A Fun Place to Visit

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12/01/2005

Woodward Ave & Jefferson Ave W, Detroit, MI 48226

Neighborhood: Uncategorized

Born and raised on the eastside of Detroit in the 1960’s I had grown accustomed to shopping downtown, taking the boat to BobLo Island, the downtown ethnic festivals, the Detroit Art Institute…and the derision from people outside the city. OK, the riots and the murder rate did not help the image of the city. But tourists still visit Germany, and think about what happened there sixty years ago. Give us a break.

Anyway, it was late in the afternoon on a Saturday in 1978. I had gone downtown to hang out at the Library street branch of the Detroit Public Library because that is where the foreign language stuff was kept. I was looking up a Dutch phrase for my aunt, which was written on a family heirloom cookie maker. I found it, although I do not recall it exactly, to mean “good luck” or some such thing. Apt, since the cookie maker was two hinged iron plates you held over the fire on the stove, cooking one cookie at a time; too long on the fire and you had a cookie that could be used like a martial arts weapon, too little time on the fire and you wound up with a gooey mess. I still love that branch to this day.

I left the library and promptly missed the bus. I took it upon myself to walk up Woodward Avenue, the main street of the city, to the Cultural Center (where the DIA, main branch of the Library, Detroit Historical Museum, and so on are located). On the way I encountered my city.

I passed boarded up businesses, including the old Motown studios. I passed by homeless people who stared at my new coat covetously. I passed adult bookstores, bars, party stores, shoe shops, the huge old Hudson’s. A man comes up to me. He was dressed in a long coat, black gloves, and a hat. He asked me what size my girlfriend wore. I ignored him at first, a little scared. He repeated his question, a little louder this time. Worried that my silence irritated him, I finally answered. I said, “Size of what? Shoes?”

“No, ring. I’ve got lots of rings,” he said, pulling open his coat to expose a large inventory of rings, watches, necklaces and so on attached to the lining with safety pins.

I though this kind of thing only happened in the movies!

“She doesn’t like jewelry,” I said.

“Maybe you like to smoke?” he asked. I am not sure if he intended to sell me cigarettes or something in a baggie.

“No, thanks,” I said, walking faster. I kept walking, my street vendor friend beside me for almost a block until he decided I was not going to buy. He turned a corner, obviously hoping for better luck.

It is a couple of miles up Woodward to the Cultural Center. I arrived cold, foot-weary, and wondering if it would have been better just to wait for the next downtown bus. Why had I walked so far? I know now, although I did not know it then: It was a rite of passage for me. I had to do it to prove to myself, and to others, that it could be done. I had not been mugged, raped, or murdered. There were encounters along the way–but with people, like myself, who were simply living their lives. I still wander about the city, when I can. I take my kids downtown and to the Cultural center, too. I want them to know, so they can tell their friends, that it can be a fun place to visit.

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