An interesting side note to the saga of my mom being in the hospital has been some low-grade nostalgia. The hospital she has been in for the last week and a half is on East Outer Drive on the far north edge of the city of Detroit. When my family lived in Detroit in the 1960s and early 1970s, East Outer Drive was part of the route to two of the most important places in the lives of me and my sister: K-Mart and our cousins’ house in Birmingham*. I’m not driving the whole route, and mostly I’m driving at night so I don’t see much, but I’m seeing enough to trigger memories. Outer Drive is mostly a boulevard, and where it is a boulevard it’s lined with houses that I always thought were nice, back in the day, certainly nicer than ours was. In these neighborhoods are parks and churches and community centers as well. The boulevard narrows to a wide street in some more industrial areas. “Our” K-Mart was at one of these parts of the route. Eventually Outer Drive becomes State Fair Avenue and borders the south edge of the Michigan State Fairgrounds.
Over the last 35–40 years, one could expect a good deal of change, but “change” might imply neighborhoods switching from homes to shopping, or factory districts redeveloping as housing. None of that has happened, really. It’s all still what it was before. All that has happened is deterioration, except in small pockets that are holding their own for now. The long line of nice houses is occasionally punctuated with a boarded-up one, although the further west one goes the proportion of occupied to abandoned houses pretty much flips to more abandoned than not. There’s a nice new recreation center, but it doesn’t look as if there’s much activity there. I passed by St. Bartholomew’s and St. Rita’s Catholic Church and wondered which saint was the original patron. I found out within two miles when I passed the boarded-up St. Rita’s church and school buildings. There’s a big banner proclaiming that a new Baptist facility was “coming soon” but, like the big new shopping plaza coming to the northwest corner of the fairgrounds for the last couple of years, the economy has slowed progress on that front. The K-Mart closed many years ago; there have been some attempts at retail stores in that building, but the property looks completely derelict now.
The hospital where my mom is lodged used to be called Holy Cross Hospital. It may have closed briefly, I don’t remember, but it’s now part of one of the big local hospital groups. Actually, the part she’s in is apparently a for-profit facility affiliated with the big local hospital group. I guess that reflects actual change over the last three decades.
It would be easy to say that all the decay is sad, but it’s more the hollow kind of ache that comes with many years of seeing the losses and almost getting used to them. It’s not quite as absolute a loss as my old neighborhood is, with so many missing houses you have pheasants nesting in the weeds. I guess it just shows how tough things are in Detroit, that an outer edge neighborhood can be so run-down now. It’s also one of those things that haunts a middle-aged guy who still thinks things should be the way they were in his youth.
* Dave: Melinda’s family. jjfmi: They went to Seaholm. All: Yes, that Birmingham as in my song “’67”.