wander the streets in my solo practice I share many of her experiences. And perhaps our writing is generated, at least in part, by our loneliness—and our wish to share our experiences. Thus I write, thus I photograph.
Phoning DD last night (who once admitted to having a crush on me when we met for the 1st time at Friends General Conference gathering maybe 12 years ago) we arranged to meet tomorrow for some shared exploration. She asked me whether I was attending FGC gathering this year (she’s attending, I last saw her at FGC gathering in 2008) and I suggested we defer that conversation for later. She is a dear and sweet person. Too bad the crush was not mutual—and that she was married.
While I was in the bike shop, Wheelhouse Detroit, along the river, my phone rang, Y calling. At 1st I thought it was in response to my email of that morning, wishing her well in her last week in my home and on the East Coast, but no, she had an urgent message. She received a call from Elan, the credit card company, that they’d detected possibly fraudulent use of my card and had blocked my account. Thanking her, I called the company and confirmed the most recent 3 transactions which for some reason keyed the blockage. Very odd, but I guess helpful to protect me. But what if Y had not been at my home to receive and relay that call? If I were in Israel-Palestine and my house were empty. Stuck.
Later this morning I should catch up with yesterday’s notes, written in cryptic form in my notebook.
Yesterday morning, computer free, I walked for the 1st time, in the morning, in my neighborhood. Photographed an empty lot turned into a go-cart racetrack and across the street an outdoor movie theater. And a sign on a post announcing a reward to “Who killed me?” A young beautiful black woman shot in the head while driving on an expressway. Death that close. And later along a busy street, while photographing an empty building once a furniture store, a woman, the only other person I saw walking (at 6 am), 1st asked me why and what I was photographing, and then explained that a corpse had lain 3 weeks in this building before being discovered. This is a dangerous neighborhood, be careful, someone might attack because you’re white, she declared to me. I told her I lived nearby, probably shocking her. She also claimed Detroit is the worst it’s ever been.
Karen has been graciously allowing me to use her computer for internet so I am sketchily in touch with the outer world. Currently I’m trying to finish my New England Yearly Meeting sessions’ registration. She and I are very domestic together, humming along without intimate contact. As I mentioned, because of the chilly morning air, I’m wearing her pj’s, or those of her man friend, M. They fit me.
From yesterday’s hand written notes, as is: Detroit bus station, man selling US flags, limps, tall, with kids—white man offers me food, cigarette, also limps, looks destitute—someone else tries to sell me something—clean station, spacious, orderly, central location, near MGM Grand Casino which looks closed—Karen can’t find me to pick me up, wait 30 minutes, interstates truncate prior road patterns, add complexity—Karen buys me McD’s coffee, her own frozen yogurt survival dish, thaws lasagna, eat together, very domestic—I tell her of AR’s and my unusual intimacy, safe because she is older (11 years) and happily married and the geographic distance—our bus (Indian trails) goes thru small towns, stops at gas stations and honks, countryside with more farms, later a greyhound—my forgetfulness about computer vs. Rick’s forgetfulness about sweater, phones, and something else.
TO BE CONTINUED