Thursday, April 9, 2009

How many people live in The Palace?

Sometime back in the teased-hair 80s, WB caught a concert at an outdoor "shed" venue called Pine Knob, north of Detroit. The headliners were Foreigner, or maybe Kansas, or any one of a dozen interchangeable and intolerable 80s acts. At the predictable moment in the show when the lead singer paused to have a chat with the audience, he began with this: "How many people live in Pine Knob?"

The answer he got was several thousand boooooooos to let him know the importance of getting place names right. (This was before Google Earth, so the guy can be forgiven in retrospect. But at the time, he was a dumbass.)

This week saw a magnificent act of magnanimity when Jay Leno played two free standup gigs for 40,000 of "Detroit's unemployed workers." Unfortunately, the show took place not at Cobo Hall or the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit — both venues within spitting distance of General Motors' headquarters hi-rise — but 35 miles north at The Palace of Auburn Hills, just across the road from Chrysler's HQ.

If Leno really wanted to do something nice that most unemployed autoworkers and steelworkers couldn't afford to drive to, he would've played just a few miles from The Palace at the Pontiac Silverdome, which holds 90,000 people and has been abandoned ever since the Losing Lions moved back into Detroit to share their pain with the city. Pontiac, the city that has announced it's laying off every employee of its school district when summer comes, thought it was on top of the world when the Lions (and the Pistons) abandoned downtown Detroit for the northern suburb; 27 years later it got exactly the same treatment in reverse.

But here's the thing: if you're going to say you're playing Detroit, play Detroit. Playing Denver? Play there, not Red Rocks. Promoting these euphymisms for cities proper by attaching the cities' names to the outposts — some up to an hour away from city centers — just covers up the problem brought on by sports teams having hoodwinked and blackmailed their franchise hosts ever since the Dodgers went to L.A. in search of more parking space... because simply having the most ideally located stadium for an ideal mass transit system in Brooklyn wasn't enough.

Jay's heart was in the right place. But his body, and his standup routine, landed far too far north. Making that a micro example of a macro problem might be a good way to start re-filling the downtown areas of the country's major cities.


Anonymous said...

Yes, this map makes clear the distance between Detroit proper and the "greater Detroit" area—but the whole region is suffering an economic tsunami. Maybe the Joe and Cobo had previous engagements. Maybe the Palace is roughly a half-way point between Detroit and that other Michigan Motor City, also hammered by the downturn: Flint.

Leno's gesture was a remarkable act of generosity.

78rpm said...

Generosity was never in question. :)

A good point about Flint as a possible second target for Leno, except he never mentioned them. But the main point is that the whole idea of a "greater _____ area" just allows cores of major cities to collapse while suburbs sprawl. And by getting conditioned to the point where we talk about the "Bay area," "Denver region, greater Detroit," etc. and repeating those terms, we forget the cities in thought and deed.