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Detroit in the Present Tense

Detroit exists existentially at extreme extremes — packed stadiums and empty schools, casino profits and municipal deficits, fast cars and slow progress. Or, so they would have us believe.

Not to diminish the greatness of Detroit’s attributes or downplay its challenges, but the more time you spend in the city, the more it seems remarkably like a place where, every day, everyday people live, work, struggle and strive — away from the spotlights, sirens, bells, whistles, smoke, mirrors, dogs, ponies, etc.

For all the preoccupation with Detroit’s past, and speculation over its future, there is a compelling present tense to the city that is as easy to sense when you’re here as it is to miss when you’re not. By way of example:

Hockeytown may have a new arena in its not-too-distant future and, with it, a fight over who should pay for it and complaints about how expensive both the beer and parking are.

But Detroit already has a new hockey venue, albeit without the Swedes or octopi.

The rink at Clark Park merits a dedicated trip down to Southwest Detroit, as if the pupusas at El Comal weren’t already reason enough. Neighborhood kids from 4 to 16 take to the ice there and even boast former state Rep. Steve Tobocman as a coach.

And, in the true spirit of the nearby Ambassador Bridge, Clark Park has hosted Cranbrook vs. Catholic Central, Bloomfield vs. Berkley and others. So, strap on your skates, then go to the top of the park to carb up at the Mexicantown Bakery and warm up at Cafe Con Leche.

For a city so begrudgingly identified with cars, there may be no better way to see Detroit than by bus. For my money ($1.50), the best ride downtown is SMART’s 445/475 Woodward Limited. You can make new friends, people-watch or just stare out the window and, like RFK, dream of things that never were (or haven’t been for quite a while) and ask, “Why not?”

As light rail makes its way up from the river to Grand Boulevard and then Eight Mile Road over the next few years, don’t speed by alone in your car and miss those dreams becoming realities.

Epic stories crowd Detroit’s history and headlines, but its smaller narratives pack the biggest punch. For evidence, look no further than the standing-room-only scene at Cliff Bells downtown for WDET’s Moth Story Slam.

February’s theme, “Love Hurts,” put the human condition on full display, albeit not suitably for reprint here. For better or for worse, I was not among the 10 volunteers chosen at random to bear their souls for five minutes before the impressively attentive audience.

If you must know, my story begins in New York posing for a Seventeen magazine photo shoot and ends in Detroit doing research for a thesis about Focus: HOPE — while in the throes of mono. Though, I suppose, that was just the beginning of another story.

What’s your Detroit story? There has never been a better time to start writing it, to pick up where you left off or to publish it — just make sure it’s in the present tense.



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