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(Return to the February 4, 2006 broadcast page)

Detroit Detroit... Motown Supertown Tour by Hank Rosenfeld

"Detroit Detroit/gotta hell of a hockey team/got a left-handed waaayyyy" [music from Paul Simon's Papa Hobo]

Yes we do, a helluva basketball team too... Just don't mention football. Well, you can't help but mention football this weekend in Detroit, just not the Detroit Lions, first in my heart, last in the National Football League...

Everybody in the ol' hometown is sports CRAAAAZY, so now that we got that out of the way, let's drive on. That's the best way to checkout the MOTOR city obviously, like Jeffrey Eugenides said in his great book, Middlesex: "Detroit was always made of wheels." So kick out the jams brothers and sisters, we're taking the Outer Drive.

Detroit was originally known as "The City of Trees," as in all the parks on the northwest side where I grew up: Cheyenne Park, Peterson Park, and here at the entrance to Palmer Park they laid the first -- there's a monument to it -- the very first mile of concrete highway in the USA, 1909. Not just motorheads built the town, some of the best architects of the 20th century came -- Stanford White, Philip Johnson, Van der Roh and Noguchi -- and in 1924 they gave us the tallest hotel in the World: "the Book Cadillac." My sister had her confirmation party there, my grandparents had their anniversary there too...

Detroit City dates from 1701 and was built out from the Detroit River, where if you wanna get to Canada, you have to head south-no kidding, look at a map! Marked by Six Mile Road (that's where we lived), 7 mile, 8 mile you may know from Eminem -- that's the border. We were surrounded by suburbs, which I hated as a kid and not just 'cause the dentists office was out there. Donald Hall wrote a poem describing the burbs as an "anaconda" choking the lifeblood from the city. I was proud my parents never moved out during the 1960's "white flight" or after the riots of '67 when there were tanks rolling down Livernois -- "the Avenue of Fashion" -- behind my grandma's house.

Now let's drive the Chrysler Freeway to the Ford Freeway to the Davison to the Walter Reuther to the John C. Lodge, where under the "Rosa Parks Blvd" you see the sign for "Nickel Slots!" of the Motor City Casino, which took over the Wonder Bread factory. My favorite places to eat were always, Zukin's Rib Shack where they had this amazing ice cream thing, the "I Bet You Can't" -- 24 scoops, and if ya finish in a sitting you get it free. Put some Sanders hot fudge on it and Oh my God, wash that all down with a "Vernor's Ginger Ale" right from the factory up Woodward Avenue, the main drag. Out front of the assembly line they'd make me a "cream-ale" which was milk mixed with Vernor's, which they said was "aged in wood." When I was a kid I thought they squeezed it out of trees. It was so good and left you with a white mustache and a ginger buzz in the back of the throat ahh...

In Middlesex, Eugenides writes: "Grow up in Detroit and you understand the way of all things." I'm just trying to show you a few of 'em. Also down on Woodward was my father's shoe store, which he ran with my Uncle Rocky. Started by my grandfather, Harry Rosenfeld, in the same building as the Fox Theater, a 1920's vaudeville movie palace. It's still there. My dad used to sneak me and my cousins Mitch and Andy in there to see matinees sometimes, of pictures like Psycho where we walked in right during that scene with the dead mother in the basement with the rocking chair and the light bulb swinging. Everybody in the theater was screaming their lungs out. I'll never forget it. Thanks, Dad. I think I was eight.

A little ways up Woodward was where Motown was, they moved to LA, tore it down and are putting up a parking lot. As kids we rode our bikes past Berry Gordy's house on Outer Drive. He was the head of Motown and Tamla Records. We'd ride to Palmer Park and see Smokey Robinson of Smokey and the Miracles on the public linx there, resplendent in pink golf suit on a cart with a gal on either side of him. What a sweet voice! "I will build you a castle with towers so high..."

The Detroit Sound they called it. I loved it. Oh there were so many things to show you. And we're coming back. Did I tell you Marvin Gaye lived around the block from me on Appoline? Once he even had the Detroit Lions singing back-up on his record, "Mercy Mercy Me!"

But I don't wanna talk about football...

(Return to the February 4, 2006 broadcast page)
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