Detroit, Michigan used to be the fifth largest city in the USA— and now half the population has fled due to an economic collapse. The city is in the sad state of a financial emergency that prompted the local governance to file for bankruptcy two months ago but was stopped by a judge for legal reasons—I don’t know what. It is the largest municipal (to file for) bankruptcy in US history. With almost $14 billion in the hole, how can they ever get back on their feet again?
Detroit isn’t dead yet, I assure you. But, signs of a decaying city are everywhere. There are a plethora of sights that are easy to spot. Anywhere. Everywhere.
As buses traversed through, around and beyond the city, my heart broke. Outside the windows, were the filth, graffiti and abandoned houses that bled anger and frustrations of lost hopes and shattered dreams that seem so far away. My fellow passengers were so quiet that I could almost hear the buzz of what they were thinking. The mood was somber and everyone seemed to be looking far away.
Yes, it was depressing.
Racial division in Detroit is as visible as their neglected houses. I observed that most whites drive cars and most blacks take public transportation. Go figure! I took a bus 11 times and I only saw one white guy, a Chinese (another Asian–me) and three South Americans in those buses. No, I wasn’t counting. But, when you are in the bus that’s quiet, your eyes wander and you remember everything.
It is, I think, America’s most racially divisive city. It’s also the only city I’ve been to with no Chinatown— but they do have a Mexican town.
GETTING AROUND DETROIT
This is going to be my biggest complain as a tourist.
Because Detroit was once synonymous to a prosperous automobile industry, you would think almost everybody drives a car. But for those who don’t, life is a hell. It’s like Waiting for Godot. For visiting backpackers, a lot of time was wasted in waiting for the bus—which is, most of the time, 35 minutes or loooooooonger.
Three times I waited for a bus in almost an hour; and once I waited for an hour and fifteen minutes!
The locals seem to be used to it and didn’t complain much. Or maybe, they did but their words fell of deaf ears. How can these people be productive if the transportation system sucks?
Now I understood why a bus transfer ticket is valid for 4 hours! Yes, four hours! Really! That’s not because Detroit is huge but because of its terrible bus service!
Too much time is being wasted there! Life is too slow—and a drag.
And worst of all, the buses don’t have automatic bus stop speakers. You have no clue where you are everytime they stop. So, you better use google map and tell the driver to drop you off in a stop near or around a specific street. Tell him/her the name of the street. Don’t tell him/her where you are going. In most cases, they have no clue. But, yeah, you can try though. Good luck! LOL…
Taking the People’s Mover (cheesy name, right?), their light rail transit, is the best way to see the city’s downtown core. It’s an elevated train with a view. It’s a loop that traverses through the city in less than 20 minutes train ride. And guess, how much? It’s only 50 cents! Yes, really! Until now, I can’t believe it! 😀
Though the streets are wide, cars are few and foot traffic is non-existent, why did I have the feeling that danger was lurking around? I dunno. I must have been paranoid by the words of people I know who have been to Detroit and were unanimous in saying, “Be Careful” when I told them I’m going. But I didn’t let those words spoil my trip. I enjoyed my looooong walks there like I always do in every city I visited. I exercised caution like I always do everywhere I go.
It’s just too weird to be walking on a wide street and there were only two or three people you see walking around within a kilometer or beyond. It scared the hell out of me when someone suddenly came out of the door of a dilapidated house I thought was abandoned in Rosa Parks Avenue. The guy was brimming with smile when he realized and saw my two big (but beautiful) eyes ready to pop out loud. LOL…
Take a taxi when you’re going back to your hostel or hotel at night. And yeah, some taxi drivers would just tell you to pay for their flat rate, instead of turning the meter on.
At 8 PM in downtown Detroit, streets are already empty, quiet and so abandoned.
The people I met and interacted with in restaurants, shops and in a small park I sat were nice. Two ladies really walked with me for a few meters just to point where the ATM was located. They never even left me until I assured them that my credit card worked just fine.
But, in Rosa Parks Service Center, where all buses stop downtown, and in most streets, the scene is different. It so sad. It’s so hard to ignore.
I saw depression in their eyes.
I saw struggles in their wrinkles.
I saw survival in their skin.
I saw sadness in their silence.
I saw looks that pierced my heart.
I saw hopelessness in the homeless.
I saw poverty in deserted places.
I saw loneliness in a man in suit who was sitting in a park bench, staring in space and his mind numb.
I saw hope, too. It’s everywhere. It’s all around me.
But such hope has been there in their hearts for too long. Some people lives with / in it —– and others wait for it.
What happened to days gone by? Can Detroit ever rebuild and regain their strength? Are the people being ignored? It’s almost impossible to throw a stone and not hit an abandoned house. And, these houses are constant reminders of failure and all the what ifs….
Although, I haven’t stated many positive things about Detroit, I will keep in mind and revel in the sheer history and the beauty of certain places I’ve visited. (Blog entries of these places will follow. Promise, they’re all good experiences! :)) )