September 30, 2017
Gratiot Avenue was named for Fort Gratiot, which itself was named after the military engineer who supervised the construction of the fort in 1814, Captain Charles C. Gratiot. I started again at Hart Plaza, and went through Detroit, Eastpointe, Roseville, Clinton Township, Mount Clemens, and ended at 21 Mile Road in Chesterfield Township. The walk took 10 and a half hours.
One thing that struck me on Gratiot was the number of car-related businesses I saw: new car dealers, used car dealers, body shops, auto parts stores, even car washes. Given the reign of the car industry in the Motor Cities, that makes sense. I've been told that the Detroit metro region has the largest number of bowling alleys per capita in the nation. I'd like to find out whether that holds true for car-related businesses as well, and whether their distribution across the city and suburbs is as unequal as it is for bowling alleys. Number of bowling alleys in the suburbs: 110. In the city: 2.
In the city, I passed by a business called Asian Corned Beef in what seemed to be a former diner, and then another one called Asian Fisheries. The first place was closed, but the second place was open. I went in to ask about the name. The African American proprietor's story was that his father had worked for an Asian woman. When he bought the business, he asked the woman if it was all right to name it that, and she said yes. It didn't quite make sense to me, but I nodded. The proprietor also said that sometimes customers come in with preconceived notions about the business because of the name, and that that was racist. I bought a half pound of catfish and he fried it for me. It was delicious.
I invited other people to walk with me, and one person joined me for an hour in the middle of the day. She had asked me which part of the walk might be most interesting for her to join me, and I said during the first three hours when I would be in the city. Then I caught myself and asked myself why the relative desolation of the city should be more "interesting" than the blandness of the suburbs? Was I reproducing the colonizing gaze of "ruin porn"? In any case, she joined me during the stretch crossing from the city to the suburbs, and was mildly disappointed that the change wasn't more dramatic. As a Canadian and newcomer to Detroit, she had a lot of questions about the city, a few of which I could answer and many that I couldn't.
When I got to Mount Clemens, it was obvious that it had been a separate village before it got swallowed up by the tentacles of urban sprawl. From some of the housing structures and the reappearance of pawnshops, it was also obvious that there were pockets of poor and working class residents here. Past the town came the outer edges of sprawl, with mini-malls and intermittent sidewalks. This walk was another one that had me limping towards the end, but I made it before sundown, always an accomplishment.
- George Galster. Driving Detroit: The Quest for Respect in the Motor City. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
Some photos taken by Jisang Kim.