A bird fluttering around in the belly of the polished steel girders of the Detroit Wayne Airport, trapped in the atrium of plate glass. Skies endlessly gray outside, Midwestern land spreading out in all directions. Cloud country. No hills, no distant skyscrapers, no tree cover. So you look up and watch the roiling Northern sky. The long drive from the airport into a Great American City. Over the space-pod blue bridges and past the colossal Uniroyal tire, into the crumbling afternoon of yesterdays Rome. It’s wide avenues so emptied of cars. It’s buildings and huge abandoned lots filled with stubble grass. How good it feels to have some space to breathe and think again. To be reminded that you are just a miniature little human being, roving in an alien landscape, one’s fundamental smallness finally reemphasized. To not think that the world revolves around you. To be shrunk down to appropriate human size, after coming from that great megalomaniac Eastern city, that netherworld of bars and shops and human-sized diversions, without any bigness of sky. Detroit—I don’t believe this was a city that ever coddled a person. That ever talked down to a person. A good, morally righteous city will never bend down and Entertain You. With the pride of yesterdays hero it will hold its head high, even as it crumbles, even as it is taken over by wild animals. Little Corktown with it’s faded murals and evenly spaced-out buildings in the shadow of the great, dystopian glowing MGM casino.
There is the whisper under all of it: retain your quiet dignity. Retain your iron will.
The architecture of downtown Detroit so cruel and industrial—decorative wrought-iron bars on all the windows. Decaying 1970s condo buildings. And the decorations of all the machine cogs—a little Williamsburg built by Fil Coolie. A BBQ place, a hipster coffee shop, a cocktail bar. What more could a discerning population want?
And Corktown, with your wide cobbled streets and 24-hour post office by the river! So much bigger than New York City’s 24 hour post office! And your buildings larger than New York’s great library. The scale of the monuments with their faded grandeur is enough to bring tears to my eyes. And the pride of these good people—having had so much and having watched it slip away over the years. And knowing about their indigenous territory more than any outsider ever could. And Michigan, the North Carolina of the North—these good hearted, down-to-earth people with their lakes and mountains, with their friendly demeanor. With their North Carolina-like physical distance separating each other. With their not-being-cluttered-together-so-they-can-appreciate-each-other.
Dani’s house is out in that gray country behind the airport. Cozy blankets, dark stained wooden walls, electric fireplace and the dogs who leap in your lap. And the cold beers and the pastoral vista out the back window that reminds you of Western North Carolina with it’s close trimmed grass and it’s cropland and the gray land spreading ever in the distance.
The Guardian Building—its bright 1929 mural about the honesty and dignity of financial services. Ironic given the context of the recession and Occupy, but also sweet and ridiculous given that The Guardian and the mural were built the year the Great Depression hit. The colors of the tiled mosaics and ceilings. The Guardian Building like how you would imagine the great pyramids, but brighter, more modern, more gilded--art, commerce, architecture, agriculture, all coming together. We tiptoe around and it is like the Guggenheim. The great Deco clock like something out of Paris. The dusty steps up to the promenade levels, the tomb-like mystery of the place.
And the Fisher Building. Downtown. Blocks and blocks of slate gray, like something out of old Gotham, imagining living in the thirties, when all these buildings were new and Plymouth cars were all over the road, shiny like bullets and the men wore oversized suits and top hats and scruffiness denoted not relative identity but wealth or poverty.
Inside, the cold peace of an eternal resting place—the way the blue light wobbles on the golden mosaics portraying ETERNITY and TIME. Giant orange gold falcons on the curved ceiling, marble floors, heat from the wrought-iron 1930s vents, unseen on the floor, the chandeliers great like crystal chalices, dangling down. The text lining the semicircle porticos, bold instructions, as if one had entered a magical land and time—Niki and I walking through there like ghosts, warbling in and out of view and recognition from all the others—too old to notice ourselves let alone be noticed by others now. But still possessing a spark, restless curious, that keeps us tip-toeing up and down the promenades, leaning on wrought-iron railings and inspecting the text of the still-lush mask of depression-era mosaics. We don’t talk, just indulge our curiosity until we are done and have drunk our fill and then lay about on the carpet. Niki leaves, Catman purrs on my lap, climbing up my chest and dropping on my neck like a scarf in a way that is enough to break your heart. And taking the bike and riding down to the empty wide dead boulevards—the city one post apocalyptic wasteland, the road without the warmth of human life being lived—just natural beauty and rubble coasting in silence to the river past the squatty low biker clubs and abandoned bait shop. The water is the most perfect turquoise I have ever seen, water that looks as blue as Key West. Otherwise birds starlings and seagulls and ducks. The ambassador bridge, blue spinning around with the wrong ID under your chin to lit up this night—the bridge to Canada! Time slows down and my bike ride lasts forever. Ultimate bonfire weather and smell of smoke in the air. City spreading out wide open, helicopters overhead, all of it held together by dreams!