Apartment Karma/Homage to Interstate-75

 

Every August, the Woodward Dream Cruise unites thousands of classic-car aficionados for a drive down Woodward Avenue.

Every August, the Woodward Dream Cruise unites thousands of classic-car aficionados for a drive down Woodward Avenue.

 

Metro Detroit is, as the “Motor City” would tend to be, one of the nation’s premier car cultures. When I picked out the place where I was going to live here, I was in denial about that basic fact of life in the region.  Motown is such a car culture that a friend of mine recently told me that everyone else he knows who has ever lived here has gotten at least one DUI.  

As you soon as you set foot on pavement, the need for a car here becomes evident immediately.  Unlike a lot of big cities, in which housing units are grouped together densely, in short blocks consisting of high-rises or row houses, most of Detroit’s neighborhoods are made up of very long blocks of small houses with their own yards and driveways.  Traveling on foot, these blocks can stretch on for what feels like an eternity.

I don’t much enjoying browsing for apartments, and it was probably for this reason as much as any that I chose Hamtramck as the place where I would stay in Detroit, even though I planned to stand the bulk of my time in the Wayne State University area, several miles south of Hamtramck.  It also might have been because the idea of cars, of having to be responsible for one and depend on one every day, intimidates me at a fundamental level.

There’s good news, though, which is that I lucked out.  Without having to lift a finger, I ended up being moved from Hamtramck and into a far more convenient location.  I’ll explain.

 Since I’m here in Detroit for such a short time, I needed to get sorted out with where I was going to live while I was still in New York.  I clocked in some time on craigslist, a popular website that people use to advertise a variety of commodities, including apartments, furniture, electronic goods, and themselves (Once, I responded to a Women Seeking Men posting on craigslist, and in return I was sent a list of prices and their corresponding sexual positions).

The apartment that I eventually settled on was located in Hamtramck.  Hamtramck is one of two cities (the other being Highland Park) that are fully within the city limits of Detroit.

 

Those two yellow shapes in the middle of the map are Highland Park (on the right) and Hamtramck (on the left), politically independent cities geographically within Detroit's own city limits.

Those two yellow shapes in the middle of the map are Highland Park (on the right) and Hamtramck (on the left), politically independent cities geographically within Detroit's own city limits.

The reason why Highland Park and Hamtramck are both independent cities, and yet islands within the vast ocean of Detroit, is because they incorporated as towns before Detroit’s city limits had expanded far enough away from the river to meet them.  Highland Park became a city in 1918 and Hamtramck in 1922, and both with the same basic goal: they were scared of having to pay Detroit taxes.

More on this in a future post, but Highland Park is also memorable because that is where Henry Ford built his Model-T factory in 1909, which became the world’s first assembly line plant in 1913.

 Hamtramck has cool stuff going for it, too, though.  To wit: in 2006 Maxim magazine named Hamtramck the “2nd Coolest Neighborhood in America.”  

Never mind that Hamtramck is a city, not a neighborhood, but it was deemed second only to the great Williamsburg of Brooklyn by the leading brogazine in the Western Hemisphere.  When I was in college, I remember going to a place in Hamtramck called the Motor Lounge with some people who I knew who were University of Michigan students.  The place invited Detroit techno DJ’s to spin, but in an atmosphere that seemed completely inappropriate to it: with zebra-print booths, walls covered in mirrors, and gaudy chandeliers, the Motor Lounge was the greasiest frat-boy environment that you could imagine.  Not that I was surprised: the people who took me there were themselves frat boys.   My friends were in that special, second puberty that all frat boys have to go through before all traces of themselves that were once worthwhile can totally disintegrate, and no longer be a burden to the frat boys as their frat lives progress.  

 

3515 Cardiff, the site of the Motor Lounge.

3515 Cardiff, the site of the Motor Lounge.

 

I dreaded the thought of a return to Motor Lounge, but in general it seemed like it could be a good place to be.  Hamtramck is a fair distance from the campus of Wayne State University, where I planned to do most of my reading. But I wanted to see what types of new stuff have been going on in Detroit lately and I living in a second-only-to-the-Burg urban enclave seemed like a good way to be exposed to it.  

When I met Michelle at the party, on my first day, she informed me that she had found a new apartment and that we were moving.  I had already paid for the month, but now it was going to be a month in a different apartment.  Interesting, I thought; this kind of thing doesn’t happen everyday.

The move was to take place Monday, August 3–the following day.  From the party at 5 Elements Gallery, Michelle gave me a lift to the Hamtramck apartment, where I would catch some Z’s, and the next morning she said that she would drive me down to Midtown, where our new apartment was to be.

After I brushed my teeth and such, I headed into the small bedroom that would have been mine, and as soon as the door shut behind me I realized that I would not miss this apartment.  Not having this be my apartment, it’s one of those things like, say, the fact that I never dated my high school Latin teacher–a missed opportunity, certainly, but one that I do not regret and which I never think about under any circumstances.

The main thing is that there were no doorknobs on the bedroom door.  I didn’t notice that the door was knobless until it clicked shut.  By this point, I was locked in the bedroom with no way to get out besides the window.

I contemplated my options: it was 1:30 am and Michelle wanted to get up and get me out of the apartment by 7 so that moving day could commence.  I had just used the bathroom, after I brushed my teeth, so it seemed unlikely that I would experience any great discomfort as a result of my incarceration.

One cool thing about the Hamtramck apartment is that it had cable TV.  While I was trying to go to sleep, I listened to a show on PBS about the Stonewall Riot and gay culture in New York.  I would have appreciated a show about something in some way Detroit-related, but I suppose it makes sense that Detroit-area PBS fans want something more than a diet of all-Detroit-all-the-time TV programming.

That wasn’t what they wanted–that was what I wanted, and what I still want.

It really was lucky that this happened, because otherwise I would have had to travel more than two miles every morning just to get to the archives where I’m doing my reading.  The next morning, Michelle woke me up by knocking on the knobless door (or hinged wall?), and tossed a set of keys under the door, which I used to open the door by inserting one of the keys into the hole where the knob on my side should have been and fiddling around for a while.  Then, Michelle gave me a ride to Midtown, our new neighborhood, over one of Detroit’s magisterial internal highways.

I experienced the unique magic of the Detroit metropolitan highway system when I was a teenager.  When Michelle gave me the ride from Hamtramck to Wayne State that morning, after my liberation from the bedroom without knobs, I-75 was resplendent.

 

To watch the skyline rising over the tapering white stripes . . . pure poetry.

To watch the skyline rising over the tapering white stripes . . . pure poetry.

 The sun reflecting off the concrete was so bright that it made every crack, flaw, stain, and most of the graffiti totally invisible, like we were driving on glass or glacial ice.  After the first three minutes giving myself a tan on this light, however, I realized that there was no way I could have made this trip, either on foot or with a bike, every morning and not end up both seriously winded and without much time left for reading.

As you can see, the red stripe marked I-75 proceeds from the Hamtramck/Highland Park area directly into New Center/Midtown.  Using I-75, travel between these two areas is quick and easy, but any other method can be very time-consuming.

As you can see, the red stripe marked I-75 proceeds from the Hamtramck/Highland Park area directly into New Center/Midtown. Using I-75, travel between these two areas is quick and easy, but any other method can be very time consuming.

 The new apartment has a much more convenient location than the Hamtramck apartment, but there is a drug dealer who lives two doors down from us.  I’m not going to share any photos of the building, but there are people coming up to the door all day long and people coming out looking happier than when they went in.  There is a conspicuously nice car parked out front, but I won’t say what type of car it is.

I’ve gotten some dirty looks from some of the guy’s visitors.  It’s probably because they see me standing around outside smoking cigarettes, since I’m not allowed to smoke in the apartment, and they think I’m a cop.  It’s fine; I would think I was a cop, too.  Maybe, just to have some fun with this whole thing, I’ll grow out a moustache while I’m here.

In general, it’s amazing how much you can only learn about a city from actually being here.  On the question of Hamtramck’s coolness, in particular, I was especially off.  When I talked to a guy at bar on Michigan Avenue called Casey’s Pub, he explained that “there was all this hype about Hamtramck” but that “Hamtramck died” years ago.

When I asked him about the Motor Lounge, specifically, whether it had closed, he closed his eyes and nodded.  “Gone,” he said.  Something about the way he answered gave off a sense of deep satisfaction, like he had just had sex or at least won a difficult game of chess.

So I was right about Motor, I thought.  It had sucked all along, really, and so much so that it had become legendary among Detroiters for how lame it was.  If I’d known that back then, in the late 90’s when I was hanging out there, I would have done the cool thing and not tried to pretend that I was having a good time.

~ by electrorefutedrobo on August 13, 2009.

2 Responses to “Apartment Karma/Homage to Interstate-75”

  1. […] maybe, like the good apartment karma that I had had when I first entered Detroit, this car, with its radiant cherry-red exterior; […]

  2. […] mentioned in an earlier post that my first day in Detroit greeted me with a surprise, namely that I was not going to live in the […]

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