Detroit: A Sunday City

It must have been an unusual sight.
If you were driving on Michigan Avenue last Sunday morning, just before noon, and you thought you saw a guy traveling east in a Ford Freestyle, tooling along at legal speed in the middle lane as he approached Trumbull Avenue … and he had his left hand pushed across his eyes so he couldn’t possibly see anything around him … you did.   It was me.
Yes, I checked first to see if there were any cops around, going either way on Michigan.  It was a quiet morning, very little traffic, and I took the risk. 

View of vacant Tiger Stadium site from the pedestrian bridge located near the intersection of Cochrane and Kaline Drive.

I was able to block the entire view to my left as I approached the famous intersection, and coasted through without having once taken in the view north of my car.  And thus and thereby did I keep my record intact of never ONCE having subjected my sensitive self over the past ten years to the visual setting that beckoned at Michigan and Trumbull.  I refer to my “record” in this refusal to see what is … or more to the point, what isn’t … looming there, practically begging to be seen … “live” or on TV or pictured in the newspapers … at the most famous intersection in the entire State of Michigan.

(Think that’s exaggerating?  Okay, give me another … a rival that you could claim has been better known around our state than Michigan and Trumbull.  An intersection or an address.  Yeah, Woodward and Jefferson is a contender, roughly identified as the site where Cadillac literally leaped out of a canoe in 1701, planted the French flag next to the fist of Joe Louis, and declared Detroit the westernmost outpost of the King of France.  So that qualifies.  Let’s see … does anybody know where the governor of Michigan lives?  Does anybody care?  Does anybody know where she’s been for the last six months?)
Nope, Michigan and Trumbull is the address best known in the history of our state.  And do you know what is THERE … at that storied site?  You got it.  What is there is exactly what I saw last Sunday.  Nothing.  Not a damn thing.  From what my sources tell me — in this case my source being the guy from New York City who was sitting next to me in my car — the intersection and the land just north of it comprise exactly what they did 200 years ago … diddley.   In fact, diddley squat.  Actually, that locale is currently much LESS useful than it was about 125 or 150 years ago, when it was at least then being put to good commercial use as a haymarket.  Now … to be frank … I don’t have much of an idea what a haymarket is, or what function it exactly serves.  But for a good period of time in the late 19th Century, Michigan and Trumbull was the location of a haymarket that supplied the … well … the hay-seekers of southeast Michigan.  I mean, you gotta get your hay somewhere, right?  I can still recall my mother admonishing me about wasting hay when I was a child, pointedly reminding me that children were practically starving for hay in Korea.
One of the worst old metaphors that colored America’s rapidly changing public scenery and language in centuries past — one even more disgusting than the concept of children starving for things in foreign countries because we were so uncaring here — was the bromide about ‘beating a dead horse.’  And in case you hadn’t noticed yet, that is about exactly what I am doing here.  Because I still refuse to let go of my attachment to the late lamented Bennett Park, Navin Field, Briggs Stadium, Tiger Stadium … all situated at the very special location of Michigan and Trumbull that I so carefully ignored Sunday.
Oh, to be sure, there  are many vibrant businesses still functioning within walking distance of that corner — restaurants, famed old drinking establishments, cool stores appealing to sports fans and memorabilia collectors.  But on the site itself, the magic ground where giants once ran … and in the very air itself, just above that ground, stretching a few stories into the Sunday morning sky … memories make themselves at home.  Because they are at home. 
And even though some rubes busied themselves in recent years with the job of tearing down everything that tied something as ethereal and eternal as sublime memories to the bricks and mortar of that which housed them … even in a city with 33,500 empty houses that no one can find the time or money to tear down as they accentuate 91,000 vacant lots …  the job of attempting to cancel out those forever memories and the gripping deeds of those giants got identified, funded, and put into motion with astonishing, even disturbing, efficiency.  It took a while for the plan to make itself obvious, as if the bureaucrats would be exposed as having a real heart at long last … but ….
Down it all came.
And yes, you should love your new stadiums, or as they might say in wonderful West Bloomfield, your new stadia.  They are lovely sports emporiums (emporia), new theme parks dedicated to the best of old games.  After all, you wouldn’t have a Comerica Park if Goose Goslin hadn’t driven Mickey Cochrane in from second to win that 1935 World Series, setting our city virtually and wonderfully afire at long last.  There might not be a rightfield of dreams at the new park if Al Kaline had not slipped on the outfield grass fielding a routine single in 1954 at Briggs, and then — while sitting out there flat on his ass — fired a perfect strike to second base to put out the surprised —  make that shocked — Cleveland hitter.
There mightn’t either be a perfect end zone made of composite materials sitting atop painted-green roughage and imported dirt at Ford Field for contests played under always-identical ‘skies’ and amid exact temperatures if maybe Robert Lawrence Layne had not peered up into a fading and misty gray sky in late December of 1953, finding a loping Jim Doran breaking free down the right sideline, on the northward side of Briggs Stadium.  And with Doran’s cleats chewing up what had been perfectly manicured outfield grass just a few months earlier … Layne cooly laid that “Duke” football right here …right here … 40 yards through the air and then perfectly into #83’s outstretched hands … as he crossed into that muddy north end zone, giving those legendary “old pro’s,” the storied Detroit Lions, their second straight NFL World Championship. 
Cleveland down, once again.  Super Bowl, Schmuper Bowl.
Nope, you enjoy your new games, your new teams.  Our new ballyards.  Every generation ultimately gets what it deserves.  Just let me quietly ponder the old dreams … and beat — if you will — those beloved old horses that still run ’round on the tracks of my mind.  Just, please, don’t demand that some of us give up the memories, of where we went, of who we were.  We shouldn’t ever have to surrender that.  And don’t demand … if I promise to obey every traffic light and sign … that I look at that haymarket site.  
Not yet, anyway.  It’s only been ten years, after all.   So not just yet.

One reply on “Detroit: A Sunday City

  • Shelly

    I miss the old park as well… I went down there for the first time since it was completely gone a few weeks ago – heart strings were tweaked and a few tears did flow… the city can take away our landmarks but they can never take away our memories 🙂 Thanks for letting me remember a few good memories tonight…

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