Tigers Game/White Flight/”We don’t like you”


I saw three white people across Woodward Avenue, a man and a woman walking side by side, and behind them another man.  Sometimes, when people are out in groups, it’s tough to spot the third wheel, but not this time.  He was a good two or three feet behind them, slumping his shoulders, and his lower lip drooped like the IRS had just phoned with audit news.  Plus, even though the man and woman were somewhat portly, he was fatter.  

He was an entirely different league of fat, in fact, like they were still playing AA while he was playing for some important baseball team, like, the Detroit Tigers of fat or something.

It was clear that they were all Tigers fans, though, not just him.  All three wore orange Tigers jerseys and navy-blue caps with the Tigers’ gothic D logo (see above).


I realized that it was a game day.  We were at Woodward Avenue and Grand River–I was waiting for a bus to go back to my apartment, but when I looked up the avenue, in the direction in which couple and their glum friend were walking, I saw that an enormous crowd was gathering.  Even from several blocks away, the energy of the crowd was infectious, at least compared to that of the small band of people standing where I was waiting for the bus.  

The Tigers fans had the air of people who had reached their destination, who had had the place where they had wanted to be within their claw-like grasp.  We who were waiting for the bus, on the other hand, all looked depressed, like the third-wheel to the Motor City itself–being people without cars, there was the sense among us that we were all only one minute away from totally giving up hope on ever reaching our own destinations at any time.  

In other words, I had to join the Tigers fans.  Of the two alternatives offered me at that moment, theirs seemed the undeniably better way to live.

I had not yet fully committed myself to actually going to the game when I entered Hockeytown Cafe, one block up from the historic Fox Theatre, and across Woodward from the imposing Comerica Park, where the Tigers had been playing since 2000.

Hockeytown Cafe was built as a tribute to the mighty Detroit Red Wings, but its proximity to Comerica Park makes it an equally convenient pregame spot for Tigers fans.


The scene inside Hockeytown piqued my interest somewhat because it was almost 100% white.  The population of Detroit is over 80% African American, all of the people waiting with me for the bus just now had been African American, and all of the people in my apartment building are African American besides me and Michelle.  There are only a few places where I have seen large groups of white people concentrated at any given time: around Wayne State University, on occasion, and certainly in the Renaissance Center, but the thronging bleached mob in the Hockeytown Cafe was in a class by itself. 

I ordered a beer and began to speculate about the sociology of this situation.  The reason for the degree of racial homogeneity that I described in the last paragraph is, that Detroit was one of the hardest-hit cities by the phenomenon called “white flight.”  The way that “white flight” is considered to work is that the white population of the metropolitan center city gradually drains into the ring of politically independent suburbs surrounding the center city, thus depriving the center city of much of its tax base and severely weakening all social services and infrastructural amenities available in the center city.

In Detroit, white flight was a complex, very gradual process that culminated in a mass white migration to the suburbs in the 1960’s and 70’s, but began decades earlier, with attempts by black Detroiters to move into hitherto all-white urban neighborhoods when the inner-city ghetto areas to which black residential mobility in Detroit had traditionally been limited became too crowded and unsanitary.  

In order to prevent black people from moving into their neighborhoods, whites employed a a wide variety of techniques.  Redlining was (is?) a practice by which real estate firms would refuse to offer mortgages to certain types of people in certain neighborhoods, thus making the purchase of a home in that area impossible.  Restrictive covenants were agreements reached between the members of a given neighborhood and real estate brokers, in which everyone agreed to not sell their property to African Americans, or any other group deemed undesirable, under any circumstances.  When those techniques didn’t want, all variety of harassment against African Americans–from anonymous phone calls to cross burnings to arson–were employed as the struggle for urban space in postwar America played itself out to its grim conclusion.

In “The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit,” Thomas Sugrue describes how the violent prehistory of white suburban flight, which took place within the limits of American cities, followed similar patterns all over the country.

“Detroit was not alone in its pattern of racial violence.  Urban whites responded to the influx of millions of black migrants to their cities in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s by redefining urban geography and urban politics in starkly racial terms.  In Chicago and Cicero, Illinois, working-class whites rioted in the 1940s and 1950s to oppose the construction of public housing in their neighborhoods.  White Chicagoans fashioned a brand of Democratic party politics, especially under mayors Martin Kennelly and Richard Daley, that had a sharp racial edge.  And in the postwar period, white Philadelphians and Cincinnatians attacked blacks who moved into previously all-white enclaves, and resisted efforts to integrate the housing market.”

Nevertheless, Sugrue concludes, “Over the long run, most of the defended neighborhoods became majority black communities [. . .] Countless whites retreated to suburbs or neighborhoods on the periphery of cities where they prevented black movement into their communities with federally sanctioned redlining practices, real estate steering, and restrictive zoning laws.”

By 1975, cities and suburbs had become so racially polarized in so many different parts of the country that it was possible for Parliament to record a song called “Chocolate City,” which included the lyric: “God bless CC and its vanilla suburbs.”

One time, a few years ago, I overheard a drunken conversation between Harlemites about the concept of “chocolate cities” and I decided to join in, mainly because I was drunk, too, but also because I had just come back from a trip to Detroit that very day.  I was like, “Hey, uh, what about Detroit?”

The conversation was between an African man and woman, and the woman turned to me, shook her head, and smiled.  “Uh-uh,” she said.  “Detroit is not a chocolate city.  Detroit is what you call a Ho-Ho.”

“Huh,” I said.  “A Ho-Ho . . .”

Flash forward to a few days ago, when I was in Hockeytown Cafe, the vanilla heart of the Detroit Ho-Ho.  The woman had a point: Massive-scale projects like the Renaissance Center, the Detroit International Riverfront, the new Comerica Park (more on that a minute), and the Hockeytown Cafe were all designed to bring money in from the surrounding suburbs.  Convenient highway access to downtown Detroit allowed suburbanites to forego the vast network of surface streets and neighborhoods between their own communities and the boundless prospects for fun, adventure, alcohol, greasy food, and the tonic sense of being part of a community of sports fans that downtown Detroit and its most big-ticket tourist attractions had to offer.

If Hockeytown is any indication, these attractions are working pretty well.  It’s not clear whether they’re bringing very much to the city’s tax base, or creating very many jobs to offset Detroit’s over-20% unemployment rate.  But at least the suburbanites are coming, buying wings, and (like me) paying $6.25 for a Bud draft.

I talked for a while with a guy from Alaska who was visiting Ann Arbor (my hometown) for a conference about something involving telephone engineering.  I asked him what he thought about Governor Palin, and he said he thought it was just as well that she resigned because she had been paying no attention to Alaska, but he also said that he did not think she was a dumbass.  I found this somewhat surprising.

“She’s going to go around, and give speeches, and be the face of the Republican Party for as long as they need her to be,” she said.

The man had a moustache that arced down to a very fine point on both sides, like a boomerang.  He was wearing an orange jersey, just like most of the people in Hockeytown Cafe, where it was too crowded for me to sit at the bar; I had to stand behind the row of stools while whole families grunted, jostling, squeezing past me on the way to and from their tables.

“I don’t understand, though,” I said.  The unspoken subtext of my conversation with the telephone engineer from Alaska was that both of us were visiting alone–he from Alaska, me from NYC–and were happy just to be talking to anyone at all.  “How is she going to speak for the whole GOP when all of her speeches are totally incoherent?”

He laughed, one corner of his mouth curling up to meet the point of his moustache, but the other corner of his mouth remaining flat.  It seemed like he knew something I didn’t.  “She’ll learn,” he said.

For a few second we were both silent, and finally he said, “I think I’m gonna be headin’ over there pretty soon.”  It was a fairly blatant attempt to dismiss me, but I didn’t want to overstay my welcome, so I told him I was thinking about it too and that maybe I’d see him there.

As I walked out of Hockeytown Cafe, I noticed the front atrium (Hockeytown Cafe has two stories, plus a roof space) was decorated with hanging motorcycles.


By the time I left Hockeytown Cafe the crowd of Tigers fans in the blocks around Comerica Park had become a vast cattle drive.  The fans walked at the pace of zombies, lumbering toward the Comerica Park as though being drawn to it by a hypnotic tractor beam, but their eyes were bright with excitement and their cheeks were flush with booze.

Up until this point, I had not been sure whether I wanted to go to the game or just hang out, like, around the game, and make sociological observations.

I didn’t really want to go to the game, but I could feel myself being drawn to it inexorably.  I decided to buy the cheapest ticket I could, and then have another beer at another, preferably somewhat cheaper, white bar-and-grill restaurant in the area in order to prepare for the experience.  Then, I would let nature take its course.

I went to a place called Cheli’s on Adams at Witherell.  On one side of the street was the baseball stadium, where a South American pan-flute band was warming up the fans who were already standing in line to get in, and on the other side was the Grand Circus, a massive open square appointed with statues and whose Southern edge is rimmed by a stretch of the People Mover, Detroit’s monorail; the People Mover is not really very useful, because all of the stops are within walking distance of one another, but its ghostly wail adds something atmospheric to downtown Detroit, especially after the sun goes down.

More about the People Mover in a future post.  For the moment, suffice it to say that the People Mover only services the downtown attractions that would be of interest to commuters, suburbanites, tourists, and so on, such as Greektown, the Riverwalk, the Ren Cen, or Comerica Park.  Would it be unfair to call the People Mover the Vanilla Express?

Not very much interesting happened at Cheli’s, although I did get a seat at the bar this time and the beers were significantly cheaper.  There was a man with a gray moustache, flatter and less like an Australian projectile than the man from Alaska at Hockeytown, and I asked him what he thought about Detroit and how often he comes to the sports games here.  He said he was from Lansing, the capital of Michigan, and he came down to the games about once a year.

“This is a great city for sports,” he said.  “The city sucks.”  He put special, bitter emphasis on that word, “sucks,” like he was not just indifferent to its many problems but filled with a hate for Detroit that kept him awake night after night.  “But it’s fun to come down for games.”

“Oh,” I said.  “Well, what about–”

His burger arrived.  “If you’ll excuse me,” he said, “I’m going to get into this burger right now.”

“OK,” I said.  We sat in silence for a few moments while he ate his burger, the sound of his chewing somehow rising above the loud hair-rock pumping through the speakers, and then I finished my beer and took off.

It was about game time, anyway.

Comerica Park is new–it opened in 2000.  Around the front gates, there is arrayed a whole menagerie of giant, stone tigers.  I couldn’t help but notice, as I streamed in with the rest of the crowd, how white the tigers were: for a moment I got carried away with the fantasy that these cats, with their outsize fangs and claws raised in pure wrath, was supposed to symbolize the suburbs.  The big, white cats, drained of almost all color but a sickly beige, protected the walls of the stadium the way that the invisible walls between Detroit and the suburbs keep segregation alive.

Comerica Tigers 4

Comerica Tiger3

Comerica Park replaced Tiger Stadium, which remained somewhat of a mecca for baseball fans even when the surrounding city of Detroit was at its most violent.  In New York, I went to buy a bottle of Dewar’s once and, when I showed the cashier my Michigan driver’s license, his glasses slid down to the end of his nose.  He peered over the rims and said, “Tigers fan?”

I said, “Of course.”  I guess you’d have to call that a lie–I don’t really know what constitutes a true “fan” in the world of baseball.  It’s possible that I qualify as a “Tigers fan” just because the Tigers were the local team when I was growing up in Ann Arbor, but my visit to Comerica Park today suggested otherwise.

At any rate, the man in the liquor store’s demeanor turned grim when the subject turned to the Tigers.  “You know, Tiger Stadium is . . . a sacred space.”


Tiger Stadium, currently in the process of being demolished.

Tiger Stadium, currently in the process of being demolished.



I was already headed to the door, the handles of the plastic bag with the Dewar’s in it in my hand, about to return to one of the lively outdoor environments in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

“Yeah,” I said without turning around.  

“I bet you like Gordie Howe!” he said, turning cheerful again, as my foot touched the pavement.

“Oh yeah,” I said.  “He’s awesome.  Have a good one!”  Gordie Howe is a legendary former hockey player who played for the Detroit Red Wings for 25 years (Stanley Cups in 1950, 1952, 1954, and 1955); Howe has nothing to do with the Tigers at all, but I guess the liquor store is just really into Detroit sports.

“Alright,” he said.  I turned around: He was grinning.

That should tell you about all you need to know about my relationship with sports.  I’m somewhat embarrassed at having almost always had no interest in sports whatsoever on an instinctive, completely natural and involuntary basis.  When I was 12, the Detroit Pistons were in the middle of the famous “Bad Boy Era,” with the lineup of Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas, John Salley, Bill Laimbeer, and a remarkably clean-cut young version of Dennis Rodman.  I used to shoot baskets in my driveway back then and impersonate a basketball player, sometimes a Piston but occasionally Michael Jordan, whose own path to early-90’s championship glory was paved with Piston defeats.

(Jordan’s 90’s ascendancy, even his co-starring with Bill Murray and Bugs Bunny in Space Jam, was a direct result of the end of the Bad Boy Era in Detroit.)

Then there was another time, in 2006, when I kind of got into the World Cup.  That wasn’t because I’m into soccer, though, it was just because I had too much time on my hands that summer.

The fact that Americans get really into baseball has been extensively documented; there are at least 60 Kevin Costner films about it, for example.  One of the things about Comerica Park that is interesting, though, is that it seems designed to distract guests from baseball to the greatest possible extent.

There is a ferris wheel at Comerica Park with cars that are all shaped like baseballs, for example.  I had to take it for a ride as soon as I saw it.


It was a pretty slow, boring, repetitive ride, and for the few brief moments at the apex of the wheel, when your ball takes you over the rim of the stadium, the view is not much to write home about.  Clearly, it’s designed for the very young and their parents: So I’m not really sure what I have to complain about here.

In the back of my mind, there was deep panic about my visit to Comerica Park because I knew that I was going to get fleeced on drinks and food.  My budget is modest and metropolitan-area tourist meccas like Comerica Park are not designed for people who have to attend to unfinished PhD’s.  Comerica Park, as the ferris wheel indicates, is designed for parents with very young children, however; I wish that it had a ferris wheel where I could leave my dissertation, spinning around and around, so that I can run off and play like everyone else.

I grabbed a margarita from a stand at the entrance to the little annex where the ferris wheel was.  It was pretty good, and the woman at the stand was very generous with the salt.

After that, I’m afraid, things become a bit of a blur.  My ticket was “SRO” (standing room only, not single room occupancy), so I spent the game wandering between various viewing balconies and a little cordoned-off area that had been set up for smokers.  I found it difficult to pay attention to the game–I found out at one point that the Minnesota Twins were beating the Tigers 5-0, then 7-0, then 11-0.

The fact was that Comerica Park had a hypnotic effect on me, all the bright lights, colors, sounds, and people put me into a state where first an hour and a half, then two hours could disappear and leave the sense that nothing had happened at all.


I wanted to talk to some people before I left, and when I was in the smoking area I noticed a group of young women celebrating a bachelorette party.  The bride-to-be was wearing a short, jet-black dress, and her black hair was topped by a bright white veil.  There was something interesting about a bachelorette party being held at a Tigers game, and besides I was bored and I wanted to talk someone.

All nine women were standing in a circle, taking a shot, and when they had just wrapped up taking the shot I thought that would be the ideal time to sidle up and make conversation.

I ended up making eye contact with the one who looked the oldest and said, “Hi.  I’m visiting from New York.”

“Oh, really?” she said.  No further statements were necessary, somehow.

“Irene’s from New York.  Let me get Irene.  Irene!”

The bride turned toward me, saw me standing there, and blew a note on her purple-cardboard party noisemaker in my face.  Then she turned to the other women in the group and exclaimed, “We found a friend!”  I ended up doing a high-five with one of them, after that, whose face I can’t recall seeing.

Irene appeared.  The older woman said, “Irene’s from New York.  What’s your name?  Patrick?  Patrick says he’s from New York.”

“Hi,” I said.  “So, you’re coming from New York?  Do you live in Brooklyn?”

Irene grimaced.  “Ugh, no,” she said.  “Manhattan.  Why would you ask me that?”

“For some reason, it seems like Brooklyn is where people want to live now–”

“So, where do you live?” Irene asked.  This wasn’t going well.

“Well, I live in Manhattan, too.”  I wanted to change the subject.  “See, I’m here to visit, because, y’know, I grew up in Ann Arbor, and–”

“Ha!”  Irene exclaimed.  “You mean you’re not really from New York, you just live in New York and you’re saying you’re from there?”  She turned to the older one, and then joined her friends in a crowd, who were already leaving to get on the bus that they had rented.

“Let’s go,” Irene said to no one in particular.  Then she turned to me and said, “We don’t like you.”

Moments later, they were gone.

I decided to hang out for a few more minutes.  I talked for a second with an African American man in a bar up on the top tier of the stadium about the city, but it seemed like he didn’t want to get into it too deep, so he told me about how the Tigers were doing this season instead.  They were number one in their division, at the moment, so their defeat at the hands of the Twins would probably not do them too much harm.


In addition to the ferris wheel, Comerica Park also features a carousel.

In addition to the ferris wheel, Comerica Park also features a carousel.

~ by electrorefutedrobo on August 11, 2009.

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