Boogie Man Stories: Detroit
“I live in Detroit.”
When I say that people ask, “Where?”
What they mean by that is, “Okay, surely you don’t actually live in Detroit, you live in the suburbs.” But no, I live in Detroit.
Detroit is a difficult place to explain. It was hard to wrap my mind around. I grew up in Searcy/Beebe, Arkansas which is, in essence, suburbs of Little Rock. Each of those have some restaurants, movie theatres and places for entertainment, but largely if you want to do something fun, or string a couple of fun things together you have to leave Searcy and drive to Little Rock where there are multiple fun things to do. Most cities operate like this. People live in the suburbs, but they do work and recreation in the city.
This is not Detroit.
When people fled the cities they sought to make suburbs that were self-sustaining and they were largely successful. Furthermore, what you can’t get in one suburb you can get in the next. So, if you live in Troy and want good shopping you go to Birmingham or Rochester. If you live in Madison Heights and you want to hit the clubs, you go to Royal Oak. In essence, the whole metroplex was created to avoid the city.
People who grew up in the suburbs then have spent very little time in the city. They have heard from their parents that it is a dangerous place to go and that nothing good goes on there. More than that, they have been encouraged to get their fill of food, fun and entertainment from neighboring suburbs rather than the city.
Recently I took a friend to the city to watch the sun set behind the Detroit skyline at a spot called Belle Isle. The island is a hotspot for Detroiters with its scenic views, great architecture and many well shaded spots for picnics and relaxing. When she got home and told her mother where she had been her mom grew concerned and said, “Be careful in that city. You never know when a crowd of them will just turn on you.”
The other night another group of friends and I were at JazzFest, enjoying good music and a night under the skyline. A friend turned to me and said, “I think I have been down here more since I have known you than ever before in my life.” That means in the past month they have been to Detroit more than they ever had their entire lives before that.
This is not uncommon. I invite people to come to my house all the time and they say things like, “Ooo I will actually get to go to Detroit,” even though they live 10 miles away. It is almost a thrill for them, like going into a forbidden place.
It is a lot like that actually. In conversation I equate it to boogie man stories like Hogwarts’ Forbidden Forrest and Shrieking Shack or the woods in the movie The Village. For years many people my age growing up in the suburbs have been given a healthy dose of fear and worry about the city. So much so that driving 15 miles down the road is an adventure and a white person living there is a small wonder to all parties.
This, of course, does hinder progress. For years there has been a light-rail under negotiation that would carry people from the heart of the city all the way out to the suburbs. The suburbs, however, are skeptical of any benefit that bringing people from there to here would have. And that is how people see it. It would make it easier for them to come here because why would we want/need to go there.