Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Detroit Agonistes, Part One: On the Perpetual Verge of Potential

There's a specific point in time, for those of us who grew up within view of the Detroit skyline, when things were looking mighty damned good, and the city was exploding with activity after decades of neglect.

The Book Cadillac Hotel, as complete a bombed-out, gutted husk of a downtown building as could be imagined, miraculously came back on line as a premier destination for top-tier guests. And tenants, too: the part of the place designated as apartments sold out in record time. It wasn't just a renovation: it was a restoration, with the grand old hotel's main features taken back to their original layouts after endless rounds of stupid "out with the old, in with the new" makeovers and drop ceilings through the decades. As a Westin Hotel, the place looked, and looks, beautiful—as a nearly billion-dollar project should.

A few blocks down the street, the Fort Shelby Hotel—another wreck, but maybe just slightly not as destroyed as the B-C had been—likewise came back online as an all-suite lodging and apartment rescue under the Doubletree badge. With a hip and awesomely lit bar overlooking one of the city's main TV studios, and a bright, modernized lobby where warm cookies awaited guests, this was another welcome return to life.

And then the satanic cult known as Wall Street completed its multiple acts of economic evil in the fall of 2008, pretty much simultaneously with the hotels reopening, and everything collapsed. Detroit was at the bottom of the inverted pyramid as banks disintegrated on nations that crushed their states and regions that in turn buried their cities.

Plus, the mayor resigned after being charged with multiple felonies stemming from a sexting scandal.

Almost immediately and to no one's surprise, headlines announced that both of the newly-restored crown jewel hotels downtown were struggling financially. Two of the city's three automakers cried for bankruptcy protection, and stock for the third fell to junk value. Newly opened shops and restaurants closed.

But now let's put aside all the rest of the hyperbolic overdramatization of this "gritty" town and its "resilient" people who were raised on concrete and rust and get their asses kicked over and over but always stand back up for another beating, and an official city motto translating as It Shall Rise From The Ashes, and even the notorious bankruptcy heard 'round the world. Everything that followed the Two Rescued Hotels and the Incarcerated Mayor, through roughly the next four years, is all one epoch of blended chaos.

It was The Time of Struggle.

Detroit Agonistes.

You can look back through our 2008-2010 posts here at WB and see the shows and events we went to in the city during the (literally) dark time. They were great shows (with the notable exception of a Bob Dylan appearance), but required driving through mile after mile of nothing. No residents. No businesses. No movement. No lights. No cops. Up in Flint, Detroit's smaller sister city and fellow industry casualty where much of the WB staff lived and all of us worked, it was the same. Empty darkness was the norm.

But the only thing that really matters is, we got through. We're still here. And although the more racist scumfucks in the region prefer otherwise, "we" is anyone raised in the southeast corner of Michigan. Je Suis Detroit.

You can only imagine how it felt when that "we" slowly started to expand to include New York, California, Europe. World and national media were looking in, asking questions, putting us on the newsfeed radar. They were also getting a lot of the story wrong, focusing on the wreckage, running the same photos of the same husks of former factories, making meta a bizarre micro story of a homeless man frozen to death across the street from a solitary building that had been bought and promptly abandoned by a local billionaire and came to symbolize the whole city.

Didn't matter. All that counted was that the whole world was watching. Let 'em think they were soaking in "ruin porn" at every turn; we knew that those ruins could rise from the ashes. We were always on the perpetual verge of potential. The ballroom of a once-destroyed hotel downtown had proven that.

Coming in Part Two: The Buildings

Coming in Part Three: The Barons

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