I haven’t been writing much in this blog lately, because I am in the middle of a move from Seattle to Detroit, and I don’t have most of my stuff, and it will be a while before I get net access in my new home.
Detroit couldn’t be more different from Seattle. For one thing, there are all the black people here, in sharp contrast to Seattle, which is overwhelmingly white with a smattering of Asians.
For another thing, the gap between rich and poor, which is largely dissimulated in the Pacific Northwest, is glaringly evident here. Seattle has its homeless people, and (in surrounding areas) its poor neighborhoods (both working poor and desperately-no-prospects poor, people of all races) but for the most part these poor people are out of the way, and hence out of the view of your typical white middle-class liberal Seattleite. Whereas in Detroit, the poverty is evident, in plain view: blocks and blocks of devastation, masses of people on whom the government and mainstream society have turned their backs, and left to sink or swim on their own resources.
It’s quite grotesque, actually, the way the central city is devoid of resources, compared to the lily-white suburbs that have all the sorts of places I take for granted (Starbucks, Borders, etc) as well as the ones I turn up my nose at (Nordstrom and Nieman Marcus and Pottery Barn and “Pan-Asian” bistros).
I did go to a nouvelle cuisine sushi bar in downtown Detroit the other night, with hip all-black decor and an almost exclusively white clientele, but such places are few and far between, and seem almost hidden. There’s lots of construction in downtown Detroit these days, amidst the abandoned buildings, in preparation for the Super Bowl in January 2006, but they have no commercial prospects, really, and once the Super Bowl is over and has departed, they will quietly stay empty and go into bankruptcy: the builders will have pocketed their profits (including tax-abatement bonuses) and moved on elsewhere, too bad for those who are left holding the bill. The lives of the vast majority of impoverished Detroiters will not have been affected by these developments at all.
There’s been some effort to declare Detroit as a new center of hipness, the way Seattle was a decade ago. But it’s bullshit. Good lattes in Detroit are few and far between, and the White Stripes are certainly not Nirvana. The hookers in Seattle are kept out of the way, on ugly, distant parts of Aurora Avenue North and on the SeaTac strip. In Detroit, they ply their wares on the main avenues, on Woodward and on Michigan for instance.
What this means for me, as an old, white Seattle hipster (a designation I cannot escape, however much I despise it, and despise myself for conforming so fully and so easily to a stupid stereotype), is that the life of Detroit is something that is now utterly invisible to me, outside of my categories and expectations. It’s something that I am simply unable to see, it is so contrary to all my habits and comforts. I will have to search it out, slowly and patiently and with much difficulty — that is, if I am able to make contact with it at all. I have to accept the unpleasant possibility that I just may be too old and too inflexible and too narrow, too ensconced in my own comforts, too solitary, too bourgeois and too pleased with myself for the ways in which I am not bourgeois, to be able to see clearly (let alone interact with) what lies all about me. The only thing in my favor is that at least I know that I don’t know anything about Detroit.

One Response to “Detroit”

  1. noir / shaviro

    “But then all writers were bastards. Must come with the territory, McNihil figured.” (233)